The light in the Prince's room was dim, brightened only by a small flame from a single candle.
Zuko sat on the floor with his back resting against the wall, watching his shadow dance against the cold steel, following the candlelight. He sighed in frustration.
When had his life come to this? He pondered, watching the shadow flicker darker and lighter with the candles flame. This was the second day in a row he almost tossed someone overboard or burnt them to a crisp with one of his rage filled outbursts.
'Why?' His own thoughts taunted him to answer.
The Prince clenched his fists as he rose and walked over to the porthole window.
He knew exactly why, not that he'd admit it out loud…
Zuko winced as he rubbed the tension from the back of his neck. No matter how brief of a moment he was alone with her that accursed night; he couldn't get her out of his mind. He remembered her frightened eyes when he grabbed her wrists saying softly to her, "I'll save you from the pirates."
The Prince gazed out the window toward the silver moon as he thought back on that moment.
He never knew why he felt like he was actually saving her that night, that she counted on him to protect her. Ha, wishful thinking, her fear filled eyes turned to hatred after she was over her initial shock.
Zuko sighed and turned away from the window. He relaxed the back of his head against the wall where he stood.
He needed to be alone with her one last time, when her eyes were not filled with hate for him. Just one more time, he knew then he'd be able to live with himself afterwards.
'How?' A voice spoke in the back of his mind. 'She would never spend one second alone with you!' The voice seemed to laugh at him.
The Prince let out a frustrated growl and kicked the nearest object on the floor. He watched whatever it was go flying across the room and land with a crash. After a while, he finally lit his hand up in flames to see what damage he might have caused with his tizzy fit.
The firebender rubbed his forehead in anger as he walked toward the now noticeably blue object. Puzzled, Zuko walked closer and held what he recognized as his, or rather, the Blue Spirit's mask. He smirked as a plan unfolded in his head.
Katara looked through her window, gazing at the stars as she thought about how lucky the gang was to come to this peaceful place.
She was grateful that they were staying in a little house in a village for once, instead of on the rocky grounds of the woods. That Aunt Wu was very kind to let them stay in her village, especially after how Sokka was badmouthing her profession all through their stay.
The waterbender watched as the moon glittered across some spilled water by the towns well. Katara began to bend the water to her from the window and started to make shapes and whatever she could think of with the water, then froze it to keep it's shape. She smiled as she started shaping her friends' heads and turning them to ice, which fell into her open hands. The water tribe girl started talking to herself slowly as she formed each one.
"Hum, lets see, I'll make…Sokka!"
She began to form her brother's head with the water, trying to add every detail perfectly.
Once she was satisfied with the after product, she started on Aang, then Gran Gran, Suki, Haru, that weird foaming guy, and a few others, she watched as each one fell into her hand. With her other hand she brought up the little water that was left from the puddle and started on one last face.
"I'm going to have a little fun with your face Prince I'm-so-high-and-mighty Zuko…"
She giggled as she closed her eyes, trying to remember every detail of his face while concentrating on bending the water with her free hand. After she felt she was finished, she froze the water before opening her eyes to see her handiwork. Katara gasped and then laughed as she saw what her mind concocted.
"Yup that's the prince alright!" She chuckled as she inspected the little, and somewhat contorted ice Zuko, which somewhere in her thinking she had added little devil horns. "How fitting."
The girl sighed contently as she turned her little figures back into water and started bending it back to the well. When she finished the small task, a flash of something caught her eye by a small tree in the yard of the house.
It looked like someone, a man, leaning against the tree. Katara tried to hide the tremor in her voice as she spoke out to the 'supposed' man.
"Who are you and why are you standing outside our house?"
The being cocked his head sideways for a moment as he leaned away from the tree and walked out from the shadows.
Katara gasped softly as she saw the man wearing a mask, shielding his identity.
The man placed his hand on his chest, signaling himself.
"Y-yes you! Why are you here in our yard?"
She brought up a little water from the streets well to protect her, just in case.
The masked man put his head down, as if to think, then pointed up at her.
Katara furrowed her eyebrows.
"Me? You're here because of me?"
The being nodded his head.
