A/N: So, I know this began as a one-shot, but I'm turning it into something more. Hope you like it. Those of you who've read the one-shot, please note I broke it into 2 chapters. It's easier that way.

xx- Kitten.


By Kittenshift17

Chapter One

She would never be satisfied, she realized. Kicking a rock along the pavement as the sun began to set, Katara of the Southern Water Tribe walked the narrow streets of Ba Sing Se. She'd slipped away from her friends when she couldn't take any more of Sokka's sarcastic comments, and any more of Toph's grating habits, and especially any more of Aang constant flitting between being moody, morose and sad one minute, and then so horribly naïve and childish the next.

It was days like today when she began to think that no matter the young Avatar's crush on her, she'd never be able to reciprocate his feelings in any way that would completely satisfy him. And the truth was it was because she knew she never be satisfied with someone like him. He might be one of her very best friends, but he'd never be what she wanted in a boyfriend. He was too easily distracted, too immature, too needy and always seeking to be the center of attention. And while all of those things were forgivable and tolerable, most of the time, she wanted to come first, sometimes.

Sometimes she just wanted to be upset about something without having him offer his 'wisdom' on the matter based on what the monks had taught him. And so, she'd left. It was beginning to get dark, and Katara knew that she should be getting back soon, knowing her friends and her brother would be getting worried. She'd left a note that morning before she left, but that didn't mean they wouldn't be worried about her. Especially when the city was hardly safe. She'd already learned that today as she walked the streets, interacting with the people and watching the amount of suffering that went on even here inside the high walls that protected the city and it's citizens from the Fire Nation.

The poor were hungry and desperate. They arrived in the city with only those things they managed to scrounge from their homes before the flames of war licked too high. Worse, when they finally made it to the safety of Ba Sing Se, they were segregated between the upper, middle, and lower ring and they suffered as a result. She shook her head as she walked, passing an Inn within the lower ring where boisterous voices called to one another and people shouted and debated what had really happened with the drill and the Fire Nation's attempts to invade.

She was tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of waiting around the city to meet with the Earth King. Tired of her friends and their constant company. Tired of the war. She just wanted to escape for a little while. Her heart ached with missing Gran Gran and Dad. It ached with missing her homeland, even if it was just a lump of ice floating at the bottom of the world, desolate and freezing cold and so inhospitable that none but her people even bothered trying to survive down there.

She missed sitting and chatting with Gran Gran about what it might be like one day when the Fleet came back from war and Dad arranged her marriage to a handsome young warrior who would take her in his strong arms and hold her tight through the long nights of winter darkness. Katara's lips twisted, recalling those times when she'd just been a young girl and she'd daydreamed about the boy who might win her heart and one day share her bed.

She snorted to herself quietly as she passed through the gates to the middle ring, bitterly thinking that she'd certainly never imagined a bald monk with blue tattoos covering his body when she'd done her daydreaming. Katara almost stumbled when an image of another boy she knew flashed inside her mind; one with an angry red scar and eyes that glowed like living amber, golden as the sun and always glittering with hatred.

"Where did that come from?" she asked, stumbling forward a step as the memory of strong hands encircling her wrists and a low rasping voice promising to save her from pirates danced across her mind.

Katara shook her head, trying to dislodge the memory, horrified that thoughts of Zuko had filled her mind. She frowned, realizing that it had been a long time since she'd seen the angry Fire Nation prince. Maybe he'd finally given up on hunting them. Maybe it was just because, without Appa to draw attention to them, he wasn't so good at tracking them all the way across the world and back again. In any case, she shouldn't be thinking about the murderous firebender who'd tied her to a tree and tried to kill her more than once in his pursuit of Aang.

Not that she managed to improve her own mood when her thoughts drifted first to Jet and then to Haru – the only other boys she'd had any kind of interaction with that might be considered intimate. She shook her head, recalling the way Jet's lips had felt against hers, and subconsciously she pressed her fingers to her lips again, the tingle reminding her that before he'd revealed himself to be a psychotic murderer, he'd been charming and handsome and entirely too attractive for her peace of mind.

She didn't notice that she'd wandered into a bad situation until it was too late, bumping right into someone. Strong hands gripped her hips and Katara gasped, attempting to reel back as the smell of sweat and dirt filled her nose. Her head snapped up to focus on a large Earth Kingdom man who was leering at her.

"Well, what do we have here?" he drawled in a low voice, his two buddies sniggering either side of her.

"Let me go," she insisted immediately, trying to pull away from the large man and finding that he had an unforgiving grip on her.

"What's pretty little thing like you doing out after dark, eh?" the man asked. "Reckon you must be looking for a bit of fun. What do you think, boys? Think we could show her a good time?"

Katara's blood ran cold and her hands shot to the cap on her waterskin, uncorking it as she flung a blast of water at the man. At such short range, it did little more than hit him and drench his clothing, but it was enough that he reeled back in surprise. Spinning on her heels, Katara ran for it, shouts of protest following her. Feet pounded in her wake and Katara's heart began to race inside her chest. She turned down a side street, hoping she might be able to throw them off.

They gave chase as she ran hard and Katara flung ice over her shoulder, clipping one of the men with it even as she ran harder. She didn't have to ask to know just what kind of a good time those men wanted to show her, and she didn't dare stop and face them, not certain she'd be able to defeat them when she was tired, and alone, and more than a little bit terrified. She ran harder, knocking over a barrel of water and freezing it as she raced by, listening to a shout followed by a crash that she desperately hoped meant she'd lost them. Rounding another corner, already lost in the maze of streets, Katara ran for it.

Strong arms closed around her when she raced around another corner, one hand clapping over her mouth and a strong, male body pressing intimately against hers. An iron-strong arm belted her middle and when Katara tried to uncork her waterskin again, she found her captor's hand clamped over the top, preventing her from reaching for it. She screamed against his hands, writhing in his grip.

"Shhhhh," came a faint, and slightly muffled sound from her captor as he hauled her down behind a low stone wall, forcing her to crouch with him.

Her own words of protest and fury were muffled by his hand, and Katara realized when his grip tightened at the sound of pounding feet that her assailant could hear her pursuers and apparently didn't want them to be found. She froze, her eyes wide, her heart racing inside her chest as she tipped her head, trying to get a look over her shoulder at the face of whoever had grabbed her.

Katara's blood went cold when her vision was filled with a man clad entirely in black but for the Dao blades strapped to his back and the Blue Spirit face mask hiding his identity.

The Blue Spirit!

