Yes, yes... the classic "'Katara gets captured by Zuko and with a little help from Uncle they fall in love'" Story. This is a little diffrent though... Zhao tries something very, 'very' evil and Zu...
Ahem… and I know his boat got blown up, but let's pretend it didn't. why? Because I said so! Oh! And also pretend Zhao wasn't killed by Waterbenders…
Exodus 15:11. " 'LORD, who is like You among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, revered with praises, performing wonders?' "
This time she wasn't playing. This was serious. Aang was inside the temple behind her with Sokka, while she was here holding off Zuko. She had insisted. Payback was necessary.
"I'm taking the avatar, waterbender," He said, wiping the blood from his mouth with a sleeve.
"I won't let you," She told him firmly.
"Then one of us isn't walking away from this."
She waited for his attack and blocked it. He smirked from behind his line of fire (how could he be enjoying this?) and tried again to hit her. She blocked effectively. He was surrounded in her element.
There were small reflecting pools all around this area of meditation and it was just perfect for her, while all he had was his small fire.
He had willingly put himself in harms way just to find Aang.
But that was his mistake. Not hers. He couldn't hit her and it got to him. He paced like a caged tiger back and forth behind that line of fire.
She waited and the second he started to make another move she threw a water whip that caught him in the stomach and threw him back.
Yes! She thought.
She had gotten to him. She waited for him to get up and fight, or get up and retreat defeated. He did neither.
The smile from victory had left her face as the fire started to died out and the firebender didn't move. Now her conscience was at war with herself. One point to her conscience. She moved to check if he was alive or dead.
She was sure he was alive as she got closer, because she could see his breath fog in the ice cold air with every shallow exhale. She considered leaving him there, but he'd either bleed out or freeze to death and neither were very good ways to go.
Two points to the conscience. She kneeled besides the unconscious firebender and pulled his firebender uniform apart to see the deep gash left in his stomach by her strike. She suddenly regretted that hit.
He groaned in his unconscious state. She had no idea what to do now.
"I'm sorry," She said softly.
He woke up with just about the worst pain in the world from the wound in his stomach, but he wasn't alone now and a blanket had been thrown over him.
His vision was nothing, but a blur right now. If he knew one thing, it was that he should be dead. So why wasn't he? He set a hand over his stomach and felt the stitches that kept him from bleeding to death.
It was still one of the worst pains either way.
"What did you… do to me…?" He asked and felt woozy as he tried to sit up.
"You did it to yourself. If you had just walked away you wouldn't be in this situation." She pressed her hands against his chest to keep him down.
"Why don't you understand that I need the avatar?" He yelled as he lost his (already short) temper.
"Yell all you want. It's not getting you anywhere."
She was right after all. He had no idea where he was, he was dizzy and his stomach ached. He wouldn't be going anywhere.
"What will you do when my soldiers come looking for me?"
"What will you do when Aang comes back?"
"That remains unseen. It depends who gets here first."
"We'll see then won't we?"
It had been about a day they were trapped in this damn cave together. But she heard footsteps coming, her victory had been very shortly lived when she heard that they were too heavy to be Sokka or Aang.
She watched as Zuko tried to sit up, but failed miserable. He scowled then at his failure, but even he seemed shocked when he saw the Fire nation soldiers coming in.
"Zhao…" He said and swallowed hard. Oh, shit this is bad, he thought. He'd been expecting Uncle. And maybe God forbid the avatar, but not Zhao!
"Guards," Zhao said simple and his men went over and grabbed the waterbender. "Well, well, well. Zuko, why doesn't it surprise me."
"What are 'you' doing here? Where's Uncle?"
"You're Uncle is on your ship. Safe and sound. While you are here… what 'are' you doing here?"
"Trying to regain my honor! What does it look-" He cut himself off and looked at himself. What did it look like? "Why are you here?"
"We're after the same thing," Zhao replied. "Why don't you just… calm yourself down. I've got a plan for you to be of use. Maybe even regain your honor."
"Why would you help me, Zhao?"
"Because… I can't find the avatar without you, Prince Zuko."
Zuko paced nervously in his room on Zhao's ship. He continued to pace back and forth, wondering what Zhao was planning. Surly nothing good would come of the man.
He looked up as the door opened and a guard left him out to where Zhao was standing at a door.
"There you are," He said. "I've failed to get the information I need from the waterbender. Now… there are very many other… 'effective' means to get her to talk. And I want you to do it."
"What are you saying, Zhao?" Zuko asked. He didn't like the sound of this.
"You know exactly what I mean," Zhao answered. "Get in there and 'interrogate' her. An interrogation she won't soon forget."
"Where is your honor?" He asked outraged.
"Said the banished Prince," Zhao mocked. "Going to be a coward again I see. What would your Father say? Is that scar not punishment enough?"
Katara looked up as the door opened, reveling the grave looking Prince Zuko. He stepped into the room and his shoulders jumped slightly as the door slammed close.
He couldn't even look at her. His gaze was focused on the table in the room, finally he looked at her. Surly that guilty look in his eyes was a very bad thing. She never saw him look guilty before.
"Everywhere I turn I hurt someone, but there is nothing 'nothing' I can do to change that now," He said as he sat down in the chair by the table. "And now… I don't know… what I'm doing… or why even I'm doing it."
