Thank you for reading and reviewing! I hope you enjoy this chapter.
Please send your praises to my wonderful Beta reader, Jezebel V. Sterling!
I own nothing…sadly.
After resolving their little misunderstanding, Katara and Zuko—much to Aang and Mai's displeasure and much to the delight of Iroh, Toph, and Ursa—became almost inseparable for the next few days. Upon Zuko's request, Katara had readily agreed to help Zuko with the compromise between King Kuei and himself. Both rulers had decided to open up a trade system between their countries.
After debating for a while, the gang, with the exception of Mai and Ty Lee, entered the neglected part of the city of Ba Sing Se. Just as he had seen before while he observed the Lower Ring in the shadows a few nights ago, Zuko's earlier assessment became accurate as the gang looked around the slums. The houses were fixed much better, but the living conditions of the people were not much improved. They hardly had enough money to buy food for their families. Trash littered the dirty streets and desperate thieves lurked behind alleys.
Once they realized who had come to visit, the people had flocked towards them with hope in their eyes. They had practically begged for their help in which the Fire Lord and the Avatar reassured them that they would do everything in their power to aid them in their need.
Katara was appalled at the sickly and starving looking populace that they passed, especially the small children who sometimes approached her with their curious and hopeful little faces.
"I wish I had the money to help this people right now," Katara said sadly as she watched the children scurry away after they received a few coins from the Fire Lord and Lady Toph Bei Fong.
"Don't worry, Katara," Aang reassured her.
He smiled at her, but she did not notice him as she looked around the place. Aang suppressed the sad frown from showing on his face at her lack of reaction.
"Once the compromise starts they'll receive all the help they need," he added softly.
"I know, but that could take months and possibly years!" Katara exclaimed, exasperated.
"For now the only thing we can do is wait patiently a while longer," Zuko reminded her. He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and Katara immediately relaxed.
She smiled up at him.
"I guess you're right," she consented and sighed.
Aang narrowed his eyes at Zuko who slowly removed his hand from the waterbender with a raised eyebrow.
"Why do they look so sick?" Suki asked what was on everybody else's mind.
She grimaced at a slight pain in her lower abdomen, but assured her worried husband-to-be that she was fine when he moved to help her. Sokka had tried to convince her to stay at the palace and rest, but she refused to be sitting on her behind like a lazy noblewoman. She was a warrior for Kyoshi's sake!
"Hmm?" Zuko pondered as he scanned the area and the people around them. "The people didn't look so unhealthy when Uncle and I lived here. I don't understand."
"Excuse me," Aang said politely as he stopped an elderly couple who passed them by. "Why do the people look so sick?"
The bald, old man and his skinny wife looked up and squinted at the strangers with the nice and clean clothing. They immediately recognized the Avatar with his monk robes and arrow tattoos before they gaped at the tall, black-haired young man looking down at them. They saw the glinting fire crown, the fine red and black attire, and the infamous scar on his face.
"Fire Lord Zuko!" the aged couple exclaimed and began a series of bows.
Aang was a bit confused at the way they had practically looked past him since he was so used to the adoring attention always being directed at him, that it irked him.
"Uh…please, you can stop that now," Zuko said uncomfortably at the almost groveling people before him. He looked around surreptitiously to make sure they were not gathering a crowd.
"Yes, of course!" the man obeyed, but not before they gave one last deep bow.
The man looked up and smiled. His wife beamed up at the young Fire Lord.
"Uh…thank you," Zuko said, uncertainly. Sure, he was used to being showed respect since he was the Fire Lord, but never to this extreme.
"Why, anything for the one who stopped the war and brought our soldiers back home," the man bowed again, mirrored by his wife.
Zuko was unsure on how to react to the sudden adoration. He was used to the indifferent and scornful looks—which were now abating—and now he was just getting used to the grateful looks he had been recently receiving. But adoration? He was not used to it.
He noticed the others were staring curiously between him and the beaming couple, and he shrugged. He smiled when Katara gave him a grin and a look that said, 'Didn't I tell you?'
"Wow, Sparky. Looks like you have another fan club that isn't all made up of a bunch of salivating, love-struck girls," Toph stage whispered before she chortled. She didn't need her eyesight to know Katara was glaring at her.
Zuko ignored the annoying earthbender as he addressed the elderly couple.
"Could you tell us why the people look like they have some kind of illness?"
"Certainly, Fire Lord Zuko!" the old woman exclaimed before she exchanged a look with her husband. "Our water system was contaminated a few weeks ago when some kind of animal fell in the reservoir and drowned before rotting in the water."
"Ew, gross," Sokka gagged, earning himself a smack at the back of his head by his future bride.
"We didn't know until the rotting animal was found a few days ago, and by that time, the entire Lower Ring had used the water to drink, to cook, and to bathe," the man continued after his wife.
"That's horrible," Katara said with a frown. "Is the reservoir still contaminated?" Maybe Aang and she could clean the water.
"Oh, no!" the man exclaimed and shook his head. "It has been cleaned out already. People are sick because we don't have decent enough food to eat or good medicine to take in order to help."
"But luckily we're doing much better," the woman spoke up with optimism, "Though there are some—mainly children—who are very ill in the local infirmary."
"Where's the infirmary?" the waterbender asked. "I would like to see what I can do for them right now."
When the old couple gave her confused looks, Zuko spoke up.
"Lady Katara is not only a Master Waterbender, but a great and talented healer as well," he said with an emotion that sounded so much like pride that it caused Katara to blush bashfully.
Aang glanced at them with narrowed eyes before he shook his head at himself for his reaction.
"Oh, why, that's astonishing! In that case, just follow this street here, then on the seventh block make a left, pass the marketplace, and then a right and there you will find the small infirmary," the woman replied as she made motions with her hands. "The children will be very happy to know they will be healed."
"Who cleaned the reservoir?" Suki asked.
"The Freedom Fighters were the ones," the couple informed. After a while, they gave another series of bows and left.
"Those kids are here again?" Sokka laughed after the elderly couple moved away.
Zuko frowned. Weren't the Freedom Fighters that rebel group that had once been made up of a bunch of children and teens? The one led by that crazy guy, Jet?
"The Freedom Fighters are here?" Katara repeated. If they were here, then that meant…
"Ah, Sokka, I see that you're still as stupid as ever. We're no longer kids," a smooth masculine voice sounded behind her, interrupting them.
Katara gasped as she turned around to face the owner of the voice.
"Jet!" she exclaimed in surprise.
Zuko tensed as he spotted the young man standing in front of Katara with a grin on his tanned face and a gleam in his dark eyes. Zuko instinctively grasped the hilt of his dual swords strapped to his right hip, but he remembered that his friends knew Jet and his motley crew after watching the horrible play at Ember Island. Did they know he was dangerous?
After the incident with Long Feng and the Dai Li under the Catacombs of Ba Sing Se, Katara had thought that Jet had been mercifully shot and died. She had mourned his death for he was so young and he had repented on his wrong ways, but she had moved on since she had the war hovering over her head as well as the responsibility of helping Aang become a full-fledged Avatar.
And low and behold her surprise when Jet appeared out of nowhere in one of the southern Earth Kingdom villages she had gone to help alongside Aang and Toph about two years ago. He had told them that he had insisted to his friends to put him out of his misery and kill him, but Smellerbee had vehemently refused and took him to a good healer she had heard about. He had been bedridden with excruciating pain for months after Smellerbee and Longshot managed to pull him out of the catacombs, and it was almost a year before he could start walking again.
"Nice to see ya again, Katara," Jet greeted with a smooth smile, ignoring the rest of the group she was with. "You have grown even lovelier these past two years."
Katara gave him a smile as a small blush reached her cheeks. Aang just rolled his eyes since he knew how Jet was with the ladies, but Zuko gritted his teeth and tightened his hold on one of his swords.
The Freedom Fighter leader had grown taller, but he still had his lean built, dressed in dark pants and a dark-green shirt beneath chest armor. His messy, dark-brown hair was a bit longer that it now fell to above his eyebrows and shoulders, and he had his usual cocky smirk on his handsome face, a wheat stalk between his lips. Behind him was Longshot who looked the same except for a small beard on his chin and Smellerbee who had longer hair that fell above her shoulders. A small group of unfamiliar people, possibly more Freedom Fighters, was standing behind them with curious expressions.
"What are you doing here?" Sokka asked in an annoyed tone, eyeing the rogue young man suspiciously.
Jet glanced at him briefly before he returned his intense stare at Katara who seemed unaffected by his appraisal.
"We were just around the area when we heard that the water was contaminated, so we decided to help," he responded smoothly.
"That was nice of you," Katara complimented and smiled.
