Katara paced nervously, waiting for him to join her, waiting to see if he really would find her here. She didn't know if she should've come. Maybe she should go. This was madness. She was just going a little loopy. Maybe they'd been on Ember Island for too long. Maybe the hot Fire Nation sunshine had fried her brain. For a long time, she paced back and forth, realizing the longer she waited that this must be where Zuko retreated to whenever they couldn't find him.

They'd been on the Island for weeks now in the lead up to the battle they planned to fight against the Fire Lord and his armies. Weeks of watching Aang struggle to master firebending. Weeks of Zuko shirtless while he trained Aang, and shirtless while he swam in the sea with Katara and the others. Often, he even went shirtless as he just wandered about the island, obviously very at home here at his father's estate and evidently comfortable in the presence of her and her friends.

That kind of pleased her. She was still a little suspicious of him, sometimes, especially when he pulled stunts like the one when he'd chased Aang all around the island, almost killing all of them, pretending they were already at war, giving Aang no quarter. But she was growing fond of him, too. Their trip to find the Southern Raiders had changed her opinion of him for the better, while she felt it'd probably changed his opinion of her for the worse. She had been out of control and wrathful during that trip and only the end when she'd shown mercy could've painted her with any redemption in the eyes of the moody prince.

"Katara?" he said quietly when she paced the full length of the room and leaned around the high window that looked out over the ocean far below.

Katara spun quickly, her cheeks warming when she noted that he was still shirtless, embarrassed by the startled gasp of shock she emitted that he'd managed to sneak up on her despite the creaky steps that led up here from the Fire Lord's chamber below.

"Zuko," she said quietly, her heart beginning to pound inside her chest.

"Did I scare you?" he asked, looking wickedly amused and Katara blushed, looking down at her feet before her eyes returned, unbidden, to drink in the sight of him all over again.

"A little," she confessed.

He grinned for a moment before turning and crouching, closing the hatch that led to this attic-style room. Katara's stomach flipped when she noticed that he bolted the latch on the hatch, obviously not planning to have anyone disturb them any time soon.

"Where are the others?" she asked quietly, her heart flip-flopping erratically inside her chest.

"Down at the beach," Zuko said, rising from his crouch and taking a slow, measured step towards her. "Sokka and Suki snuck off to the far side of the island earlier, and Toph was making sandcastles. I sent Aang down to train with her."

"Where do they think you are?" she asked breathlessly.

"Taking a nap," he smirked.

"And me?"

"I told them you went for a walk, looking for healing herbs," he answered, watching her carefully.

"Right," Katara bit her lip nervously when he took another step in her direction.

"You alright?" he checked again, raising his eyebrows at her.

Katara nodded quickly. She wanted to touch him again. She wanted to run her hands over his and feel all that fire and power boiling under his skin. But they shouldn't. They were just friends. This was a mistake. She was just having a weird day.

"So…" she said, trying to think of something to say. "Um... why… why'd you want to meet me up here?"

For a moment, Zuko looked alarmed, like he thought maybe he'd read the situation wrong and was scrambling for something to say. Katara sighed, her shoulders drooping as she conceded defeat before she could make him any more uncomfortable.

"Why'd you touch my stomach?" he countered, evidently settling on putting the pressure back on her.

Katara gulped audibly.

"I… uh… well…" she stammered, her cheeks aflame.

Zuko took another step towards her for every stuttered word.

"Well?" he prompted when he stopped in front of her, close enough to touch. The scent of him washed over her again, enticing and delicious and Katara's remaining sense flew right out the window. Both her hands lifted, smoothing over the hard planes of his abs and chest, skin on skin thanks to his shirtless state. The tightness in Zuko's powerful shoulders loosened as he breathed out in relief, clearly realizing he hadn't been wrong in thinking she wanted him.

"Have you ever done anything like this before?" he clarified quietly, his hands lifting to grip her hips through the thin blue fabric of her dress.

Katara bit her bottom lip, intoxicated by his touch and her overwhelming presence.

"Just once," she whispered, nodding her head.

"Thank Agni for that," she heard him mutter before he leaned down and claimed her lips without warning.

Katara was lost.

Instantly, her mind blanked and everything but the feel of his lips moving against hers and the sweep of his tongue into her mouth was forgotten. Aang and the others didn't matter. The impending war didn't matter. Her worries about the safety of her family and her friends were forgotten. All that mattered was the scald of Zuko's lips on hers and the heat of his hands on her hips as he pulled her into his powerful body hungrily.