She stayed silent as he talked. Oh, she had no idea what was coming next. No idea what Zhao had planned. Or what the banished Prince was about to do.
"Forgive me," He said as he got up and grabbed her by the collar of her shirt and pulled her towards him. She struggled again him, but he didn't let her go.
"Don't do this!" She hit him in the shoulder, but it didn't seem to affect him. "Zuko!" She yelled at him. She wasn't going to tell them anything. No matter what was done to her. Then he did something that surprised her completely.
He just grabbed her in a tight embrace.
"I can't…" He said finally. She didn't know what to do now.
He reached into his long fire nation cloak and pulled out his white ninja style uniform. He gripped her chin and looked at the bruises on her left from Zhao. He handed her the uniform.
"What are you doing?" She asked, now totally confused.
"It will keep you warm. Put it on and keep it closed up to your neck," He repeated what his Uncle told him then got up quickly and went to listen at the door. Then he waited. "I won't look. Hurry up."
"Alright," She said a few minutes later. He turned and picked her up and said before she could say anything to stop him.
He opened the door and ran as quickly as he could with her extra weight. He got to the edge of the railing and looked down.
"Hold your breath." She didn't have a chance to protest as he jumped.
The darkness of the night with no moon would surly cover their escape. The shock of it all proved to be too much and she passed out.
At first when Katara woke up she had no idea where she was. Or what was going on. She remembered getting the crap kicked out of her by Zhao and then… Zuko was going to… she gasped as she saw him besides the bed. She screamed and he jerked out of his reverie and jumped onto her and pressed a hand over her mouth.
"Shh!" He hushed harshly.
He hadn't done it. She remembered then. He had helped her. Why? He had to have another motive in mind that proved more valuable then… doing to her what Zhao had planned.
When he felt she had calmed down enough he removed his hand from her mouth and stared at her in the dark. She was tense and trying to stay as far back from him as she could, even though he was sitting on her.
The door opened then.
"Zuko, I brought you some tea. I heard you got in late tonig-" His Uncle stopped mid sentence as he saw the display before him. "Prince Zuko… what have you done now?"
"It's not what it looks like!"
"Then tell me… Zuko," Iroh said as he sat down in the chair at the small end table. "What is it you're doing there?"
He quickly got up and stepped away from the waterbender which whom he had been in a rather awkward position with. Though to them it hadn't been like that at all. It was a stare down.
"I saved her. From Zhao." At those words Iroh's eyes widened and he stood up.
"Come then and tell me what it was he was planning."
The two firebenders left the room, closing the door behind them and leaving the waterbender to herself. She quickly tried to get the window open, maybe she could jump, but it proved to be sealed shut.
There were no other ways out. Great, she thought then. She was the prisoner of Zuko. What could be worse?
Being a prisoner of Zhao. The other side of her mind said. At least Zuko wouldn't try to beat the information out of her.
Some time later (after explaining himself to his Uncle) he came back into the room. The only look on his face was expressionless if not troubled, but hidden by the dark of the room.
His eyes changed and something sparked in them, regardless of the darkness.
This troubled her. What did he want? She waited a little while before he sat down on the edge of the bed besides her. She couldn't help, but jump and he noticed her quick movement. He still said nothing though so she decided to speak first.
"What is it you want from me?" She asked.
"Why would you think I want something?"
"You didn't save me for nothing. I won't tell you where Aang is."
"You might want to change into something else now," He said, ignoring her previous statement. He didn't want to think about it right now.
He handed her a fire nation dress and stood then with his back to her like the last time. Even though it was dark and he probable wouldn't have been able to see from this far anyway.
A few moments later he felt her hand on his shoulder and he inhaled deeply. The soft touch was a stark contrast from the severe beatings he was used to.
"I never got to say thank you for… you know… not doing what you were supposed to on Zhao's ship." She turned him to face her and he glanced down at her.
"No, honorable or respectful man would ever do something like that to a woman," He said softly.
"Because, you're such a gentlemen right?" Her voice was equally soft, but full of sarcasm.
"You-" He paused to clear his throat. "You should get to bed." He knew she just insulted him, but he said nothing of it and walked out of the room. He needed the air. (A/N haha Air)
Zhao was sitting smugly in his office when one of his men burst into the room. He frowned at the man's scared expression.
"What is it, private?" Zhao asked in annoyance.
"Zhao, sir…" The soldier stuttered. "Prince Zuko… has taken the water-wretch and escape."
"The traitorous little bastard. Track him down then bring him to me and I will see that he pays." He was very irritated. "I offered him my help and what does he do? Betrays me. The worthless gutter rat!"
"Find him!" Zhao yelled and slammed his fist against his desk as he stood.
The next morning, gone was the caring and kind part of Zuko she had seen the night before. He was back to being bitter and angry. Iroh invited her to the dinning room and she watched Zuko who absent mindedly pushed food around his plate.
"Tea, nephew?" Iroh asked, and Zuko stood then, pushed his plate away and stormed from the room. A few of his officers were out of his way in seconds.
The officers would gladly stay out of his way when he was in one of his moods. Or God forbid he called them up to spar his anger out. These men (although afraid of his temper) were still loyal to Zuko.
"What is wrong with him?" Katara asked. "Why is he so angry?"
"Ms. Katara, please understand… when one smashes his thump with a hammer… he gets angry and swears, when what he really feels is pain. Do you understand?" Iroh asked.
