Disclaimer: Perhaps, in some far away alternate universe, I own Avatar. However, in this universe, I do not. Nickelodeon and Viacom do.
A/N: I read a story with a similar premise to this once before, and it inspired me to borrow it for my own, with my own ending. I honestly can't remember who wrote it, so, mysterious author, if you're reading this, please don't take offense. Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.
By the way, have you noticed that the Fire Nation has a rather strange concept of honor?
A Difference of Opinion
She was so pale and still, Katara's first thought was that she was dead. She was sitting down, eyes closed, propped up against a half-collapsed column, one likely blown down by Toph's enthusiastic metalbending. Blood was smeared on the ground and pooled beneath her in distressing amounts, undoubtedly from the horrible wound in her leg. It looked as though it had been nearly torn in two, the pale whiteness of the bone contrasting against the red flesh.
Then her eyes flickered open, locking onto Katara's with a surprising intensity.
Katara waited, hand on her water skin, not sure what to expect.
"Well," Azula said, and even she couldn't keep the strain out of her voice. "What are you going to do now?"
Katara took a cautious step closer, keeping her hand ready to pop open the stopper. She had heard that even wounded snakes could bite. "I'm not sure."
"Are you going to kill me?" It was a direct question, given without flinching.
Katara stared. "No! No, of course not!"
"Why not? I'm at your mercy, aren't I?"
"I wouldn't do that."
"Then you have no further reason to bother me." Azula leaned back again and closed her eyes, one hand gripping her wounded leg.
Katara groaned and dropped her gaze, but she had already made her decision.
Azula turned and looked at Katara in surprise as the waterbender kneeled down next to her. "What are you doing?"
"That looks like it hurts," said Katara nervously, uncorking her water skin.
"What of it?" snarled Azula. "I don't need your pity."
"No, I'm a healer." Katara moved the water to surround her hands and placed it over the wound. It was awful. The bone was completely snapped in half, the jagged edges torn through the skin and out into the air. It made her feel sick to look at it, and the fact that she was so dangerously close to her mortal enemy wasn't making things any easier.
Azula jerked at the cool touch of the water. "What are you doing? Stop it!"
"I've never healed a broken bone before, so I'm kind of nervous," said Katara, not really listening. "I didn't have very long to study at the North Pole, and I was also busy learning combat so I'm definitely not as good at this as I could be. I'm not sure if I can… I might need to touch it, to set it straight before I heal the bone, okay? Let's hope this goes right…" Shuddering, Katara reached out and gently pushed the bone so that it lined up with its other half.
She suddenly felt a hand close hard around her wrist, sharp nails digging into her skin, and remembered where she was.
"Stop." Azula's voice was ragged, harsh. "I don't want your help. I don't want your waterbending. Get out."
"You'll die." It was Katara's turn to be blunt. "Or, at the very least, never walk again."
Katara went back to setting the bone, feeling a mixture of concern and relief when Azula released her wrist, her spine going rigid with pain. "There, see? Now it's set, and I can try to fix the break. The thing is, the energy has been cut off and I need to let it flow through again…"
Azula wasn't listening. The healing didn't hurt, exactly, but it pained her anyway, to be so helpless. She could feel the water trickling down into the wound, into her body, grabbing and bending her very flesh. She felt invaded, tainted, violated. It made her sick.
"Why are you doing this?" she hissed through a clenched jaw, refusing to even look at the shameful sight of a foe healing her wound. "I'm your enemy."
"Why?" Katara paused. Why was she? "Because… because I can't just look at someone in pain and not do anything."
Azula said nothing, but turned to look at her with slitted eyes.
"Look, it's just basic human compassion, you know? You do to others what you hope they would do to you, in your place." The waterbender looked at Azula and frowned. "But then again, I suppose compassion isn't something I would expect you to understand."
Azula made a sound like a huff, then turned away as Katara continued to work on her leg in silence.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Azula heard Katara say, "I think I'm done."
Azula looked at her leg. The bone and blood was gone, and a pale, hairless swath of skin stretched over where the wound had been. "It's still very weak," Katara was saying. "And you've lost a lot of blood, so I wouldn't do anything too strenuous…"
She broke off suddenly, as Azula launched herself at the waterbender with a cry. Katara jumped to her feet and got into her stance, the water that only a moment ago had been used to heal now up and ready to defend.
But she need not have bothered. Although her attack had not been lacking in ferocity, Azula suddenly found herself completely unable to stand. Sparks danced in front of her eyes and her legs folded like paper.
"Azula…" Katara stared at the prone fire princess with a mix of fear and pity. "Please don't try to fight. You've lost too much blood. You'll only hurt yourself."
Shaking and covered in cold sweat, Azula grabbed the column and slowly, agonizingly, began to lift herself to her feet.
"Don't do this, Azula."
Azula turned and pointed two trembling fingers at Katara, her face looking quite mad.
"Why are you fighting?"
Azula snarled and flexed her fingers. The ghost of a flame flickered, and Katara drew the water in front of her as a shield. But like before, there was no need.
"Azula, please! You can't fight like this!"
"I hate you!" the princess spat, her hand sputtering, then igniting with blue flame. "Fight me!"
"No." Katara shook her head and let her water flow back into the pouch. "I'm not going to fight you."
"Because you're not…" Katara groaned and tried to think of a way of saying it that the firebender would understand. "Because it's not honorable to fight an opponent who is wounded and weak. It's cowardly."
Azula shuddered and leaned against the column. She closed her eyes, and for a moment Katara thought that the fight had finally gone out of her.
"Honor," she said, and let out a barking laugh that was more like a scream. She opened her eyes, fierce as ever, and stared at Katara through the flame on her palm. "Honor isn't something I would expect you to understand."
And before Katara could speak, before she could even move, the flame was rushing along Azula's arm and down her body and up her head and was she bending it or burning in it and as the flames turned from blue to red and as the shape that had been Azula went up in light and burned against the broken column Katara turned away, the tears in her eyes not entirely because of the smoke.