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What Remains When the Flowers Die?

Chapter Text

When he came in, of course she stared. Katara froze when she saw the nasty scar on the man’s face, but his smile was warm and kind. She relaxed and tried to focus her gaze on his healthy eye.

“It’s okay, it’s usually the first thing people notice about me.” He said as he approached the counter. Katara blushed so hard she could feel her ears warm. Fixing her stare on his unburned eye, Katara screamed inside her head.

“I am so sorry.” She blurted and the man chuckled.

“It’s really okay. I wasn’t lying, it’s literally the first thing.” The man touched just under his left eye, his fingertips resting lightly on the pink burn. “It’s a bad burn.” 

He then smiled again, lowered his hand and leaned against the counter.

“My name is Zuko. What’s yours?” He asked.

“Oh, I’m Katara.” She said, taken aback by his manner. “Did you, are you picking up an order?” 

Zuko stood up and placed his hands on the counter.

“I am, yes. It’s a large order though, for the Jasmine Dragon. Is your brother around?” He said.

“How’d you know he’s my brother?” Katara asked.

“You look alike.” Zuko replied simply.

“Mmmh.” Katara intoned, neutrally accepting his comment. “Yeah, Sokka is in the back. Do you have a van or...?” 

Zuko was casually dressed, but in the way wealthy people were casual. She couldn’t fathom him moving large vases of sloshing water and loose petals. If he was picking up a large order, it didn’t look like he was ready to help move it.

“Yeah, it’s around back.” Zuko said just as the door to the workroom clattered open. The smell of sugar water and chlorophyll wafted out with the cooler air conditioned breeze. Sokka walked out, his apron damp and dotted with leaves and petals. 

“Zuko! I was wondering if that was your van. Is it new?” Sokka asked.

Zuko’s smile broadened as he clasped hands with Sokka. They shook hands as male friends do; a grand but brief gesture that was loud and normally came with heavy back pats. Katara watched curiously. Granted, she had only just started working at her brother’s flower shop, but she had never heard of this customer before. 

“So you managed to wrangle your sister into working with you?” Zuko asked and Katara grew more confused.

“Only for the summer.” Sokka admitted and Zuko turned to her.

“That’s right, congrats on getting into med school.” He said.

Bewildered, Katara pulled a face and looked between the two men.

“Who are you?” She asked Zuko and the two laughed.

“I was your brother’s roommate for the whole semester and a half he did at college. After he left, we still kept in touch.” Zuko said.

“His uncle actually loaned me the money to open the shop.” Sokka added.

“And now look at it! I heard you did the flowers for some fancy wedding in the North Pole.” Zuko said, leaning now toward Sokka.

“That was my grandmother’s wedding and you know it.” Sokka said blithely and put his hand on Zuko’s face, shoving him away from the counter.

“Okay, I got it, you two are friends.” Katara said and rubbed her eyes. “Are we getting the order or what?”

Surprisingly, Zuko did help them load the van. It was good too, as she wasn’t used to lugging the large vases. Once they were secured in their boxes, Sokka brought out the flowers while Katara used her bending to fill them with water. Apparently, before she got there, he would have to move the half-filled vases and not everyone brought someone to assist. 

This was part of the job that Katara enjoyed; it got her away from the customers. Except this time, Zuko followed them into the back room. So as she was filling the vases, Zuko kept talking, and  she learned their destination. The Jasmine Dragon, a teahouse she had seen on her drives to the shop, was owned by Zuko’s uncle. While not an employee - Zuko was evasive about his actual job - he would often help out and had chosen to do the flower pick ups. The flowers would be changed out weekly, which was extravagant on its own, and the arrangements themselves were exquisite. 

To irritate Sokka, who had proven oddly talented in flower arranging as a teenager, Zuko pulled out a thin white flower from the center of a vase.

“Here.” Zuko said and handed it to Katara. She took it, but stared at it for a moment. 

“Why?” She asked, looking up at him.

“I’m just glad to meet you.” He said with a shrug. Katara looked back down at the flower, then up again at him.

“I,” She blinked. “Work here?” 

“Oh, well I’ll take it back then.” Zuko said and reached for it. Katara yanked her hand back quickly.

“No.” She said sharply, then blushed again. “I mean, thank you.”

Zuko smiled and ran a hand through his hair. Sokka, done rearranging the flowers, came up and again shoved at Zuko.

“Stop hitting on my sister.” He grumbled. Zuko laughed and went back to the van, sliding the door shut. He waved as he got in and drove off, while Sokka shook his head and went back inside. 

Katara held the snowmelt blossom to her nose, breathing in the light scent.

It was her favorite flower.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you want to do the pick up? It can get messy and I have the staff for it.” Iroh asked, wiping his hands on the small apron tied around his waist. 

“It’s a good way to spend some more time with an old friend.” Zuko replied, considering in the mirror if he should tie back his hair. Letting it fall in his face, he then turned and smiled at his uncle.

“I’ll be back in time for the lunch rush.” He said. Iroh shook his head and they descended the creaky stairs into the back room of the tea shop. Waving goodbye, Zuko exited out onto the back alley. 

He twirled the keys in his hand as he walked out to the van. Zuko was irritated and hoped a nice chat with Sokka would clear his head. He was glad to be back in the city; when summer came and he could escape the Fire Nation it was always a relief. Things were getting more tense at the palace and this time he was especially glad to get away. 

The drive was easy in the morning and Zuko had driven enough vans in his life to maneuver through traffic. The Ice Blossom was on the left, and as he passed it to get to the side street, he saw someone at the counter. A woman who was not Suki.

After parking the van in the side street, Zuko again twirled the keys in his hand. Curious, he walked to the front door instead of knocking at the back for Sokka.

Through the large window he saw a young woman looking very bored and flipping through a book. She looked like Sokka and he wondered if she was his sister. 

Was that racist? Zuko frowned as he paused at the door. 

He entered and she looked up. Before she could say anything, the woman saw his burned face and paused. Feeling exhausted, Zuko only smiled at first.

“It’s okay. It’s usually the first thing people notice about me.” He said easily and walked up to the counter. The woman’s face reddened and Zuko smiled easier. 

“I am so sorry.” She said quickly and he laughed.

“It’s really okay. I wasn’t lying, it’s literally the first thing.” Zuko touched the bottom edge of the burn, thinking back. “It’s a bad burn.”

He shook himself, smiled, and leaned against the counter.

“My name is Zuko. What’s yours?” He asked.

“Oh, I’m Katara.” She replied.

So we finally meet. Zuko thought.

“Did you, are you picking up an order?” Katara asked. She sounded unsure and Zuko stood up with his hands on the counter. 

“I am, yes. It’s a large order though, for the Jasmine Dragon. Is your brother around?” He asked.

“How’d you know he’s my brother?” She questioned.

Was I not supposed to know that? Zuko’s mind spun for a second.

“You look alike.” He said. Shoot, that was probably racist.

“Mmmh.” Katara made a dismissive tone.

Yup. Racist. Zuko internally winced.

“Yeah, Sokka is in the back.” Katara continued, then eyed him curiously. “Do you have a van or…?”

“Yeah, it’s around back.” He said. Like a summons, the door to the back room opened and Sokka emerged, bringing with him the smell of cold, sweet water. 

“Zuko!” He greeted enthusiastically, and Zuko smiled again. “I was wondering if that was your van. Is it new?” 

Finally relaxing, Zuko stepped quickly to the end of the counter and shook Sokka’s hand. 

“So you managed to wrangle your sister into working with you?” He asked.

“Only for the summer.” Sokka replied and Zuko turned to look at Katara.

“That’s right. Congrats on getting into med school.” He said. Sokka had called him in a panic when Katara was accepted, wondering how she was going to pay for the tuition and fees. Zuko assured him that everything would be okay and prompted him on some questions about financial aid and scholarships to ask her the next time the siblings spoke. 

“Who are you?” Katara asked, bewildered.

Zuko and Sokka laughed.

“I was your brother’s roommate for the whole semester and a half he did at college. After he left, we still kept in touch.” He said.

“His uncle actually loaned me the money to open the shop.” Sokka added.

“And now look at it! I heard you did the flowers for some fancy wedding in the North Pole.” Zuko said with some gentle mocking.

Sokka put his hand in Zuko’s face, shoving him away unceremoniously. “That was my grandmother’s wedding and you know it.” 

“Okay, I got it, you two are friends.” Katara muttered and Zuko grinned. “Are we getting the order or what?”

Zuko eagerly helped load the van, ignoring the spills and loose petals. Katara used her bending to fill the vases and he watched her with open curiosity. He hadn’t seen many Waterbenders in his life, having spent most of it in the Fire Nation with a few periods in the Earth Kingdom.

Well, there had been the one Waterbender.

Wanting to keep himself distracted, Zuko listened to Sokka and Katara bicker with each other over the water, the loading, and pretty much anything else. It was different from how he and Azula fought and it didn’t give him that same tight anxiety in his gut. 

Sokka had talked a lot about Katara over the years, and she had even visited the Middle Ring before. Still, something had always kept their paths from crossing. Noting how his oldest, dearest friend hadn’t told him about his sister coming to work, Zuko could think of one or two reasons why.

There was a protective wall around her, and not all of it was due to her grumpy demeanor. Zuko found that he knew a lot about her from Sokka, and when she turned to ask him questions, he felt the shift in his mind.

Sokka had told her nothing about him.

At first, it offended Zuko and stung. But as he put things together and saw the tired look in Katara’s face, he understood why. And it gave him the opportunity to be someone else.

Or to just be himself. 

So he was evasive about his life outside of the Jasmine Dragon, explaining tersely about how he was working at his uncle’s tea shop and not saying much else. 

Katara was grumpy but she was funny, finding Sokka’s weak points and needling him with impunity. She was also very pretty, which Zuko would never admit out loud. 

Before he left, on an impulse that was only partly done to irritate his friend, Zuko plucked out a thin white flower from the center of the last vase. It was a filler flower, but Sokka had told him about what it was and where it grew. It was native to the South Pole and grew in abundance on the northern shores.

“Here.” He said, handing it to Katara. She took it, but paused as she stared at it.

“Why?” She asked with flat confusion. Zuko’s heart fell but he shrugged.

“I’m just glad to meet you.” He said. She looked back down at the flower and then back up at him. It was starting to bother him how unimpressed she looked.

Which was also curious in and of itself.

“I work here?” She stated slowly.

“Oh, well I’ll take it back then.” Zuko said with toying ease, covering his embarrassment. He reached out to take it back, but Katara yanked her hand out of reach. As she blushed, Zuko felt his heart stumble.

“No.” Katara snapped and then blushed. Her voice softened as she continued. “I mean, thank you.”

He smiled and ran a hand through his hair as he looked at her. Sokka, walking back from the van, shoved Zuko’s shoulder.

“Stop hitting on my sister.” He grumbled. Zuko laughed and glanced at Katara, who was looking away. 

Had he been hitting on her? That probably wasn’t a good idea, all things considered. But it had been a long time since he had felt like this and it felt good. 

Walking back to the van, Zuko whistled a tuneless song. There was nothing wrong with getting to know Katara. After all, she was the sister of his closest friend.

Chapter Text

Once a week, for a month, Zuko came in to pick up the order for his uncle’s shop. He brought them small bags of tea each time, and a different treat that paired with it. Her favorite was the second week when he brought a very light, floral green tea that came with a tray of homemade macarons.

“My sister made these.” Zuko said as Katara picked up one of the delicate cookies. Sokka choked on his as Zuko said that, causing him to laugh.

Bits and pieces of his personal life came out like that, but nothing serious enough for Katara to get a good read on him. Sokka was tightlipped about his friend too and wouldn’t explain anything. 

“He just likes his privacy, Kat. Let him alone.” He said and waved her away with the nail clippers he was using to de-thorn some roses. 

At the start of the second month, Katara drove to the Jasmine Dragon and stopped. It was early morning and it didn’t look like it was open yet. Still, parked in front was the large black van that Zuko drove to pick up his flowers. Katara continued on to the Ice Blossom, pulling in behind the shop to park.

She enjoyed the way the shop smelled, how chlorophyll made the air feel like water in her lungs. The backroom was chilled and kept the pollen down, so only the most pungent of flowers actually made a scent. When she walked in, the change in temperature made her shiver and she could feel the sweat on her hairline chill. Goosebumps raised on her skin and Katara walked quickly to the front.

Where Sokka was sitting with his head on the counter.

“What’s the matter?” Katara asked, walking around her brother to get to the cash register. The drawer opened with a loud ding and she picked up the front door key. 

“Iroh hired us to make centerpieces for Zuko’s birthday party.” Sokka said. His cheek was squished against the counter and his voice came out muffled. 

“Isn’t that a good thing?” Katara asked as she went to the door and unlocked it. 

“It’s one hundred and fifty centerpieces. Plus whatever Mai decides to add last minute.” Sokka said. Katara paused at the door, letting the new data filter through her mind. Was Mai the macaron making sister?

“One hundred fifty isn’t bad. How big are they?” Katara asked, turning to look at him. Sokka rolled his head till his forehead and nose were smooshed on the countertop. 

He groaned.

“That bad?” She questioned.

Someone knocked on the door behind her and Katara jumped. Turning, she saw Zuko holding a bag and giving her a sheepish smile. 

“It’s open.” Katara remarked, opening the door for him.

“I didn’t want to hit you.” Zuko replied as he dipped in. 

Sokka groaned louder.

“Look, I’m sorry!” Zuko said and walked to the counter.

Sokka continued to groan.

“My father is going to be there and-” Zuko started but was drowned out by Sokka’s groan. With a sigh, Zuko sat his bag down next to Sokka’s head.

“I brought you red bean buns and I promise to help.” Zuko said. Sokka stopped groaning and stood up, grabbing the bag on the counter.

“You were absolutely going to be helping.” He said.

Katara walked over and stood next to Zuko, watching Sokka pull a fried bun out of the bag. 

“So when’s the party?” She asked.

“Next week.” Zuko said, his brief answer cutting off further conversation. “Aren’t you going to make tea?” 

“Make it yourself.” Sokka said and took a large bite of the bun. Zuko rolled his eyes and moved behind the counter.

Feeling oddly protective, Katara followed him as he moved into the workroom. He immediately shivered and Katara laughed lightly. As if just noticing her, Zuko looked back at her in surprise, but smiled. 

“I know you both are used to this.” He remarked and stood at the small space designated as a kitchenette. A hot plate was plugged in with an old kettle sitting on top.

Katara stepped around him and picked up the kettle, using her bending to pull water from the sink next to her. Zuko didn’t say anything but tried to turn on the hot plate. The knob clicked but the light stayed dark and the surface was clearly not heating. 

“I keep telling him to get an electric one.” Zuko muttered as he pushed the hot plate away from him. Katara held the kettle and eyed him.

“Aren’t you a Firebender?” She asked. 

Zuko crossed his arms over his chest and looked at her. “And?”

Katara thrust out the kettle. “Make it hot.” 

With a snort, Zuko took the kettle and held it in his hands. He took in a breath and Katara watched his shoulders expand. As he let it out, his breath was hot and caressed her bare arms. And the metal kettle started to tick. 

“This room always makes me think of winter.” He said.

Katara scoffed and sat down on a nearby stool. “Winter gets a lot colder here.”

“I’m not here... in the winter.” Zuko added hastily. “I live in the Fire Nation.”

“Oh.” Katara sat up a little straighter and looked away. The silence stretched between them, only filled by the sounds of heating water.

Chewing on the inside of her lip, Katara looked at Zuko again. He was looking everywhere but at her. He looked anxious.

“I guess that’s why Sokka wouldn’t tell me anything.” Katara finally said. Zuko jumped a little and met her gaze.

“Well, that and other things.” He said. Before Katara could ask, Zuko set the kettle down on the hotplate and went rummaging through the dishes next to the sink. He found a teapot and took it with the kettle back to the front.

As he made tea, Katara stood next to Sokka. He had pulled out from somewhere his flower blueprints and some photographs of individual flowers. Everything was blue or white.

Katara shivered again.

“So why is- you.” Sokka fumbled and put the period to his sentence firmly in place. Both he and Zuko went wide-eyed, and Zuko stared pointedly at him. 

Sokka cleared his throat and shifted around some of his pictures.

“You’re a summer baby, why is your theme Winter Wonderland?” He asked. Zuko doled out teacups, and Katara thought he was avoiding eye contact.

“Ty Lee thought it was a good idea and Azula liked it, which means my father insisted.” He answered.

“Which one is your sister?” Katara asked. She continued when Zuko blinked at her. “Or do you have more than one?”

“No, I just have the one. Azula is my younger sister. Ty Lee is her friend.” He answered. Katara tried to remember the first name he mentioned. It eluded her, despite the word macaron repeating in her head.

An alarm sounded and Zuko pulled his phone out of his pocket.

“Shoot, I gotta go. Are this week’s flowers ready?” He asked. Sokka put his arms out, affronted.

“Do I look like I run a shoddy establishment?” He questioned.

This week’s flowers were orange and pink. Seeing the clusters of them in the van made Katara think of sorbet. They looked like the sunset but she could only taste cold sweetness.

Chapter Text

True to his word, Zuko showed up to help that night.

He brought dinner and they all ate as Sokka laid out his schematics. To keep them from being thrown out, he always made each bouquet with the intention of being broken down at the end of the week. Each of the massive vases held six or seven smaller bunches that the Jasmine Dragon staff could easily take home.

His idea for the centerpieces were the same. The wealthy people likely to be in attendance wouldn’t be interested, but Sokka had a waste not, want not mentality all the time. This meant that he wanted to keep the blooms about the same height, despite also designing a tiered centerpiece. Altogether, the effect would be snow falling at each table. The blue flowers were picked as accents to make the white glow. 

Both Katara and Zuko were impressed. Sokka was a little offended that they didn’t assume he was brilliant already. 

First they started by collecting all of the flowers and laying out the groups of them. Detangling the flowers was difficult and Katara laughed as she watched Zuko swear over some blue hyacinth. After that, Sokka went out to the alley to build his display structure while Katara and Zuko were on thorn duty. They sat together clipping thorns into a large bucket in relative silence, listening to his phone run through some playlist. 

“If your sister decided on your flowers, what kind would you have wanted? If you had gotten to pick.” Katara asked. Zuko shrugged and focused on his clipping.

“Flowers aren’t really a thing for me.” He answered.

“Is tea your thing?” 

“Tea is most certainly my uncle’s thing, not mine.” 

Katara laughed but watched his hands out of the corner of her eye. He wasn’t moving as quickly as Sokka, but he was certainly more capable with the clippers than she had been at first. His snips moved in quick succession down the stem until he got the last one. Then he set the flower aside and picked one up off his lap. 

“So what is?” Katara asked, looking back down at her own flowers.

“Theatre.” Zuko answered simply. Her head shot up in shock.

“Are you an actor?” She demanded. Zuko laughed and finished a flower.

“Absolutely not. My father would have actually killed me.” He said and paused. “Well, tried again at least.”

“What?” Katara exclaimed. Zuko flinched and set his hands in his lap with a sigh.

“Sorry. I forget not everyone has my sense of humor.” He said.

“Look, the biggest problem is that I know a lot about you but I still have no idea who you are. And then you make that kind of comment?” Katara retorted. 

Zuko nodded absently and then shook detris off his right hand before sticking it out.

“Hi, I’m Zuko.” He said. Katara looked at his hand and then slowly took it, giving him a confused look.

“Hi.” She said, dragging the word out. “I’m Katara.” 

Zuko shook her hand and then released it, going back to the flowers.

“So what’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?” He asked. Katara laughed now and also resumed her work.

“Working a bit with my brother until I disappear into medical school.” She said. “What about you?”

“Helping out a friend because my family is mostly filled with jerks and he runs a flower business with only his sister to temporarily help.” Zuko answered.

“Family can be jerkish sometimes.” Katara replied. “So Zuko, what do you like to do for fun?”

“I go to shows when I can. I have a fondness for local troupes and really awful productions.” He said.

“I’ve never been to anything other than a movie.”

“Oh you have to see a play at least once. There’s a really good one here in Ba Sing Se.” 

“Would you take me?” Katara asked. Zuko stopped and looked at her. 

“Ah, Katara, I-” He stammered and Katara shook her head, turning her attention to the flowers.

“I just meant as friends, you know. It’s not a big deal.” She said.

“No, Katara it’s just…” Zuko made a strangled sound and Katara looked at him. “Why am I so bad at this?”

“Talking to people?” Katara asked.

“Talking to pretty women.” Zuko replied.

Katara felt a surge of warmth and now Zuko looked away.

“Hey, this isn’t a meet-cute. Get back to work.” Sokka yelled as he walked up to them. As he got closer, Katara leaned forward and scooped up a handful of thorns before tossing them at him. Sokka sputtered, spitting out the tiny points and Zuko laughed.

He had a nice laugh.

Chapter Text

They worked together every night of the week. Zuko always brought food and the three of them chatted together as they worked. At a certain point, they had to stop and seriously discuss transportation. This resulted in Zuko and Sokka taking measurements inside of the van but arguing about what the dimensions meant. 

Katara laughed and sat back, watching them.

When it was all done and staged, the backroom looked like a construction zone. Foam blocks and partially built wooden structures covered almost every available surface. The refrigerators were stuffed with flowers. Leaves were stuck to everything. 

“Tomorrow we’ll be closed, by the way.” Sokka said as he came out of the workroom with three bottles of iced tea. They sat in the alley, still damp from their cold and waterlogged activity. Zuko had pilfered the milk crates from a restaurant a few doors down and Katara didn’t even care about the hard plastic digging into her backside. 

“Do we get to stay for the party?” Katara asked.

“I usually hang around and snag something from the catering.” Sokka said and drank his tea.

“As long as you guys have a nice outfit to change into, I think you could even manage to be with the other guests.” Zuko said.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea.” Sokka said.

“Why not?” Katara asked.

“Don’t worry, he’s not coming anymore. Something came up.” Zuko replied.

“Who’s not going to be there?” Katara questioned.

“My father.” Zuko said and chugged most of his tea. After letting out a small gasp, he smiled at her. “He usually does that. He’ll say he’ll be somewhere to stress people out and then cancel last minute.” 

“Full offense, your dad sounds like a jerk.” Katara said. Zuko gave a short laugh and Sokka snorted.

“They’re all jerks. Jerkbenders, every single one of ‘em.” He said.

“So how nice of an outfit are we talking here?” Katara asked.

The next day Zuko didn’t show up to help. While she understood, Katara still felt a little disappointed; she had wanted his opinion on her dress before they left. Still, Sokka’s girlfriend Suki showed up to assist and gave her seal of approval. Because Katara was driving separately, she took everyone’s garment bags, laying them out on her back seat as gently as Sokka did his flowers. 

When they got to the Jasmine Dragon, Zuko was still nowhere to be found.The party planner - a very severe woman in a well-tailored tux - showed them where to put the flowers. And while she herself didn’t help, she certainly allocated enough hired hands to do so. Again, Katara was tasked with filling the vases and making sure water didn’t spill. It created a little cognitive dissonance in her, knowing that in a few short weeks she’d be learning how to use her bending to save people’s lives. But for now, she was cleaning up spills. 

Once everything was set up, they all stood for a moment in quiet awe. The tablecloths were a deep blue and with the predominance of white in the flower arrangements, the snowfall effect played out over individual seas. Crystal glasses glinted under the light and the pristine dishes  were smooth tundras. Katara shivered in spite of herself.

“Awesome. Now let’s get changed.” Sokka said. 

Katara gathered the bags from her car and went with Suki to the restroom. She had expected tight quarters, even with the teahouse’s obviously elite interior. But the restroom was nothing like the front of the business. There were only a few stalls, yes, but it was portioned off into two rooms; the first had a couch on one side and a vanity on the other.

“For all the fixtures, this is actually an old school style.” Suki said as she saw Katara take it all in. “This is why they were called restrooms after all.” 

The stalls were spacious and each one equipped for a number of mobility needs. But it was still a toilet stall, so Katara stood on her shoes as she changed out of her clothes.

The dress was from her Gran-Gran’s wedding; it had been a stroke of luck that Zuko’s party was basically Water Tribe themed. The skirt of her dress was almost the same shade of blue as the tablecloths and the bodice was white lace. It had been impossible to zip up at the wedding and Katara flailed about just as uselessly this time.

“Need a hand?” Suki asked from the next stall.

“Yeah, let me just get my shoes on.” Katara said.

The restroom door opened and Katara heard two women enter, talking.

“So what?” One woman, sounding bored, asked.

“So,” The other said, sounding irritated. “I just don’t know why he always does that.” 

“They’re friends.” The first woman said.

“And we’re always so happy to see you.” Suki called out. Katara gathered up her things and opened the stall door.

“Oh great, he invited more commoners.” The first woman remarked. 

Suki came out of her stall and went to the sinks, placing her clothes down.

“Nice to see you too Azula. Mai.” Suki said and went back to Katara. “Hey, hold your hair up.” 

Katara held her clothes in one arm and lifted up her hair. She briefly examined the two new women, put off by the hostility. One of them looked a little like Zuko, mostly in the eyes, and she assumed this was his sister Azula. The other was a tall woman with long straight hair. Maybe Mai.

“I’m Katara.” Katara interjected as Suki zipped up her dress.

“I don’t think I care.” Probably Azula said. 

“That’s prissy princess Azula and the other one is Mai.” Suki said. “Now do me.” 

Katara turned around and zipped up Suki’s gown. It was an evergreen color, simply cut but it looked very stylish.

“That’s a great dress.” Katara said.

“Thanks. Zuko and Sokka go out a lot when he’s in town, so I had to get some adequate attire.” Suki said with faux-bitterness. She turned and flashed Katara a quick smile. 

“Great, can you get out now? Your bargain bin dresses are giving me a headache.” Azula said and pushed between the two of them. Suki rolled her eyes but started walking out. 

“I can’t believe they’re related.” Katara said as they exited. Guests had started to show up and now a few people eyed them awkwardly. 

“Come on.” Suki whispered and headed to the side exit where Katara’s car was parked. They walked out and found Sokka standing next to the open passenger door, talking to Zuko. Both of them were in tuxes and looked pretty comfortable in them. 

Katara tried to remember when Sokka had gotten used to wearing a suit. Clearly it had only happened after he met Zuko.

“Well don’t you boys clean up nice.” Suki said, her Kyoshi accent slipping out purposefully. Sokka kissed her cheek and took her clothes, tossing them unceremoniously into the backseat. 

“I’d compliment you but you always look radiant.” Sokka told her. Zuko smiled and looked at Katara.

“That dress is beautiful.” He said. Katara glanced down and put her hands on the bottom half of her bodice.

“Thanks. I got it for my grandmother’s wedding.” She replied.

“Hey, so people have shown up and your sister is here.” Suki said, linking her arm through Sokka’s and leaning on him.

“Well we certainly don’t need her holding court right now.” Zuko grumbled. “Alright, I guess it’s time for me to go in.”

Sokka shut the door of the car and they all walked back in. 

It only took a few moments for people to notice but once they did, they swarmed around Zuko. Clearly he was well known, and it obviously wasn’t for his uncle’s teashop. But whatever was going on back in the Fire Nation, he didn’t talk about it and Katara always felt weird when she was about to search him up online. Anything she found she knew wouldn’t be congruent with the man she had spent every night this week working on flower displays. It was bad enough to see him like this, dressed so formally and chatting up equally lavish looking people when just last night he had been covered in tiny statice flowers.

“So what’s supposed to happen?” Katara asked.

“Well, there will probably be a tea demonstration. I wouldn’t be surprised if Azula did it. And then lunch, where a ton of people will drink too much and make speeches. Then someone will push the tables out of the way and dancing will start, regardless of what time it is.” Sokka answered.

“That seems like a lot.” Katara replied.

“Is it really any different than what the rest of us do?” Suki asked.

“But everything is so nice.” Katara countered.

“That doesn’t mean anything to these people. Just wait till you see how much they rack up in damages.” Sokka said.

After about thirty minutes of greeting, an older man stepped onto a raised stage. He tapped the microphone to get everyone’s attention and Zuko took the opportunity to weave through the crowd back to them.

“Hey.” He whispered and squeezed Katara’s shoulder as he stepped behind her. Blushing, she became acutely aware of his presence behind her right shoulder as he stood next to Sokka. 

“Thank you everyone for coming out to celebrate my nephew’s birthday. It is an honor to be surrounded by so many friends, and by such delicious tea!” The man said and the audience laughed politely. “Because the two greatest joys in my old age are tea and my niece and nephew, I am delighted to invite out my niece Azula to perform a traditional tea ceremony.”

The audience applauded and Zuko scoffed. Everyone started to shuffle around, taking a seat as Azula and a few others brought cases and equipment to the stage. Azula had changed into a traditional kimono and she looked serene. It was a shocking change from their interaction in the restroom. 

The ceremony was artfully done and Zuko went forward to receive the cup his sister had prepared. More tea was made and people started to socialize. Other performers came to the stage to play instruments and servers brought out small dishes, all which became background noise.

Zuko kept having to get up and circulate among the guests, but ultimately returned to their table to eat a few appetizers and drink some tea. By the time lunch was served, Katara was already full. But this time, the alcohol was poured and the room started to grow warmer and louder. 

Stopping back at their table, Katara handed him a cold glass of water, which he took gratefully.

“All the old guys are eyeing the microphone.” Suki said, leaning across the table toward Zuko.

“Probably trying to figure out how to suck up to my father while telling me off.” He replied, glancing over at the stage.

“Well that just means someone has to get up there first to set the tone.” Sokka said and stood.

“Sokka, do not tell them-” Zuko started but Sokka cut him off.

“I will confess my love to you as many times as it takes Zuko.” He said. Zuko put his face in his hands and groaned while Katara patted his back.

The microphone whined as Sokka twisted it and most of the audience watched him.

“Good afternoon everyone. My name is Sokka and some of you know me as That Native Boy Who Sells Flowers. Anyway, I just wanted to be the first to say, Zuko, you are the most handsome Fire Nation guy I’ve ever met and I hope you never change. Happy birthday you magnificent sunbeam you.” Sokka said and raised his beer glass. A few voices, most likely belonging to the younger members of the crowd, cheered as Sokka took a drink. 

As Sokka made it to the table, Zuko was rubbing his chin and shaking his head. Sokka just slapped his back and sat down.

“Do you like getting me in trouble?” Zuko asked, gesturing with his hand in the empty air. 

“What’s the worst that can happen? You get another scar?” Sokka said and then made a dismissive sound. “You’ll be fine champ.” 

There was a tapping on the microphone and they looked over again. Mai stood there, holding her champagne glass and leaning over the microphone gracefully. 

“Thank you Sokka, I’m always glad to know my boyfriend is in such safe hands when he’s away from home.” Mai began. Katara felt her stomach sink and she sat up in her chair. Boyfriend?

“Zuko, you know I’m not one for grand speeches. But I’m here, which is saying something. Happy birthday.” Mai continued and raised her glass. “To the Fire Lord.” 

The entire audience and Zuko raised their glasses and replied, in near perfect unison, “To the Fire Lord.” 

Zuko looked uneasy and didn’t turn as he took a drink. Good thing, as Katara’s hands had turned to lead and she hadn’t been able to move them.

Chapter Text

The next pick-up day, Katara woke up and didn’t want to get out of bed. The days after Zuko’s birthday party had been weird, to say the least. When she pictured him bringing in cookies, or clipping thorns, it was impossible to then imagine him standing next to that woman, Mai.

It didn’t occur to her that incessantly thinking about Zuko was the actual problem.

She just didn’t like it when things didn’t fit, she supposed. While Mai hadn’t been outright rude to her and Suki, she certainly wasn’t the type to be nice. Zuko was nice.

Putting her hands on her face, Katara groaned.

Katara stopped for coffee on the way in, wanting to avoid the whole tea situation. When she got to the flower shop, she didn’t see Sokka’s car. Slightly concerned, Katara got out and jingled her keys in her free hand.

There was a note taped to the back door.

The tape pulled free with a pop and she opened the hastily folded note while sipping her coffee.

Kat- Had to leave for a slight emergency. Can’t text, running to car. Close up after Z gets flowers. Love, Sokka.

Frowning, Katara put the note in her mouth and used her key to get into the shop. It was dark in the back room and the hum of the air conditioner sounded like the call of an ocean animal. Putting down her keys and coffee, Katara fished her phone out of her purse and unlocked it as she walked to the front.

What’s going on? Call me.

Katara shed her purse by the workroom door and slipped her phone into her pocket. As she turned on the light and walked to the counter, she finally pulled the note from her lips. She read it again, hoping that if it were something serious he would have let her know.

With the shop being quieter, Katara could hear the van pull into the alley. She sighed and went back through the workroom, getting to the door just as Zuko hopped out.

“I just got here and Sokka is out for,” Katara paused as she thought. “Something.”

“Is everything okay?” Zuko asked, walking to the door. Katara shrugged.

“Honestly, I don’t know. I’m waiting for him to call.” She replied. Zuko nodded and rubbed the back of his neck. He started to say something just as Katara turned to the back door.

“It looked like a small order though. We should be okay.” She said.

“Yeah. After how much the party was, Uncle felt like scaling back a bit this week.” Zuko said. They walked inside and Katara helped Zuko with the vases, filling them as he went back inside and to grab the flowers. It didn’t take long at all to get everything loaded and secured.

“Hey, since the shop will be closed, do you have some free time this afternoon?” Zuko asked and slid the van door shut.

“I mean, yeah. Why?” Katara asked.

“There’s a new exhibit at the art museum downtown. I’ve been wanting to go but I need someone to take with me so I can lecture them about art styles.” Zuko answered.

“Okay, but I need to go grocery shopping first.” Katara said, shifting on her feet.

“Can I get your number?” Zuko asked. Katara bit the inside of her lip and nodded, watching as Zuko pulled out his phone from his pocket. She took it, just entering her number to let him add her name. When he got it back, his fingers moved deftly over the screen.

Her own phone dinged in her pocket.

“Alright, text me when you’re done?” He asked, replacing his phone and smiling at her. Katara’s fingers stretched wide for a second down by her leg. She nodded.

“Yeah.” She replied and Zuko’s smile widened briefly. She watched him get into his van and salute her before driving off.

Katara watched the van disappear around the corner and went back inside to lock up.


“Everything’s fine.” Sokka reassured her as Katara cradled her phone between her cheek and her shoulder. She scanned her groceries at the self checkout and glared down at her milk carton.

“You still haven’t told me what happened and it’s irritating me.” She hissed into the phone.

“Only because you’ll be mad.” Sokka replied.

“I’m already mad.” Katara jammed her card into the payment pad and entered her PIN.

“I went back to the flower market because I heard that Jimmy’s friend had a source coming in from the eastern provinces with a small shipment of panda lilies. You know how much I can sell these babies for?” Sokka explained in a rush.

Picking up her tote and sliding it over a shoulder, Katara moved her phone to her free hand.

“You ran out and couldn’t call me for panda lilies?” She retorted. After a brief pause, she continued. “Wait, you got them?”

“Three-quarters of the shipment! I couldn’t afford all twelve.”

Katara nodded to herself as she exited the store and went out to her car. “Are you going back to the shop?”

“Absolutely not.” Sokka answered firmly. “I don’t want to get robbed.”

“How cutthroat is the flower business?” Katara unlocked her car and placed her groceries in the backseat. All of Sokka’s clothes from the party were still in there; luckily the summer heat baked away any smell and now they were just limp.

“The best flowers bloom in blood.” Sokka said with theatrical menace. He cleared his throat and went on. “But seriously, there are a lot of people in the area who would want to move these. I’m going to try and find a buyer today.”

“Make sure to take Suki with you.” Katara said and got into the driver’s seat, immediately turning over the engine to get the A/C started.

“Hey, I am fully capable of protecting myself,” Sokka said. “But yes, I will be bringing Suki.”

Katara snorted and said her goodbyes before leaving the grocery store parking lot. While she waited at the side street, waiting for a pocket to open in the cross traffic, Katara chewed the inside of her cheek.

“Okay Booble, text Zuko.” She said and turned.


Katara waited outside of the museum and stared up at the large posters strung up across the face of the building. There were advertisements for the exhibit Zuko had been talking about and it looked fairly interesting. However, after standing in the afternoon sun, Katara was mostly looking forward to air conditioning.

“Have you been waiting long?” Zuko’s voice came up behind her and Katara turned. The lack of visible sweat on him made him seem cool, and Katara shivered at the thought.

“Yes, can we go in now?” She replied hastily. Distressed, Zuko walked quickly to the museum steps. They rushed to the ticket booth and Zuko bought two entrance passes. It being the beginning of the week and with little activity at such a hot hour, Katara supposed there weren’t many people staffed. Unsurprisingly, the ticket salesperson also punched their passes.

“Here you go.” Zuko said, handing Katara her pass. Her fingers brushed against his hand; he was cooler than she.

“You’re lucky, we’re getting the vents fixed so we’ll be closed the rest of the week.” The woman in the ticket booth said.

“The vents?” Katara repeated.

“Yeah, the air conditioning went out on us this morning. We got out some industrial fans but that’s just to get us through today. Enjoy!” The woman said.

Katara looked reproachfully at Zuko, who looked decidedly away from her.

The museum itself was grand, with ceilings that towered over her as practically far away as the sky. The stone around her was cool and offered some relief from the heat; the biggest problem was the lack of air circulating. She could hear various fans humming away like a hybrid of cicadas and jet engines. Just a constant, irritating wash of white noise.

“Have you ever been to Omashu?” Zuko asked. Katara shook her head and Zuko started walking to the side gallery.

“I’ve wanted to go see the cave there.” He added.

“The Cave of Two Lovers?” Katara asked.

“Yeah. Do you know the legend?”

“No, it’s just what the posters said.”

“Oh.” Zuko looked momentarily dumbfounded and they walked into the gallery in silence. There was a massive box fan at the door, angled to blow air into the room. Two large oscillating fans were standing like sentries at either end; both of them looked like they could take down a child if they fell.

The art on the walls, however, was simply breathtaking.

Done in a traditional style, watery brush strokes moved across multiple large canvases.

“Oma and Shu belonged to two different villages who had always fought each other. The war raged on for so long because a mountain separated them, making it difficult for either side to claim victory.” Zuko said as they stopped in front of the first canvas. As they moved around, he narrated the story. How the two lovers met atop the mountain, how they learned earthbending from the badgermoles to make a maze of tunnels, and how Shu was killed in the war between their homes.

As Zuko related Oma’s grief and how she used her earthbending, something the others had never seen another human being do, Katara felt goosebumps ripple over her skin and tears stung her eyes.

Finally, Omashu was created and an entire city-kingdom lived peacefully, laying on the foundation of stones carved out by a grieving woman.

Sniffling, Katara dabbed her nose with the back of her hand.

Zuko looked at her and then glanced around the room. “The whole exhibit is about them. Want to see the other pieces?”

They walked through a few more galleries with Zuko in fact talking about art styles and historical periods. Artist names popped up as frequently as place names and Katara stopped trying to discern the two types.

“Are you sure art isn’t your thing?” Katara asked at one point. Zuko laughed but didn’t respond.

After making it through four rooms, Katara was hot and tired. She said as much to Zuko and he turned about, looking around the room.

“Look, there’s a dark room there. We can at least cool down while I pull a map up on my phone.” He said, pointing to a door that was propped open across from them.

Katara looked in and saw paint cans in the dim light.

“It doesn’t look like this room’s finished.” She said.

“Want to go somewhere else?” Zuko asked.

“No. It has a bench. None of these other rooms have had a place to sit.” Katara said, feeling her feet start to throb as she stood still.

“Okay.” Zuko replied and they both entered. Zuko held out his phone with the flashlight on and they saw that this exhibit was far from being done. Drop cloths were haphazardly draped over painting supplies and a large ladder leaned against a wall. A push broom and large dust mop rested against the door frame and they jostled as Katara stepped in, pushing the door in a bit.

As she moved to sit on the bench, Zuko paced around the room, holding up his phone.

“I cannot get a signal.” He said. Katara watched as he stretched himself upward, leaning precariously over piles of hidden tools and paint to point his phone at the top of each wall. Noticing the lack of a tremble, Katara realized he must be very limber.

“Does this place not have wifi?” Katara asked, now taking her own phone out. There was a loud wooden clatter and the room darkened, causing her screen to illuminate a bit more.

Then there was the sound of metallic clatter.

“Well, that’s not ideal.” Zuko said.

Katara stared at the x over her bars on her cell phone screen.

“Zuko.” She said.

“Yes.”

“Did you knock over the brooms?”

A hesitation. “Yes.”

“And it closed the door?”

“Mmm.”

“And it’s locked?”

Silence.

“Zuko!” Katara whirled around and saw Zuko standing at the door, both hands wrapped around the doorknob.

“I’m sorry!” He said.

“We need to get out of here! What if they close up and we’re stuck in here all week?” Katara asked, panicked.

“Look, that won’t happen. If it, uh, if it comes down to it, uh,” Zuko let go of the doorknob and started pacing in front of the door.

“Can’t you freeze the hinges or something?” He asked.

“This place is too dry! Where am I supposed to get the water from?” Katara asked. Zuko, his hand hovering in the air over his hair, stopped and looked at her.

Katara recoiled, blushing. Seeing her reaction, Zuko held up his hands, blinding her with the flashlight.

“No! Oh no, I’m sorry. No, I didn’t mean, I’m sorry. Katara, I thought.” Zuko walked briskly to her and she swatted at him.

“Turn that stupid thing off before it drains your battery.” She snapped. Zuko obliged and spun a flame from his fingers, holding it in the palm of his hand.

“I was just trying to figure out how much we’d have to, I don’t know, spit on it. But that was also a stupid idea.” He said. Katara gaped at him, dumbfounded, before the corners of her mouth started to pull upwards and she laughed.

Chuckling, Zuko moved around and sat next to her, finally running his free hand through his hair.

“How are you so dumb?” Katara asked through her laughter.

“Azula is the prodigy. I was just lucky to be born first.” Zuko remarked. The bittersweetness in his voice stopped her mirth. Looking at him, she noticed how the shadows from the fire made his face look thinner.

“You’ve got that kind of family huh?” Katara questioned. Zuko nodded.

“Is that why you’re with Mai?” She went on. Zuko faced her, looking confused.

“What do you mean?”

Oh spirits he’s with her by choice. Katara thought and was glad that the dark room hid the tells of her embarrassment.

