Here is the first chapter of the new edited version of MHBFY. I hope you enjoy.

This story is rated M for violence and sexual references. To avoid having my story taken down here, the MA version is posted on A03. You can find the link on my profile. However, the smutty scenes will occur much later in the story, so have patience! I also want to warn you that this story will be very long and the romance might be slow. Like serious Slow Burn! If you like those fast paced ones, then I suggest you look elsewhere. This story is also written almost like a romance novel.

Much thanks to my awesome Beta reader PurseMonger!

*Note: 4/16/2024 - I was around 16/17 when I started writing this story in 2008, as you can probably tell from the writing style in the early chapters, and it took me about 10 years to complete. A lot of my ideals/beliefs have changed as I grew older such as the idea of purity culture, the damsel in distress type, the heavy bashing of Aang and Mai, etc. I've gone back and revised several of the early chapters, but can only do so much without scraping the entire story. That said, I hope you still enjoy reading it!*

Disclaimer- Avatar: the Last Airbender belongs to Mike and Bryan, and I make no profit on this story.

Chapter One

Postwar Events

Opening sharp, golden eyes, Zuko blinked at the minimal amount of light that entered his expansive room as the early rays of the dawning sun struck his pale skin. He always woke with the sun. That was just the way with firebenders.

Stifling a tired yawn, the young man sat up in his large bed and ran a hand through his short, loose hair as he surveyed his royal bedchamber. His royal suite consisted of two large sections: one being the bedchamber and the other the antechamber, which must be passed in order to enter his sleeping quarters—though not many were privileged to do so, seeing as he enjoyed his privacy. In the antechamber was where he usually took all of his meals either alone or with those close to him. The current royal chambers were much simpler than when Ozai lived there. As soon as he became Fire Lord, Zuko ordered for all of the gaudy decoration his sire preferred to be torn down and the rooms remodeled.

His bed was high and massive, almost covering one wall of the room, while large, comfortable cushions were spread on the other side of the impressive accommodations. Gold and red were the prominent colors that decorated the room with a glossy, black marble floor. On one wall hung a large tapestry of the Fire Nation emblem while extraordinary illustrations of Fire Nation scenery and resplendent dragons covered the other three. On the western side of his room was a large balcony, which oversaw the Capital. From there he could see where the sun touched the ocean as it began to set in the horizon. It was a beautiful, breathtaking sight, and he always tried to find time to see it.

Zuko smiled to himself as he finished scanning his sleeping quarters. He still had trouble getting accustomed to his new room and new life. After spending so many years in a small cabin on his small metal ship, sleeping on the hard ground as a fugitive, and then living in a small, filthy apartment in the lower district of Ba Sing Se, it seemed unbelievable. However, it was not only his room that amazed him, but the fact that he was now Fire Lord, ruler of the great Fire Nation. He had once lost hope of ever regaining his royal status, but most importantly, his home.

Pulling the covers away from his body, Zuko stood and stretched for a moment before moving to his meditation area. Sitting on an elaborate cushion placed before a small altar with candles, Zuko lit them with a flick of his wrist as he closed his eyes and cleansed his mind. He never missed his morning meditation as it gave him the patience required for the oncoming day of tedious work as Fire Lord. Uncle would be proud.

It was nearly an hour later when Zuko opened his eyes and snuffed the candles out. He made his way toward his private bathing chamber that adjoined the room on the eastern side. The bathing room was as magnificent as the rest of his royal suite, a spacious area with the same dark, marble floor as the rest of the suite. But what he liked most about the bathroom was the large marble bathtub that was placed near the wall facing the door which he used quite frequently.

Who ever said firebenders don't like water? the young lord mused, smirking.

He waited for the tub to be filled before dipping his hand into the water and warming it with his firebending. Once the water was at the temperature he preferred and steam floated in the air, Zuko quickly removed his sleeping pants and climbed into the tub. He sighed as the warm water touched his skin, soaking up the soothing feeling for a moment before he started scrubbing himself with a soapy sponge.

As he scrubbed his chest, Zuko paused and a small frown settled on his impassive features, the large scar on the left side of his face becoming more noticeable. With tentative fingers, he touched the scar on his abdomen that marred his otherwise perfect skin; the scar Azula had inflicted upon him as he flung himself in front of Katara to protect her. It had healed nicely thanks to the lovely waterbender's healing abilities and it was hardly noticeable, at least, not as noticeable as the one on his face that was inflicted upon him by his own father. But even if it had not healed and was as visible as the one on his face, he would not have cared. He received that scar saving Katara's life, and he was willing to receive more if it meant keeping her safe.


Memories of her tear-streaked face flashed before his eyes as she knelt beside him on that terrible day, her hands covered in glowing water as she desperately tried to heal his wound and save his life.