The waterbender backed away from the window slightly, wondering if 'he was some kind of pervert or something'.
The masked man seemed to laugh a little as realization came to her.
"I…I said that out loud didn't I?" She asked as she rubbed her hand down her face, feeling rather humiliated.
The man tried to hide a chuckle, as he shook his head no.
Katara smiled and relaxed a little.
"Ok, I'll believe you…for now"
The masked being did a small bow as he reached behind his back and brought something that she recognized as her water skin.
"My water pouch! Where did you find that?"
The man pointed over to the street.
"That's funny, I don't remember losing it…well, thank you anyway. Um…could you put it by the door?"
She watched as the mask bobbed left and right, signaling no. He pointed up at her, then down to the ground.
"You want me to come down and get it? You've got to be kidding! I don't even know you!"
The being still signaled for her to come down.
She held her chin as she thought for a while. 'It's not like I can't defend myself, and I can just yell for Aang and Sokka if I can't handle him….'
She reached her decision and nodded her head.
"Alright, but try anything and you're as good as dead!"
He nodded his understanding as she turned and walked out of her room to the hall. Katara stepped silently past Aang and her brother's rooms, knowing that if they woke up, they would most likely attack the seemingly nice man.
She quickly went down the narrow staircase and headed for the back door, unlocking it nervously. As she finally opened the door and walked outside, she at last got a good look at the stranger in the night.
He was certainly a very strong man, judging by his muscles clad in a dark gray stealth outfit, and though she was hoping, even the back of his head was covered, leaving nothing to hint at who he was, by hair anyway.
Katara stalked towards him, trying to look confident and capable of defending herself. She finally came to a stop in front of him as he reached for her hand. She trembled slightly at his warm touch when he placed the water skins strap softly into her hand. Katara tried to hide the blush wanting to come to her face as he took her hand, strap and all, and began walking, tugging her hand slightly, asking her to follow. The water tribe girl, in somewhat of a daze, complied, as they both started walking through the small village.
After a few minutes of walking she decided to attempt conversation, feeling a bit more comfortable around him.
"So…my name is Katara, I'd ask you your name but you don't seem to want to talk much do you?"
The mask shook sideways, saying no.
"Ok, would you like to know about me then?"
The mask nodded.
"Alright, well, I am from the southern water tribe and I travel with my brother and Aang. He's the A- uh…a friend of mine." Though she was sure he probably knew about the Avatar already, being that the little village thrived on gossip, she didn't want to tell him just in case.
Katara felt a little strange though, like she knew him from somewhere, like she had met him before…
The waterbender forgot all about the feeling as they came to a stop just outside the village. She looked around in awe at the beautiful spot he had brought her to, a shade tree that overlooked a deep valley and the volcanic mountains off in the distance. Above them danced a million stars looking over them, twinkling happily around the silver moon. She gasped in shock as the man beside her handed her a single Panda Lily.
She followed him as he walked over to the tree where he sat down on the lush green grass. Katara sat down beside him as they both gazed up at the stars, just admiring in silence.
Finally, she looked over to the man beside her, wondering if he felt for her the way she felt for him right then. She was almost sure, why else would he do all this for her?
The waterbender stroked the petals of the Panda Lily softly, remembering what Aunt Wu told her about their significance. Katara smiled as she thought of the one thing that would make this night perfect. She shifted her body so she could face him.
"I can't believe how wonderful this night has been, it's the most amazing night I've ever had. I really hate to ask for anything more…but please, I need to see your face, why do you hide it from me?"
She watched as he paused, then got up slowly from his place beside her as he reached for her hand to help her up. She accepted the help as she stood up and faced him, trust in her eyes.
The masked man spoke.
"Because, I wanted to trick you peasant."
The man grabbed her wrists as he lifted off his mask.
Katara's world shattered as tears ran down her face; hate coursing throughout her entire body.
"Zhao…" She started at him through tear filled eyes; her voice spoke his name with venom.
Admiral Zhao laughed as he grabbed the front of her tunic, lifting her off her feet.
"Don't you know not to believe in stupid daydreams little girl? They always turn out to be nightmares in the end…"
Katara struggled, trying to break free of his steel-like grip.
