Author's Note

I do not own Avatar or any of its characters, those belong to the beloved Mike and Bryan. However, I do own this plot-thing that I've created, so please don't steal, thanks.

Also, this is my very first attempt at an Avatar fic, so constructive criticism or suggestions and such would be greatly appreciated. I have just recently fallen in love with the show, particularly the pairing of Zuko and Katara (they are so love) and have been inspired to take a shot and contribute to the growing Zutara fandom.

If I have any errors in names, places, spelling and canon plot prior to Book III, Chapter 13, please let me know. There is nothing more that I hate than screwing up canon and facts – seeing as I am but an Avatar fic-writing fledgling, I want to take special care with what I include in this story.

Now, I hope you like it, and comments are more than welcome C:

Leading off Book III Chapter 13


Chapter I

Not Quite Doused

The moon shone just outside the make-shift window against the crumbling stone wall, the silvery beams cascading into the girls' quarters. Katara lay wide awake on the floor, Toph's not-so-light snoring keeping rhythm with her breaths. It was difficult for her to fall asleep; in fact, it's been a challenge to catch any shuteye for the past few days. It was bothersome, really, being unable to sleep – she needed her rest. Afterall, they had an oncoming war! She'd like to think that perhaps her mental turbulence was due to the anxiety of said confrontation, but it had absolutely nothing to do with the battle against the Fire Nation – no, her unrest was brought about by a single person who was currently residing in that very same air temple, three chambers down. Katara let out an exasperated sigh, opening her eyes to stare at the hidden ceiling above her. This was getting ridiculous; everyone else could sleep while he was around! She was just being silly and paranoid…

How infuriating!

With a resigned grumble, she kicked off her blankets and scrambled out of her cot, not bothering to trouble herself with shoes or even dressing. Her nightgown, undergarments, would suffice; It was a nice night from what she could tell. It's been a row of nice nights – but what else could one expect from summer? Katara stood from the ground, absently massaging her shoulder-blades as she padded across the room, only half-aware of Toph's snoring and breathing and tossing and turning. The waterbender paused at the threshold, glancing back at her roommate, wondering why the girl was so quick to trust (for the most part) the boy who had been so relentlessly chasing after their band of vagabonds. She wondered how Sokka could sleep with such ease, knowing that the banished Fire Nation Prince was in a room just across of him. But most of all, she wondered how Aang could ever accept that royal brat (the conniving, deceptive, traitor of a boy!) into their midst.

Sure, he had his fair share of good deeds, but did those really outweigh all that he had done? Katara left her quarters, creeping down the halls of the abandoned temple, making her way to an opening out onto the cliff-side where she could look up through the large canyon where the sky melded into earth and breathe in the summer air knowing that such peace would not last with the war looming near. She has been coming to this very spot night after night, setting down on the ruins of the Western Air Nomads and looking up at the moon. It was a clear night, still and beautiful, and Katara drew her legs to her chest.

Was she being immature and childish in her reluctance to accept someone who had previously tried to kill her friends (on more than one occasion)? She didn't think so, and yet reflecting upon the past week, the Water Tribe girl couldn't help but ponder the idea that maybe she was being bitter and unrelenting – but come on! Was taking a swipe at their lives such a light-hearted crime? Alright, so he repented. So he saved them. So he agreed to teach Aang to fire bend. That didn't change the fact that he was quite the talented liar, con, and Katara was not inclined in trusting him…not after all the damage he's already done. It was impossible for her to just set that grudge aside. His countenance was the face of the Fire Nation…

Was…she reminded herself, albeit reluctantly.

But even so, he proved that the boy she met and trusted and pitied back in the crystal catacombs was a lie, and that would not soon be forgotten—

"Couldn't sleep?"

Katara glanced over her shoulder at a silhouette not too far behind, and she spared a grin, unseen in the shadows. "No," she answered lightly, hiding any of her previous hostilities behind a usual cheerful demeanor. Aang stepped out from the dark, his bright eyes catching the moonlight. He looked rather tired, but that goofy smile was plastered on his face despite his evident fatigue. He had just returned not a few hours ago from an expedition to the Sunfire Tribe ruins and should really be resting for his training the next day. She was about to tell him just that, but the Avatar only shrugged a careless shoulder, reading the concern in her eyes, and moved over to take a seat beside her.

"I'm fine, don't worry about me, I've been sleeping the whole week," he said with that boyish smile.