Her soft, gentle hands sliding down my chest... Zuko thought dazedly before he shook his head.

There he went again. Every time he recalled that memory, his thoughts would wander into something far less innocent than it was. Katara was just healing him at the time, and he would always be grateful for her help and for her concern for his wellbeing and his life. However, that still did not explain why, after all these years, he kept seeing Katara in his mind everywhere he went.

A soft knock outside his royal bedchamber roused him from his thoughts. Reality greeted him with the announcement of breakfast by his most trusted maidservant.

Zuko answered that he would be ready in a moment and took another few seconds to bask in the soothing, warm water. He sighed as he finally got out, lest his breakfast went cold, and dried himself with a plush, red towel. It was going to be another wearisome day reviewing long documents, signing petitions, hearing his people's requests, and then the dreadful meetings with his advisors. But he should not be complaining. He wanted to become Fire Lord in order to help his nation and his people, so he had to deal with all of the duties and problems that came with that title.

It had not been easy. Hatred and mistrust ruled everyone even after four years had passed since the war ended. A few of the Fire Nation people had even risen in rebellion against him a year after the war ended, but they had been swiftly defeated. The hardest part of all, however, was trying to regain the trust of the other countries, especially the Earth Kingdom. Many people still did not trust him, afraid he would become as power-hungry as his father and grandfathers before him, but Zuko was determined to show them that he wanted peace among all nations, all elements, just as much as they did. Thanks to Aang's peace seeking and Zuko's leadership, it seemed a likely possibility.

Dressed and with his fire crown glinting on his head, Zuko exited his room and entered his antechamber where the food was already set up on the low table. He nodded at the servants as they stepped away from the table. Jiao, his most trusted servant, and the other short-haired maid bowed and retreated from the room.

He picked up his chopsticks and began the silent routine of consuming his breakfast meal. It was moments like these that he wished he were still traveling with the Avatar group; watching Aang and Toph bicker with one another while Suki reprimanded Sokka for stuffing his face with food without leaving some for the rest.

Though he was confused as to why, Zuko most of all missed the way Katara would hand him his bowl—full of her simple but delicious cooking—while she gave him a radiant smile.

Brown locks danced in the frosty breeze as Katara watched her young waterbending students with care and pride as they completed their training for the day. She smiled at the looks of concentration on their cute, little faces, and laughed softly to herself.

"Good job, everyone. Remember to keep the water flowing gracefully around your form," she instructed as she demonstrated the technique to the children by bending a small stream of water around her.

She waited until they got the move before she congratulated them, "Great! That was awesome! Well, I think that's enough for today. See you tomorrow, and remember to practice whenever you have a chance."

"Yes, Master Katara!" the children chorused as they ran to go play.

Katara watched them leave and smiled.

"Katara!" she heard Sokka call from a distance.

The waterbender turned at the sound of his voice and watched as her older brother came up to her, walking with an air of self-importance.

"Don't you mean Master Katara?" she replied with a teasing grin.

"Nope, Katara, that's what I meant 'cause you're still my little sister and I'm the Mighty Warrior of the Southern Water Tribe," Sokka replied seriously as he pointed a finger at himself. "Thus, you are the one who should show some respect to the Mighty Warrior Sokka," he finished with a large grin on his face.

"Uh huh," Katara uttered as she returned his grin. "Well, Mighty Warrior Sokka, perhaps we should see who's the one to show respect by having a little competition," she challenged as she summoned a rather large water whip and twirled it around him. "What do you say?"

Sokka's eyes widened as he stared at the water whip, but he straightened himself out comically as he coolly replied.

"Nah, I'm too tired because of all the new, great inventions I have to work on. Maybe some other time, Sis," he said and yawned playfully.

Katara laughed as she replaced the water into her waterskin while she rolled her eyes at her brother.

Four years had passed since the end of the war and many things had changed. Waterbenders from the Northern Water Tribe came to help reconstruct their southern sister. Once a small village with a few igloos and huts scattered here and there, the Southern Water Tribe was now a large city that continued to grow. When the men came back from the war, many families sprang up and many children came into the world, especially when many warriors from the Northern Tribe married and settled in the South.

Much like its sister, the Southern Water Tribe now was made of beautifully carved ice buildings that were placed in an elaborate pattern—thanks to Sokka. Not only did he help plan the formation of the village with its leaders and their father, the chief of the tribe, but he also made suggestions on how to make the canals run through the city and how to build a stronger defensive wall that would keep any invaders out, which she hoped would never be needed.