"I don't understand what's wrong with him." She sighed and Iroh only looked very sad at his Nephew's pain and anger.
"If you will excuse me my lady, Commander Jaa will escort you back when you're ready," Iroh said as he stood and walked out. Commander Jaa smiled as he sat down besides her.
"Good evening," He said kindly. She couldn't help, but smile at how polite the man was. She was surprised at a firebender being kind, but she came to the realization that they were people too. "So tell me… what is it like to be in command of such an amazing element?"
"Well," She was again surprised by the man. "It's amazing. You can feel the water, like it's a part of you. It flows through your veins."
"Amazing. I admire you Waterbenders. Might I say you are quite beautiful. Can't find women like you back in the fire nation."
She blushed and looked away from the man. Well… that was shocking.
"Can you tell me what it's like to be a firebender?" She asked to brake the silence.
"I love my abilities… fire is like a life that you hold in your hands. It's alive and it burns through your soul. It feels amazing. Ah, but my skills are nothing to Prince Zuko's." Commander Jaa said. "He saved my life. I owe him my loyalty at least. He's very modest… really."
"He seems like an arrogant jerk."
"Prince Zuko is very… stubborn. Of course he is, but he tends to hide his emotions. After what his Father did… who wouldn't?"
"What did his Father do?"
"I… um… oh… well… I-I'm… not allowed to speak of it. Perhaps…. Someone else." The man was quick to ignore this. He didn't want to speak of such matters.
Zuko stood on the upper deck of the ship and gritted his teeth. He wasn't a happy person. He felt a firm hand on his shoulder.
"Prince Zuko, perhaps you should relax," His Uncle said. Then he glanced down to the place that his Nephew seemed focused on. "Commander Jaa and Lady Katara seem to be getting along quiet well."
"Whatever," He muttered and looked away, the cool wind felt good against his overly heated skin. He sighed and breathed in the salty sea air.
"Is that bothering you?" Iroh asked a small smile somewhat hidden by his beard.
"No. why would it?"
"Tell me… Zuko… why are you suddenly more angry then you have been as of late?"
"I'm not anything. I'm the same as I always am…. A-as I've always been!" He corrected himself quickly then groaned and leaned forward, while his Uncle quickly grabbed his elbow to keep him from falling.
"I am very worried about you Nephew. Perhaps you should have your wounds looked at. I fear they may be infected."
"I don't need anyone or anything to help me!" He jerked from his Uncle's grasp and left again. This was not a good thing.
Zuko sat in his room at the desk and stared at the note on the desk and dropped his pen and knocked over the lamp besides him. Stupid letter.
'Your love is the air that I breathe and you sustain my heart. How my mind dreams of you and your profound beauty. I…'
Damnit! Damnit, damnit, damnit! He thought in frustration.
"Oh, damnit all to hell," He said aloud and threw the note into his drawer and slammed it shut. He moved to his bunk and pull the blankets over him and closed his eyes. Trying to force himself to sleep.
Unfortunately it would be one of those sleepless nights. It was done. He couldn't sleep. He sighed and sat up, looking out the small window and leaning against the wall. Great. He thought sarcastically.
He really didn't feel well at all.
Katara had just gotten back from walking with Commander Jaa. She was in the room that was farthest at the end of the hall.
She sighed. Maybe there was a way out of here? But, even if she did escape where would she go? She was on a vast ocean far from home. She'd have no idea where to go, let alone a way to get there.
So she was pretty much trapped here on this Fire Nation ship with the hot-headed Fire Prince and his tea drinking Uncle. Great. Good. Just wonderful!
There was a knock at the door and she looked up to see General Iroh standing there with a troubled expression. He sighed and clasped his hands in front of him.
"Ms. Katara, if you would please come with me."
She followed Iroh as he led her to a room where Zuko waited impatiently. He looked up as they came through the door and stood up straighter, crossing his arms.
"Have a seat. Waterbender," Zuko said through gritted teeth. She watched him cautiously and sat in the indicated chair. "Now…" He said and stepped in front of her. "Tell me where your Avatar friend went."
"Oh, please," She scoffed.
"Are you mocking me?" He asked, taken aback by her words.
"Oh, so the big bad Fire Prince doesn't know what sarcasm is?"
"Tell me where he is!"
"Where is the Avatar?" He asked more persistently.
"Even if I knew I wouldn't tell 'you'."
"Why don't you understand?"
"You're no better then Zhao," She said firmly and meeting his fiery gaze. He stared at her with shock. No better?
"I'm didn't do it!"
"You almost did."
Iroh who had been standing in the corner looked at his nephew with a look of surprise. Iroh noticed Zuko suddenly getting that same look he had the night he had saved the waterbender. A guilty look. A look of total and utter guilt and shame.
"No!" He yelled then. "Just tell me where he is and I'll let you go!"
"You're no better then him. You just do things differently," She coldly and he was fuming.
"I am 'nothing' like him. Nothing!" He yelled again. "He has no scars to live with. No shame. As much honor as my Father gives him!"
"I bet you deserve that scar!" She yelled back, and suddenly he went silent. His shoulders shook with his anger and kicked over the empty chair in front of her and stormed from the room.
Even Iroh had gasped as she said those words that had taken the last of the Prince's patients. She looked up at the old General who shook his head.
