Here you guys go, a more polished version of "Atonement"!! In celebration of Zutara WEEK!!

Disclaimer: I own nothing at alll

Atonement: Chapter 1

"The boundaries which divide life from death
are at best shadowy and vague.
Who shall say where one ends,
and the other begins?"
Edgar Alan Poe

For a moment, Azula disappeared in the cloud of smoke. It burned and stung at Katara's eyes as she stood there. Her back was rigid beneath her blue linen over shirt; her hands were clenched at her sides, waiting. She could feel the tears leaking out of her eyes, but she blinked them back, willing her vision to clear. It was the last push, the last chance. Summing up the last of her energy, Katara blew out a gentle breath and the cloud cleared.

Azula stood there, patient as the earth about three hundred yards in front her, her fingers pointed and a frozen deadly smile on her perfect lips. "Tired already?" she whispered softly. She cocked one eyebrow and pointed straight at Katara with two sharp fingertips. The sun was beating down on the both of them; it sparkled off Azula's diadem which she bore proudly in her hair.

Katara readied herself for the unnatural crackle in the air, the hair on the back of her neck to rise. With a flick of her wrist, she let the water out of the bottle at her side. There wasn't much she could do to stop Azula, she knew. The princess was too quick, too accurate.

"Say goodnight, peasant!" Azula hissed. Her face was thrown into sharp relief as the cold fire leapt from her fingers.

Katara threw her arms up in front of herself but was knocked to the ground from a force that could have been an ostrich-horse. She looked up to see Zuko catching the lightning and reflecting it back at his sister.

The lighting suddenly vanished and Azula laughed a hard, cold laugh. "Oh, Zuzu…" she snickered. "Since you couldn't finish me yourself, you send this?" she gestured to Katara.

Katara scrambled up to her feet next to Zuko.

"Too bad she's pretty," Azula launched herself at the both of them, using the lightning to propel herself forward. "She won't be for long!"

With a nod from Zuko, who stood waiting for Azula's onslaught, Katara ran to the left and gathered the water in her palms. She threw it out as a sheet of ice under Azula's feet.

The princess was going far too fast to stop and wheeled wildly out of control. With an upward flick of her wrist, Katara returned the ice to water and trapped Azula in a large bubble of water.

"Zuko!" Azula shrieked as her head broke the surface. "Help me!"

Zuko stood there, looking from his sister to Katara.

"I thought you made your choice," Katara hissed, her eyes narrowing at him. The hurt was already starting to well up in her heart. After all, they'd been through! Katara closed her eyes, searching for another ounce of strength. So this was the end, it had finally come for her.

"I have," he murmured quietly. "I'm sorry."

There was a flash of light and a scream, then nothing.

Katara opened her eyes to see Zuko beside her, fingers pointed at Azula's limp form. She was floating listlessly in the water. Katara let the bubble fall apart and the princess slithered to the ground. Dead.

"I thought…" Katara began but couldn't finish.

"Water conducts electricity," Zuko said in a toneless voice. "There was nothing else I could do."


"Come on." He grabbed her hand "We have to help Aang," and began leading her to the palace entrance. As they were forcing the door open, a huge wall of fire met them and they fell back. Zuko tried to shield her from the brunt of the flames and Katara could feel his skin blister under her fingers as they fell into darkness.

Twenty-one year old Katara sat up, drenched in an ice cold sweat. She bought her knees up to the chest and rested her forehead against them, breathing deep and calming herself. "Just a dream," she muttered. "A dream…dream…" It was a chant she used almost every morning. Seven years of nightmares had ground the mantra into her brain.

In a strange elusive hope, Katara flipped her palms over and her spirits fell a little. The jagged black scars were still there. It had really happened. Just where the dream ended was when her hands had been burned. Zuko had blocked most of the flames, but Katara had tried to reach out and pull Zuko out of the way. It didn't work. Most of Zuko's back had been burned, and Katara's hands would never be the same.