Katara thought that the best idea that Sokka came up with was how to illuminate the city at night. Candles were placed inside light-blue glass lamps that had been placed along the streets, bridges, and house walls, making the city glow in a heavenly light and causing it to become a winter wonderland. Although her brother acted silly most of the time, nobody could deny he had great ideas.

Katara's thoughts were interrupted when Sokka spoke up again.

"I just got another letter from Suki!" he exclaimed, briefly showing his sister the letter he had pulled out from his parka before he brought it back to his face and stared down at it lovingly.

"Suki says that Kyoshi Island has grown larger and stronger. And she says that the Kyoshi Warrior membership has grown so much they had to open another school! Can you believe it? More warrior women! Women are starting to gain control of the world!" he commented with a laugh.

"Who ever said women didn't already have control? I can recall you doing anything I said in order to fill your big belly," Katara countered playfully as she poked his stomach. She grinned when he rubbed his stomach with a huff. "And Toph always bosses you around. Not to mention that she's younger than you!" She laughed loudly.

"She doesn't boss me around! I agree with whatever she wants because I'm a nice guy," he countered as he looked back down at the letter before muttering, "Besides, I don't want to end up crushed between two boulders. What would happen to my handsome face?"

Katara suppress her laugh.

"It's not like it's not already messed up," she teased.

Sokka looked up from the letter to glare at her.

"Besides not all faces have to be flawless to be handsome," she said with a shrug.

The image of Zuko's scarred face emerged in her mind as she said this. She momentarily forgot her brother as she remembered touching the firebender's scar that day under Ba Sing Se. It was rough, but at the same time, it was smooth and velvety. Even though the scar covered almost half of the left side of his face she never thought of him as ugly, maybe a bit intimidating at first, but never repulsive. The scar actually added to his complex character, giving him a bad-boy look, making him look mysterious…handsome.

She blushed as these thoughts entered her mind; though she admitted that she thought about the firebender more than she thought was actually proper. Every time she would stare at a glowing flame—be it a candle, a torch, or a bonfire—she would be reminded of Zuko when he would firebend, as well as that horrible day he had almost died while the Fire Nation Palace courtyard burned as a result of his fight with Azula. Katara winced and lightly shook her head.

That memory always made her stomach twist painfully as she recalled the way Zuko lay in pain on the cold floor, electricity sparking from his body, after taking a bolt of lightning to his chest in order to save her life. She had never felt as scared as when she screamed his name and ran to him. Not even when Aang had been struck by Azula. She was confused as to why it was so, but either way she was extremely grateful to Zuko for risking his life for her after the harsh way she had treated him when he had first joined their group.

Sokka's deep sigh snapped Katara out of her thoughts and she looked up with a sheepish expression on her face.

Sokka, oblivious to what his sister was thinking, cried out dramatically, "If it wasn't because they need me here I would've gone to Kyoshi Island a long time ago!"

"Aww! How cute," Katara cooed teasingly.

Sokka's tanned cheeks reddened before he scowled at her.

"What?" she asked innocently as she tried to hide her smile when he grumbled under his breath.

She knew that, even though Sokka acted all tough and macho-like, he would do almost anything Suki asked because he was madly in love with the Kyoshi Warrior. Who would have thought that such a terrible fighter and a sexist like Sokka would end up becoming, well…less of a sexist, a very skilled warrior, and a genius—the 'idea guy'?

Her mental praise was interrupted at the sound of Sokka's stomach growling noisily.

"I'm hungry!" Sokka complained as he clutched at his protesting stomach. "What does a great warrior have to do in order to get some food around here? Why can't dinner be earlier?"

Katara rolled her eyes. It seemed some things would never change.

Sitting silently on his throne set behind the fire wall, Zuko listened carefully and somewhat impatiently as the members of his Court Council argued amongst themselves about the welfare of the Fire Nation. Hours passed since Zuko had stepped into the meeting room and he could feel a headache coming on.

"More soldiers should be sent to protect and gain more control of our colonies in the Earth Kingdom!" one old and rather obese advisor yelled. "If we do not show more control, the Earth Kingdom residents will surely start a rebellion and will seek to overthrow our rule!"

Some of the older advisors agreed with him with low grumbles and nodding heads. Zuko resisted the urge to rub at his temples.

"But we cannot spend more money on recruiting more soldiers. Besides, as much as you hate it, we are not at war anymore. We have to use our funds to keep manufacturing goods so we could export them to the other nations. If we spend more money on the military we won't have enough for our resources," another elder explained calmly, which gained the support of most of the other advisors.