"You should apologize," Iroh said then. He said it like a parent scolding a young child.
"Why should I apologize to 'him'?"
"Well," He began as he picked up the chair and sat down in it. "Do you know how he got it? No? his Father. His Father did that to him."
"He stood up for some of his men who were to be sacrificed in a battle. (those are the men loyal to him here on his ship)
His Father was very angry that he had spoken out of turn to a general of such status," Iroh sighed sadly. "Zuko was challenged to an Agni Kai and… he gladly and fearlessly accepted in face of the general, but when he got there he found it was his Father he would fight."
"Why would his Father fight him?"
"To teach him a lesson. Zuko dropped to his knees and begged forgiveness, but… my Brother is not a forgiving man. He burned him and banished him." Iroh had to close his eyes a moment. "A deal was made that if he caught the avatar his honor would be restored and he could come home. Understand… he just wants to go home. He just wants his Father to love him."
"Does he understand that if he takes Aang he destroys the world's hope?"
"I don't know that he realizes that. Ms. Katara, please, remember one thing… hate the sin, not the sinner," With those soft last words Iroh stood and left the room.
As much as she hated Zuko, she had to admit she felt guilty for saying such things to him. For hurting him that way and making him remember the most painful moment in his life. Damn. Now she felt really guilty.
Getting up she went to the door and paused in the hallway as she heard Iroh in the other room and what was possible a sniffling.
"Prince Zuko," Iroh said gently. "It was 'not' your fault. You didn't know. You did the right thing saving those men. Your Mother would be proud of you. I know I am."
"Leave me, Uncle," Zuko said.
"As you wish, Nephew. I'll leave you to reflect on your thoughts."
She heard Iroh's distinct departing footsteps. She then slowly stepped out onto the upper deck where the hot-headed Prince was thinking.
"Get out of here," He said. Not bothering to look at her.
"I don't care!" He looked over his shoulder at her briefly.
"I'm really sorry! I didn't know." She set her hand on his shoulder and he jerked away.
"Don't touch me," He said grouchily. Something struck him then. "What? Didn't know what? Uncle told you?"
He was even more frustrated now and just leaned heavier on the railing and held an arm around his stomach. She could clearly see he was in a lot of pain.
"You're in pain," She said aloud, but more to herself then to him.
"Whatever. I don't care what you know about me, but you won't be allowed to leave this ship until you decide to tell me where the Avatar is."
"I'll never tell you anything."
"Then you can stay locked away in that room for all I care," He said standing straight against his pain and facing her in annoyance.
"Aang and Sokka will come to get me."
"Good. I'll capture him then."
She gasped. "No, you won't!" She had just slipped up. She knew.
"Oh, because you did so well capturing him the last time!" She mocked then and saw his anger turn even more.
"Well I would have had him if 'you' hadn't gotten in my way!" He started to walk away.
"Your jut mad you got beat by a girl." She said and suddenly he stopped and his shoulders tensed up as he turned around quickly.
"What is that suppose to mean?"
"Such big flames, you must be compensating for something."
"What?" He slammed his fist into the metal hull of the ship besides her head, missing by just inches. She swallowed hard then. "Enough!"
He set his free hand on the opposite side and she was trapped in between him and the hull. He lowered his shoulders to her height and glared at her. She could feel his heated breath against her lips.
"You're pushing things very far, Waterbender… don't do it again."
Well… she certainly learned this day not to insult a Firebenders manliness. For it had deadly results, although it may have been funny at first it was dead serious now.
He pulled back and walked away from her. She turned to find a dent from his fist in the side of the ship. He had missed on purpose, but if she had made him any madder he may not have done so.
She had to be more careful around him, she realized. He really was dangerous.
No. He knew that Aang would never deal if he hurt her. He wouldn't do that. Besides… since he was a gentlemen as he claimed himself to be he would 'never' do that.
She headed back to the inside of the ship and down the hallway, but she bumped into Iroh. And the older man stopped and stared at her.
"Oh, Ms. Katara. I was just looking for you. I was wondering if you would like to have tea with me?"
"That would be nice."
So here she sat with the General and a hot cup of tea. The man sighed contently as he smelled the scent coming off the tea. Jasmine she thought he'd said.
"I tried to apologize like you said," She commented.
"And?" The old General asked.
"It didn't go too well and I just ended up insulting him again. We just aren't getting along very well."
"Zuko's temper is patient trying, is it not?"
"And I am sure you realize he has much pain in his heart?"
"I guess I can see that now," She replied quietly. She had another question that had been bothering her and she was forced to ask. "Why does he have a dress on a ship full of men?"
Iroh chocked on his tea and set the cup down as he wiped his beard and sighed.
"It was his Mother's. It is one of the only things he has left of her."
"What happened to his Mother?" She asked, but Iroh only shook his head.
"He lost her, Ms. Katara. Let's just leave it at that." The old man sighed then. "Let's finish our tea then shall we? But, not before I inform you that it is my Nephew's birthday in a few days. I think he's forgotten."
"I don't mean to be rude, but… why are you telling me?"
"Well… the crew and I are planning on throwing him a party. Without his knowledge of course. He would have a royal cow-pig if he knew." Iroh elaborated. "Maybe things will have changed before then. I would hope."
"Change? What do you mean?" She asked and Iroh stood.