At first, she hated them. She hated their ugliness and their blackness and she even fact that Zuko tried to keep her from being burned. But in time, she grew to accept them. Even admire them. Now she bore them as a reminder just how high the price of war really was. It was all too easy to forget.

Katara reached up to fiddle with her necklace, only to remember half a second later that it was no longer there. Somehow, during the fight that day, the ribbon holding it was slashed and Katara could not find it in her heart to put it back on. No rope, ribbon, string, or cord felt worthy enough to bear the pendent. While to her, it represented her mother's last gift to her only daughter, still she felt a little silly as she grieved over the charm. But she reverently kept it in a small ornate gold filigree bordered jewelry box that had once belonged to Fire Lord Iroh's mother.

Zuko's uncle, who had assumed the throne, had found it and smiled saying that he had no use for it and if she was not going to wear the pendant at least it could reside in a very pretty box. Despite herself, Katara took an instant liking to Iroh. She'd been a little apprehensive until Toph had plopped herself before the new Fire Lord and started chatting like old friends.

He was merciful and wise, just and tolerant, but still sharp and not without his wrath. He, hopefully, was teaching this to Zuko, but Katara had doubts about Zuko. She always had and she couldn't shake them. She had virtually no contract in the Fire Nation for the past seven years. Having dedicated her life to healing, she was often called away to other kingdoms to heal the sick; rich and poor. She'd seen Iroh a few years ago, when she was visiting the Earth King. They made pleasant chitchat and told her that she was always welcome. She hadn't taken him up on it.

Katara sighed, tired of feeling sorry for herself, and got up. She bent over to make her bed and ran her fingers through her loose hair. As she passed before the mirror that hung over her dresser, she stopped. Her father, Hakoda, had come to visit last year and sighed at his only daughter. When she asked him why, he'd lifted her chin with two fingers and said with pride that she looked so much like her mother. Katara could not see it now, she barely remembered her mother. There were only brief snatches, the whiff of her mother's hair, the flash of pale blue eyes, and a soft hand in the dark. There was no full face; nothing but faint memories that added up to really nothing at all.

She shook herself and started looking for an outfit. It was a busy day today. She had a class to teach and a few meetings to attend and Aang was going to be there today. She smiled to herself. It had been oh, at least two years since she'd last seen her best friend. Katara missed his carefree nature, his sense of adventure, and whenever she was with him; it was as if they were the only two people in the world. Aang could make her forget all her troubles, if only for a little while.

It was true; Aang was her very best friend and she adored being with him, because when she was with him, she was fourteen again. She could be silly and joke and just be herself with Aang. But, she could never see him in the way he'd wanted her to when they were younger. He was like the younger sibling she never had, and he was as precious to her as Sokka was. She just couldn't love him in the way he loved her all those years ago. She told him so after the defeat of the Fire Lord Ozai, the truth had to come out and yet it still nearly broke her heart when he realized she was telling him that she couldn't be with him.

Maybe it hadn't of been the right time to tell him, but she couldn't go on letting him think that there was still a chance. It wasn't fair to either of them. She almost wished he hated her now, he'd be well justified, but in true Aang fashion, he surprised her by learning to let it go.

Katara and a few other members of the council were walking toward the Chief Arnook's room, when they saw a great dark shadow drifted over the North Pole. Since the end of the War and Katara had come to live in the North Pole, a great deal had changed. Arnook had personally asked her to be part of his Council, a very honorable and coveted position among the men of the tribe, not to mention of women. It was one of the first times in history when a woman had been asked to be part of the ruling party of the Northern Water Tribe and Katara had accepted without a second thought.

As Katara and her fellow council members got closer to the room it's self, they could hear the sudden shouts of delight as the children saw Appa land not three hundred feet from Katara. Katara always found it funny that she never realized how much she missed him until he was back in her life again. She was smiling to herself as the other members of the council urged Katara to go and greet her old friend.

Suddenly Aang looked up from the throng of children, who barely reached his knees, to see her. "KATARA!" he shouted and ran toward her to engulf her in his arms.