The one who'd saved Aang from Commander Zhao. He'd saved her, too. Katara felt her body relax minutely as she realized who clutched her so tightly, listening as her assailants ran past with heavy footsteps. Silence reined when they were gone, the Blue Spriit still crouched with her encircled in his protective embrace. He'd saved her.

"What are you doing here?" she found herself asking in a whisper when she pried his hand from her mouth, relaxing completely in his hold and lowering herself to sit between his knees, uncaring right in that moment that she was lost, and scared, and in the presence of a Spirit.

A spirit she was thinking happened to be rather like her Painted Lady. This was no real spirit. He was a man in a mask, but she could feel the steady thump of his heart inside his chest where she leaned against him. He looked over at her sharply, his masked face turning toward her. Though there was no expression she could make out upon the frozen mask, she could tell she'd surprised him with her surrender and her curiosity.

He didn't answer her, of course. She hadn't really expected him to. Aang had said that the Blue Spirit had been silent when he'd freed him from Zhao, too. Apparently, he liked his identity to remain private. Katara wondered if maybe he had a voice that might be recognizable; maybe that's why he stayed silent.

"Thank you," she said quietly in the silence, watching the way he stared at her for a long moment as she made herself comfortable on the ground between his knees. "Thank you for rescuing me. I don't think they had very pleasant intentions."

He shook his head slowly from side to side, seeming baffled by her willingness to sit with him there in the dirt in an empty back-street of the middle ring. She knew she needed to be getting back – that Sokka and the others would be worried now that dark had fallen. She knew she needed to, but Katara didn't dare. Not in the dark when she was lost and had no idea how to get back to the Upper ring and certainly no intention of asking a stranger for directions. Not after being chased by scary men. She'd rather stay there with the Blue Spirit, even if he was silent. She at least knew she could trust him not to hurt her – he'd rescued her, after all, and he'd saved Aang in the past. She trusted him, even if she didn't know his name.

"I can't believe they chased me," she muttered, frowning and looking down at her lap when she felt his hand slowly release the cap of her water-skin, hesitantly testing to see if she would turn on him.

She didn't. Katara relaxed further, leaning against him a little when she noticed a sudden chill in the air. His body was warm beneath the all-black attire he wore that hugged his lithe, muscular frame and Katara found herself leaning into that warmth.

"Do you know the way to the upper ring?" she asked quietly, her eyes tracing over the mask he wore once more when he slowly seemed to relaxed, dropping out of his crouch to sit against the wall.

He shook his head slowly again, still seeming baffled.

"Oh," she said in a small voice. "Neither do I… At least, not in the dark. I… um… I don't really want to try and find my way home in the dark with those guys on the loose."

The Blue Spirit regarded her without a word, leaning there against the wall with her sat intimately between his bent-up knees. Katara turned to face him as best she could without actually pulling away, not wanting to leave the warmth of his embrace.

"I suppose it would be… too much to ask if I suggested that we… um… stay here until morning? Unless you have some better place to go?" she asked, blushing as she looked down. "Only… I'm scared, and I don't want to be alone in the dark all night."

She would swear she heard a faint huff of surprise at the admission and Katara traced her eyes over his mask, wishing she could see his real face; wishing she knew just who was underneath.

She waited, wondering what he might do with her request; wondering if he might permit her to see just who was underneath that mask. She forced her muscles to relax further, leaning into him a little more when he didn't move or speak. She leaned into him, carefully pressing herself to his chest. She laid her cheek on his shoulder, listening to his heart as it slowly began to speed up when she hesitantly curled an arm around his narrow waist. She could feel the tightly corded muscle hidden beneath the black fabric, and she found herself leaning in until she was hugging him before drawing his scent deep into her lungs.

He smelled like smoke and the sea. Katara frowned, wondering how that could be when they were so far from the ocean. He tensed when she drew in another deep lungful of his scent, knowing that sniffing him was probably creepy, but uncaring what he might think of her actions – after all, it wasn't like he was going to say anything in protest.

"You smell nice," she murmured softly, closing her eyes and soaking up the warmth he was emitting, listening to his heart pounding out an uneven, rapid beat. She wondered if she was making him nervous.

She wondered if the strange tingle coursing through her body was coursing through his, too. She wanted to get even closer, she realized, and she lifted her head to look up at him once more when he hesitantly wrapped both arms around her small frame, holding her to him and hugging her back.

"Does this mean you'll stay?" she asked.

She felt him hesitate before he tapped his hands to her lower back and wriggled against her, intent on getting to his feet. Katara frowned, opening her mouth to protest as he rose, his hands sliding under her elbows and making her rise with him. Before she could ask if he was planning to leave her there all by herself, he slipped his hand into hers, interlocking their fingers. A jolt of electricity ran all the way up her arm and into her chest when he did so, and from the way she heard him gasp behind his mask, she knew he must've felt it too.

Katara raised her eyebrows, looking into the mask and waiting to see what he planned. Before she could ask, he stepped around her and pointed to the roof before climbing up on the low wall they'd been leaning against.

"You want to get on the roof?" she asked, frowning when he pulled on her hand, trying to get her to climb up on the wall with him, apparently intent on just that.

He nodded his head, letting go of her hand and jumping to the roof, pulling himself up with apparent ease. He turned back to look at her when he was crouched on the roof before offering her his hand in silent invitation.

"Where are you taking me?" she asked, her curiosity perhaps getting the best of her good sense when she followed him onto the roof.

He didn't answer, and she hadn't expected him to. Instead, he began dashing across the rooves of the houses with ease, his balance clearly spectacular. He didn't let go of her hand as he went, tugging her along with him as he leapt between houses and dashed over the rooftops of the city. She held her breath when he pulled her to a stop on a roof of a house with a very small balcony. A light was on inside the house – a single candle flickering in the window - and he carefully slipped down from the roof to the balcony before turning to look up at her.

Katara raised her eyebrows when he held both hands up toward her, apparently intent on catching her. Biting her lip, Katara glanced around, spying the walls of the Upper Ring in the distance. The gates were closed, she noticed, preventing anyone from passing through unless they were an Earthbender who could scale the wall, burrow under it, or bring it down. She had no choice, she realized. She could follow the Blue Spirit into what must be his home, or she could take her chances on the street for the night.

Sliding off the roof and into his arms, Katara was surprised when he caught her with ease, lowering her slowly down the length of his body to stand before him. When she raised her eyebrows at him, he pressed a finger to the lips of his mask, before cocking his head to one side, listening. Katara copied him, listening hard until she heard the faint sound of snoring coming from within the small apartment.