"If you'll excuse me my dear. I am a very weary old man who needs his rest." He made a show of stretching and yawning to prove his point.
"But…. You didn't answer my question!" She said, but it was too late. The sneaky old man had gotten away. Now she was left wondering what the old General had meant.
She was led back to her room by one of the crew members and was to stay in here room the rest of the night. Or so she thought…
"Ms. Katara, please, wake up right now!" Iroh said as he shook her awake.
"What? What's wrong?" She asked, immediately sitting up.
The man didn't answer as he led her down the corridor to a room where he indicated to Zuko, who had been lying in his bunk, covered under many heavy blankets.
"He's gotten very sick," Iroh said. "I am not entirely sure if it's the wound. He wouldn't let anyone look at him."
"I'll see what I can do. If he lets me."
Iroh nodded and left the room, closing the door quietly behind him. She sighed as she pulled up a chair next to him and moved to probe his wounds, but he gave her a deep glare.
"Leave me alone," He told her firmly.
"You'll catch your death of this if you don't let me see."
He sighed finally and she moved to pull his shirt apart and found that his wounds were indeed infected. She moved to clean the infection out and the second the warm water touched the cut he sat up and pulled away.
"That hurts!" He yelled and she jumped back in her seat.
"Well… 'maybe'… if you had just left us alone I wouldn't have had to hurt you!" She yelled back and he sat up quickly, but he gasped in pain and laid back down immediately. She set her hands on his chest to hold him still. "Let me take care of you."
"No!" He yelled again and when he saw the slightness of fear in her eyes he felt his heart stop momentarily. He didn't want her to be afraid of him. Why was everyone always afraid of him! He hated it.
But, she didn't listen and moved to take care of him anyway. Why? He wondered again. For about half an hour he was lost in a sea of pain, but the Waterbender managed to dull it considerable.
She had finished taking care of him and was about to leave before he grasped her wrist.
"Wha-" She wasn't able to finish.
"Thank you," He said sincerely. She hadn't been expecting that, but she was sure he really was grateful for the pain relief. She knew stomach wounds were among the most painful.
He released his grip and she stood stunned still for a moment.
"Y-you're welcome." She told him and left his room then. She leaned against the wall outside and tried to get her head together.
Being captive on this ship for so long must have been getting to her, because she was beginning to think Zuko wasn't such a bad guy. She couldn't think like that he was after Aang for God's sakes!
But, seeing him so vulnerable made her 'want' to help him.
And feeling those strong muscles that he needed to be agile enough for his firebending made… wait! What was she thinking? That was it. She needed to get off this ship!
Wait… where would she go?
She sighed as she headed back to her room. Yup, this was getting to her head.
The days seemed to go by like weeks at a time and she really had only been on this ship for a little over a week. The knock at her door startled her.
"Um, come in," She said a little uneasily. Iroh stepped through the door with a bright smile.
"We are having the party tonight. Are you going to be attending?" He asked.
"I really wasn't going to." She saw the old man's disappointed look. "But… I guess I could…" She said with a sigh.
"I am not forcing you. Do not worry. He will probable have a fit of it anyway. He hates parties."
"No. I'll go."
"Well… alright," Iroh said. He secretly smiled as he left the room for her to get ready. He admitted it to himself that he was a devious old man.
He waited until he was a little ways down the hall way before he started snickering. Yes, he was a devious old man alright.
Katara was getting ready for Iroh's little surprise party and as she came out of her room she paused hearing that Iroh had run into Zuko.
"Well you could at least come to dinner tonight. We have a surprise. And it would be rude not to. Incase you haven't noticed we have a young woman aboard the ship now."
"Trust me Uncle I've noticed-" Zuko paused suddenly. "I-I… mean… ohhh…" he groaned and pressed a hand over his eyes, barely attaining the blush he had now from accidentally admitting that.
"So you think she's pretty then?"
"I see, Nephew," Iroh said, smirking. He pushed him down the hall. "Come, now. Let's go shall we?"
She was utterly shocked to hear him say that. She had thought that he wouldn't even notice or care, but… he 'was' a young man now and she figured he had thoughts about girls like any normal man his age.
But she would never, 'never' have thought about him thinking she was pretty. Surly there were much prettier girls then her in the Fire Nation? Well… he wasn't exactly in the Fire Nation anymore.
A somewhat tipsy Prince Zuko sat in the dinning room where his Uncle had forced him to stay because of a 'surprise'. He sighed. Today only brought back bad memories. Memories he'd rather put in a box and burn then have to drag up again.
He picked up the cup of sake and took another sip, wincing at the taste and the burning. His Uncle had put some music on. It was suppose to be relaxing, but he actually found it slightly annoying.
The Chef came out and set some more food on the table, bowed and retreated into the kitchen. He sighed as he watched one of his men gather some food onto his plate.
"Prince Zuko… perhaps you should eat something?" The man suggested.
"Kio, is right, Zuko," His Uncle said, finally coming into the room, but at this moment in time his eyes were not on his Uncle. Rather… the Waterbender he had escorted with him.
She had changed into a blue dress, (he'd imagined his Uncle had bought at their last stop) and done her hair. He could say without a doubt that the Waterbender was stunning.
"See?" Kio asked, smiling at Iroh taking his side.
"Close your mouth, Zuko," Iroh told him when he got close enough.
