Disclaimer: the characters and places in the following work of fan-fiction are the intellectual property of Nickelodeon and, as such, they reserve the right to remove this story at their sole discretion. Furthermore, any similarities between the plotline of this fan series and canon are purely coincidental.

This is the 19th in a series, so please read the preceeding stories before continuing!

Previously on Avatar

"We need to go over our next move," Sokka announced to the gathered group.

"So you've come up with a plan then," Zuko stated.

"Well, sort of," the warrior answered nervously. "It's…kind of risky, actually, but it's probably our best shot now."

"What is it?" asked Aang hesitantly. The other boy drew a deep breath before plunging ahead with his response.

"We use the comet."

"Commander Huo is already planning a coup," Sokka stated calmly. "He means to put you on the throne."

This stopped Zuko dead in his tracks, and he whirled to face Sokka, his voice little more than a humbled whisper of disbelief.


"If we can find a way to get in touch with him," Sokka elaborated, "then he might be able to get us the firepower we need to take the palace."

"Even if we can find Huo," Zuko started tiredly, "and he does bring troops willing to help us, that doesn't change the fact that the comet will make Ozai more powerful than you can imagine. You don't know what he's capable of the way I do. And when the comet comes, he'll be unstoppable."

"Not if he can't bend," interjected Ty Lee timidly.

Zuko leaned back into the crevice, keeping a secure hold on Katara as he settled her alongside him in as comfortable and safe a position as they could manage. She was practically in his lap, but there was nothing to be done for it.

"You know," mused Katara drowsily, breaking Zuko from his thoughts, "Under any other circumstances this would be practically scandalous."

"It probably is anyway," he replied lightly. "Are you sure you'll be able to live with yourself after this?"

"Hrm, that depends," she teased back with a yawn, "will you still love me in the morning?"

Zuko's quiet voice hummed through the tiny crevice, "Much longer than that."

"Zuko," Katara murmured uncertainly, "I was only joking."

Fearful of what she might find, she nonetheless tilted her head up to look at his face, only to see him smirking down at her.

"I know."

Zuko waited until her breathing evened out into a slow, steady rhythm before risking a glance down at the girl cradled in his arms, and he tenderly freed a stray lock of hair from her eyelashes. Letting out a long sigh, he bent his head over hers until his lips brushed the top of her scalp, whispering a silent, pained confession into her dark tresses.

"But I wasn't.

"So…you're saying that the reason I can't make lightning is…because I have inner turmoil."

"It might not even be something you're fully aware of," Zuko tried to console quickly, "I mean, it took me a long time to figure all this out for myself. But Uncle was right. Once I did, I was able to master lightning. We just need to find out what's bothering you. But we'll sort it out, Aang, I promise…"

"Actually, I already know what it is" Aang stated quietly, "It's the same thing that's keeping me from entering the Avatar State."

Any surprise Zuko felt at this admission was quickly overshadowed by the growing sense of dread that suddenly gripped his heart when Aang lifted his head once more, showing the prince with startling clarity the overwhelming anguish reflected in the boy's eyes. And it was a tormented voice that answered Zuko's unspoken question.

"It's Katara."

Fire Chapter 19: The Gathering

Aang and Zuko faced off against one another on the broad rocky beach, their expressions stern and grim, and their bodies rigid in preparation of battle. Palpable tension hung in the air between them, sizzling with the heat of their animosity as each waited for the other to make the first move.

A safe distance from them, Katara watched with anxious horror, unable to tear her eyes from the scene, but knowing better than to get involved. Over and over, she silently reminded herself that this was something they both needed to do. But it was still painful to watch, and she almost wished they'd stop stalling and just get to it already. Mere seconds after this thought crossed her mind, her wish was granted.

Zuko struck first.

With a mighty roar, he launched a searing wave of flames so violent that Katara could feel the heat rolling off of it from where she stood. Her breath caught in her throat, then released uneasily as Aang raised a wall of stone to block the assault at the last moment. Not waiting for the younger boy to recover or respond in kind, Zuko attacked again, this time sending a volley of short but intense bursts that obliterated the barrier in an acrid explosion of scorched rock.

But Aang was already on the move, having used the brief diversion to conjure an air scooter, which he was now dashing forward on, slinging tendrils of water ahead of him in an effort to get in a strike of his own. Zuko was prepared for this however, and within seconds, the air was filled with billowing steam as a fiery wall erupted around him, evaporating the missiles before they could reach him.