Zuko nodded in agreement. Opening up trade with the other countries was what helped his nation regain its feet, and not to mention a bit more trust from the Water Tribes and the Earth Kingdom. In order to keep manufacturing goods they needed the funds. Once, Zuko almost laughed when he read the monthly report that stated that what the other nations demanded the most was not their famous steel, but their red wine. However, as a show of good faith as well as to make reparations for all the harm the Fire Nation has caused, Zuko had ordered the return of the Fire Nation colonies back to the Earth Kingdom. Only a few, the oldest of all colonies, had requested to remain within Fire Nation rule. After working with several Earth Kingdom representatives over these requests, the Earth Kingdom had allowed these colonies to be as they were, mostly because the towns were far from main Earth Kingdom cities.

"But most of our products come from our remaining colonies and if we do not keep control of these colonies, then guess what will happen," the first advisor sneered, his large belly jiggling as he moved. "We would not only lose those colonies, but we will also lose your precious goods, you fool!"

Zuko narrowed his eyes as he glared at the obese man. His name was Wei. He was rather old, but had a sharp mind and a sharp tongue. He was one of Ozai's former advisors and was one of the few who still favored world domination. He constantly tried to argue that the war was for the betterment of the Fire Nation, but Zuko knew Wei only wanted power and wealth for himself.

Zuko hated the man. Wei was the first one on his list of the advisors he wanted to dismiss as he ascended the throne, but Iroh convinced him it was best if he kept the most influential and most wealthy around him in order to gain their trust and their support. Unfortunately, Wei was the wealthiest and most influential of them all. Even though some still sided with Wei, many of the others started to see the foolishness of the war and longed for peace to settle among all nations once again.

Chao, the other man who was arguing with Wei, glared at the fat nobleman. Not only was he one of Iroh's friends, but he was also wise, patient and among his fellow advisors, he had the best arguments against the war. Zuko had personally appointed Chao to his Council because he always asked for Zuko's views and opinions and backed him in every decision he made. Something Zuko noticed that Wei never did.

The young Fire Lord always had to calm himself down every time Wei disregarded him because the old advisor thought he was too young to rule and not intelligent enough to comprehend how to be Fire Lord. He especially hated every time Wei called him 'Young One'. He was not a child, for Agni's sake! Zuko had to breathe several times so as not to act on his urge to burn the ever-present stupid smirk off Wei's face.

"Well, I think we should ask Fire Lord Zuko to give us his opinion on this matter," Chao replied, looking confidently up at the twenty-year-old ruler.

All the advisors turned to look up at him, sitting behind the orange flames. Zuko could feel Wei wishing to see him make a fool of himself, but thanks to Uncle Iroh and Chao, Zuko had quickly learned how to handle politics.

"Yes, let us see what the Young One has to say," Wei simpered as he leaned back in his spot.

Zuko clenched his hands as he growled in his head. That stupid imbecile! I'll burn that stupid smirk...

While he cursed in his head, his facial expression remained placid and neutral.

Zuko regarded the men in front of him calmly as he carefully thought over what to say. He needed them to side with him and see that ruling over the whole world was not the best thing for the Fire Nation. If there were anyone that could give out inspirational speeches that would make them all see reason, he would undoubtedly name Katara. But, unfortunately, the waterbender was all the way in the Southern Water Tribe, and so, not only could he not hear her voice, but he could not see her beautiful face or find comfort in her presence either.

A small cough brought him out of his thoughts. He inwardly shook his head before he straightened himself out so he could begin.

"I believe that what you have said is correct, Wei. Our colonies are a very important source for the production of our trading goods," Zuko began. He could see Wei's smug grin broaden.

"But…" he continued and he inwardly smirked as Wei's expression changed, "I don't think sending more soldiers would be a good idea. Our colonies are well protected as they are and the governors I personally appointed are running the cities with justice and a fair amount of control. I have received reports stating that both Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom residents are living well together. There may be some tension now, but I am sure that with time trust will win out."

Many of the men in the meeting room chamber nodded in agreement, but he knew some were still skeptical.

"Besides, if we send more soldiers to the colonies, we might give the wrong impression. The Fire Nation citizens might believe they are being protected because they are in danger and might begin to distrust their neighbors, while the Earth Kingdom residents might think we are trying to control and oppress them," he glanced at Wei for a second, "which might actually start a rebellion."

Zuko paused and looked around the room behind the glow of flames.

"I really believe that in order for the Fire Nation to regain its honor and glory we need harmony among those living in our colonies. And if there is harmony between the elements in the colonies, then there will finally be peace and harmony among all nations and all elements. Then, hopefully, that harmony would never be broken ever again."

The young Fire Lord stared at the men before him as the room went silent before he settled back on his throne cushion with a silent sigh.

After removing his formal Fire Lord robes and putting on a comfortable tunic and a pair of pants, Zuko sat at the table in his anteroom reading over some documents he had not finished in his study. After giving his opinion in the meeting room, Zuko was actually surprised when most of the men smiled and even applauded him. He thought that maybe he sounded too idealistic, but that is just the way he felt the world should come to be. Peaceful. No more war, hatred, suffering, and death.