All the reasons they shouldn't be doing this meant nothing when Katara bowed into Zuko's touch, her hands smoothing up his chest and to the back of his neck, clinging to him desperately and kissing him as though her life depended on it. He was hot to touch, sizzling under her hands, practically scalding her as she wrapped herself around him hungrily. Stars, she needed this. She needed the release. She needed to forget everything that plagued her mind every day and Zuko was doing a fantastic job of providing a distraction.

When his hands fisted her dress and started dragging it up, Katara pulled back from his lips, lifting her arms and letting him yank the offending fabric off over her head. It'd been so warm today that she'd forgone her leggings, and only her sarashi remained.

"How do those come off?" Zuko asked, leaning into her again and kissing her neck like he was as intoxicated by her touch as she was by his.

"They unwind," Katara said breathlessly, going for the drawstring on his pants and tugging at it, trying to get it undone.

"How?" Zuko asked, his hands wandering her torso, looking for an end to begin unwinding her.

Katara laughed.

"I'll get it," she muttered, tipping her head to give him better access when he licked and nibbled her throat like he wanted to devour her.

"Hurry," he urged when she started trying to unravel the bindings.

Katara laughed.

"Impatient?" she teased, surprised by his urging.

"You have no idea," he muttered. "Give me that.

Katara frowned in confusion, handing him the end of the sarashi she'd unraveled. And she squealed in surprise when he took it tightly in one hand before he gripped her shoulder with the other and gave her a shove, twirling her across the room and unwinding the sarashi at high speed. She was laughing and a little dizzy by the time the long strip of cloth was free, her torso bared to his gaze.

"Well," she laughed. "I've never unwound it like that before."

He grinned.

"Happy to oblige. Any time," he drawled, winking even as he dropped the cloth he held and came after her again. "Do the others unwind too?"

He nodded to the ones around her hips and wrapped around her thighs.

"Kind of," she said, shimmying a little until she could wiggle out of the leg bindings, having sewed them into something better-resembling pants when unwinding them to take potty breaks grew tiresome. "What about you?"

She nodded at his trousers and Katara noticed the curl of smoke that came from the fabric when he reached for the drawstring, impatiently untying it as Katara stepped out of her clothes, standing naked before him. Her heart hammered out an uneven beat against her ribcage, her skin humming with need. Spirits, she'd never felt like this before. Not even when she'd slept with Jet.

"Come here," Zuko commanded quietly when he stepped out of his pants, bare to her gaze and making her brain go fuzzy.

"Okay," she whispered throatily, her hands itching to touch him again.

He didn't protest when she could reach and did just that, her hands smoothing over his chest and down across those tight abs, trailing lower.

"You've done this before, right?" she confirmed, certain he had.

"Yeah," he nodded, ending the word on a groan when she curled a hand around the part of him jutting high and proud and ready for action.

"Good," Katara said, leaning into him, kissing him hungrily again.

"Once?" he confirmed when his hands found her bare breast, the fire of his skin making her shiver and breaking their kiss with her low moan.

"Once," Katara nodded.

"Recently?"

Katara shook her head. "Early into our journey. The town where that dam blew up."

"Jet?" Zuko guessed, his eyes narrowing.

Katara nodded, ashamed that she'd fallen for Jet's charms before she realized what a monster he was.

Zuko nodded too before he kissed her again, guiding her backward and over to a couch against the far wall. When he reached it, Zuko lowered her down on top of it with ease, unbothered by her weight as he helped himself to her body. His hands moved down over her breasts again, trailing even lower when his mouth followed the path his hands had taken, his warm mouth engulfing one of her nipples and making Katara cry out.

"Stars, Zuko," she breathed when those hot fingers of his found their way between her legs, burrowing into her heat without hesitation.

"Too fast?" he questioned between licks to her nipple.

Katara shook her head.

"More," she invited hungrily.

Zuko grinned at her rakishly.

He looked torn between kissing his way lower or ravishing her right then and there. Katara made the decision for him, dragging him back up her body and claiming his lips for another delirious kiss, spreading her legs as he crawled between them.

"You sure?" he asked, breaking their hot kiss after several minutes, their body pressed together, but not yet joined.

"Certain," she nodded, crazy with lust now, hungry for him; positively aching to feel him fill her up once and for all.

"Good," he grunted before aligning their bodies and pushing slowly home.

Katara whimpered, her legs parting further to accommodate him, her body unfamiliar with the sensations of being so stretched when it'd been so long, and only once before. Zuko hissed a slow breath out through his teeth as he pressed forward, thrusting shallowly to ease the way until he sank deep, filling her completely.