“It’s just, you two seem pretty different.” She clarified. Zuko sighed and focused on the flame. He started to fidget, shaping it with both hands.

“We didn’t use to be. I was just as emotionally drab as she is. Then this happened,” Zuko said and gestured to his face. “And then the end of the war. I don’t know.” His hands returned to the flame and he pulled on it, making the orange ball grow larger. “I wanted to look forward to things and enjoy them, the way my uncle enjoys his tea.”

At the mention of the war, Katara’s throat dried and she shifted away from him. Sensing the movement, Zuko leaned over a bit to look at her.

“Are you okay?” He asked.

Katara nodded; she balled one hand into a fist on the bench, the other went to the necklace sitting snug at her throat.

“I lost a lot in the war.” She replied, her voice husky.

“Sokka told me about it. I’m sorry for your loss and, well,” Zuko suddenly sounded tense. “I know you might not want to hear it from the enemy but, I lost people I loved too.”

Another question jumped up from her chest but Katara caught it in her teeth, biting down and catching the tip of her tongue with it. He was as old as Sokka and would have been that young during the war. But they had both been young when they had done what they did.

And so Katara couldn’t bring herself to ask because she didn’t want to know the answer.

“You’re not the enemy Zuko.” She said.

“Well, I did get us locked in here and we might die.” He replied. Katara huffed out a breath that might have been a laugh and stood. Walking slowly to the opposite wall, she squinted at the paint.

“I think something’s here. Bring the light over.” She said. Zuko walked over and Katara stepped back as the image expanded in the light.

“It’s the curse.” Zuko said.

“What curse?” Katara asked in alarm.

“The tunnels the lovers made were created to entrap those that would follow them. Basically, it says that you will be trapped if you don’t trust in love.” He said.

“So how do you trust in love?” Katara asked. Zuko frowned as he thought, his gaze lingering on the large painting before trickling down to the floor.

“The rest of the myth talks about how the love is the brightest in the dark. How in the worst of times, the two found the greatest love.” He said.

Katara looked at the painting. Two figures knelt across from each other, kissing. In the middle of the war, far below the earth, literally in the most impossible place, two people were free to love each other.

“Or.” Katara started. Zuko faced her and she turned to him. “Or we just remember that badgermoles are blind.”

“And?” Zuko asked. Silently, Katara stepped forward and placed her hands on the backs of Zuko’s. Rolling his fingers inward, he extinguished the flame and they stood in darkness.

His hands were warm.

“Look.” He whispered. Unable to see him, Katara still turned around. The open room seemed vast, but a faint spill of green made her look up. Dots like hanging crystal, glowing in green light, illuminated a path. It ended at the locked door, but began behind the ladder.

They shuffled slowly to the ladder and pulled it past the edges of the green path. Their eyes, having adjusted to the faint light, picked up the lines of a door in the edge of their vision. Zuko pried it open, disrupting more paint cans, and they were suddenly in an alcove. A man coming out of the bathroom across from them jumped at their sudden appearance before scowling at them and walking off.

Sheepish, Zuko and Katara hurried out, closing the door behind them.

“You owe me lunch.” Katara said. Zuko laughed and rubbed the back of his head.

“Deal.”

Chapter Text

The restaurant they ended up in was one Katara would never have chosen on her own. The prices were just a bit too high for her to justify a casual meal but not over the threshold that would elevate it to a special occasion type of thing. 

So it meant there were a lot of wealthy people looking to go somewhere low-key while a number of young people had first dates.

Zuko regarded the menu thoughtfully, as if taking the cuisine here seriously. He certainly didn’t mind eating take-out, as they had done while putting together the centerpieces, but Katara assumed he was used to better food. 

She ordered a half soup, half sandwich, while Zuko settled on some chimeric salad. It would probably have more topping than lettuce, but whatever made people feel healthy she supposed. 

After ordering, both Zuko and Katara’s phones went off with a short alarm. They both jumped a bit but looked at the screen. Zuko was surprised while Katara frowned.

“So they finally found the Avatar.” He said. “That’s good.”

Katara gave a small, undignified grunt as she put her phone back in her purse. “She would’ve been helpful earlier.”

“Well, the war did break out because of Avatar Aang’s death. I don’t see what help she could’ve been. Especially considering the swamp is in the Earth Kingdom.” Zuko countered, putting down his phone. 

“I didn’t even know there were Waterbenders outside of the Poles.” Katara admitted. 

“It must’ve been very lonely for you.” Zuko said, placing his phone face down on the table. 

Katara raised an eyebrow.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Sokka said you were the only Waterbender in the South Pole.” 

“You know, it’s kind of sucky that you know all this stuff about me and my family while I know very little about you and yours.” 

Zuko looked stunned and leaned back in his seat.

“Uhhhh…” He stammered, unable to find the words to continue.

He was saved by their server bringing along their lunch. Katara was casual about it all and took her plate while Zuko tried to divert the energy, being overly bright toward the server. 

When the man left, however, Katara turned her cool gaze upon him.

“I don’t need to know all of your secrets Zuko, I just want to know who you are.” She said.

“You know I like art.” Zuko retorted. Katara gave him a disapproving look and he unfolded his napkin.

“I don’t talk about my family. Sokka only knows because he’s a close friend and I trust him.” Zuko said, smoothing the napkin over his lap.

“Don’t you trust me?” Katara asked.

“You keep secrets of your own Katara.” Zuko replied quickly and she froze. He held his hands up, halting the conversation.

“I don’t need to know all of yours either. But,” He lowered his hands and picked up his fork. “I’ll tell you about my family.” 

“My family is,” Zuko began. “Political.” He stabbed at his salad, which did contain more toppings than lettuce, but shifted the food around for a moment. 

“That explains your birthday party.” Katara said.

“And wasn’t that something?” Zuko replied, sounding tired. “It’s always a thing since, well, my father is the second son. He tried to curry my grandfather’s favor over my uncle for years, and despite achieving more than my uncle, my father was always passed over.” 

“That’s unfortunate.” Katara said but leaned back as Zuko pointed his loaded fork at her.

“Don’t. He deserves no such kindness or pity.” He said forcefully. Katara rolled her shoulders back in a gesture of surrender and Zuko ate some of his salad.

“My father caused a lot of pain in his quest for power. He,” Zuko halted and looked at his silent phone. “When my grandfather died, he finally took over as heir and pushed my uncle out of the picture. And then he started to bully the rest of his family.”

“Your father was the one who burned you.” Katara stated. Zuko didn’t look surprised that she had pieced it together, only exhausted. He was looking tired more often lately.

“I said something I shouldn’t have and I was punished for it.” He replied. “I ended up living with my uncle here in Ba Sing Se for the rest of high school and college.” 

“So you’ve moved back with your father?” Katara questioned.

“After the war ended and everything settled down back in the Fire Nation, I was ordered back.” Zuko gave a half-hearted laugh. “I am my father’s heir, whether he likes it or not.” 

“Does he not want you to be?”

“Azula is much more competent than I am.” 

“Azula is fierce, but she’s not good with people. Whatever you’re next in line for, if it has anything to do with people’s livelihoods, I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her.” Katara said. 

Zuko laughed, choking on his salad and ended up in a coughing fit. Katara used her bending to move water from her glass into his own and he sucked down some liquid to clear his throat. 

“Thanks.” He said, wiping his right eye.

“So why not just give it to Azula anyway?” Katara asked. His face confirmed her suspicions; he wasn’t being honest.

“No one wants it to become a habit that the second born inherits over the first. Especially not a woman when there’s an acceptable man with only minimal damage.” Zuko answered. 

“I don’t really understand the situation, but I’m sorry the pressure has been so rough. In the South Pole, it’s all about taking care of each other so the concept of succession doesn’t make sense.” Katara said. 

“Sokka told me that you lived with your grandmother?” Zuko asked and she nodded.

“Yeah, the Waterbenders of my tribe were part of the first wave. They fought in the front when the,” Katara paused and glanced at Zuko before stirring what remained of her soup. “When the eastern province of the Earth Kingdom was invaded. The rest of the willing adults went during the second part of the war. My mother was part of the nurse corp.” 

“What have you learned about the war?” Zuko asked. He sounded anxious and Katara sighed.

“Not much. History was only part of my gen-ed requirements and it’s not like the end of the war was that long ago. I know it started over fishing waters and ended over succession rights, somehow wrapping up the rest of the world in the middle.” She answered. Zuko looked pained but didn’t immediately continue. 

“But you fought in it, didn’t you?” He asked. Katara met his stare, unflinching.

“Didn’t you?” She asked in return.

They were quiet. 

The server returned, once again sparing them the awkwardness. This time, Katara let it go as Zuko requested the check and she ordered a soda to go. She went to the bathroom as he paid and when she returned, her soda was waiting for her. Zuko held his phone in his hands, fidgeting with it. 

“Zuko, it’s okay.” Katara said. He looked scared, his face pale and skin tight around his jaw. He nodded curtly.

“I’ll see you next week.” She added, lightly touching his arm as she moved past him.

“Katara.” He called out and she stopped, turning to him.

“I’m sorry.” He said. He was trying to cover a lot of ground with that apology and she gave him a small smile.

“I know.” She said and walked out of the restaurant. It was still blazingly hot.

Chapter Text

For two days, Katara tried to think about something else. Sokka didn’t ask about her trip to the museum or lunch with Zuko and she didn’t bring it up. Of course she had questions, but there was a certain reciprocity that came into play. If Sokka had told Zuko what they had done during the war, Zuko didn’t treat her differently because of it. And if he hadn’t said anything, then perhaps it was unfair to grill her brother about the actions of his politically connected friend. 

But it still nagged at the back of her mind. 

Political meant that he had to have been connected to the war. He was too young to have formally served, but it wasn’t beyond reason for someone to lie about their age. She and Sokka had done just that.

She still didn’t ask. If it was really something important, either Sokka or Zuko would have told her.

Of course they would have.

On the second day after her impromptu outing, Sokka invited her out.

“The summer is winding down and Zuko wants to take us out before you have to go.” He said. “And I’ve got some extra money to burn after selling some of those lilies.” He leaned in close to whisper the last part and Katara swatted him away with a laugh.

“You should reinvest and think about getting a bigger shop. You’d make more money doing bigger events, you know.” Katara said as she carefully clipped dead leaves off a spray of greenery filler. 

“I’d have to get actual employees and you know I can’t work with other people.” Sokka replied. He was wrapping bows around squat vases. Using flowers with broken stems or asymmetrical blossoms, Sokka made bouquets that were basically really pretty and really temporary paper weights. Lots of people got them for picnics to hold down napkins or paper plates. 

“You have to get help during love day and prom season.” Katara countered and Sokka grunted. 

“Anyway, that’s not the point. I just want to properly hang out with you before you fly off to med school.” He said. 

Katara wiped her clippers on her apron and set them down. The skin around her fingernails were stained green and leaf juice was stuck under her nail. It would always take a week or two after working in the flower shop for her hands to return to normal.

“I think I’ll pass tonight. But what about a family movie night tomorrow? There’s a couple of things that just hit Webflicks.” Katara said.

Sokka looked at her but didn’t say anything. She ignored him and his look, choosing to bunch up the greenery and look for any spots she missed. 

“Well we’re going for dinner if you change your mind.” Sokka said. Katara smiled at him as she moved to the refrigerator.

“I won’t.” She replied.

After making dinner, Katara sat cross-legged on her couch and flipped through her queue. With the announcement of finding Avatar Thuy, Webflicks was restreaming a documentary on the previous Avatars. It only went back to Avatar Yangchen, but to be fair, that was the earliest they had documented evidence of their histories. The first episode of the six part series was about the various creation myths that sparked the Avatar and was the only episode Katara had bothered to watch so far. What was interesting was how the series was narrated by Avatar Aang’s youngest son Tenzin; Katara liked his creaky old man voice. 

It was only as she skipped through the title cards that Katara realized there were now seven episodes. It looked like there was already something on the new Avatar and Katara looked at the same picture that had accompanied the article she saw at lunch with Zuko.

Thuy was thirteen years old and she looked slightly scared in the picture. Or it might have been discomfort as she was wearing a version of formal North Pole robes done in green. Two adults, probably her parents, stood behind her, still wearing the clothes common to the Swamp Tribe.

She was only a year younger than Katara had been when she and Sokka had gone out to search for their parents. She wondered which weight was the worse burden.

Still trying to decide what to watch, she briefly scrolled back to the episode on Avatar Roku. For some reason, his title card had him standing next to Fire Lord Sozin and Katara wondered what about her search history would make the Webflicks algorithm think she wanted to see that guy. 

Finally deciding on some trashy romcom, Katara settled back into the couch and ate under the light of her TV. It wasn’t a satisfying ending to her day but it was comfortable.

Not that she could shake the questions that clung to her, however. 

Katara washed up after the movie was over and looked at the clock in the kitchen. It wasn’t late and Sokka was probably still out with Zuko. Biting the skin at the corner of her thumb, Katara went for her phone and turned it on. There wasn’t a text from Sokka, but she did notice new pictures on his Clicktalk. Sure enough, he, Suki, and Zuko had gone from dinner to a bar downtown.

Flicking back to her home screen, Katara looked again at the time. Sokka was the one who had to wake up early; he made daily trips to the flower market at dawn to get the best flowers he could. Being up this late already meant that he wasn’t going to be sleeping, so tomorrow was going to be interesting. Yet as she weighed the cost of going out to still have to deal with her brother’s grump in the morning, Katara turned off her phone and walked away.

Zuko was hiding something, and it was probably as big as Katara’s own secret. 

Katara’s phone rang.

Frowning, she picked it back up and then jumped at seeing the name.

“Dad?” She asked, bringing the phone to her ear.

“Hey Kat. Sorry for calling so late, but I just got off the phone with Arnook.” Hakoda said. Katara could feel the blood rushing in her ears and Katara resumed biting her thumb.

“It’s not that late. What’s up?” She replied.

“You saw they found the Avatar?” Hakoda asked.

“Yeah. In the Swamp.”

“Perfect place for her, actually. I was so relieved to hear it.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

“Well Arnook wants to have a joint press conference. Get all three tribes together for a formal announcement of the Avatar.” Hakoda continued. 

“So what does that mean?” Katara asked, her anxiety growing. 

“He thinks it’s high time to make other announcements.” Hakoda said.

“Dad, now isn’t a good time. I’m about to start medical school and-” 

“Katara, you knew that wasn’t going to be the endgame. You have a responsibility to your people. A Waterbender is supposed to-”

“Dad, I cannot do this right now.” 

Hakoda sighed and Katara stayed quiet, slowing her breathing to not make a sound. 

“I can push it back, make it so that this is only about the Avatar. But Arnook wants to do something before she moves to Gaoling.” Hakoda said finally.

“What’s in Gaoling?” Katara asked.

“Her earthbending instructor. Apparently there’s a child in an underground earthbending competition that is complementary to Thuy’s style.” Hakoda replied. 

“Okay.” Katara said, unsure of what else to offer in that moment.

“Talk to your brother for me will you? I haven’t been able to get a hold of him.” 

“I will dad.” 

“I love you Katara.”

“I love you dad.”

After the screen turned off, Katara leaned against her sink. Looking out the window, she could see part of the waning moon. With a sigh, she unplugged her phone and grabbed her purse, slipping on her sandals as she made it to her front door.

The night was less hot, but the air felt sticky as everything cooled. It was enough though, and Katara drove around with her windows down, letting the wind tangle her hair. Her first impulse was to track down Sokka, but this was something she couldn’t share with him. Despite everything they had gone through together, there were things he wouldn’t understand.

Driving on autopilot, Katara found herself heading to the flower shop. Diverting slightly, Katara pulled into the only other place she knew.

The light in the front windows of the Jasmine Dragon was soft and homey. Pulling her knitted shawl tightly over her shoulders, Katara hoped she wasn’t as underdressed as she feared.

When she stepped into the lobby, she realized she was horrifyingly under-dressed.

The light and glamour of the place made her pause though, and she looked past the small host podium to the rest of the tea house. So many people, men and women both, were wearing traditional dress. The kimonos, hanboks, and banbi were plentiful among the tables of modern evening wear. 

Just as Katara turned to walk out, she heard someone call out.

“Ah, excuse me, but weren’t you here for my nephew’s birthday?”

Katara turned back and saw the older man who had spoken at Zuko’s party. She bowed politely.

“I was. My name is Katara.” She said in greeting.

“Sokka’s younger sister correct?” The man said. 

“Yes, sir.” Katara replied. The man laughed.

“Please, just call me Iroh. Are you looking for Zuko?” He asked. Katara shook her head and gripped the edges of her shawl.

“No, I know he’s out with my brother.” She replied. Iroh looked shocked.

“Are you here for tea then?” He questioned. Sheepish, Katara nodded.

“Yeah, but I don’t think I meet the dress code.” She answered.

“Nonsense. Tea is for everyone. Here, follow me.” Iroh started to walk into the main tea room and Katara followed, her head swiveling to look around without actually looking at anything. People did watch her and as she passed, she saw them start to whisper behind large sleeves. Or worse, behind the bouquets she and Sokka had made. 

Iroh led her through the main room and into the kitchen. A few of the kitchen staff greeted him and he waved as they continued on. Taking her up a staircase in the back, Katara could feel the change of space. The tea house was built to look traditional and served various tea styles. The kitchen, like the restrooms, were wholly modern. But up the creaky steps, Katara could smell dust and wood oil.

“This is my private tea room.” Iroh said as he opened a door at the top of the stairs. It looked like an office that had part of the space repurposed as a sitting area. Tatami took up half the space and a low table held a cleared pai sho board. The rest of the office just looked like a normal office; Katara could recognize the look of invoices and statements from the door. 

“What kind of tea do you prefer, Katara?” Iroh asked as he took off his shoes. Katara followed suit, sitting down to remove the guest slippers from their plastic wrap.

“To be honest, I don’t know much about tea. But since you made a whole business out of it, I’d love your recommendation.” She said. 

Iroh chuckled and went to a small kitchenette. He set about filing a kettle and lit an old brazier with his firebending. Katara knelt at the table, looking around the small room.

“So Katara, Sokka tells me you’re studying to be a doctor?” Iroh said as he shuffled over to the table with a full tray of small dishes. She helped him spread everything out before he got back up and went to the whistling kettle. 

“I am, well, I will be. In the fall.” Katara shifted some of the plates around. “Though I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish.” 

“Pardon me if this is indelicate, but is it the cost that worries you?” Iroh asked. Katara blushed and waved her hands in front of her face.

“No! Oh, no, that’s not it.” She said and calmed herself. “I just have some, family obligations.”

“Ah, those are hard to shoulder sometimes.” Iroh returned with tea and poured some out for them both. Katara felt herself shrink and she put her hands around her cup.

“Sorry. Zuko told me a bit about your family.” She said. To her surprise, Iroh laughed. 

“There is nothing to apologize for. My family is not the typical kind of family, and our struggles were much more drastic.” He said. 

“That sounds a bit much.” Katara said and lifted her cup. The scent was light and floral, and she could smell the heat of the water.

“Did Zuko not tell you I was a general in the Fire Nation army?” Iroh asked.

The tea spewed from Katara’s mouth. In a rush of motion, as Iroh lifted his arms to shield his face, Katara used one hand to catch the spray and the other to hold up her dropped cup. Dumping all the liquid back into the teacup, Katara fell onto her backside. 

The panic, fear, and anxiety swirled inside of Katara and she felt as if she were being dragged down into a whirlpool. But she could handle water; this was something else. 

“Where did you fight?” She asked. Her heart thumped in her chest and she worried Iroh could see the jump of it through her shirt. 

“I fought in the Yue province. I led the exiled forces.” Iroh replied calmly. Then he regarded her with a serious look.

“What about you?” He asked and Katara felt her body seize. 

The memories she had tried so hard to drown bobbed to the surface like dead seaweed. A tangle of rotted slime, it made Katara’s stomach turn. 

“I wasn’t a soldier.” Katara murmured.

“But you fought nonetheless.” Iroh said, his tone becoming more gentle. 

“I was at the North Pole and then travelled south, hitting a few prison camps.” Katara admitted and Iroh nodded.

“Part of the liberation group then?” He asked. Katara picked up her cup with purpose and shook her head. After crossing paths with Jet, she wanted nothing to do with the small liberation cells that dotted the Earth Kingdom. Now that sovereignty had been restored, she hoped he had managed to find something less destructive to do with his time.

“Sokka and I travelled with the Kyoshi Warriors. We were trying to find the Avatar halfway through the war.” Katara said. “We clearly failed.” 

“I wonder who her firebending teacher will be.” Iroh remarked casually, drinking his tea. 

“I’m not so certain it’ll be anyone from the royal schools.” Katara said and tried to relax. 

“How long do you think it will take to heal from the war?” Iroh asked.

“As in for you and I? Or the rest of the world?”

“What is the world if not the collective lives of the people?

“Hmmm.” Katara intoned and breathed in the steam from her tea. 

“It depends on proximity I guess. The Poles are going to be hurting for a while, but the Earth Kingdom interior is already back on its feet. I don’t know much about politics, but it’s not like we hear much about the Fire Lord here in Ba Sing Se.”  She said.

“But you are having tea with a Fire Nation general.” Iroh said.

“I’m not a typical Water Tribal.” Katara replied. “Plus, there’s nothing to gain from dealing with the past.” 

“I think you’ll find that the present doesn’t just come from the future, but is based in the past as well.” Iroh said. “The future rushes towards you, but only because the past pushes you along to meet it.” 

“Yeah, but I’m tired of all these allegories implying that I’m being forced into a future I don’t want after living through a past I hated. I think it’s time to bend the rules a bit.”

“I’m sure you’d be the one to bend the river of fate, Katara.”

“Because I’m a Waterbender?”

Iroh laughed and put a hand to his chest. “Ah, you caught me.”

Katara smiled and raised her teacup. “Thanks for the honest tea, General Iroh.” 

This bolstered Iroh’s laugh and Katara smiled. 

“I will just say this,” Iroh said as his laughter subsided. “Wisdom doesn’t just come with age, it comes with survival. I think if you let yourself, you could be very wise. I believe you have survived enough.” 

“Oh, are you pouring clarity now?” Katara quipped.

“Ah, you are worse than my nephew.” Iroh said.

“Thank you Iroh. But I should be getting back now.” Katara said and rose from the table. Iroh stood and went with her to the stairs.

“Feel free to come back any time. And don’t worry about your clothes; everyone else is already envious of your youth.” He said.

Katara snorted and wiggled her feet into her sandals. 

“Thank you for supporting my brother.” She said and bowed. Iroh bent slightly in return.

“Thank you for your friendship with my nephew.” He said.

Katara walked briskly down the stairs, listening to the sharp groans meet her feet with every step. The kitchen was quieting down and there were fewer people moving about. The tea house still seemed to have the same number of occupants, but Katara moved too quickly toward the entrance to really notice. 

It was only when she hit the sidewalk that she stopped to breathe. Looking up in the night sky, she could see the moon more clearly. The outline of the crescent was sharp, like someone had pared it away with a blade. 

The sight made her chest ache and her soul yearned for the ocean.

Her phone beeped and Katara startled at the sound. Pulling it out of her pocket, she saw a new message.

From Zuko.

The message was a picture of the moon and one simple line:

Doesn’t this look like the perfect place to sit and just watch the world turn?

Katara smiled but found tears in her eyes. Letting out a pained breath, Katara replied.

K: You are such a sap.

Z: I wish you had come out with us tonight.

K: I wasn’t really feeling it.

Z: Not feeling it or me?

K: Excuse???

Z: Sorry! I just meant after the lunch…

K: It’s fine Zuko. I just got a lot going on.

Z: Well did you want to hang out again? When you have less going on?

Katara walked down the sidewalk toward her car. A thought did run through her head and gave her pause. Zuko, for all that he implied, might be the best person to talk to about what was going on in her life. Then again, he could also be the exact opposite.

K: I don’t know. I’ll get back to you.

Z: Rain check, got it.

Sighing heavily, Katara made it to her car and unlocked the door. There was a certain sadness that hit her now and again that emptied her out and made her feel weightless. As she opened the car door, she almost felt like she was drifting up into the sky. It took the weight of her worries to keep her grounded.

Chapter Text

As she had feared, Sokka simply didn’t sleep that night. He made it to the flower market okay and Suki drove him to the shop. After making some last minute orders that were being picked up that day, he ended up falling asleep on his work counter. 

Suki got a blanket from her car and draped it over him as Katara made tea from some leftover bags Zuko had brought them. 

Since Suki lived off a pension from the Earth Kingdom, she often had free time and spent it at Sokka’s shop. When Katara was in school, Suki had been the one to run the front, and with Katara here, she took over making deliveries. So with Sokka sleeping off his night out, Suki resumed her place at the front counter while Katara retrieved orders and fixed what she could. 

Around lunchtime, Katara came out of the workroom and checked in with Suki.

“Is Sokka still passed out back there?” Suki asked.

“He’s like a wood toad. The cooler temperature has lowered his metabolic rate and he’s like, half hibernating.” Katara answered. 

“I told him it was a bad idea.” Suki said and stretched. It turned into a full body, jaw cracking yawn, and Katara hid hers behind a hand. 

“You were out just as late.” Katara said.

“I took a nap while he was at the market. And I’ve been sleeping between customers.” Suki replied. 

“Do you want to get lunch?” Katara asked.

“I ordered some food.” Suki said.

“Where-”

The door opened and Katara looked up as Suki smiled and waved. Zuko held up a takeout bag.

“I have supplied the vittles.” He said and walked over to place the bag on the counter.

“Thanks. I’m going to wake up Sokka.” Suki said and moved toward the workroom door. 

“You look bright eyed and bushy tailed.” Katara remarked as Zuko untied the bag and brought out various containers.

“I actually got some sleep since I don’t have a job.” He said.

“Deadbeat.” Katara said as she perused the various foodstuffs. She spotted a container of dumplings and tried to sneak them into her hands.

“So, did you enjoy the tea?” Zuko asked, stalling Katara’s progress.

“What?”

“My uncle says you two had tea last night.” 

The workroom door clattered open and Sokka shuffled out, the blanket wrapped around his shoulders. He looked like their grandmother.

“Oh so you wouldn’t come out with us but you found time to go to the Jasmine Dragon?” He asked accusingly. Katara rolled her eyes and was bolder about her stealing all the dumplings.

“I wanted to get out of the apartment for a little bit. Not get into whatever it was that kept you up all night.” She retorted. 

“Are we still doing a movie night?” Sokka asked, meandering over and picking up a dumpling with his fingers.

“Yes.” Katara said and snapped the lid closed, bringing the container closer to her body.

“Movie night?” Zuko asked. 

“These two usually watch something on Webflicks together when Katara needs a break from school.” Suki said.

“That sounds fun.” Zuko replied.

“Yeah well-” Katara tried to interject.

“We usually watch bad movies and roast them.” Sokka added.

“That’s hilarious.” Zuko said.

“It’s hilarious to see.” Suki said.

“But it’s-” Katara leaned forward but the others had started to open the other containers and dish things out onto paper plates.

“You should come.” Sokka said.

“That’s-” Katara pushed back toward the group, losing her hold on the dumplings.

“Are you sure?” Zuko asked.

Suki snagged the dumplings and portioned them out. She pushed a plate over to Katara with a smile.

“Sharing is caring.” Sokka said and winked at Katara. She stood back from them, leaning on the counter with a huff. 

“It’ll be great.” She said, trying not to sound so dejected.

Sokka closed up early that day and he and Suki went to their apartment to make dinner. Katara went back to hers to do some laundry before going over. She arrived after Zuko and stepped around him, choosing to help wash dishes instead of making small talk. 

The movie they watched was something Katara had been looking forward to. It was a high budget, thriller remake of an action-comedy from ten years ago. It flopped horribly after taking itself too seriously and not realizing what people loved about the original was the irreverent commentary the characters kept making.

Sokka and Katara roasted the heck out of it, feeding off of each other and making Zuko and Suki wheeze with laughter. Still, after the climax of the film, they quieted down to the occasional barb for bad writing or horrific camerawork. Suki started to drift by this point and at the end of the movie, Sokka picked her up to take her to bed. 

He came back out and started another movie, choosing another film with the same lead actor. His back and forth with Katara was less energetic this time, but Zuko stepped in to make his own remarks. Katara laughed and watched as Zuko kept looking at Sokka every time he made a comment. 

She wondered what it must be like for him. To live most of the year with the man who burned him. His uncle seemed like the polar opposite of such cruelty and Katara pondered how two men could be so closely related. Unless they weren’t always such opposites.

“Hey, I think he’s asleep.” Zuko whispered. Katara looked over and saw Sokka laid out on the couch, his eyes closed.

“I’m not.” Her brother slurred and Katara scoffed.

“Then you have enough energy to get up and haul yourself to your bed.” Zuko stated. Sokka grunted and scrunched himself together like a grub. Pushing himself upright, he still kept his eyes closed.

“Fine.” Sokka said with more force than necessary. He used the momentum of that word to push himself onto his feet and then stumbled off in the direction of his bedroom.

Zuko stood and stretched, looking at his watch as he raised his arm over his head.

“I guess I should get going then.” He said.

“Nah, wait until after this movie.” Katara said and then snapped her mouth shut. More awake now, she felt her pulse quicken in her chest. 

“Are you sure?” He asked.

“I’m having fun.” She replied with a shrug.

“Okay then.” Zuko said but still stood. “Want some popcorn?”

Katara nodded and he went off into the kitchen. While she waited, Katara stood to stretch and then went to the couch, picking up the blanket Sokka had left behind. Settling herself into the corner with her feet tucked under her, Katara draped the blanket over her. She pressed her cheek against the back of the couch and listened to the whir of the microwave and the rapid popping. When the smell of the popcorn reached her, she closed her eyes and breathed it in

“Don’t tell me you’re falling asleep too.” Zuko called from the kitchen as the microwave went off. 

“Just resting.” Katara answered. She opened her eyes as Zuko walked over, holding the popcorn bowl. Lifting up the edge of the blanket, Zuko pulled it back and sat down at the other arm, putting the bowl between them.

Katara unpaused the movie and they watched in silence for a bit.

“Do you think the actor is bad or the movies he’s in are bad?” Zuko asked. Katara took a handful of popcorn and shoved it into her mouth.

“I fink if boff.” She said through the popcorn and Zuko smiled. 

“Bad actors wouldn’t know to pick good movies. I like your thinking.” He said. 

Katara swallowed her mouthful and picked up one popped kernel.

“How does this stack up with a bad play?” She asked.

“It’s definitely more fun with other people. And you really shouldn’t heckle a live performance.” Zuko said and opened his mouth wide. After a split second, Katara chuckled and tossed the popcorn. It bounced off the underside of his nose and went careening onto the floor. 

“So your uncle is nice.” She said and tossed another piece. Zuko tried to catch it but it shot past his face entirely.

“I think so too.” He said. Katara lined up her shot and managed to hit him between the eyes. 

“Are you doing that on purpose?” He balked. Katara laughed and tossed the rest of her handful at him. Going for the bowl again, Zuko lunged forward.

“No you don’t!” He said and sent the bowl toppling over the edge of the couch as he grabbed her wrist. Awkwardly crouched over her, Katara pressed her back into the arm of the couch. They looked at each other and Katara counted her heartbeats. As she began to move upward, Zuko grinned at her. 

“I’m glad you’re not mad at me.” He said before releasing her and sitting back in his seat. Katara straightened, frowning.

“What do you mean?” She asked. Zuko leaned over the edge of the couch and scooped up some of the popcorn, returning it to the bowl. 

“I thought you didn’t want to see me or something.” He said and tossed a kernel up at Katara. She flinched but caught it. 

“It’s not that I don’t want to see you…” Katara drifted off and looked down at the piece of popcorn as she rolled it between her palms.

“Oh. You are mad at me.” Zuko said and sat back up. Katara looked at him and shook her head.

“No, I’m not. You just confuse me.” She replied.

“Confuse you? How?” He asked.

“Where’s Mai?” She questioned.

Zuko didn’t answer. His hands were pressed flat around the bowl and the light of the television reflected on his face. Blue and white light splashed across half his features, his good side illuminated like pool water. His scarred eye pulled tight, perpetually looking annoyed and now shadowed in the dark room. 

“What do you mean by that?” He asked. Katara clicked off the television and stood up. The room was now completely dark but her eyes adjusted quickly.

Zuko was watching her intently.

“It’s why you’re so confusing. I’m not sure where the boundaries are with you.” Katara said and started to walk past him to the door. Zuko grabbed her wrist again and stood. He held her lightly, but she could feel her pulse thrum against his fingers. 

“Where do you want them to be?” He asked.

She slipped out of his grasp easily and grabbed the front of his shirt. As she rushed to him, his arms went around her, holding her tightly. She kissed him with urgency and she broke away so quickly, she almost wondered if she had done it at all. 

“There’s a difference between where I want them to be and where they should be.” She murmured, still looking at his mouth.

“What’s the difference?” Zuko asked, his hold on her as soft as his voice.

“Wisdom.” She murmured and kissed him again. She lingered there and Zuko’s arms started to coil around her. Breaking away, Katara took a step back.

“You have a girlfriend, we don’t know each other, and this is a bad idea.” She said, running both hands through her hair to push it back.

“That’s all true.” He said.

“I’m going to go home.” She said.

“I’ll clean up,” Zuko replied, bending down to pick up the bowl again. “Give you some space.”

Katara nodded and went to the door, slipping on her sandals. She heard popcorn being dumped into the bowl and she sighed as she opened the door. The hallway was quiet for the most part; Katara could hear a dog barking a few doors down. Without looking back, she closed the door and headed toward the elevator. 

Chapter Text

There were three full days between the movie night and when Zuko would be picking up more flowers. For those three days, Katara tried to think about something other than Zuko, but just ended up thinking about not thinking about him instead. It was frustrating as she helped gather and lay out the flowers for the Jasmine Dragon order and she tried to not think about Zuko arriving with his van. When she ate her meals, she tried not to wonder what tea he would bring. And as she fell asleep, she tried not to remember the kiss. 

For all her exertion, her only reward was terrible sleep. It made her irritable and jumpy; she dropped handfuls of flowers more than once. Sokka, behaving very unlike himself, was patient with her. This made Katara believe that Zuko had told him something about that night and it frustrated her even more. It felt like all they were doing were keeping secrets and talking about her behind her back. Zuko couldn’t even be honest about his feelings, treating her like a friend yet continuously moving closer and closer to her. 

Katara held back, telling herself it was because he wasn’t being honest with her.

The last night of horrible sleep and the nightmare it provided showed otherwise. 

A face twisted in fear, bright moonlight, and the sweeping arm of a gigantic wave. Katara woke up gasping and covered in a fine layer of sweat. She washed quickly, pulled the water out of her hair as she simultaneously pulled it up into a bun. 

Breakfast, car, gas station, and finally to the flower shop, all the while her mind raced through the things she didn’t want to think about. When she got out of her car, she wasn’t even fully paying attention.

“You look like crap.” Sokka said and Katara jumped. 

“You scared me!” She said and smacked his chest with the back of her hand. 

“By standing in front of you? In broad daylight?” Sokka asked incredulously. Katara put one hand on her hip and the other rubbed her temple.

“I’ve got a lot on my mind.” She muttered.

“Like the thing dad told me?” Sokka asked. Katara looked up at him, alarmed.

“I talk to him too, you know.” He added and she sighed.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with you.” She replied.

“Yeah, it kinda does. You’re my sister and I care about you.” Sokka said.

“What I meant to say is that there’s nothing you can do about it so just leave me alone, okay?” Katara snapped. Sokka held up his hands and walked past her toward their cars. 

“Dad and Arnook want us up there for the,” Sokka spun his hands in the air as he tried to conjure his words. “The debut or whatever.”

Katara stared at his back. “When?”

“End of the summer, before you start school.” Sokka said and turned back, his arms crossed over his chest.

“And Arnook wants to do the coronation on the winter solstice.” He continued.

“What? Why now?” Katara took the few steps between them quickly. “I thought I could finish school.”

Sokka shook his head and lifted a hand. “Did you really think that would happen? It was easy for them to agree to that demand when they knew it wouldn’t matter.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means, did you really think they were going to let you waste time becoming a doctor when you’d have to turn around and be Ice Queen without ever practicing?” Sokka turned his face away from her and tucked his hand back under his arm. “I’ve tried to keep you here, but as always, there’s only so little I can do.” 

Katara chewed on the edge of her thumb and paced back and forth.

“Why did they all of a sudden start wanting a Waterbender on the throne? Yue wasn’t a Bender.” She muttered, mostly to herself.

“It started to matter when the Fire Nation started using its practice of purposeful breeding to overrun the ice walls, or the fact that Earthbenders outnumber all of the Water Tribals two to one. In the face of a world war, we were weak and we were losing.” Sokka exclaimed, punctuating his last words with hard stops. 

“But why me?” Katara questioned, whirling on him.

“Why not miss ‘I’ll never abandon my people?’ You are the only Waterbender that made a pact with the ocean.” Sokka said. Katara frowned and spread out her arms before letting them fall to her sides.

“Are you mad at me?” She asked.

“Yes.” Sokka’s will dissolved and his face fell. “No. Katara. Spirits, it’s just that something happened and you’ve never talked about it. The North Pole changed both of us, but I came back. I’m different, but I shook off my nightmares. You haven’t yet. And you won’t tell me anything.” 

As the tears formed in her eyes, Katara turned away. They fell faster than she could wipe them away and she sniffled as her nose started to run.

“You got worse after every prison we hit. And I thought you were going to die when we,” Sokka’s voice choked off and Katara grabbed her arms. “When we found mom.” 

Katara squeezed. She squeezed her eyes shut till dots of color exploded in the darkness. She squeezed her arms till her fingers curled into the sleeves of her t-shirt. She squeezed every muscle she could to keep herself from shattering.

“Everything I held in my hands, I felt like if it wasn’t a sword then it was something I had to destroy. Piandao taught me how to be human again, after war. He taught me how to create and the gentle hands that were so necessary for handling flowers.” Sokka paused and laughed weakly. “Swords and flowers are the only things I can manage. But those seem a bit too poetic for me.”

“I need to be healing.” Katara said, her voice hoarse as if out of disuse. “I should be healing for what I did.”

“Katara-” Sokka’s hand reached her shoulder and she pulled away from him. 

“Why were you waiting for me?” Katara asked. Sokka sighed but took back his hand.

“I have to go out again. I found a buyer for the last lily but he wants to meet this afternoon and he lives in the upper ring.” He answered.

“Then go. I’ll manage the orders.” Katara said and walked to the door. Sokka sighed again and followed her, catching the door after she yanked it open. 

They were quiet as Sokka got the day’s orders together. When Suki arrived, Sokka whispered with her at the door and they left without saying goodbye. Her body shuddering, Katara closed her eyes as she listened to them go. She cursed the chill of the workroom and went to the front, wiping her face on the bottom of her apron.

She fumed like that for a short time. Right after the war, people insisted that she talk about what happened. But there was nothing to be gained from it except facing the pain and horror over and over again. So she did what she did best; put on a brave face and took care of things. At the end of the day, she still had to finish high school. She had already missed a year and the sleepless nights gave her plenty of time to study. Which she needed because for some reason, it wasn’t as easy to pay attention or retain information any longer.

After she graduated high school, and seeing how well she was doing, people started to talk about her future. Arnook brought up the queenship thing once and Katara vowed to never think about global politics again. It wasn’t like they had intended to save the world; she had just been at the right place at the right time. She and Sokka had only wanted to find their parents, which they did, and then she wanted to go home. 

Katara went to college and did moderately well. Sometimes she could sleep, but mostly she spent her nights in the library. Her concentration had only gotten worse, and even with all that time studying, she still only scrapped the threshold of good grades. Good enough to get into medical school.

Not like she didn’t know the truth. It was awfully helpful to have the King of the North Pole write a recommendation letter.

But she knew in her bones that she was meant to be a healer. And that she was good at it. She had to be something more than a war time healer and part time soldier. 

Unfortunately, with this spiraling, Katara was still on the edge of crying when Zuko showed up. 

“Hey there.” Zuko called as he came through the front door. He held up his ubiquitous bag and waved.

“I don’t have the time today, Zuko.” Katara seethed. “Let’s just get this over with.” 

“Is everything okay?” He asked as he set the bag down on the counter. 

“Obviously not.” Katara said and shoved the workroom door open. Zuko followed her and Katara felt the muscles in her upper back seize. 

“That’s usually just the phrase that gets people to say what is wrong.” He replied.

“Well I’m not going to do that.”

Katara pulled a large empty vase off the counter.

“Here let me-” Zuko stepped forward as Katara turned.

“No don’t-” She stammered and slipped on a small puddle of water. Zuko reached for her and she slammed into him. Katara still fell and heard the melodious shattering of crystal glass. 

“Shoot.” Zuko muttered softly. 

Hissing out a breath, Katara winced as she put her hands on the cold, wet floor. As she tried to get her bearings, she noticed a large shard of glass just beyond her fingertips.

“Oh, gotta watch out for the-” She stopped as blood dripped onto the floor and swirled into the invisible water. 

“Glass?” Zuko finished for her as she sat up.

Gasping, Katara put her hands over her mouth. Zuko was holding his right arm with his left hand, but blood still seeped out from his fingers.

“To be fair, it came to me. Otherwise I would have absolutely avoided it.” He said. 

“You idiot.” Katara growled as she swept the glass away, using her bending to entrap the shards in the water from the floor. 

“You’ll need to work on your bedside manner if you’re going to be a doctor.” Zuko chided her. Katara gave him a serious glare, nowhere in the mood for games. He seemed to understand the look and nodded.

“If you hadn’t tried to help, you wouldn’t have gotten hurt.” She said and clapped the fingers of one hand for him to lower his arm. 

“If that wasn’t the most prophetic thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” Zuko replied and lowered his arm. Gingerly, he removed his fingers from the wound and the blood flowed more freely. 

“There’s nothing anyone can do to help me.” Katara said. She steadied her breathing, taking in a deep lungful of air. With both hands, she moved through the most basic of forms and water shot out of the kettle toward her. The water wrapped around her hands and started to glow blue; she held her hands to Zuko’s arm and focused, letting her breath out slowly. 

“And what have you possibly done that’s beyond helping?” Zuko asked.

“I killed someone.” Katara said bluntly.

“What?” 

She lifted her hands and saw the sealed wound. Unsatisfied, she replaced her hands.