Zuko narrowed his eyes as he felt a strange pinch in his chest.
Jet smiled at her. "It was because of you that made me want to help others."
Before they knew it, Jet had stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Katara's waist and pulled her into a hug. Zuko growled lowly and started to unsheathe his swords while Sokka pulled out his boomerang, but it was Aang who beat them to it as he flew towards Katara and Jet.
Katara tensed before she began to struggle in Jet's hold. She sighed in relief when Aang pulled Jet away from her.
"Don't touch her, Jet," Aang warned as he frowned at him, hoping the Freedom Fighters' leader would understand.
Jet laughed and shrugged smoothly.
"Hello, Aang. Nice to know you've reached puberty," he teased with a friendly smile
"Don't talk to him like that, you jerk," Toph growled out, cracking her knuckles, since she did not know this Jet guy as well as the others.
No one but me can talk to Twinkletoes that way! Toph barked in her head. She frowned at the thought before she shrugged it away.
"He was just teasing, Toph," Aang reassured her, returning the smile at the young man.
Jet did not even spare the short girl a glance as he looked away from Aang to stare at Katara, giving her a charming smile.
"Did you miss me, Katara?" he asked her with a smug grin.
"Uh…" Katara backed a step when Jet reached for her hand to kiss it, but a strong hand gripping his shoulder almost painfully stopped him.
"I do believe Aang said not to lay a hand on her," Zuko spoke with an authoritative voice, barely suppressing the urge to slit the man's throat.
He did not like the heated looks Jet threw at Katara. Aang may not have noticed since Jet was his friend, but Zuko did, and he hated it.
Jet turned his head to glare at whoever dared to stop him before he roughly shrugged off Zuko's hand as if he had actually been burned.
"You!" Jet hissed and jumped away from him.
"Jet! Calm down!" Smellerbee tried to tell him, but her leader ignored her advice.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" Jet growled, drawing his dual hook swords.
Zuko looked at him impassively, though he was seething inside.
"I do not have to answer to the likes of you," he replied in a bored tone.
"You bastard!" Jet yelled angrily. "Answer me!"
Zuko narrowed his eyes dangerously.
"You are no one to order me around and much less tell me what to do," he growled out.
The young Fire Lord started to unsheathe his broadswords, but a small hand stopped him. Zuko glanced down at Katara, who was giving him a pleading look, and he slightly relaxed his stance, though he did not remove his eyes away from Jet or remove his hand from the hilts of his swords.
"Zuko, what the hell is going on?" Sokka asked. "You know who Jet is?" Even though his sister and Aang liked Jet after he showed he had changed, Sokka still hated his arrogant guts.
The firebender nodded without taking his eyes away from Jet.
"Unfortunately, yes," he responded coolly.
Before they could ask him how he knew the Freedom Fighter, he continued.
"Uncle and I met Jet and his group when we boarded the ferry that brought us to Ba Sing Se after we became fugitives. He even asked me to join his merry little band," he said humorlessly.
"That was before I knew what kind of scum you were!" Jet shouted. "I tried to warn everybody, but nobody believed me! It was his fault I was arrested by the Dai Li, was brainwashed, and was almost killed!"
"What?" the gang gasped and turned around to stare at Zuko.
"I did not get him arrested," Zuko replied truthfully and frowned. "It was his own fault the Dai Li took him away. I was minding my own business, helping Uncle in the teashop when he draws his swords at me. Who in their right mind attacks a person in a teashop with innocent people around? And I was not about to let him kill me and get my uncle in trouble after all he had gone through so we could have a new start."
"You attacked him?" Katara gasped as she glared at Jet.
"They were firebenders!" Jet argued. "I just wanted to warn the people that they were being fooled by them!"
"It doesn't matter anymore," Aang piped in as he again began his usual task of settling arguments. He did not want to see his two friends fight.
"Of course it matters!" Jet yelled as he glared at Zuko. "I was right to mistrust him! Have you forgotten that it was because of him that Ba Sing Se was taken over, or better yet, that it was because of him that almost got Aang killed?"
Zuko flinched at the memory of his horrible mistake.
"What he did was inexcusable, but Zuko changed…for the better," Katara defended him.
"How can you say that?" Jet exclaimed. "Why are you all with him? He's a firebender!"
"I thought you changed your views," Sokka said sarcastically.
"I changed my ways of dealing with the Fire Nation, but I have not stopped hating that damn country," Jet gritted out. "I can never forget it was the Fire Nation that took everything from me! And this guy," he growled as he pointed at Zuko with one of his hook swords, "is the spawn of those bastards. He's the Fire Lord!"
"No duh," Toph muttered sardonically.
"Zuko is the Fire Lord, but he's much more different that the previous ones!" Katara exclaimed, as she placed her hand on Zuko's arm. "He went against his own nation, his own father, and joined Aang for the good of the world. He has done much to help everyone even when he was just shown hatred and hostility."
"That's right!" Sokka yelled in agreement.
Jet scoffed before he spat at the ground before Zuko's feet.
"He could be the greatest saint in history, but that won't change the fact that his country made a lot of people suffer," he gritted out.
The gang opened their mouths to argue, but Zuko held up a hand to stop them.
"I understand how he feels and I don't blame him," he said coolly.
He looked at his friends as they all stared at him incredulously.
"It's hard to forgive those who have caused so much pain and grief," he continued. "And it's almost impossible to get rid of the hatred, especially if that hate was fostered for years. I just hope that one day you would see that I have changed and am different," he said as he looked at Jet.
"I guess we'll see," Jet said as he replaced his swords.
Both young met glared at each other a moment longer before a smirk appeared on Jet's face.
"We have some things to take care of. It was nice bumping into you guys," he said, looking at Aang and Sokka.
"And I hope to see you again," he added, looking straight at Katara. He smirked when Zuko discreetly moved closer to the pretty waterbender with a clenched jaw.
With a nod at his group, Jet retreated into an alley with Smellerbee, Longshot, and the rest trailing after him.
"Spirits, he's annoying," Sokka groused as he pulled Suki to his side.
Zuko did not respond as he continued to glare at Jet's back. He knew what kind of thoughts Jet had in mind as he looked at Katara. It made his blood boil in anger.
If he tries to harm Katara, I swear I will kill him, he vowed as he clenched and unclenched his hands.
"You okay, Zuko?" Katara's voice brought him out of his thoughts.
"Yes," he responded as he looked down at her.
I will be as long as he keeps his distance from you, he thought before returning to glare at the place the arrogant Freedom Fighter had disappeared to.
"Why don't we visit the infirmary right now so you can see what the patients need?" he commented.
Katara smiled happily at his suggestion and clapped her hands.
"Yes, let's go!"
The Blue Spirit kept watch on top the roof of one of the dirty houses, hidden under the shadows of the night. There was a tiny crescent of a moon high above the sky and a few clouds occasionally hid it away from the world. The thief-turned-vigilante raced swiftly along the roof and lunged himself at another house, landing as silently as a puma-cat on the roof tiles.
Zuko peered into the dark, empty street below behind the mask of his alter ego. Except for possibly his uncle, nobody knew of his night escapades into the Lower Ring, and except for Iroh and Aang, nobody knew the real identity of the Blue Spirit. He wanted to keep his identity concealed in fear of the Fire Nation Court Council's reaction to knowing that their Fire Lord was the once wanted thief and criminal, Blue Spirit.
Jumping down from the roof, Zuko landed in a crouch on the ground below, listening carefully for any sounds. He heard that ever since the Dai Li disappeared, peace and order had disappeared along with them. Thieves and other vile men had decided to cause turmoil as night settled in since there were few who could stop them. The Earth King had sent a few guards to keep watch and control, but they were not enough.
Zuko scarcely had time to hide behind a crate as a few drunken men burst out of a building. The Blue Spirit waited until the blundering men were out of sight, shoving each other and laughing boisterously all along their intoxicated merry way. Releasing a breath and berating himself angrily for not being careful, Zuko stood up and raced across the street, entering another dark alley.
That was the third time he had almost revealed his presence this night because his mind kept wandering off more times than he actually liked. And it all started after his unfortunate encounter with the leader of the Freedom Fighters. It had been a few days since the gang had seen Jet for the third time, and ever since then, Zuko had been unable to concentrate or relax.
His mind kept replaying the moment Jet had taken Katara into his arms and he could not forget the poorly hidden lustful looks Jet kept throwing at her every time they came across the Freedom Fighters. Zuko had to forcefully calm himself down from slicing the man's head off and burning him to a crisp, which surprised him for he had never felt the urge to do such things ever before in his entire life, not even when Ruon-Jian had been flirting with Mai.