His mouth snapped shut and he didn't even realize his jaw had dropped until his Uncle had said something. Damn. He couldn't let this get to him.
"And stop drinking that vile sake," Iroh said as he swiped the drink away from him.
"Uncle," He whined.
"No. I will not have it."
Zuko sighed and rolled his eyes then.
Stuck. That was what he was. Stuck dancing with the Waterbender. His mind went back to how he had gotten into this little 'situation'.
The night had progressed slowly and his Uncle had given him a new tea cup with the character for his name on it. Of course, he thought. The men had dragged up a few things, (something's he didn't even know what they were or what they were used for) and now some of the men were dancing amongst themselves.
He had found it rather amusing to see the crew slow dancing together. They had even managed to drag a laugh or two from him. Which was rare.
But as usual he found himself annoyed again as Commander Jaa decided to ask the Waterbender to dance. She had agreed.
"Prince Zuko, perhaps you should have a dance with the beautiful Ms. Katara. It is your birthday after all," Iroh suggested.
"Why would she want to dance with me?"
"I'll ask her for you," Iroh said as he got up.
"Uncle!" He scolded, but it was too late.
And that had been how he had gotten into this. He didn't even know if she wanted to be dancing with him or not, but here he was.
Darn it, Uncle. He thought again.
"You know," She began. "I thought you were tricky… but, then I met your Uncle."
"Ah… yes, my Uncle… I don't think I could possible describe him in one word," He replied slowly.
They went on without speaking for the rest of the time and just danced. He had never had fun dancing and found it rather annoying, but for once it hadn't bothered him. In fact he rather enjoyed dancing with the Waterbender.
He had managed to get away from the rest of the party and was sitting out by himself, when he heard footsteps behind him.
He looked over his shoulder to find (not his Uncle as expected) the Waterbender. He turned to face her and she smiled slightly.
"Sorry, I didn't really have anything to give you," She said. "But, maybe if you let me go…"
"Nice try," He said with a sad smile.
"I guess," She answered and looked down at the ground, but she felt him step closer.
"I know something that you could give me." She quickly looked up at him. "You… could… let me kiss you."
She could only stare at him and wonder why he had such a request. Sure she had known he thought she pretty, but she didn't think he could ever think of her in a romantic way.
He sighed. "That's alright. I understand," He said, noticing how she had backed against the wall.
"No. I-I… just wasn't expecting it."
"I know it's inane."
"It's not inane…"
He took another step closer and she closed her eyes then and held her breath for a moment. She felt his breath on her lips and the heat of his mouth, but then she felt him press a soft lingering kiss to her cheek instead and also his warm fingers grazing her jaw.
She waited a moment longer, but opened her eyes to find him walking away. She found that she couldn't understand him. He was far too confusing.
That was it. She decided then that she wasn't just going to stand there.
She knocked on the door to Zuko's cabin, she considered momentarily turning and going back the way she came until he opened the door.
A confused look crossed his features then, before he covered it up quickly.
"Okay… I know… that this is a surprise, but… I needed to ask you a question," She said.
He raised an eyebrow, but said. "Alright."
She set a hand on his chest and pushed him back into the room. He was surprised at her boldness, but said nothing.
"Why did you want to kiss me?"
"Mmm… I wasn't quiet expecting the bluntness from a girl."
"What's that suppose to mean?"
"Well… I don't exactly know if that's considered a kiss…" He muttered, more to himself. "Did I…" He paused. "Did I upset you?"
"Upset me?" She asked. Now she was totally confused. He made no sense. None at all. "No… why are you so worried about upsetting me all of a sudden?"
He smiled sheepishly. "I-I… don't know… I just. I like you."
Her breath caught in her throat and she found she couldn't response to him. He just stayed still for a moment or so, before leaning forward and pressing his lips to hers. He tasted like sweet spicy smoke, and smelled of parchment and charcoal.
He moved them over and now she was in the same situation as she was when she was first on his ship, except for now he was kissing her and had just admitted he liked her.
"What spell do you put me under Waterbender?" He asked, breathing heavily. She grasped his uniform collar and he glanced at her hands, before kissing her again. "I think I lo-"
"Zuko, I-" Iroh had said as he came into the room, without knocking. And Zuko lifted his head too fast and hit it on the top of the bunk. He winced as he rubbed the place. "Again?"
Katara pressed both hands over her eyes, trying to hide her blush.
"Uncle it's not…" Zuko paused then. "Wait… maybe it is… kind of… Uncle get out!"
The old man burst out laughed then and leaned over with his hands on his knees.
"Oh, Nephew… I am very happy for you," Iroh said, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye as he turned, waving, and walked out.
"Unh," Zuko grunted in a huff and pressed his face into the pillow besides her. "Great."
He rolled over onto his side with his back against the wall so he could face her.
"What did you say to me?" She asked finally, thinking back to the embarrassing moments earlier. Why had she let him do that?
"Just… oh, never mind." She sat up and was about to leave before he grasped her arm.
"Wait… y-you could stay…" He offered and she stared at him for a moment. She moved back besides him and he pulled the blankets over them and pulled her close to him. He breathed in and out deeply once. He smiled softly. "Thank you."
"For what?" She asked.
"For giving me a chance."
"Thank 'you' for saving me. I think we can call it even."