“In the North Pole. Admiral Zhao killed the moon spirit. I made a pact with the ocean spirit and I killed him.” Katara watched as droplets fell onto her hands, disrupting the glow. “I mean, I probably killed a lot more when I repelled the Fire Nation navy, but I actually ended his life specifically.”

As more and more droplets hit her hands, the blue light flickered until it faded completely. The water fell from her hands and Katara was only hovering over Zuko’s arm.

“Katara.” Zuko said softly.

The ice of her flesh started to crack. Through her watery eyes, she stared down at the healed cut on his arm. 

The bonds of her water broke and she fell apart on the floor. Zuko collected her, a heaving waterfall, and held her in his arms. 

“I’m not going to change your mind on this, at least not right now. But you are still here, you are still alive, and you deserve some peace.” Zuko whispered to her and kissed the top of her head. 

Katara pulled into herself, curling into a ball as she cried.

“Hey. I’m going to lock up and then I’m going to take you back to my place okay? You need to rest.” Zuko stood and Katara pressed her forehead to her knees. All she could feel was a pervasive cold wetness. It was torture, to freeze solid in a liquid. Perhaps that’s how Zhao felt.

“I’ll just be a sec.” 

She didn’t know how long it really was, but suddenly she was being picked up. Being removed from the floor, Katara sagged in Zuko’s arms, feeling wrung out. He put her in his car and turned on the seat warmers, finding a jacket in the backseat and tucking it around her. 

They drove and music played softly from his radio. Katara leaned deep into the seat, watching passively at the buildings they passed. 

“What about your order?” She asked softly.

“It’ll get taken care of. It doesn’t have a time limit.” Zuko said.

They stopped and Zuko held her hand as she walked. In the elevator, she leaned against him, too tired to even shiver. Despite her damp clothes and the air conditioning, she was too numb to be cold. 

“Here, take a shower. Your clothes are soaked.” He said.

And so she did. Katara noticed the bathroom gleamed with black and white tile, and that the steam felt soft against her skin, but she didn’t look at much else. There was a robe and a towel, and in the bedroom were sweats. She dressed and, without any prompting, crawled into bed. As she started to cry again, the bed dipped and she felt Zuko start to comb her hair. 

“Now comes the hard part.” He said.

“What’s that?” Katara closed her eyes, feeling the tines of the comb pull through her hair.

“Putting yourself back together.” He said. Katara stayed quiet, tears still leaking out of her eyes.

“But take a nap first.” He added. She chuckled softly and closed her eyes, feeling the wetness on her lashes. But she smiled.

Chapter Text

When Katara woke up, she was in a giant, fluffy red cloud. Pushing on the downy comforter, Katara swam up to the top of the linens. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw someone sitting on the other edge of the bed, their black hair pouring straight down their back.

“Ah-” Katara started and began to sit up.

“I’ll save you the embarrassment.” A woman’s voice interrupted. Katara sat fully up, scooting back against the headboard. Mai turned her head enough that Katara could almost make out her profile, but still couldn’t read her face.

“Zuko is my best friend, outside of Ty Lee. I was forced to be Azula’s playmate because of my family and I was forced to be his girlfriend for the same reason. I was forced to do a lot of things because of who my father is and because I have a little brother.” Mai said. “I am not an emotional person and it was kind of assumed that I would just be miserable all of my life. Zuko makes me less miserable.”

“Mai-” Katara started but Mai held up a hand. 

“I’m not in love with him, but I always thought he was my best chance at happiness. I’m not so certain of that now, and I’m definitely sure he’d be happier with someone else. But I’ll tell you this,” Mai stopped and stood from the bed. “I’m not going to let him go until he says he wants to leave. And there’s a lot you don’t know about him.” 

“Nothing is happening between him and I.” Katara said quickly. Mai turned now and held her hands together down in front of her. She looked regal, if not a little bit like the proverbial stick in the metaphorical mud. 

“Unlike you, Zuko tells me everything. It’s why I’m being nice right now. These things reflect on me, so I have to know.” She replied. “I was the one there when he was burned and when he was sent away. I’ve gone through more with him than your one moment of broken vulnerability.”

“For all your talk, it sounds like you’re pretty threatened Mai.” Katara shot back. The corner of Mai’s mouth hitched upward and she scoffed.

“I put up with Azula’s threats, I have little to fear of this summertime crush. I’m telling you this because I’m trying to help you. You don’t know certain important aspects of Zuko’s life and they are things that can and will blow up in your face. If I was really threatened, I would’ve stayed quiet, or taken a picture of you sleeping in my boyfriend’s bed. But I’m warning you, there’s a reason why I’m his girlfriend. Whether any of us like it or not.” Mai explained and then turned, walking briskly to the bedroom door. 

As she opened it, Katara could see Sokka’s startled face.

“Mai.” He said and she brushed past him.

“Sokka.” She replied coolly and continued walking. Sokka watched her go but quickly turned back to Katara. 

“You okay?” He asked.

“Yeah. What’s going on?” Katara got out of bed and twisted the large sweatpants around to straighten them out. She hadn’t thought Zuko was that much bigger than her; taller sure, but he seemed rather thin.

“We’re having dinner, and something special.” Sokka said with a grin. Katara walked around the bed, looking concerned. 

“What’s that?” She asked.

“Just come out.” Sokka insisted. Katara followed him and marvelled at the size of the apartment. The hallway opened up as the interior wall ended and she could see down to the first floor. The stairs were walled in by glass but they looked like they were floating. It gave her a bit of vertigo and her clammy hands clung to the railing. 

The first floor was an open floor plan, so she could see Mai, Zuko, and Suki standing around a large island.

“Are you sure you won’t come?” Zuko asked Mai, who shook her head.

“Your sister wants to return to Caldera. Where she goes, I go.” She answered. Suki leaned across the island, looking bored.

“One would think that, all things considered, you would not be doing that.” Suki said. 

“Well, one doesn’t think that, so off I go.” Mai replied evenly. She put a hand on Zuko’s shoulder and glanced at Katara as she approached.

“But I’m sure you’ll have fun without me.” She added.

“I’ll call you when I get back.” Zuko said and Mai gave him a small wave as she walked to the front door. Sokka went to the stove and pulled a lid off a pot, letting fragrant steam waft into the air.

“Where are you going?” Katara asked, standing uneasily in her borrowed clothes. 

“Not him, we.” Suki said, standing now and throwing her arms wide. 

“Us?” Katara asked, looking between her and Zuko.

“Sokka made a killing on the lilies and wants to take a trip.” He said.

“Sokka saved a lot of money so that he could hang out with his sister who trashed his shop this morning.” Sokka clarified. He was stirring whatever was in the pot and Katara could smell meat.

“I didn’t trash it!” She balked.

“He’s decided to actually take a vacation for once and we’re going to spend the week at Ember Island. He’s rented a house there.” Suki said. She then leaned over to Katara to stage whisper. “I may have convinced him to go so don’t blow this for me.” 

“I,” Katara stammered and looked around. Focusing on her brother’s back, she wondered why he wasn’t facing her. She wondered what he had thought of the broken glass.

She wondered why she didn’t tell him.

After dinner, Suki drove Katara back to the shop to pick up her car. Driving back home alone, Katara found that her mind was blissfully empty. Having poured herself out earlier, she knew it would slowly trickle back in, but for now she was at peace. Katara knew that she’d have to address it eventually, the very least of which being a talk with Zuko. That was for later, and that night she spent time packing and getting ready to leave.

They met up in the morning at the airport. Suki was animated, talking about the beach and seafood, but Sokka was more reserved. Even Zuko looked relaxed, putting her brother more at odds with the tone of their departure. 

Then Katara got her ticket and she choked.

“First class?” She sputtered.

“Okay, that was my doing.” Zuko said and smiled sheepishly. “I don’t do business class.” 

“Oh spirits you’re one of them.” Katara murmured and Suki laughed.

“We deserve it honey, but heavens know my pension doesn’t cover much and you two don’t get anything from the Poles.” She replied.

“We could.” Sokka remarked and Katara flinched. He didn’t sound bitter or resentful, but it was just another reminder of what she was avoiding. Another thing she was keeping from him.

Suki and Sokka sat together on one side of the aisle and Katara took her seat next to Zuko.

“Have you flown much?” Zuko asked as they watched the other passengers file in.

“Not really. It wasn’t safe before, and I got used to boat travel.” Katara replied and slid open the shutter of the window. “But I did make the initial flight out to Republic City for school.” 

“I hear Rep U is a good school.” Zuko said. Katara shrugged one shoulder, watching the ground crew on the tarmac.

“It definitely benefited from the occupation. The Fire Nation takes schooling seriously.” She said.

“Ah, yes, well.” Zuko cleared his throat and Katara winced. “Are you excited about living in Ba Sing Se for med school?” 

“I was.” She muttered.

“Is, did you not want to come on this trip? With me?” Zuko added and Katara looked at him.

“No, Zuko. Sorry, it’s not about you.” She said and sighed. “I’m thankful to be taking this trip. Trust me.” 

It was a short plane ride from Ba Sing Se to Ember Island, but the stewards still went down the aisle with the drink cart. Suki insisted that they get champagne and Zuko obliged, making a laborious display of handing over his credit card. Suki made some off-hand joke about reparations and Zuko blushed as she laughed. 

When they landed, Katara was grateful for the drink. Standing in customs made her anxiety mount and she nervously twisted her passport in her hands. Her throat was dry and she struggled to swallow. Looking at the Fire Nation guards, her breathing became shallow. 

How many blockades had they crossed? How many guards had they surprised in the dead of night? What if her name was on a list? 

Sokka stood ahead of her, his passport in one hand, the other leisurely holding onto his suitcase handle. 

Zuko had stepped into another lane and was a few people ahead of them. The customs agent looked surprised but Zuko passed through the border quickly. 

Sokka stepped up and handed over his passport. The agent stamped it. He went through. And then it was her turn.

“Business of pleasure?” The agent asked as she scanned Katara’s passport.

“Vacation. Pleasure.” She stammered.

“Length of stay?”

“A week.”

“Anything to declare?”

“No.”

The agent stamped Katara’s passport and handed it back with a smile. “Welcome to the Fire Nation. Enjoy your stay.” 

Katara took her passport and walked through, rolling her suitcase behind her. As she waited for Suki, she stood next to Sokka and Zuko, who were chatting about famous surfers. Off to the side, in what she supposed was a waiting area, a TV silently projected the news. Thuy’s standoffish portrait surfaced followed by another, more familiar picture. Katara’s shoulders rose with tension as she saw the picture she had buried under a stack of old newspapers with other relics of the war. 

Arnook and her father, standing behind her and Sokka. 

Luckily, the others were distracted and when Suki joined them, they walked away from the TV and out to the taxi pickup. 

The air was muggy in the Fire Nation. It was always humid and Katara could feel her hair start to float up as it frizzed. Still, she could smell the sea, and she felt the tension leave her as the breeze blew over her.

“Ready to go?” Zuko asked as a taxi pulled up. Katara nodded with a genuine smile. She almost started laughing with the sudden change in her mood, and even Sokka seemed happier now. 

They piled into one taxi, Zuko sitting in the passenger seat while the rest of them squashed together in the back. The driver turned on the radio and suddenly Zuko and Suki were singing along to some pop song. 

It was late afternoon by the time they reached the beach house and Zuko went in to see about dinner. As the rest of them fumbled like new foals into the house, somehow already covered in sand, they looked around in slight awe. 

The place was modest, but still better than Katara and Sokka had ever known. Zuko announced that he had dinner in the oven and they all scattered to find their bedrooms.

Katara opened a door and laughed as she realized there were themes.

The one she opened was beach themed; meaning specifically sand and seashells. Rough rope was used as chair railing instead of molding separating the two different paint colors. The bottom was a textured beige, while the top was a flat sea green, and the whole thing looked delightfully awful.

Framed shadow boxes of perfect sea shells were hung tastefully over the sandy colored dresser, and the bed had a large blanket printed with types of shells. The hardwood floor was clean and one woven rug laid like a worn out animal in the center of the room. 

It was perfect.

After they all got settled and Zuko pulled a premade dish out of the oven, they all went out onto one of the many porches to eat. Suki opened a bottle of wine and they toasted to a good trip.

“Does anyone want to go to the beach after dinner?” Zuko asked.

“And get eaten by whatever swims at night? No thanks.” Sokka answered quickly.

“There’s a reef, the worst thing you have to worry about are the nursery sharks bumping into you and they’re harmless.” Zuko said.

“No thank you.” Sokka said forcefully and took a loud sip of his wine. 

“I’ll go. I haven’t been in the ocean in a while.” Katara said.

“I’ll stay here too.” Suki said and Zuko nodded.

They all cleaned up after dinner and Katara went off to change before heading to the beach. Her bathing suit was new, as she normally wore a wetsuit when she swam at the Poles. Purchased while in college, the one piece had the Republic University logo on it. It was odd to wear it, as if she had some sort of school pride when the whole experience had just made her feel awful.

Pulling on a pair of shorts, Katara then tied up her hair and walked out into the living room. Zuko was wearing board shorts, making her curious if he actually surfed considering his conversation with Sokka. 

“Ready?” He asked as he slipped into his sandals. Katara wiggled her feet into her flip-flops and nodded.

They had beach access, which was another wonder. Just a short staircase down from the porch was sand dunes. Being so close to the water, Katara wanted to sprint towards the waves. She felt the ocean call to her and a joy she had forgotten swelled to meet it. But she calmed herself, pulling her energy back into her center.

“So how are you doing?” Zuko asked as they walked closer to the water. 

“Better. And thank you, by the way.” Katara said, putting her hands behind her back and twirling to look at him. “I appreciate you helping me.”

“And I didn’t even get hurt.” He replied. “You suck at prophecy.”

Katara scoffed and kicked off her flip-flops, already tired of how they dug into the space between her big toe and the line of other toes. Picking them up, she had to resist the urge to chuck them into the water. The rise in impulsive thoughts was concerning. 

“Not yet anyway.” She said.

The sand was cool underfoot and the water that rushed over her feet was warm. 

“Did you want to talk about it?” Zuko asked.

“Me being a murderer? Not really.” She remarked and kicked her feet in the shallow water.

“I’m not going to debate your definition of murder, but I will argue that what you did was in the defense of not just your home, but of the spirits as well.” Zuko said. 

Katara focused on the clear water, watching the sand swirl up around her feet as the rush swept over her. 

“It would be easier to accept if it was just La that had wanted him dead.” Katara said as she crouched down, making sure to keep her backside up from the water. “But I willingly made that pact so I could destroy him myself.” 

“He had just killed a spirit, Katara. Your spirit. I think that anger is justified.” Zuko replied.

Katara shrugged and ran her fingers through the water. She could feel La call to her. She could always feel the spirit calling when she was in the ocean.

“Yue gave up her body for Tui. I would’ve gotten my bending back and stopped him that way.” Katara said.

“But you didn’t know that.” 

“If I had just waited, instead of letting my anger take over, I wouldn’t have killed somebody.” 

“Katara, do you know what makes a person good?”

Zuko crouched down next to her and she crossed her arms on her knees, resting her chin there. 

“When a good person does something bad, they make amends and they learn from it. They do better.” Zuko went on. “Your brother doesn’t talk about the war. I don’t either, though not for the same reason. I don’t know what you did but I do know you didn’t continue killing Fire Nation soldiers. I know you’re a good person.”

Katara looked out toward the horizon, seeing the sky turn the color of sorbet as the sun set. The pinks and oranges reminded her of an order for the Jasmine Dragon and she sighed. 

“I don’t feel like a good person.” She said.

The waves broke a little faster now, the water spraying up and soaking the back of Katara’s thighs. She yelped and stood up, patting her damp backside. 

“I think La disagrees.” Zuko said and gave in, sitting down on the wet sand.

“Yeah? Well what does that dumb spirit know.” She countered, kicking at the water and sending up a bigger spray. Zuko sputtered and she chuckled.

“Sorry.” She said. 

“So.” Zuko said, trying to sound casual but lingering on the word for too long. “What did Mai say to you?”

“Oh that?” Katara said with her own fake casual tone. “Only that I don’t have a chance and you won’t leave her for unspecified reasons.”

Zuko blinked and then frowned. “Chance at what?”

“At being with you. Since I so clearly have feelings for you.” Katara stated. Zuko blinked again and then looked down at his legs. 

“Ah.” He said.

“Not that it matters. I have my whole future outlined by other people and it doesn’t include you.” Katara said.

“What do you mean?” Zuko asked and looked back just in time to see Katara throw her sandals backward onto the sand.

“It means that while I’m this war criminal that’s trying to redeem herself by becoming a healer, my father and the King of the North Pole have decided that I’m to take over the throne and don’t get to have my own life.” She said and unbuttoned her shorts.

“You’re. You what?” Zuko asked, genuinely stunned.

“Huh, I had figured Sokka told you about that already.” She said and wobbled as she lifted a leg out of her shorts.

“Sokka talks about you but not, like. He hasn’t.” Zuko stumbled over his words. “He definitely didn’t tell me that.” 

“Yup. I can go ahead and grapple with morality however I want, but ultimately I’m going to be responsible for three tribes of people with blood on my hands.” Katara freed her other leg and tossed her shorts back onto the beach. It didn’t make it far and Katara frowned as she used her bending to push both they and her sandals further up on the beach. 

“Which doesn’t leave the possibility open for canoodling a rich kid from the Fire Nation no matter how cute he is. So you can tell your girlfriend not to worry.” She continued. Katara then stopped and looked at Zuko, who was gaping up at her.

“Let’s go for a swim.” She said. Zuko stood and took off his shirt, balling it up and throwing it back toward Katara’s things. 

It looked like he worked out.

The tips of Katara’s ears burned and she looked away just as Zuko turned back to her. 

“Let’s go.” He said and walked into the water. Katara followed after him, looking at the lines of his back. It made her heart race and the water leapt up to meet her hands as she waded in deeper. 

The manic anxiety she had been feeling, what had been mounting for weeks, suddenly shifted at the sight of his skin and it sent Katara reeling. A wave broke against them and sucked Katara under, but she moved with it and dove further into the ocean. When she popped back up with a gasp, she smoothed her hair back and looked around. Zuko came up a moment later, coughing and rubbing seawater out of his eyes.

“Was that you?” He asked.

“Maybe.” She replied with honesty. The waves calmed as they got further out and Katara pushed up onto her back to float. Her feet pointed toward the horizon, she watched the slow spill of the night sky pushing back the sunset. Zuko swam over to her, bouncing on his feet and treading water. 

“I really like being in the ocean.” He said suddenly. Katara closed her eyes, slowly moving her arms to stay in place. The water on this side of the reef was much calmer, especially now that she had relaxed.

“I wish I could just live here.” She murmured. 

“You’d have a better chance than me.” Zuko said. 

“Do you really think I’m a good person Zuko?” Katara asked.

“I certainly don’t think a bad person would spend their time hurting themselves and pursue an education in medicine.” He answered.

“You’re very nice to me.” She said with a laugh. 

“You’re very easy to be nice to.” He replied and pushed on her legs, making her spin a bit. The stars became visible overhead and Katara sank into the water, using her bending to suck herself deep into the water. As her back hit the rough sand, she felt the bite of a shell on her legs and grimaced. Pushing back up to the surface, she rubbed her leg and looked at Zuko before looking back at the sky.

The sunset faded and the moment passed.

Chapter Text

They didn’t stay out much longer than that, and they walked back to the beach house quietly. Zuko let Katara rinse at the outdoor shower first and she listened to him smack their shoes to clean off the sand. A futile effort, but one that had to be attempted. 

While he rinsed, Katara found a pair of sandy beach towels in a box near the porch and took them over. Wrapping herself in one, she looked up at the sky. The stars were a little different here, or at least in slightly different positions. 

Clutching the spare towel, Katara shivered slightly in the night air.

“Cold?” Zuko asked. She handed him the towel and pulled an unimpressed face as he dried his hair while steaming slightly.

Pulling water off her body would act like evaporation and just cool her more, so Katara stood still dripping. Firebenders just warmed themselves apparently. 

“Yeah. I think I’m going to take a proper shower and go to bed.” She replied.

Zuko twisted up his towel and wrapped it around the back of his neck, holding onto the ends.

“Good night your Highness.” He said and smiled. Katara did pull the water from her body and tossed it in his face.

“Good night.” She retorted and walked off. 

The shower in the house smelled faintly like brackish water, but it felt clean. Katara turned her face up into the warm spray and rinsed the ocean from her hair and skin. There was soap here already and smelled like an artificial ocean; fake salt water jelly soap and coconut shampoo. But as she bathed, she felt the small shells of tiny bivalves sticking to her arms and legs. 

Wrapping herself in a clean, rough bath towel - whoever kept this house obviously didn’t believe in fabric softener - Katara moved from the bathroom and fell directly onto the bed. If she got two nights in a row of good sleep, it’d be a miracle. 

When she woke up ten hours later, still nearly in the same position, Katara wondered if she had slept or merely passed out. Her sheets were damp and the towel was uncomfortably caught under her body. With bending, she dried everything and unabashedly used the water to rinse her face free of sleep. 

Clapping her hands together, the water exploded into steam and she dressed as it dissipated. 

Over breakfast, Suki announced that she wanted to go to the beach and they all started to pack up a basket to take down. Katara found the bottles of sunscreen, using her foot to fend off Suki who was reaching for the tanning oil while also yelling at her brother that their melanin wouldn’t save them from skin cancer. 

Zuko packed lunches and they all somehow managed to dress and get down to the beach. With her bending, they all played a variation of king of the hill with everyone attempting to get to Katara to knock her over. Not one of them could get past her multitude of water limbs and she even picked Sokka up by his ankles and flung him off toward the reef. 

They wound down after the initial burst of energy and Suki went snorkeling while Sokka stayed on the beach doing some sand sculpting. Zuko went looking for seashells and Katara floated in the calm water, feeling the sun warm her skin. 

At lunch, Zuko announced that he had found some shellfish and, if they wanted, they could make a beach pit for dinner. Sokka readily agreed and worked with Zuko on digging the pit. Katara fulfilled her assumed role as her bending made it much easier to catch their dinner and grab seaweed to layer over the hot stones. 

Suki engineered the layering while Zuko heated everything up. Then, while Sokka placed the electric thermometer and reburied everything, the rest of them went back up to the house to grab supplies. 

A cooler was filled with ice and beer, while Katara grabbed plates and cutlery. They chatted as they moved around the kitchen, snagging butter and bread, arguing about what else they could need.

Back at the beach, Katara went swimming again while the others stayed by the pit and relaxed. Treading water, she looked at them all.

It was odd to have such a normal night with her secret out in the open. Zuko must not have said anything to her brother as Sokka hadn’t turned on his overbearing parent mode. And Zuko himself didn’t seem bothered by it.

Katara kept swimming until she saw Sokka and Suki walk up to the house. Darting back to the beach, Katara dried herself before sitting on the large blanket they had laid out under an umbrella that was quickly becoming unnecessary. 

“Zuko, did you know Admiral Zhao?” Katara asked suddenly and Zuko looked at her in surprise. 

“Zhao? Yeah, I did.” He said. Katara nodded and pulled her legs up, wrapping her arms around them and resting her chin on her knees.

“I hated him, to be honest.” Zuko added and Katara lowered her face so her forehead pressed on her knees instead.

“You’re not just saying that?” She questioned.

“No, he was truly awful. My time in the war was,” Zuko made a sound as he thought of how to word his thoughts. “Questionable. He kept trying to out me as a traitor and I had to dodge him quite frequently.” 

“Your uncle said your family fought for the exiled prince, so doesn’t that make you a traitor for real?” Katara asked, raising her head. Zuko looked pained and it confused her.

“My uncle, he,” Zuko’s voice was strained. “My family was not united during the war. I didn’t overtly fight for either side.” 

“Your father supported the coup?” Katara asked incredulously. Zuko frowned and turned away from her.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” He murmured. 

Katara watched him for a moment, feeling a little sick. Then she turned away too, speaking softly as she did. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine. It’s only because it makes me look bad.” Zuko replied, his voice low. 

When he stood, Katara startled and unfurled herself, stretching out her legs and looking at him as he moved.

“Want a beer?” He asked, his back turned to her.

“Sure.” She said. He went to the cooler and opened it, making the ice shift as he grabbed two cans. He let the lid slam shut and walked back, handing Katara a can before sitting down. They both opened their drinks and Katara watched Zuko as he looked out at the ocean. 

“This feels awful because you know, you could look up everything in a high school textbook. But you don’t, so it’s up to me to tell you and I really don’t want to.” Zuko said and took a drink. 

“You want someone else to tell me your secrets.” Katara said. 

Zuko scoffed bitterly. “It’s not a secret if it’s public knowledge Katara.” 

“Then why don’t you just tell me?”

Zuko chugged his beer and gasped, examining the label.

“Because I kind of like this world where I’m not me.” He said and smiled at her. Katara weakly reflected back the smile, like the moon reflecting back the light of the sun. 

Sokka and Suki came crashing back to their spot in a tangle of limbs and running mouths. Throwing Katara a shovel, they dug up the food while Suki and Zuko laid out the dishes and necessities. They ate most of the food with their fingers, scalding themselves and laughing at each other. They continued to drink, while Katara insisted that they try to stay hydrated. Ultimately, she imbibed too much and stopped keeping track.

After dinner was done and the trash collected, they debated the merits of staying out. Katara had gotten too much sun and decided to head back in. Zuko agreed, claiming he had gotten in his share of night swimming already. Suki and Sokka had started to cuddle up together and neither was intending on going anywhere.

So Katara and Zuko got up and headed toward the sand dunes. Feeling her head spin, Katara stopped at the bottom of the stairs. 

“Stairs, my old nemesis.” She said, swaying on her feet.

“Allow me.” Zuko said and reached for her. Katara held out her arms, but Zuko ducked under them, grabbing her by the legs and heaving her over his shoulder. Before she could protest, Zuko started up the wooden stairs.

“You okay?” He asked as Katara bounced against him, his shoulder pressing into her stomach.

“Yeah. You have a nice butt.” She stated.

“Thanks, I worked hard on it and I’m pretty attached to it.” Zuko said and she giggled. He stopped at the top of the stairs and set her down. As her world tipped right side up, Katara staggered and Zuko held onto her hands to steady her.

“Your girlfriend is a lucky woman.” Katara said and Zuko chuckled.

“Sometimes I wish she felt that way. Because I’ll tell you a secret,” He replied, leaning in and shielding his mouth with his hand. “We’re not actually in love.”

Katara scoffed and pushed him away.

“She told me that already.” She said.

“Then it’s not much of a secret.” Zuko remarked. 

Not having anything else to say, Katara turned on her heel and started marching back to the house. Zuko quickened his steps to catch up to her and then started to walk leisurely. Completely besotted, Katara found herself matching his pace.

“You should tell me a better secret since I told you mine.” She said suddenly. Zuko stuck his hands in his pockets and looked up at the sky.

“Hmmmm. Okay.” He stopped and Katara stopped. After a moment, still staring at the sky, Zuko looked at her and smiled.

“What if I told you I’m a prince?” He said.

“Ha!” Katara brayed, just as Zuko’s face went white with terror.

“Wait. You’re serious?” She asked. Her stomach twisted and Katara could feel sour bubbles in her throat. 

“You’re the prince of the Fire Nation?!” She shouted. 

“Zuko, you idiot!” Sokka yelled back from the beach.

“I told you it was common knowledge!” Zuko exclaimed. 

“But that means your father is the Fire Lord!”

“I am well aware of that, yes!”

“He’s not a great guy, Zuko!”

“I can’t really help being born, Katara!” 

Katara abruptly sat down, holding her head in her hands. 

“Spirits, I am so dumb.” She muttered. 

Zuko crouched next to her, putting his hand on her upper back. 

“To be honest, it is fairly impressive that you went this long without learning anything about the Fire Nation royal family.” He said and Katara groaned.

“You all were the bad guys and I was trying to ignore anything that had to do with my being Queen of the Water Tribe.” She said. Opening her hands, Katara stared down at the sandy patch of grass. 

“We’re fine Suki.” Zuko called gently and Katara looked up. Suki cocked her head and Katara only nodded before covering her face again and groaning. 

“I didn’t fight for my father Katara. I,” Zuko hesitated and Katara stayed quiet in her huddled form, breathing in her own hot air. 

“You want to know a secret even your brother doesn’t know?” He asked.

“Please don’t tell me you were in charge of one of the prisons we burned down.” Katara grumbled.

“You, you burned down a prison?” Zuko sputtered.

“Multiple.” Katara corrected. “There were multiple prisons.”

“Well that answers a lot of questions my uncle had.” Zuko mumbled. He then patted Katara’s back. “No, it’s not about prisons.”

“What then?” Katara croaked.

“The reason why Zhao kept hounding me was because he thought I was the Blue Spirit.” Zuko said and Katara’s body went cold. “Have you heard of him?”

Oh spirits above and below. Katara thought. That is worse.

Katara popped her head up and stared directly at him. “Zuko, I think we already met before this summer.”

Chapter Text

Katara ran over the top of the lake. Her frozen footprints melted as soon as she lifted her feet. Fog rose from her pace alone, but she pulled more around her to shroud her appearance. Trying to keep her breathing steady, Katara focused on sliding instead of whatever galloping her body was presently enacting.

The spirit she was impersonating was a graceful lady afterall. 

For the past three days, Katara had posed as the Painted Lady to gather information from the small diseased town they camped in. Their quarry was not a prison, which frustrated her, but she and Sokka owed the Warriors a favor after getting their help in crossing in the Fire Nation. 

Instead, the Kyoshi Warriors had found a small military factory that was being used as a treatment plant. The ugly iron building sat on stilts like a belligerent toad, belching out toxic waste that ran off from the chemical treatment the workers used on Fire Nation sheet metal. It wasn’t a tactical hit by any means, but the impact on the attached village would be a huge morale boost for the resistance.

So now Katara was tasked with using her disguise to bring vengeance down upon the wayward Fire Nation. 

It was as she ran that Katara realized she had turned sixteen.

Sixteen and she was running full tilt toward a massive hive of enemy soldiers. Sixteen and wearing the face of an ancient spirit with a different kind of ancient power. Sixteen and she had only kissed two boys, both of whom wooed her in the middle of high risk missions. 

Pushing a massive wave of fog before her, Katara slipped underneath the belly of the factory. Katara let the fog curl upward but made a clear chimney that gave her access to a small platform that hung under the building. Making steps in the fog, Katara climbed up and grabbed onto the railings of the metal patch. Taking a moment to spin up more fog to cover her, Katara then looked up to the hatch.

And found it already open.

Curious, but feeling the cold knot of dread form between her shoulders, Katara climbed the rusting metal ladder up to the hatch. Her conical hat raised into the building first, and nothing called out at the sight of it, so she continued up. Katara parted her wispy veil and looked around.

Two guards lay on the floor. She checked them, feeling sick at the sight of their bodies, but relaxed as she found them still breathing. 

Continuing on, Katara focused on her plan. There were a number of structural beams that kept the building aloft. She could cut them down, sending the plant into the river, but that would risk dumping more of the toxic sludge into the water. So instead, she had to get rid of the equipment and then sink it. 

However, as she ran into the first open space of the factory, she saw the major kink in her plan.

A single man was engaged in combat with a group of eight soldiers and he was armed with only two swords. 

Each of the soldiers was a Firebender, Katara could tell from their stances, but she feared the running she heard. Any one of them could bring a rifle and this fight would be over. 

Desperate, Katara looked around the room and found a large vat, steam whistling out of leaky pipes. Praying that it wasn’t under too much pressure, Katara took a deep stance and pulled.

Steam shot out in a column toward the group of fighters with scalding water following quickly after. 

Katara had learned to control her breath. She knew that her energy was tied to the energy of the water and as she slowed, the water cooled. The steam obscured the fighters but didn’t burn them and the water was tepid by the time it whipped around each of the eight soldiers. Turning, Katara pulled them in different directions and then used water to freeze a path she could properly glide on. Heading toward the sword fighter, Katara stopped and rose on a column of fog and water.

“I shall abide this desecration no longer!” Katara said in a booming voice. “You who have brought pestilence unto my river shall now suffer my wrath!” 

Katara sent out massive spikes of ice, piercing walls, equipment, and platforms in shrieks. The sword fighter, a man in a blue Oni mask, hopped up the trunks of the spikes till he got to eye level.

“Who are you?” He asked, his voice muffled by the unmoving mask.

“I am the Painted Lady, Spirit of the Jang Hui River.” Katara replied. Movement at the corner of her eye caught her attention and she sent more water to a platform, knocking back two more soldiers. Their guns went flying and Katara’s heart fluttered.

“You’ve been healing the villagers.” The Blue Spirit said.

“I never turn my back on people who need me.” She said. Gunfire erupted from the platform and Katara could feel the impact of the bullets on the water around her. 

“I would be glad for the help of your ladyship.” The Blue Spirit said and Katara gave a curt nod. 

“Find what pollutes my waters and I will help you.” She said. The man nodded back and jumped down, brandishing his swords and running off. Katara poured after him, pulling more water in from waste pipes. She flooded furnaces and shoved soldiers back into hallways or small rooms, freezing doorways shut. 

A klaxon went off, shearing through her head but not slowing her. As long as she could see the shooters, the bullets were caught with relative ease, while the Firebenders couldn’t risk too large of a fire in close quarters. So she went through the factory, like a sentient hurricane, and destroyed everything she could. 

When she got to a narrow doorway, Katara froze the metal and then shoved it, bending the now brittle metal back to allow her space. Still she had to send thick tentacles of water before her, sweeping a clear path, and trailed a tail of water behind her, beating back any pursuers. 

Deeper into the factory, she found what she was looking for. A large tank that reeked of chemicals had multiple spray nozzles running from it. The Blue Spirit stood on top of it, hacking each of the nozzles off.

For each one that he removed, Katara froze the hole it left. But when it came to remove the tank from the metal supports, the Blue Spirit sheathed his swords. Katara prepared two sharp arms of water to begin sawing through the supports, but paused as an explosion pushed her off balance. A large man stood in a glowing, smoking hole in the wall.

“I’d get promoted by just capturing the Blue Spirit. But two? I’ll become an advisor to the Fire Lord himself with this!” The man exclaimed and broke into booming laughter. Katara snarled and surged forward, sending out whips of water. The Firebender brought up a wall of flame, sending back scalding steam that Katara had to reabsorb before it hurt her. Then, two more soldiers appeared.

Holding assault rifles.

Swearing to herself, Katara threw a shield of ice in front of the Blue Spirit and the bullets sunk deep into the surface, sending out long cracks. The moment the shield broke, the Blue Spirit shot back with fire of his own.

Frowning as she thought, Katara still put out a road of ice and the Blue Spirit started running. He leaped upward and caught one of the soldiers with the gun and used it to strangle him. Still so close to the others, the Blue Spirit pulled back and kicked fire upward as he flipped, sending the soldier tumbling out of the hole while retaining his hold on the gun.

Katara had to trust him and she turned her focus back on the machine. She swiped at the metal supports with blades of water, sweat pouring down from her hairline. She cut them free and caught the machine in water, sinking as she lost some of her own support. 

“Let’s go!” Katara called and turned just in time to see the Blue Spirit dive into the Firebenders flame, split the tunnel with his hands, and then headbutt the man directly in the face. As the large Firebender staggered backward, Katara again sent out a lane of ice and the Blue Spirit ran to her. He jumped on top of the machine and sent a large blast of fire up to the metal ceiling. Punching it with a boulder of ice, Katara rent open the metal and launched the machine through it, following after on the remains of her collected water.

Now in the open, Katara pulled more water to her.

“What now?” The Blue Spirit asked.

“I have to make landfall. There’s a place I can bury this till others can deal with it.” Katara said.

“How much can you carry?” He questioned. Katara pulled herself up to her full height.

“More than you can, mortal.” She said haughtily. The Blue Spirit bowed.

“Of course. Pardon me, my lady.” He said. Katara made a noise in displeasure but pulled the water around the machine and then perched on it. Giving it legs, Katara formed a headless water spider and the Blue Spirit pulled himself up, sitting on the bulbous body.

More fire erupted from the hole as two soldiers shot upward to follow them.

“That’s enough!” Katara shouted, pulling up two separate columns of water and slamming them over the hole, ramming the two soldiers back down. She froze the water and then urged the water spider onward. 

“Huh.” The Blue Spirit said and Katara smiled to herself, hidden behind her long veil. 

They made it back onto land where the factory clung to a cliff face like a parasite. It didn’t take much for her to bring up a swell from the river and yank the whole thing free. It bobbed in the water and Katara could see people begin to spill out, finding lifeboats tucked here and there. 

As for the spirits, they continued up the cliff nearly without incident. The Blue Spirit couldn’t hold himself to the water and nearly fell off until Katara made a hold for him.

When they reached the top, Katara headed for the woods. The water body sloshed and she could angle it, letting the legs prop on tree trunks as the machine was lifted and tilted to pass through narrow pathways. When she felt she was deep enough, Katara halted the water spider and lowered them. When the machine hit the ground, she and the Blue Spirit hopped off. No longer needed, Katara pulled away the water and sent it back toward the river, trusting the incline to finish her task when the water extended past her reach.

“For how impressive that was, I would almost be convinced you were a real spirit.” The Blue Spirit said as he walked up to her.

“And why do you presume I am not?” Katara asked. His hand moved quickly and she flinched, but he pulled it back slowly to show the red paint on his black gloved fingers.

“I don’t think spirits can sweat off their stripes.” He said. Katara swatted his hand away and stepped back. 

“And who are you, to hide behind an Oni mask while betraying your people?” She demanded.

“Just that, a traitor.” He said and made a flourish of his bow. 

“So what will you do now?” 

“I’d like to ask for a favor.” 

“I think I did you enough favors.”

The man laughed and it made Katara blush. He sounded ardent, like the heroes from the movies she used to watch with her mother. 

“But a benevolent spirit such as yourself would surely find it a minor thing to give this poor mortal just one small favor.” He said and Katara turned away, feeling her face burn.

He certainly sounded like the actors from those movies. 

“And what is it that you want?” She asked.

“I’d like to say I’ve earned the kiss of a spirit.” The Blue Spirit said.

Katara whirled on him and he laughed again. Still as ardent, still as clear and deep as the first. He was a trickster spirit, surely, and Katara bit her lip.

“I’m only human, same as you.” She said. The man lifted his mask, though he still wore a black sash across his eyes. It was then that some cloud passed and the light of the full moon shone down on them like a spear of light.

In the moonbeam, he stood like a shard of obsidian. 

Fog curled up from the ground and it swirled at his feet as he stepped toward her again. He parted the veil and water droplets clung to the netting, shining like diamonds in the moonlight.

“Oh, I don’t think you’re like me at all.” He said and cupped her cheek. 

Fog twisted around them as he leaned in, softening the moonlight. 

She shielded herself from Yue’s judgement, standing suddenly bare in such stark light. She closed her eyes as the man’s lips met hers.

Taking a breath, she could smell soot, fire, and blood on the man. Around her was the rich scent of wet earth and rotting leaves. Through it all was the mist that cocooned them, turning the moonlight gauzy. 

Then he pulled back.

“Thank you, for saving me.” He said and replaced his mask.

“You’re welcome.” Katara replied and watched him.

“Maybe we’ll cross paths again and I can return the favor.” He said.

“Which one?” She quipped and he laughed. This time softer, more his own. 

He had a nice laugh.


“You?!” The word came out strangled and Katara nodded. Zuko stood and walked away, pacing back and forth while putting his hands in his hair. 

“I couldn’t sleep for days without thinking of you.” He said, pausing to look at her before resuming his walk.

“What are you two doing?” Sokka asked as he and Suki came up the stairs.

“Your sister was the Painted Lady?” Zuko asked, turning to Sokka, who looked confused.

“Yeah?” He replied.

“He was the Blue Spirit.” Katara stated in a panic.

“What?” Sokka squawked at the same time Suki said slowly,  “Oooooh.”

“We met,” Katara said. “At the Jang Hui river.”

“What?!” Sokka repeated, sounding more alarmed.

“Did something happen?” Suki asked, and then, looking at both Katara and Zuko’s pained faces, brightened. “Oh spirits, something happened.” 

“Wait. Wait.” Sokka now started to sound alarmed. “Zuko, do you like my sister?” 

Zuko’s jaw dropped and his hands fell down to his sides.

“How are you both so dense?” He asked.

“Hey!” Katara interjected just as Sokka sputtered, “Dense?”

“Oh this is absolutely the best way this week could have gone and it hasn’t even gotten to the good part.” Suki said to herself, laughing.

Katara glared at her and Suki sniffed, rubbing her nose. 

“Good for me.” Suki said and then shrugged. “And hopefully Sokka.”

“I’m not going to be happy until Zuko promises to leave my sister alone!” Sokka retorted.

“Enough!” Katara shouted, finally standing. “I’m going to bed.”

“Katara…” Zuko started.

“Nyeh!” She said and waved her arms above her head. “Bed.”

The moon glowed above them and the ocean crashed behind them, and Katara felt herself being yanked back and forth.

Chapter Text

In the morning, Katara walked into the kitchen to see Suki draped on Sokka as he cooked something at the stove. Her arms were around his waist and her chin perched on his shoulder. They swayed together and then there was a pop before a streak of Sokka’s swearing.

“You’re at least wearing a shirt while making bacon right?” Katara asked as she sat on one of the stools at the small island. Suki turned around and smiled at her, letting Katara see that her brother was appropriately attired. 

“Want some coffee?” She asked and Katara nodded.

“So that was a lot.” Suki said as she poured coffee into two mugs. Still swaying around the kitchen, she opened the fridge with her foot, held onto the mugs by their handles in one hand, and grabbed a container of creamer with the other. Using her hip to close the door, Suki hummed a little bit before putting everything down next to Katara.

“You’re in a good mood.” Katara remarked and Suki beamed at her before turning again to open a drawer. Sokka turned into her place, depositing strips of bacon onto a plate padded with paper towels. 

“A lot is happening.” Suki said cheerfully, returning with small spoons. They started to make their coffee while Sokka returned to the stove, swiftly cracking eggs into a bowl. 

“Too much.” Sokka added gruffly and Suki rolled her eyes as she leaned over the island, holding her mug up in her hands. She still drank hers black, as they all had when running through war zones, but Katara liked the extravagance of cream and sugar. She sometimes took it a step further and splurged on flavored creamer. 