Zuko peered around the end of the passage before he dashed forward into the next empty alleyway, the moon making his blue and white mask and the hilts of his swords glint. A few rat-weasels scurried away as he ran, but he hardly noticed them.
But the thing that worried him the most was the thought that Katara would fall for Jet if he tried to make a move. During the play of the Ember Island Players, he remembered the scene where the plump Katara actress had been smitten with the crazy-haired Jet actor. Zuko was not sure how much of it had been true and he had never dared ask Katara since at the time they were not sure if Jet was dead or not.
But now he also remembered Toph hint at a possible attraction when they had returned to the Royal Beach House, and thinking about the possibility of Katara having feelings for Jet was not improving his already sour mood.
But maybe he was making a big deal over nothing. Katara didn't react like a girl with a crush when Jet had embraced her and she didn't even notice or respond to the meaningful looks he was giving her. Yes, maybe he was just overreacting, though he wondered why he cared so much since it was none of his business.
Then again, Katara was his friend and he vowed to protect her and never let any harm befall her. Either way he would just have to keep an eye on her until they left Ba Sing Se and Jet behind.
Another thing that had him worried was that Katara seemed to be more tired recently. She had small, dark circles under her eyes and she yawned quite frequently. But when they asked her if something was wrong, she had just reassured them that it was probably her work at the infirmary. The gang had gone along with her these past few days to visit the sick from the Lower Ring and watched as she went about the patients, using her healing abilities to cure the illness the polluted water had caused them.
The Blue Spirit stopped to rest behind a large barrel. The night was quiet and the streets were empty. Besides the drunken men, he had not seen any signs of trouble. Maybe he should head back to the palace and return in a few nights from now.
Aang had tried to persuade Katara to stop and rest for a few days since it was taking a toll on her, but she had refused such an idea vehemently. Zuko was positive there was something else involved, though he couldn't quite put a finger on what. But he knew it was nothing too serious or Katara would have told him since they have started to confide in each other more as the days went by.
Katara wouldn't keep something from me, would she? he asked himself with a deep frown.
Just like you're keeping your Blue Spirit secret from her? a voice in his head piped in.
Hm. Zuko frowned at the thought before he dismissed it with a scowl. He didn't need to tell her everything. She was his friend not his wife—though that thought did not seem as unpleasant as it should have.
He sighed, remembering the words he had told her the night when he had demanded she tell him why she was avoiding him. He still could not believe he had confessed his fear of losing her, he was not used to sharing such displays of emotions and feelings, and had he not known Katara would understand, he would have been so embarrassed and possibly angry at his sudden vulnerability.
Though he realized that perhaps Katara had felt the same way he did when he had avoided her on his flagship those weeks at sea, and so he vowed never to hurt her again by evading her. Luckily, it wasn't too difficult since he had not had any erotic dreams of the waterbender recently, though a part of him did wish he still did…
Stop it, he told his imaginative brain as he tried to shove the images of Katara in his dreams away. Again, he berated himself for losing focus and frowned as his mind kept returning to thoughts about Katara.
What's wrong with me? What's going on? he question in his mind.
Again, he wondered at the possibility that perhaps he was falling for Katara. But could it be possible? Was love what he felt for her? Could he really love someone?
Shoving the confusing questions from his head, he decided to head to the palace, get some rest, and perhaps try to figure out what he really felt. Zuko was about to move away from his current hiding place, but quickly drew back into the shadows.
A lone, hooded figure emerged around the corner of the alleyway with careful steps, occasionally looking behind as if to see if there were any pursuers. Zuko watched as the mysterious person looked about almost uncertainly before continuing walking into the dark alley. The stranger silently passed by the barrel Zuko was hiding before disappearing into the street.
Unsure of what the person's intentions were, Zuko decided to find out where the stranger was heading to and for what purpose. The Blue Spirit waited a few seconds before emerging from behind the barrel to follow behind the cloaked individual. He jumped onto a stack of old, wooden crates and landed on the roof of a house, quickly and silently pursuing after the dark figure as he jumped from rooftop to rooftop without making a single sound.
The Blue Spirit observed the being below from his view on the roof as he was lead through streets and alleys, but as much as he tried, he could not figure out who was under the cloak since the person kept the hood down and it was dark. After a few more minutes, Zuko saw the lone figure stop before a building. The cloaked individual looked around for a bit—possibly, to make sure no one was around—before heading to the back and entering a small door.
Zuko realized the building was the infirmary and he wondered what the hooded person intended to do since there were mostly children in the building. Narrowing his eyes, Zuko dropped from the roof and landed gracefully beside the back door, swords drawn. If the individual believed he could hurt those children, he had another thing coming to him.
The Blue Spirit carefully opened the door a crack and peeked inside, finding the hall empty. Sliding into the corridor with grace and ease, the masked man quietly and carefully walked down the passageway since the only light provided was from the small moon's light that poured from the small windows. Cautiously rounding the corner, Zuko just had time to catch a glimpse of the bottom tip of the being's long, dark cloak as it disappeared into the next hall.
Swiftly and noiselessly, the Blue Spirit raced down the passageway before peering around the corner. Zuko watched as the mysterious individual opened a door before gracefully entering, leaving the door slightly ajar. Setting his jaw and gripping his broadswords firmly, the Blue Spirit silently strode toward the entrance and carefully peeked through the small crack of the wooden door.
At first, he did not see anything, but then the stranger stepped into his line of view. Zuko carefully opened the door a few more inches in order to see into the room better.
There were two rows of thin futons on either side of the walls and children laid on them, the room cold and dark. Zuko saw a few of the sick children lift their heads as the stranger walked towards them and he placed an arm on the door in order to burst into the room and protect the innocent children, but to his surprise they began to whisper and giggle. Confused, Zuko squinted behind his Blue Spirit mask and frowned as he saw that the children were smiling.
The mysterious person walked to one futon where the child seemed to be too sick to even lift his head. Zuko watched as the figure kneeled down beside the child and gently stroked the sick boy's hair before reaching inside the dark cloak. A long stream of water followed the stranger's hand movement and engulfed both of the person's hands before the water began to glow in a soft blue light. Then the mysterious being placed both hands on the child's small chest.
Zuko's eyes widen in disbelief as the mysterious individual's hood fell back and a lovely feminine face appeared. It couldn't be? Katara? She was the one sneaking around in the middle of the night?
Well, that explains why she looks so tired lately, he thought.
He smiled and shook his head as he silently replaced his swords in their scabbard on his back.
Helping the sick during the day was not enough, and so she must have decided to come back during the night. Yeah, that's just like Katara alright, he mentally chuckled before he shook his head with a sigh. Always thinking of others before herself.
He watched her quietly as she moved from child to child, healing them with her water and comforting them with her soothing whispers before he frowned. Why didn't she tell them she was visiting the sick during the middle of the night? Didn't she know it was dangerous to wander around alone in the dark, especially for a young woman? He knew she could defend herself, but still…
Zuko remembered the disgusting intentions the two vile men at the Abandoned Fort had towards Katara and he was not stupid to believe Katara would not come across the same type of bastards while she roamed alone in the dark in the Lower Ring. Zuko narrowed his eyes before he let out an inaudible sigh in order to calm down his temper.
Well, it seems like the Blue Spirit will just have to turn into a guardian as well, he thought with a small sigh, although he did not mind at all.
A few hours later, Zuko again was following the hooded figure through the dark streets of the Lower Ring, but this time he was making sure Katara made it to the palace safely. He ducked behind a wall when Katara turned in his direction and waited until she started walking again.
Frowning, Katara looked over her shoulder for the second time, but again found nothing. She could not shake the feeling that someone was following and watching her. Moving her hand to her waterskin at her hip, she continued to walk quietly and swiftly through the streets.
Smiling to herself, Katara remembered the grateful and adoring looks the little children had given her as she soothed their pain away. If she kept healing them during the day and then the night, soon there would be no more suffering patients.
Again, she looked over her shoulder before pulling the hood closer to her face. She wished she could have somebody there with her so they could keep her company and ward off the creepy feeling of walking completely alone in the middle of the night, but she knew if Sokka and Aang found out they would try to stop her. Maybe she should have asked Toph, but then the earthbender would complain that she was losing precious sleeping time.
Perhaps she should have asked Zuko. He would understand and keep her safe.
Katara blushed and smiled at the thought. Well, he did help her find Yon Rha and she was sure if she asked him to accompany her he would agree, but Zuko was already too busy with other things and he did not need sleepless nights to burden him even more. She thought back on what they had talked about the night they had come back from their first day out in the Earth Kingdom city.