'No more children being ripped from their parents,' was what Katara had told him once when she was healing his chest a few days after the Agni Kai with Azula.

His thoughts were interrupted as a monotonous voice commented, "I hope this time they make a better soup."

Mai sat across from him, her hands neatly folded on her lap under the table. He was so caught up in his thoughts that he had not noticed his thin, dark-haired girlfriend enter the room.

Zuko smiled slightly at her.

"Mai, I didn't hear you come in. I'm sure the soup will taste fine. The Palace Cook always makes delicious plates," he replied passively.

The noblewoman just nodded.

"So, how was your day?" Zuko asked as he placed his papers to the side, hoping to be distracted from his work and thoughts, if only for a bit.

"Nothing interesting, just the same old routine, practicing with my weapons and reading," she replied without emotion. "But I did receive a letter from Ty Lee. She seems to be enjoying herself on Kyoshi Island and informed me that they have opened a new school for incoming Kyoshi Warriors," Mai said evenly as she watched him with her dark eyes.

"Well, Ty Lee always enjoys herself no matter where she is. I'm glad Kyoshi Island is doing well," Zuko replied, hoping she would asked him about his day. He wanted to have a conversation with someone who was not always judging him or was intimidated by him.

A few of his advisors were frightened by him, not only because of his temper—which as he grew older he was gaining more control of—but because he had proven himself to be a great leader despite his young age. This made them uneasy because he had proven to be hard to manipulate, and thus, it made it hard for them to advance in their own interests.

Mai only nodded and sat there without moving. Zuko frowned as the silence became a bit uncomfortable. He was never good at initiating conversations...that was his uncle's job. He missed Iroh terribly. He missed his uncle's wisdom and his annoying hints. Hell, he even missed Uncle's hot leaf juice!

Zuko wished Iroh was there helping him with his rule, but the old man had decided to go back to his teashop in Ba Sing Se once he realized that his nephew had learned how to handle the Fire Nation. As the silence grew longer, Zuko let out an inaudible sigh.

"Well, I certainly endured an exhausting meeting today," he began.

She yawned lightly.

"Yes, I'm sure it must have been awful. Just like every other meeting," she replied.

Zuko did not know whether to think she yawned because she was tired or she just did not want to listen to him talk about his dreary day, though he was slightly surprised that he was unaffected by it. As the years passed by, his relationship with Mai became unexciting. Not that it had been that wonderful after they became a couple when he returned with Azula from Ba Sing Se.

A few months ago, Mai asked him if she could move into the palace and he had accepted, not seeing any problem with it. Though he had to wonder what the point was since they hardly spent time together. Sometimes he wondered if he asked Mai to be his girlfriend because he hoped for their relationship to become something meaningful, or because back then he had been so lonely he just accepted her affections when she had approached him and confessed she had had a crush on him since they were children.

Just then dinner arrived and all thoughts of recounting his day were forgotten. They ate in silence as each dwelled in their own thoughts.

After they finished their meal, Mai looked up at him and glanced at the doors that led to his private rooms before she looked at him again. Zuko pretended he did not notice her request to enter his room and coolly looked away. He did not allow anyone into his sleeping quarters, except a few trusted servants to clean it, not even Mai.

When she realized that Zuko was not going to invite her in, like she had been hoping for ever since he became Fire Lord, Mai suppressed a huff as she gracefully stood up.

"Well, I'm sure you must be busy, so I think I'll go to my room now if you don't need anything. Good night," she said almost coldly.

Zuko nodded and he, too, stood up to walk her out his door. He was a bit surprised, though he did not show it, when Mai turned around and kissed him lightly before the servants entered the anteroom to clean it.

"We should go to Ember Island again one day, Zuko, at least for some change in this boring life," she murmured as she ran her thin hand down his chest.

Zuko frowned. Boring Life? Running this great country should be an honor.

"I'll think about it and I'll see if I have time for a small vacation," he answered impassively.

Mai frowned slightly, but quickly recovered her emotionless expression as she gave a small nod and walked out the door.

Zuko sighed as he went to his bedchamber while the servants cleared the dishes from the low table. He removed his clothing and changed for the night. Piling all of his paperwork on his lap as he sat on his bed, he began to recall the events that happened in the last four years.