She felt a smile pull against her lips, realizing that, whoever he was, he must live with someone and he didn't want to be caught sneaking her inside. Pressing her lips together, she nodded and pressed a finger to her lips, indicating that she could be silent if she needed to. He nodded too, before easing through the small space that she supposed counted as a door onto the balcony. He led her in, his hand wrapped around hers once more, and Katara watched him pause at the candle that flickered on the kitchen benchtop. He reached for his mask, one-handed, and lifted it just far enough to blow the candle out in order to keep from wasting it.

Plunged into darkness, Katara's heart stuttered unevenly when he pulled her gently by the hand across the room, sure of his footing even in the dark. She let him lead her, surprised when he pulled her through another doorway before sliding it closed behind them. He guided her to the corner of the room where her hands encountered a soft mattress. It was thin – harder than the one she'd been sleeping on in her bed in the upper ring – but it would certainly do.

"Are you going to tell me your name?" she asked when she heard him shifting around in the dark.

She wondered if he would answer her at all, surprised when he spoke from almost directly in front of her – his hands picking up her right foot and easing her boot off as he did so.

"If I tell you my name, you'll leave," he whispered and Katara was surprised he'd spoken.

"What makes you think so?" she frowned, letting him take her boots from her feet without a fight. "The gates to the upper ring are closed for the night. If I don't stay here, I'll have to take my chances on the street."

"You'd feel safer on the street than you would in here with me if you knew my name, Katara," he said, and Katara's breath hitched, adrenaline shooting through her with a touch of fear that he knew her name.

"You know my name, then?" she asked. "That's hardly fair."

"You know mine," the Blue Spirit countered. "You just haven't figured out that I belong to it."

Katara pressed her lips together, trying to think of who it might be as she heard him rise to his feet once more, apparently disrobing out of his costume.

"If you know my name, and you know I know yours and just haven't figured it out yet, you might as well tell me," she said. "I'll know in the morning, anyway, unless you plan to sleep in your mask."

"In the morning you won't be at risk of being raped when you flee back onto the streets before running back to your friends," he replied evenly, his voice rising from a whisper to the faintest murmur and Katara tried to pinpoint his identity from his voice.

"Just tell me?" she asked. "Please? You saved my life, and you saved Aang from Zhao. So, you must be at least decent."

"And if I'm not?"

"You can't refute the proof," she shrugged, feeling the mattress sag beside her.

"Even if I have plenty more proof of what a bad person I am?" he asked and Katara would swear she knew that voice from somewhere.

"Sometimes the good outweighs the bad," she shrugged. "And you're a decent enough guy to protect a girl from being raped, and then to invite her back to your home where you might very well be caught with a girl in your room just to keep me safe."

He didn't answer, and Katara frowned.

"Are you sleeping in those clothes?" he asked, tugging on the sleeve of her tunic.

She glanced down at herself, though she couldn't see much in the dark.

"I don't have anything else," she pointed out, though when she lifted the fabric of her dress to her nose, she noted that it smelled faintly of sweat.

"You have your sarashi on under it," he pointed out.

"And how would you know that?" she asked, frowning.

"I've seen it," he answered. "The same way I know you're name."

Katara's frown deepened. "Well… what are you sleeping in?" she asked, frowning at him in the dark though she could see his face in the blackness.

"My pants," he answered. "Get off the blanket, and take that dress off. You stink."

"Oh, well that's nice," she scoffed, standing once more, unable to keep from laughing just a little bit at the blunt insult.

"Shut up and do it," he replied.

"And you're bossy. Who do I know who is bossy, rude, and has done terrible things to me that would scare me off into the night, and who's seen me in my sarashi? I know you're not Sokka."

The snort of amusement that drew from her host almost made her laugh, too. Katara shook her head, pulling her dress off over her head and wriggling out of her leggings. When she ducked her head to sniff at her bindings, she realized they smelled worse than the dress and she frowned.

"Do you have a shirt I could wear?" she asked quietly.

"Why?" he asked, clearly taken off guard and Katara's ears twitched.

She definitely knew that voice from somewhere.

"My sarashi smell worse than my dress."

"Gross," the Blue Spirit said, and she felt him brush by her to collect something from across the room.

"Wear this," he told her when he returned, pressing a shirt into her hands.

"Thanks," she said, accepting the garment and unwinding her sarashi before pulling the shirt on over her head. It smelled like him – smoke and the sea. "So… If you've done bad things to me in the past, and you think I'd run if you told me you're name, then why did you rescue me, and why are you letting me stay here with you?"

"I have my reasons," he said. "Come to bed and stop talking, before you wake up my un… house-mate."

Katara had the distinct impression he'd been about to say 'uncle' and when his warm hand closed over her wrist, she was certain she'd felt that hand gripping her wrist before. Katara felt a jolt of fear and something else – something dangerous – race down her spine.

She let him pull her down on the narrow bed beside him, curling under the covers next to him and feeling the way he shuffled around, trying to fit his wide shoulders on the small bed when she was next to him. She got the feeling it would be easier for both of them if she was to cushion her cheek on his chest like she'd done on the street, and her heart raced wildly inside her chest.

She had a pretty good idea of just who the Blue Spirit really was, but she didn't dare say his name out loud. If she acknowledged who he was, she'd never be able to reconcile with herself to stay, rather than making a run for it.

Biting her lip, Katara reached a careful hand across the bed, rolling onto her side until she was facing him. Her hand shook when she smoothed it across his stomach, feeling the taut muscles jump under the light touch.

"What are you doing?" he asked suspiciously, catching her wrist once more.

"The bed is too narrow for two," she said quietly. "And you're just going to keep wriggling unless you have more space by having me pressed against you, instead of trying to keep from touching me."

"You want me to touch you?" he asked, and Katara's cheeks flamed at the wickedly suggestive tone in his sneer.

She tried not to think about that fact that just that very evening, before she'd been chased, she'd been imagining less than appropriate things about him.

"Why do boys always say things to make girls uncomfortable like that?" she asked, huffing.

"You're the one smoothing your hands over my naked torso," he pointed out.

"Oh, am I making you uncomfortable?" she asked sarcastically.

"Not in the way you think," she heard him mutter and Katara's cheeks warmed even more.

The tension in the room thickened tenfold and she held her breath as she shuffled further across the bed, giving him more space by laying on her side and pulling him across the bed before resting her cheek in the hollow of his shoulder. She could hear his heart still hammering out an erratic beat and she knew she wasn't the only one who was suddenly thinking less than appropriate things.

This was wrong. She couldn't see his face, and he wouldn't admit to his name, but she knew who he was and she knew that he friends would never forgive her if they could see her. She wondered if she'd ever be able to forgive herself.

You won't if you don't make the most of this opportunity, the voice inside her subconscious whispered and Katara gulped softly, feeling a little tingle run through her.