Katara vowed never to let her emotions get the best of her, so that they would not cause Zuko any more pain. He had endured enough hurt to last him a lifetime and more. She was still a bit confused that Zuko seemed to enjoy spending his time with her just as much as he did with his mother and Uncle Iroh, though she did not mind at all. Still, she had to wonder if he really enjoyed her company as much as she enjoyed his.
She was still bewildered about her strange reactions with their encounter with Song and Jin, but she dismissed it, thinking that perhaps she was just trying to protect her friend from gold-seeking women. But then she had to admit that neither Jin nor Song looked like that type of woman, which only served to confuse her even more.
Luckily, she had not been visited by any other dreams about a very amorous Zuko, because ever since the first one her mind had become quite a mess and she still would heat up every time Zuko talked, sat, or even looked at her. However, she did not let that get to her because she was positive that such feelings would go away with time and she would feel normal around Zuko once again. At least, that was what part of her hoped. Besides, she was sure that Zuko would never look at her more than just a friend. She frowned when that thought brought a pain to her chest.
She was brought out of her thoughts when a small noise from behind her reached her ears and she spun around only to see a shadow retreat into an alley. Narrowing her eyes, Katara uncorked her waterskin and summoned a small water tendril, which she coiled around her arm as her heart began to pound in alarm. Pretending that she saw nothing, Katara strolled along the street before rounding a corner.
Zuko mentally cursed as he glared at the box he had accidently stepped on before peeking from the dark alleyway. He barely had enough time to catch a glimpse of Katara's cloak swirling behind her as she rounded a corner before he moved away from the shadows in order to keep following the waterbender.
The Blue Spirit barely had enough time to flip backwards as a sharp water whip came at him just as he was about to turn the corner. Zuko landed in a crouch before jumping away once again as the water whip came at him, slicing at a pile of barrels that were stacked behind him. Pieces of wood flew everywhere at the impact.
Katara cursed as the dark figured avoided her attack again before he landed a few feet away from her. She spread her arms and exhaled a cool breath as the water whip changed into dozens of sharp ice discs—ready to send them to her stalker. To her surprise, the man raised his hands in a pacifying way without making any other movements.
Frowning, Katara squinted in the dark since the moon hardly gave off any light. She noticed the man was wearing a black suit with black boots, two swords strapped at his back. She gasped when instead of a face she encountered a white and blue mask, resembling some kind of demon with sharp fangs.
"The Blue Spirit," she whispered. She recognized him by the wanted posters she had seen during the war.
The man nodded and slowly lowered his hands back to his sides. Katara shifted and reshaped her ice discs back into a stream of water that coiled around her shoulders.
"You're the one who saved Aang when he was captured by Zhao," she said with a small smile.
Zuko inwardly cringed, but answered with a silent nod. What would Katara say if she found out that he was the Blue Spirit and the real reason he had helped Aang escape was because he wanted to capture the Avatar for himself?
"What are you doing here? I've heard rumors that you were in the Fire Nation," he heard Katara ask curiously. "And why were you following me?"
He raised his masked head toward her and shrugged. Katara tilted her head to the side and frowned. She replaced her water back to the pouch at her hip and approached him slowly. She watched as the Blue Spirit tensed, but made no move to attack or run away. She did not know how to explain it, but she felt like she knew him—though she wondered why since she had never met him in person before. She also had a feeling that he would not harm her.
"Are you trying to hurt me?" she asked carefully, just to make sure.
She watched as the Blue Spirit shook his head before he pointed in the direction of the Upper Ring.
"What?" asked she as she quickly looked in the direction he was indicating, "You want to know if I come from the Upper Ring?"
The Blue Spirit again shook his head in the negative, placing a finger to his temple as if trying to think. When the young woman frowned at him in confusion, the masked man pointed at himself then at her and finally toward the Upper Ring.
"Uh…" Katara furrowed her eyebrows before she pointed at the same place he had. "You…want to escort me there?" she asked, though it was more of an outrageous guess.
To her surprise, the Blue Spirit nodded.
"Why?" she inquired suspiciously.
Zuko sighed inwardly and resisted the urge to run his hand over his head at her questions, though she did have a right to do so since she did not know who the Blue Spirit was and it was understandable than she was cautious of a complete stranger. But still, he did not want to let her wander all by herself in the middle of the night with men with bad intentions lurking around waiting for an unsuspecting, pretty girl.
Zuko gritted his teeth at the thought before he realized that Katara was staring at him strangely. Clearing his throat lightly, he slowly made his way to her and again raised his hands pacifically when Katara reached for her waterskin.
Katara eyed the mysterious man warily as he came near her, but she blinked when he walked right past her. She watched him in surprise as he continued to walk away before he turned his head and beckoned her with his right arm to follow before he resumed his silent stride down the empty street, not even bothering to wait for her.
Katara huffed softly, but she quickly ran in order to catch up to him as she vaguely wondered why she was following a complete stranger who could probably be leading her somewhere else. He was the Blue Spirit who used to be a wanted criminal, but if he risked his life to save Aang, then it must mean he was not that bad of a person. But what was he doing in Ba Sing Se?
She remembered the rumors she had heard when they were in the Fire Nation. Jiao had told her that the Blue Spirit would sometimes appear, but instead of causing trouble, he was the one who stopped the troubles from arising. She wondered what Zuko thought about a masked vigilante running around in his city.
Katara mentally slapped herself. There she went again, thinking about Zuko once more. It seemed like it was the only thing her brain wanted to think about nowadays!
Deciding to distract herself with other things, Katara looked up at the Blue Spirit walking in front of her, who seemed to be checking for any suspicious lurkers while he occasionally looked back at her from behind the blue and white mask. She tried to start a conversation with him, but he never uttered a single word instead he answered with a nod, a shake of his head, or a shrug. She supposed that he wanted to keep his identity a secret by hiding his voice, and again she wondered who the man behind the demon mask was. He had his back to her now and she could see his dual broadswords strapped to his back.
That's weird. Those look oddly familiar, she thought with a frown.
She moved her eyes from the weapons and looked across his broad back, his upper arms, and then to his legs. Mesmerized, she could see the hard muscles move from under the slightly tight black shirt and pants every time he took a step or moved his arms.
What's wrong with you? she scolded herself. You barely know this guy and you're ogling him?
Zuko glanced back over his shoulder to make sure Katara was okay and lifted an unseen eyebrow as he noticed the red tint on the woman's cheeks.
Before long, Katara found herself safely at the entrance to the Upper Ring of Ba Sing Se. She turned around to face the Blue Spirit and bowed.
"Thank you for accompanying me, even though you don't know me at all," she said with a smile.
Of course, I know you. That's why I escorted you here, Zuko voiced in his head, but answered instead with a small nod of his masked head.
"Are you going back to the Lower Ring?" she asked softly.
She watched as he hesitantly nodded before he turned around and walked away without another glance. She stood there silently until he disappeared into the shadows.
"Uh…okay…?" she said and wondered if she would see him again.
Shaking her head, Katara entered the Upper Ring and headed towards the palace to get some much needed rest since there were still many sick children who needed her help.
What she did not realize was that the Blue Spirit followed her until she was safely inside the palace and in her room before he slipped inside his own guest room to sleep.
Katara yawned softly as she silently made her way to the infirmary. Keeping awake late at night was making her so tired and she felt so guilty for lying to her friends, but she knew that if she told them they would try to stop her, especially Aang and Sokka.
She sighed before a smile lit up her face. Four nights had passed since she had attacked the Blue Spirit, and on those nights, she had met the mysterious individual again. He met her outside the infirmary and once she was finished he accompanied her back to the gates leading into the Upper Ring without saying a single word.
She blushed as she remembered the strange dream she had the previous night where she was walking down a creepy, dark alleyway and every shadow made her jump. Suddenly, a group of dark figures emerged out of nowhere and began to chase her when she could ward them off with her waterbending, and right when she thought she was going to be caught, the Blue Spirit appeared before her. Without thinking, she had thrown herself at him, somehow knowing that he would protect her, but that was the part that had her confused and blushing.
When she looked up at him, she gasped softly in astonishment because instead of the Blue Spirit looking down at her, it was Zuko who held her to him with a soft smile on his face before he lifted his head and glared at her pursuers who immediately withdrew. The dream ended with Zuko touching her cheek and asking if she was all right.
Katara blushed as her stomach fluttered with butterflies and her heart did a somersault. She frowned. Why was she dreaming of the Blue Spirit and why did Zuko make an appearance? She remembered the strange looks Zuko was giving her recently as if he knew something she didn't, and when she asked him what was going on, he had just smirked and chuckled and said 'Why nothing, little night cat-owl.'
