CHAPTER I

Katara splashed in the water playfully, delighting in the feeling of being immersed in her own natural element. She sighed appreciatively, closing her eyes as she felt all the grime and dirt of her travels wash away. Sure she liked to travel with the boys and Toph-a tomboy in her own right-but that didn't mean she liked to smell like one. As she bathed in the quiet lake under the light of the moon, she decided that now was as good a time as any to practice her bending.

It had been weeks since she had any time to try to hone her water bending skills since they were constantly on the run from either Azula or Prince Zuko, frantically trying to make their to Ba Sing Se. It was only because of Sokka's whining had Aang relented in his search for Aapa, allowing them this one night of rest.

Katara's legs parted in a firm grasp as she stood to take her water bending stance in the lake, bending a water whip as she gracefully flexed her rigid arms. She began to move more swiftly now as she thought of the coming of Sozin's comet, sweat beginning to bead on her forehead. What if Aang was not ready? He still had to find a fire bending teacher. What if he failed?

Katara's heart sped at this thought. She cared for Aang deeply…and the thought of losing him threatened to stop her lungs from filling-but did she love him? Sure she loved all of her friends-even Toph and Suki-but her love for Aang was…special. She loved him as much as she loved her brother, Sokka, but still…

Zuko had heard word of the Avatar and his friends traveling to the great city of Ba Sing Se and had immediately made it his mission to capture the little bald airbender. Zuko's famed uncle, General Iroh, The Dragon of the West, though disappointed in his nephew's decision, had agreed to accompany him in his mission to regain his honor.

Zuko silently thanked Agni that the Avatar had slowed their travel to Ba Sing Se, making it ten times easier for him to catch up to them. Zuko happened to be an excellent tracker-a skill obtained only through years of rough living and misery-and had followed the gang's trail meticulously, gaining the upper hand by the cover of night. He was close. He could tell by the way their footsteps deepened and were spaced closely that they were tired, and soon exhaustion would force them to make camp. It was then that he would make his move and finally regain his honor.

As Zuko continued to follow the trail, he noticed that another pair of footsteps made a roundabout turn and deviated towards the west. Curiosity got the better of him and Zuko followed the trail. After pushing his way through a mile of knee-high grass and bush he finally found his way to a secluded lake. His amber eyes scanned the distance before him for any movement and, when he found none, he turned his back to continue on with the trail.

It was only after he had strode a few steps away did he hear a faint splashing in the distance. Quietly, with all the ninja stealth he had accomplished as the Blue Spirit, Zuko made his way to farthest end of the lake hiding in the brush nearest the lake after the clearing.

Katara swore she could have heard pattering footsteps in the distance and had immediately stationed herself in an aggressive waterbending stance, two water whips ready and waiting, as her eyes sought out the origin of the unsettling noise. After a few moments passed and she heard nothing, she relaxed and continued to practice her forms.

Zuko froze, dead-certain he had been caught as he found the water bender in an offensive stance. She was ready and waiting for any and every sign of attack, her eyes glinting with a fire and flash of stubborn determination he had never before seen in a woman.

He watched silently as she lowered her defenses and began to relax into the ebb and flow of her waterbending forms. He was absolutely amazed by the way she danced around the water, commanding it to her will with a seductive grace he had never known.

Gone was the meek water tribe girl whom he had fought long ago. Here stood a Master of the Water who beckoned the element to succumb to her every whim. Here stood a strong, passionate, fiery woman who dared to look more intimidating than Firelord Ozai himself and whose eyes held more power than Azula's blue lightning. Here stood a woman whose body made Zuko's breath come shallow.

He had never noticed how much she had grown since their last encounter. He had never noticed how incredibly enticing she looked. He knew out of a sense of decency he should have looked away, but he couldn't; he was mesmerized. Her deep caramel skin glistened in the moonlight, looking as though it was covered in a frost of light, glittering diamonds. Her deep chocolate hair, though drenched, whipped around her body effortlessly as she continued through her motions, sticking to her skin and emphasizing her voluptuous hips.

She was clothed in only were sheer white water bindings, and, as they were drenched through and through, Zuko could see the lining of her full firm breasts in the moonlight. Gazing at her and the way her long, silken legs moved firmly and swiftly in the water brought forbidden thoughts to Zuko's mind.

He wanted to feel her dark, soft skin pressed tightly against his taut chest; and her long, sinewy leg clinging to his hips out of desperation.

He shook his head and growled lowly. He couldn't be thinking of her like that. She was the enemy, plain and simple. She rivaled him in every way. As she commanded her element, he commanded his. As she welcomed battle without fear, so did he. As she would never back down, neither would he. Both of them would give it their all as they dueled and would never admit defeat.

He smiled to himself in anticipation, his eyes glowing with the thought of engaging in a duel without restraints, engaging in combat with a person he deemed his equal.

He was looking forward to battling with the water peasant.