A/N Trying my hand at this fan community.
Aang, Katara, Toph and Sokka had been in the Earth Kingdom for a few weeks, and they all were very frustrated. Getting to the Earth Kind was going nowhere fast, not to mention Aang was rapidly running out of time to learn firebending. It was aggravating to say the least. They were all grating on each others' nerves very easily.
"Sokka!" Katara gasped as a wet rag hit her in the side of the face. Sokka and Aang froze as the wet ball of cloth they'd been using at a ball hit Katara's face.
"Uh…sorry Katara!" Sokka stammered out. Aang nodded vigorously.
"I'm sorry Katara, it was an accident," Aang said.
"Sure," Katara muttered, reaching for a dry rag to clean her face.
"Oh relax," Sokka shrugged, turning around. Katara fumed and shot a whip of water at his arm. "Ow, hey!"
"Sokka, you're so…oh!" Katara yelled, throwing her hands up in the air. She turned on her heel and marched out the door and into the streets of the Earth Kingdom.
"Katara!" Aang yelled, making to follow her.
"Hold it, twinkle toes," Toph called from her corner of the room. "Let her go."
"Why?" Aang asked in confusion. Toph sighed.
"I know you forget sometimes, but I AM a girl, you see," Toph said annoyed. "This is one of those girl things. Katara needs time to cool down and you two can work on your apologies."
"What? Apologies, why?" Sokka asked, jaw dropping.
"Because you hit her in the face with a wet ball of cloth!"
"But…we already said sorry for that…" Aang said slowly.
"That doesn't matter," Toph said. "If you guys are ever going to succeed with girls, you need to learn things like this. The apology needs to be remorseful and sincere."
"But YOU'RE not like that" Aang pointed out.
Sokka nodded and muttered, "Thank God."
"Well you got very lucky to have me," Toph said.
Katara growled to herself as she stalked through the Upper Ring. People jumped out of her way, entirely alarmed at the fury radiating off of her. That's how he noticed her. If there was one thing he knew about, it was fury. When Katara had walked by his uncle's tea shop, Zuko had immediately noticed her. Like his anger had recognized hers. It was only for a split second that he could see her walking past the front doors of the tea shop, but it was enough.
"Uncle!" Zuko yelled, running into the back room.
"Yes, Zuko?" Iroh answered, surprised at his nephew's rush. Zuko untied his apron, hanging it on a nearby peg.
"I'll be back, I need to go out for a bit," Zuko said cryptically. Iroh smirked before turning back to his tea.
"So Prince Zuko, decide to enjoy the festival after all?" Iroh asked. Zuko hesitated before answering.
"Yes, Uncle." He turned and hurried into the street, determined.
"Oh, Zuko," Iroh sighed. "I pray you decide to follow the path to happiness, rather than slink back down to one of despair."
It was taking Zuko longer than anticipated to find Katara. There was a street festival in progress, and trying to navigate the crowd was next to impossible. "Hey!" he heard from across the open courtyard. "Watch where you're going little girl!" Zuko immediately followed the sound to find a burly man staring down a pissed off Katara.
"Get out of my way," he snarled. Katara refused to move, staring defiantly at the huge man.
"I've never been one to give into bullies," she hissed.
Isn't that the truth, Zuko thought.
"Look," he growled. He grabbed her arm and pulled her until she was barely on her toes. "You don't want to make an enemy out of me."
"Likewise," she hissed back. She flicked her wrist, bending the drink in his cup. She whipped his face, causing him to yelp and drop her. He glared, clutching the side of his face. "Don't try it again," she advised and turned to walk away.
It was all too fast, Zuko could only watch in shock as the man blindsided Katara with a hit to the side of the head. Zuko, for reasons he couldn't fathom, dashed up, managing to catch her before she slammed into the stone ground. He spared the time for a swift kick to the man's feet, sending him topping, before hurrying down an alley, surprising a very dazed Katara.
As nice as the thought of gravely injuring that man was, it was first priority to get away before drawing more unwanted attention. Finally, Zuko slowed, setting a still disoriented Katara on a bench. She groaned and cradled her head in her hands. Zuko sighed and sat next to her. This was not how he'd envisioned finding her. That thought stopped him, what HAD his expectations been?
He'd followed her out of pure instinct. Years of hunting the Avatar had burned those instincts into his brain. He was supposed to follow them, that was all he knew. He sighed again and ran a hand over his face. It would be in pretty bad form to rescue her, then blindside her just how the other man had. Besides, he suddenly realized that he didn't care about that anymore. A grand return to the Fire Nation no longer drew or compelled him, so why? Why did he follow her?
Katara sat up straighter, dizziness and confusion finally fading away. She looked over to her savior. Zuko? Her jaw hung open, she stared at him with wide blue eyes. "Zuko?" she managed to ask. He snorted lightly.
"Obviously," he said.
"Wh-what are you doing?"
"Saving you apparently, though I'm a little surprised you needed it," Zuko answered, still staring at the skies.
"Oh, well…thanks?" Katara said, as if double checking with herself that gratitude was the right response. Half of her was screaming at herself to run, the very fibers of her being were commanding her to hightail it away from him. This was Zuko! Zuko who had been chasing them, constantly trying to capture them! And she was sitting on a bench next to him? Run!
But the other half, the more rational half, was content with this lack of violence, and burning with curiosity. He saved me…
"Don't thank me. It was a cowardly act, to attack when an opponent 's back is turned. Though you shouldn't have turned your back in the first place."
"Sure," Katara said with an eye roll. "Start a battle in the middle of a street carnival, that would go well."