Another jet of flame then shot out from the prince's foot, zipping along the ground right underneath Aang and consuming the ball of spinning air upon which he rode. With a startled yell, the Avatar lept away from the now very hot seat, landing with a thud on the rough ground.

He immediately had to evade the next round of blasts, using his fire bending to deflect the blows before finally sending a return sweep, and forcing Zuko back a few steps to defend. Or so the Avatar thought.

Much to Aang's surprise, his own attack suddenly came hurtling right back at him, and he only just avoided being roasted to a crisp. Once more, he was on the defensive: blocking, dodging, and mostly just trying to keep from being flambéed.

All the while, Katara watched, her hands unconsciously wringing together as her eyes followed the jets of flame back and forth across the beach. She was so engrossed in the battle that she didn't even react when Momo landed on her shoulder, equally transfixed with worry by the brutal fight unfolding before them.

There was a brief pause as the two combatants took a moment to regain their breath, glaring at one another as they gasped for air.

"You're never going to win if you just react, Aang," snarled the prince. "You have to act!"

This last word was punctuated by an intense stream of flames, answered by a ripple of crunching earth rocketing toward the prince and attempting to throw him off his feet. But Zuko merely used the momentum of his upward thrust to somersault over his foe, shooting fire from hands and feet as he tumbled back to the ground, only to find his target gone.

Alert for a renewed assault, the prince turned warily, seeking any disturbance in the ground that would give the Avatar's position away. He felt, rather than saw, the incoming jab of earth aimed for his torso, and smashed it with flaming fist, melting the tip of the stone into a hissing puddle of molten rock before spinning around to do the same to another, and then another.

When Appa's familiar low rumble and the sound of her brother's footsteps came up beside Katara, she barely glanced in their direction before returning her attention back to the fight. Sokka crossed his arms over his chest as he took in the scene. A few moments later, Renzu and Lo'Khi joined them as well.

"I see Aang hasn't managed to get a chi block on Zuko yet," Renzu remarked needlessly.

"No," confirmed Katara quietly.

The teens fell silent after that and observed as the battle raged on.

Aang was out of the ground now, and still trying to pin Zuko without success. Both were oblivious to their spectators, solely focused on each other. It was obvious by their labored breathing and slowing attacks that they were both growing tired.

"It feels wrong to just stand and watch them like this," Sokka said forlornly.

Katara nodded solemnly, her voice sounding small and frail. "Yeah, it does."

Momo apparently shared this sentiment, for he had covered his eyes with his tiny hands and merely peeked from in between them from time to time before hastily clapping them over his face once more with pitiful chirrups of dismay. After one such display, Katara reached up and patted the little lemur consolingly.

"Me too, Momo."

Meanwhile, the fight continued, Zuko's attacks becoming even more heated and ferocious while Aang tried his best to retaliate. Massive pillars of earth shot up from the ground in a desperate bid to halt the unrelenting prince. Icicles zinged through the air only to dissipate as they met Zuko's blistering last-second defenses.

They were becoming frustrated, tired…sloppy.

Finally seeing an opening, Aang seized the opportunity and dashed forward with a yell. Just before his fingers struck however, he realized it had been a feint, and before he knew what was happening he was flung to the ground, the air knocked from his lungs with Zuko holding him firmly down.

A feral shout erupted from the prince as a blazing fist descended straight toward the prone air bender's unprotected face. Powerless to defend himself, Aang cried out and flinched away from the inevitable blow.

With a gasp, Katara rushed forward to intervene, the other three boys following after.

The wreath of flames around Zuko's hand winked out a bare instant before they made contact with flesh. Still cringing, Aang cracked an eye open, only to find his friend glaring down at him furiously.

"This is where you lose," he declared coldly.

Katara arrived just as the prince stood back up, his expression a mixed scowl of disappointment and disgust. She dropped to her knees beside Aang,

"Aang, are you okay?" she fretted, frantically checking his face for any sign of a burn.

"I'm fine," he answered wearily as he let her help him back to his feet.

"Good," said Zuko tersely. Stepping a few feet away, he took up his battle position once more before commanding evenly, "Now try it again."

But before Aang could obey, Katara stepped forcefully between the two boys.