“So, the Blue Spirit huh?” Suki asked over the rim of her mug, raising her eyebrows before taking a sip. Katara scoffed but took a drink as well.

“It’s not a big deal.” She replied.

“I don’t know, I remember you being awfully reluctant to talk about the help you got at the river factory.” Suki said. 

“That was years ago and doesn’t matter any more.” Katara replied.

“Do you think he still has the mask?” Suki asked.

“SUKI!” Both Sokka and Katara yelled in unison.

“What? I do.” Zuko interjected. 

Katara groaned, slapping her palm to her face as he took a seat next to her. 

“It was my mother’s. I wasn’t going to get rid of it.” Zuko continued.

“You absolutely should have. That is going to be the thing that ignites a coup, you know, when someone like your sister finds it.” Sokka said, bringing over a platter of scrambled eggs.

“I’m not worried. But hey, it makes sense now why you’re always thinking about that kind of stuff. I guess you’re a prince like me now, huh?” Zuko remarked. Katara looked up to see Sokka give him a withering look.

“I don’t like talking about that.” He said firmly, almost angrily.

Katara turned her face away, but still saw Suki go to him, putting a hand on Sokka’s back before leaning her head onto his shoulder.

Sokka was a lot like their father and fell in love quickly. And it was hard enough for anyone not to have fallen in love with the radiant light that filled Yue. 

“And the royal family isn’t really going to work like that anymore. Apparently, Arnook is going to invoke some ancient law that says only a Waterbender can inherit the throne. If Katara doesn’t have a magic water baby, I get nothing.” Sokka said, sounding calmer.

“What if you have a magic water baby?” Zuko asked. 

Sokka and Suki looked at each other; he chuckled while Suki smiled.

“Two non-Benders? One of whom is from a long line of people living in Kyoshi?” Suki replied.

“Doesn’t the Fire Nation have something like that though?” Katara asked.

“Sort of. It’s a mix of bending ability and bloodline. If I were to have a non-Bender heir, it might still work out considering I’m the descendent of Avatar Roku.” Zuko answered.

“Excuse me? You’re what?” Katara asked.

“Are you serious? You still haven’t looked up anything about me?” Zuko asked.

“There’s a whole HummFeed Unsolved about the disappearance of his mother.” Sokka said. Zuko winced.

“And I don’t like talking about that.” He said, then sighed. “Plus, that episode is banned in the Fire Nation. She wouldn’t be able to watch it here anyway.”

“Okay, let’s just air everything out. No more secrets, no more hidden knowledge.” Katara said and turned to Zuko. “Give me the rundown.”

“Ah, okay. Um.” He stammered and ran a hand through his hair. “My father is the Fire Lord, I’m his heir, but I was also the vigilante known as the Blue Spirit that tried to disrupt imperial forces. After the war, I went to college under a fake name to study, met Sokka, we survived an assassination attempt when I was discovered, and so my uncle paid for his store in thanks for his saving my life.”

“WHAT? YOU SURVIVED A WHAT?” Katara faced her brother who, holding a forkful of eggs, shrugged and continued eating.

“What about you?” Zuko asked as Katara vigorously rubbed her face. 

“Sokka and I left home to find our parents and we quickly got tagged by the Fire Nation navy when they found us on the wrong side of a blockade. We escaped with the help of the Kyoshi Warriors, but they trailed us to the North Pole thinking that I was,” Katara drifted and Sokka stood rigid.

“Kat, you don’t have to-” He started but she held up a hand.

“Fair is fair.” She replied.

“They thought I was the Avatar.” Katara continued. “So when they attacked the North Pole and Zhao, did what he did, I made a pact with the ocean spirit and dragged him down into a canal to drown him.”

“What.” Sokka croaked.

Tears fell down her cheeks but she smiled, her breathing hitched and ragged. 

“Afterward, not finding either of our parents, we went from prison to prison to find them. Along the way we met up with Suki and her people. Suki got arrested and ended up in the same prison as my father, so two birds, one stone. Then we got into another prison and found my mother. And Hama.” Katara stared into her coffee, stirring the liquid slowly. “I learned things that still haunt me, my mother died, and now that I’m saying all of this out loud, I probably have PTSD.” 

“Katara, you burned eight prisons to the ground and you’re a Waterbender.” Sokka said. “Yeah, I think you might have a little PTSD.” 

Katara laughed but they all very quickly fell silent. Sniffling, Katara wiped her eyes and slapped her hands on the island countertop. 

“But none of that is going to get fixed today so I’d like some breakfast and more beach time.” She said.

“I’m down.” Suki said.

“I don’t feel like that’s the healthiest course of action.” Zuko said weakly.

“Oh yeah? You got a Ph.D. in psychology to help out with that? Or did you study PoliSci?” Sokka retorted.

Zuko and Sokka started to bicker while Suki got plates for everyone, handing one to Katara and giving her a one armed hug. Kissing Katara’s cheek, Suki leaned her head against hers.

“You okay Tara?” She asked. Katara shrugged and pressed her head back toward Suki’s.

“Yeah. I’ll talk to someone when I get home though.” She replied.

“Good.” Suki said and dumped a large scoop of eggs onto Katara’s plate, making it tip away from her. “I know a good veteran’s group in Ba Sing Se.”

After breakfast, Katara got her wish and they started packing up for the beach. This time, Suki unearthed an instant camera from her suitcase. She started to take pictures, shaking the wobbly film as she avoided Sokka in the hall. Her laughing shrieks made Katara relax but she was still surprised when Suki thrust the camera into her hands.

“I need you to be in charge of this for a while.” Suki said and winked before lowering a pair of sunglasses on her face. 

Right as they were about to head down, Katara stood in the back sunroom. Zuko stood on just the other side of the screen, looking down into the cooler. Slowly lifting the camera, Katara took a picture of his peering thoughtfully down into the ice. At the snap, Zuko looked up and smiled. 

“You look awfully contemplative.” Katara remarked. 

“One always has to consider the most effective way to move supplies.” Zuko said. 

“You guys ready?” Sokka asked, tossing a towel at Katara before pushing open the screen door. 

This beach day was much calmer. Katara swam while the others stayed in the shallows. Suki moved through the water, her pants rolled up as she bent over picking up shells. 

As Katara waded up through the water, Suki gestured with her head and winked. Confused, Katara wrung out her hair as she walked to the towels. As she sat down, Zuko came and sat beside her. 

“I got kicked out.” He said, and Katara looked down at Sokka and Suki. They were standing close together and Suki was pulling shells out of her bucket.

“Hand me the camera.” Katara said. Quiet, Zuko fumbled through their bag and handed Katara the camera. 

As she raised it, she saw Suki look up and toward her. 

Katara took a picture of Suki showing Sokka the bucket. She handed Zuko the picture. She took a picture as Suki pulled out a shell. She handed the undeveloped picture to Zuko. She took a picture as Suki knelt in the sand. She took a picture of Sokka putting his hands in his hair. She took a picture as Sokka fell on Suki.

“Did she just…?” Zuko asked. Katara lowered the camera and nodded.

Zuko started to laugh and Katara smiled as Sokka and Suki got back onto their feet. When the two came up to the towels, Katara could see her brother shaking. 

“Congratulations!” Zuko said and Sokka fell onto his knees before plopping facedown on his towel.

“Since we were getting everything out in the air.” Suki said and sat down, rubbing circles on Sokka’s back. 

“Let me see.” Katara said, poking Sokka in the ribs. He flopped out his arm and Katara picked up his hand. The band was titanium with a Water Tribe motif carved around the ring in the middle. 

“That’s amazing.” Katara said and then looked over at Suki. “Sorry for making your morning so depressing.”

Suki let out a breathy laugh.

“That’s what it always was though right? Falling in love with the world falling apart?” She said and looked down at Sokka. “We take the good with the bad. Pain is a part of life.”

Sokka turned his head to lay on his cheek, looking up at Suki. 

“Well isn’t this just adorable.” A chilled woman’s voice said. Zuko’s eyes widened and Katara turned to look.

Azula, Mai, and another woman stood, looking back. 

“Still taking the good with the bad?” Sokka groaned.

“This world likes to test me.” Suki said.

Their beach day was cut short and Zuko closed himself in an office with Azula. The rest of the group could hear them shouting, but Mai looked bored. The third woman had introduced herself as Ty Lee and looked strained enough for two people. 

“So why are you all here?” Sokka asked. 

“Azula found out Zuko was here and decided to drop in.” Ty Lee said with a massive dose of forced cheer. 

“It was mostly that she found out he was here with you.” Mai said, looking pointedly at Katara.

“And how’d she find that out?” Katara retorted. 

“I’m allowed to talk about where my boyfriend is.” Mai said. 

Katara put her hands on the back of a chair and ice formed around her fingers. Noticing the chill, she took a deep breath and pried her fingers free. 

“I’m not going to be here for this.” She stated. Pushing the chair away, Katara marched toward the front door. 

“Katara.” Sokka called out. 

“I need some space.” She said gently. “I’m sorry I keep walking away.” 

Suki held onto Sokka’s arm and he held her hands. 

“We’ll be okay.” Suki said.

Katara walked out of the beach house and into the wide cul-de-sac. The other beach houses were spread out, quietly ignoring each other to create the illusion of isolated privacy. Sand soaked the lawns and covered sidewalks, making Katara’s flip flops slip over the surface and spray grit up the back of her legs. 

Taking a walk wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. It wasn’t what drew her, and she quickly abandoned her route. Taking a wide berth around the house, Katara skidded down the sand dunes and walked to their part of the beach. Hiding behind a dune, she shed her clothes and darted to the water.

Here she could think. 

Katara spent a few hours in the water, her thoughts slowly floating through her mind. Nothing really came from it, except that she realized she needed to think more about a few things. It felt like she kept trying to walk away from a lot.

As the sun started to inch toward the horizon, Katara got out of the water. With her bending, she dried herself and pulled on her clothes. While not damp, they were still covered in sand and she grimaced.

Heading up the stairs, Katara sighed but froze as she heard voices.

“Why are you talking to me about this?” Mai asked.

“Right, I should definitely talk to Sokka about my feelings toward his sister.” Zuko said.

Katara looked around, hearing the voices advance, and she darted into the outdoor shower. She pulled the curtain closed as the porch door creaked open.

“Well you absolutely shouldn’t be talking to your girlfriend about your feelings toward another woman.” Mai remarked. 

Leaning against one wall, Katara peered out of the gap from the weathered curtain. Mai and Zuko sat on the small steps leading down to the sandy space before the dunes.

Zuko looked uncomfortable and Mai sighed.

“No, I get it. I do.” She insisted and pushed Zuko’s shoulder. “I used to have a crush on Sokka.”

Katara covered her mouth and nose, stopping her attempt to gasp. Zuko looked just as stunned.

“What?” He asked. 

Mai blushed a bit, turning her face away and tucking her hair behind an ear.

“It was when you started college. I always liked the idea of being with someone,” Her blush deepened and she kept her hand at her ear, slightly shielding her face. “Silly.”

“Silly?” Zuko repeated in absolute shock.

Mai covered her face and actually made a strangled noise that sounded like amusement. 

“It’s just, I never experience life like that!” She said and opened her hands. “People like him and Ty Lee make everything more colorful.”

“And I’m not silly?” Zuko asked. 

Mai leaned her head back, looking at him from an angle.

“Zuko, you’re awkward and soft. Our relationship has made me feel like I’m swimming in pudding.” Mai said and turned in her seat.

“Ouch.” Zuko replied and winced. 

“Katara is dramatic, strong-willed, and, from what I’ve been hearing, she’s kind. You don’t need someone that’s your opposite, you need someone that compliments you.” Mai laid her hands down on her lap, palms up. “We were put together because of politics and I know I can be happy with you. But will you be happy with me?” 

Zuko looked down at her hands and slowly put his on top of hers. 

“I don’t think I can.” He said softly.

“But you’ll do the honorable thing and marry me anyway. Forever miserable but never straying to make sure you don’t make me lose face.” Mai said. Zuko sighed and his shoulders sagged.

“I don’t really know what to do here.” He said. 

“I can’t make any choices for you. But I’m your friend Zuko. I’ll help you figure it out, no matter what you choose.” She laughed and looked down at their hands. “It’s not like I haven’t stood up to my parents before.”

“Thank you Mai.” Zuko said. 

“You can thank me after you actually made a decision. Which, knowing you, will take a stupidly long time since you’re-”

“-soft and awkward. Yeah, I got it.”

They laughed and Katara felt her chest tighten. 

“I’m going to go back inside and get your sister to leave.” Mai said and leaned in, kissing Zuko’s cheek. “Try not to burn anything down.” 

“One time!” Zuko remarked as Mai stood up.

Katara pressed her back against the wall of the shower and stared up at the open sky above her. Water dripped slowly from the shower head, hitting the sandy floor with heavy splats. 

It did feel a little bit like she was walking through pudding.

Chapter Text

Suki and Sokka wouldn’t allow her to call the beach trip a bust, but it was definitely not as relaxing for Katara as she had hoped. Zuko was called away every night to eat dinner with his sister at the royal family’s beach house.  Katara, having not talked to Zuko about what she had overheard, was anxious about it every time.

It didn’t help that he didn’t seem to have much to say each time he returned. 

On their last night in the beach house, Zuko ignored Azula’s summons and stayed with them. Suki found a closet where a bunch of old board games were stashed and they gerryrigged a system to make a drinking game out of Capitalism! 

In the morning, as Katara cured everyone’s hangover before rushing to clean everything up, they realized that may have been a bad idea.

Going through the airport was easier this time since they were leaving the country, and Katara relaxed. She was able to enjoy first class, burying herself under everyone’s blankets and wearing the facemask that came in a sealed cellophane bag. Zuko got them champagne again and Katara heard the sound of the instant camera before a wave of laughter.

Smiling, Katara ignored them and attempted to move her arms over the bulk of four blankets to drink from her glass.

Customs in the Earth Kingdom gave her anxiety, but that was normal for any time she crossed a border. Still, they passed quickly and they moved together out of the airport. 

“Did we want to get dinner?” Katara asked.

“No offense Katara, but I would like to spend some alone time with my bride-to-be.” Sokka said, putting his arm around Suki’s shoulder.

Katara rolled her eyes. “Okay, fine.” 

“Want to go to the Jasmine Dragon with me?” Zuko asked. Feeling small, and unable to really say no without making it awkward, Katara nodded.

“Sure.” She said.

The taxis pulled up and Sokka and Suki waved as they grabbed one. Another followed and Zuko held the door open for Katara. Despite sending so much time with him, and sitting next to him during the flight, Katara felt cramped when Zuko slid in beside her and shut the car door. 

His presence was much like his clothing, larger than she assumed and far too comfortable. He seemed relaxed and Katara put her elbow on the armrest inside the car door. Propping up her chin, the highway traffic passed over her eyes as she thought.

But to be fair, she wasn’t really thinking about anything. It was as if a neuron in her brain would suddenly go “Zuko!” and the others would nod sagely, as if coming to agreement over the concept of him as a being. Other thoughts like “I should see a therapist.” or “Spirits, what does being Queen even mean?” were met with similar chemical murmurings. 

Zuko just sat next to her like one of those salt rock lamps. He felt calming, but his actual calming properties were yet to be determined.

When they got to the teahouse, Zuko pulled out their luggage and Katara started to fidget. Zuko, as he typically did, always looked casually formal. His jeans alone cost more than her whole outfit and his shirt came from a store Katara had never heard of. He would be fine strolling into the teahouse regardless of his standing as a prince.

Katara on the other hand was wearing hand cut jean shorts, a tank top that she picked up at a music festival, and tattered sandals. 

Iroh’s comment about her youth clothing her in something enviable was falling flat at the moment. 

“Ready?” Zuko asked, rolling her suitcase to her.

“Sure.” She replied, grabbing the handle. 

They walked in together and Zuko smiled at the hostess before immediately diverting to the right. Walking past the main tea room, Katara realized there was a hall that fed to multiple rooms, even turning a corner.

“What’s in there?” Katara asked.

“Let me show you.” Zuko said and stopped at a door, opening it gently. 

“Oh.” Katara peered in, looking at the neat little space.

“They’re for private events. There’s some temporary walls to open them up in a bunch of different configurations.” Zuko explained.

“How come I didn’t notice them at the party?”

“A lot of them were open, and they don’t actually fill the length of the main building. A lot of the nobility actually had their tables in here.”

“There was nobility?” Katara asked, half-laughing with shock.

“I’m telling you, there’s almost no difference between rich people and nobility except that rich people can make a vague claim to having an actual job.” Zuko replied and smiled.

“So where are we going?” Katara asked.

“To the last one.” Zuko said, shutting the door and continuing on. When they got to the last one, Katara could smell the cooking meat before Zuko even turned the handle.

Katara smiled as she saw Iroh, dressed in a kimono, crouched next to a grill with his sleeves tied back. 

“Welcome back. You are just in time.” Iroh said, glancing up at them briefly before flipping over cuts of meat with his chopsticks. Katara and Zuko rolled their suitcases to stand next to the wall before kneeling at the table. 

“Thank you for doing this Uncle.” Zuko said, picking up his own chopsticks and flipping over meat. 

“After you had such a stressful time, I was glad to offer some respite.” Iroh replied. 

“Stressful? Suki and Sokka got engaged.” Katara remarked.

“Yes, I heard! That is very exciting news.” Iroh said and sat back. As Zuko took over the cooking, Iroh freed the sleeves of his kimono while looking over at Katara and smiling. 

“Do you suppose he will supply his own flowers?” Iroh asked her and Katara snorted.

“Are you kidding? Sokka is a meticulous planner, he wouldn’t let anyone else near it.” She replied. 

“When do you think they’ll have the ceremony?” 

“I’m not certain. It was a surprise to find out they wanted to get married.”

“Seriously?” Zuko interjected as he added vegetables to the grill. “Sokka has a domestic streak a mile wide.” 

“Yeah but neither of them seemed the type for the frill.” Katara replied. Zuko shrugged and focused on his basting. 

“Not every wedding needs frills.” Iroh added and Katara sighed.

“And not everyone gets the wedding they want.” She said, leaning against the table and resting her cheek on her fist. 

“Are you engaged, Katara?” Iroh asked. Katara raised an eyebrow but shook her head, awkwardly as she didn’t move it from its stand.

“No, just prophesizing.” She said idly.

“Which we already established you are bad at.” Zuko stated and Katara rolled her head back to glare at him.

“Well, I will go and get the tea. Maybe it can help part the veils of the future for you.” Iroh said and huffed as he pushed himself up. 

Katara smiled and blinked leisurely, looking around the room. It was nicely decorated but reminded her of a hotel room. It lacked personality. 

“Are you doing okay?” Zuko asked. 

Katara leaned back and flopped onto the table, watching him remove the food from the grill. He delicately laid everything out on plates and started to stir little dishes of sauce.

“When did you learn how to cook?” She asked instead of answering.

“Like I said, I lived with my uncle for a good number of years. Some of that time we were marching with his army down the western coast of the Earth Kingdom.” Zuko said. “Some nights if I wanted to eat, I had to make it myself.” 

“You don’t sound like either nobility or rich people.” Katara said.

“And look at you, your royal highness, slouching all over the table.” He quipped.

Frowning, Katara sat up and took up her chopsticks, tapping them on the tabletop. 

“Zuko, there's something I wanted to ask you.” She started.

Zuko looked at her, sliding over a plate.

“What’s up?” He asked.

“Did you ever-” Katara jumped as the door opened and Iroh returned with a tea tray. Setting it down, she helped him unload it as Zuko slid over his own plate.

“Tell me Katara, did you get to enjoy Ember Island? I know it is one of Zuko’s favorite places.” Iroh said.

“Is it?” Katara asked slyly, casting her gaze back to Zuko. 

“We used to take family trips there when I was a kid.” He said and shrugged one shoulder up, picking at his food with his chopsticks. 

“His mother had a fondness for the local theatre troupe there as well.” Iroh paused to chuckle. “They were awful.” 

“It’s a shame we didn’t get to take in a show.” Katara said and picked up a grilled green onion.

“I had wanted to.” Zuko said with a sigh. 

“Did they not have a show?” Iroh asked.

“They did. They’re doing a run of ‘Tales of the Avatar,’ but Azula kept calling me up for dinner.” Zuko said.

“Did you get everything sorted?” Iroh asked. 

Katara narrowed her eyes as she looked between the two men.

“Solved enough. I’ll have to wait and see.” Zuko answered.

“What-” Katara began but stopped as Iroh picked up the teapot.

“My goodness, I haven’t even poured the tea. Here, Katara, let me have your cup.” He said. 

The tea was good, a tangy sort of sour that went oddly well with the grilled meat. They talked and Iroh told stories of Zuko as a child. There was an incident with a turtle crab that, from Zuko’s face, didn’t seem like an accurate retelling. 

To make him feel better, Katara related how, when she was first learning to control her bending, she had soaked Sokka while out fishing. And that for a long time, she would often have to change her direction so that her water went where she wanted it. 

It was then that the conversation turned to bending in general, and the benefits of using other elemental styles. Katara agreed that it might work in principle but that the elements were too different to see any real use out of the other styles. 

“Zuko, show her the Wyvern form.” Iroh said and gestured with his chopsticks. Zuko smiled and put his hands down on the table as he stood.

“Here.” Zuko said, holding out his hand. “It’ll look familiar.” 

Katara felt her face warm as she looked at his hand but placed hers on his palm. His hand was warm and dry. 

Helping her up, Zuko got into his stance and Katara tried to mirror it. Firebenders were light on their feet and displaced their weight differently, so it was an awkward placement. Zuko chuckled and walked to her, gently moving her feet by pushing on them with his. Then he held her waist as he angled her hips. Then he pushed out her arms, patting them when they were in place.

“Okay, so the movement is just based on circles.” Zuko said as he took his stance again. “Just follow me.” 

She watched his movements, trailing her arms like a weird after image. When she fumbled, he stopped and approached her again.

“Here. It’s like your water whip.” He said and took her hands. Pulling them through some motions, Katara did recognize the feeling. But the water whip needed a deeper stance since she would have to pull the water around her. This form worked because the Firebender could produce their own flame.

“It’s not useful. It wouldn’t be able to hold much water.” Katara said, stepping quickly away from Zuko.

“But it could hold a nice array of ice shards.” He replied and sat back down at the table. Katara blushed and returned to her seat, taking up her teacup and drinking. 

“Are you enjoying the tea, Katara?” Iroh inquired.

“Yes. But it’s,” Katara looked down into her cup, tilting it. “Different.”

“It’s sakura tea. The cherry blossoms are pickled.” He said.

“Uncle!” Zuko sputtered and Katara looked at him.

“I’ll go and get some more.” Iroh said, smiling in a grandfatherly way. 

Zuko sighed and rubbed his face.

“What’s sakura tea?” Katara asked as Iroh rose and picked up the tray. He chuckled as she shuffled to the door.

“It’s served at weddings. It’s a lovers’ tea.” Zuko answered.

Katara spun around to see the door shut. 

“He does know you have a girlfriend, right?” She asked.

“I don’t actually.” Zuko said and Katara turned back to him. “Not anymore.”

“What?” 

“Mai and I broke up. It wasn’t going to work out the way we had thought it would.” 

“Oh?” Katara asked, her voice shaky and lilting upwards to make it a question.

“She showed me that I deserved better than just living a repeat of my parents’ marriage.” Zuko shook his head and reclined on his cushion. “When I get married, I want it to be for love.”

“Right. The future.” Katara said. She frowned and nodded. “That makes sense.”

“It’s what we’ve got to deal with right? As royals?” Zuko said and Katara groaned.

“Don’t remind me.” She muttered.

“Hey, I’ve got your back. Anytime you want to talk about statecraft, you can give me a call.” Zuko said.

“Statecraft?”

“Sure. But we’re friends, you could ask me anything.” Zuko said and Katara blinked. “Except for anything about school.”

“School?”

“Summer’s almost over, Katara.”

“Right.” Katara said flatly. It was like her lungs couldn’t take in enough air. 

“Did you need help moving?” Zuko asked.

Katara looked at him, feeling like her body was moving slower than the rest of time. 

“Uh, no. Sokka and I usually make a day of it.” She answered. Zuko nodded and picked up his teacup to examine the contents.

“Well you’ll have to let me know if there’s a goodbye party.” He said.

“Yeah.” Katara drifted but caught herself and shook her head. “Yeah, no, of course.”

What just happened?

Chapter Text

Laying in bed, Katara curled on her side and looked unconsciously on her room. Everything was in shades of gray, but her eyes adjusted and she was able to pick out the furniture. Even the clutter piled here and there had emerged in a softer form. Knowing what she knew of the brain and visual functions, she still wondered how much of what she was seeing was being supplied by her memory of the room. Was the errant collection of things on top of her dresser, for instance, not her jewelry stand, but her cup of pencils? Katara couldn’t remember the last time she moved either object, but her mind and her eyes told her that she was seeing all the necklaces she never wore. 

Memory was a fickle thing. It was a photocopier that destroyed the original, so one was always just looking at the copy of a copy. It’s why some things deteriorated with time, or never made it into the memory in the first place. Pieces were dropped, there was a smudge on the glass, or the toner wasn’t quite full.

Running her fingers over her bed, Katara’s fingers remembered something else. It came from shadows deeper in a gray room, but it was well known. 

The touch of the Blue Spirit’s mask

The tactile memory hit her so hard, Katara rolled onto her back, staring wide eyed at the ceiling. A flashbulb went off; the photocopier was in perfect condition and the memory came out crisp. 

Jang Hui was weeks behind them, but they still crawled along the banks of the river. They were following the threads of a supply chain, one that was small but lengthy. Specifically, it fed the prisons in the area. Suki had promised to get her and Sokka on the transports so they could refocus their efforts on finding their mother. But each time they stopped at a port, either the transport had just left or something in the town hindered them before they could jump on. 

It was making Katara frustrated. The fouled waters of the river killed fish for miles downstream of the Jang Hui factory, and the rotting remains washed up at every slow bend. Being in an area with a lot of clay, the banks sucked everything in from fish heads to boots, and Katara trudged along in the stench and a cloud of biting flies. It was easy to get sick in such conditions, and Katara made them break early each day so she could purify their things and their water. A fever had been raging in the area - another thing that slowed them down as Katara passed through - and catching it would slow them down indefinitely. 

With tensions mounting, Katara almost laughed when she realized the thing she feared the most was what got them what they wanted. 

Reaching a small fishing village, also built on stilts and platforms, Katara saw the transport sitting off away in the shallows. Leaving the Warriors to camp in the woods, Sokka, Suki, and Katara went into town to see what had happened. The captain, they found, was in bed with the river fever and his crew was waiting until he either recovered or died before moving on. 

That night, they rented a room and whispered together about their options. They could wait with the crew, but there was always a chance of running out of money or getting caught. Katara offered to heal the captain, but Sokka deemed it too dangerous.

“Well,” Suki said after two days of waiting. “The Painted Lady is a Fire Nation spirit.” 

Sokka and Katara regarded each other, and he finally sighed. 

They waited another day, scoping out the area and sketching out a plan. The captain was at the larger inn, put up in a room on the second floor. Being on the river, many of the buildings that could afford it had large windows that could be propped open. A clean breeze was refreshing and often sought after among the muck. 

Their plan was to wait until evening, create a fog, and have Katara lift herself to the window. Throwing it open, she could put on some performance, heal the captain, and disappear under the platforms before anyone could blink. Then, while the captain got himself together, they would hide themselves on the transport and be off. It was the closest they could get to a perfect plan.

Which made it so frustrating when Katara found it thwarted from the very beginning. 

As she rose on a column of fog toward the window, she could hear the signs of a struggle. Raised voices and clashing weaponry before a gunshot went off. Then, just as she made it to the window, it was thrown open.

A familiar started to lunge through the open window but, upon seeing her, fumbled. He dropped hard onto the platform below, but still went limping off.

Looking back into the room, Katara found it in complete chaos. People were yelling, the man in the bed was coughing with a thick chest, and someone had a gun pointed in her face.

“Be calm!” She ordered and the sailor lowered their gun. Moving into the room, Katara used her water bending to create a fog bank dense enough to push everyone back. Going to the captain, she collected water around her hands and, as they glowed, pressed them to his chest.

Healing a fever was easy, and the man relaxed as the cool water wicked away the heat. As he fell back onto the bed, she turned to the rest of the sailors.

The ones still there.

“I will see to the oni. You will make an appropriate sacrifice to the river for your transgression against me.” Katara said and the sailors looked down, the ones with hats wringing them in their hands. 

Without another glance, Katara turned and jumped out of the window, letting the fog cradle her and rush her down to the platform. She could hear the shouts and calls of the missing sailors, going after the Blue Spirit.

Clenching her jaw, she pursued them. 

The fog caught them up and chains of water tripped them, pulling them back and away from their quarry. As Katara pulled ahead alone, she finally saw the Blue Spirit jump onto the rocky mainland.

It was quite a leap, as the river had washed most of the clay away and left only sheer cliffs. They weren’t monumentally tall, but the drop was enough to break a grown man’s leg. The Blue Spirit made a grab but one of his legs didn’t quite make it under himself. Probably the one he injured from his drop out of the inn.

He was still far enough in the lead that Katara lost sight of him by the time she made landfall. She paused, wondering if she should turn back, when she heard terrible trashing.

Running, Katara panted going up a hill and saw the twisted branches of a thin bush. The Blue Spirit had fallen into it and the roots did not hold. After it partially ripped free of the earth, the Blue Spirit went tumbling down the other side of the hill.

Picking her way down slowly, Katara pulled up the tattered hem of her veil and bunched the whole thing in her hands. Finally reaching the man, she loosely tied the material on top of her hat.

“What are you doing here?” She asked.

Laying on the ground, his feet pointing toward her, the Blue Spirit didn’t even groan in response. Getting closer, Katara saw his mask had come loose and was askew on his face. Even knowing that he was a Firebender, it was still shocking to see the pale skin next to the black cloth of his hood. He wasn’t some renegade colonial, he was from the Fire Nation homeland. 

“Okay, what’s wrong with you.” Katara huffed as she knelt beside him. Reaching into a slit in her dress, Katara uncapped the emergency flask she had secured to her thigh. The oasis water felt cold before she pulled it completely over her hand and she shivered.

Rubbing her hands together to disperse the water, Katara hesitated before running them in the air over the man’s body. Now that she was really looking at him, she wondered how old he really was. His body was lithe, but overall had a youthful thinness. It made her uncomfortable for a reason she couldn’t fathom.

Her bending found the small cuts and bruises under his clothes and she soaked him in order to get the water against his skin. As she moved upward, she found the thickness in his lungs and the fever in his head.

The Blue Spirit had the river fever.

“Some spirit you turned out to be.” Katara scoffed and went to work on him. It was an easy illness to fix and Katara replaced her water when she was done. As she screwed the cap back onto the flask, she sat back on her legs and regarded the man. 

“What were you even doing in the inn?” She asked.

Her eyes traced down the length of him and noticed a small pouch tied to a belt around his waist. Katara leaned over to untie it and the man groaned below her. Freezing, she watched the mask jostle more to the left side of his face.

Black eyelashes curled against his skin, making a crescent cut above his cheek.

“Hmm.” Katara intoned and went back to the pouch. Inside was a small device with one blinking red light and a folded up piece of paper. 

Kneeling again, Katara put aside the device and unfolded the paper. It was a list of names with rows of items under each. The first four sections had been crossed out.

It was a form of the ship’s itinerary. 

“Now, I can’t have you interrupting this ship.” Katara said and folded the paper back. Looking at the man, she slipped the note under the flask. 

“But here, as payment.” She leaned down and put her fingers under the mask. As she started to pull it up, his hand moved limply to hold it down.

“Not m’face.” He slurred. “Not again.”

Confused, Katara let out a quick breath and kissed his exposed cheek.

“He’s over here!” A voice called out. Like a deer fox, Katara leapt to her feet, staring in the direction of the sound. 

“Well, gotta run.” She said, pulling the veil down. Turning back the way she came, Katara sprinted up the hill just as someone came through the brush.

“Look there!” Someone yelled.

“Get her!” Another shouted. 

Swearing under her breath, Katara ran for the cliff’s edge. She could hear multiple pursuers and so, gathering up as much water from the mud below, jumped off the cliff.

The people behind her shouted in surprise and then again in awe as they saw her run on ice back toward the town.

When she got back, Katara found Suki and Sokka at the ship and they were able to stowaway surprisingly well. And the Blue Spirit didn’t show up at any of their stops.

Now, as Katara grabbed her blanket around her, she wondered what would have happened if they had met again. If they had unmasked themselves earlier.

Maybe then she’d know if he actually liked her.

Chapter Text

The next day was a normal workday. Or it was supposed to be.

When Katara parked in the alley behind the shop, she stared at Zuko’s car next to Sokka’s. It wasn’t a pickup day - which he would have brought the van for anyway - and Katara frowned as she looked at it. 

Yesterday felt like a tying up of loose ends. Suki and Sokka were engaged, so their summertime story was over. Zuko had broken up with Mai and remarked on the ending of the season. Katara’s own lease was coming to an end and she was going to have to move to the other side of the Middle Ring to be closer to the university. 

The summer was in fact ending and a new chapter would begin.

Katara got out of her car, closed the door, and walked to the back of the shop. 

She had dumped a lot on Zuko; her actions in the North Pole, her impending coronation, and even their previous disguised meeting. And he had seemed to take it in stride; he certainly never got emotional about it. Maybe because he didn’t care enough about the implications. None of it was worth getting worked up over if this was just a crush.

And it was just a crush, wasn’t it? They had only known each other, really known each other, for two and a half months. All of which, Katara reminded herself, saw Zuko in a relationship with someone else.

Still frowning, Katara opened the back door and walked into the workroom. 

“Hey Kat.” Sokka greeted. Zuko, leaning over the counter, stopped and stood to look at her.

“Good morning Katara.” He said cheerfully.

“Hey.” Katara replied, slipping as much of her hands into her pockets as they would go. “What are you doing here?”

“Zuko is my friend, you know.” Sokka remarked and went back to his workbench. “He’s allowed to come visit.” 

“Sokka is already planning the wedding and I’m here to make sure he doesn’t go overboard.” Zuko added and Katara smiled. 

“Okay, well I’m going to open the shop.” Katara said, walking to the front. She pushed open the door and flipped on the lights. The fluorescents above hummed and crackled as they flickered to life. Opening the till, Katara saw that Sokka had filled it already and she set about recounting the money. It was as she got to the change that the front door opened.

“Good morning, welcome to Ice Blossom.” Katara said and shut the till. The person walking in had a youthful face but they were tall. Blue arrows were tattooed on their arms and the point of one reached down their forehead. 

“Oh hi! You must be Katara.” They said and rushed to the counter, sticking out their hand.

“Yeah.” Katara replied slowly, giving them her hand and then making a noise of surprise as they shook it vigorously.

“My name is Rohan. I’m a courier in town and I do some delivery work for your brother from time to time.” They said and released Katara, who staggered back. Rohan grinned and she couldn’t help but smile. 

“Is it an Airbender thing or just a coincidence?” Katara asked. Rohan paused before bursting into laughter. Once again, their mirth was contagious and Katara fought a losing battle against her own laughter. 

“I only use my glider if I’m really behind.” They said.

“That’s a shame. I think it’d be nice to get flowers by air.” Katara remarked. 

“Fly-by flower bombing.” Rohan said.

“Oh, like at a wedding!” 

“Right as they kiss, woosh! Raining flower petals like a cheesy drama!”

They both started to laugh and the backroom door swung open. Katara turned and saw Sokka step out, looking concerned. When he found Rohan, he smiled.

“Hey Rohan, how’s it going?” Sokka asked as he walked up to the counter. Zuko followed after, staying quiet.

“I’m good, I’m good. And Zuko! Did you get your invitation yet?” Rohan asked. Katara watched, seemingly just as perplexed as Zuko.

“Invitation for what?” He questioned.

“The new Avatar’s debut. All the living children of the previous Avatars are going. My dad is about to blow a blood vessel over it.” They replied.

“Ah, no.” Zuko said and blinked. “But my uncle mentioned something about it I think.” 

“There’s going to be people there?” Katara questioned.

“You really need to answer dad’s messages.” Sokka said witheringly. Rohan turned to her, smiling brightly.

“Ah, that’s right, your dad is the chief of the South Pole.” They asid, hitting their fist into their open palm. They then leaned in, performing a sort of stage whisper. “Good thing you got to meet me before I had to put on my robes.” 

“Are you going to shave your head?” Katara asked. Rohan blanched as they put both hands on their hair.

“It’s not mandatory anymore but,” Rohan lowered their hands, pulling on their cheeks as they did. “I am Avatar Aang’s grandkid.” 

“I don’t think that’ll be necessary Rohan.” Zuko said, sounding tired.

“But it could be!” They retorted. 

“Did you have an order?” Sokka asked, pushing his way in. Rohan brightened again and clapped their hands. 

“Nope!” They said and Sokka slapped his hand to his face with a sigh. 

“Ikki is getting married on Victory Day. Pop wanted me to ask about flowers since we’re friends!” Rohan said. Katara laughed behind her hand and glanced over at her brother. Her eye caught Zuko’s gaze and it stunned her, but he only looked away. 

“Anyway, Katara, want to talk more about our flower bombing services?” Rohan asked, returning to their position of leaning casually against the counter.

“We have a business now?” Katara asked, crossing her arms over her chest. 

“You brought it up, I’m just willing to see if it’s a worthy partnership.” They said.

“I brought it up?” She asked with a chuckle.

“Hey, you don’t have to be so pushy. I’ll give you all the intellectual rights.” Rohan said and then pulled a disappointed face. “Since you only want me for my body.”

“Spirits, you are too much!” Katara said, keeping her hands on the counter and pushing herself back.

“Let’s go out for dinner.” Rohan went on.

Pausing in her lean, Katara lowered her chin and looked at them.

“Pardon?” She asked.

“You’ve got a great sense of humor and you’re prettier than your brother, so I’d like to get to know you better.” Rohan said and stood. “Let’s have dinner tonight. My treat.”

The “my treat” made the request sound innocent, but the sudden serious tone made Katara hesitate. 

“Sure. Why not?” She said with growing boldness. Spirits knew she hadn’t gone out with anyone since undergrad.

“Great. Are we talking flowers or are you just going to take up space?” Sokka asked dryly. Katara stepped away from the counter and faced her brother.

Zuko was watching her.

As Rohan and Sokka went into the back room, Katara turned away and opened the register back up. She could feel Zuko step closer to her but she didn’t look up.

“So,” She said, pushing the coins around with a finger. “Do you know Rohan well?”

“Not really, though not for lack of trying on their part. It’s just that my family doesn’t make them feel welcome.” 

“Them, huh?” Katara remarked, finishing her count and closing the till.

“That would be part of the reason.” Zuko muttered. He was quiet and Katara picked under her nail as she looked out the large glass window. 

“Do you think they’re silly?” He asked suddenly. It was sudden enough that Katara turned and gawked at him.

“Silly?” She asked. As the words registered, and she knew what he was referencing, Katara felt her face warm slightly.

“Yeah. Do you think Rohan is silly?”

“They’re a bit weird, sure.” 

They paused again and Katara looked down at her hands.

“Do you like-”

“Zuko I-”

They spoke over each other and stopped just as abruptly. 

“Sorry, go ahead.” Zuko murmured. 

“I, uhm, overheard you and Mai. Talking.” 

Zuko furrowed his brow. “When?”

“At the beach house.”

“Oh.”

“Did you guys break up because of me?” Katara asked and then thought, or for me?

Zuko, looking concerned, shook his head. “Of course not.”

“Ah.”

“Mai and I had broken up while I was in the war because of everything that was going on and we only got back together because of politics. I was technically on the losing side after all.” He said.

“I think the Fire Nation in general was on the losing side.” Katara remarked. Zuko cleared his throat and tapped his lips with his fist.

“Yes, well.” He said. “The point is, we just decided that we didn’t want to be in a relationship because of politics.” 

“Right.” Katara said. She wondered what kind of relationship was more political than a crown prince and a queen from another nation. It made her anxious and pensive.

“Hey, you trust me right?” Zuko said, putting his hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him slowly, scanning his face but finding nothing in his small smile.

“It had nothing to do with you.” He said softly.

Katara took in a breath and smiled weakly back. “Thanks Zuko.”

Patting her shoulder, Zuko faced the window. 

“You’ll have fun with Rohan.” He said.

“I’m sure that I will.” She said, trying hard not to sound too disappointed.

Chapter Text

After leaving the shop, Katara went home to change and talk to her father. Apparently, Thuy’s debut was going to be a very large ordeal. As she was born in the swamp, she symbolized a partnership between the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribe. Historically, such a relationship had been impossible as many of the closest Earth Kingdom city-states feared any growing power among the ice bound tribes.

The idea of inviting the Avatar’s descendants came out of the Fire Nation. The only times when they got together were for various Avatar related holidays, and those visits were strained during the war. The records only went as far back as Yangchen and Kuruk never had children, but there were hundreds of years between Kyoshi’s daughter Koko and family trees blurred quickly. But with this strong connection between Earth Kingdom and Water Tribe, the Fire Nation was keen on reestablishing these familial bonds.

Bonds Katara had no idea about. It’s not like she was related to the Avatar.

Sitting on her couch, Katara pulled up the mini series on the Avatars on Webflicks. Starting the episode on Avatar Roku, she fast forwarded to the end.

His only living descendants were Zuko and Azula.

That surprised Katara but, as Tenzin narrated the episode, she found that their connection to Avatar Roku was through their mother. She was an only child, born of the only child Roku had. And she had disappeared halfway through the war.

Flipping to the next episode, Katara watched a bit about Avatar Aang. Tenzin, with more emotion in his voice as he spoke about his late father than the previous Avatars, explained how Roku’s death is what allowed for the conflict between the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom to begin.

Roku, having been close to Fire Lord Sozin all of his life, had defused a lot. While attempting to stop a volcanic eruption, both the Avatar and the Fire Lord perished. Aang was raised during a time of turmoil as Fire Lord Azulon sought to fill his father’s throne, but was isolated in part due to being an Air Nomad.

The back and forth between the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom went on for the Avatar’s lifetime. It was only because of his intervention that it didn’t escalate.