"Do you know how easy it was to capture a fanciful young wretch like you?" Zhao laughed evilly as he tossed her a few feet away, hearing her yelp as she landed hard on the ground.
Katara, with the dirt mixing in with her tears, knew she had to run, had to get away, warn Aang and save herself. She forced her feet to work, to carry her away. She could hear his voice behind her.
"You can run as much as you want peasant…I will catch you!"
The waterbender could here the sureness in his voice; he knew he could, unfortunately, so did she.
She ran, it was all she could do, she knew her waterbending was not strong enough to defend against him even with the moon still rising high into the star filled skies.
The little water in her pouch couldn't help her this time.
Katara ran blindly through the streets, knowing he was coming behind her, knowing he'd soon catch up. More tears ran down her face as she closed her eyes in defeat.
'I'm sorry Sokka, and… I'm sorry Aang.'
She thought of the fate of the world as she ran, squeezing her eyes shut against the tears.'I failed everyone…'
Suddenly she felt amazing pain as she ran into something, knocking it over and promptly landing on it with a thud. Katara held her throbbing head when she heard the thing under her moan. Surprised, she felt herself being lifted upwards by her shoulders, causing her to move from the thing her upper body landed on.
Zuko looked at her, her face covered with mud and tears, her eyes filled with something he thought he'd never see in her blue eyes…
pure fear. Fear that seemed to speak through her eyes, pleading, 'I hope to God you'll help me.'.
Katara swallowed hard as she spoke the one thing that kept repeating in her mind.
"Please." Her voice croaked out, hardly sounding like her own. She looked into his eyes, hoping he knew what she meant. "Please…"
Zuko's own eyes widened when he heard her voice, listening to the defeat it contained.
Something was very, very wrong.
In a heartbeat, Zuko caught a glimpse of fire heading toward their huddled forms. The prince stood and immediately met it with his own flame, deflecting the fireball away from them. He looked toward the direction of where it came from, looking for the fire's master.
"Taking pity on stupid waterbenders now are you Prince Zuko? Your father was right, you care far too much for other peoples worthless lives." Zhao smirked evilly, knowing the first thing that would come to his opponents mind.
The act of trying to save lives, the lives of the soldiers in the 41st division, all it earned him was a scar from his own father.
"What do you want with her Zhao?" He said angrily, the flame that lit his face growing noticeably larger in his hand.
The questioned lit up his own torch illuminating his features.
"Hand the girl over, and maybe I won't take you as an added bonus along with the avatar to the fire nation."
The prince's temper continued to rise along with the flame he controlled. Katara knew exactly what Zhao was doing. He would make Zuko get so blinded by his own rage, his firebending would be off target because of his own feuding thoughts. Katara rose unsteadily at first, but regained her balance as she stepped forward to stand beside him, ready to fight.
Zuko broke his concentration off Zhao for a moment to see Katara standing beside him, tears died. He furrowed his brow in disapproval as he continued to keep an eye on Zhao.
"Stay out of this Katara, you're not strong enough to fight right now."
"Yes I am, and I'm not going to have you fight my battle for me." She spoke in a harsh tone as she drew water out from her pouch.
Zhao began charging toward them as Zuko fell into his battle stance, throwing a flame out at the rapidly advancing man.
His tone grew harder as he whipped his head to face his once enemy.
"Katara, I'm trying to help you, go! Now!"
"No, I won't! I-"
She was cut short as the prince quickly pushed her sideways, causing her to fall as a hot flame flew between them. After he was sure she was ok, Zuko turned toward Zhao only to be hit by the man's fist. The firebender staggered back unsteadily as he held his jaw, narrowly avoiding the fireball that came after.
"I think you should be more worried about saving yourself Prince Zuko…and who you're trying to save yourself from!"
Zhao smiled sadistically as he let out a barrage of fire blasts toward the exile. Zuko dodged between the blasts as he advanced toward the admiral, readying his flame daggers.
It was fire against fire, honor against honor, one an exile, the other an admiral, yet the two were equally matched in battle.
