Her lips tasted sweet.
Different, so different than Mai's.
Zuko, coming to his senses, pushed Katara away roughly.
"No. Not us."
Lips swollen, Katara looked at him uncomprehendingly.
"Not us", Zuko repeated firmly.
She touched her mouth, and realization hit her.
"Oh my Agni..."
Blood rushed to the waterbender's face and she stumbled back.
"Oh, oh my...", mortified and utterly confused, Katara turned on her heels and ran.
Zuko watched her go.
As soon as she disappeared from his view, he sank to the ground. Running his hand through his hair, Zuko sighed. What just happened? How did the dynamics change so quickly? Why did she kiss him? Why did he not mind that she did?
Zuko thumped his head against the cold hallway floor. Okay, now is the time to be honest. He loved Mai. She was his everything. But, but. Katara. A beautiful, strong, empathetic, hurting girl. Yes, an amazing, beautiful girl who had kissed him. That's all. He was just a boy after all. A master-bender Fire Lord with anger management issues, yes, but he was still a teenage boy. What teenage boy would deny a kiss from a beautiful, crying girl? And as long as it was only one kiss...
There was nothing to worry about.
Unconvinced with his own argument, Zuko rubbed his throbbing temples.
Well, at least no one saw them.
The next day
Cold morning light shone on the Fire Lord's face, rousing him from sleep. Muttering, he felt around for a cover. All that was felt was hard, cold marble. Zuko woke up with a start, looking around him in confusion. Damn, he had fallen asleep outside in the hall. Zuko slowly stood up, wincing as pain shot through his sore muscles. Zuko hobbled to his room, went in, got undressed, and was about to climb into bed when the door slammed open....
"Uncle!", Zuko exclaimed in surprise, "You sure are up early this morning!"
He beamed at his uncle and proceeded to pick up his clothes where, just a few moments ago, he dumped them unceremoniously, when he thought he would be getting a few minutes of sleep.
"What did you think of the dinner last night? Mai chose the meal especially for you. She knows how much you enjoy jasmine rice, and she told me she wanted to make you more comfortable here. I know you didn't really approve of her in the beginning, did you know how she sacrificed for me? I hope you warm up to her, she's a beautiful girl and....Uncle?"
Iroh grumbled unintelligibly and gave his nephew a dark scowl, the young Fire Lord gulped. He watched nervously as his uncle came over to him, looked him straight in the eye, and then backed away, finally sitting on the bed.
Iroh sat there, willing his nephew to feel some shame. How could he stand there and act all innocent when he knew what he did? Standing there spouting words of love and praise for poor, unsuspecting Mai while probably thinking about ravishing some other girl. How can he just act like he didn't just come from a racy rendezvous? All with a smile on his face? Is that the Azulan blood coming through? The Ozai treachery? The Azula madness?
He sighed, he had hoped he taught Zuko better than that. He had thought maybe during their long journey together, through exile and banishment, a bit of his own morals and values would have rubbed off on his young nephew. Values like honesty and honor. Morals like not breaking anyone's heart.Oh, no. Maybe it was his fault. Maybe Zuko learned by his example physically, and not verbally. Iroh looked back, and remembered certain unscrupulous incidents of the past. Incidents like harassing that poor, beautiful Jun, and singing that begging song about the women of Ba-Sing-Se. But, but...Zuko always seemed so awkwardly shy around the opposite sex....
"I've failed you, haven't I?", Iroh said morosely
"What?", Zuko looked at his uncle, who now was covering his face with his hands
"Mai is such a decent girl...."
The figurative sweat drop rolled down Zuko's forehead.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Uncle."
Actually, a pretty good idea
"I may be old but I'm not stupid. Zuko, I have eyes."
Awkward silence prevailed for a few moments....
Zuko cleared his throat, "I guess you saw that then, huh?"
His question was met with a glare.
"Now Zuko, I understand Mai isn't the most...."
"No, no, I understan-"
"Do you really? I don't th-"
"I mean, I was a hormonal teenage boy once. I remember a time-" (nostagically)
"Uncle! No mental images, please!"
"Now, no need to get embarrassed. That was quite a long time ago-"
"Yeah? Like with Ju-"
"Aherm...Um, well-" (embarrassed)
"Please understand...That, um, well, what you saw didn't mean anything."
"Oh? It didn't, huh?" (sarcastically)
"No, it didn't. I found her, in the garden, crying. You should have seen her face...I-i-i only wanted to comfort her, she seemed in so much pai-"
"So you kissed her?" (in mild disgust)
"She kissed me..."
"Oh..." (having a revelation)
"And then ran away, horrified." (sheepishly)
"Yeah, hehe." (not amused at all)
Uncle and nephew were reconciled
"Well, you're going to have to tell her."
"Oh, Mai. I guess I do..."
The Fire Lord was not looking forward to that particular conversation....