No, she couldn't think that way. It would be bad enough owning up to having worn his shirt and slept snuggled in his arms. She couldn't entertain notions of doing more than that.

"Well," she said finally after several strained minutes of tightly controlled breathing and palpable silence. "This is awkward."

"Just close your eyes and go to sleep, Katara," the Blue Spirit muttered, and she felt him curl his arm around her back before he shifted her body a little closer to his and shuffled his shoulders further across the bed.

"I can't," she said. "I…."

"If you're going to talk all night, I'm going to put you back out on the street," he warned.

In spite of herself, Katara laughed at the grumpy boy.

"You're always so mean," she muttered, and she felt him tense.

"You know who I am, then?" he asked.

Katara nodded, propping her chin on his chest and squinting at him, trying to make out his face in the dark.

"And you're still here?" he said.

Katara shrugged. "The alternative is worse," she said. "It's cold outside, and scary. In here it's just warm and scary."

"You're afraid of me?" he asked.

"You have chased me and my friends across the world," she pointed out.

He sighed out a slow breath, apparently needed no further proof that she did know who he was. She waited to see if he would say anything, wondering if he might apologize, or at the very least acknowledge that he'd been a jerk.

"Should've left you outside," she heard him mutter after more long minutes of silence. "I'll never get any sleep with you pressed up against me and so tense."

"Maybe you should do something to make me feel more at ease and less tense in your presence."

She felt him freeze again and Katara winced when she realized what she'd said.

"I… that's not what I… oh, forget it!" she huffed.

"Now you want to use me for my warm bed and my ability to relieve your tension, Katara?" he asked in a low voice that made her quiver with nerves. A horrible thrum of heat washed through her and Katara began pulling away from him, only to find his grip was unrelenting.

"I meant that maybe you could apologize for being such a jerk and chasing us across the world," she huffed.

"Did you?" he asked and Katara's eyes widened when he turned toward her a little, his hot hand catching the back of her knee and shifting her leg until it was hooked over his hip intimately.

"I…" Katara said, her heart racing inside her chest and her breath rasping. "Yes."

"You're panting," he pointed out. "Do I make you nervous, Katara?"

She gulped, feeling a little light headed at the intimate, husky tone that laced his already raspy voice.

"Yes," she admitted without thinking, gasping and clapping a hand to her mouth when she realized what she'd said.

His low laugh was almost scornful, and Katara wanted to die.

"I mean… not… um… not like that," she stammered.

"No?" he asked quietly, his hand very slowly beginning to travel up the back of her thigh. "Funny, I could've sworn I heard you say that I smelled good when you where snuggling into my chest outside."

"That was… different," Katara stammered. "You saved me from those thugs and I didn't know who you were, yet."

"I saved you from pirates, too," he murmured, his breath fanning over her face.

"You tied me to a tree," she argued.

"You were supposed to give me what I wanted."

"Why?" she countered. "You didn't give me what I wanted, and you tied me to a tree! Did you think I would so quickly betray my friends?"

"They'd feel betrayed if they could see you now," he said, sounding smug even as his hand crept up the back of her thigh toward the curve of her bum. "Especially if they knew what you were thinking about doing with me."

"I'm not thinking about doing anything with you, except escaping," she argued, though she knew that they both knew it was a lie.

Something made obvious when he very deliberately slid his knee between her legs and pressed his hot thigh to her tingling core, drawing a ragged little mewl from her lips. He laughed wickedly, shifting his leg against her, generating friction.

"Don't," she whispered. "We… I can't…."

"You want to," he said, sure of himself.

"I…. Zuko, you can't… we're enemies," she said breathlessly, her eyes closed against the sensation of so much heat and friction focused solely on her core.

"Not tonight," he argued softly. "Tonight, we're allies."

"And tomorrow?" she whispered, unable to keep from burrowing her face into his neck, her lips tingling as they touched his skin for the first time.

"Tomorrow is still a long way off," he said quietly. "There are a lot of things I could do to you before then."

"You've been trying to kidnap my friend," she reminded him. "I don't trust you."

"Your friend isn't here," Zuko pointed out huskily. "It's just you and me."

"You're pushing this awfully hard for someone who likes to refer to me as a 'little peasant', Prince Zuko," Katara murmured, her hands moving of their own accord to trace over his muscled torso, exploring the heat of his flesh and tracing each line of muscle as it jumped under her touch.

"You're doing a horrible job of resisting," he retorted, and Katara could feel the puff of his breath on her face, suggesting that his face was just inches from hers.

Her lips tingled with the memory of being kissed in the past and she hated herself for wanting to know how much they might burn if Zuko kissed her. She knew she shouldn't be thinking about kissing him or tracing her hands over his naked flesh. She knew that if anyone ever found out that she'd even stood in his presence without fighting him, they'd call her crazy. Sokka would tell her she was nut-brained and must be suffering Midnight Sun madness. Aang would look confused and hurt, and shake his head if he could see what she was doing right.

Katara's lips twisted when it occurred to her that Toph would probably call her an idiot before enthusiastically cheering her on. The Earthbender was prone to encouraging whatever made people happy, and Katara got the feeling that when she was finished calling her five kinds of stupid, Toph would offer her a high-five. The thought almost made her snort and Katara threw caution to the wind.

No one would ever know, except her and Zuko. No one knew where she was. No one knew he was in the city. No one had to know. Leaning toward him, Katara nuzzled her nose against his, listening as he drew in a little breath of surprise, obviously thinking she'd been planning to pull away.

She didn't.

Her heart was racing, and her stomach was backflipping as she slowly leaned closer until her lips brushed over his softly. Electricity shot through her and Katara's eyes widened in surprise as her senses went haywire when he leaned closer, kissing her again, kissing her harder.

She was kissing Prince Zuko. She was curled in his bed, running her hands over his hot skin, kissing him like she'd never kissed anyone else. He pulled back slightly, breathing heavily and Katara wished she could see his face, even knowing that doing so would somehow make this feel more real, more immediate, more forbidden.

"This is a bad idea," she heard him say, his lips brushing against hers as he spoke and Katara nodded.

"Yeah," she agreed. "It is."

He responded by kissing her again, his hand on the back of her thigh sliding higher, gripping her bum and pulling her closer. His arm around her back tightened, pulling her to him until she was pressed flush against his bare chest. His lips were firm and warm on hers and Katara gasped when he traced his tongue along her lower lip, clearly wondering if she would let him deepen the kiss. She did, parting her lips, Katara darted her tongue out, trembling when his tongue met hers hesitantly.