"He's never going to get this if he doesn't keep trying, Katara," Zuko explained harshly, not relaxing from his stance.

"And he's never going to succeed if he's too tired to fight."

"Tired?" breathed Zuko incredulously, finally dropping his arms only to begin gesticulating as he ranted. "Tired? He's going to get tired when he faces my father! And what do you think will happen then? You think Ozai is going to say, 'hey, you look a little worn out? Why don't we take a break and have some tea'!"

Undaunted by his shouting, Katara replied firmly, "I understand where you are coming from, Zuko. But right now, he's still just training, and you two have been at this for hours now. That's enough for one day."

"Zuko's right, Katara," Aang interjected faintly. "I need to do this. I'll be fine."

"I appreciate how badly you want to get this, Aang," she replied gently, then throwing a meaningful look at Zuko, she added coolly, "but you aren't the only one I'm worried about."

The prince blinked in surprise at this statement, before diverting his gaze to the ground, seeming thoroughly chastised. And he didn't protest when Katara put a comforting arm around Aang's shoulders and began to lead the younger boy away with Appa ambling after them.

"Come on; let's get you something to eat."

Sokka and his friends remained quiet during the entire exchange, watching as Katara threw one last sorrowful glance over her shoulder at Zuko. But he refused to meet her eyes, looking up only after she and Aang were gone, his face clouded with regret. Without a word, the prince turned and walked the opposite direction down the beach.

Lo'Khi rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he glanced from one departing bender to the other.

"You know, Renzu," he remarked casually, "I'm beginning to think you're right."

The other boy only shrugged as he answered smugly, "Told ya."

"I never would have believed it if I hadn't seen it for myself, though," admitted Lo'Khi.

"I think it's kind of romantic," chimed in Ty Lee dreamily, startling all three boys. They had no idea when she'd even showed up.

Sokka's confusion, however, was two-fold.

"What are you all talking about?"

They leaned around one another to stare at the water tribe warrior in amazement, and he gazed back at them blankly.


The three of them looked from one to the other before turning back to Sokka.

"You seriously haven't noticed, have you?" chuckled Renzu.

"Noticed what?"

"Don't feel bad, I didn't realize it either until Renzu said something," said Ty Lee confessed. "But it's hard to miss now."

"Hard to miss what?" demanded Sokka with uncontained frustration.

"That Prince Zuko likes your sister," Lo'Khi explained as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

It took a moment for this declaration to register in Sokka's brain, but when it did, he almost fell over laughing with disbelief.

"You've gotta be kidding!" he retorted. "Those two bicker all the time!"

"But he always lets her win," Lo'Khi pointed out.

"And Zuko never lets someone else win," added Ty Lee knowingly.

"He's just trying to stay on Katara's good side," Sokka said dismissively. "She's a real handful if you make her mad."

"Right," replied Renzu, unconvinced. Then, as if deciding to drop the matter, he quickly changed the subject as they all began to make their way back to the house. "So what was with all the room switching earlier today?"

Sokka shrugged unconcernedly. "Zuko said he didn't care for the view, so he convinced Katara to trade with him."

The other three exchanged knowing looks before Renzu spoke again.

"Didn't like the view, huh?"


Lo'Khi jumped into the discussion with, "The view of the courtyard…"

"The courtyard with the big fountain of water just outside the window…" prompted Renzu slyly.

"What does that have to do with anything?"

But rather than answer, the three teens laughed and Lo'Khi clapped a companionable hand on Sokka's shoulder and grinned.

"You'll figure it out eventually."

With that, they walked ahead as the befuddled and skeptical warrior stared after them. He looked to Momo sitting on the rocky incline nearby.

"Well, what do you think?" he asked tersely.

The lemur merely chattered something incomprehensible before taking to the air in the direction of the manor, leaving Sokka standing there shaking his head.

They had to be imagining this. Zuko couldn't possibly have a thing for Katara. It was simply ridiculous.

He turned back toward the beach where the prince sat alone on a boulder staring out over the ocean. Definitely ridiculous.

But despite Sokka's self-assurance, there was now a lingering seed of doubt, and he resolved that perhaps he should pay more attention to those two.

Just in case.

Author's note: I almost forgot to mention that a new story illustration from the last 'episode' has been added to my deviantArt page. Enjoy!