Drawn to Blackened Skies

AN: The beginning of this story is strangely like the beginning of another fic, Predator and Prey, though I wrote the beginning before I read the fic. I don't know how that happened. But the similarity stops there (with the exception of the pairing.) Also, I'm sorry if Zuko seems a little OOC, but he is hard to write. He's just too multifaceted. Which is probably why I love his character so much. Also (I'm almost done, don't worry) I'd like to point out that the title is one of the lyrics to Savage Garden's You Can Still Be Free. Because I really like that song.

Katara stared pensively at the glittering stars as she listened to the sounds of the night. Chirping cicadas, a gentle wind, and the peaceful sighs of Momo and Appa blended harmonically with Aang's soft breathing, and everything was occasionally punctuated by Sokka's snores. She smiled softly and sat up, eventually rising to her feet. The boys didn't stir as she left the campsite.

Several minutes later she was standing on the bank of a calm stream, pulling off her azure robes as she prepared for a bath.

I don't really need to bathe at night, she mused as she slipped into the cool water. After all, Sokka's my older brother, and he would never let Aang peek, even if Aang was that kind of guy. But, she gazed up at the speckled heavens. It's just so peaceful at night... A perfect time to relax.

She sighed and wove her hand idly through the water, watching it glide between her fingers. She bent some of the liquid around her body, cleansing it of all the dirt and grime that had accumulated on her skin and hair since her last bath. She noticed a scratch still healing on her arm. For an instant she couldn't place where the cut had come from, but then it returned clearly to her. It had been from the fight a few days before, when she had stolen the waterbending scroll from a crew of pirates. Then the Fire Nation's Prince Zuko had captured her, and through an ironic twist of fate, saved her from the pirates. She stared noiselessly into the water; she knew enough of what pirates were capable of doing,especially to girls...

Katara shuddered. The air around her was getting colder, and the frost of the night seemed to be drawn to her wet skin. She stepped out of the stream and bent as much water as she could off her body and hair, before drying the last remnant of damp with a small towel. She pulled her clothes back on and began trotting back to the camp, scolding herself for getting spooked by such a memory. It wasn't even a memory, but a story! But that knowledge didn't stop her from shivering again.

"Cold?" Katara froze at the sound. The wind shifted around her, and suddenly she caught the faint smell of charcoal. She turned, slowly, to face the too familiar owner of the voice. Prince Zuko was leaning against a tree a few yards away. His yellow eyes-- predator's eyes-- were trained carefully on her, though his fingers were idly weaving through a silky blue band. Katara immediately recognized it as her mother's necklace. The Firebender noticed her stare and smirked.

"Did you lose something?" he asked smugly, showing off the stone.

"Give it back," Katara said evenly. This is just like walking close to a wolf, she told herself. Show no fear, and you're safe.The last thing she wanted to do was panic. Another thought entered her mind, and she found herself grateful that the night was too dark for the Prince to see the furious blush that was staining her cheeks.

"I don't think I will," the Prince said with a shrug.

"And why not?" Anger was beginning to bleed into her voice. If she could get mad, she wouldn't be afraid, and she wouldn't be tempted to run back to Aang. Zuko shrugged.

"This," he showcased the necklace again. "Is a finely crafted piece. I could sell it for an impressive amount," he made a point of studying the stone, "Or I may keep it for myself. But it would be a shame to give it away...For nothing." Katara glared at him. She knew exactly where this was going.

"I won't let you anywhere near Aang," she growled. Prince Zuko met her scowl with a steady gaze.

"I didn't say anything about the Avatar," he pointed out innocently. Katara deflated slightly, but not much.

"Then what do you want?" she demanded. Prince Zuko looked thoughtful, but only offered her a slight smirk. His silence made her uneasy, and her earlier thought returned to her. "And exactly how long have you been standing there?" The Exiled Prince seemed incredibly amused by the question.

"Long enough," he mused. Katara twitched, debating whether she was willing to risk slapping him. The Prince seemed to be aware of her dilemma.

"You can calm down," he said, straightening until he stood at his full height. "I am a Prince. Not a pervert." Famous last words, thought Katara, though she did relax slightly. She was still eyeing him suspiciously.

"Then why are you here?" she asked. To capture Aang, no doubt, the girl thought venomously.

"I was looking for the owner of this necklace," Prince Zuko said, his voice absolutely smooth.

"Here I am," Katara said. Whatever game he was playing with her was making her uneasy, and his perfect calm reminded her too much of a bear, shortly before it devoured a seal.

"And you want this back?" Katara wondered vaguely if Prince Zuko had any fame with torture and interrogation. But the necklace had belonged to her mother. It was too important to just give up.

"Yes. I want it back." She knew somehow that he wouldn't make this easy. "What do you want for it?" The expression on his face told her that she had done exactly what he wanted. "But I'm not letting you get anywhere near Aang," she added again. Prince Zuko nodded knowingly.

"For the necklace, you have to give me..." he smirked again. "A kiss."


"Kiss me, and I'll give you back your necklace."

The overwhelming desire to slap him within an inch of his life filled Katara once again. Not a pervert, my foot! A strong feeling of disgust coursed through her veins, probably very similar to the hatred her brother felt for any Firebender.

And yet...

It wasn't as though he was asking for her to hand over Aang again, or threatening to hurt someone. He wasn't even asking for money (which she didn't have anyway). Only a kiss. For the very last remnant of her mother. It probably wouldn't even have to be a long kiss. She might even be able to get away with a peck on the cheek. And if she refused this, he might raise the price later, which she didn't honestly want to think too much about.

It's an odd request, she concluded.

She looked him squarely in the eyes.

"You swear you'll give me the necklace?" she asked. Prince Zuko nodded, his smile slightly more gentle than it had been before.

"I swear," he assured her. She noticed that he didn't promise by his honor, as was supposedly a custom among Firebenders, but she ignored the abnormality.

"All right, then," she said, finally submitting to the inevitable. Slowly she stepped forward, closing the distance between them to just more than a half foot. She would have finished the act then, but she realized that Prince Zuko was too much taller than she was. Gingerly she put her hands on his shoulders and pulled herself up to meet him. For an instant she hesitated, but she found warm arms wrapping around her, pulling her against his chest, and soft lips closing over hers.

So much for a peck on the cheek.

But the thought dissolved almost as soon as it was formed. The kiss deepened, and Katara realized that she was enjoying it. It was powerful and soothing, seductive yet innocent. It was a wordless promise of something she could just barely understand. Some part of her realized that she was still cold, and she pressed further into his warm embrace. Zuko freed one hand and traced her cheek with gentle fingers, smoothing her hair, caressing her neck.

He gently pulled his lips away from hers, leaving her gasping for breath.

"Thank you," he murmured into her ear. Without another word, he loosened his hold on her, and the two seperated.

And as swiftly as a dream, he was gone.

Katara fell back against the tree, suddenly exhuasted. The scent of charcoal brushed her nose, and she shivered again, though no longer in fear. Unsteadily, she stumbled back to the camp and crawled into her sleeping bag. As she lay her head down to make an attempt at sleep, she realized that her hand was in a tight fist, clenched desperately around something she didn't remember picking up. Slowly she opened her fingers, and revealed the blue silk band and perfectly carved stone.

Katara turned slightly and stared up at the stars as they glittered in thier heavens. Something seemed different about those stars, she decided. Or...was she different?

She smiled and squeezed her mother's necklace again.

Perhaps she had changed. But it wasn't a change for the worse.

As Katara drifted to sleep, she found herself wondering where Zuko was. If he would be safe. And where he learned to kiss like that.