Becoming Fire Lord of a nation that had been badly governed and caused a great deal of destruction to the other countries was difficult. He had to deal with national debt and on top of that, he had to regain the trust of the Water Tribes and the Earth Kingdom. But the worst part was the hatred of his own people, mostly the elders, and more accurately Wei. They had been outraged when he called for peace and the end of the war. They thought him unfit to be their Fire Lord, not only because back then he had been a seventeen-year-old, but because they thought him a traitor to his own country. That really hurt, but Zuko never gave up and was determined to keep his promise of peace and was even more determined to regain the honor and glory the Fire Nation had lost in the hands of the previous selfish rulers. Thanks to his determination and great leadership, his nation became more prosperous and all the countries began to trade with one another, and in a way began to accept each other.

Zuko rubbed his temples as his vision began to blur from concentrating too much on the documents. It seemed that every time he finished one pile, another would spring up in its place. Putting his papers aside, he settled into his bed.

With a wave of his hand, the candles extinguished, but the fire from the fireplace near one wall illuminated the room a bit—the light cast shadows around the large bedchamber as darkness settled in.

As Zuko lay in his bed, his thoughts wandered to Mai and their relationship. He had imagined that once he became Fire Lord everything he wanted and wished for would finally come true, but it was not so. Mai was still…Mai. She was still dull and monotonous and she rarely talked. Not to mention her physical appearance had not changed much except for the fact the she was now as tall as him. There were days when they did have great times together, but that was rare. And it did not help that he was busy running a nation.

But he could not deny the fact that he was thankful that Mai stood up to Azula in order to save him from his psychotic sister. And he was impressed since it was not an easy thing to do—she could have really gotten hurt if Ty Lee had not intervened in Azula's wrath.

Zuko frowned. He often thought about this event and he always felt guilty for not going after Mai when he helped Sokka rescue his father and Suki from the Boiling Rock. He had completely forgotten about her, as he was occupied with finding an escape from the island.

He began to feel even guiltier by admitting that he forgot about her because he was too busy with other matters such as finding a better way to firebend, teaching Aang firebending, the whole Sozin's Comet situation…

Helping Katara find her mother's killer in order to gain her forgiveness and friendship…

Zuko frowned and scowled slightly at himself for his thoughts.

Of course he wanted Katara to forgive him after all he had done to her and the rest of their friends. He had wanted her to see that he had indeed changed and the only thing he wanted was for his father to be defeated and the war to end. Besides, he had not wanted any more tension among the group as Katara and he had their differences. It had nothing to do with him wanting the lovely waterbender to like him. Of course not! That was just ridiculous!

Somehow, he had this feeling as if his conscience was laughing at him.

Okay, so maybe he did want Katara to like him, at least a little. There was nothing wrong with that. Right?

Zuko rolled over in his bed. Moreover, he helped her find her mother's murderer because it was the only way she could get closure. It was the only thing he knew he could do to help her, and it worked. Katara did forgive him and she gave him her friendship.

Not only did she give him her friendship and trust, but she had embraced him as well. The only other people who have ever hugged him were his mother, his uncle, and Mai. He could still recall the day when they returned from confronting Yon Rha. The sun had been setting over the horizon, turning the sky and the ocean a bright orange and rich red color as Katara sat at the small dock with her feet dangling into the water before she rose to greet them when he rejoined her with Aang. The young monk had tried to lecture her, but she refused his words of comfort and instead turned to him and a small blush had seeped onto her cheeks.

Before he could have pondered deeper about the blush, she had walked over to him and told him that she was ready to forgive. Then she had flung herself at him, circled her arms around his neck, and embraced him. He had frozen in shock for a second before he quickly encircled her waist and returned the embrace, but all too soon, she pulled back.

He had surprised himself when he had almost tightened his hold on her when he felt her start to move away, and even now, he still wished the embrace could have lasted a bit longer or perhaps be repeated again sometime in the near future. He liked the way her small and soft body felt against his, how her hair caressed the side of his face, and how her arms encircled his neck.

Zuko frowned at his sudden need to see the waterbender and berated himself for having such thoughts about Katara. With a sigh he wondered what was going on with him after what happened that day and why all of the sudden his thoughts switched from his reflection on his relationship with Mai to the master waterbender.

"Katara is just a very good friend," he argued silently to his dark room. "And Mai is my…girlfriend. And she was there for me after my fight with Azula."

But you didn't even think about Mai until she showed up in your room—right before your coronation, a small voice in his head said.

He flinched in consequence of the fact that he could not deny it. He had actually been surprised when he heard Mai's voice as she entered his room to help him into his robes, by reason that he was in so much pain after Azula's attack.

But I was glad she was there and that she was well, Zuko told himself.

Though there was a part of him that wished it had not been Mai that entered the room to help him, that it had not been her that he kissed but…Katara.

Zuko closed his eyes and sighed deeply as he waited for sleep to claim him so he could find some peace from his confusing thoughts. The same thoughts he had had for the past four years.