What the hell was that supposed to mean? Sighing again, Katara rounded another corner and quickened her pace when the infirmary appeared. She smiled and waved her hand when she spotted her new friend leaning against the wall of the building. She grinned when he greeted her with a nod.
"How's it going, Blue?" she asked with a friendly smile as she approached him.
Zuko nodded again and smiled behind his mask at his new nickname she had given him the second time they met. Without saying another word, they both walked to the back of the building before noiselessly entering the back door.
Zuko watched silently as Katara went from small patient to small patient, using her healing abilities as well as her gentle words to calm and ease the sick children. He had followed her for four nights, silently making sure no harm came to her and watching as she tended to her sick patients without thinking of her own comfort. He felt guilty for keeping his identity from her, but he was afraid of how she would react.
He saw as she stood up after retrieving her water before she lifted her head towards him. Zuko straightened himself and moved his gaze away from her when he realized he had been staring at her since they had entered the room. He heard as she silently walked in his direction until she was standing in front of him and then he turned his head back to look at her.
"Thank you for keeping me company, Blue. I know you're a good person for keeping watch over me and the small children," Katara said sincerely with a bright smile on her face that made his heart skip a beat and made him wonder if she would continue smiling if she knew who the Blue Spirit really was.
He nodded once more and glanced around the room to make sure the children were safe before he moved toward the door with Katara following behind him. He listened for any noise on the other side of the door before he opened it a crack and peered outside. When he saw it was clear, Zuko opened the door wide, made an extravagant bow, and gestured for the lady to go ahead first. He smirked to himself behind his mask when Katara blushed.
"Why, thank you, Blue. That is so kind of you," Katara said and giggled softly as she passed through the door and into the empty corridor of the infirmary.
Zuko chuckled inwardly as he closed the door quietly behind him.
They exited the quiet building and stepped into the cool night air as they made their silent way back to the Upper Ring, a few clouds passed overhead, covering the moon and the stars above. Katara wrapped her dark cloak closer to herself as a cold wind blew by before looking ahead to where 'Blue' was walking.
He's wearing nothing but a thin black suit and he's walking like he's at the beach! Katara complained as a small shiver ran down her back. Seriously, what's the deal? Is Blue like a firebender or something?
She pouted for a while before a silly smile painted her tanned face.
If Zuko were here, I would be all warm and toasty as he wraps his strong and warm arms around me, she sighed dreamily. A few seconds later, she realized what she had thought and she frowned.
Zuko turned his head over his shoulder when he heard Katara sigh and noticed that the young woman was blushing again. Before he could ask himself what the cute blush meant, a group of drunken men rounded the corner ahead of them. Zuko quickly spun around and grabbed Katara by the waist, pulling her to him as he hid them behind a pile of empty crates.
Katara opened her mouth to scream, but he quickly placed his gloved hand over her mouth to silence her while he held her still with his other arm. She began to struggle as fear raced through her, but she quieted when he shook his head and gently squeezed her waist, making heat rush to her cheeks.
Her heart beating wildly in her chest, she watched as he slowly moved his hand away from her mouth and placed his index finger on the mask's lips to indicate that she should be silent before he pointed in the direction they had been walking to. A few seconds later, Katara heard the drunken conversation of several men and her eyes widened at the disgusting things that were coming from their mouths.
Closing her eyes tightly, she pressed herself closer to the Blue Spirit's hard chest and relaxed when she felt him wrap both his arms around her. A part of her insisted she should not let a stranger embrace her so intimately, but another part of her assured her that he would not hurt her. She was silently grateful he was there, and even though she could have defended herself, she did not want to have come across those vile men. She was once again confused when a sense of familiarity hit her as the masked man's strong arms continued to hold her and the scent of smoky sandalwood reached her senses. She could have sworn she had been held like this before by the same type of arms. She blushed when she realized it reminded her of when Zuko found her at Ursa's old cabin and the way she had felt good and safe.
Zuko closed his eyes in contentment as he felt Katara lean into him as the inebriated men staggered away from where they were hiding. He noticed that she was grabbing the front of his black shirt with both her hands while her forehead touched his chest. He wrapped his arms tighter around her and held her protectively against him. To his surprise, Katara moved her hands away from his chest and circled him around his middle. He realized they were embracing each other, her petite body pressed so closed to his own, and he smiled.
The firebender held back a gasp as his body was suddenly filled with heat, with want. He drew her closer to him and was barely able to hold back a groan when her breasts pressed firmly against his chest. His desire for her came back tenfold, he remembered all those erotic dreams he had had, all the moments he had spent with her, and so he could not stop himself when his hands began to slowly slide up and down the beautiful woman's small back.
Katara's eyes shot open when she felt her back being caressed by warm, gloved hands. Her breath caught in her throat at the sensations his hands were causing to her body, but though her mind told her to run away, her body refused to give up the gentle touches. She was unable to hold back her gasp as his hand came quite close to skimming the side of her right breast.
When Zuko heard her small gasp, the urge to throw Katara to the ground and take her right then and there almost made him crazy with want. Never before had he been so affected by any woman so easily and as fast as he seemed to be with Katara. Just a small touch from her made him as hard as steel!
"B-Blue?" Katara's small whisper reached his hazy mind. He looked down to see the waterbender gazing at him with a blush and a confused expression. "What are you doing?"
Zuko stopped his hands from going any further and doing any more damage before he slowly released the young woman and took a step away from her, trying to calm down his boiling blood and his raging erection. Luckily, it was dark enough for Katara not to notice since the clouds were blocking the moon's light.
"I'm sorry, Katara," Zuko apologized before he could stop himself. He closed his eyes and mentally cursed.
"I-it's okay. Thanks by the way for—" Katara stopped talking as she realized the Blue Spirit had spoken before she gaped once she recognized his voice. "Z-Zuko! You're…you're the Blue Spirit?"
Zuko sighed and prepared himself for the worst. He reached behind his head and tugged at the ties before he slowly pulled off the Blue Spirit mask. Katara watched with wide eyes as the mask came off and Zuko's slightly guilty face appeared before he raised his golden eyes to look at her. They stared at each other in silence for a while as Katara tried to get over her shocking discovery. How could she have not noticed before? She felt so comfortable around the Blue Spirit just like she did with Zuko.
"W-why didn't you tell me?" she asked quietly, sadly. "Did you not trust me with your secret?"
Zuko's eyes widened at her words. That was not what he had expected. He had imagined that she would have yelled at him angrily for deceiving her, but he did not expect her to feel like she was unworthy of his confidence.
"No! It's not that," Zuko tried to explained as he gently took her hand.
"Then why didn't you tell me when we met four nights ago?" she asked.
"I didn't know how you would react if you knew that the Blue Spirit you thought highly of was me," he admitted. He sighed as he ran a hand through his short hair. "That the reason I rescued Aang from Zhao was not out of a sense of justice, but because back then I wanted to capture the Avatar for my father."
Katara let out a sigh as she gently shook her head in disbelief.
"I think I understand your reasons for hiding your identity from me, and I know Aang forgave you, but how many times do I have to keep reminding you that that was in the past and now we're in the present? Seriously, sometimes I wonder if you and Sokka are the ones who are related," she said sarcastically.
Zuko chuckled lightly.
"So you're not angry with me?" he asked.
"No, just annoyed," she admitted with a smile. "But now I understand all those smirks and looks you've been giving me recently. Why didn't you tell Sokka or Aang that I was sneaking out of the palace?"
"Because I knew that they would try to stop you, and even though I don't like that you're working too hard, I understand that all you want to do is help those who are unfortunate. Just like when you helped Jan Hui disguised as the Painted Lady," Zuko said with a smile.
"You know about that?" Katara asked. She was grateful that he understood.
"Yeah, Toph told me and I have to say that I wished I could've been there to see you." Zuko smiled, causing Katara to blush. "And who am I to stop you? Besides, I kept a close eye on you to make sure you arrived at the infirmary and back to the palace safely."
"Thank you, Zuko." Katara smiled gratefully as she placed her other small hand over Zuko's larger one. "Jeez, it seems like all I've been doing lately is thanking you, huh?"
"I don't mind the praise," he joked lightly.
Katara laughed before she blushed as a yawn escaped her lips, causing Zuko to smile warmly.
"Come on, you need your rest. Let's go back to the palace before you fall asleep standing." Without a second thought, Zuko tugged at her hand and led her back to the Upper Ring, their hands clasped together all the way.
After biding Katara good night and making sure she had entered her room, Zuko laid wide-awake on the soft bed in his guest room as he replayed what had occurred a few hours ago. He was glad Katara took his being the Blue Spirit well, but that was the least of his worries. Laying with the blankets thrown off his body, Zuko was trying—unsuccessfully—to stop himself from groaning out loud as he remembered Katara's soft body pressed so closed to his and the heated thoughts that had raced through his head as well as that burning feeling in his heart growing even hotter.