It wasn't that Katara wasn't happy to see him; it was just that he often forgot how big he'd gotten. Seven years had changed the lithe twelve-year-old into a tall, muscular monk who often forgot how strong he was. Like now.

"Aang..."Katara rasped, grabbing his arm and tugging hard. "C-Can't breathe..."

"Oh, sorry..." he released her at once; however, he kept her at arm's length to look at her. His expressive grey eyes took in how much she'd changed. "It's really great to see you again, Katara..."

"It's wonderful to see you too," she stood up on tip-toes to kiss his cheek. "Now tell me what this visit is all about? Pakku and Arnook won't tell me anything."

Aang gave her a surprised look. "Really? I thought they would have by now..."

A shiver raced down Katara's spine. "What's wrong?" She grabbed Aang's arm. "Is someone sick? Sokka? Suki? Toph?"

He shook his head. "No, they're all fine." He gestured to the rest of the Council members. "I'll let Arnook tell you himself."

Katara crossed her arms over her chest. "But-"

"Later, Lady Katara..." Pakku snuck up behind the two of them. The old Master had become even surlier in the past few years; a feat that Katara wasn't even sure was possible until it happened. "Show the Avatar some respect."

"I suppose you've forgotten how hard it is to take Pupil Aang seriously?" Her eyebrows lifted in anticipation of his answer as they filed into the Council Room.

"He's grown up a great deal since then."

"Last time he was here, he 'borrowed' two of your students for the afternoon and took them penguin sledding!" Katara shot back.

"I was the fastest," Aang put in proudly.

"You are not helping your case, Pupil Aang!" Pakku stage-whispered.

Their argument, however, was interrupted as someone called: "Order! This Council will come to order!" The table fell quiet and Chief Arnook stood at the head. "First, I would like to extend a fond and sincere welcome to our friend, Avatar Aang."

There was a smattering of polite applause as Aang stood and bowed deeply to Arnock and the Council, he was all business now, surprising Katara again and again. "Thank you all," he replied.

Arnock smiled. "Well, that was the easy part..." Suddenly his smile was replaced by a look Katara could only describe as a faint grimace. "I received a letter the other day from Prince Zuko..." There was a little muttering from the Council members, most still remembered the attack on the North Pole seven years ago and they were not at all pleased. "He told me that his uncle, Fire Lord Iroh, has been ill for several weeks and is wondering if we might spare Lady Katara for a little while."

Nine expectant faces turned to Katara.

"He insisted that you would make the call, Katara. He didn't want to force you into something you didn't want to do."

"Preposterous!" An older member muttered. "It's not natural! A Fire Prince asking help from a water bender..." he hissed in disgust. "There's an ulterior motive, always is with these hotheads!"

"It's a step in the right direction for him," Someone else called. "He will inherit his Uncle's throne someday; it would behoove us to extend some goodwill toward him, just in case."

"Yes, yes, let's throw one of our most promising healers to the dragons so that maybe he won't destroy us all when he decides to finish his great- grandfather's work!"

"He's changed!" Someone challenged.

"And badger-moles fly!"

"If I wasn't an old man, I'd-"

Arnock cut them all off with a wave of his hand. "Katara, this choice is ultimately up to you."

"What's wrong with Iroh?" She asked automatically, while her mind whirled about wildly.

Arnock gestured to Aang. Aang sighed sadly. "I was just there. Iroh doesn't look so good. He's gotten really thin, too thin. The healers are getting worried." Aang put a hand on Katara's shoulder. "He needs you."

The Council Room had gone dead silent as Katara thought. Aang's words echoed in her ears: "He needs you...he needs you...needs you.... And she remembered something she once said to Sokka, many years ago; "I will never turn my back on people who need me!" She looked up at Aang, he knew before she did. "I'll go," Katara whispered. "When do I leave?"

yeah, last time i uploaded, Fanfiction ate my line breaks!! DAMN INTERNET!!