Ultimately, Avatar Aang had a family. His eldest son Bumi left the monastic order and founded the secular Urban Dust, his daughter Yangzom became the youngest spiritual sage of her time, and his youngest son Tenzin became a revered historian. All of them Airbenders, they scattered across the world and, in a moment of unintentional hilarity, not even Tenzin could figure out who had children and where. His older siblings having passed on, only his children were the official descendants of Avatar Aang.

Katara chuckled as she saw a shot of Rohan in their Airbender robes and with a shaved head. They looked happy standing with their family. Her smile fading, Katara clicked back an episode to see the shot of Zuko with his. He didn’t look nearly as happy. Or really, he didn’t look happy at all.

With a sigh, Katara switched off her TV and got up. She would probably have to sit and watch the whole series, if for nothing else than to give her even the slightest bit of knowledge about the current global climate. It might help to know more about Thuy as well, if they were going to be working together when Katara became queen.

Katara shuddered and headed for the door.

Rohan met her in a park and Katara looked around as she got there. It was still early in the evening and, with the summer solstice behind them, the sunset made the world rosy. Rohan sat on a low cement wall, overlooking an outdoor amphitheater with their glider folded up next to them.

“So, do any air deliveries today?” Katara asked, eyeing the glider. Rohan laughed and rubbed the back of their head.

“Nah. Unfortunately, I was on time for everything today.” They replied.

“You know, I’m curious, why is it that the Avatar’s grandchild is a delivery person?” Katara questioned.

“Well, since an Avatar is born every generation, it’d get pretty expensive to keep their kids living in the lap of luxury.” Rohan said and Katara shrugged. “And grandpa certainly blew through any niceties when he had three times as many kids as the last three Avatars combined.”

“And then your dad having four!” Katara added as she sat down next to them. “The audacity!”

Rohan chuckled and they both looked down the overgrown slope. Children jumped from one spot of exposed rock to another and shrieked with delight. It was a gentle scene as the day was ending and the air was finally cooling.

“It’s nice having a big family. It’ll be nicer once Jinora has her kid.” Rohan tilted their head and looked over at Katara. “Do you and Sokka get along?”

“Yeah. Why do you ask?” Katara leaned back, putting her hands on the warmed stone.

“You look sad.” Rohan said bluntly. Katara felt the blush and she turned her face.

“It’s just Sokka and I. And our dad.” She added hurriedly.

“I think we were lucky, all of the Air Nomads. Our temples are so hard to reach, we were really protected.” Rohan said. “Except for Uncle Bumi, but Pop said that he got to play Sky Pirates and fight the Fire Nation, which the monks wouldn’t’ve let him do.”

“It’s funny how there will always be pirates. Waterbenders were the pirate kings but got wiped out during the war.” Katara said and then sighed. “A lot of Waterbenders got wiped out in the war.”

“But you’re still here.” Rohan said, putting their hand on hers. “And the Avatar has been found with a whole stash of lost Waterbenders!”

Katara laughed and sat up, sliding her hand from under Rohan’s. “You’re right.”

Standing up, she held onto the strap of her purse with both hands. “Ready to go?”

“Yup!” Rohan said, jumping up. They took their glider up and spun it, stamping it down on the ground as they stood to their full height.

“How do you feel about pizza?” They asked.

The pizza place they ended up in was small, but lively. Rohan left Katara and their glider at an outdoor table, and she watched them through the large plate glass window. People were pressed shoulder to shoulder as they stood eating the largest slices of pizza Katara had ever seen. Rohan was quickly enveloped as they got closer to the counter and Katara pulled her phone out of her purse. Opening her Clicktalk app, she snapped a picture with the hanging restaurant sign behind her. Typing in a caption, Katara glanced up to see if she could spot Rohan. They were tall, but had somehow been completely swallowed by the crowd.

As she posted her picture, she saw two arms rise up over the bobbing heads and smiled at the sight of the blue arrows. Holding up two plates, the arms pushed through the crowd till Rohan freed themself, heading for the door.

Setting down the plates, Katara watched as they then reached into their pants pockets, pulling out two soda bottles with a flourish.

“Now watch this.” They said as they sat down. Using their airbending, Rohan flicked the bottle caps off and sent them spinning. They caught them in the air and made the caps dance around each other before letting them drop.

“That is a cool trick.” Katara said with a laugh. Looking down at the pizza, she pulled a plate over to her side of the table. The slices were as big as her face and the pepperoni slices were twice the size she had seen on other pizza.

“I thought Airbenders were vegetarians.” Katara remarked, picking up her slice and folding it in half.

“Common misconception. Avatar Aang was a vegetarian but he was an outlier and should not be counted.” Rohan replied before shoving pizza into their mouth.

“So do you and like, the other Avatar descendants hang out?” Katara asked before taking a bite.

“You mean with Zuko and Azula?” Rohan questioned with their mouth still mostly full. They paused to swallow. “Sometimes, but it’s usually just at formal functions. Apparently my uncle Bumi saved Iroh’s butt a bunch during the early part of the war and so the current Fire Lord doesn’t really like us.”

“Then you know Iroh?”

“Sure! I get tea there all the time and hangout. Pop says Iroh’s the little brother he never had.”

“Well, you should know Zuko at least.”

Rohan took a moment to eat before responding, looking off into the street.

“Zuko is Zuko.” They said softly, then turned and smiled. “Actually, my sister Jinora was better friends with him. And Meelo is absolutely obsessed with Azula.”

“I can’t imagine anyone being obsessed with Azula.” Katara said dryly and Rohan laughed.

“The very reason you can’t is exactly the reason why he is.” They said and shook their head. “Anything he wasn’t supposed to do or was considered dangerous was always the first thing at the top of his to-do list.”

Katara and Rohan laughed, and Katara picked up her bottle of cherry cola. She liked this, liked getting pizza and being out. Everything was more open and sticky; the sweetness of the soda spilling into the rest of the evening and making her feel happy. It was somehow more expansive than being at the beach.

Everything had been picked out and packed up before she had even gotten to the beach house. Now, in retrospect, she knew that someone had come in to make their meals and take care of everything for the royals. Here, she had her choice of toppings and soda, and she sat outside listening to people pass by.

What would Zuko have picked if he had gone off the tracks for once?

“So, do you happen to know anything about the new Avatar?” Katara asked.

“Only that Pop can’t wait to train her. He was so happy he almost cried.” Rohan replied.

“I guess that makes sense, that she would train with Aang’s family.” Katara said and drank more of her soda. “I wonder if she’ll train with Zuko.”

“Maybe, it’d certainly be good for them if she did.” Rohan said idly. “Think she’ll do any training in the North Pole?”

“I don’t see why.” Katara shrugged. “She’s already a Waterbender.”

“Yeah, but like, for her spiritual training.”

“I thought that was an Airbender thing.” She said, picking up her pizza.

“Don’t you guys live with two actual spirits?”

The flash of black that glowed swept over her mind and Katara choked on her mouthful of pizza. Rohan reached out, alarmed, but Katara held up a hand and grabbed her soda. Take a drink, she felt the lump painfully move down her throat and she could breathe.

“Okay, well yeah.” She said and Rohan sat back, chuckling in relief.

Pushing her plate away, Katara leaned back in her seat. “I think I’m done.”

“Sure. Would you like to go on a walk?” Rohan asked. Katara smiled and nodded.

“That would be nice.” She said.

As Rohan took their plates and walked over to the trash, Katara pulled out her phone. A few people had viewed her Click but she had a message from-

“Zuko?” She murmured. Opening the reply, all it said was

I love that place! Try it with white sauce!

Frowning, Katara put her phone away.

“Shall we?” Rohan asked.

Katara stood and they started down the street. Rohan used their glider as a walking stick and people kept out of their way. Eyeing them out of the corner of her eye, Katara smirked.

“Are you doing that on purpose?” She asked. Rohan smiled slyly.

“Whatever are you talking about?” They shot back.

“Why did you ask me out?” Katara questioned suddenly. That seemed to surprise them and they thought for a moment.

“Every once in a while, my family gets on my back about dating. I’m aromantic and they don’t get it, so I take someone out from time to time to get them to stop asking questions.” They answered honestly.

“So you don’t, like me?” Katara asked.

“Do you like me?”

“Well.” Katara fidgeted and Rohan laughed.

“We literally just met today. It’s not about liking someone, it’s about getting to know them.” They said. Looking at Katara’s pained expression, they shook their head.

“From what I understand, people click and then they go out and the whole thing is riddled with hormonal traps.” Rohan gestured with a hand and Katara watched them. “But honestly, romance is just like any other relationship to me. You have to know the person right?”

“Sure, but…” Katara started and Rohan held out their hand. Unsure, Katara still took it.

“Your heart is pounding isn’t it?” They asked. Katara’s face burned and she yanked her hand back.

“S-shut up!” She stammered and Rohan laughed.

“It just happens, and I’m not even the one you want right?”

“Not the one…?”

“Oh come on, I saw how Zuko was looking at you.” Rohan said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Katara sputtered and Rohan continued to laugh.

“It means that maybe I also asked you out because the last time I saw Zuko, his sister was being really mean and he didn’t do anything.”

“That still doesn’t make any sense.” Katara said in a huff.

“You are totally clueless.” Rohan said, wiping their eyes. “Let’s just have a good night, and I promise you it’ll make things more fun for you.” 

Chapter Text

The date was a lot of fun after Katara relaxed. Rohan took her to a bar that had an impressive arcade tucked away in the back.They had a couple of drinks and Katara destroyed them on a pinball machine. A few blocks away was a karaoke place and Rohan belted out a perfect rendition of a ballad from the musical “Cabbages!” All the while, Katara took pictures of their night, adding whatever stupid caption or sticker Rohan suggested. 

At the end of the night, long before the actual night crowd started to get wild, they stepped out onto the street. 

“Hopefully I’ll see you before the debut, but at least promise to sit near me during dinner or something if I don’t.” They said.

“Absolutely.” She replied and walked down to where she had parked her car.

When she got home, Katara took a shower and got into bed. In the dark, she scrolled through her Microdose feed. Sokka and Suki had both posted their engagement rings and she made sure to leave a heart and a comment. Rohan had added her earlier and they had already liked all of her pictures from that evening, which made her laugh. Much to her horror, she saw that they had also gone back to the earliest pictures on her account, found her in a bathing suit, and liked it. Putting her hand on her face, she laughed in embarrassment. 

About halfway through the recent posts, she saw that Zuko had added a picture.

She had found him on her social media accounts after adding his phone number. At first, she had been nervous about sending him a follow request, but he accepted quickly. Sokka told her that he wasn’t usually active, but Zuko was often the first to view her ClickTalk pictures. 

And now he had posted.

They were shots from their beach trip; some of them even scans of the instant photos. Most of them were posted without any commentary at all, just a tag that showed they were all taken for the same event.

And then there was one captioned “Good Vibes Only @sp_reclaimer72.” 

It was an instant photo of her and Zuko in the ocean. She was pushing a wave of water at him and he was failing to shield himself from it. Katara liked it and kept scrolling smiling to herself.

A text message popped up at the top of her screen.

Zuko: [Hey, how was your night?]

Katara smirked before rolling onto her side and texting back. [It was a lot of fun. Rohan is a cool person.]

Dots wiggled at the bottom of her screen for a while but ultimately disappeared. As Katara pulled up her keyboard, they started again and she stopped. Waiting, the dots wiggled and then disappeared. 

With a sigh, Katara typed.

[I saw your pics from the trip. I already want to go back.]

The dots reappeared and a message finally followed. 

[Me too.]

Katara rolled onto her back and held her phone up. It was a blue patch of light in her otherwise dark room and the screen went blurry.

[You do know that Rohan only asked me out to get on your nerves.]

[What?!]

Katara snickered and kept her arms outstretched as she typed.

[Yeah, but I wonder why that would get on your nerves?]

There were no dots for a good minute. Biting the inside of her cheek, Katara sat up and held her phone down in her lap. When they did finally show up, she exhaled in relief.

[IDK, I certainly don’t like Rohan.]

Katara started to type but stopped as she saw more dots. She deleted her words hurriedly and waited.

[Want to see my favorite picture?]

Katara fell back onto her bed. [Sure.]

A large bubble opened and the loading circle spun quickly. When the image popped up, Katara snorted.

It was of her, sitting in her seat on the airplane, covered in blankets. The eye mask took up half her face and one of her arms was held out awkwardly as she tried to drink her glass of champagne. She looked a bit like a berry.

[Think I can post it?] Zuko asked.

[I’m going to be queen come midwinter, I don’t see how you could pass up an opportunity like this.] Katara replied. 

She then paused and Zuko didn’t seem to be responding. Taking in a breath, she typed quickly.

[Hey, Zuko, does the stuff I did freak you out at all?]

He responded quickly. [No.]

She let out the breath with a smile. Rolling back onto her side, Katara tucked an arm under her pillow to prop up her head. 

[You don’t need to worry.] Zuko texted. [None of that will affect you being queen.]

Katara frowned and used her free hand to swipe over her keyboard.

[What?]

[I’m saying you don’t need to stress about the war stuff or having been the Painted Lady when you’re queen.]

[Zuko. That’s not why I’m asking.]

[What do you mean then?]

[I’m asking because I like you and you don’t seem to have any feelings on the matter one way or another.]

The dots did not appear and Katara tossed her phone down, burying her face into her pillow. After a moment, she turned back and saw her screen still lit, and a new message.

[I like you too, but obviously it’s complicated.]

[Why? Because we’re both going to be heads of states that were enemies in the last war?]

Katara scoffed to herself and tugged up her blanket.

[Katara I don’t think you realize what this is. You’re not going to just be a princess, you’re going to be a ruling monarch.]

She stared at Zuko’s text, feeling her throat dry.

[There’s a lot I can’t do with you.] Zuko texted. Sighing, Katara swiped over the keys.

[Well, what can we do between now and then?] 

The dots started immediately.

[I’ll think of something.Your majesty.]

Chapter Text

The last week of her summer, Katara stopped working at the Ice Blossom. Her days would be spent packing everything up and getting her new apartment ready. The cable and internet needed to be switched over, and there was a problem moving over her electric bill. A Katara paced around her apartment - her steps confounded by partially filled boxes - she waited on hold with the electric company. 

Stubbing her toe on the coffee table she had pushed out of the way of her cable box, Katara tried to keep her swearing under her breath. 

When she heard knocking at her door, Katara wordlessly walked to it. Opening the door, she waved Zuko in before turning back toward her living room.

“Hello?” Katara asked when the hold music cut off. “Ah great, thanks.”

Zuko raised his eyebrow at her and Katara shook her head, gesturing to the living room. She watched him close the door, crossing one arm over her chest and nodded as she listened to the man on the phone.

“Mmh hmm. Mmmh hmm. Yes I-.” Katara rubbed her eyes. “Yes, I understand that. But I’m not, yes, I’m not cancelling my services. I’m just trying to remove one address and add another to my account.”

Zuko walked to the living room and peered into a couple of boxes.

“No, that’s where I live now. I need my account to be moved to the second street address.” Katara said. Zuko watched her as she paced and she turned her back to him.

“Yes, exactly. Now wait.” Katara said in a rush. “I don’t need the switch made until the end of the month.”

She listened intently, not turning as she felt Zuko walk up to stand next to her.

“That’s perfect, thank you.” She said and clicked her phone off.

“UGGGHHHHH.” She groaned and rubbed her face vigorously. 

“I am really glad I never have to deal with stuff like that.” Zuko said. Katara blew a raspberry and walked over to a box in the living room. 

“It’s not always a pain. I can usually do it online, but they were having a problem with this move for some reason.” She said.

“Well, what do you need me to do?” Zuko asked.

“I need to pack up a lot of the non-essentials, like my books, and start dismantling the furniture.” Katara replied. 

“Okay. Where should I start?” 

Katara set him to work on the living room while she packed up her bedroom. In the South Pole and during the war, there was never a reason to accumulate a lot of stuff, so her packing was usually done fairly quickly. She left out a week’s worth of clothes and folded everything else up into a box. Everything else was categorized as miscellaneous and she wrapped them if needed. Otherwise, she tossed everything into a box and moved on. 

After a while, she went out and helped Zuko dismantle her bookshelf. As she started to vacuum up the formerly hidden dust, Zuko headed into her kitchen. She followed him and they started wrapping up her dishes in old newspaper. 

“I really appreciate the help. This would normally take me all week and then we’d have to rush the move in one day so Sokka wouldn’t take too much time.” Katara said as she moved a stack of wrapped plates into a box.

“Not a problem. And if you wanted, I did bring the van. We could take some stuff over tonight if you wanted.” Zuko said.

“We can’t take the trolley through the center of the rings, we’d have to take the highway.” Katara remarked.

“That’s only a three hour drive to the opposite side of the ring.” Zuko said. “I mean, we’d only be able to take one trip, but that’s one less to do on the weekend.”

Katara looked at her watch; it was five-thirty and she was starting to get hungry. 

“Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” She rolled her head and stretched her arms out behind her. “Let’s pause here and load up.” 

“Did you want to do any of the furniture?” Zuko asked hesitantly.

“The furniture is the easiest.” Katara said with a smile. “Don’t you remember the factory?”

Confused, Zuko watched as Katara turned on her sink. As the faucet opened, she pulled the thin rope of water. More and more pooled in the air, enough to easily fill a bathtub, and Zuko stepped back. When she judged she had enough, Katara used the water to shut off the faucet.

“You might want to head down first and open the van.” She said. Zuko nodded and made a quick dash to the door. He looked back in time to see Katara envelope the couch in water.

In the parking lot, Zuko laughed quietly as Katara used her bending to slide the couch into the back of the van. When it was settled, she recalled the water and sent it shooting down a sewer drain. In awe, Zuko ran a hand over the back of the couch, feeling the dry fabric.

“We can’t do that with the boxes because the initial grab would ruin some things.” Katara said with a sigh.

“Guess we’ll have to do it the old fashioned way.” Zuko said.

The van was a delivery vehicle and so they weren’t able to fit much more in the back. Zuko and Katara stepped up into the cabin of the van and she pulled up a map on her phone. 

“Where do you want to eat?” He asked, turning over the engine. 

“I don’t care. Somewhere quick.” Katara replied, fitting her phone into the holder on the dash.

“Fast food?” Zuko asked, sounding offended.

“Okay rich boy, calm down.” Katara replied. Zuko smiled but didn’t say anything. He pulled out of the parking lot and headed onto the main street.

They got food through the worst drive-thru Katara could find and Zuko demanded that she feed him his fries so he could keep both hands on the wheel. The interstate itself was fine, but they hit construction traffic about forty-five minutes in that made it a slog. 

Zuko swore a blue streak under his breath as he flipped his turn signal on aggressively. He was trying to merge in front of a blue car for the third time since they had seen the orange construction signs. 

“You’re in a van,” Katara said. “You’re only just above semi-trucks in car hierarchy.” 

“So I just have to go for it?” Zuko asked. He shoved the front of the van into the tiny space the blue car was just about to lurch into and Zuko smiled triumphantly. 

“I wanted to ask, how to manage to get around so freely as the crown prince?” Katara asked as Zuko straightened out the van and let out a breath. 

“I have a security detail, of course. But a lot of it just comes down to the fact that I live a very mundane life here. I’m a Firebender, so I can take care of myself in close quarters, and any larger attempt on my life is most likely going to get picked up by my babysitters.” Zuko explained. 

They drove for a time in silence and Katara watched the cars sway like fish in front of them.

“What about you?” Zuko asked.

Katara looked at him, curious.

“Me?” She questioned.

“Where are your babysitters?”

“Why didn’t the crown prince of the Fire Nation know about Arnook’s new heir?” 

“Hmm.” Zuko nodded, looking intently through the windshield. “Fair.”

“People had no idea who I was at the end of the war. And it’s not like the Fire Nation wanted to talk about the Waterbender that…” Katara trailed off and Zuko didn’t move. “Anyway, I was easy to hide.”

“Probably not for much longer.” He said softly.

“Do you think I’ll be able to finish medical school after my coronation then? I mean, it’s pretty mundane.” Katara asked. Zuko glanced over at her quickly, but she was able to see his pained face.

“Katara, again, you’re going to be a ruling monarch. I doubt they’re going to let you do anything other than that.” He said. Katara huffed, crossing her arms over her chest and sinking down in her seat. 

“I don’t even know what being a queen means.” She muttered.

“Well,” Zuko paused as traffic started to clear up and he changed lanes again. “You’re going to have a lot of ministers, and I’m sure Arnook is going to stick around.” 

“I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do. All of the tribes have been self-governing for a very long time, and I don’t see them unifying just because I’m a Waterbender.” Katara said.

“Sure, but the tribes are small, and the war wasn’t that long ago. Being united might seem pretty attractive right now, and with the Avatar being born in the Swamp, it might be that Arnook is trying to keep power in the North Pole.” Zuko replied.

“So what?”

“So nothing. Really, it’s because the Water Tribe will look bad if the head is some random person for a literal backwater place.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Katara jerked herself upright but Zuko stayed firm.

“You know I don’t mean anything by that. Only that no one knows anything about the Swamp Tribe, and two nations are going to be sniffing out their loyalty.” He said. 

He looked at her and Katara turned her face away to look out the window. The sun was sinking behind the wall of the middle ring and the sky seemed brighter on that side. 

“Does it actually bother you?” He asked. Katara sighed and rested her forehead against the glass. 

“No. I know what people say. I just don’t want to be queen.” Katara said. “This wasn’t supposed to be my reward.”

“Reward?”

Katara closed her eyes, listening to the road underneath the tires. She could conjure the image in perfect detail, right down to the smell. The ocean spray was metallic; the sunken ships blooming like tea leaves under the waves. The sky was a blinding orange. Sozin’s Comet ripped through the sky and burned up the oxygen, leaving Katara to gasp as she ran over the howling water. 

Sky Pirates clashed overhead and sent more ships tumbling down, their hulls ablaze. Sokka and Suki had infiltrated the Fire Nation air force and Katara watched with her heart in her throat as the flagship went down.

She had to trust them, had to trust that they would be able to get out safely.

And so she ran, waves pushing her up over rocks that pierced the depths. It was after one massive swell that Katara found herself airborne. Flipping around, she dove into the water. It covered her and became her. La rose with her and they ripped ships out of the sky, dragging the seabound ones downward as they did. 

The Firebenders were more powerful at that moment, but a fire could always be put out with a big enough wave. 

When she landed on a boat, she ran over the deck, sheering it apart with her bending. The sailors that got in her way were forced to kneel when she used her knowledge from Hama. At the prow, Katara would jump again, and La would receive her. 

It was only by chance that they were at the invasion site. They had just been trying to get home when Sokka had noticed the fleet.

“What do you know about the final battle?” Katara asked, opening her eyes and watching the reflective lines pass underneath the window. 

“Only that two-thirds of our air force and navy was sunk.” Zuko said. “I actually almost lost my father then.” 

“Yeah,” Katara croaked. “Sorry about that.”

“Were you,” Zuko paused and Katara looked away. “There?”

“I was.” She said. 

“And La?”

Katara didn’t answer and Zuko didn’t say anything further. Silently, Katara rolled onto her back and stared up at the sky through the windshield. 

“They only want me to use my power.” She said.

“I don’t think they get much say in the matter.” Zuko pointed out. Katara groaned and pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes.

“Can’t you be upset?” She demanded.

“Why would I be upset?” Zuko asked. 

Sitting up, Katara slammed her hands on the edge of her seat.

“You literally just told me that I almost killed your father in the war. It didn’t bother you when I told you I drowned Zhao, but this? He’s your father Zuko!” She said.

Zuko sighed, but he looked sad.

“What happened to your mother, Katara?” He asked. Shocked, Katara sat up.

“What?”

“She died in prison right? Protecting a horrible woman, or so Sokka told me.” Zuko said. Katara faced forward again, her hands gripping her arms.

“My father ordered that the Water Tribe forces be captured and sent to POW camps. It’s his fault she was there.” Zuko said. Katara lowered her face as tears welled up hot in her eyes.

“He took my mother away too.” He said. 

With a gasp, Katara’s head snapped up.

“What?” She asked.

“I don’t know why, but my father is behind her disappearance. He told me as much. He also told me that I will never see her again.” Zuko said. He turned his face to steer the van onto an exit ramp. His jaw was set but he still only looked sad. 

“So, we have something in common.” He added gently.

Katara started to cry and Zuko flipped up the center console, yanking a tissue out of a box and handing it to her. She took it and he kept his eyes on the road, occasionally looking at her phone for directions. 

“Katara, you are an amazing woman and I think you’ll be an amazing queen.” Zuko said. He finally looked at her as they stopped at a stop sign and he smiled. “Want to get some ice cream?”

Sniffling, Katara nodded. 

“I’m going to need you to find a place because I have never been here before.” He said, pulling the van through the intersection. Katara chuckled and grabbed her phone. 

“So, we should probably find out what else we have in common besides the mom thing.” She said as she looked up an ice cream place.

“What kind of flavor do you like?” Zuko asked.

“Butter pecan.” 

“Well it’s certainly not that.”

Chapter Text

And it was over.

Zuko took time to help her move during the week and on Saturday, Sokka closed up the Ice Blossom and drove the big truck to move the pieces she couldn’t break down. In the evening, as she washed away their sore muscles, they all sat at Katara’s kitchen table and shared the various cartons of take out.

They ate by candlelight as the electric company had not switched over her account like she asked.

It was awkward for more than that, as they all knew what the next day was.

Katara’s summer was over, though there was still a week left before her classes began. All of them were about to head up to the North Pole for the Avatar’s debut and, even worse, the Fire Lord was coming along. 

They slept over and in the morning, they went together to the airport. Despite the impending three day ordeal, their luggage was light. All of their fancy attire would already be there and waiting for them.

Flying to the North Pole was a lot easier for Katara, mostly due to the fact that they boarded a private plane. Iroh met them at the airport, coordinating with Zuko about when they would be meeting up with Azula and the Fire Lord. 

The thought that she would soon be face to face with the man behind her mother’s death was, for the lack of a better word, odd. The degrees of separation between the Fire Lord’s order and Kya’s death passed through so many people, it was difficult for Katara to connect the two. Still, having to meet him made her feel queasy.

Everything was moving so fast, and Katara took her first breath of the day on the plane. It was as if the past few weeks had swept by her in a gust of wind. Her head spinning, Katara gripped her armrests and tried to focus on the small porthole window. 

Hopefully the next five days would pass quickly and without incident. 

Multiple cars were parked on the tarmac and their plane taxied slowly over to them. A stairway was wheeled over and as the door to the plane opened, the cars similarly opened. Most of them were guards, but Hakoda stepped out of one, smoothing down the sleeves of his parka. 

“Hey, there they are!” Hakoda greeted as Sokka and Suki emerged from the plane. “Let me see my soon to be daughter-in-law!” 

Katara followed after them and watched as Suki hugged her father. She hesitated before walking over and was distracted by a loud calling. Looking around, Katara finally peered upward, shielding her eyes from the sun still clinging to the horizon.

A Sky Bison banked and landed in a turn, facing the rest of them and stomping some of its tree trunk legs. 

“Hi Katara!” Rohan’s voice bellowed from over the Sky Bison’s head. There was a flurry of orange as multiple people jumped down using their airbending. 

Still breathing, Katara smiled. It didn’t seem likely that the time would pass slowly now.

It was dark when Zuko found her.

A dinner was being held for just the guests of honor, and drinks were being served. The Avatar was in conversation with Arnook and Tenzin, while the Fire Lord was standing with her father, Iroh, and Azula. It was too much and, with dinner still yet to be called, she had to escape. 

It was the end of summer, so the North Pole was heading quickly into the dark season. The sun was only up for a few hours and lingered at the horizons, but evening fell quickly. So it wasn’t surprising that Katara stood in twinkling darkness before suppertime.

“I am not used to it being this dark but not feeling tired.” Zuko said as he walked up to her. Most of the building was made of wood and stone, but the balcony was pure ice. Zuko looked uneasy as he stepped on it, despite the grit the architect had added.

“It’s worse when the sun doesn’t go down at all. My bending is all out of wack then.” Katara replied. 

“Sounds like Firebender perfection.”

“Don’t like the moon?”

“I prefer the ocean.” 

Katara rolled her eyes and turned, crossing her arms on the railing just as Zuko stood next to her. He, like every other Firebender that came to the Poles, was dressed lightly. It was a mark of weakness if they needed arctic clothing, and while Katara understood that their inner fire kept them warm, it also greatly annoyed her. 

It was as if they were saying they were better suited to living in her home than she was. 

“So the Avatar seems nice?” Zuko offered. Katara glanced back briefly and nodded.

“She is. She definitely seems interested in being your friend.” She said.

“It surprised me too. I wasn’t prepared for her to get political so quickly.” Zuko replied. “But she wants Azula to teach her firebending.”

“You’re kidding!” Katara scoffed and Zuko smiled.

“It makes sense. If she cozies up to me, it gives me a leg-up on the global stage. But by having Azula be her teacher, she doesn’t risk ticking off my father too much.” He explained.

“About him…”

“What?”

“Does he always look like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like he has a rod jammed up his backside but instead of taking it out, he just gets offended that you haven’t impaled yourself?”

A laugh burst from Zuko and he quickly covered his mouth.

“That is definitely one way to put it.” He said.

“I can find other ways.” Katara offered and Zuko chuckled.

“I’d rather you not.” He said. 

They stood in silence, looking out over the snowy courtyard. Everywhere she looked was snow and ice. With no humidity, the lampposts and streetlights didn’t glow, but stood like beacons of crisp white brilliance. The snow and ice itself glowed, coloring the light blue. 

When it got truly dark, people would begin to carry around lanterns that were as old as their tribe. 

“I hate being here.” Katara said suddenly and Zuko faced her.

“As in tonight or just in general?” He asked.

“In general.” She shook her head and tucked some of her hair behind an ear. “It reminds me of horrible things, yet I spend all of my time needing to go to the Oasis.”

“Then let’s go.” Zuko said.

“And be late to dinner?” Katara asked.

“Let’s cause a scandal. I don’t really want to eat with my father.” He replied. Smiling, Katara took his hand.

“We can be quick.” She said and pulled up a massive ice ramp from the snow on the ground.

Katara raced them both around the palace and to the high walls that guarded the Oasis. Out of respect, Zuko insisted they use the door and the guards let them pass. It was going to be hard to deny Katara entry when she harbored a link with one of the spirits being guarded. 

Zuko seemed in awe of the place and Katara watched peacefully as he walked around. She went to the pond and sat down, not looking at the fish beside her but neither was she ignoring them. 

After marveling at the flora, Zuko walked to her and sat next to her. 

“How do you feel?” He asked.

“Calm.” Katara said with a smile. She then grinned and leaned toward him.

“Want to see something weird?” She asked. Zuko only nodded and Katara sat back, putting her hand into the pond. 

She couldn’t see it, but the look on Zuko’s face told her what was happening. 

“Whenever my link to La is active, my hair turns black.” She said.

“But at the beach-” Zuko started, still staring at her hair.

“My hair was wet, it was dark, you wouldn’t have noticed it.” She said and then turned to look at the fish. As they swam by, Katara put out her hand and let them pass under. Their scales felt like silk. 

It was while she looked down that she saw the reflection of the sky.

“Zuko.” She said with a gasp and looked up, pointing as she did.

Green light spilled over the dark sky like trickles of water. The lines themselves also bled upward, illuminating a three dimensional space that made the vast sky a maw of darkness. The lights shimmered and Katara turned, lying on her back to watch them. Zuko joined her on the grass, his hands under his head.

“Now that is cool.” He said.

“Everything is so beautiful here, I wish I was happier.” Katara murmured.

“Are you not happy?” Zuko asked.

“I am, right now.” She said and turned her face. She was looking at Zuko’s scar and felt impelled to reach out. His eye fluttered, but he didn’t move away and Katara lightly touched the burn. At her touch, he closed his eyes and Katara rolled onto her side.

“I think here, of all places, I could heal you.” She whispered.

Zuko smiled.

“No. Right now, I’m happy too.” He said. 

Katara took back her hand and leaned over as he opened his eyes. Zuko reached up with one hand, putting on the back of her head as she dipped in to kiss him. As her lips met his, she turned herself, and he sat up, holding her. They curled around each other as Katara ended up with her arms around his neck; his wrapped around her middle. 

As they broke apart, Katara felt her arms pull against him and he pushed her up. 

“We should probably go to dinner.” He murmured. 

Sighing, Katara rested her forehead against his.

“Fine.” She put down an arm and pushed herself up, allowing Zuko to stand. 

“May I escort you, your Highness?” He asked, offering his arm. 

Katara only stuck out her tongue before linking her arm with his.

Chapter Text

After dinner, Katara retreated to her rooms and put on her pajamas. While brushing her teeth, she examined her skin in the clear mirror above the ice sink. When she had first arrived in the North Pole, it was before she had been invited down into the crystal catacombs in Ba Sing Se, and she had marveled over the crystalline structure of the ice. But now, having traveled the world over, all she saw were pieces stolen and cobbled together in every nation’s architecture. There was nothing wrong with a little inspiration, but it had wounded Katara’s pride to see something she had claimed for her own have its origin in a faraway place.

Between jetlag and the darkness hindering her own internal clock, Katara was restless after preparing for bed. She walked out onto her balcony and watched the green ribbons shimmer over the oasis. This was going to be her home and she tried to feel something for it.

It had everything she wanted. Strong walls to protect her people, an opulence that she used to dream of, and a connection to her family. During dinner, she had watched as her father talked with a woman and saw a familiar look in his eye. Gran-Gran lived here, now, with Pakku, coming back full circle in her life. Sokka might only visit, but her family was settling down here in the North Pole. 

But it felt more like getting stuck in permafrost than putting down roots to her. 

“Yo.” Sokka said from just behind her. Katara jumped and glared at him as he walked up.

“You scared me!” She snapped.

“I knocked, but I guess you can’t hear me out here.”

“I guess not.”

Sokka stepped up to the railing, standing next to her, and they both looked out at the spirit lights. They stood together quietly and, after a moment, Katara leaned into him and put her head on his shoulder. 

The North Pole had been brutal. Everyone was excited at their arrival; no one in the North Pole knew that the South Pole was still surviving. When they were told that their parents weren’t there, Pakku himself had promised to help teach Katara before sending them out into the world. Anything for Kanna, he said.

While they stayed there, Sokka and Katara lived in the palace. They both got to know Princess Yue fairly well, but Sokka fell in love. 

It had devastated him when she sacrificed herself for Tui. 

“How are you doing?” Katara asked, rolling her head back a bit to look up at him.

“I’m alright. It’s been a long time.” He said. “It doesn’t hurt anymore.” 

“Do you think dad is moving on?” 

“Are you talking about Malina?” 

“Is that her name?” 

Sokka shrugged, bouncing Katara’s head until she stood up. 

“How does it feel being the only one without a tragic love story?” Sokka questioned.

“I think I might be getting one.” She muttered and draped herself over the balcony rail. 

“Are you in love with Zuko?” He asked.

For some reason, Katara suddenly felt like crying and her throat tightened. “I really like him, Sokka.” 

“He’s a good guy.” Sokka replied and put his arm on Katara’s head. 

“I don’t think we’re good for each other.” She admitted. Sokka’s hand hung in her face and she saw thin scars on his palm. 

“How’s that?” He asked.

“We’re total opposites.”

“Katara, you’re whole life is filled with opposites. Your bending is based on opposites.” Sokka scoffed. 

Shaking off his arm, Katara stood up again.

“What do you mean?” She asked.

“I mean that opposites aren’t always contradictions. Yue is the moon, she pulls. You are the ocean and you push. That’s what keeps the tides going and we won’t even get into what a big deal that is for our planet. Plus, look at you and me.”

“What about us?”

“We came from the same womb. I’m male, you’re female. I’m a non-Bender, you’re a Waterbender. But we’re still the children of Kya. We are opposites but we are siblings. We are one thing.” 

“Fire and water are a little more extreme than that Sokka.”

“What about a soldier and a healer?”

Katara paused and looked away. 

“I’m having enough trouble with that as it is.” She mumbled.

“Katara, sometimes it’s not about being a counter to something, but a counterpart. It’s about the pieces of you that make up who you are. And for as fiery as Zuko is, you two have more in common than not.” 

“You mean the fact that we both have dead moms and are royalty?” Katara snorted. “Then you have just as much in common.”

“Katara, if you’re going to be a brat about this then I can’t help.” Sokka retorted.

“I’m not being a brat.”

“You are. I’ve had to deal with you for your entire life.” Sokka put his hands on her shoulders and looked her square in the face. “I mean that you both are more than willing to break yourself apart for the people you love. And if you love each other, maybe you’ll finally have someone to keep you in one piece.”

Katara’s eyes watered and she wiped them quickly.

“Harmony comes from opposites working together, not from sameness.” Sokka added softly.

Katara nodded and Sokka pulled her close, hugging her tightly. 

“You know what I really hate about the North Pole?” He whispered into her ear.

Katara sniffed. “What?”

“No penguins. Can’t go sledding.” Sokka replied.

Katara laughed and closed her eyes, holding onto the back of Sokka’s shirt. Together they just breathed.

Chapter Text

“Spirits, I should never have asked you.” Thuy muttered as she rounded another corner. 

“It’s not my fault you can’t follow directions.” His tone was so irritating, Thuy had to stop, squeeze her eyes shut, and count to ten.

“Kuruk. You haven’t been GIVING me directions!” Thuy hissed.

“I told you to take a left after the scholar’s hall.” Kuruk snapped in reply.

“It was just another empty room. They’re all empty rooms!” Thuy shouted in exasperation. With a sigh, she pinched the bridge of her nose. 

“It’s really not that hard.” Kuruk said sullenly.

“I’ve never been to the North Pole before.” Thuy said.

“No. Because you were born in a swamp.” Kuruk snorted and Thuy felt her shoulders fall as her anger left her in a rush.

“A swamp. The most powerful Waterbender since me is born in a disgusting-”

“You mean since Master Katara.” Thuy interrupted, now continuing down the hall.

“Excuse me?” Kuruk asked, his voice dripping with disdain. Thuy smiled to herself.

“Master Katara surpassed you when she was my age, and you were the Avatar.” She said.

“That girl-”

“-is twice the Bender you were, yes.” Thuy finished for him. “It’s a good thing you were the Avatar because you certainly weren’t going to make a name for yourself as a Waterbender.”

“Why you-”

“Goodbye Kuruk.” Thuy said sharply before severing her connection.

It had been nice as a child when she talked to Aang. He had been a grandfather and was very easy to talk to. Thuy wasn’t overly fond of Roku, but that was mostly because he was a bit stiff. Kyoshi was fantastic, which made it all the worse when Kuruk turned out to be so. Bad.

Still feeling smug, Thuy meandered for a bit longer in the halls. It was a long standing habit that when it got a little too people-y, she’d disappear. But this wasn’t the Swamp, where she could never get lost. The North Pole palace was just a series of buildings erupting from the ice around the important open spaces, like the dining hall. All she needed was a quiet space to process things, but so far every room she found was too big.

And she really didn’t want to be found before she was ready.

It had been her choice to come forward, and she told her parents she was fine leaving the Swamp for this debut, but nothing had been fine. Being so far from her roots made her feel raw and exposed. Plus, finally meeting her heroes in the flesh did not go as well as she had hoped. 

Sadness drowned out her smug pride as Thuy recalled Katara’s stony look when they were introduced. Zuko had been much kinder, but in a polite, political sort of way. And Katara had been the one Thuy wanted to meet the most; seeing her so cold was like grabbing the blade of a knife. 

“Avatar Thuy?” A voice called out in stunned surprise.

With a jump, Thuy turned around. It was one of the Kyoshi Warriors.

“Oh, um, Suki?” Thuy asked, trying to remember her name. The smile told her she was right.

“Were you looking for something?” Suki asked as she got closer.

“No.” Thuy said, shaking her head. “I just needed to take a break.”

Suki examined her for a second and then gave her a softer smile.

“Well, we’re close to my room. Come on.” She said.

Thuy looked at her in alarm. “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. I’m a Kyoshi Warrior after all, so how could I offer anything else?” Suki replied lightly.

Thuy looked down, tugging on her parka. 

“I’m not…” She said quietly, her voice fading into nothing. 

“But you are.” Suki said firmly, putting her hand on Thuy’s shoulder. As Thuy looked up, Suki gestured with a tilt of her head.

“Come on.” She said. Leading the way, Suki guided Thuy further down the hall and into a room. It was small, as most of the common sleeping quarters were, but it was still well decorated. When they walked in, a vent somewhere in the ceiling clicked on and Thuy felt a cloud of warm air fall down the back of her neck. 

“I don’t know how it all stays frozen.” Thuy said.

Suki paused, looking around, and shrugged.

“It must be sea ice. I can’t imagine fresh water holding up this way.” She said.

Thuy stared at one wall, tapping her lip.

“Don’t lick the wall.” Suki said suddenly and Thuy turned quickly.

“I wasn’t!” She blurted and Suki chuckled. 

“That’s just the first thing I’d expect Sokka to do.” She replied.

Suki moved around the room and Thuy stood still, watching her. The Kyoshi Warrior was not a very big woman; Thuy was only thirteen and already as tall.

“You know that doesn’t matter.” Kyoshi’s voice rippled up in Thuy’s mind, and she blushed. 

“You’re engaged to Sokka, right?” Thuy asked. Suki, stopping at a large wardrobe, nodded.

“Yeah.” She said, sounding wistful, and a smile curled up the corners of her mouth. 

“So, do you know Master Katara?” Thuy questioned.

Suki pulled open the doors of the wardrobe and looked over at her.

“Of course. We spent a lot of time together in the war.” She answered. As she leaned into the wardrobe, Thuy looked down, tugging on her parka again. 

“Does she hate me?” Thuy asked.

Suki didn’t reply, but Thuy kept her eyes down. She heard the wardrobe shut and felt the air sway as Suki walked back over. 

“She doesn’t hate you.” Suki said. 

Thuy looked up and saw Suki holding a bunch of green fabric.

“What’s that?” Thuy asked, scrutinizing the fabric.

“They’re your robes.” Suki said, shaking her arms out to get Thuy to take them.

“My robes?” Thuy, stunned, took the robes automatically. They were heavy and Thuy took in a sharp breath.

“There was supposed to be a whole thing.” Suki said, waving a hand dismissively. “But that’s not how we do things.” 

“But I haven’t trained!” Thuy said in a panicked rush. 

“You are Avatar Kyoshi, so they’re yours by right. If you want to train, I would be happy to make you, Thuy, a Kyoshi Warrior.” Suki replied.