Drinking tea under the shade of a large tree in one of the palace gardens one afternoon, Iroh and Ursa watched with pleasure as the young Fire Lord and the waterbending woman leaned over the many parchments that lay on a small table concerning the new compromise as they sat on the lush, green grass. Momo was once again curled up on the firebender's lap.
"So was Mai able to convince you that she would be perfect for Zuko?" Iroh asked nonchalantly as he moved a tile from their game of Pai Sho.
Ursa moved her piece before she answered.
"I am afraid that Mai has convinced me that she is not perfect for my son."
She watched as her dear old friend moved his tile before she continued when he looked up at her expectantly.
"I am sure she would be a good candidate for Fire Lady," she began, "Mai is calm, collected, refined, and cunning. There is no doubt that she could help run the Fire Nation.
"But that is the thing. She could do it, but it seems like she will not do it," she continued as she placed her tile and took a sip from her green tea. "She gets bored too easily almost to the point that she seems lethargic. She views the world in a dark light, so much so that she sees no point in helping to make it better," she explained. "Luckily, Zuko seemed to be too preoccupied with something else to notice."
They looked at the young benders again before they shared a look, which said that they knew what, or better said who, was on Zuko's mind.
Ursa sighed as Iroh made his move.
"I do not mean to belittle Mai, but it is just that she is not suitable to be with my son. Her dull and depressed character seems to transmit onto Zuko whenever she is around him. He rarely smiles and his eyes dim as if a light was snuffed out."
Iroh nodded again as he took a sip from his ginseng tea.
"Yes, I had noticed that a very long time ago," he said.
Ursa looked over at her beloved son as he stared at the waterbender's lovely face—who was currently reading from a scroll—with such an intense emotion that it made her wonder if Katara could feel it.
"On the other hand, Katara is completely different," the noblewoman continued. "She is not afraid to challenge Zuko, but she still maintains a sense of respect toward him. She is not materialistic at all, and whatever she is given, she accepts with the utmost gratitude. Though she is stubborn and has a temper to match Zuko's, which may cause some conflicts, she is not the kind of person to hold a grudge for too long."
Ursa had learned from her former brother-in-law about the mistake Zuko had mentioned he had made at Ba Sing Se four years ago when they had left the Abandoned Fort. Now she understood when Katara had said he betrayed her and so mistrusted him at first when he had joined the Avatar. And even though Zuko had done much to deserve her distrust, Katara forgave him and gave him something he needed…her friendship. And hopefully much more.
Iroh chuckled softly as he moved his gaze from the Pai Sho board to the two young benders who seemed to be arguing. Zuko had his arms crossed over his chest and was shaking his head while Katara had one hand on her hip while she used her other hand to point fiercely at him.
"You are right about the stubbornness and the temper part, my dear Ursa," Iroh commented and smiled as he moved another tile.
Ursa laughed softly.
"But the thing I like the most about our young waterbending friend is that she makes Zuko smile," she continued, "Whenever she is near he seems to perk up and his eyes seem to shine with a brilliant light, and when Zuko is near her, Katara smiles even more brightly than she does with anybody else. Zuko seems to trust her greatly for he confides his thoughts to her, something that he won't do with anyone else, especially not with Mai."
Both smiled as they gazed at the young benders, sitting under the warm sun. Zuko seemed to have relented in whatever Katara had been arguing about because he was frowning slightly while she beamed at him with those big, blue eyes of hers.
"I am positive that Katara makes Zuko happy. And I will swear to Agni that she will continue to make my son happy if they ever do end up together," Ursa said and smiled.
Iroh grinned widely before a sound he had not heard in years reached his ears. Did he hear correctly or was his hearing playing tricks on him due to his advanced age? There! He heard it once more! That sound which he had feared he would never hear again was coming from the direction of the young benders. Zuko, his dear nephew, was laughing!
The retired general shifted his aged golden eyes to Zuko who was sitting beside Katara. He watched as Katara said something with a huge smile on her face, which caused Zuko to tilt his head back as he let out a deep laugh. Not a humorless or even a cruel laugh…but a happy and amused laugh.
The Dragon of the West felt joyful tears pool at the corner of his eyes at the sight and he sniffled.
"Iroh dear, what is the matter?" Ursa asked with concern as she placed a hand on his arm.
"Zuko is…laughing." Iroh's voice shook with emotion and he wiped at his eyes.
"Of course he is laughing. You should have seen the way those two teased each other when the three of us left my old cabin in the Abandoned Fort." Ursa frowned. "Why does it surprise you?"
Iroh continued to watch his nephew as he said something to make Katara playfully slap him on his arm with a mocking scowling expression on her face that only caused Zuko to laugh harder. Momo had moved from the firebender's lap to perch on the female's shoulder.
"Because, my dear Ursa, I was afraid Zuko would never be able to express such an emotion ever again," Iroh responded softly.
When the noblewoman looked at him worriedly he continued.
"After the Agni Kai with his father and the announcement of his banishment, Zuko became cold, angry, hard, and distant at the world around him. The only emotion he let himself express was anger. I tried everything to soften his view of his situation, but alas, nothing worked. Nothing made him relaxed or happy. Nothing made him smile, and especially, nothing made him laugh."
Ursa wiped the tears that had fallen from her eyes.
"Oh, my poor son," she said sadly, "He has suffered more than I thought and more than he let me believe. What kind of mother am I?"
Iroh patted her hand reassuringly.
"There, there Ursa. It was not your fault, but the man I have the misfortune of calling brother. Just remember what Zuko has told us, all that was in the past. And now look at him…laughing."
Ursa nodded and smiled.
"And we have to thank Katara for that. That is just another reason why she is the perfect woman for Zuko."
"I agree wholeheartedly," Iroh said and he grinned as he stroked his small beard. "Now they only stopped being so stubborn and admitted their feelings, we could start planning their grand wedding!"
Ursa laughed as they resumed their game.
"Did I mention they make such a lovely couple? Imagine the beautiful grandchildren and grandnephews and nieces they would give us," she said dreamily before they broke into giggles and laughter like a pair of teenage girls.
Katara sighed sadly as she made her lonely way back to the palace. A week had passed since she found out Zuko was the Blue Spirit and she still wondered how she did not realize it sooner. She remembered the dream she had and wondered if her subconscious somehow realized that the Blue Spirit was Zuko. He still kept close to her as she made her way to the infirmary in the Lower Ring and to the palace, always making sure she was safe, but on this night, he did not make an appearance.
He had not been waiting for her near the building as he always did and she had waited a couple of hours to see if he showed up, but he didn't and now here she was walking all by herself after healing the last of the sick children. She wondered if he was all right since he had whispered to her after they all had finished their dinner that he would be waiting for her as usual before Aang interrupted them and led her away.
Katara frowned. She had noticed that Aang had been acting strangely lately, more irritated and clingy. He would not leave her out of his sight, and every time Zuko and she would spend time together, Aang would appear out of nowhere and settle himself beside her, taking her hand almost possessively, until Zuko left almost reluctantly. She could have sworn Aang was sending him death glares. She did not know what had gotten into him, but his behavior was really getting on her nerves.
Again, her thoughts turned towards the firebender as she continued on her silent walk. She had also noticed that something had changed in Zuko ever since he confronted her about her behavior and they had embraced each other the other night. Katara raised a hand to cool down the heat that rushed to her cheeks as her feet stepped silently down the empty street. It was subtle, but she could sense it in the way he spoke or looked at her. She did not understand what it was, but the way he acted made her heart race and her stomach twist, though not in an unpleasant way.
Shaking her head, Katara once again became concerned as she wondered what had detained Zuko from meeting her at the infirmary. She hoped it was nothing serious and that he was all right.
Katara slowed her steps as she realized someone was following her. When she stopped the sound of footsteps ceased as well. She continued walking casually and the footsteps followed. Her heart pounded in excitement and she smiled.
So Zuko thinks he can fool me, huh? Well, he's sorely mistaken. Either I have gotten more observant or he's beginning to falter in his skills, she thought with a mental smirk as she quickened her pace a bit.
When she was almost reaching the entrance to the Middle Ring of Ba Sing Se, Katara huffed irritably when Zuko continued to play his game—which by the way, he was doing a poor job—and did not already show himself. Did he think she was stupid or what? Not being able to take his silence any longer, Katara spun around and placed her hand on her hips.