Zuko flew into the air, attempting to come down on Zhao with his foot in flames. The older firebender simply moved to the side as Zuko came to the ground, landing perfectly on his feet when Zhao attacked, trying to trip him up with his foot, fire trailing. The prince jumped over the fire as he extended his leg, swiftly hitting Zhao on the side of the head with his own boot-clad foot.
The stricken hissed in pain and rage as he came at the scarred boy again. Zuko fell back into stance as rain droplets began to fall on his shoulders. He flamed his hands quickly; thrusting them forward to send a fireball towards Zhao, who dodged it with skill as the rain thickened.
Suddenly, a large blast of water caught Zhao in its relentless path, knocking him from his feet with its strength.
The thunder rolled as Zuko turned to see the lightning light up her muddied face, strands of hair sticking to her shoulders, the wind and rain throwing them from her braid.
Katara began to gather more water from the rain that fell around them, preparing for Zhao to attack. She watched as the Admiral rose, the water trickling down his furious face.
"You're going to regret you ever did that child…"
Zhao threw a stream of fire towards her which she quickly dissipated as the flame hit the water, steam rising from the collision. The firebender ran towards her, making it harder for the waterbender to fight. He knew that waterbending was used mostly for long range, but close combat, the strength in the blows were much weaker.
Katara, trying to cope with the sudden change threw up an ice wall in front of her, backing up quickly trying to create more distance between her and the enemy. The ice wall began to heat red as it melted, Zhao stepping through the hole he made in it.
"You're going to have to do better than that wench!" He smirked as he sent a giant fire blast towards her with a kick.
Katara quickly threw water in front of her body as the fireball hit, the force making her feet skid backwards by a foot.
Zhao started to come at her again just as a jut of flames suddenly danced right in front of his face, barely missing him as it streaked across until it hit a lone tree.
The aged firebender snarled as he turned toward the angered teen, the dying ember still alight in Zuko's hand, the snap of the heat coming in contact with the rain sounding all around him.
The prince simply lit up another flame in his hand, the light playing off an unexplainable smirk spread across his face.
Zhao's eyes widened as he realized why the boy was smiling.
Katara held an amazing amount of rainwater that she had gathered above her head, which was now flying towards him in the form of a huge wave. The Admiral backed up as he watched the moonlit sky be covered by the menacing wall of water rushing towards him. He attempted to madly throw fireballs at the giant advancing form, but only succeeded at wasting his energy.
Zhao took his last seconds to look around crazily, trying to find anything that could save his miserable life. He found one chance and took it as he sent a fire blast toward the target.
Katara screamed as she crumpled to the ground.
Admiral Zhao's last conscious observation was that the wave slowed and then shrank considerably in size. The water then took him, the force of the water knocking him unconscious, afterwards slowing down to lay him underneath the shade tree where all was once calm. The panda lily that was once thought to be given in love washed further away from the landscape of her shattered allusions.
All it was was a blur to Zuko; anything that happened after she had fallen, gripping her leg in extreme pain.
The exiled prince immediately ran up to the now wailing girl. Dropping to the ground beside her, he propped up her head against his shoulder, his arms incasing her sob-wracked body as he attempted to calm her, though truly he had never been so frightened.
Zuko held her securely in his arms as he leaned his own head by her dirt streaked one, breathing in the scent of her hair as he spoke softly in her ear.
"Katara…Katara listen to me please. I know it hurts, ok? I know that but listen. Do you know how to heal? Do you know how?"
The waterbender gulped back her pain stricken tears long enough to nod her head before sobs wracked her body again from the searing burn that scorched over half of her leg.
"Good. Listen, you need to forget the pain long enough to heal yourself. Feel the rain falling on us? Your element is trying to help you Katara. You have to become one with the water."
The girl nodded sharply as he felt her force herself to slowly relax her body, releasing the death grip on his sleeve he didn't realize she had. She struggled to slow down her breathing; a few hiccupping sobs escaping now and then.
Zuko smiled as he saw the rain drops convert into skin and flesh wherever they landed on her leg. He felt Katara ease up more in his arms as each droplet fell, relieving her of her pain.