It was like nothing Katara had ever known. The heat radiating out of his skin practically seared her, inside and out. Zuko paused to allow her a moment to acclimatize to him; breathing deeply against the side of her neck and twitching a little with the urge to move.

Katara rolled her hips slowly when the shock wore off, her body beginning to ache for friction and Zuko sighed in relief before withdrawing slowly and pressing back in.

"Faster," she murmured against his shoulder, her hands roaming his back, feeling the muscles bunch and stretch as he powered into her again and again.

Zuko obliged, his pace increasing rapidly until he was slamming into her and Katara had to brace for every pound, her legs locked around his, ankles twisted at the small of his back, her hands gripping his arms and her teeth routinely finding his shoulder, sinking into him in encouragement while moans and whines of pleasured abandon slipped from her lips with every pass of him so deep inside her.

She'd never felt like this. It hadn't felt like this with Jet. All there was in that moment was heat and Zuko and friction, the feel and smell and sound of him taking her so completely overwhelming her senses and leaving her in a daze as her body tightened and tightened around him, clamping down while she gasped against this growing sense that she was going to implode.

"Zuko… Zuko… I'm," she managed, trying to warn him, worried she was going to lose control as she did sometimes when she was bending. "I'm gonna… I'm… arrghhhh!"

It broke over her like a tidal wave of fire and ice and happiness and something bordering on pain and Zuko shifted to plant his lips on hers, trying to muffle the sound she made as she shattered into a million little raindrops.

"Agni," he muttered against her neck as her body continued to spasm under his while he rocked into her, his pace quickening, his thrusts growing short and sharp. "Katara!"

She sighed contentedly when he slammed into her deep, his body juddering as he muffled his shout against the side of her neck, his hands so tight around her ribs, but so good and so right and stars, she never wanted him to leave. She wanted to spend the rest of her life with all his warmth filling her up just like this. She smoothed her hands over his back when he slumped down on top of her, exhausted and spent, breathing hard.

For a long time, they simply laid like that, the couch deep and soft and comfortable, and the warmth of him like a favorite blanket stretched over her. She'd never been so boneless; never felt so safe.

"You alright?" he rasped quietly after a long time.

"Mmmm," she hummed contentedly. "Perfect."

Zuko laughed softly against her collarbone.

"We better get moving unless you want the others coming back and asking where we've been," he muttered, though he sounded like the very last thing he wanted to do was move.

"Should've told them I was napping, too," she said. "Feel like I could."

Zuko huffed a laugh.

"Next time," he told her, pressing his lips to the side of her neck gently before he slowly lifted off her, withdrawing from her and moving to sit on the cushions at the far end of the couch.

"Next time?" she asked curiously, a little smile pulling at the corners of her mouth.

"What?" he shot her a knowing look. "You think you'll only be lustful once?"

Katara laughed.

"I hope not," she grinned and he smiled in return, his serious face transforming into an expression of fond happiness that made her melt just a little bit.

"Too bad you weren't feeling like this on our adventure," he mused, leaning back against her legs and the cushions, uncaring about his nudity. "Could've taken a few more days and not had to worry about being interrupted."

"Too bad," she agreed sleepily, closing her eyes and thinking about drifting off to sleep.

Zuko moved off the couch, collecting his pants and putting them back on before returning to her with her things.

"Don't go to sleep," he nudged her.

"Why not?" she asked. "No one else knows how to get up here. And they all think I'm gathering herbs. I could take a little nap."

"They'll realize if we're both missing for hours," he reminded her.

"So you go play with them," she teased.

"Should find somewhere to swim before we get anywhere near Toph," he mused. "She'll be able to smell it on us, I expect."

"Gross," Katara wrinkled her nose.

"For her too," he laughed. "Come on, little waterbender. Get dressed. I'll show you a swimming hole the others don't know about yet."

Katara opened one eye, always interested in immersing herself in her element. He smirked at her cockily, obviously having known that would tempt her. Sighing, she sat up slowly, reached for her clothes, and shimmied her way back into them with a little help from Zuko when she almost got tangled in her dress.

He led the way back down the hatch and out through the house, and Katara followed him, stopping to grab her herb-gathering basket to bring some legitimacy to their claims of how they'd spent their time. He didn't say anything as he led her off down a barely-there track halfway down the path to the beach, walking away into the undergrowth, and Katara didn't say anything either.

What was there to say? Other than that now, she could no longer claim she'd only done it once.