"Okay, you can stop that now and come out," she called out as she waited for him to reveal himself. When he remained elusive, Katara huffed again. "Fine! Be that way." She turned around and began to stomp away.
"Katara? Is that you?" a familiar, but unexpected masculine voice asked.
Katara froze in her tracks.
"Jet?" she asked softly as she once again turned around.
She squinted at the dark alley she had passed, and sure enough, the Freedom Fighter emerged from the shadows with a smirk on his face.
Just great, she sighed mentally. This was probably the fifth time they had run into each other—though never at night—and she was not in the mood to talk to him.
"Why, this sure is a pleasant surprise," Jet said smoothly as he stalked toward her with a charming smile that would have made her swoon a few years ago. "What are you doing here at this time of night, and especially here in the Lower Ring when you can be all cozy in the palace?"
"Uh…" Katara smiled nervously. "I was just taking a walk."
Jet let out a mirthful laugh.
"You're such a bad liar, Katara," he said and chuckled as he continued to slowly approach her until he was standing right in front of her. "Now, why don't you tell me the real reason you're here, hm?" He gave her a cocky smile.
Katara glared at him and took a step back.
"It's none of your business, now is it?" she told him with a scowl. "I don't have to explain myself to you." She spun around to leave his arrogant ass in the middle of the dark street and again stomped away.
Jet's eyes gleamed as the pretty waterbender walked away with an annoyed huff. Oh, how he missed her fiery temper. Ever since she stood up to him with those blazing, blue eyes of hers, he could not stop thinking about her. When he realized she was in Ba Sing Se all those years ago he tried everything to get her forgiveness. Therefore, he changed his ways and tried to help Aang, and now he helped wherever he could—like cleaning the reservoir—in order to prove to her that he had changed and all for her. And once she finally realized that, he would have her affections.
Sure, she was Aang's girlfriend and all, but he was not fooled into thinking that that relationship would work. He saw that it was a one-sided attraction two years ago and still was now when he came across them a few days ago. The only thing he needed to do was convince her to go with him, that she was meant for him, and then he would show her what true attraction was as well as what a real man was really like.
Licking his lips, Jet smoothly followed her and sauntered confidently until he was by her side.
"You do know it's dangerous walking all by yourself in the middle of the night, right?" he told her softly, eyeing her beautiful face since that long cloak she was wearing hid her body from his hungry eyes.
Katara rolled her eyes since she had heard that same thing from Zuko many times and chose to remain silent. Why did it seem like they always forgot she was a Master Waterbender?
Jet pulled the wheat stalk from his mouth and let out a disapproving sigh.
"I can't believe Aang and your brother allowed you to roam the Lower Ring all by yourself. I would've thought that at least that stupid, scarred firebender would've stopped you," he said casually as he twirled the stalk between his fingers, though there was a hint of irritation in his voice.
Katara stopped walking and gritted her teeth as her temper flared at the insults flung at Zuko.
"Shut up, Jet!" she growled out. "You better leave me alone before I freeze you to another tree."
Jet cocked an eyebrow at her.
"Are you angry that what I said about the firebender is true?" he asked and smirked. "I don't know how you can stand being around him."
"Zuko is not stupid!" Katara snapped with a raised chin before she smirked. "I happen to enjoy his company quite a lot actually, if you must know."
The Freedom Fighter closed his mouth, the wheat stalk drooped as his teeth clenched, and he narrowed his eyes at her for a second before another smirk appeared on his thin lips.
"You enjoyed spending time with me as well when we first met," he reminded her smoothly. "You even made me a hat."
Katara flushed, but refused to let him win as she lifted her nose in the air.
"That was because I was a naïve little girl and I didn't know what kind of person you were back then," she retorted.
Jet just smiled as he reached a hand to brush her cheek, but Katara batted his hand away and glared at him.
"Well, there's nothing better than the present," he said smoothly as he took a step toward her, making her back away. "How about we get to know each other better right now?" he whispered huskily.
Katara did not like the heated look Jet was aiming at her or the way he was walking closer to her, almost as if he was ready to pounce on her. Before she could make a run for it, she found herself pinned to a cold wall by a hard body with her hands on either side of her head. Katara looked up in alarm to see Jet's smirking face looming over hers.
Zuko cursed under his breath as he raced swiftly through the dark and empty streets of the Lower Ring. He turned sharply around a corner and jumped onto a rooftop without missing a step when he realized it was a dead end. Just as he had expected, Katara was not at the infirmary once he finally arrived there and now she was walking all by herself in the dark!
Just as he was about to sneak out of the palace to meet up with Katara, a servant had knocked on his door with an urgent message from the Fire Nation. It was from Chao who was requesting his presence back at the palace before a riot sprang among the nobles of the Royal Court. Chao did not elaborate what the problem was, but asked that the young Fire Lord returned home as soon as possible. Once he finished reading the missive and sent a message back to the Fire Nation in response, Zuko had hurried to the infirmary to explain to Katara that he was returning home with his mother the next day, but he was too late. Katara was not there.
With another curse, Zuko leaped from roof to roof as he scanned the streets and alleys below for any sign of the waterbender. He had a strange feeling in his chest that was making him worried and anxious. He hoped Katara was all right or he would never forgive himself if something were to happen to her.
"Zuko is not stupid!" Katara's angry voice sounded straight ahead. "I happen to enjoy his company quite a lot actually, if you must know."
Zuko slowed down in his frantic run as the sound of Katara's voice reached his ears and he smirked at what she had said, wondering who she was speaking to. Letting out a sigh of relief, his heart leaped happily—something that he noticed was occurring a lot lately—as he approached her and peered over the edge of the roof just in time to see Katara get pinned to the wall by Jet, a look of dread on her face. Zuko growled low in his throat as he unsheathed one of his broadswords.
I am so going to kill him! he snarled as he prepared to lunged himself at Jet, ready to slit his throat open for daring to put his dirty hands on Katara, but he stopped momentarily when the tanned man began to speak.
Katara's heart was racing in her chest in shock as she tried to struggle against Jet, but he was too strong for her and she could not reach her waterskin. She was barely able to pay attention as Jet spoke since her mind was consumed by terror and anger
"Now, now Katara," Jet chided in a rough voice as he pressed himself closer to her, causing Katara to let out a frightened whimper and making Zuko even angrier as he watched with fuming eyes above them. "There's nothing to be scared of. I just want to get to know you better," he cooed.
"Get away from me, Jet!" Katara managed to yell out angrily as she tried to stomp on his foot, but he quickly moved it out of the way.
"No. I finally found you again and I'm not letting you get away from me," Jet replied huskily before he inched his face closer to the point where his lips almost touched hers. Katara cringed away.
"I've wanted you for so long and I'll make you see that you're supposed to be with me." His breath caused Katara to flinch away instead of making her shiver pleasantly just like every time Zuko's warm breath touched her skin.
Katara shut her eyes tightly as she tried to move her head away when Jet's weight was suddenly thrown off her and a loud punching sound echoed throughout the silent street.
"Touch her again and I swear that I will tear your filthy arms off your body!" she heard a deep masculine voice snarl.
Katara's eyes flew open and she choked out a sob of relief, for standing in front of her with swords drawn in a fierce fighting stance was the Blue Spirit…Zuko.
"Zu—Blue!" she cried out and latched herself onto his arm with trembling hands.
"Katara, are you all right?" Zuko asked with a deep tone of voice as he quickly glanced down at her. He moved his arm from her grasp and instead pulled her to him, wrapping her protectively against his side.
"Did this bastard hurt you?" he inquired in a hard and angry tone.
Katara shook her head.
"No, I'm fine. I was just scared," she whispered as she buried her face on his chest, reveling on his comforting and spicy scent, before she glared angrily at Jet who was barely standing from where the Blue Spirit had flung him.
Jet touched his jaw and winced at the bump that was forming due to the hard punch he received. At her words, Jet looked at Katara with a shocked look on his face before it was replaced by guilt.
"Katara, I'm sorry! I didn't know what I was doing!" he pleaded as he took a step toward her.
Zuko pushed the trembling woman gently behind him and leveled his left sword at Jet's advancing neck.
"Stay away from her or else!" Zuko threatened harshly.
If it wasn't for his mask, Katara was sure his face would have been contorted into a frightening snarl. Though his harsh tone should have frightened her, it actually made her feel secure and comforted.
"This is none of your business, you masked freak!" Jet yelled as he glared at the masked man that was hiding Katara behind him.
"Everything that concerns Katara is my business!" Zuko growled with such intensity that it made Katara look up at him and blush at his words.
Jet narrowed his eyes and unsheathed his dual hook swords from his back.
"I don't know who the hell you are to her, but I won't let you get in my way!" he hissed.