Finally the last patch healed. He whispered a simple "You did it." as he continued to hold the exhausted waterbender in the middle of the abandoned street, raindrops dripping from his chin.
They stayed like that for what seemed like hours. Zuko looked down at her, realizing that she had fallen asleep and was trying to get comfortable against his chest, seeking warmth against the chilling rain.
The prince, though feeling somewhat uncomfortable with her closeness, began to firebend, raising the temperature of his body in order to warm her more.
He did this for a while before he heard her sigh and try to roll over to her side. He figured he'd better wake her.
"Katara." …Nothing. He smiled a little as he shook the arm her hand was on a little bit.
"Come on, you need to go before sunrise."
Katara smiled sleepily as she attempted to stretch.
Her mouth went into a confused frown as she started to open her eyes. She raised her head up from the soft cloth to see that what she had been sleeping on and what her hand hit was a clothed chest. The waterbender raised her eyes to see the prince looking out onto the street. Feeling her eyes on him, he looked down into her face.
Katara felt her face burn red. She'd slept against him half the night.
Zuko tried to hide the little smile that wanted to come to his face. She must have turned ten shades of red in the past minute. He stuffed the urge down and raised his head towards the east. The firebender frowned and released her from his arms embrace as he looked back down at her.
"Come, the sun's going to rise soon, you need to go."
Katara removed herself from his gaze to look out at the slightly brighter sky.
He was right, her brother and Aang would know she had been gone if they saw her walking in at breakfast. She was surprised at how reluctant she was to leave this moment of peace with her "enemy". Slowly she moved to stand and allow him to get up also. He stood up as he stretched slightly, working out the kinks from sitting on the ground all night in such a strange position. His eyes wandered to her burnt pant leg to see for himself one last time that her leg indeed, was completely healed.
Satisfied, he softly walked over to his pack that he had been carrying, picked it up and began to walk away.
Katara, not sure of what to say, but knowing she didn't want him to go quite yet, spoke softly.
He stopped and slowly turned to face her.
"Hmm?" he mumbled, sounding too tired to make words.
"…Why did you only distract Zhao when he started to come too close for my waterbending?" Though the question just came out of the blue, she found she was truly curious. "You looked like you wanted to hit him with that fireblast, but you missed on purpose…why?"
Too sleepy to hide the small smile that came to his face, he stated simply,
"It's what you wanted.".
He turned and started to walk away again.
Katara scrunched up her face in thought until realization hit her as her own words came flying back at her."I'm not going to have you fight my battle for me!"
She stood stone-like, rooted in the ground, baffled.
He wanted to let her have her glory; he didn't want to taint her victory with his help.
The water tribe girl snapped out of her shocked state to find she had a smile pasted on her face.
Katara ran through a puddle left over by the nights rain, her feet soaked as she continued running until she came to a soft stop behind him as he turned around.
"Yes?" He questioned, slightly surprised she came after him for something.
Katara looked up at him and smiled as she tilted her head slightly and pressed her soft lips against his for a few seconds before bringing herself down from the kiss.
Shocked but pleased, Zuko looked down at her and returned the soft kiss, brushing his lips against hers.
He smiled. "Goodbye Katara."
They both walked away from each other. Each one knowing that as soon as the sun rose, they would again be enemies. What neither of them knew, is that the other is hating that fact just as much as them.
Late in the morning, Zuko leaned against the handrail of his ship, holding the blue spirit mask as he looked out at the ocean.
He never did use it, never needed to. The fact that she accepted him knowing who he was still baffled him. He was content, yet he couldn't help the nagging feeling deep in his soul.
"Late night out nephew?"
Zuko jumped back from the rail to face his uncle.
"Uncle! I…no, I was here all last night. Stay out of my business." He said with false anger, trying to get Iroh to leave.
Iroh placed a hand on his nephew's shoulder, looking at him knowingly.
"One time with her isn't enough is it?"
Zuko looked at his uncle before he turned away, going back to the handrail. The retired general dropped his hand and sullenly walked away from his nephew, knowing he wasn't going to get an answer.
Zuko looked with purple-rimmed eyes at the spot where his uncle once stood. He spoke in a barely audible tone with no one but the spirits to hear him.