"You could've moved in the first place," Zuko said.
"No," Katara said, folding her arms over her chest. "I didn't want to." Zuko gave a surprised laugh at that. Katara stared at him. Zuko, laughed? Zuko had emotions? Well, other than rage? "What're you doing here Zuko?"
"Like I said, saving you."
"No, I mean here, Ba-Sing-Se? Why aren't you floating around in your ship, trying to drag us to your precious father?"
Zuko growled and closed his eyes, trying to control his basic rage. "He's not…I don't want-ah!" he shouted, standing up. "We're here…we're here to start over, fresh slate."
"We?" Katara asked slowly.
"My uncle and I."
"What about the Fire Lord? He can't be too thrilled about this."
"He doesn't know," Zuko said, then snorted. "Though it wouldn't matter either way." Zuko sat back down, anger turning to sadness. "He doesn't…he's not what you would call a good father."
"Oh," Katara said softly, wondering why she was feeling sorry for him. And more importantly, why hadn't she run yet? "I'm sorry."
"Don't be, I don't want your pity."
"But I want to understand," Katara said, before ever thinking about the words. Zuko was silent for a long time and Katara was positive she'd overstepped the bounds, when Zuko spoke.
"This," he said, running a hand over his scarred face, "was at my father's hand. I spoke out of turn and he challenged me. This is the result of him trying to teach me a lesson."
Katara gaped for a moment, before yelling, "WHAT lesson? That's insane! What kind of father treats their child that way? It's wrong and it's cruel! He's insane!"
"I fear that he isn't," Zuko said.
"Not insane," he clarified. "Like you said, just cruel."
"And pathetic," Katara spat. Zuko smirked.
"Your outrage on my behalf is adorable, but unnecessary."
Outrage? Adorable? What?
"I don't want it," Zuko said finally after another long silence. "The Fire Nation life I'd chased, I don't want it. It's bad for the soul, for me."
"Good," Katara said. "Because if going back there was a good idea to you, I'd smack you." Zuko only chuckled. "So..you're good?"
That's the idea," Zuko nodded. "Still don't trust me?"
"Then," Zuko said, standing and offering her a hand up, "let's see if this Earth Kingdom festival is worth anything."
Barely an hour later, Katara and Zuko found themselves in a small park, sitting alone in the grass.
"Well we learned the Earth Kingdom sucks at parties," Zuko grumbled.
"Yep," Katara groaned, leaning back against a tree that was easily large enough for four people to comfortable sit against.
"How's the head?" Zuko asked.
"It's hurts," Katara said. "And my neck. But I've had worse."
"Yeah, freeze people before walking away," she grumbled. Zuko snorted.
"What exactly was the festival even celebrating?" Katara asked.
"Hm…the Earth Kingdom's irrational love of dirt?" Zuko offered. Katara laughed for the first time that night. Zuko marveled at the sound. It was free, uninhibited. Beautiful. He didn't know what made him do it, but suddenly he was acting on an urge he'd had since he first saw the Water Tribe girl. He grabbed her face in his hands and kissed her.
Katara squeaked in shock, eyes flying wide open. She grabbed his shoulder, roughly pushing him off of her and landed a slap across his face. She froze for a second, and almost like an afterthought, before Zuko could react, she threw her arms around him and brought her lips crashing to his. When she pulled back, all Zuko could do was stare.
"I don't understand," he said.
"Me neither," Katara said breathlessly. Zuko pulled her to him, slower this time, laying a light kiss on her lips. When they separated, she could feel the heat on her lips. "Whoa…" He ran his hand down her arm and onto her back, leaving a trail of heat.
"Are you afraid of me?" his dangerous voice asked, barely an inch from her ear.
"No," she gasped out, somehow managing to speak over the thudding of her heart. The arm on her back moved until it circled her shoulders, pulling her against his chest. He leaned back against the tree, Katara securely against him. Tentatively, Katara ran her hand up to rest of his chest. A slight twitch of his lips was the only glimpse of Zuko's smile. They stayed like that for awhile, until they both drifted to sleep.
In the early hours of the morning, Katara stirred. She groggily opened her eyes to see that she was now splayed almost completely over Zuko's chest, head tucked under his chin. "Good morning." His voice rumbled through her, raising her heart rate.
"Morning. Oh no, I have to get back. Sokka will be freaked." Zuko frowned as Katara stumbled to her feet. He grabbed her around, kissing her thoroughly. His hands twined in her hair, and she eagerly responded to his touch. He felt a thrill at her enthusiasm, at her willingness to touch him, him! The deformed prince.
"Mm," she said as she pulled away, hand wrapped in his. She smiled as turned to go. "Well…bye. Uhm, when will I see you again?" Zuko grinned this time.
"My uncle's tea shop, The Jasmine Dragon. Feel free to stop by."
"I will." One quick kiss and she was gone.
It was early enough when she got back to the house that Aang, Toph and Sokka were still asleep. She managed to slip into bed, leaving the household unaware. Katara pulled the blankets up, futiley trying to sleep, unable to get herself to stop smiling.
Iroh smiled to himself as Zuko buzzed around the shop. The prince's good mood was obvious, and infectious. Even Iroh himself caught himself whistling a bit louder than usual, and the poor customers didn't even see the boulder of cheeriness coming.
Later that night, Iroh spotted Katara leaning against the doors, looking nervous and out of place. Zuko appeared at her side, taking her hand in his, and led her to a secluded table. Iroh took in his nephew's grin, his relaxed posture and their clasped hands.
"Good choice, Prince Zuko," he said to himself. "A very good choice."