After a quiet dinner, Katara's family made their way to their bedrooms to retire for the night. Since Hakoda had been appointed Chief of the Southern Water Tribe, their house was the largest in the entire tribe. It was not as grand as the Northern Tribe Palace, since it was not a palace in the first place, but it was still impressive nevertheless. It was made of smooth, thick ice and snow with many elegant carvings. It held the tribal meeting place as well as lodgings for guests and ambassadors. Their house actually had a stone floor given to them by Omashu's eccentric ruler, King Bumi. It was the only building in the entire tribe that had a huge steel entrance door, a gift from Fire Lord Zuko himself.

Katara let out a soft sigh as she entered her room and closed the door softly behind her. She removed her clothes and put on her warm sleeping attire before she made her way to her small pinewood dresser. The young woman sat in front of the mirror before she picked up her brush and started to comb her long, curly brown hair.

Hanging on the walls of her small room were water paintings of scenes from beautiful lakes and oceans. There was an ice window on the western side of her room, and on the opposite side, sat one small bed piled with warm furs and blankets of various shades of white, silver, and blue. At the head of the bed was a large pile of fluffy pillows that Iroh had sent her over the past few years. Ever since she had spent time drinking tea with the lovable old man in his tea shop, Katara had come to care for him as her own uncle, and he had come to care for her as well. They even exchanged letters.

The best part of her new room, though, was that she had a private bathroom. Now she did not have to bathe with everybody in the same room, with only a blanket surrounding the tub for privacy. She enjoyed taking her time as she bathed, after all.

Katara was about to braid her hair when she heard someone knock on her door once before it was opened. Her Gran-Gran entered the room with a small smile.

"My, my! You really have grown into quite a lovely young lady. Just like your mother," Kanna exclaimed as she smiled at her granddaughter.

Katara smiled slightly at her grandmother's words. She remembered her mother, always so beautiful and loving. Kya loved them so much she sacrificed herself to save them, to save her. Katara reached for the comfort of her mother's necklace as she remembered the day her mother gave it to her.

Kanna noticed her granddaughter touching the blue necklace, and with a soft sigh, she walked toward her young granddaughter.

Reaching for Katara's hand, the old woman added in a motherly tone, "Katara, I know how much this necklace means to you, but you must realize that one day you will have to part with it once you receive your own betrothal necklace. Then one day you will hand it down to your own daughter as I have to your mother when she married my son and she to you."

Blushing, Katara replied, "But, Gran-Gran, I'm still too young to be thinking about marriage and having children!"

Kanna only chuckled and shook her graying head as she moved around so she could braid her granddaughter's hair.

"But many girls in our culture marry at sixteen and begin to have children almost a few months or a year later," the old woman reminded her. "You are already nineteen, my dear. You're not that young."

Katara remembered Yue being engaged at sixteen before she turned into the Moon Spirit. When she turned sixteen herself, many of the young men from both tribes had tried to court her, especially since she was one of the heroes of the war and daughter to the Southern Water Tribe Chief. But of course, she always declined their offers since she was Aang's girlfriend, but this did not seem to stop the suitors.

And Kanna knew this.

"I am getting older by the minute, Katara," she sighed as she finished braiding Katara's long hair. "And your silly brother still does not have the courage to propose to that lovely Kyoshi girl. So I ask you this, when am I going to have great-grandchildren?"

Katara frowned at the question since she really did not know. She did not think she was ready for marriage, much less begin to have children.

Quickly changing the subject, Katara asked, "So how are things going with you and Master Pakku?"

After the war, Master Pakku and Kanna had become reacquainted and after two years became married.

To Katara's relief, Gran-Gran began to rant about how loudly Pakku snored at night.

The moon's soft light spilled into the quiet room from the ice window. Gran-Gran's words filled Katara's head as she tried to sleep among her warm furs. Marriage had not entered her mind recently since she was too busy rebuilding her home and teaching the children waterbending. She had taught adults the first year after the war, but it quickly became apparent that most of them (meaning the men) only enrolled in her class in order to woo the master waterbender or to be close to one of the war heroes. Katara had been annoyed, but ignored their antics in her desire to teach. Fortunately, several instructors from the Northern Water Tribe arrived later and she was able to hoist the infatuated men off to them. Instead, she focused her attention to the children seems they were mostly ignored by the adults. She had also helped her father in several of his dealings with the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom, although it had not been easy since many of the elders, mostly dignitaries from the North Water Tribe, had argued against a women joining the tribal meetings. Despite their disapproval, she had not let their words deter her. It had not been easy, but she loved what she was doing because she loved her tribe. She loved helping people.