“But I’m.” Thuy choked on her words, gripping the robes tightly. It was too much, and she started to cry.

Suki looked sad as she sighed.

“I know I’m going to say the wrong thing because I’ve never, you know, dealt with something like this before.” She started as Thuy sat down, burying her face in the robes.

Crouching down, Suki put her hand on Thuy’s back, lightly rubbing the space between her shuddering shoulders.

“The Warriors are traditionally a sisterhood, yes, but anybody can wear the robes and wield the fans.” Suki said. 

Thuy’s heart broke in her chest and she cried harder. Still, as Suki sat down and gathered Thuy in her arms, she leaned into the embrace.

“But that’s not what I’m trying to say. The point is, the robes don’t care about the shape of the body. You are a woman. You belong in the sisterhood exactly as you are.” Suki continued.

Thuy’s crying lessened, but she remained curled against Suki’s side.

“Is that why you think Katara hates you?” Suki inquired gently.

Thuy shook her head. Taking a deep breath, she slowed her shuddering lungs and pulled away. Unfurling herself, Thuy laid out the robes across her legs before pressing her chilled hands against her hot, puffy face. 

“Not a lot of people know that I’m…” Thuy fought against the tightness in her throat. “Trans.” 

“I only figured it out because of your animal companion.” Suki said.

Confused, Thuy only looked at Suki, who shrugged before leaning back on her hands. 

“Avatar Aang’s companion was a male Sky Bison. Roku’s dragon was male. Kyoshi’s was female. Kuruk’s was male. Yangchen’s was female. Yadda yadda.” Suki said, looking up at the ice ceiling.

“Not a lot of people know that Mister Whiskers is a girl.” Thuy said.

“The girls are smaller and have an even number of spine ridges.”

“How do you know that?” 

“I took a single zoology class at a community college once.”

Thuy laughed as Suki rolled her head over to look at her. 

“Let’s get you dressed and you can tell me why you think why Katara hates you.” She said. 

Thuy looked up in alarm as Suki stood.

“Now?” 

“Why not? You’ve got time to kill before your next event.” 

Suki helped Thuy disrobe; she simply wasn’t used to all the layers and buttons of the arctic clothing. Seemingly more at ease with it, Suki made quick work of it all. As the cold air hit her skin, Thuy went silent, but Suki didn’t even flinch with curiosity. She only spun out the wide fabric before wrapping Thuy in the heavy expanse of emerald green. 

“When you’re all done growing, you might actually fit in Kyoshi’s robes.” Suki remarked as she tied everything up.

“Is that even allowed?” Thuy asked.

“Sure. It’s just cloth. It’s going to rot away at some point anyway, might as well get the Avatar to wear it again.” 

“Did Aang not?” 

Suki shook her head, focusing on a smaller tie. 

“I don’t think he ever wore anything other than his robes.” She answered.

Thuy went quiet as she thought. This was the first time she had actually spoken with the captain of the Kyoshi Warriors and she had already started crying. But then again, it felt like she had known the Warriors all of her life.

“Kyoshi thinks you’re a good leader.” Thuy said.

The robe slackened as Suki lost her hold on the fabric and Thuy winced.

“You talk to her?” Suki asked, her voice muted.

“I can talk to all of them, but it’s easier to speak with Aang since he was right before me.” Thuy said. 

“Well. That certainly isn’t daunting.” Suki said with a laugh, finishing her ties. 

“A lot of them are nice. Except Kuruk.” Thuy added with a growl in her tone. 

“Really? I would have thought-”

“He’s an asshole.” Thuy interrupted.

Suki snorted and moved to the wardrobe.

“Not surprising. I mean, have you talked to some of the people around here?” She asked.

“Sokka and Master Katara are different.” Thuy said.

“Well, they’re from the South Pole.” Suki replied. 

“Can you tell me about them?” Thuy questioned.

Suki turned, holding a wooden box, and smiled.

“I’ll be doing your makeup so you won’t be able to talk. I guess I can keep you entertained.” She replied and walked back. 

Thuy noticed how Suki moved and was struck by it. For how small and physically feminine Suki was, she still moved with strong, sure steps. She walked like a man that had been trained to move delicately. 

Kyoshi had spoken of course about her training. How her mother’s fans had ended up in a man’s hands. How her large feet had traced their own steps through her mother’s faded footprints. There was masculine and feminine in everything a Kyoshi Warrior did. Life was a woman’s gift, and death was a man’s burden, but a Kyoshi Warrior stood as a protector and a fighter. They wore robes like a scholar with their faces painted like the finest courtly dancers that had brushed her father's face. They were never just one thing, because a Warrior had to become one made of many.

Suki gestured for Thuy to kneel on one of the floor cushions and she did so while Suki unpacked the wooden box on a low table. 

“I’ll tell you the story of how we first met.” She said, bringing over ancient clay pots and brushes.


Suki held her basket low at her hip as she casually looked over the meager items at the stall. From the corner of her eye she marked three other Warriors taking their positions at other stalls. They had been watching this dock for weeks, waiting for the right moment to take one of the ships, but nothing had come in. 

The colony here was established purely to support the blockade. It dealt in fuel and rations, not bothering to create anything more human for the inhabitants. A single bar and pavilion served as cultural entertainment, but they were mostly utilized to numb the sailors and broadcast imperial propaganda. 

Then they got word that a ship was pulling in to transport prisoners. Two blockade runners, nothing new. A few of those trickled in every season, or so the colonists said. 

Hopefully the banality meant that it was a lightly armed ship that was mooring. 

But as the figures descended the gangplank, Suki froze. 

Water Tribe, their parkas reminding her painfully of home. A young man and woman, close to her own age. Both of them beautiful in their absolute rage. 

“Aw, poor things. Probably starving and trying to find some food.” The woman behind the stall remarked. 

“The rats should be used to the ice.” A man said, making Suki frown. “They should know better than to mess with the imperial ships.” 

“Hush! They’re probably orphans.” The woman remarked sharply. 

“And? I heard they leave their babes on the ice to hunt like animals.” The man replied. 

“Just this today.” Suki said, taking the woman’s attention as she handed over a couple of coins. 

“Thank you dearie.” The woman replied and Suki waved before walking off. 

She had to get on that ship. 

There was not a lot of cover for the Warriors to hide in around the town. Fire Nation policy was to raze the surrounding area and fortify it, leaving nothing to chance. Outside of the rusting metal walls were the sparse grazing grounds and rocky farms. She and a small clutch of Warriors were sleeping in a barn while the others were further away from the guarded perimeter. 

This port was sloppy, which is why Suki had picked it, but it was sloppy because it was difficult to move unseen. 

“The captain is staying in town for a few days. He expects summons from the governor.” Ji-won said as Suki sat back in a hay pile. 

“And why does he think that?” She asked.

“One of the prisoners he brought in is a Waterbender.” Ji-won said. The other women stilled, their surprise registering quietly in their minds.

Suki frowned.

“The Avatar?” She asked.

“He’s saying so.” Ji-won answered.

“Probably why they’re still alive.” Song interjected.

“Suki, we can’t let them take the Avatar.” Ji-won pressed. 

Suki frowned harder but didn’t reply.

“Suki.” Ji-won said and Suki glared at her.

“I know.” She snapped. Then, with a sigh, she rubbed her eyes. “We just don’t have the fans for a full assault.” 

“But the Avatar can help us.” Ji-won said, her voice breathy with anticipation. 

“We don’t know if the Bender is the Avatar. They could just be a Waterbender.” Suki said, looking pointedly at every woman there.

“But there’s a chance.” Song said softly. 

“Avatar Aang died only a few years ago. The Avatar would only be a child, and even the girl looked at least my age.” Suki pointed out. 

“If that was Avatar Aang.” Ji-won started and Suki leaned forward, pointing at her.

“Don’t start with that conspiracy. That’s gotten a lot of people killed.” Suki said sharply. 

Ji-won looked away and Suki sighed again.

“More importantly, we can’t let another Waterbender die. It’s our job to keep the balance when the Avatar isn’t around.” She went on. 

It was an oath they all took. By taking on Kyoshi’s name, by becoming her when they wore the uniform, they swore to uphold her responsibilities as the Avatar. Even lacking any bending ability, they worked to protect the balance as Kyoshi. 

“So we rescue them?” Song asked.

“Yes. And we have to move tonight. We don’t know what they’re going to do to them.” Suki said.

“I’ll send a message to the others.” Ji-won said.

“Alright ladies, finish eating then suit up.” Suki said, looking around. “We have a ship to take.”

Knowing that they weren’t going to be leaving through the gate, the Kyoshi Warriors didn’t need to deal much with stealth. The moon was shrouded in clouds and only their white faces barely caught in flood lights lining the wall. The guardhouse on the northern side was lightly manned, so Suki went in and dispatched the few men sleeping inside. 

Weeks of observation told her what she needed. What keycards could open doors and which locks could be cut with a fan. The reliance on technology only went so far when the intruders were ready for a fight. Alarms were tripped, but military protocol would be followed. The Fire Nation was nothing if not thorough. 

Heading south, the Kyoshi Warriors darted through residential lanes and alleys. A curfew meant they didn’t need to hide from a crowd, but it did mean that the streets were monitored. 

Still, it was a cloudy night and this was a sloppy port. 

The actual jail was a bit tricker. Suki didn’t have a layout of the building, having made it a point not to get arrested. 

But all she had to do was get in. 

All of the windows of the low building were barred and there were only two doors. The back was sealed off; the only latch being on the interior side. 

Taking their positions across the street, hiding in the padded shadows, Suki examined the front door. The one small window at the front was illuminated with bright fluorescent light. There was nothing to signal that anyone knew about the dead guards in the north, or that they were leaving to attend to it. 

“I need a bucket of water.” Suki said. A Warrior disappeared without a word and the others waited.

“We push our way in and get the water as far back as possible. There should only be holding cells, and if we get the water to the Bender, we might be able to do this.” Suki explained.

“Wouldn’t there be the plumbing?” A Warrior asked.

“We should assume they’ve turned off the water.” Suki replied. 

The sound of sloshing water came up to her side and Suki took a deep breath.

“Go.” She said.

And they went.

Front door was a bottleneck and Suki went first. Fans blocked the first assault of fire but the guns were certainly next. One fan left her hand and caught a guard in his neck. Disarming was not an option tonight. 

The others broke in behind her, sweeping out to encompass the few in the lobby. A klaxon went off and the lights snapped off, with the low emergency floor lights coming on shortly after. The noise became a metronome and the Warriors pushed forward. The water bucket was tossed like a ball, playing keep away from the armed guards. Suki was able to retrieve her stained fan and she sliced open the lock to the back room. 

It was a small building and they quickly filled the space. Three holding cells were simple spaces walled with bars. 

And the water bucket when tumbling end over end toward them. 

Immediately, Suki watched as the young woman gathered the water in her arms like so much washing. A thick whip lashed out at the bars and pieces slid slowly before clattering to the floor. 

Ice made quick work of the fight, but then the pair disappeared through the backdoor.

“Don’t lose them!” Suki called out and the Warriors darted out the back door after them. 

Marking the wounded, Suki sent them out toward the ship, to watch it and keep it from leaving. Then she went after the Water Tribals.

“Katara, you don’t know where you’re going!” The young man called out in the darkness. 

Suki seized on that, running faster to close the distance.

“Please! Let us help!” She yelled recklessly into the darkness.

“Katara, stop!” The young man demanded. 

The Waterbender stopped, turning sharply and pulling up a wall of ice spikes, pointed directly at the pursuing Kyoshi Warriors.

“We’re on your side!” Suki said as she pulled up short, skidding on the broken concrete alley. 

“Why did you help us?” The young woman, Katara, asked.

“We’re the Kyoshi Warriors, that’s what we’re supposed to do.” Suki said.

“I don’t know what that is.” Katara retorted. “How do I know you’re not one of them?” 

“Suki, there’s activity at the harbor.” Ji-won said. “We have to go.”

“Come with us.” Suki pleaded. “We’re taking a ship to fight.” 

Katara looked at her companion and he nodded.

“Fine.” Katara said, melting the ice back into water and pulling it around her hands. “Let’s go.”

Having a Waterbender at a harbor proved useful and they took the ship easily. They only had to sail it up a short way to gather the rest of the Warriors before heading into the open sea. As soon as the port left their vision, Katara collapsed on the deck. The young man, who turned out to be her brother, laid her head in his lap. 

“Is she?” Suki started cautiously. 

“She’s exhausted.” The brother said and then looked up. “I’m Sokka.”

“Suki.” 

“Thanks for rescuing us Suki.” Sokka said, turning back to Katara and brushing her hair out of her face. The gesture warmed Suki’s heart and she turned away. 

“Of course.” Suki replied curtly.

“Katara is thankful too. She’ll be better in the morning.” Sokka said. 

“It must’ve been hard.” Suki commented.

“You have no idea.” Sokka murmured. Something in his tone kept Suki from replying and she only watched them for a moment. Turning away, she went to find the captain’s quarters. 


“We traveled with them for a few weeks and then separated when we went to go join the Earth Kingdom army.” Suki concluded.

“When did you fall in love with Sokka?” Thuy asked. Suki chuckled as she packed up the box.

“Aren’t you a romantic?” She quipped and Thuy smiled sheepishly. 

“Let’s see, I knew I was in love when we were in the Fire Nation. Katara was so different after the North Pole and she hated the Fire Nation, but Sokka was trying to find something human in it all. None of us were happy when he went off with Piandao for training, especially Katara, but it made me realize that there was going to be a life after the war. And I wanted my life to be with him.” Suki explained. 

“So will Katara like me eventually?” Thuy asked.

“I think she’ll like you a lot sooner than eventually.” Suki turned and examined her handiwork, nodding with a proud smile. 

“I’m going to grab a camera, hold on.” She said and, before Thuy could reply, bolted out of the room. 

Thuy sputtered as the door shut and she was alone. Now she really regretted leaving Mister Whiskers back in the heated nest. 

“How does it feel?” Kyoshi asked so suddenly that Thuy jumped.

“Heavy.” Thuy remarked and Kyoshi laughed. 

“The new recruits often said the same thing.” She said. 

“I like Suki.” Thuy said, changing subjects.

“As do I. And she picked a strong partner.” Kyoshi added. 

“They all went through a lot.”

“All who serve in war must give everything.”

“And Suki said that the Warriors act in the Avatar’s stead.”

“They do.”

“So what do they need me for?” 

“You’re the Avatar.” Kyoshi said matter of factly. 

“But what does that even mean anymore? Aang told me about the White Lotus, they don’t even need me for Spirit stuff and I wasn’t needed to end this war!” Thuy balked. 

“There will be challenges only the Avatar can face.” Kyoshi stated.

“Or they just get eaten by Spirits.” Thuy muttered.

Kyoshi was silent and Thuy winced.

“Sorry.” She said. 

“Yun was a good man, and didn’t deserve Jianzhu’s treachery. Nor did Kuruk deserve his fate.” Kyoshi said evenly.

“He mocked the Spirits!” Thuy retorted.

“If you believe someone can ever do something to deserve ill treatment, does that mean you deserve yours?” Kyoshi asked.

“What?”

“When you begin to believe that all people deserve to be treated well, you will have to face that that includes you.” 

“I-” Thuy started but was interrupted as the door opened again. 

“Hey Suki.” Sokka greeted as he stepped into the room, pushing the door shut with his foot.

“Actually-” Thuy started, trying to rise but catching herself on the robes.

Sokka’s eyes widened briefly before he threw himself down on the floor cushions next to her.

“Oh sorry, I didn’t realize anybody had to be in uniform for this.” He said.

“Er.” Thuy stammered, sitting back down and looking away.

“Song?” Sokka asked. 

Thuy faced him, confused.

“Shoot. I know you all do your makeup differently, but your’s looks just like Suki’s.” Sokka propped his head up as he laid on his side, tilting his head to examine her face. “But like, a reflection or something.”

“She…” Thuy looked down and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Did my makeup.”

“Oh you’re one of the new warriors!” Sokka pushed himself up quickly.

“I’m not-” Thuy held up her hands in alarm but Sokka made a dismissive sound and waved her away.

“Sorry about barging in here. I was just looking for Suki; do you know where she is?” He asked.

“She went to get a camera.” Thuy said softly.

“Oh wow! Is this your first time all done up?” Sokka asked and clapped as Thuy nodded.

“Congratulations!” He said enthusiastically and Thuy felt her cheeks burn. 

“Are you excited about meeting the Avatar?” He asked.

“I really wanted to meet Master Katara.” Thuy said.

“Her? Why?” Sokka asked incredulously. 

Thuy held her hands together and leaned forward excitedly. 

“Master Katara is the most amazing Waterbender in our history! She saved the world. Well,” Thuy caught herself and sat back. “So did you.”

“Are you a Water Tribal?” Sokka asked curiously. Thuy shook her head vigorously. 

“I’m from the Swamp.” She said.

“Oh, so you probably already know the Avatar.”

“We’re, acquainted.” 

“Well my sister is pretty great, but she’s also a massive grump.”

“No!” Thuy said sharply and Sokka’s eyes widened. “Master Katara is an amazing warrior and I’m sure she’s just very serious.”

“Serious?” Sokka laughed and Thuy frowned in confusion.

“Katara can’t let herself enjoy anything or else she would implode.” Sokka stated. As Thuy deflated, Sokka sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.

“I don’t want to tarnish your idea of her or anything, but Katara despises hero worship. Neither of us wanted to be heroes.” Sokka explained, holding the back of his neck and looking off in some distant memory. 

“She’s really kind, though. When we lost our mother, I thought she’d never be happy again.” He went on.

“If the Avatar had shown up earlier-” Thuy stopped as Sokka scoffed. He reclined again, idly scratching his leg.

“And what? We toss a toddler at the Fire Lord? You seem to be around the same age as the Avatar and I still wouldn’t let you get within sight of that creep.” He said and finished quickly. “No offense.”

Thuy remembered her meeting with the Fire Lord and shuddered. She did not like him, or his daughter. But at least Zuko was polite. 

“See?” Sokka said. “Katara wants to blame the Avatar because it’s easy. She doesn’t want to meet her because she knows when she does, the Avatar will be real and she’ll know it wasn’t her fault.”

“Maybe she’s right.” Thuy said.

“Come on now, aren’t you two kin? That’s no way to talk about the Avatar. I think she’s a nice girl.” Sokka said and Thuy lowered her head. 

“So will Master Katara meet with,” Thuy cut off her words. “With the Avatar?”

“We’ve got dinner tonight don’t we?” Sokka asked and Thuy looked up. 

“Katara doesn’t have it in her to hate good people. Especially not other Waterbenders. I think once they start talking, it’ll be fine.” He said.

“What would Master Katara even talk about?” Thuy asked nervously. 

Sokka shrugged. “Probably Zuko.”

“They do go off together a lot.” Thuy remarked.

“That’s what girls do with their boyfriends.” Sokka said.

“What do girls do with their boyfriends?” Suki asked and Thuy leaned back.

“Disappear for some diplomatic briefing.” Sokka answered.

“Oh, are we talking about your sister and Zuko?” Suki questioned, sounding giddy as she sat down next to Thuy.

“Who else?” Sokka quipped.

“Who knew the Avatar was a gossip?” Suki elbowed Thuy and she felt a jolt of fear. Sokka only smiled, winking casually at her. 

“Avatar Thuy was trying to argue that Katara wasn’t a grump.” He said. Thuy relaxed and felt tears sprout in her eyes. 

“Oh she totally is. That’s why she and Zuko work so well.” Suki said.

“Zuko is not a grump, he’s refined.” Sokka countered.

“Zuko is a little bitch.” Another voice said from the door and Thuy shrank. Seeing Rohan, she tried to calm down.

“Hey, that’s the Avatar’s great-grandson or something.” Sokka said and Rohan rolled their eyes. 

Roku, from somewhere deep in Thuy’s mind, grumbled. 

“Is there something you need Rohan?” Suki asked.

“I wanted to see if Thuy was up for some ice shenanigans.” Rohan asked.

“Let me take a picture really quick.” Suki said, holding up a fancy camera.

“Allow me.” Rohan said, swirling their hand. The camera lifted and Suki shook her head, but still smiled.

“Okay, everyone get together.” Rohan said. Sokka and Suki got up and pushed themselves over to flank Thuy. Rohan set up the camera and then left it floating in the air.

Darting forward, the Airbender laid across all of their laps and the shutter snapped audibly as Thuy burst out laughing. 

“Rohan! The camera!” Suki called.

“I got it.” Rohan said, rolling off and holding out their hands. As they and Suki examined the picture, Sokka nudged Thuy with his shoulder. 

“Just be happy Thuy.” He whispered. “It’s what we fought for.”

Thuy nodded, smiling.

Chapter Text

The debut was solely for the Avatar and Katara often found herself with time on her hands. Thuy was invited to teas and lunches with various parts of her so-called extended family. And because of it, Katara was amused by the constant rebuffing of the Fire Lord as Thuy took her appointments with Zuko or Azula, if not them both together. Small agreements were made, as Thuy agreed that she would study with Tenzin and his family. She also mentioned how pleased she would be if she were able to learn from someone so talented as Azula, which made the Fire Lord look smug. Zuko only rolled his eyes when he glanced at Katara at dinner; it was all politics. 

It was obvious then that the teenager had been kept in hiding. Her tribe had not been so foolish or backwater to risk exposure and had relied on the mysterious properties of the swamp to protect her. Someone had also been teaching her what to expect when she did emerge. Certainly they identified her early and also saw some sort of wisdom in exposing her to the rest of the world before she turned sixteen. 

Thuy from the Swamp was looking to be a very shrewd Avatar. 

The Airbenders gave it no mind. Aang’s grandchildren were more preoccupied with the ice palace itself. Ice made for an almost frictionless surface and Ikki’s fiancé was a physics professor from a college near the Eastern Air Temple. It was during their experimental play that Thuy looked like a teen, her eyes wide as she watched the Airbenders effortlessly slide up walls before falling onto a bed of spun air. 

The Water Tribe members all had one lunch together, right before the debut. Katara sat down next to Thuy and across from the Avatar’s parents. 

“Have you been enjoying yourself Thuy?” Katara asked, settling her napkin over her lap.

“I have, though it’s all a bit exhausting.” Thuy answered with a strained smile. 

“I can’t imagine. I’m not really looking forward to having to deal with it myself.” Katara said. 

“I’m sure it’ll be interesting with your boyfriend.” 

“My what?”

“Aren’t you dating Prince Zuko? You keep wandering off together.” Thuy said and Katara cleared her throat.

“No, we’re not dating. Like you said, it’d be too,” Katara looked down the length of the table at the others. “Interesting.”

“I know that everyone was looking for me, during the war.” Thuy said. She paused as the serving staff came around with the first course, smiling at the older man who set down her plate.

“I know that it cost a lot of Waterbenders their lives. My tribe protected me because they hoped for a day when the world would be united.” Thuy continued and Katara looked down at the bright salad leaves and bits of pickled kelp. 

“I think that’s a lot to put on a child.” Katara remarked.

“You fought in the war when you were my age right?” Thuy asked.

Katara pierced a bit of her salad, taking a moment to eat before answering.

“That’s right.” She finally said. 

“Now that we are in a time of peace, what do you cherish the most?” Thuy questioned. 

“My freedom.”

“But your freedom to do what?”

Katara looked at Thuy, examining her face for some unknown sign. Her eyes were a seagreen and bright against her dark complexion. 

“Unfortunately, my thoughts on romance might do more harm than good.” Katara admitted.

“You know, I don’t think romance could ever do anything too horrible.” Thuy said and shook her hair. 

“And you are the Avatar.” Katara added.

Thuy laughed and jabbed at the leaves on her plate. “Right! So you should listen to me.”

After the debut, as Thuy was off being interviewed, Katara hung back in the empty reception hall. She ran her fingers over the table with the row of microphones, walking silently on the plush carpet. The rows of empty folding chairs felt like she should be waiting for something, but the partially empty bottles of water and discarded press tags on the floor meant the show was over. 

It had been a lot easier than she thought to deal with. Arnook did most of the talking and made some comments about the unification of the three tribes. Thuy demurred; there was no official authority figure of the Swamp Tribe and she knew she was too young to fill such a role. 

The press had a lot of questions for the young Avatar and Katara felt like they didn’t know why she herself was up there. So when the press conference was over, they all followed the royalty and Katara was able to hang back.

A door to the hall opened and Katara looked up, expecting to see either Sokka or Suki. Instead, Zuko ducked his head in and looked around.

“Hey. How’d it go?” He asked as he stepped into the hall, closing the door behind him. Katara turned to lean against the table, shrugging her shoulders.

“Fine. It was funny to watch them try to ask Thuy why she spoke so well and not sound racist.” She said. 

Zuko walked toward her and dipped down to pick up a discarded press badge. Holding out a mimed microphone, he held the badge to his chest.

“Question for Master Katara, how do you manage to always be so cute?” He asked and held the microphone out to her. The blatant statement stunned her and Katara’s face warmed so much she could feel her ears tingle. Covering her face with her hands, she smiled as she heard Zuko chuckle. 

“Oh I see, you’re such a heavy hitter that you can’t handle the little things.” Zuko murmured and tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. 

Katara made a whining noise and swatted at him, turning away and still trying to cover her face with her other hand. Zuko caught her free hand and kissed it, making her laugh. He then pulled on her, turning her back toward him and putting his other hand on her waist. Katara took in a small breath, placing her free hand on his shoulder. In that moment, he could have almost stepped them into a waltz. 

“You’re dodging the question.” He said. 

“Zuko.”

“Hmm?”

“I really like you.”

Zuko’s smile faded, but he didn’t look upset. It was a mixture of pure confusion, as if he had just been informed that his hair was actually purple. 

“You do?” He asked.

“That usually goes along with the kissing.” 

“Okay well,” He stammered and Katara laughed. “I knew you found me attractive.” He then furrowed his brow before adding, “Somehow.” 

Zuko relaxed his grip on her hand and she put both of her arms over his shoulders while he held her about the waist. 

“Well there is that. But I also like you, as a person. Romantically.” Katara stated firmly. 

“So what does that mean?” Zuko asked.

“That means that if you like me romantically back, I want to get to know you.” She replied.

“Ah.”

“The Avatar told me to do so.”

Zuko smiled and spun her into a dip. Katara squealed as she tightened her hold and he smiled down at her.

“Well, if listening to the Avatar was good enough for Sozin, who am I to disagree?” He asked. He kissed her and Katara felt her body relax. Zuko held her fast, not in fear of dropping her but simply because he wanted to hold her. And Katara finally let herself be held. 

This was the sort of moment she cherished.

This was what she had fought for.

Chapter Text

For the first day of classes, Katara woke up before her alarm. Way before her alarm.

Her body was too warm as she pushed the blanket off and slid her feet onto the thick rug in her bedroom. Standing, she shivered slightly, laughing to herself over the absurdity. She had just returned from the North Pole but her Middle Ring apartment was just a bit too cool.

Shuffling into the kitchen, Katara clattered through the cabinets as she collected things for coffee. While she loved the taste, a coffee grinder was too much for her to handle so Katara popped the plastic lid off the pre ground coffee container. The smell hit her nose hard enough to make her sneeze, and coffee grounds spiraled in the empty space of the container. 

Filter, coffee, water, and Katara pressed the button to start it brewing. Looking up, over to the side as she leaned against the counter, she gazed out the small window. 

The sun was just beginning to rise. 

Zuko was the early bird, and she was the night owl, so seeing the sunrise made her think of him. 

And think about how the sun was setting on the other side of the world, where he was probably sleeping off the jetlag in the Fire Nation palace. 

When the coffee pot stopped spitting out coffee, Katara poured a mug and wandered back to the living room. Sitting at her desk, she brought her legs up onto the chair and, wrapping her hands around the mug, watched the sun rise. 

It had helped, talking to Sokka. For all of the differences between her and Zuko, there was a brush of sameness. Tui and La were marked by each other, so it wasn’t far from her understanding. But now, away from Zuko and Thuy’s rampant romanticism, it bothered her.

It was easy to talk about balance and harmony, to muse about destiny and soulmates, as if there was a universal force that would allow them to be together simply because of symbolism.

Steam curled from her mug and Katara sipped slowly. It was a birthday gift from Malina; a subscription to a small business that made flavored coffee. As much as she hated to admit it, Katara appreciated the move away from the acrid brew the normally filled the big red container. 

Malina is what threw a wrench into the universal plan theory. If Kya wasn’t Hakoda’s soulmate, what was the point?

And without that universal push, what was to keep her and Zuko together in the face of the mounting opposition?

Opening her laptop, Katara waited for the screen to illuminate. She used one hand to open up her messages and look through them.

[Are you awake?] She typed out.

Sitting back, Katara drank more of her coffee.

[Unfortunately. Why are you up?] Zuko replied.

She smiled.

[Nervous.]

[Want to talk?]

Katara set down her mug before standing up. She jogged lightly to her bedroom and unplugged her phone, calling Zuko as she walked back to her desk.

“Hey.” Zuko sounded exhausted and Katara sighed. 

“You need sleep.” She stated.

“So do you.” He shot back.

“What time do you go to bed?” 

“Typically? Depends on the day. If I have a lot of work, I have trouble falling asleep until it’s done.” 

“But you get up so early!”

“It’s the sun. I can’t help it.” 

“You rise with the sun, I rise with the moon.” Katara quipped, taking up her mug again and sitting down.

“So science dictates.” Zuko agreed.

Katara was quiet for a moment and took another drink.

“Something on your mind?” He asked.

“Why do you like me? Is it, like, rebellion or something?” Katara asked.

“What?”

“We have nothing in common except dead moms and royalty.” Katara repeated her conversation with Sokka but it felt different. Worse.

“We haven’t exactly gotten to know each other in the usual way, huh?” Zuko asked softly.

“No.” She murmured and thought about the Blue Spirit, and about the flower shop. The prince in disguise, a war, and her brother. 

“I think one of the reasons why I like you, and why it doesn’t matter so much if we’re interested in the same things, is because you are willing to try things. You stayed up to watch that musical with me.” Zuko explained. 

“I didn’t like it.” Katara pointed out.

“I know, but you tried it. And you tried to like it. You didn’t just hate on it or ask me to turn it off halfway. And then we talked about it. We had a conversation, Katara, and that is infinitely better than turning it off, agreeing we both enjoyed it, and had nothing else to say.” He replied.

“But I’m not nice like you.”

“I’m hardly nice. I’m polite. But how are you not nice?”

“You haven’t seen it yet.” 

“Ominous.”

Katara made a noise in irritation and Zuko chuckled.

“I know you have a short temper, I’ve witnessed it.” He said.

“It’s more than that.” She snapped and Zuko stayed quiet, waiting for her. 

“You mean Zhao?” He prompted gently, when she didn’t say anything.

“Not just Zhao.” She said quickly, irritated. “It was him, soldiers, Hama-”

“You’ve mentioned her before. I thought she was a Waterbender.” Zuko said.

“She is. She taught me things.” Katara said haltingly.

“The blood?”

Katara stayed quiet.

“Katara,” Zuko started with a sigh. “I know there’s a lot on the surface that makes it seem like we’re incompatible. Fire and water, our allegiances, our families, but I think we’re more alike than all that. You’re not a monster.”

“I’m certainly not normal.”

“Of course not. But that doesn’t make you an abomination.” Zuko said. “You have dreams about peace and making life better for your people. It’s a dream I share.”

“I know.” Katara said and drifted.

“But?”

“It’s just.” She sighed heavily. “What if I’m doing it for the wrong reasons? What if I’m dating you for the wrong reasons?”

“What reasons?”

“I don’t know!” Katara snapped. “I keep thinking about how impossible this is. We’ll be days apart, and I’m ruling a kingdom and you’ve got your nation to worry about, and we can’t even enjoy the same things when we’re together.”

“The sun has set.” Zuko said.

Katara looked out of her window and saw the bright blue of the dawn sky.

“It’s bright here.” She said.

“It’s the same sun and the same sky. You and I will see different things, experience a different time, but we’re always together. Our life is going to look different depending on where and when we are, but it’s the same life. One we will spend together.” Zuko said. 

“Dawn and dusk happen with the same sun at the same time.” Katara murmured.

“You sound really tired.” Zuko said.

“You’re one to talk.” Katara retorted.

“Go lay down. Call me after class.” 

“Okay.”

“Good morning, Katara.”

“Good night, Zuko.”

Chapter Text

By the end of her first day, Katara was already looking forward to the first break. Someone had recognized her from the debut and people were hounding her between lectures. Even in the halls with more than a hundred students, she could hear her name whispered among the ducked heads. Inevitably, someone near her would check their phone and their head would whip around, settling on her for a second before typing a furious reply. 

Armistice Day was two weeks into the first semester, which would at least give her a long weekend. 

However, when she tried to find something to do, nothing seemed to come together. After taking off so much time, Sokka was adamant about keeping the shop open. Especially, as he reminded her, now that he had to save for a wedding. 

Rohan was traveling with Thuy to Gaoling. The Beifongs - who had worked with Avatar Kuruk’s companions - had a daughter that was a professional fighter. On the one hand, it was assumed that such a wealthy and well-connected family like the Beifongs would be the ones to teach the new Avatar if they had the ability. On the other, Rohan knew it was because Thuy’s unusual upbringing was the perfect match for the fact that Toph Beifong was blind and undefeated. 

“So does that mean you’re going to be Thuy’s airbending instructor?” Katara asked as she screen chatted with them while in bed. “I mean, you’re plenty unusual.”

“Unfortunately, Pop is pretty insistent that she have some sort of reasonable and level-headed teacher. So Jinora is doing it.” Rohan said.

“Has her firebending-”

“AZULA.” They interrupted her and Katara dropped her phone as she fumbled. Diving for it, she fell off her bed.

“Azula will teach her?” She asked, popping up onto her knees. Rohan nodded vigorously. 

“Now, none of this is being confirmed in the press at the moment. But someone leaked our travel plans to the Fire Nation.” They answered.

“You’re going to the Fire Nation with her?”

“Yeah, I’m like her guide for a minute until she finds her group.”

“Hmmm.” Katara rested her head on her bead, staring up at the ceiling. It might be interesting to go travel the world with the Avatar. Maybe in another life. 

“Hey, I gotta go, but chat soon? Unless you’ll be elbow deep in some guy’s guts.” Rohan said and Katara looked down at her scream, grimacing.

“I told you-”

“I know, I know. Class work first, cutting up people later.” Rohan flashed a quick grin and Katara sighed. “Say hi to your brother for me.”

They ended the call and Katara pushed herself up, stretching her arms over her head. She could study, go over her anatomy notes one more time, but her head just wasn’t in the right place. Laying back down on her bed, she pulled up the info page on Toph Beifong. She was only a little younger than Katara, but was a bit on the small side. Watching the recommended video, Katara guffawed loudly as she watched the woman launch a man twice her size into the stands. 

This was exactly the thing Sokka was into. Hopefully as Queen of the Water Tribes, she could get the Avatar to introduce them. 

Sighing, Katara dropped her phone onto her chest and put her hands over her eyes. She had to think about something happy.

Her thoughts for years had circled around being a physician. She wanted to go home to be a village doctor, spending her days assisting births and treating ailments. Katara fantasized about being a hero not for the destruction she wrought, but for ending the regular tuberculosis that plagued the tribes. Murdering viruses was much easier to swallow than the human body count that haunted her.

But now that was being taken away from her. Arnook had, for all of her attempts to avoid it, gotten her alone. He expounded on her the importance of her position, the necessary responsibility she needed to take for her people. She would be an icon of strength, of prosperity, and would be able to keep all three tribes safe.

Because Thuy was still vulnerable, and didn’t Katara want to save her from the same fate of losing her home and her mother?

Thuy was capable for her age. She had told Katara that Avatar Aang came to her first when she was at the heart of the swamp. A massive tree, that was simultaneously all of the trees in the swamp, was where she went to hide from her noisy family. It was there she meditated and found how the tree was connected to all things, and how she was connected to all things through it.

It was then that Aang found her, and taught six-year-old Thuy hilarious things to do with mud. It didn’t even strike her that she was earthbending. 

Thuy explained that all of the elements were connected to each other, and that the Avatar was the heart of that forest. All she wanted, she said while they looked over the group of Avatar descendants, was that everyone would find their commonality and be able to celebrate their differences. 

“Like how fire and water both flow so beautifully.” Thuy had added. 

Katara rolled her eyes just as she had then. 

There was a certain romantic aspect to fire and water. And steam could be pretty, but more often than not it just scalded people who got too close. 

Her phone started to ring and Katara picked it up.

“Well speak of the hogmonkey.” She said as Zuko’s face showed up.

“You were talking about me?” He asked.

“Tangentially thinking about.” Katara said and then sat up. “Hey, I never got to ask, what did you think of Thuy?”

“She was nice. She said I looked like I belonged at the North Pole.” Zuko answered and Katara snorted.

“I think that brat is trying to set us up.” She said.

“Girls at that age are wild.” 

“I wouldn’t know. I was getting ready to fight my way through Fire Nation territory.” 

“And Azula was leading a hit squad against me so I think you’re going to need to take your trauma card elsewhere ma’am.” 

Katara laughed, shaking her head. 

“A little birdie told me that Azula is going to be teaching the Avatar firebending.” She said.

“Oh yeah? Did that little birdie also mention that they were the one to spill the beans to the press? I swear, Rohan can’t keep a secret to save their life.” Zuko said. Katara chuckled again and looked at Zuko’s face.

“If you had been a normal teenager, what do you think you would have done at her age?” 

Zuko let out a breath and looked off into the distance as he thought.

“If I were normal, my mother would still be around. And.” He suddenly smiled and rubbed his eye with his hand before pushing his hair back. “Okay, so in my mother’s village, there’s this theater camp that runs in the summer.” 

“No way.” Katara said, her voice breathy in astonishment. “Zuko, you are such a nerd!” 

“I can’t help it! You saw my father, I inherited the drama!” He retorted and they both laughed. 

When they settled, Katara lifted the phone high above her face.

“Have you ever gone to your mother’s village?” She asked. Zuko looked thoughtful, which made her feel better for asking.

“Once. After the war but before I was recalled.” He said. “It’s nice but homely and made me realize that I could never not be rich now.” 

“You’re soft.”

“I’m so weak Katara you don’t even understand.” 

As they laughed, Katara saw him smile at her.

“You have off on Armistice Day right?” He asked.

Katara nodded.

“Why don’t we go to Hira’a? The tourist season ends there really early and the people there don’t mind me so much since I’m Ursa’s son.” 

“Are we going to go to summer camp?” She asked.

“Maybe we can tangentially think about it.” Zuko replied.


Katara focused on her schoolwork during the week prior to leaving. She didn’t want to have to think about tests or her first research paper the entire weekend. What did bother her was a lack of supplies for the trip. Zuko said there was a legend about the woods surrounding Hira’a and suggested they go hiking. At first she had agreed, but then Sokka informed her that she would need gear for such a trip. 

Luckily, a person in her lab had his from a cross kingdom trip. As Katara collected some of the basic things, she shook off others. Her hike wasn’t going to be as intensive and she could just rely on her phone for directions. 

Flying out, Katara was too excited to be nervous going through the airport. Her anxiety resurfaced only briefly when she made a layover in a larger Fire Nation city to board a very small charter plane. 

There were a few other passengers on the plane and one little boy chattered endlessly for the entire trip. Katara, tired, smiled but looked out the window, trying to focus on something else. 

The woods around Hira’a were thick and the canopy resembled broccoli florets. What was unexpected was the massive mountain and the few shining discs of the lakes. 

Zuko met her as the plane landed, standing under a shaded area while the plane taxied to a stop. Suddenly shy, Katara held onto the straps of her borrowed backpack while she walked down the stairs. 

“How was your trip?” Zuko asked as he met her on the strip. 

“It was good only,” Katara looked up with a small frown. “Do you think it’ll rain?”

Zuko looked up at the sky as well. “The weather says no. And it tends to get overcast like this every day in the afternoon.”

They looked at each other and Zuko held out his hand.

“Come on,” He said. “Let’s get to the house.”

At the small luggage carousel, Zuko grabbed her suitcase and rolled it as they left the airport. Katara glanced up at the sky once more as they walked through the cool air curtain at the exit. It definitely felt like a storm to her. 

To her surprise, they walked past the taxi stand.

“The house is close.” Zuko assured her, having seen her face. “And the villagers prefer that there not be a lot of cars. It disrupts the environment.”

The village was beautiful, even in the subdued light. The trees were a deep green, and bright flashes of fruit or clothing stood out against the leafy backdrop. There were roads, but people on bikes or motorbikes swarmed over them. Every once in a while, a delivery truck would rumble past, coughing out black smoke and Katara understood the facemasks. 

“Ah, Prince Zuko!” Someone called out and they turned. A middle-aged man on a motorbike walked up to them, his flip-flops slapping his heels.

“Noren?” Zuko asked in disbelief.

“It’s good to see you, la!” Noren replied and Zuko, leaving Katara’s suitcase on the sidewalk, went to shake the man’s hand. 

“I didn’t think I’d run into you.” Zuko replied and Noren waved a hand in front of his face.

“I heard the crown prince was in town, so I knew I had to come and see.” He said. Zuko laughed and rubbed the back of his head. He then stopped and looked back, waving Katara over.

“Katara, I’d like you to meet Noren. He runs the theater in town and was a friend of my mother.” Zuko said as Katara got closer. “Noren, this is my friend Katara from the South Pole.” 

“Ursa was part of the theater troupe.” Noren said as he shook hands with Katara. He then slapped his thighs and looked at Zuko. “Now, dinner?”

Katara and Zuko made it to the house and Katara insisted on changing before they went to Noren’s house for dinner. His wife Noriko was a sweet lady who doted on Zuko, but more hilarious was their teenage daughter Kiyi. While she tried to hide it, Kiyi was clearly excited to see Zuko and showed him photos of her latest pictures on her phone. 

Noren told Katara about Zuko’s visit to the village years ago. Trying to find some piece of his mother, Noren had offered his assistance in any way that he could. During that short time Zuko spent in the village, he got very close to Noren and his family, becoming like an older brother to Kiyi. 

While they were at dinner, all three of them turned on Zuko when he spoke about his plans to take Katara into the woods. Noren didn’t like the woods at all and Noriko insisted that it was going to rain. Still, Noriko packed them both up with extra food and Noren gave them a ride in the dark on his bike.