"You owe me nothing. I'll protect you. I promise."
She hesitated before kissing him, he didn't say anything after that, but he did tighten his grip around for a few moments. She fell asleep in his warm embrace.
Katara woke up later on in the day. She wondered where she was briefly before remembering last night. She fell asleep with Zuko. She needed to get up though, so she carefully gripped his arm to move it, but he jerked awake. Damn. Why did he have to sleep like soldier?
"What?" He asked immediately.
"Nothing… I didn't mean to wake you. Sorry."
"Why are you up? The sun isn't even up yet." He sighed and fell back against the bed.
She rolled her eyes, not answering as she got up. He stared after her, but said nothing as she left the room. She came back about an hour later, only to find that he was no longer there.
So instead she went outside, and found him shirtless and practicing a Fire form in the early morning light. Okay… she would never admit out loud that she liked him, and that she thought him practicing his forms shirtless made him look… well… just made him look plain sexy.
He glanced up at her, then finished his forms, grabbed his shirt and walked to where she was. She didn't exactly know what to say to him. The only real conversation she had had with him was when she was fighting with him.
"Hey," She said uneasily.
"What's wrong?" He asked then. "Did I-?"
"You didn't do anything. It's just… I don't know… I left Aang and Sokka alone and now I'm here with you and…"
"And… you feel guilty."
"Yeah." There were a few moments of silence. "You said last night that'd you'd protect me… but what happens when Zhao comes back? He's practically got an army and you only have a small crew."
"Aang could protect me."
He felt his temperature rise and he had to grit his teeth. She didn't think he was strong enough? But, that was what killed him. She was right. Zhao had an army, and he had nothing.
"I'll kill Zhao before he ever gets the chance to come near you."
"Why don't you let me go?"
"Right, you need the avatar." She mocked sarcastically. And he sighed.
"I'm sorry…" He said and pushed past her, but she grabbed his arm.
"Don't? don't what?"
"Don't do this. Don't walk away from me."
His brow furrowed as he stared at her in confusion. Hadn't she just been mad at him? Now he had no idea what went on in this girl's head.
His temper ceased slightly at seeing her. He couldn't stay angry with her.
"Why does it matter?"
"It's just… I don't want him to come here and hurt you… or your crew." She was worried about him? "I mean… everyone here is so nice… and I don't want blood your my hands…."
"My crew has nothing to do with this. I told you I'd protect you."
"Right, so he'll kill you then."
"No. Zhao is not the most powerful bender… I can take him."
"Please, just let me leave."
"It'll be alright. I promise." He pressed a soft kiss to her lips, before prying himself from her grip. She turned away from him then and hurried to the room she stayed in.
As soon as she was there she sat on the bed and grabbed the pilled, hugging it close to her chest as she felt the tears spilling over.
"Stupid jerk." She whispered to herself. She knew Zhao would kill him if he found them.
"Uncle!" Zuko yelled loudly.
"Yes, Nephew?" Iroh asked, sipping his tea calmly even through his Nephew's yelling.
"Did you tell her?"
"Tell her what, Prince Zuko?"
"That Zhao was following us!"
"No," Iroh said, finally worried. "She is aware then?"
"No. I don't think she is, but she asked me about Zhao coming after us."
"This is a problem then."
"It is," Zuko agreed. He walked from the room and Iroh quickly got up from his chair to follow him.
"Prince Zuko where are you going?"
"Something I should have done a long time ago." He said as he moved to the deck where some of the crew were preparing a row boat.
"Think this through, Nephew."
"I have. And there's no other choice."
"Why are you doing this for a 'water peasant' Zuko?" Iroh asked, with a hint of mockery. Zuko had called her many names before and now he was doing incredibly stupid things to protect her. "Why for this one girl?"
Zuko stopped what he was doing for a moment.
"I've thought about that, Uncle. And I honestly don't know."
"Yes, you do."
"You're right. I do." He replied as he got into the boat. "If I don't make it back find the avatar. Send her back with him. And… tell her… tell her I love her."
"Zuko, there are better ways of handling this!"
"You know that isn't true."
Iroh shook his head. "This time… you're the one who is right."
Katara had finally stopped crying and headed out of her room, she found Iroh standing on the deck, looking worried.
"Where's Zuko?" She asked, but Iroh only sighed. "General…"
"He has gone."
"To face Zhao."
The moon was high in the sky as the figure in black moved behind creates and under stairs. Zhao turned to find that same shadow behind him.
"Well, well… the banished Prince has returned," Zhao said. "Too bad I was expecting you."
All of a sudden Zuko was surrounded by guards and he glanced around at them. And then sighed heavily and lowered his swords.
"What?" Zhao asked confused and Zuko dropped his swords.
"That's why I'm here to challenge you to an Agni Kai."
Zhao's rumbling laugh filled the air as he stared at him.
"Why? when I could have you killed in seconds? Why?"
"Because, I know you. Because, you want revenge." Zuko said. "I'm right. You know it."
"Very well. Stand down!" He called and one of his men stepped up.
"But, sir-" One of his men began.
"I said stand down!" Zhao said again. "His life ends by my hand and mine alone."
Zuko moved into his fighting stance as Zhao did the same.
Katara could only stare as Iroh had explained the whole thing. She couldn't believe Zuko had been so stupid and reckless.
"He'll be killed," She said, trying to hold back tears.