She remembered the day, almost four years ago, outside Uncle Iroh's teashop when she accepted Aang's declaration of love. At that moment, she thought she was ready for a relationship, she thought she was sure of her feelings, and everything seemed fine at first. Aang was so sweet and lovable and they always had fun, but that was it. Their relationship seemed only based on having a great time, mostly on Aang's part. He was always running around trying every new and exciting thing, sometimes even neglecting his duties. Sometimes it was just…childish.

Katara longed for a mature conversation, something more serious, something deeper. But it wasn't Aang's fault. He was a child at heart and he was still a teenager.

The waterbender sighed. It was even harder since Aang was absent most of time doing his Avatar duties, bringing peace to the world. She could not blame him since he did not only belong to her, but to the whole world. Even though they spent a lot of time together when he came back to visit, it was hard for them to communicate when he was away. He did try to send her letters whenever he could, though they mostly consisted of things he did and saw.

Toph had also taken the trouble of writing to her and Suki had also written to her, even if most of her letters were addressed to Sokka. And Iroh—Uncle Iroh as he had so many times corrected her—wrote to her quite often, writing about his teashop and all his interesting customers.

Katara laughed quietly, touching the fluffy pillows that surrounded her as she remembered when the old man wrote about the time he was so busy flirting with a pretty lady that he almost burned the pastries. It was sometimes amusing to know that such a cheerful and charismatic person like Iroh could be related to Zuko, who was the complete opposite.

Even Zuko took the time out of his busy schedule as Fire Lord to write her a letter. It was short, but it was touching, nevertheless. It was a congratulating letter for her nineteenth birthday. He had apologized for being unable to attend her party and wished her the best, but the letter was not the only thing he sent. Zuko sent her a present...a beautiful, silver hairpin. It was shaped like a rose and embedded on its petals were small sapphires and rubies.

Upon opening the package to reveal the pretty jewel, everybody had gasped with admiration. Aang had offhandedly said it was nice before he gave her his bouquet of panda-lilies with a confident smile, hoping she forget the hairpin.

But she couldn't. Katara tried to refuse Zuko's gift, saying it was probably very expensive and did not deserve it, but Gran-Gran advised her against such an idea since it would be rude to return such a gift.

'Besides,' Kanna had reasoned, 'Fire Lord Zuko sent it to you as an apology for not being able to come to your party.'

As Katara lay in her bed, she reached for her hairpin on the nightstand. It was too beautiful to keep hidden in a box and too precious to wear, at the risk of her losing it or damaging it, especially since she was always busy. She touched the lovely stones as they glistened from the moonlight that entered her room from the window. She loved the way the red and blue stones sparkled, and when she held it in a certain way, both stones seemed to fuse, creating a beautiful violet color. All her previous thoughts of her relationship with Aang were forgotten as she thought about Zuko.

She smiled. Zuko, the angry and arrogant former Crown Prince of the Fire Nation, now one of her friends and the new Fire Lord. She laughed. She could not believe how much they had changed.

"I wonder how much more he has changed since the last time we have all seen each other," Katara thought to herself, stroking the hairpin as if she expected it to reveal something to her.

Right after the war, the group had spent two weeks in Ba Sing Se at Uncle Iroh's teashop before Zuko was called back to the Fire Nation. After that, the group hardly spent time together anymore. Toph was helping Aang around the Earth Kingdom. Suki continued to teach the Kyoshi Warriors and Sokka and Katara were helping in the Southern Water Tribe. But despite this, Aang always came to visit, obviously for her, and even Toph sometimes came. She always complained because she could not see nor bend, but they all knew she enjoyed herself. And Suki visited a couple of times with her Kyoshi Warriors, especially to see Sokka.

But not only was Zuko the farthest away, he was also the busiest of them all. He was the one who had to deal with trying to build trust among the other nations and deal with all the postwar hassle. But the hardest part must have been trying to lead a country who still called for the war to continue.

But he can take it. Zuko never gives up. He would do the impossible for the well-being of those he cares about, she thought.

Katara found herself blushing.

Just like when he almost got himself killed when he placed himself in front of his crazy sister's lightning in order to save my life.

Every time she recalled this memory, she could not help feeling guilty. If only she had listened to him and had stayed out of the way, he would not have been hurt. She had felt horrible as she saw him lying there in pain, his life slipping away. She remembered how her hands scanned his badly injured chest.

His warm, muscular chest…

"What am I thinking?!" she exclaimed with a shake of her head.

She should not be having such thoughts, especially since Zuko had been almost fatally injured. She had just touched his chest to heal him. Nothing more.

With another shake of her head, Katara set the hairpin back on the nightstand, settled herself in her warm blankets, and finally fell asleep with a sigh.

Golden eyes and warm hands filled her dreams.

A/N: I want to thank you all for your encouraging words and patience. Thanks for reading!