Tired, full, and covered in sweat, Katara laid face down on her bed and fell asleep.

In the morning, Zuko packed their lunch while Katara reheated leftovers from Noriko to eat for breakfast. Zuko handed her a mug of coffee just as she served up the plates and they both looked over a map. The route Zuko plotted out was simple and they went over their supplies. Water, sunscreen, bug spray, and even a portable battery to recharge their phones should the worst happen. It was just a day hike, and the sun was even poking out behind some of the clouds, so it wouldn’t be too bad.

“Can you bend humidity?” Zuko asked as they shoulder their backpacks. 

Katara rolled her eyes and started toward the door. 

The trailhead was further from their rental than the airport, so Zuko called a taxi. Unsurprisingly, a young woman on a motorbike showed up and they piled on like they had when Noren had driven them home last night. What was nice was the moment when the driver handed them a face mask each, shaking her head at their clumsy application.

The humidity was disgusting and Katara was panting by the time they stopped at the park. Zuko peeled money out of his wallet and handed it to their driver, who saluted them before puttering off. 

“Are your babysitters here?” Katara asked.

“No. Hira’a is small and they know when there’s a visitor. And again, I’m Ursa’s son.” Zuko said. 

“Oh good, so if I drown in this air, it’s only you who can save me.” 

“We’ll be fine.”

The rain started fifteen minutes into their walk.

There was no warning. It was clear one moment and the next a gray sheet had dropped all around them. The rain fell like bullets and they ran to the nearest tree with leaves sturdy enough to hold up against the onslaught. It took awhile and Katara felt the sting of the rain on her scalp. 

“It’s just a burst.” Zuko said, rubbing his hair vigorously. “It’ll pass quickly.”

Right as he finished speaking, a crack of thunder went off like a shot. 

“We need to get to shelter.” Katara said, her body tense as she prepared to run. Zuko sighed and nodded. 

They moved blindly through the rain, stumbling over tree roots and exposed stone. Small rivers of muddy water rushed down the path and Katara worried about slipping. Finally irritated, she used her bending to repel the water from her. It was unnatural and made her feel weird, but she couldn’t even see three feet in front of her. 

“That’s a lot of water you’re holding.” Zuko remarked as he stood in the dry spot with her. 

“I can do better.” She said and moved sinuously around. The ball of negative space undulated, but burst as Katara thrust out her arms with a sharp breath. The rain around them stopped.

Turning her head, Katara saw Zuko staring at her, open mouthed. 

“Like what you see?” Katara quipped.

Zuko nodded and Katara blushed, losing her smirk and feeling her ears burn. Suddenly aware of her attention, Zuko coughed and swung his backpack off a shoulder, pulling it to his front. 

“Where did you learn to bend like that?” He asked as he unzipped the main pocket and rummaged through it.

“War.” Katara said simply. This was oddly easier to hold than the negative space, since she wasn’t trying to keep the water away from her. The fat droplets simply hung in their air like strands of glass beads. 

“It didn’t do anything like that for me.” Zuko said. “All I got out of it was this face.”

“Zuko, your face is fine.” Katara remarked. 

“You only say that because you like me.”

“I didn’t find you ugly before I liked you. It was just surprising.” Katara paused, listening to the heavy rain that fell around them. It was much more enjoyable now that she wasn’t getting drenched. 

“The burn surprised me too.” Zuko said and held up his phone. “Here we go.” 

Katara walked over to him, pushing the rain out of her way. The fat drops burst against her hand the same way boba pearls would against her tongue. 

“How did it happen?”

“The burn? After my grandfather died, my father insisted that my uncle step down since my cousin had died. My uncle is older and had no heir, whereas my father had two children and was young. My uncle refused and the war started. I defended my uncle and my father punished me.” Zuko explained as he pulled up a map of the woods. He didn’t look at her as he spoke and Katara stared at his burned eye. 

“Zuko…” She murmured and lightly touched his face. Wherever Zuko went while telling the story, he certainly wasn’t with her and her touch shocked him. Jolting back, he surprised Katara, who fell with a yelp. She lost her hold on the rain and it, plus everything held up on top, dumped on them, soaking them instantly. 

Zuko went to her and picked her up, running with her in his arms. 

“I saw a cave.” He yelled over the sound of the rain. Katara just held onto him, feeling the wet soak into her skin.

When Zuko dipped into the cave - which was only moderately drier than the open - Katara used her bending to dry their clothes. Zuko found windblown debris and made a scant fire, again shaking out his hair. 

“Sorry.” Katara said softly.

“It’s fine. It was an accident.” Zuko replied with a weak smile. “The only downside is, I dropped my phone and it’s fried.” 

“Okay, so that is bad.” Katara said and then brightened. “Wait mine is in my-” She stopped as she reached into her back pocket. Slowly pulling out her phone, she stared dumbly at the shattered screen. 

“But we do have the map!” Zuko said and went to his pack. He pulled out the map and sat down to open it over his lap. 

“That sure is a map.” Katara said as she sat down next to him.

“I know these are elevation lines, but…” Zuko tapped the map.

“You don’t know where we are.”

“Not a clue.”

“And we can’t call for help.”

“No.”

“So what do we do?” Katara asked. The thunder and lightning was short lived so at least now she could breathe.

“Wanna makeout?” Zuko replied. Katara scoffed and then, seeing his grin, started to laugh. 

“When the rain stops, we can try to find our way back to the path.” Zuko said and put his arm around Katara’s shoulders. “For now, let’s just hang here and rest.”

The rain lasted for nearly an hour and Katara forced Zuko to wait until the air felt right to her before leaving. As they walked out into the forest, nothing looked familiar. Having peered through heavy rain, the shimmering brilliance of wet leaves was disorienting. Zuko kept the map out, turning it in his hands before picking a direction.

“Zuko?” Katara asked cautiously and Zuko looked up from the map.

“Yes?” 

“Why did you even go back if your father burned you?”

Zuko’s thoughtful face was nuanced, as Katara now saw. He looked pained, but in a way that made Katara think he was going to tell her bad news. 

“My uncle and I believe that my father wanted me to refuse to return. That was always an option you see. I could renounce my claim to the throne and stay with my uncle in Ba Sing Se. But if I did that, Azula would inherit.” Zuko shook his head. “And I don’t want to live in a world where Azula is a political force.” 

“But does that make you happy?” Katara asked.

“The future makes me happy. Knowing that I’ll be able to do the things I want when I’m the Fire Lord.” Zuko answered.

“But that might be decades away!”

“But it will happen. And my father can’t really do much harm since he knows I’ll oppose him.” 

“You made a really brave choice Zuko.”

Stepping over a fallen log, Zuko took Katara’s hand and helped her over. As she hopped onto the ground, he held onto her.

“Oh, I don’t think I’m all that brave.” He said softly. This pained look was more internal; something that hurt him alone.

He then patted her hand before releasing it and they started off again.

“Do you think I’m making the right choice?” Katara continued. “To be the Queen of the Water Tribes?”

“Well what does being queen mean to you?” Zuko asked.

“No more war.” 

“Then I think you’re at least giving it an honest go.” 

“But I could do so much more for my people if I was a doctor.” Katara replied.

“Really? Because what do you think will happen when Arnook dies?” Zuko questioned.

“What do you mean?”

“Yue was his heir, right? And not even a proper heir; she was going to have to be married so some guy could be the King of the North Pole.” 

“And?”

“My kingdom went to war over the prospect of there not being an heir to inherit. If Arnook were to die without someone clearly next in line, I can tell you war is exactly what will happen.”

“No, my father wouldn’t let that happen.”

“It might not have anything to do with your father. Or it’ll happen with or without him. The South Pole might want to keep their independence, same as the Swamp Tribe, but Arnook has made it clear that the North Pole wants unification. War would happen regardless.”

“And you just know this to be true?”

Zuko gave her a look and Katara threw up her arms. 

“Why does this have to depend on me?” She asked. Zuko shrugged.

“Circumstances of birth.” He said nonchalantly. Katara lowered her arms, having them fall loose and slapping the sides of her legs.

“Spirits, is it really just that?” 

Zuko walked up to her and rubbed her arms. 

“Even something so mundane as when you were born can change everything. I mean,” Zuko paused and huffed out a laugh. “If Thuy had been born a moment earlier then she wouldn’t even be the Avatar.” 

“I don’t want my whole life plotted out just because of when and where I was born.” Katara said.

“Okay, so what’s one thing, within reason, that you want that you can get while stuck with these choices?” Zuko asked.

“I want to be with you.” She blurted. 

When Zuko blushed, his skin turned yet another shade of red that didn’t match any part of his scar. He gripped her arms for a moment before suddenly releasing her and walking away.

“Zuko?” Katara called.

Zuko whirled around and pointed at her.

“You wanted to go on a date.” He said fiercely.

“Yes?”

“Let’s go on a date.” 

“We’re sorta lost right now.”

“Not now.” Zuko rubbed his hands on his pants and looked down for a second. “After midterms. A proper date.”

Katara laughed, nodding. 

“Okay. But how are we gonna get out of here?” She replied.

“I don’t-” Zuko started but stopped as a call went through the woods.

“Zuuuuuukoooooo?” A woman yelled.

“Is that Noriko?” Katara asked. Zuko chuckled and took her hand. Jogging, but watching out for roots, they moved in the direction of the calls. Noren, Noriko, and Kiyi all were shouting from in front of them. 

When they finally broke the treeline, the family was standing, each one holding an umbrella.

“Ay! There they are!” Kiyi shouted. 

“Ah, thank goodness!” Noriko said and fanned herself. 

As they all gathered, she swatted Zuko’s arm. 

“Why didn’t you listen to me, boy?” She asked and Zuko laughed, rubbing where she had hit him.

“Mom! You can’t just hit the prince!” Kiyi said.

“When the rain came, Noriko was really worried about you and insisted that I drive out. When you weren’t at the trailhead, she knew you were lost.” Noren explained.

“Tourists always get lost.” Kiyi added.

“The prince isn’t a tourist.” Noriko said sharply. “He’s just not as familiar with these woods.” 

“Well, we were lost and I’m really thankful you came out here.” Zuko said. “I’ll make sure to listen to you better, Auntie.” He leaned in and hugged Noriko, making her blush. 

“Dad borrowed our neighbor's van so we can take you back.” Kiyi said. As she looked at Zuko and Katara, she shook her head.

“It must be nice to be a waterbender.” She remarked.

“They are very handy to keep around.” Zuko agreed. Katara glared at him as he chuckled.

“I will put you in ice.” She hissed. Zuko didn’t reply, but took her hand as they all started to walk to the trailhead. His hand was warm and dry, which made Katara aware of the cool dampness that lingered on her skin. But she wasn’t cold. At least, not with him.

Chapter Text

It rained the entire weekend in Hira’a, so Zuko and Katara spent their time at Noren’s home. Katara watched in fascination one afternoon as Kiyi pulled out a broad canvas and she and Zuko sat cross legged on the floor looking at it. Zuko cupped his chin in a hand and tilted his head as Kiyi rattled off math and color theory. Eventually they got into a discussion on brush strokes so Katara got up to help Noriko with tea.

They watched movies, played board games, and helped around the house doing chores. It was the most mundane yet calming experience of Katara’s life. 

After the weekend, she returned to school and things settled down a bit. People would ask her about the Avatar from time to time, but mostly the discussions were about the impending examinations. 

Rohan sent her a video of Thuy at one of Toph’s matches, and Katara hadn’t seen such an expression of bi awakening since Sokka was introduced to the warriors of the North Pole. 

[Do you think she knows?] Katara texted Rohan.

[She has no idea.] They replied.

More videos came as Thuy started her training; the Avatar cycle demanded that elements were taught in a certain order. So earthbending came first, and Toph proved to be a merciless, albeit chaotically so, master. 

She called the Avatar “Wet Wipe.” 

Katara sent videos back of her mountain of texts, or the weird things she saw happening in the library at 2 AM. 

Zuko was less inclined to use social platforms than Rohan, but still managed to contact her just as much. He sent texts of new teas, or random parts of his day while in the palace. Those pictures were always a bit shocking; his long hair fell loose down his back save for his top knot, and his clothing was much more formal. 

For some reason, when he sent her a picture of himself in his court robes, it made Katara blush. 

Still, they texted in the morning and before bed, which was dancing at the edge of friendship and romance. It was frightening how long Katara would agonize over an emoji sometimes. 

As midterms approached, everyone sent her encouraging messages or memes. Rohan was the best at making her laugh, so she had to resist pulling her phone out during study sessions. Thankfully, her concentration had gotten better since she started attending a PTSD group on campus. The exams still stressed her out, and her sleep schedule was still utter garbage, but at least now she had a plan. 

After her final exam, she left out a breath and texted Zuko.

[So, date?]

The plan was a movie and then dinner. That way, Zuko informed her, they would have something to talk about while they ate. 

“We might miss our show time.” Zuko said and Katara snorted.

“But we will absolutely have something to talk about.” She replied. 

“Be quiet!” A man growled and Katara rolled her eyes. 

The rope around her wrists rubbed against her skin painfully. When she leaned back, she felt Zuko’s back stiffen to support her. His hands and feet were encased in metal to keep him from firebending. 

They had been grabbed in the parking lot. Zuko, lacking any sense of self-preservation, had gone for Katara as two men held her. This opened him up to the woman behind him, who slammed a baton into the back of his head. As he went down, one of the two men who held her dosed Katara with chloroform. 

Waking up in the back of a van had been less than ideal. 

“Look, you very clearly were not hired by my father, which means that you’re not of any real caliber of kidnappers to keep me here.” Zuko said. The woman who had knocked him out turned in the passenger seat to glare at him.

“And how do you know that, princeling?” She asked.

“Because you don’t know who my companion is.” Zuko said. 

Without the full range of her arms, there was very little Katara could do in the way of bending. But she only had a little bit of liquid to work with anyway, so it didn’t matter. 

“The Waterbender? We know your little girlfriend isn’t much of a fighter.” The driver scoffed. 

Using her fingers, Katara called the blood from Zuko’s head wound. It came as a glob between her thumb and index finger, so she stretched it into a thin thread. Flicking it out, she mimed the act of sawing with her two fingers and the blood acted it out over the rope around her wrists. 

It was going to take awhile. 

“So what is it that you want?” Zuko asked. “Ransom?” 

“Shut it pretty boy.” The woman hissed.

“Oh that’s original. Sure, make fun of the guy with the burn on his face. I know you’re criminals but do you have to be so insensitive?” Zuko retorted. The woman looked perplexed before turning to the driver.

“Did we get the right guy?” She asked.

“Excuse me, I am one in a million.” Zuko said, sounding offended. “I didn’t get this burn just to be treated like a commoner.”

Katara snorted again and almost lost her focus. She was about halfway through the rope and could feel the loosening. 

“We know that your sister is going to train the Avatar and we don’t need that psycho corrupting her.” The driver said. “So you’re going to shut up and be a good little bargaining chip or else we kill your girlfriend.”

“Okay so one, she’s not my girlfriend, yet. We were planning on having a nice date, see how things went, and maybe she’d decide to go out with me again. We’re not rushing things here.” Zuko said and Katara smiled. “Secondly, I totally agree with you about Azula. Same page, totally get it. But, and I am not doubting your reasoning skills for a second, how is kidnapping me supposed to change my father’s mind about that?”

“Because if he wants you back alive, he’ll have the Avatar sent elsewhere for training!” The woman snapped. 

“Look, where’s the other guy. He’s been quiet, I want to hear his thoughts on things.” Zuko said.

“We’re clear.” Katara said as she cut through the last loop of rope.

“Never mind.” Zuko said and swung up onto a knee. He slid behind the passenger seat and slammed his metal clad hands on either side of the woman’s head. As he heated the metal, she started to scream. 

Katara, staggered by her bound ankles, reached out toward the dash. This was another trick she had picked up after her training with Hama and had been used to disable many vehicles during the war. It only worked when people had gotten lazy on upkeep, which was surprisingly frequent among the more far flung troops. 

Closing her fists around the water source, Katara yanked her arms back, pulling water and coolant out of the engine. In a quick motion, Katara used the water to peel apart the metal around Zuko’s hands just as she had done to the factory in Jang Hui. Zuko then went to the driver, who had begun to swerve dramatically, and held a blade of fire by his face.

Katara froze herself to the floor of the van to keep from being tossed about while she cut off her last ropes and freed Zuko’s feet.

“Stop the van and we’ll let you go.” Zuko said, his voice low. As the driver seemed to debate the merits of listening to him, Katara went to the woman. She was huddled in the corner of her seat, whimpering and covering her burns with her eyes closed. Pulling water around her hands - making sure to completely discard the coolant - Katara called out the healing energy, making the water glow.

“What are you doing? Get away from her!” The driver said and the van jerked as Zuko brought the blade closer to his face.

“Don’t you worry what she’s doing. It’s leaps and bounds better than what I’m thinking of doing to you.” Zuko said.

Katara touched the woman’s face and she jumped, but didn’t move as the cooling sensation brought relief to her face. 

“This will just take a second.” Katara murmured and the woman opened her eyes. She looked terrified. 

“I’m a healer.” Katara added and tears welled in the woman’s eyes. 

After a few moments, Katara pulled her hands away and the woman brought her hands up, shaking terribly, to her face. As she felt the unburned skin, she started to cry.

“Look,” Zuko said, sounding calmer. “There’s a noodle restaurant there. Stop and let us out.” 

“Haruka, are you okay?” The driver asked.

“Y-yeah.” The woman said, still crying.

The driver grunted and jerked the wheel over, coming to a stop in front of a row of shops.

“Katara?” Zuko asked. Katara went to the side door, pulling it open. After she jumped out, Zuko dissipated the fire and followed after. He barely closed the van door before it pulled away, its tires screaming against the pavement. 

“Well that was fun.” He remarked.

“Let me see your head.” Katara said with a sigh and Zuko obediently walked to her. She healed him, washing the blood out of his hair before tossing the water into the gutter. 

“Hungry?” He asked.

“I could eat.” Katara said and they laughed.

“Does that happen to you often?” She asked as they started to walk to the shop. People who had stopped to stare at the van watched them go.

“Less than you’d think, but more than other people.” Zuko admitted. He reached the door first, opening it and standing aside. “After you.”

Katara walked in and saw steam burst from behind the counter. It was fairly pretty and smelled like warmth.

Chapter Text

Entering her apartment, Katara kicked off her shoes as she closed the door. Darting to the kitchen, she let her bag fall to the floor. She had to hurry; her study group was meeting in fifteen minutes back on the campus.

Normally she studied alone, but after meeting with her advisor, Katara knew she was going to need additional help. The group therapy sessions were helping, but it didn’t cure her of her PTSD, which meant the irritability, the poor sleep, and inability to concentrate still plagued her. The study group was hopefully going to save her from failing her tests, but it cut into her free time. 

As she pulled open her fridge, Katara felt her phone buzz in her pocket. Ignoring it for the time being, she went about reheating leftovers and using the bathroom. She had some money, but eating on campus got expensive and she’d rather bring the bulk snacks she bought on the weekend than risk the campus cafe. 

Leaning on the counter, Katara set her leftovers down and stirred them with a fork while she unlocked her phone. Zuko had texted her.

Calling him, she still took a bite of her food.

“Hey.” Zuko said, his face appearing on the screen.

“Mmm.” Katara greeted him with her mouth full. 

“What’s going on?” He asked.

“Just trying to shovel in some food before my study group.” She replied.

“Oh. Do you have time to talk?”

“Not really. Can I call you later?”

“How much later? I’ve got a meeting in a little bit.”

“A meeting? At this time of night?” 

“There’s been flooding in a rural province. I’m in charge of overseeing the relief aid.”

“Yikes. Well, we’ll have to see. I’ll text you after my study session?” 

“Yeah. Sure. Of course.” Zuko said hurriedly.

“Okay, I’ll talk to you later.” Katara said and blew him a kiss. He smiled weakly.

“Talk to you later.” He said.

Katara rushed around while trying to eat as much as she could. She had to grab her anatomy textbooks and her big water bottle; there was no point in leaving the table unless absolutely necessary. Then, after shoving things into her bag, Katara ran back out of her apartment, leaving her used dishes on her couch.

She’d get to it later.

When she did stumble back into the apartment, it was well past one in the morning. Katara dragged everything behind her, discarding things as she went. The trail of debris showed what she had gone through; her bag was open, unable to zip closed over the folded back notebooks, and popcorn fell from pockets where the opened bag had been jostled. Her coat, her shoes, and finally her pants became a snail trail leading to her bedroom.

Throwing herself onto her bed, Katara felt her eyes burn as she closed them.

Laboriously, she pulled up the hand that still held onto her phone. Zuko had texted a few times, but she hadn’t been able to respond. Now that she was home, she called him.

He picked up immediately.

“I hope I didn’t wake you.” Katara mumbled, half of her face pressed deeply into her pillow.

“No, I was up.” He said.

“How did your meeting go?” She asked.

“It went alright. They took my suggestions and we’re going to start moving supplies in the morning.”

“That’s great.” Katara said weakly.

“How was studying?”

“Exhausting.” 

“Did you need to get some sleep?” Zuko asked cautiously.

“Yeah, I’m really tired. But I’m glad I got to talk to you.” Katara said, smiling with her eyes closed.

“Me too. I miss you.”

“I miss you too.”

“Can we talk tomorrow?”

Katara sighed and rolled onto her back, leaving the phone laying beside her.

“I don’t know, I’ve got a long lab tomorrow.” She said and rubbed her face with both hands. “But I’ll try.”

“Sure.” Zuko paused and Katara started to drift.

“Katara?” He asked.

“Hmmm?”

“Never mind. Get some sleep.” He said softly. 

“Okay.” Katara said sleepily. “Good night Zuko.”

“Good night Katara.”

The rest of the week pummeled Katara and she took every free moment to stuff in tutoring sessions and lab simulations. Zuko was texting less, but Katara read in the news more about the flooding he had been talking about. It was a disaster, but Katara felt a sense of pride as she saw pictures of him with a convoy of trucks. 

She had read more about him; not too much to avoid crossing into creepy stalker territory, but just about his background in Fire Nation politics. He cared a lot about humanitarian efforts and Katara was surprised to learn that he had created the non-profit that assisted displaced Fire Nation colonists at the end of the war. He hadn’t even turned eighteen. 

Missing him was easier to handle when she knew that he was doing important work. 

His arrival at Ba Sing Se University was a big shock.

“Zuko?” Katara grasped the strap of her backpack tightly as she walked up to him. “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to see you.” He said.

“Okay, but don’t you have other things to do?” She questioned.

“I am. There are other people who work on these projects too.” Zuko paused and looked at her. “Did you not want me to come?”

Katara rubbed her eyes and shook her head.

“It’s not that. I’ve just got a lot to do, and I thought you did too.” She explained.

He looked hurt.

“I’m sorry.” He said.

“Zuko.” Katara sighed and looked around. They were out in front of the medical building and clusters of students walked past, whispering together.

“Come on, let’s go back to my apartment.” She said. 

“My car is just over there.” Zuko said.

They walked to the visitor’s lot and Katara got into the passenger’s seat quickly. As Zuko got in, she was texting with one hand while she buckled with the other.

“What’s going on?” He asked.

“I have to text my study group, tell them I’m not coming.” She replied.

Zuko started the car and pulled out of his space, not saying anything. After Katara put away her phone and sat back, she sighed.

“Sorry.” Zuko murmured.

“It’s fine. Just, a head’s up would’ve been nice, okay?” She asked, tilting her head to look at him. He looked worried and Katara frowned.

“My apartment’s a mess, by the way.” She added and sat up, looking out the window. “I haven’t had time to clean.” 

“Is school keeping you busy?” Zuko asked.

“Yeah, I’ve been telling you all about it.” 

“I know.”

They fell silent and Katara watched the translucent reflection of Zuko in her window. He looked anxious, and a knot of worry started to form in Katara’s stomach. Had he come here for a reason?

When they pulled into the parking lot at her apartment complex, Zuko turned off the car but hesitated. As Katara grabbed the door handle, he turned.

“Katara?” He started. She faced him, giving him a curious look.

“Yeah?” She asked, prompting him. Zuko nervously tapped his fingers against the wheel and frowned.

“I’m sorry.” He said.

“Zuko, it’s fine. Now come on.” Katara said and opened the car door. She grabbed her backpack and closed the door, looking over the car as Zuko got out. He still looked worried.

Walking around the car, Katara took his hand. It surprised him, and Zuko looked down at their clasped hands.

“Let’s go.” She said, tugging lightly on him.

They walked across the lot and into the lobby, stopping in front of the lone elevator. As they waited for it to descend, Katara shifted her bag onto one shoulder, leaning into Zuko with her other and turning her hand so their fingers were interlaced. She could feel him relax and lean into her. 

The elevator opened and they stepped in; Katara used their intertwined hands to push the button for her floor. They rode up in silence and Katara led him again as they walked down the hall to her door. To retrieve her keys, Katara hitched her bag up further onto her shoulder and dug into her pocket with her free hand. She unlocked the door and pushed it open, gesturing for Zuko to enter. 

He let go of her and walked in, while Katara tossed her bag on the floor inside before closing the door. As she turned back to Zuko, she threw her keys onto her bag.

“So what’s-” She started but stopped as Zuko held her face in his hands. He pulled her to him, kissing her deeply. With a gasp, Katara nonetheless put her arms around his neck, pushing herself upward to meet him. His hands fell and he embraced her with his arms around her waist. He hugged her tightly and kissed her with fervor. 

Zuko moved from her mouth across her cheek and down her neck before pressing his face into her shoulder, still holding her tightly. 

Katara’s heart was racing and every part of her felt like it had been strung tightly across a sounding board, ready to be plucked by his fingers. 

“What’s going on?” She breathed.

“I thought you didn’t want me anymore.” He mumbled into her neck and she shivered at the touch of his lips on her skin.

“What?” Katara’s mind was a jumble and the confusion hurt.

Zuko stood upright and looked at her.

“We haven’t been talking as much. I thought you were pulling away.” He said.

“Zuko, we’re both really busy!” Katara said, unintentionally sharp. She was way too charged to be calm.

Zuko looked down.

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Hey, look at me.” 

Zuko turned back and Katara slid her arms down so that she could now take his face in her hands.

“You still owe me more dates.” She said. He looked at her, hopeful.

“Now?” He asked.

“Not now.” Katara said with a laugh. “I’ve got class.”

Zuko’s face fell and she kissed him lightly on the lips.

“I’m not just going to ghost you.” She said. Then, tapping his chest, she stepped back when he released her.

“Let’s watch something.” Katara offered and Zuko nodded. 

As Katara went to her couch, she blushed seeing her dirty dishes still strewn about.

“Actually, I’m going to pick up first.” She blurted and grabbed up her collection of plates and cups. Zuko picked up her bag and set it against the wall by the front door. 

“Need any help?” He asked.

“I would rather you not witness my shame.” She called as she ran into the kitchen and tossed the dirty dishes into the sink.

Still, Katara heard him move around the apartment and she tried to think about the worst spots of her mess. It wasn’t like her to be this messy, but the semester had been intense.

“You really have been busy.” Zuko said from the living room. 

“Told you.”

Katara scrubbed and rinsed her dishes before loading her dishwasher, praying that he wouldn’t find something embarrassing. The last thing she needed was for her well-dressed, royal boyfriend to stumble across a pile of used tissues or something. 

“Were you reading up on me?” Zuko asked. Squeezing her eyes shut, Katara sent out a silent curse to her past self. 

“I just wanted to know more about your princely side. It’s a good look for you.” She answered. After a moment’s hesitation, she continued. “What did you find?” 

“Magazine.” Zuko replied, and then also continued after a moment. “What else you got?”

“I’m not answering that.”

Katara heard him on the move again and smiled as he walked into the kitchen. He hugged her around the middle just as she was rinsing the last plate and rested his chin on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry I’m a nervous wreck.” Zuko said. 

“It’s not something to apologize for. You should trust me though.” She replied, bending awkwardly to deposit the plate in the dishwasher. After she rinsed her hands, Katara wriggled to make Zuko let her go. She lifted the dishwasher door with her foot and shut it, grabbing a towel to dry her hands as she turned. 

“I’ve had a lot of people leave without a word. It’s something I’m having a hard time dealing with.” Zuko explained.

“When have you ever known me to do something quietly?” Katara scoffed and Zuko smiled. She tossed the towel on the counter and leaned back on the sink. 

“We’ll just have to work through it, but,” She crossed her arms over her chest and eyed him. “You need to tell me when you’re feeling insecure.”

“I’m feeling insecure.” Zuko said quickly. 

“Okay, what would you like for us to do?” Katara asked.

“I want you to drop out and come live with me in the palace.” 

Seeing his face, Katara laughed and Zuko grinned.

“I’m serious.” He said lightly.

“I know. But I also know that you know it’s impossible.”

“You got me.”

“So what’s the next best thing?”

“Is it possible for you to maybe set some time aside, just for me?”

Katara took in a breath and chewed on the inside of her cheek. 

“I don’t have a lot of free time.” She said.

“I know, but it’d be nice.”

She stared at him as she thought and Zuko stayed quiet. It was odd to see him like this; he always seemed so self-assured and confident. But perhaps he had to look that way.

“How about Sunday afternoons? None of my study groups meet on that day and I usually use it to catch up on laundry and stuff.” She offered.

“Is that okay?” He questioned, sounding nervous again.

“I wouldn’t suggest it if it wasn’t.” Katara stated. “You have to trust me that I’m not, you know, doing this begrudgingly. I miss you too, I just need different things. If this is something you need, I want to give it to you. I care about you Zuko.” 

“Then yes. I want your Sunday afternoons.” He said.

“They’re yours.” Katara replied. Zuko chuckled and grabbed Katara again, hugging her with less desperation this time.

“So what different things do you need?” He asked. 

“For that, we’re going to need to check how messy my bedroom is.” Katara replied.

Zuko made a strangled sound and she felt his fingers press into her back. Laughing, Katara only kissed his cheek. 

Chapter Text

Laying in bed, Katara started to drift as Zuko casually passed his hand up and down her side. With the shade pulled down, the late afternoon sun cast an orange light in the room, turning most of the things she could see into silhouettes. 

“Katara?” Zuko asked. 

“Mmm?” Katara took in a deep breath and shifted in the space next to him. 

“I want to ask you something, but I’m worried about your reaction.” 

“I’m not dropping out of school.”

“It’s not that.”

Katara pushed herself up on one arm and squeezed her eyes shut briefly, trying to wake up.

“What’s wrong?” She asked.

“I wanted to know about,” His hand paused and Katara glanced down. “This.”

The line of the scar ran almost a hand length down her side. All of the scars she still had were ones she couldn’t heal herself, usually because she had been unconscious for the surgery and too weak to finish it after. 

“That’s when I was shot.” She said nonchalantly. Craning over, she used her free hand to pull on the skin a bit as she looked at it. 

“I think this one is from the last battle actually.” She added and laid back down. Looking up at Zuko, she shrugged at his horrified face.

“You were shot?” He questioned.

“Weren’t you?” Katara asked. 

“Well.” He started, but didn’t continue. She knew regardless, she had seen enough battle wounds to name all of the marks on his body.

Rolling onto her back, Katara tossed the blanket off her body. 

“Obviously, you know this is a burn. That was during a partial eclipse; a Fire Nation soldier surprised us and Sokka was barely awake enough to fight him off.” She explained, tracing the outer edge of a patch on her abdomen. 

“The one on my thigh is from getting tangled in barbed wire after we burned our first prison. It got infected pretty quick, but I was able to use my bending for that one.” She moved on quickly, lifting her left leg and turning it to show the curling scar. 

“Blazes Katara, what happened to you?” Zuko asked. 

Katara lowered her leg but looked up at the ceiling, resting her hands on her stomach. After a moment of silence, Zuko pulled the blanket back up, draping it over her. 

“Sokka and I were alone for a lot of the two years we were out there.” Katara started. “We’d run with Suki and the Kyoshi Warriors for a bit and then break off when they had to do something for the Earth Kingdom. For a few months, we stayed with this liberation group, but they ended up being borderline terrorists.”

Katara’s thoughts drifted to Jet and his group, and Zuko stayed quiet as she reminisced. 

“We weren’t trained soldiers. Jet, he ran this teen army or something, he taught us a lot. That’s probably why we stayed as long as we did.” Katara shook her head. “No, I made Sokka stay because I wanted to fight back. I was so angry. He didn’t trust Jet at all.” 

“What happened with that?” Zuko asked. His voice was soft and sympathetic. 

“We left. For a bit.” Katara said tersely. “After Sokka met Piandao and wanted to train, I was livid. He couldn’t trust Jet, called him a bad guy, but then he goes begging to work with a Fire Nation veteran?

“Of course, by then I had seen the worst of Jet but…”

“Fire Nation was always the worst.” Zuko finished for her.

Katara sighed, rolling back onto her side and putting her hand on Zuko’s hip. 

“Back then, yeah.” She said. “So I left and found Jet. I got the feeling he was hitting places close to me on purpose, so I knew where to find him. I didn’t tell Sokka. He doesn’t know everything I did.” 

“Was it bad?” Again, there was no judgement, but Katara still hesitated.

“Jet stopped being so,” She took in a breath. “Violent. He said I made him want to be a better person, a noble hero kind of thing.”

“Did you two…?” Zuko left off the end of his question. 

“Yeah. He was my first.” Katara said simply.

Zuko was quiet and Katara rubbed his side. 

“Hey.” She murmured.

“No, I know. I mean, obviously Mai and I. It’s just,” Zuko shifted uncomfortably. “If he wasn’t a great guy…”

“He and I were young. We thought the passion we felt was love, not the insane rage we held toward the Fire Nation.” Katara said and then laughed, low in her throat. “He would constantly gush about my scars as if I were a martyr.” 

“The wounds are horrific, but I am grateful for the scars. They mean you’re alive.” Zuko said.

“And that’s the difference between him and you. He would talk about being a martyr in war, but you wanted to live. I had to realize that there was nothing noble in my desire for self-destruction.” Katara explained.

“So these?” Zuko asked, holding her wrist and stilling her hand.

“Just because I knew it wasn’t noble didn’t mean I stopped seeking it.” Katara replied. 

“Did Jet survive?” Zuko asked, moving his hand to interlock their fingers. 

“He did. I don’t know where he ended up, but we reconnected once after the war. He came to my college.” She said.

“I’m assuming you didn’t pick back up where you left off.” Zuko said.

“Oh my gosh, are you jealous?” Katara asked, laughing. Zuko scowled.

“No.” He said.

“I did not hook up with Jet if that’s what you’re wondering.” Katara said and then grinned. “Because I was dating someone else I had met during the war.”

“Who?” Zuko questioned.

“You aren’t going to know him!” Katara retorted.

“I’m just curious!” 

“His name is Haru. He’s an Earthbender I met in a little mining village Sokka and I were hiding out in.” 

“So no Waterbenders?”

“Nope. But I did have a crush on Yue.”

“Oh really?” 

Katara laughed again and wriggled closer to Zuko.

“Yeah, but it was pretty obvious she liked Sokka. So I didn’t say anything.” She said. 

“You don’t say a lot of things.” Zuko pointed out.

“Plenty of people have scars from the war.” Katara said. “It’s not unusual.”

“You weren’t a soldier. You weren’t trained for that.” 

“How could they have ever trained you for yours?” She questioned, putting her hand to his scarred eye. 

“I’m Fire Nation.” He said.

“And you would cut off your own hand before you’d hurt me.” 

He held her, pulling her close, kissing her with a fever. Katara pressed herself into him, clinging to him and yielding to his attention. 

His fear drove him and Katara could feel his heart pounding in his chest even without her bending. 

“Never.” He said, breaking away to kiss her throat. “I would never.”

“I know, Zuko. I know.” She said, her voice breathy. 

“No more scars.” He said.

Katara put her hand to his chest, pushing herself back to look at him. 

“I’d heal them anyway.” 

Chapter Text

The next Sunday, Katara used her laptop to call Zuko while she sorted laundry. The time difference wouldn’t give them too much time, but Zuko assured her that he finished his day early on the weekends. 

She knew he was lying, but knew that the talk was probably good for them both.

“Good morning, beloved.” Zuko said as the call connected. 

“Did you eat dinner yet?” Katara asked, starting to dig through her hamper. 

“I was going to when you went to the laundry.” He replied.

“And you’re sure this time works for you?” 

“I was going to ask you that.”

“As long as you don’t mind me doing this.” Katara eyed him as she yanked the sleeves right side out on a shirt. 

“I’d say I was willing to watch you do chores all day long but that sounds slightly sexist.” Zuko said.

Katara snorted. “A bit.”

“I was glad to see you.” He said.

“It was nice.” She smiled and tossed the shirt onto the floor in front of the couch. 

As Katara worked through the hamper, they chatted about minor things. He asked her about her classes, therapy, and her study group. Having her life outside of the North Pole distilled into those three points made her grumpy, so Katara redirected the conversation. She wanted to know more about Zuko’s work at his uncle’s tea shop or what he actually thought about Ba Sing Se.

In the back of her mind, as absently as her movements with her laundry, other thoughts bubbled up. 

Did you kill anyone as the Blue Spirit? Did you ever go to the prison in Zhongui? Why don’t you hate me?

Pulling out a pillowcase, Katara paused.

“What’s up?” Zuko asked.

Plucking off a red thread, she held it up in front of the webcam. 

“You left something behind.” She said and he smiled. 

They took a break so Katara could run her things through the wash and Zuko could eat. She was lucky to have a washer and dryer in-unit, and she stood in the small closet-sized room getting everything started. 

As water started to fill the basin, Katara rolled the red thread in between her thumb and finger.

At what point did fate chain her to this end? Which choice had she made that put her in this place?

If she and Sokka had stayed in the South Pole, the war would still have ended in much the same way. It wasn’t anything she had done that stopped Ozai; Iroh had faced his brother on some rocky dueling ground and won. By leaving and setting off on their journey, Katara just mitigated the damage that final battle could inflict. 

Her mother would have still died and her father would still have been imprisoned in a different work camp. 

Katara had lost the same things that had pushed her out of the South Pole, and gained very little. In fact, any of the things she considered as positives in her life were greatly outweighed by the other consequences. 

Being soul bound to La, the numerous deaths on her hands, Arnook’s insistence of her inheritance, and now this mess with Zuko, it was all tied to her simple choice to leave the South Pole. 

She was going to be queen, and the chain wrapped around her throat as tightly as Pakku’s necklace had been around her grandmother’s. It was expected of her, it was the correct thing, it was her duty as a woman of the Water Tribe.

Zuko would be held at the whim of his father until Ozai died. And even then, if the time difference was bad enough now, the distance after they both ascended would be incomprehensible. Where would they even live?

Katara could imagine the red thread tying up her hands and heart. 

As much as the dead end bothered it, it was far more irritating to think that the only way to get out of it was to end things. She didn’t want to succumb to fate, but neither did she want to refuse these things solely out of spite. 

Rolling the thread into a knot, Katara flicked it away. 

When she returned to the call, Zuko had changed into what he considered his casual clothes. 

“Did you ever go near the prison in Zhongui?” Katara asked abruptly.

“During the war? No, though I had wanted to. That was an evil place.” Zuko stopped and looked scared. “Were you there?”

“My mother was.”

“Oh Katara.” He said so softly, brushing against the scar inside of her with a painful gentleness. 

Katara sniffed and pulled her legs up on the couch, wrapping her arms around them.

“You know,” Zuko began. “When I think about Kya, I feel so disgusted with myself. I don’t know how you can bear to be with me.”

“I could be around your father and not murder him.” Katara said. “Or throw up.” 

“I know, but I just think about you had to go through all of that just so we could even meet. I don’t know if I could ever wish…” He stopped and she nodded. 

“Well what about you? It’s not like you didn’t go through the worst time of your life.” Katara said.

“I can’t change the past, but I can fight like the spirits themselves for the future I want.” He said. 

Katara thought about the red thread and touched her necklace. 

“Would you send me something?” She asked, her hand lowering slowly.

“Anything.” Zuko said quickly.

“It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but I want something red.” 

“Red?”

“Something from the Fire Nation.” She said and hitched up the corner of her mouth. “I didn’t keep anything from my stint there.” 

“Maybe something from Hira’a? If you don’t think that’s too much?” Zuko asked.

“I’d love that.” 

The universe could give her all the threads it wanted to, but it was Katara’s choice about what kind of future she wove. 

Chapter Text

Katara wondered when her naivety would end. Of course things couldn’t be that simple, nothing ever was. Of course she couldn’t just sail up to the North Pole to see where her father had gotten to, she had to make a soul pact with a spirit to defend it from invaders. And of course she couldn’t just live her life as normal until her coronation, she had things to do that would impact her ability to rule. And of course she couldn’t just fly straight to the Fire Nation for a quick trip, because it happened during hurricane season.

“At least we’re still in the city with taxis and hotels and not in the middle of a forest when we’re caught in the rain.” Zuko said as he shook out his umbrella. The automatic door to the hotel lobby wooshed open, breathing cold air over them and making Katara shiver. 

If the rain had come down in sheets in Hira’a, it was a wall here on the coastal side of Republic City. The wind howled like a wounded animal and the rain slammed down on the overhang. None of it was relaxing or pleasant and water was Katara’s element. 

“Sure, but if this delays things, I’m going to miss a test.” Katara said, tension in her neck making her voice grumpy. 

“Well.” Zuko began as they walked inside. Their shoes squeaked against the linoleum floor and everything smelled damp.

“Well what?” Katara snapped.

“Do you think you’re going to even go back to school after the break?” Zuko asked. Katara sighed, not replying, and they walked up to the check-in counter.

“Hello and welcome to-” The man behind the counter started in a sing-song voice but ended up gasping. “Prince Zuko?”

“Ah, I’m afraid you’re mistaken.” Zuko said, holding up a hand and wincing. “My name is Lee and this is my friend Sapphire.” 

Katara clenched her jaw hard to keep from laughing. 

“Oh, yes, of course. Well.” The man nodded and straightened out his tie. “How may I help you sir?”

“I have our reservation number.” Zuko started and Katara turned away, walking across the lobby toward a small dining area. There was a bar, but it was too early for it to be open, and an area that probably held the buffet breakfast was empty. Highly specialized rooms or counters always felt eerie to Katara when they were empty. 