"We can only hope he wins."
"General Iroh!" Commander Jaa yelled. Iroh looked up to see Zhao and some of his men.
"No…" Iroh said… he stepped in front of Katara.
"You're Nephew lost, General," Zhao said and some of his men dropped Zuko onto the ground in front of them. He winced and held his stomach where an arrow had struck.
"There are no weapons in an Agni Kai, Zhao!" Iroh yelled.
"My ship, my rules."
"Alright then, Zhao, I challenge you to Agni Kai. My ship, my rules."
"Why when I could sink this tub of rust?"
"Are you the coward you call my Nephew then?"
Zhao's eyes filled with rage.
"Remember. No weapons." Iroh informed. "Katara, take my Nephew to his room and see what you can do about his wounds."
"Uncle… no… he'll kill you…" Zuko protested, but got a boot in the ribs. He grunted in pain and it all went black.
Zuko jerked awake. Fighting the grip that held him down, then he wished whoever was screaming would stop, until he realized he was the one screaming. A few crew members were holding him down as the arrow was pulled out.
His vision was blurry as the pain became absolutely intolerable. Finally the arrow was out though. The men released him and left the room, and he realized that Katara was the only one in the room with him.
"Are… okay?" He asked in a stutter.
"Me?" She asked. "I should be asking you that."
"Why did you that that? It was stupid and reckless and you could have been killed!" She scolded and briefly reminded him of his Mother. "You're just lucky your Uncle was able to… end Zhao."
"You were right," He whispered.
"What?" She was confused now.
"You were right."
He sat up fully, and met her eyes.
"You were right. You're safer with the avatar."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying… you can go."
"I can't just go…"
"You don't have a choice."
"I don't want to leave you."
"You don't seem to understand that you have to!" He yelled and realized he had just scared her. Then he felt bad. Damn it. He couldn't do this… he had to do this. "You need to leave."
He got up then and moved slowly towards the door, grabbing her shoulder and taking her with him.
"Stop. You're going to hurt yourself."
"I'm okay." He grabbed his shirt and struggled to get it on, and she helped him. "You wanted to leave. Remember?"
"Not, now." She helped him as he led her outside. (Iroh had docked the ship hours ago for medicine for Zuko)
"I heard the avatar was seen last in this village. He shouldn't be too hard to find."
"I'll make sure you get there safely."
"Iroh told me what you said."
All of a sudden he stopped talking and froze dead in his tracks.
"He-he told you?"
"I love you too…"
He sighed and wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug. He sighed deeply.
"Then you know why we can never be together." He said, she felt his shuddering breath. "I can't protect you, Katara and I was a fool for thinking I could."
"Please, don't do this to me."
"I need you to be safe." He glanced around slowly. "When the war is over, I'll come find you."
She pulled away from him and turn to leave, but not before giving him one last look. She was too angry at him, too upset to speak to him or even look at him anymore. And he knew.
"Nephew," Iroh said as he came up besides him. "Why have you done this?"
"I had no choice, Uncle. I realize now… that if she stays with me. She'll be killed."
"But… you know this is another answer. If you stayed with 'her'."
"No, Uncle," Zuko said and walked away.
"Why not, Zuko? Are you afraid?" Iroh asked, knowing that it would get to him. He stopped mid-step and faced his Uncle.
"What did you say to me?"
"You need to rethink what you're thinking."
"Uncle, what are you saying!"
"What am I saying?"
"The sun is setting, Prince Zuko."
Katara come into the town and as she made her way to the housing district she heard her name called.
"Katara!" She turned to find the source of the voice was her Brother with Aang right besides him. He ran up to her and looked her over. "Did that jerk hurt you? I kill him I swear!"
"No, Sokka… he didn't hurt me."
"How did you escape?" Aang asked.
"I-I didn't… he let me go."
"Let you go? You mean we've been tracking him these past few weeks and he let you go?" Sokka asked.
"Yes." Katara answered, trying had to keep from crying in front of her Brother and Aang.
"Okay. We need to get out of here now then," Sokka said and they headed out to the stables were Appa roared happily to see them.
Momo popped up from the saddle as Aang climbed up, while Sokka tried to figure out the map. She sighed deeply.
"Alright, let's go," Katara said. She just wanted to leave and forget.
"Leaving without me?" They all turned at the voice and when she saw him there she couldn't keep the tears away anymore. He smiled softly as she met his eyes. She ran to him and jumped into his arms and he held her.
"Umm… did we miss something?" Aang asked from Appa's head.
"I'll say! My sister is kissing Zuko!" Sokka stated and was about to hurt him, before Appa grabbed the back of his shirt with his teeth. "Appa let go! Darn it!"
"I missed you." She told him.
"Can't be five minutes without me, huh?"
"Avatar…" Zuko said, stepping forward. "If you'd allow it… I'd like to join you and teach you Firebending."
Everyone's eyes were on Aang now, he had no look, but then he smiled.
"Of course you can help. You can never have too many friends."
Sokka sighed. "Well… we don't have all day… let's get moving!"
Katara couldn't help smiling as she grasped the Firebender's hand and led him over to the gang. The road ahead was long, but together they could tackle anything.
Iroh watched from the ship as the Avatar left and he smiled.
"I'm so proud of you my son."
Thanks for reading friends and God Bless you.