Unlike the last time she'd kissed a boy, Zuko didn't push forward, claiming what he wanted whether she was ready or not. He went slow, kissing her maddeningly, his tongue smoothing against hers, making her heart race even faster. Her body trembled with the intense feelings coursing through her, her hands shaking as she threaded her fingers through his short hair and Katara found herself surprised that he'd grow it out from the single, long ponytail of hair at the back of his head while the rest was clean shaven. Instead there was soft hair covering his head and she found that it made an excellent handle to anchor his mouth to hers as she kissed him harder.

Unbidden, a soft mewl of pleasure tore from her throat as he ground his thigh against the junction of her thighs and Katara broke their kiss, trailing her lips over his cheek and along his jaw. His breath hitched the higher she climbed, and she realized with a jolt that she was kissing his burned cheek. Without thinking, she traced her lips over the soft skin of his scar and she felt him tremble at the caress.

"Fuck," he whispered when Katara kissed her way across the burned flesh of his cheek and to his ear, nibbling his earlobe and feelings his hands tighten on her.

She huffed when he rolled her to her back, pulling her across the bed until she was pinned under him and Katara felt a smug grin pulling at the corners of her mouth when she felt the hard, hot appendage in his pants nudging against her as he settled himself in the cradle of her hips. She traced her hands over the wide expanse of his back, feeling the corded muscle and the coiled power in his body as he held himself up off her just enough to keep from crushing her.

He turned his head, pulling his ear from between her teeth and kissing her hard on the mouth once more. Katara moaned softly when he ground his hips against hers as he did so, his tongue sliding to meet hers and making her quake with need. She was so hot and so shivery that she wondered if it was possible to grow feverish just from kissing. She'd never been so hot or so shaky with need and she realized with a jolt that she wanted to find out what it would be like to feel him inside her with all that heat and power that made her as nervous as it made her hot.

He kissed her hungrily, his tongue licking repeatedly at hers, his lips hard on hers, his hips grinding against hers and making her that much hotter.

"Have you done this before," he asked huskily, his voice low and rough in a way that made her tremble.

Katara bit her lip before shaking her head slowly. "No," she whispered honestly. "Have you?"

He ground against her before her answered. "Once," he admitted. "Do you… want to?"

Katara hated that she was in a position where she would have to confess that, yes, she most assuredly did want to have sex with him. She didn't doubt that, in the morning, she would be embarrassed by what they'd already done, let alone what they might go on to do and she just knew on some level that if she slept with him tonight – if she gave him her virtue – she would go on to regret it the next time they faced off as adversaries.

"Yes," she whispered breathlessly. "Do you?"

He answered by kissing her all over again, pulling at the hem of her shirt until he was forced to break the kiss to peel her out of it. He kissed his way down her neck and over her bare chest and Katara closed her eyes, her body on fire with the sweet sensations coursing through her.

"Spirits," she moaned when he traced his tongue over her skin, licking the taut pebble of her nipple before closing his mouth over her breast.

She arched into the touch, hot and needy and craving so much more. She wanted to taste the fire that raced through his veins and she wanted to feel it inside of her, coursing through her, too. He seemed intent of letting her because his hands slid under her bindings, peeling her out of her underwear until she laid completely bare upon his bed. He couldn't see her in the dark, she knew, but Katara would swear he tried to, just the same.

Reaching for him, Katara slid her hands over his stomach and down until she found the ties on his pants, unwinding them and pulling at them until the slid down his legs.

"I don't know what I'm doing," Katara admitted in a whisper, smoothing her hands carefully over the faint trail of hair that led south of his navel, unsure how to touch him even though she so desperately wanted to.

She froze when he caught her wrist, his grip gentler than it had ever been before. He curled his hand around hers carefully, guiding it to his body and Katara closed her hand over the hottest part of him with a little gasp of surprise. She heard his breath hitch too, but he didn't stop guiding her hand, showing her what to do. He stood by the edge of the bed and Katara felt him thread his free hand through her hair, weaving his fingers into the long brown tresses while his breath quickened.

Hesitantly, she smoothed her hand up and down the length of him, exploring the shape and girth of him, feeling the texture of his skin, curiously tracing the appendage she'd never seen or touched on anyone else. She made a sound of surprised protest when he pried her hand off him after just a few minutes.

"Hey," she protested.

He laughed huskily, lowering himself back to the bed and pushing her down until she was laid flat on her back once more. Katara bit her lip on more exclamations when he traced his fingers in a swirling pattern over her taut stomach and then lower, to the junction of her thighs. She trembled under his touch, frowning just a little and trying to snap her legs closed at the unfamiliar sensation of anyone else's fingers touching that most intimate part of her. Katara wondered if he was nervous when she felt him draw in a slow, deep breath as though reaching for control and she mewled softly when he sluiced his fingers through the hot flesh before pressing one long finger inside the part of her that throbbed so insistently.

"Oh, spirits," she whispered breathlessly, her whole world narrowing to just the hot feel of his finger moving inside her body.

Mindlessly, she reached for him again, closing her hand over him and matching the slow rhythm he used as he pumped his finger in and out of her, feeling the way he curled it inside of her. When he added another finger, she moaned, pulling him closer with a hand in his hair and pressing her lips to his once more. He groaned into her mouth and Katara felt prickles all over her body at the sound, so low and intimate, so obviously a sign of his pleasure that she almost couldn't bear it. He kissed her hard, his tongue invading her mouth, lapping at hers, kissing her like he couldn't get enough of her.

Maybe he couldn't.

He moved his fingers inside of her until she broke their fervent kiss to pant raggedly, trying to control herself, unable to stand it.

"Are you sure?" he asked her in a low voice, his mouth by her ear when he trailed a line of kisses across her cheek, his fingers still twisting in and out of her in a way that was making her crazy.

"Please," Katara heard herself whimper, subconsciously pulling on his body, trying to bring him closer.

"It might hurt," he warned, shifting over until he was on top of her.

Katara didn't care. She wanted him. She waned all that fire to fill her up and make the throb in between her legs stop. She kissed him again, letting go of him and reaching for his torso instead, pulling him down more firmly on top of her. He didn't say anything as he took the hint and took her eagerness for acquiescence. Katara moaned when he lined his body up at the junction of her thighs, feeling how much hotter he grew as she pulled him closer. She parted her legs wider, making room, wanting it so badly she was almost sobbing with need.

He pushed forward slowly and Katara winced, feeling her body stretching, the sting indicating that she was probably in for some more pain, but she didn't care. She was with Zuko, and all of her past experiences with the firebender up until that moment had involved some level of pain as a result of their fights. She was used to enduring a little sting where he was concerned.