His counterpart didn't miss the implicit message. "I'm just worried about the war is all," Katara opened, gaze lifting back up to the mass of stars and sky hanging above them.

Aang gave her a long look, searching, disbelieving, but nodded, deciding not to press her further. It was quiet out, but the silence was comfortable. There was only the barest wind that blew through the ruins, and he reveled in the feel of it against his skin, only taking minimal notice to Katara's lack of…coverage. He turned away at once, settling his eyes up at the cliff-side staring back at them, the hint of a blush crawling over his cheeks. Oh no, he was far from over Katara, and it was increasingly difficult to just let her go. A part of him wanted to be selfish; a part of him didn't want to give her up, but he knew that he must and that he should start now. He had to let her go to save her.

To save everyone.

It was a bitter reality, but true all the same.

"What are you doing up?" The girl invading his mind broke the silence, and Aang glanced back at her, at the peaceful look on her face, at the way she just seemed to bathe in the moonlight.

Oh yes, getting over her would be even more challenging than mastering the four elements.

He tried for a careless laugh, but with resentful thoughts plaguing his head, it sounded hollow. "I couldn't sleep with Sokka's sleep-talking," the airbender said through his teasing smile. "There's only so much talk about meat I can take," he added as an afterthought, coercing an amused laugh from his female companion.

Katara shook her head, chancing a look at the twelve-year-old who was far more mature than his biological age. It was amazing, the growth he's made from when she first met him; that silly boy in the iceberg who only wanted to play. He was strong and powerful, he was grown up and wise someone she could be proud of. "Well, you know Sokka and his love for meat," she said with a grin, the corner of her lips tugging up just barely.

Aang let out a soft chuckle, a mere breath of a release, but said nothing more. He didn't know what to say, to tell the truth. Ever since he kissed her he's been feeling a bit awkward when alone with her, if only because they never spoke of the kiss afterwards. There didn't seem to be a change at all in their relationship since it happened, since he braved himself enough to do it, and he wasn't sure if that was good or bad. If there was no shift in their interaction, did that mean she's been comfortable with him kissing her all along? Or did it mean that she simply forgot he did it? Two completely opposite takes on a single event, and he had no idea which one to follow. Katara seemed normal enough, her insomnia aside (he knew that wasn't because of him), but that side of him longed to know just how she felt.

Nevermind that to reach the Avatar State he'd have to give her up, nevermind that kissing her was probably a bad idea, but if he hadn't he would have always wondered, would have regretted, and Aang wasn't too fond of What if's. He did his best not to look her way, lest he be stunned with the way her hair moved with the slight wind, the way her features glowed even through the dark. It was hard, being around her so much and knowing that he might not have her in the end, but he continued to torture himself in her presence, continued to indulge himself in her laughs, her smiles, the way she'd frown whenever Sokka said or did something particularly stupid, the way she'd nag them whenever they were being especially childish...


The boy blinked out of his thoughts and turned his wide-eyed gaze to the girl sitting beside him. "Huh?"

She was looking at him oddly, a single eyebrow quirked. He had been staring into space with a distant look on his face for a stretch of time and Katara felt unnerved, as if he's left her there with the temple ruins. "Did you hear me? I said you should really get to bed, you have training tomorrow with him, remember?"

Him. She couldn't even bring herself about to say his name.

"Oh, don't worry about me, I'll be fine!" Aang enthused, following with a chuckle, "I'd start now if Zuko didn't need his beauty rest."

Katara couldn't help but scoff at the sentiment. "La knows he needs it," she muttered, mostly to herself.

Her companion laughed and leaned back along his elbows, stretching his legs over the uneven sacred ground. "You know, you're even more mean to him than Toph," he pointed out absently, nothing but amusement in his tone, "You shouldn't be so hard on him, Katara, he's helping. And I'm sure it was difficult for him to ask to join us."

"You shouldn't be so trusting," the girl snapped at once, unable to control her tongue.

Aang blinked at her retort but dismissed it with ease. "Everyone deserves at least one chance--"

"Exactly," Katara interjected, standing up and brushing off the dirt and rubble from her clothes, "He's already used that one from me." With that said, she left the airbender at the mouth of the temple to stare dejectedly after her retreating form. Had she stayed she would have seen the young Avatar throw a pebble into the darkness and hear a part of the opposing cliff face crumble under the impact. She moved lithely down the hall, muttering under her breath the entire way. She was tired of people lecturing her about her views on that traitor. He kept switching sides and it was so confusing. How many times has he been down this path before? Once? Twice? Three times? Who knew how long he'd last on the 'good' side this time around? She could understand why Aang would risk it, he was forgiving and peaceful. But how could anyone else expect her to trust him? He betrayed her. He tricked her. She felt sorry for him. She pitied him and wanted to help him.