Zuko pushed Katara farther behind himself and took in a fighting stance.
"Katara, go back to the palace," he ordered.
"No!" Katara yelled defiantly as she tried to pull Zuko away. "Zu—I mean, Blue, let's just go! Just ignore him."
"Katara," Zuko said between clenched teeth. "Please do as I say. I need to teach him a lesson on his despicable behavior."
"You're welcome to stay, Katara. That way you could witness the way I humiliate this guy as he loses to me."
Katara narrowed her eyes at his arrogant proclamation.
"I can't understand how I could've believed you changed. I don't want to see you ever again," she told him angrily before she looked up at Zuko.
"Let's go...please." She squeezed his arm once then she turned around and walked away.
Zuko watched her go before he glared once more at Jet and turned around to follow Katara. Jet felt his temper rise as the mask man turned to look at him, believing the mysterious individual was laughing at him. With an indignant and angry yell, Jet lunged himself with his swords drawn and raised his right arm to attack the man's back.
"Zuko!" Katara shouted in alarm.
At the sound of Jet's yell and Katara's terrified scream, Zuko spun around and raised his right broadsword just in time to block Jet's attack. The two metal weapons made a clashing sound as they met before Zuko slashed at Jet's stomach with his other sword. Jet jumped out of the way just in time to avoid being sliced in half and once again brought his hook sword down in order to hack at the masked individual's shoulder.
Zuko flipped backwards, and as he flew, he kicked Jet on the chest. Jet stumbled back, but managed to regain his balance. He rubbed his chest, positive he was going to get a bruise, before he raced toward Zuko with an angry yell, bringing both swords down. Zuko brought his broadswords up to block Jet's attack and was pushed slightly backwards by Jet's speed and strength. They held in this position for a while as both tried to push the other one off, muscles burning at the effort.
"Zuko!" Katara called again in alarm as she uncorked her waterskin and bent the water into a whip, determined to help him.
"Stay away, Katara!" Zuko barked in an authoritative tone that made Katara stay still. "This is between him and me," he said as he shifted in his stance and slowly drove Jet backwards.
"So, the great Fire Lord Zuko is the wanted Blue Spirit. How nice," the young Freedom Fighter snickered as he tried to push Zuko to the side. "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone."
"The once wanted criminal," Zuko corrected with a bored tone that only caused Jet to get even angrier.
Zuko managed to unbalance his opponent and took the opportunity to slash with his left sword, barely making a hit on Jet's arm. Jet backed a safe distance away as he looked down at his slightly injured arm with a scowl.
Both men stood facing each other as they panted slightly, eyeing each other warily, trying to regain their breaths and see what the other would do next. Katara watched worriedly as she continued to watch them from a safe distance.
"Why are you so angry?" Jet asked with a mocking grin.
The firebender snorted.
"Why do you ask me such a stupid question?" Zuko retorted, "I care for Katara as a great friend, I vowed to protect her, and you tried to hurt her."
Jet let out a dark laughed.
"Stop lying to yourself, firebender," he mocked and he smirked again. "The real reason you're so freaking pissed off is because you're jealous."
"I'm not jealous…" Zuko tried to deny, but Jet continued to talk as if he had not spoken.
"What, are you jealous that Katara would have liked to spend some time with me? Alone," he taunted. He grinned lasciviously as he sneaked a glance at Katara, who was too far away to hear their conversation.
"Shut up!" Zuko growled loudly as he moved to the side in order to block Katara from Jet's view. He tightened his hold around the hilts of his dual broadswords, smoke coming out through his fingers.
Jet chuckled again as he continued to casually chew on his wheat stalk.
"I knew I was right. You are jealous. And here I thought that you were too honorable to lust over your friend's girlfriend," he sneered.
Zuko clenched his jaw tight.
"You know nothing," he replied before he raced towards Jet, swords drawn at his sides.
"You're wrong," Jet said as he parried Zuko's strike. "I noticed the way you look at Katara the few times we've run across each other the past few days and the obvious way you hover over her protectively, almost possessively. I know you have feelings for her."
Both young men's weapons clashed loudly against each other as they once again continued to attack and evade one another. Katara chewed on her lip nervously as she continued to watch them fight. She did not know what to do and even though she knew Zuko could take care of himself, she had to hold back a cry every time it seemed Jet could hurt him. She saw them stop again, to what seemed like to have a conversation and she wondered what they said to make Jet smirk like that and make Zuko tense up.
"I don't know what feelings you're talking about," Zuko said guardedly as once more their weapons became locked together with another resounding clash of metal.
Jet laughed again before he narrowed his dark eyes.
"You're in love with her," he stated angrily.
Zuko froze in shock at his words, and Jet took the opportunity to disengage one of his hook swords and slashed it at the silent masked firebender. Zuko stumbled backwards as he clutched at his chest where a thin line of blood spilled forth from his ripped shirt. He was barely aware that Katara had cried his name out in fright before he noticed people approaching them, who had probably woken up due to the noise.
Suddenly, he was surrounded by white mist and he could hear Jet's angry yells as well as the confused voices of the people. A small hand grabbed his and began to pull him away through the fog. Though he could not see anything, he knew Katara was the one who was holding tightly onto his gloved hand.
Katara led them away from the commotion as she bent a thick blanket of cool mist around them as they made their way to the Upper Ring, parting the fog in front of her so she could see where she was going. She glanced back at Zuko with concern as he walked beside her without saying one word, almost as if in a daze, and she wondered what Jet had told him to make him lose focus.
Zuko remained quiet as he allowed Katara to lead him through the mist as Jet's words kept repeating over and over in his head, and before he knew it, they were standing in front of the back wall of the Earth King's palace. With his help, they stealthily sneaked over the wall until they were standing in the garden near the guest rooms.
Zuko walked over to a stone bench and sat down heavily on it before he reached for his Blue Spirit mask. Untying it, he let the mask slip through his fingers until it landed with a soft 'thud' on the green grass of the garden, a look of utter shock on his face.
In love? He was in love with…Katara?
He had asked himself that question and denied it many times in the past several weeks, but now that Jet had said it in that voice, as if he was confirming something that was undeniable, Zuko found himself at a loss for words.
"Oh, La! Zuko, you're bleeding!" he heard Katara exclaim in alarm before he felt her sit next to him on the cool stone bench.
Dazed, Zuko looked down at his chest, noticed a dark crimson wet spot on his shirt, and finally realized that Jet, that insufferable bastard, had actually inflicted a wound on him! His breath caught in his throat as he felt Katara's soft hand on his chest. Snapping his head up, he watched as she summoned a ribbon of water from the grass since she had used all the water from her waterskin to create the fog. Covering one hand with the glowing healing glove, she pressed it to his injury.
Zuko watched as her shocked face shifted into one of concentration, her brows furrowed slightly and her eyes full of determination as she moved her glowing hand over his bleeding chest. He watched as the moon's soft light and the radiance of her healing water illuminated her gorgeous features, making her beautiful brown skin glow, her lovely chocolate-colored tresses shine, and her exquisite sapphire eyes sparkle.
"I was scared there for a minute," Katara confessed softly. "I was afraid you two would have seriously hurt one another."
"I'm sorry for frightening you," Zuko finally managed to say as he held his gaze on her lovely features, "but I just got so angry at what he tried to do."
Katara lowered her eyes with a blush at the intensity in Zuko's golden orbs as he continued to gaze at her and she bit her lip. The firebender watched as she nibbled on her lower plump lip and he was once again consumed with the strong desire to press his lips to her own, to take her in his arms…to love her for the rest of his life and never let go.
He closed his eyes in pleasure as the soothing cool liquid touched his flesh and sealed his wound, loving the sensation of Katara's small hands running across his chest just like they did when Azula struck him. He enjoyed the feeling of relaxation and ease that came over him for finally admitting what his true feelings for the wonderful and beautiful waterbender were.
I'm in love with Katara, he finally admitted to himself, and a small smile spread across his face.
"How do you feel?" Katara asked gently as the glowing of the water stopped and she slowly removed her hands from his broad chest.
Zuko opened his amber eyes and stared for a few seconds into Katara's cerulean orbs that were filled with concern. He raised his hand and tenderly caressed her cheek, making her gasp gently before she leaned into his hand, a questioning look in her soft eyes.
"Much better," he whispered softly.
A/N: Ah, Zuko finally admitted his feelings!
I've had a few people tell me before that I made a mistake in having Jet alive in my story because he died in the series. I know he died, but since his death was not actually mentioned in the series, just alluded to, I decided to keep him alive in this story for plot purposes. Besides, I thought it cruel that he was killed even after he tried to reform his ways.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this chapter!