She whimpered when he pressed harder, her body resisting the intrusion before giving way with a throbbing sting that tore a ragged whimper of pain from her lips. He pushed forward then, pushing his way inside of her quickly, trying to limit the length of time it had to hurt and Katara found herself biting his shoulder with the pain of it, but he didn't complain.

"Are you alright?" he asked when he finally stopped moving, his body and hers connected as closely as two bodies could be.

Katara whimpered, blinking tears from her eyes before forcing herself to relax her grip on him, certain that being so tense was the cause the for low ache inside of her.

"Hurts," she whispered honestly.

"I know," he nodded. "My uncle told me it always hurts girls, the first time."

Katara nodded. "Gran Gran said so, too," she admitted.

"Do you want me to stop?" he asked in a low voice.

"You're not even moving," she pointed out.

"It will hurt more when I do," Zuko argued and Katara could hear just the faintest hint of annoyance in his voice. It occurred to her that even right then, sharing the most intimate act two people could engage in, they were still annoying each other and still itching for a fight.

"I've endured worse pain by your hand, Zuko," Katara reminded him quietly. "I can take it."

She heard his teeth grind together at the mention of the things they'd done to one another in the past before he very carefully withdrew from her until she could barely feel even the tip of him inside her, branding her with the heat of his body. When he pushed back in, it stung just a bit, but Katara bit her lip on another whimper. To keep from making another noise lest they wake up his uncle and be caught in this wicked act that would surely baffle their loved ones, Katara pulled his mouth back to her, kissing him soundly.

He kissed back eagerly, building to a slowly, steady rhythm that made her tremble and writhe under him, the heat of his body almost unbearable.

"Fuck," he ground out when the pain lessened and Katara begun rocking her hips into each of his thrusts.

"What?" she asked, frowning, freezing as she worried she'd done something wrong or hurt him.

"So tight," he muttered. "Agni, you're so warm, Katara."

Katara quivered at the almost tortured tone in his voice, smiling just a little and closing her eyes, reveling in the sensations. It was hard to turn her mind off, voices in her head cheering her on while others scolded her for what she was doing, but she tried her best.

When Zuko slipped his hand between their bodies, his fingers seeking out a little bundle of nerves at the top of her slit that she'd noticed made her more tingly whenever she touched it herself, Katara eyes clenched closed, her legs trying to snap shut around his body, interfering with his rhythm.

"Come on, Waterbender," Zuko growled in her ear as he frantically swirled his fingers over and over that bundle of nerves, speeding up his thrusts and driving into her harder. "I know I can break you."

His breathing was labored and Katara felt his entire body heat up until it was almost unbearable, his touch practically scalding her skin. She could feel a low pit of tension, low down in her abdomen that clenched tighter and tighter, getting hotter and hotter until she was sure she wouldn't be able to take it anymore and Katara's eyes widened in fright when he bucked into her even harder, his hot breath on her neck making her tremble just before he swiped his fingers over that bundle of nerves one more time and everything inside her snapped free like a length of sinew pulled to tight.

The low, panicked whimper that tore from her lips was swallowed when Zuko planted his lips on hers one more time, a muted roar escaping him a few seconds after her whole body jerked under his, everything clenching and spasming and twitching in a way that frightened and pleased Katara in equal measure.

"Shooting stars," she gasped when Zuko pulled his lips from hers, panting heavily as his hips jerked before he dropped down on top of her, pinning her to the mattress and engulfing her in the heat of his body in a way that was entirely too pleasant for her liking.

"Agni," she heard him whisper into her hair, groaning softly before he propped himself up with his elbow so that she'd still be able to breathe with him on top of her.

Katara panted as she laid there; her body seemed to be in a state of delighted shock and she found her arms weaving themselves around his back pulling him back down on top of her, pressing him closer until he was sprawled on top of her once more. He huffed a soft sound that might've been a laugh, but he didn't protest. When he dug his arms under her shoulders, pulling her closer, practically cuddling her, Katara closed her eyes, sighing softly, feeling the heat of him sink into her in a way she feared she might never forget.

Her mind began to race again as she laid there, circling back to her thought that afternoon that she might never be satisfied. Maybe she'd been wrong. Maybe she could be satisfied. It would just occur in the arms of a firebender who would probably never want to touch her again after tonight. For a long time, they both just laid there in the dark, their bodies pressed together as his body temperature began to lower until he was no longer unbearably hot, but just snug and warm and entirely too comfortable for her continued peace of mind.

After what felt like a lifetime, she caught her breath and very softly she heard Zuko ask, "Are you alright?"

Katara nodded, though she wasn't sure she would ever be alright ever again.

"Are you?" she asked.

"No," he admitted, apparently braver than she was.

He pulled away before she could ask him anything else about it, rolling off her and sitting up. She squinted when he used his firebending to light a candle on a small table across the room. Her heart stuttered at an uneven tempo when her eyes adjusted to the low light, tracing over the bare expanse of his back slowly. She loathed herself a little for appreciating the view even as she pulled the blankets up to hide her body from view. Not that she needed to bother. He didn't turn to look at her, resting his elbows on his knees and facing the wall.

"Did I hurt you?" Katara found herself asking, unsure how she might've but knowing it could be a possibility.

He snorted.

"No. I hurt you," he said.

"Not badly," she answered softly, frowning.

Zuko turned his head to meet her gaze and Katara held perfectly still, her eyes tracing over his face, taking in the angry red scar that marred his otherwise handsome face. Who was she kidding? Even with his scar, and even frowning with what looked like concern, as he currently was, Zuko was handsome.

"Why did you let me?" he asked, frowning at her.

Katara couldn't think of an answer that wouldn't feel like admitting defeat.

"Why did you want to?" she asked in reply, avoiding the question and Zuko's eyes flashed before he looked away.

"This is bad," he said quietly after several long minutes of silence.

"Tomorrow's another day," she answered quietly.

"We're enemies," he reminded her.

"Not tonight," she repeated his earlier words and Zuko snorted.

He didn't say anything else before he got to his feet, still naked, and opened the bedroom door before disappearing through it. She frowned, wondering if this was his way of pulling away; of re-drawing the adversarial lines between them; reaffirming their enmity. Before she could ponder it too hard, he returned with a small bowl of water and a cloth. Katara raised her eyebrows, but he ignored her, wetting the cloth and using it to rinse off before wringing the cloth in the water again.

He met her eyes when he handed it to her and Katara realized he meant for her to clean up the mess they'd made together before it could mess the sheets. Taking the cloth, her cheeks flushing crimson, Katara tried to wriggled around under the covers, trying her best to clean off. She huffed when she realized there was no way she'd get everything clean at this angle and Zuko flinched when she threw the blanket off and rose to her feet, completely naked.