What would have happened had she used her Spirit Water to heal his scar?

What would have happened if the intrusion hadn't happened until after?

Would he still have gone back to the Fire Nation?

Would Azula have struck Aang down?

Would Aang have died?

It was a terrifying prospect, knowing that she came so close to being unable to heal Aang's mortal wound. And why? All because that Fire-Prince-Brat told her some sob story about his mother and unleashed his deceptive anguish? She trusted him that first time, gave him the benefit of the doubt, and he turned away. Aang almost one realized how lucky it was that Azula came crashing into the catacombs – no. That wasn't luck. It wasn't good in any sense. Rather, Katara's own foolishness almost cost Aang his life, and she'd be damned if she let that happen again. But no one understood. No one could understand. She didn't want to admit that she had very nearly used up Aang's saving water on a boy unworthy of her help, of kindness.

Unworthy of a second chance.

Katara hesitated at her room's door. Toph was sleeping soundly, buried beneath her own sheets and still snoring, blissfully unaware of the tremors shivering up her roommate's frame. The waterbender crept along down the corridor towards Sokka and Aang's quarters, where her brother was (surely enough) muttering in his sleep some nonsense about their next meal. She frowned just faintly at the empty cot where Aang should be (was he still sitting outside?) unable to shake the guilt of knowing his life very nearly slipped through her fingers. She felt her nails dig into the marble-like threshold of the chamber, before turning away and catching a glimpse of his room.

She floundered for a moment, unsure of what to do, and then resolved to peek into his chambers. What was the harm? He was fast asleep, afterall. The Fire-Prince-turned-good. A scoff escaped her lips at the thought - she had more than a shadow of a doubt that this was nothing more than a ploy. He was a good actor and she had to recognize his talents for what they were - deceptive. Katara peered curiously into his chambers, straining her ears to listen for any sign that the (obvious) traitor was still awake. It was darker in his room than the rest (probably because there were no windows) and she could only barely make out the shadowed figures inside. She pressed against the side of the entry way, her cheek resting against the cool material that made up the temple, and scowled into the darkness, waiting for her eyes to adjust.

"Do you always watch people sleep?"

The girl jumped at the sound of his voice, smooth and undeterred, but immediately recomposed herself, grateful for Toph's snoring and Sokka's talking to ease her own light gasp of surprise. It took all of a millisecond for her to gather her wits about her once more, and she frowned haughtily into the dark room. There was no movement inside, and she uneasily contemplated just how long he's been watching her stare at him (or was that a wall she was glaring daggers at?). "Do you always pretend to sleep?"

"Do you ever sleep?"

Katara scowled at him, at his cheek, at the unassuming tone of his voice. "Yes, I usually don't have trouble sleeping."

"Then what are you doing up at this hour?"

"I can't sleep."

"Why not?"

"Because you're here."

There was a hesitance in the room, a sudden thickening of tension, and Katara wondered if he was hurt by her comment, if he cared at all. Did he even hear her? Had he fallen asleep? Did he dismiss her with a flick of his hand, deeming her boring and un-amusing, or perhaps not worth his time? So many thoughts, so many contemptuous possibilities, swam in her mind and Katara found his returned stillness increasingly unnerving. A retort was at the tip of her tongue, ready to lash out at him and call him out for everything he's done and said and put them all through, when a small flickering flame lit up from the opposite end of the room, precisely where she had been staring.

Katara eyed him suspiciously, entranced by the blaze held easily in the palm of his hand, small and playful almost, in the way that it danced, casting shadows along the walls, over his face, and his eyes (that couldn't possibly be glowing and were a captivating sort of golden hue that matched the central flame hovering over his palm--and what was she doing even thinking of that?)

"I can't sleep because I'm here, either."

Chapter II -- Over An Open Fire Excerpt

With an awkward laugh, the airbender lifted a hand to scratch the back of his head and shrugged. "Well, I'm ready whenever Sifu Hotman is," he said exuberantly, flashing a toothy smile at the waterbender.

("Stop calling me that!" Zuko growled from his cot, dully ignored by the duo.)

"I guess I do have a long day of training ahead of me tomorrow, I'm going to sleep."