She couldn't actually remember the last time anyone had seen her naked, and Katara made a face when Zuko's eyes widened as they traced over her supple, naked form. Katara frowned at him.

"This is embarrassing enough without you looking at me like that," she huffed at him and Zuko's lips pulled up at one corner.

"Why are you embarrassed?" he asked. "You're cleaning out something I put in you."

Katara's cheeks flamed and she narrowed her eyes on him before leaning over and blowing out the candle, plunging them into darkness. She heard his low, wicked chuckle even as she propped her foot on the edge of the bed, swiping the cloth over her flesh, wiping away the evidence of what they'd done.

Just as she dropped the cloth back into the bowl of water – finding it only because her element called to her – Zuko used his bending to reignite the candle and Katara blinked at him in the low light of the room.

"What?" she asked when he simply looked at her.

"Why?" he asked seriously. "You could've said no. Why would you let me be the person you have sex with for the very first time?"

Katara shrugged.

"Why did you want to share your second time with me?" she countered.

"Because I'm a teenage boy fueled by entirely too much testosterone and you're a pretty girl," he replied.

"So, I'm just a convenience?" she asked, not at all liking the little prickle of hurt that raced across her senses.

"Am I not?" he asked. "You obviously didn't desert your friends today intending to have sex with the guy who chased you all across the world. You agreed because it was convenient."

"I agreed because I wanted to," Katara retorted hotly before clapping her hands over her mouth.

Zuko smirked wickedly at her. "How long have you wanted to?"

"I… that's not what I meant," she said lamely, her cheeks glowing with her embarrassment. "I don't want to talk about this. Just… move over."

He laughed at her and Katara was surprised by how pleasant a sound his laugh was, even if he was laughing at her expense. He moved over in the bed, after pulling his pants back on and Katara bent down, reaching for the shirt he'd loaned her. Before she could pull it on over her head, he reached for her, his hands smoothing over her wide hips and pulling her down until she was kneeling on the bed between his legs. He had to tip his head back to hold her gaze, and Katara squeaked, putting her hands on his shoulders for balance.

She was uncomfortably aware that she was still naked, but she made no effort to try and hide from his gaze, suspecting that the prince would just laugh at her all the more if she did so.

"How long?" he asked, his expression intent, his eyes fixed upon hers and Katara wondered how she'd never noticed the intelligent gleam in those molten pool.

"That's not what I meant, Zuko," she replied. "I haven't been… you know, like… fantasizing about you or something. I just meant that you asked, and you were touching me and well… then I kind of started to entertain impure thoughts."

"Why did you leave the Avatar?" Zuko frowned at her, his hands light as he gripped her ribcage, intent on interrogating her rather than letting her into bed, it seemed.

"I didn't leave him," she rolled her eyes. "I just went for a walk today because my friends were all getting on my nerves. Without Appa, and waiting to see the Earth King, we're all bored and frustrated, and the Dai Li have been watching us like messenger hawks, and so I just wanted to escape."

"What's 'Appa'?" Zuko frowned.

"Aang's sky-bison," she frowned in return. "He's missing. He was stolen by some sand-benders when we were in the desert and traded to a merchant here in Ba Sing Se. We've been trying to find him."

"What's the Dai Li?" Zuko asked next.

Katara's frowned deepened. "The cultural authority in the city. They're bad news. They're the ones who keep the three rings segregated. In the Upper Ring, people don't even know about the war. They keep the refugees in the lower ring and the middle ring to prevent people from knowing about the war. It's a conspiracy. They brainwashed our guide, and they've been getting in the way every other day. When Azula and those other girls attacked the Outer Wall with their giant drill, they covered it up."

"The city was attacked?" Zuko frowned. "Azula was here?"

Katara nodded. "You haven't heard, then?"

Zuko shook his head.

"What are you doing here, then?" Katara asked. "I assumed when I realized it was you that you must've just followed us here like you followed us across the rest of the world."

Zuko shook his head again. "Uncle and I have been declared traitors of the Fire Nation. My father sent Azula to apprehend us. Haven't you seen the Wanted posters? We're… on the run, I guess. Fugitives of the Fire Nation after what happened at the North Pole."

"Why?" she frowned. "You failed to capture Aang for long."

"That's why," Zuko shrugged, looking away bitterly. "I had him, and then I had nowhere to go. Reports from the soldiers who saw me and Uncle there say we fought against Zhao and as a result, the Avatar escaped and decimated a good portion of the Fire Nation naval fleet. We're wanted for treason."

"And you're hiding in Ba Sing Se?" Katara frowned.

"It's the only place the Fire Nation haven't reached," Zuko shrugged his shoulders.

"Except that you're here," Katara pointed out.

"I spend my days helping Uncle in a tea-shop nearby," Zuko argued. "I haven't used my firebending on anyone."

"No, you're just sneaking around the city dressed as the Blue Spirit."

"I saved your life," he reminded her.

"Maybe, but the outcome of the evening was the same, whether you had or hadn't," she said.

He frowned at her. "Are you accusing me of forcing myself on you?" he demanded, dropping his hold on her and looking furious and offended.

"No," Katara held up a placating hand. "I only meant that I ended up parting with my virtue, regardless. I'm grateful I gave it to you, rather than being robbed of it by those thugs."

Zuko's brow stayed furrowed and his intense eyes traced over her face carefully, searching for some sign that she was lying.

"What are you going to do about the fact that Uncle and I are in the city?" he asked finally when Katara lowered herself, sitting between his knees on the bed as she pulled his shirt on over her head.

"What are you going to do about the fact that Aang is in the city?" Katara countered. "Are you going to let me leave in the morning? Or do you plan to find another tree to tie me to, so you can use me as bait?"

"There aren't any nice trees in the city," he shrugged and Katara's eyes widened before she laughed.

"Well," she said. "I suppose that's… thoughtful… of you."

Zuko scowled at her.

"I'll still be your enemy in the morning," he warned her.

"An enemy who plans on detaining me?" she asked, raising her eyebrows. "Or are you going to let me go?"

"If I let you go, you'll have me over to the authorities," he said, his eyes narrowed.

"Not here, I won't," Katara admitted. "The Dai Li wouldn't hand you over to the Fire Nation. They'd probably drag you away and brainwash you or something."

Zuko's frown deepened.

"So then, we're at an impasse?" he asked. "We just… pretend we never saw each other and go about things as we were before."

"Well, I mean," Katara grinned. "I might go in search of a certain tea-shop in the middle ring in the hopes of spying the Fire Nation prince practicing customer service and being nice to people."

He looked murderous for a moment and Katara wondered if maybe he wasn't going to laugh at the joke.

"I might have to see what I can do about earning my father's forgiveness by dragging the Avatar back to the Fire Nation," he replied.

"Because that's worked out so well for you, so far?" Katara rolled her eyes. "Honestly, you'd be better off turning on your father and helping us defeat him, the way your luck is going."

Zuko looked like she'd slapped him.

"Are you calling me a failure?" he asked, his voice taking on that low and dangerous tone that made the hairs on the back of her neck prickle.

She hesitated for a moment, wondering how to answer him before throwing caution to the wind.

"Yes," she said finally. "Every time you try to capture Aang, you always mess it up. You never think through your plan well enough of what to do if you actually manage to catch him and then you end up almost dying, like you did at the North Pole."

"I only lost him at the North Pole because of you," he retorted angrily.

"You lost because you invaded a hostile landscape and tried to conquer it with just the strength of your will alone, Zuko," Katara argued with him. "Even if it hadn't been a full moon, and even if we'd never found you, you and Aang would both have died up there in that blizzard. You went the wrong way because you were more concerned with getting Aang and keeping him for yourself, for the sake of your pride and your honour, at the detriment of your health and your safety. If you'd been working with your Nation, you'd have captured him and probably gotten him away from us before I took him back. You didn't have a plan of escape, you just want to get to him before Zhao did."

Zuko looked angry, but Katara refused to apologize.

"If, on the other hand, you spent more time doing what you want to do, rather than running after this unachievable command from your father to capture the Avatar, you'd actually get somewhere. Don't you see that?" Katara asked. "Half the time you sabotage yourself because your only goal is 'catch Aang'. You don't think beyond that. In your mind the end-result is Aang in chains, but even when you get him to that point, he gets away because you haven't thought through what to do once you get him."

"When I get him, I'll drag him home to the Fire Nation and my father will forgive me and restore my honor!" Zuko snarled at her.

Katara shook her head at him, trying to fathom how this angry, obviously intelligent young man could be so blinded in so many ways. Toph saw things more clearly that Zuko seemed to.

"Can I ask you something, Zuko?" she said quietly, hesitantly reaching out a hand and touching his bare chest, feeling his heart beating out an angry rhythm.

"What?" he snapped, glaring at her and looking like he wanted to throw her out of his room.

"What did you do to have him strip you of your honor and banish you in the first place?" Katara asked.

Zuko narrowed his eyes one her.

"What do you care?" he demanded.

She shrugged. "I want to know. Please, tell me?" she pleaded softly. "Maybe if I understood, I'd be able to help you?"

His eyes widened in shock. "You'd never turn on the Avatar," he argued.

"This morning you'd have said that you and I would never have had sex, too," she pointed out. "But we have."

Zuko's brow furrowed as he stared at her.

"I spoke out of turn and disrespected my father," he said begrudgingly.

"What did you say?" Katara frowned.

Zuko looked like he'd been fed poison as he looked away.

"I spoke out against one of my father's generals. He put forward an idea to send new recruits to fight a division of the Earth Kingdom forces, planning to use them as bait while the most experienced soldiers invaded from the rear. I protested that it was wrong to consign young warriors to death as canon fodder when they'd signed up to fight for their Nation. I said that it wasn't right to use their willingness to defend the Fire Nation as a means of sacrificing them all just for a small victory."

Katara's eyes were wide, and she waited in silence for the rest.

"When I spoke out of turn, I was told I'd insulted the general's honor, and would have to fight him in an Agni Kai. When I went to the arena and turned to fight him, my father stood in the general's place. I refused to fight him because he's my father and I was just a thirteen-year-old kid. He said that if I didn't fight, I was a disgrace to the Fire Nation, a coward, too weak to befit my bloodline. He said he would show me respect when I continued to defy his demands to fight him, and suffering would be my teacher. He encased his fist in fire and he punched me."

Zuko reached to touch his cheek where the terrible scar still marked his flesh. Katara's eyes filled with tears.

"He punished you for having compassion? For being… decent?" she asked.

"I was disrespectful," he argued.

"You spoke up defending young men who were to be slaughtered like whale-seals. You showed compassion, Zuko. I know it's probably not the case in the Fire Nation, but in the rest of the world, being a decent person involves giving a damn about what happens to other people, even if you don't know them. You tried to keep innocent men from dying for a bad cause. That is not something that strips you of honor, Zuko. The ones without honor in that story are your father and his war-generals. How could they just throw away the lives of their men like that?"

Zuko's eyes were wide as she ranted, defending his actions.

"I spoke out of turn," he said. "I refused to fight. I dishonored myself by being too cowardly to fight my father."

"You were thirteen!" Katara snapped. "No one in their right mind demands that their own son has to fight them in a fire duel just for speaking out against an evil idea, Zuko."

"I should have fought," he argued.

"You'd have worse scars than this one, if you had," she said, reaching for his scar and touching it gently. "It sounds like he was just looking for an excuse to hurt you and cast you out, Zuko."

Zuko looked away, clenching his eyes closed, Zhao's voice running through his head, telling him that if his father than wanted him back, he'd have let him return, by now. He heard Azula's voice from before his mother had disappeared, telling him that Dad was going to kill him.

"You're wrong," he bit out, opening his eyes to glare at Katara. He snatched her hand from his scar.

When she met his eyes, her expression was so sad, he almost wanted to hurt her. She looked so pitying.

"No, Zuko," she whispered. "Your father was wrong, and your sister is wrong, and if anyone else in your nation thinks you deserve this exile, then they're wrong too. They're nut-brained sadists and you're better off without them. You need to start thinking about yourself, instead of how to please them. Returning to their side isn't going to make you happy. It's just going to expose you to more of their evil."

Before he could open his mouth to refute her suggestion, Katara leaned into him, planting her lips on his once more. She threaded her hands into his hair and she pressed herself against him, kissing him soundly and trying to find a way to show him that if he'd just stop trying to appease his sadistic father, he'd be better off. She doubted she'd be able to get through to him so easily – if she knew anything about Prince Zuko, it was that he was the stubbornest boy she'd ever met – but she had to try. Even if trying meant convincing him that even though he was a prince and she was just some peasant, she could show him more kindness, more compassion, and more affection than his family or his Nation had ever done.

Zuko growled in the back of his throat, his hands closing over her waist and squeezing tightly like he might pull away, but when she traced the tips of her fingers over his scar and over his burned ear once more, he gave in with a groan of defeat, pulling her further onto his lap and holding her close until the bad feelings stirred up by their discussion were forgotten.