A family was seated at one of the tables; behind them was a small vending area that seemed to have supplied them. A toddler was grinding crackers to dust in her chubby fists while the parents were coaxing their older child to pick a fruit and eat it. 

A TV was on behind the bar but it was muted and the closed captions were horrifically slow and nearly incomprehensible. Still, it was talking about the weather, and she could understand things from context. 

The tropical storm was not a big one, though the wet slapping against the windows made Katara wary. It was supposed to end overnight. If all went well, they could fly out tomorrow afternoon for the Fire Nation.

“I got our room key.” Zuko said as he came up behind her. Katara turned and nodded.

“Are you okay?” He asked.

“Storms weird me out. I feel like I should be able to handle them better, all things considering.” She said. Zuko glanced up at the TV.

“Some things are too powerful for us to contain and we just have to let them pass through us.” He said.

“Are you talking about my coronation?”

Zuko grinned and looked at her. “I was talking about lightning, but sure.” 

They rolled their suitcases to the elevator and rode up to the fifth floor. The hotel was nice, but filled with enough minor reminders that this was not a place to feel at home in. The stretch of empty hallways, the doors like judgmental sentries. Or the fact that every room was just a little too chilly. 

Zuko opened their door and Katara was hit by the scent of recycled air. In such a closed off room, all it could do was run itself through the air conditioning unit over and over. Still, she picked the bed closest to said unit, not wanting to hear everything that went on in the bathroom. Leaving the suitcase standing at the foot of her bed, Katara fell backward onto the mattress.

“Why do I even have to go to this thing?” Katara asked. “Thuy’s not even going to be studying firebending for like, another year.” 

“Because until she’s a fully realized Avatar, every single one of these types of events is going to be watched. Who has more influence over her, who is treating her better, that sort of thing.” Zuko said. Katara turned her head and watched as he unfolded the luggage holder, lifted up his suitcase onto it, and unzipped it.

“This festival isn’t a big one, but we’ll take any opportunity to get Thuy in the palace.” He said, pulling out his shirts and shaking them out before moving to the closet. 

“So this is partially your fault?” Katara asked and sat up. “And are you putting away your clothes?”

Zuko turned, holding a shirt to his chest.

“I don’t want them to get wrinkled.” He said. Katara rolled her eyes and fell onto her back again. 

“Anyway, yes, I am partially to blame. The Fields of Fire Festival was my mother’s favorite, and so my father never wanted to celebrate it. It’s a peasant’s holiday, but a perfect opportunity to show off to Thuy while also bringing a piece of my mother to the capital.” Zuko explained. 

“Hey, you can’t play up the sympathy angle with me.” Katara replied. “It’s not fair.” 

A snap like a massive gunshot went off and Katara yelped as she sat up. The rumble of thunder after was almost superfluous. The window shook and Katara pushed herself back on the bed to the headboard.

“Are you-?” Zuko cut himself off, letting the silence be a euphemism.

“Scared of storms? Yes, I thought I was clear.” Katara said and rolled her back to the window with her legs curled up and her arms crossed over her chest. 

“Did you want to switch beds?”

“No.” She said firmly. 

“Okay.” Zuko went back to packing and Katara watched him.

Zuko ended up in bed, watching TV with the volume lowered, while Katara took out her tablet and started reading. As the storm continued to batter the building, she finally got fed up and left the room to get ice.

“Can’t you make-”

“Shut it.”

She could still hear the storm in the hallway, but it was muffled. The only windows were by the elevators and, as the signs on the wall said, the ice machine was in the opposite direction, next to the laundry. 

Clasping the ice bucket to her chest, Katara walked down the hall. Some of the doors she passed had the little Do Not Disturb hang tags, while a few were propped open with the metal door lock. Occasionally she could hear the sounds of a television. 

She came to the laundry first. The rows of dryers tumbling white towels or colorful clothes behind the glass insert of the door. A placard listed the hours guests could use it and how much the machines cost.

Next to it the door was a small alcove with the ice machine. Katara filled up the bucket, listening to the whir before ice clinked on the plastic bottom. Whatever mechanism spat out the ice cubes, it chunked laboriously as it did so. When the bucket was filled, Katara lifted the bucket from the lever and caught the renegade pieces of ice with her bending. Tossing them into the bucket, she walked back into the hall. 

She made it past the laundry when a massive boom ripped through the air and the lights went out. 

Swallowing her scream, Katara still fell to the floor as she heard glass shatter. Her legs and feet were cold with salt spray from the ocean. The sky above raged and called the ocean up to rip apart their boat. How dare they try to cross, when their place had been so clearly delineated?

Sokka was gone, sucked under the waves or still clinging to his piece of the deck. Katara had felt the wood under her, but now there was only the cold and wet. Lightning cracked, splitting the clouds and the main mast. There was a fire. 

“Katara.” 

She sucked in air with a gasp. Zuko knelt in front of her, a flame in his hand. Falling on him, Katara wrapped her arms around his neck and sobbed.

He stood, putting an arm around her waist to hold her steady. When she was on her feet, they walked back to the room.

“It’s okay. I’m here.” Zuko whispered into her hair as they walked. Emergency lights glowed along the floor and at the exit signs, but Zuko still held his flame in front of them. 

When they got to the room, Zuko wrapped her up in a blanket and laid her on his bed. Getting in next to her, he had his phone start playing white noise as he held a pillow to the side of her head. Katara wrapped her fingers in his shirt, the phone wedged between them, so all she heard was the ambient static. The blanket was tight around her and Zuko cradled her while smothering the outside noise. 

With the heat of her breath building around her, Katara fell asleep. 

She woke up in darkness. The storm had dissolved into a gentle rain that patted against the window when the wind blew.

Katara knew the power was back because the air conditioning was back on. And the fact that the TV was casting a pale light over her. She was laying on her side and Zuko was sitting up, braced against the headboard with an arm behind his head. He was watching something with no sound and Katara wriggled to see what it was. 

An old movie played and had useful captions. It was a western and two cowboys were chasing a bandit. Katara watched in silence for a moment.

“You can turn the sound on.” She said. “I’m awake.”

“I’m used to watching movies like this.” Zuko said and stretched out his legs.

“Why?”

“Well, because I’m deaf in one ear.” 

Katara scrambled to her knees and looked at him. “What?”

“That was how the lady snuck up on me before our date. She came up to my left side and I couldn’t hear her.” He explained.

“Is that from the burn?” Katara asked and then shook her head, holding up her hands. “Of course it is. 

“Yeah. I should wear my hearing aid, but I’m self-conscious about it. Like, I have the burn, I don’t need the hardware on top of it.” He said, trying to sound nonchalant.

“I never even noticed.” Katara said softly.

“You and your brother aren’t exactly soft spoken you know? It normally isn’t an issue.” Zuko added.

“You should wear your hearing aid.”

“Oh I absolutely should.”

“Zuko, I’m serious.”

“Could you imagine how that looks? The crown prince is not only disfigured but handicapped?” Zuko asked, sounding bitter.

“I’ll be queen and have a disability. And look, Thuy’s first bending teacher is blind. Can you imagine how that looks?” Katara retorted. “It’s better than pretending to be something we’re not.”

“So are you going to be more honest about what comes next?” Zuko asked.

“I just had an episode where I was back in the worst storm of my life and almost died. I don’t want to think about how I have to go from that to being queen.” 

“Okay then, dinner first? Followed by queenship?” Zuko said and put his arm around her. “Is that the logical process? PTSD episode, dinner, make a plan to be royalty.” 

“You were born to this life. It’s easier for you.” Katara muttered.

“And when are you going to realize that I’m just trying to make things easier for you?” He shot back.

Blinking, Katara leaned back to look at him. 

“Zuko…”

“I really, really like you Katara. And I want to help so please,” Zuko turned to face her. “Let me help.”

“Fine.” Katara nodded. “Let’s get dinner.”

Zuko smiled and put his forehead to hers. “You’re impossible.”

Chapter Text

The palace was as grand as she thought. Architecture wasn’t anything she ever showed any interest in, but there were certain buildings that she just knew were designed well. The ice palace of the North Pole was a fortress but still kept all the swirling, arching beauty of ocean swells. The Earth Kingdoms had strong bases with any number of geometric patterns stacked in a mighty display.

The Fire Nation had some of the oldest, man made buildings in the world. 

On the palace grounds, Katara was amazed by the dark wooden floors, the massive pillars, and the ornate scrollwork all along the beams. With the palace at the top of the mountain, and the land below being mostly prairie, she wondered at the perseverance to drag all that timber up this high.

“It’s pretty, right?” Sokka asked as they got out of the car. 

“Incredibly so.” Katara replied.

“You know this is a dormant volcano?” He questioned. Katara jumped and Sokka laughed. 

“There’s magma way down in the earth. Nothing to worry about.” Zuko said as he approached. Katara didn’t relax and scowled at him as he walked up. 

“Oh yeah, I’m sure I’m going to enjoy every minute of this now.” Katara said and rolled her eyes. Zuko hugged her and kissed the top of her head. 

Sokka blanched loudly.

“I cannot believe you two are dating, dating now.” He lamented. 

“We can’t officially. There’d be a scandal.” Katara replied with mock admonishment. 

“I can only hope that day never comes.” Sokka muttered and started off toward the palace.

“You and Suki are affectionate all the time!” Katara shouted after him.

“Come on, let me show you to your room.” Zuko said.

They walked inside and Katara gasped at the interior. There was so much wood, it felt like she was a doll being kept in an ornate chest. The electric lights and air vents seemed anachronistic against the lacquer and ancient wooden beams, but it was still a sight to behold.

“We haven’t had so many guests all at once in a long time, so hopefully everything is ready.” Zuko said as they walked. “I didn’t get a chance to check.”

Housekeepers were still in Katara’s room as they came to it, startling them.

“Oh, your highness. I’m sorry, we’re not quite done.” A woman said, bowing while in the doorway.

“It’s fine. Is it possible to at least put her things away?” Zuko asked. The woman looked nervous but stood aside. 

As Zuko and Katara entered the room, she wondered where the woman’s dread originated.

The room was done up like a movie set. Piles of furs were laid on the bed while torches were being shoved into ancient holders. It smelled like grease oil and pellet fire. Rough, woven blankets were partially tacked up in the doorways and there was, impossibly, a pair of snowshoes and hunting spear propped up against the wall.

“What is the meaning of this?” Zuko demanded as Katara looked around with her mouth open.

“Sir, we haven’t been able to find everything that was requested.” A man on a ladder said as he awkwardly held up a blanket.

“That’s not-” Zuko pressed his fingers to his forehead.

“I only wanted to make our guest feel more at home.” Another woman’s voice, high and lilting, came from the hall. Both Zuko and Katara turned to see Azula leaning in the doorframe. 

“Azula, this is at best a horrible caricature and I know there was nothing good about your intentions here.” Zuko seethed.

Azula’s mouth went down as her eyebrows went up, pulling her face into smooth incomprehension.  She stood and raised her hands.

“Zuzu, you wound me. You know I’d never think to have someone feel unwelcome in our home.” She replied. 

“Azula-” Zuko stopped as Katara held his hand. Looking down at her, Zuko was confused by her smile.

“Did you guys just have this stuff lying around?” She asked and then faced Azula. “Or did you really go to all this trouble to try and make me upset?” 

Katara then turned and walked purposefully to the snowshoes. “Because these are genuine South Pole snowshoes and I don’t think I’ve seen a pair outside of a museum.”

Zuko sighed and turned to the housekeepers.

“It’ll be too warm for the furs. Please pack all of this up and have the room set like normal.” He said.

“Yes your highness!” They all said in unison, bowing deeply. 

Katara and Zuko walked out of the room, pushing past Azula as they went. 

“You’ll have to try harder than that, princess.” Katara whispered sharply. Azula narrowed her eyes and watched them go silently.

Azula did certainly try. Katara was given a sour imitation of seaprune stew for lunch. Speaking politely, Katara requested a regular plate and offered to give Azula an authentic recipe. Later, her clothes here found out in a pond, but Katara could easily remedy that. Finally, when Katara’s toiletry bag went missing, she finally had enough.

For most of the day, it had only been the younger members of the group. Thuy, Toph, and Rohan had gotten delayed by the same storm but from further away and only arrived in the evening. The heads of states - Ozai, Hakoda, Arnook, Tenzin, and Kuei - were in meetings pertaining to the festival that would take place that night. 

So it wasn’t until dinner that they were all together. 

Katara sighed as the server placed a whole fish down in front of her.

“Is the food not to your liking?” Azula asked immediately.

“No, Azula, it’s not.” Katara replied. “If you’re going to serve fish, you should at least make sure a fish fork is out.”

Then, turning to the server - who looked incredibly fearful - Katara smiled. “May I please have the regular plate?”

“Of course, my apologies.” He said and bowed, taking her plate as he backed away. 

“What is your problem Azula?” Zuko questioned and the rest of the table went quiet. The Fire Lord, sitting at the head of the table, steepled his fingers and watched his children. Tenzin, being the oldest person at the table, leaned back in his seat and rubbed his eyes.

“We have guests, Zuko. Do you really think this is the time for your petty squabbling?” Ozai asked.

“I think, father, that we should be addressing Azula’s petty behavior toward our guests.” Zuko answered evenly. 

“Is there something we should know?” Arnook questioned and ice filled Katara’s heart. Literally every major leader sat at the Fire Lord’s dining table. This had never happened, and now there was the chance of something terrible happening. 

“Azula must be held accountable for her disrespect.” Zuko stated and Katara took in a hissing breath.

“You have caused your sister to lose face in front of our esteemed guests. That is the utmost disrespect.” Ozai growled.

“Sounds like a stupid fight to me.” Thuy interjected. Everyone turned to the Avatar, who shrugged.

“I have a bratty little sister too.” She added. Azula spluttered while Zuko laughed.

“I believe the Avatar is reminding us that we are all human.” King Kuei said and Katara relaxed a bit.

“I don’t see why you have such a problem with Katara anyway.” Thuy said and smiled over at Katara. “I think she’s really nice.” 

“You would, since you’re both cut from the same cloth.” Azula remarked snidely and jumped when Ozai slammed his hand on the table.

“You will not speak to the Avatar in such a manner.” He said.

“I’m to be her teacher, am I not? She should be showing me more respect.” Azula retorted. 

“I think as I’m the Avatar, you should be the one showing some respect. Plus,” Thuy sat up straighter in her seat, glaring at Azula. “You shouldn’t treat a Queen so poorly.” 

“And who is a Que-” Azula started cocky but stopped abruptly. Turning in her seat, she stared at Katara. “You?”

Katara nodded with a grin. “Me.”

Azula then whirled about, staring at Zuko. “You’re dating the Queen of the Water Tribes?”

“WHAT?” Came multiple voices, all at once.

Thuy laughed to herself, clapping her hands. “Yay! I had hoped so.” 

Katara sat on a couch, her head in her hands.

“You cannot be romantically involved with the crown prince of the Fire Nation.” Arnook said.

Lifting her head, Katara flattened her hands in supplication. “Why not?”

“There’s inheritance to think of. If Zuko gives up his throne-” Hakoda said but Katara interrupted him.

“Why would Zuko give up his throne?” She asked.

“If you marry-” Arnook began.

“We just started dating!” Katara interjected. 

“You can’t think in the short term Katara!” Hakoda bellowed. “This is serious!”

Katara stood up, her hand at her throat, gripping her mother’s necklace. 

“Do you know what I’ve gone through for you?” She screamed. Hakoda took a step back and Sokka, previously standing in the corner, walked forward.

“Do you know how many people I killed before I turned eighteen? Do you know what it was like to fight, alone? Do you have any idea how it felt to hold mom’s body and being able to do nothing about it?” Katara yelled.

Sokka pushed past Hakoda and went to Katara. She shoved him away, turning her back on the others in the room. 

“I am soul bound to the ocean, I saved the North Pole from destruction, I drowned the Fire Nation fleet.” Katara said, her voice rising as she spoke. She whirled around then, ice shards forming around her from the moisture in the air. 

“I will be Queen, not because I want to be, but because it was ordered of me. And so, with all the rage and power of the ocean, I will do as I please with it.” She said. Her breath curled in the cold air, causing even more slivers of ice to glint in the light. In her fury, she sparkled. 

“Katara-” Hakoda reached out and Katara pulled a wall of ice in front of her.

“I did all of this for you.” She said, tears rising and falling from her eyes. She touched her mother’s necklace again, lightly this time. “But I will love as I want, for mom.” 

Sokka touched the ice wall and it parted for him; fractals shifting to let him through. He hugged Katara and she sniffled, burying her face into his shoulder. 

“Come on.” He said softly and Katara nodded. He turned her and they walked out of the room.

“Are you okay?” Sokka asked once they started down the hall.

“When was the last time I was okay?” She responded. Sokka chuckled and held her hand. 

Hearing running footsteps, they paused and looked around. Coming toward them was Zuko.

“Katara!” He shouted. Sokka released her hand and stepped aside. When Zuko ran up to them, he embraced Katara, picking her up and swinging her around. 

“Are you okay?” Zuko asked as he set her down.

“I’ll be fine.” Katara said with a breathy laugh.

“Wonderful. I was worried because a pipe burst in the main hallway.” He said.

“What?” Sokka burst out laughing and Katara felt her face flush.

“I just got a little angry!” She said.

“Then I certainly don’t want to see you very angry.” Zuko replied.

“Hey Katara!” Thuy shouted from the end of the hall. “Did you break the pipes?”

Katara covered her face and groaned. 

“Don’t worry, Sifu’s got it!” Thuy yelled.

“Get over here Wet Wipe and help with the water!” Toph bellowed.

“Yes, Sifu!”

Still groaning, Katara turned into Zuko’s arms, pressing her face against his chest. 

They still had to get through the festival.

Chapter Text

When Katara and Zuko met in the hall, they both stopped. The Fields of Fire Festival was a peasants’ holiday, but those were the ones that held onto tradition the best. Wearing kimono, they both stared at each other. 

Zuko’s long hair was pulled away as it usually was when he wore his top knot. It had been combed and oiled so it looked like ink pouring down his back. His burn angled against his cheekbone and it made his face more chiseled, causing Katara’s heart to plod clumsily in her chest.

“You look great.” She breathed, twisting her handbag in her hands. 

“I was going to say the same to you.” He said. Katara looked down and smiled approvingly at the koi print on the blue fabric. It was a summer print, but she enjoyed it all the same. 

“Come on, there’s so much I want to show you.” He said and held out a hand. She took it and he led her through the palace.

Everyone was gathered outside, and Iroh - in his extremely rare visits to the palace - stood laughing with their friends. Ozai and Azula were nowhere to be found. 

As they approached, Suki stepped back to whisper to them.

“There was an issue with Thuy’s kimono.” She said.

Zuko’s mouth pulled into a thin line and Katara knew whatever the issue was, it didn’t seem like a surprise.

“I see it’s been corrected.” He said.

“Yeah, Sokka handled it like a champ. But you might wanna…” Suki made a vague gesture and Zuko nodded.

“It’ll be taken care of. She won’t have any more problems.” He said.

Suki gave a curt nod of her own and eased back into the group. Katara gave Zuko a questioning look, but he only shook his head as they too stepped into the circle. Thuy looked well enough, crying from laughter as Iroh finished a joke. 

“Ah nephew, are you ready?” Iroh asked. 

“Absolutely.” Zuko said.

“I cannot wait to get some fire flakes.” Sokka said with obvious hunger in his voice.

“You can order those any time online.” Zuko said.

“But then they wouldn’t be special.” Sokka retorted.

“What are fire flakes?” Thuy asked.

“Oh you are in for a treat.” Sokka replied. 

“Sokka you are a liar.” Suki said and shoved him playfully. 

“Let’s just get into the cars before the festival starts.” Iroh said and they all walked in a chattering mass toward the circular driveway. 

“So what do you think of the palace Mistress Beifong?” Zuko asked as they all clambered into a limo.

“Call me that one more time and I will bend you right out of this vehicle.” Toph shot back. Sokka snorted and Zuko pulled a stunned face.

“Sorry but, you are the daughter of the Beifongs.” Zuko said in a form of an apology.

“Yeah and ding dongs like you never let me forget it.” Toph muttered as she leaned back in her seat. Resting her ankle on her knee, Katara stared at the thick calluses on her feet.

“I’d rather you call me the Blind Bandit.” She added.

“I’ll stick with Toph.” Zuko said.

“Good choice.” She replied.

“Sifu said volcanic rock isn’t the best material to bend with, but I liked the obsidian.” Thuy interjected. 

“It’s too bad she went that route. But King Bumi did some neat stuff with crystal before.” Toph said with a sigh. 

“Have I ever told you the story of what happened when I went to Omashu and he showed me their mail system?” Rohan said. 


The Fields of Fire Festival was going to take place in two stages. The first was a parade through the city while the second was a symbolic burning of a field. Apparently the festival revolved around the clearing of specific crop fields after they were harvested and required the villagers to stay up all night. Or else their village might be burned down. 

It was a cleansing festival and people wrote down their regrets and misdeeds on special rice paper, or else bought charms that would be burned. Katara took her paper and small pencil, slipping them both into her handbag. She had a lot of regrets she wished could be burned away. 

For the parade, they all went to a large pavilion that was near the city center. Dinner was laid out and this was where all of the important people had been. 

This somehow included Azula’s friend Mai. 

“Prince Zuko! Avatar Thuy! Please come and join us!” King Kuei called out.

They all wandered over and Katara noted that Iroh situated himself closer to her father than the other Fire Nationals. They were all split into various factions and Katara picked up on it quickly. The current rulers all sat more or less together, with Azula kneeling comfortably at her father’s side. The Avatar’s Guard, as they were being called, were all the younger folks. Hakoda and Iroh took their seats between the two. 

“Can someone tell me about this festival? It seems delightful.” King Kuei asked.

“Of course, your highness.” Azula said and picked up a teapot. “It was my mother’s favorite festival so I know all about it.”

She rose gracefully from her cushion and moved around to pour tea. As she passed behind Zuko, Katara watched him clench his jaw tightly. 

“There are many volcanoes in our country, and their eruptions have made the soil very fertile. So after every harvest, the villagers would burn the stalks in the field, knowing that the fire breaks down the nutrients to return them to the earth.” Azula explained as she poured. “Isn’t that quaint?”

“Quite. It’s all so fascinating to see how people knew about agricultural science before actually knowing it.” Kuei said and picked up his cup. Azula smirked at Zuko as she got back up and started to pour tea for the other heads of state. 

“It’s also about rebirth.” Zuko continued and Kuei looked at him with genuine curiosity. “The people in Hira’a believe that the fire can cleanse the soul of impurities and bad luck. Things like curses or misdeeds.” 

“There often is a touch of superstition among the plain folk.” Kuei nodded sagely and Katara had to keep from rolling her eyes.

There was a lot of superstition among her own people, as their lives were tightly woven with those of the spirits. She was used to hearing her myths and stories treated like this, though it still boiled her blood. 

“How is it that you’ve never held this festival here before?” Katara asked, looking pointedly at Ozai. Even with his perpetual frown, he looked more annoyed than usual.

“We are not farming folk.” He said.

“But your wife was.” Katara said and Zuko made a noise next to her.

“Ursa was the great-grandfather of Avatar Roku.” Ozai replied, as if that was enough of an answer.

“All the more reason to have the festival.” Katara muttered under her breath. 

“What about your mother?” Azula asked. “What was she like?”

Katara leaned over the table but Toph placed her elbow down hard, propping up her head as she poked at her plate with her chopsticks.

My mother is afraid of beetles. And one time, when I was eight, I dug up a whole nest of ‘em and-” She started.

“Wait how big are the beetles? Because if they’re as big as the ones in the swamp then I can understand her fear.” Thuy interrupted. “One time Mister Whiskers got a holda one and choked on the top half so me and my cousins had to rip it out and oh boy, they sure do smell.” 

She then turned and patted the slumbering catgator before looking up at Azula. “It was surprising that she even choked in the first place you know. They have mighty big mouths and like to eat just about anything.” 

Thuy flipped around to look back at Toph. “So are these beetles you’re talking about as big as Mister Whiskers’ mouth?” 

Katara let out a deep breath and glanced over at Zuko. He wasn’t looking at her, but he seemed tense.

The dinner went on with pieces of conversation overlapping and intersecting each other. Despite sitting right next to him, Zuko didn’t really talk to her, but seemed fine to chat with Mai across the table.

When the food was cleared away, tea and desserts were brought out. It was then that the parade started, with the sun going down and more people coming out to the streets. Vendors set up below and Sokka descended with Suki and Thuy to find fire flakes. 

As the talk shifted, Kuei looked around and settled his gaze on Mai.

“Now, forgive me young lady, but I don’t think we’ve been introduced.” He said.

“Yes Zuko, it’s very rude of you to not introduce Mai.” Azula said. Zuko straightened but stayed quiet.

“My name is Mai, your highness. I attended the Royal Fire Academy for Girls with Azula.” Mai said.

“I’ve seen you before, correct?” Kuei asked.

“Yes, your highness. Zuko and I attended Bosco’s birthday party a few years ago.” Mai replied.

“Of course! I apologize for not meeting you then, but I’m always so busy with my birthday boy.” Kuei said brightly. “Did you enjoy yourselves?”

Mai and Zuko exchanged a look.

“It was a delight.” Mai lied. 

“Your name is still so familiar.” Kuei said.

“She was engaged to my brother.” Azula said helpfully. 

Katara choked on her tea and started to cough. Toph leaned over and slammed her hand on Katara’s back, knocking the fluid out. 

Kuei looked over, worried, and Katara smiled weakly as she held up a hand. 

“There was nothing official.” Mai said, sounding bored. “We just grew up together and my status made it an obvious choice.” 

“There is still a lot of fondness between Mai and I.” Zuko added.

“A pity really. It would have been such a strong union.” Azula said, sighing into her tea cup. 

Katara gripped the edge of the table and focused intently on the teapot in front of her.

“Hey, anybody want fire flakes?” Sokka asked.

“Oh, I would love some!” Kuei chirped. 


As the parade moved out of the city, they all followed after it. Zuko was quiet and his silence made Katara recede. Through the fabric of her handbag, she rolled the small pencil between her fingers and thought of regret. 

Still, when they exited the city and were ushered to a covered stage, Zuko paused to hold out his hand. She took it and he helped her up the wooden steps, watching her move awkwardly in the kimono and raised sandals. They again sat next to each other, tucking themselves in the back corner.

“Are you mad at me?” Katara whispered.

“I am mad.” Zuko whispered back. “But we’re not talking about it here.” 

Feeling like a whipped polar bear dog, Katara sagged and there was a sinking stone in her stomach. It pulled her down and there was an immense weight on her shoulders.

“Now isn’t the time.” He whispered, putting his hand on hers. “Look, in the field.”

Katara lifted her head and watched as light blossomed in the darkness. Lanterns of different colors, but all ones of a flame, rippled toward some center point. There, an actual bonfire bloomed to a wave of gasps. 

“Now, is this brazier for burning our papers?” Kuei asked from the front.

“Yup. Time for everyone to write down their regrets!” Rohan said.

“Is yours just a list of one night stands?” Toph asked.

“Sifu!” Thuy gasped while Rohan tipped over with laughter. Tenzin shook his head while Iroh poured him more tea.

Katara slowly pulled out her paper and pencil but didn’t move to write anything. 

“Do you have any regrets Katara?” Thuy asked. The wonder in her voice made Katara question which answer the Avatar would prefer. 

“Sure I do. It’s hard to pick the ones that would fit on this tiny paper.” She answered offhandedly. 

“Don’t say that.” Zuko said sternly. Katara turned to him, frowning.

“Excuse me?” She asked.

“I didn’t mean to-” Thuy said softly but stopped as Zuko leaned in.

“You have done a lot of good Katara, and who knows where you’d be if you had chosen differently.” He said. His voice was low, to keep from being overheard, but he spoke firmly.

“Oh what do you know.” Katara snapped. “You’ve never made a truly hard decision in your life.”

Katara pushed herself up and stumbled away from the group, heading toward the steps. She went down them quickly, her sandals clattering like hooves on the heavy panels. 

For being so late in the evening, there was a lot of light from all of the lanterns. Small pockets of people, families most likely, had their own small fires going. There was laughter and singing, and everywhere was the smell of something cooking. Walking between them and following the trail of lanterns, Katara made her way to the large bonfire. 

In her hands was the small pencil and the slightly crumpled rice paper.

There were many things in her life that she regretted. Presently, it was her temper. She had always had a short fuse, quickly falling into arguments with Sokka even as a child. The war hadn’t helped. 

“Katara.” Zuko said softly. Katara sniffed and he walked up next to her.

“Just write my name down and toss it in.” She muttered, gesturing to the bonfire.

“Katara, that’s ridiculous.” Zuko said.

“I shouldn’t even be here.” 

“You have every right to be here. As Arnook’s heir alone you’ve earned your place. Being my girlfriend is the least important reason.” 

“Do you even still want me as your girlfriend?” 

“Katara.”

She turned and Zuko held her chin, tilting her face up. 

“Losing you would be my greatest regret.” He said. 

As Katara started to cry, Zuko leaned in and kissed her gently. When he leaned back, she wiped her face quickly. 

“Why are you mad at me?” She asked, looking down at the ground.

“You were picking fights with my family. That’s already bad enough, but you were also doing it in front of very important people.” Zuko said. He didn’t sound mad or disappointed, yet Katara could still feel the rush of anger shoot up her back. 

“Azula was being awful!” Katara said, looking at Zuko. “I can’t stand her.”

“Yeah, she’s the worst, but there’s nothing we can do about it right now.” He replied.

“I don’t understand how you can do nothing.” Katara huffed.

“It’s not nothing. Azula needs people to engage because she doesn’t come with very many direct attacks. I mean,” Zuko paused, looking over Katara’s head into the past. “Unless she’s trying to kill you, but that’s a different story.”

“I don’t like her.” Katara stated.

“You don’t have to like her. But you need to stop fighting with her. For your own sake, if not my own.” Zuko said.

“I didn’t fight in the war to play nice with the bad guys.”

“But I did fight in it to have peace.” Zuko said. “And I had to fight against my own country.” 

Katara bit her lip and turned to the fire. 

“I hate admitting that I did something wrong. It makes me feel like I’m a bad person.” She said.

“Okay, then tell the fire. It burns everything away.” Zuko replied.

Sighing deeply, Katara held the paper flat in her palm.

I was wrong.

Folding it in half once, Katara tossed the paper into the fire. It was so small, she couldn’t even see where it burned away. Crossing her arms over her chest, Katara turned back to Zuko but kept her face down.

“Okay.” She mumbled. 

“Here’s mine.” Zuko said. Katara looked at the paper he held out.

I’m scared she’s going to leave me.

Katara unfurled and looked up at Zuko.

“Zuko.” She said softly. He shrugged and held it up in his fingers.

“I want to trust you. But it’s hard, and it’s not your fault.” He said. “Having you be around Azula, I’m just waiting for you to notice that you don’t deserve to be treated like this and you’ll walk out.” 

“Zuko, your family is not a package deal. You already made that clear. I mean, you’re uncle is, but Iroh is great.” Katara said. She took the note from him and watched as he clenched his hand closed. 

“I’m not going to hold you responsible for your father and sister being jerks.” She said. Then she turned and tossed the paper into the fire.

“We’re a team. It’s us against these problems, not us against each other, okay?” Katara said. She felt Zuko slip his hand into hers and she faced him. 

“Okay.” He said with a smile.

“Let’s go get some fire flakes!”

“Katara I cannot express how bad of an idea that is.”

“Regrets are for the fire!”

Chapter Text

When Katara and Zuko returned to the table, Thuy let out the breath she had been holding. Katara’s eyes were bright and Zuko was smiling, so she knew they were okay. A weight fell off her shoulders and Thuy turned back to talk to the Earth King.

Thuy had been obsessed with the young heroes and had nearly fainted when she found out they were friends. Aang had told her about Rohan and Zuko, and Thuy was intrigued by the burned prince. And when Arnook had told her about what had happened with Tui and La, Thuy couldn’t imagine being more in awe of anyone other than Master Katara. They were the tragic heroes from her old books, ones that should have traveled with someone as great as Kyoshi. 

And they were in love.

In the North Pole, when Thuy was still too scared to talk to Katara, she just watched her hero from a distance. And it quickly became obvious how often Katara was with Zuko. And it was very obvious how they looked at each other.

“Fire Nation people just have that allure.” Kuruk, in a rare moment of friendliness, told her. 

“They are very attractive.” Kyoshi agreed. 

“I’m surprised anyone of Sozin’s line would even consider someone of another element.” Roku added dryly. 

“I expected nothing less from the boy.” Aang interjected. “If you can find the humanity in the other, you’re bound to find beauty.” 

“She almost has the same polish as the women of the North Pole.” Kuruk said and Thuy cut off her connection to her past lives. 

Now, months later, Thuy worried they were falling apart. Azula had been so terrible and Thuy had felt her temper rise steadily. It was only because Toph kept her mind on her pupil’s vitals that kept Thuy from doing anything. 

“Why are you so invested?” Toph asked from behind her teacup. The rest of the table was talking about some agriculture science that Thuy didn’t understand.

“In them?” Thuy asked and Toph only drank her tea. 

“Didn’t you see him go after her?” Thuy pressed and Toph set her cup down firmly.

“They’re dramatic.” She said finally.

“They’re in love.” Thuy countered.

“So love is dramatic?” Toph asked, incredulous. “Then why is the only other couple Sokka and Suki?”

Thuy looked around the table and chewed on the inside of her cheek. 

“I don’t think Zuko’s parents loved each other.” Thuy said softly.

“Better keep that to yourself Wet Wipe.” Toph murmured. 

“Well, it’s just I think that’s why Zuko is so giving. He wants people to love him. And Katara’s parents did love each other, but her mother died, so she’s very…”

“Bitchy?”

“Sifu.” Thuy chastised sharply. 

Shaking her head, Thuy continued. “Katara is behind this big wall, but Zuko is very patient. I want them to work out because when I look around, I just see politics.”

Toph tapped the floor with her hand and nodded. 

“So the triumph of good over evil will be complete if they get to live happily ever after?” She asked.

“Well, yeah. He’s the son of the Fire Lord, she’s the wounded heroine of the war. They ended up fighting on the same side, but there’s all that history. If they can stay together, it means the whole world can heal.” Thuy said.

“That’s a lot of pressure for one couple.” Toph retorted.

“I don’t mean literally.” Thuy grumbled. 

“What are you talking about?” King Kuei asked, craning his head to look over at them.

“A philosophical quandary, your Majesty.” Toph said easily. She was, if nothing else, a Beifong.

“Oh delightful! Do tell.” He said, placing his hands on the table.

“Is it better to marry for love or for power?” Toph asked.

“Are you looking to settle down?” Sokka questioned. 

Thuy watched the subtle flick of the wrist as Toph connected to the clay in her dainty cup and sent it flying at Sokka. He caught it with a laugh but, as Toph was still connected to it, she used her bending to yank his hand backward so he smacked his own mouth. 

“The Avatar seems to be a bit of a romantic.” Toph said, moving the conversation along as Sokka rubbed his mouth and glowered. 

“Love creates a weakness in the mind.” Azula said. “A strong marriage would continue to produce benefits no matter what feelings come and go.”

“My ministers say similar things.” Kuei sighed sadly. 

“There’s nothing wrong with a love match.” Zuko said.

“My son shares my brother’s philosophy on such matters.” Ozai interjected. “And we can see how that worked out for him.” 

“I think,” Thuy said, speaking up. “If you love someone, then you’re willing to become the most powerful person you can be for them.” 

Katara and Zuko looked at each other, smiling. Thuy, turning, almost missed Ozai watching them. Looking far from smiley.

Whoops. She thought.

Chapter Text

The coronation was a stampeding animal, bearing down on Katara. Watching the deadline creep closer, she got more and more irritable. She had picked fights with Sokka after Zuko refused to engage with her. The fear she fueled into school and stopped eating or sleeping regularly to read and study. 

It was during one bout of isolation that Sokka barged into her apartment and both he and Suki pried her away from her desk. Zuko was down in the lot and shoved her into the back of a car, getting in quickly after her. As his door closed and she started to fuss, the driver pulled out of the lot. 

“I have so much to do!” Katara complained

“No you don’t. I have your schedule.” Zuko said calmly. 

“I don’t want to go.” She whined.

“Yes you do. You missed me.” He replied.

“Yeah.” She said, defeated, and fell forward onto him. With her head against his chest, Zuko patted her head. 

“I didn’t pack.” She finally said.

“I did.” He said and Katara sighed.

After sitting back, she smoothed out her seatbelt.

“Where are we going?” She asked.

“Remember our museum trip?”

“Unfortunately.”

“Right. Well, I thought we’d go see the real thing.”

“We’re going to Omashu?” Katara asked.

“Yup. The Queen has invited us to stay while we visit the cave.” Zuko answered.

“Hopefully it won’t end like our museum trip.” Katara said and chuckled.

“Or our date.” He added. They both laughed and Katara leaned over, resting against his shoulder.

“I’m sure it will be nice.” She murmured.

“Okay, this is worse actually.” Katara grunted.

“Did I jinx it or was it you?” Zuko asked as he struggled against his bonds. 

“Shut it!” A voice shouted and banged something heavy against the side of the van.

“How did we survive an entire war but end up getting kidnapped twice?” Katara questioned while twisting her wrists. The plastic zip ties kept the plastic tarp secured around her hands. Her feet were similarly bound and she felt like a housepet wearing booties. And, as crude as it was, she couldn’t bend like this. 

Zuko’s shackles were far worse. Resembling traction headgear, pins were jammed into his wrists and ankles, held in place with plastic cuffs. The acupuncture blocked his chi and threatened to skewer him if he moved too much. 

“Okay, we have to get out of this van.” Zuko said. 

“Then what?” Katara asked.

“We run into the tunnels.” Zuko stated simply. 

“Right.” Katara muttered. “Where are your babysitters again?”

“That’s an excellent question. I have a sneaking suspicion that these fellows are Fire Nation.” He replied. 

“Great.”

“Ready?”

“As much as I’ll ever be.”

Katara laid on her back with her feet to the van doors and started kicking at it viciously.

“Hey! Dirtbags! I have to pee!” She shouted.

Continuing to kick, there was a grunt as the door opened and someone caught a foot in the face.

“My bad.” Katara called out.

“What do you want?” Another man demanded.

“I thought I made that clear.” Katara said as she moved awkwardly to her knees. With both of their hands bound behind their backs, moving around was nearly impossible. 

“Fine, but you better not try nothing princess.” The man said. 

As Katara started to scoot down from the van, she fell forward and the man, on instinct, reached out to catch her. While he bent over, Zuko jumped onto his back as he leaped out of the van. Keeping her feet planted, Katara waited for the moment Zuko’s weight lifted and then rolled the man off her.

“I see seven.” Katara called as she started to run after Zuko.

“There’s ten.” He yelled back. 

The tunnels to the cave had been closed by the Queen of Omashu for their visit. When they arrived, the only other vehicle was a park van that they both assumed belonged to whatever ranger was staffed here. They had barely made it inside before the group fell on them. Whoever they were, Fire Nation or not, they were prepared for them. 

“How are we going to lose them?” Katara asked as she caught up. She could hear their pursuers right behind them. 

“This would be great if we were Earthbenders.” Zuko muttered.

A blast of fire roared past Katara’s head and she yelped.

“Well thank the spirits they aren’t either.” She retorted. 

“We need to-” Zuko started but was cut off by a loud rumbling. The ground fell away from underneath their feet and they both screamed as they fell backward. Sliding down into the dark, Katara could hear other screams. 

When they hit the ground, the few captors who fell with them toppled into a pile. Scurrying on their backsides, Zuko and Katara bumped into each other into the dark.

“Where are they?” One man yelled.

With no forthcoming flame, Katara figured they were non-Benders. 

“We know you’re in here.” Another woman shouted. They were moving and Katara figured their space was actually large enough to keep a good distance. If they didn’t manage to wander over to their side.

“Come here.” Zuko whispered. Katara slid until she bumped into Zuko’s head. 

“Hold still. This is going to be a little warm.” He said. She heard him blow out a breath and her hands got very warm. Clenching her hands into fists, Katara tried to keep from touching the plastic.

“Pull them apart, but keep them back here.” Zuko said. Yanking her hands apart, the plastic tie popped apart. Then, with tender fingers, Zuko pried open the melted plastic from around her hands. 

With her hands mostly free, Katara wiggled her fingers. 

“Your turn.” She whispered and turned around. It was pitch black in their sealed room and Katara had to feel for the shackles.

“Time to take your suggestion.” She whispered and leaned over to get as close as she could to the cuffs. Gathering spit in her mouth, Katara directed onto the locks.

“That’s disgusting.” Zuko whispered.

“Thank me later.” Katara muttered.

“I hear them!” The woman yelled.

Freezing the lock, Katara swiped her hands on the ground for a rock. Suddenly bumping into one, she grabbed it and brought it down on the cuffs as gently as she could. Now that they were both free, Zuko jumped up and immediately punched out two quick fire blasts. Shooting blind, he nonetheless startled their pursuers and found their position. 

“Ugh, there’s no water in here.” Katara grumbled. 

“We’ll make do.” Zuko said and pulled two fire daggers from the air. He held them in a defensive stance and Katara looked over at the other two people. 

Fire might not stand up well against steel. 

As the attackers rushed them, they stumbled as the ground shook again. Dissipating his blades, Zuko grabbed Katara to steady her.

They both stared open mouthed as a badgerole erupted into their vacant space. Its nose wriggled furiously and its head swiveled back and forth. When its blind eyes turned to them, Katara clutched Zuko and they only looked back.

“YARGH!” The man on the other side of the badgermole yelled. The badgermole shrieked and whipped back around and Katara heard the sound of a body hitting dirt. Scurrying upward, the badgermole dug a new tunnel but funneled the falling dirt to one side. 

“I think that’s our ride.” Zuko said, pulling Katara as he ran to the badgermole. He grabbed onto the beast’s hide and tugged Katara onto its back. Keeping low, they both shielded their heads as the badgermole continued to dig its way through the earth. 

After some terrifying, claustrophobic minutes, Katara felt cool air on her face. The badgermole stopped and Zuko held onto Katara as they slid off.

Still looking at the badgermole, Zuko held out his hand. The badgermole sniffed it and pressed the tip of its sensitive nose against Zuko’s palm.

“Thank you.” Zuko said. 

The badgermole turned and dug into the floor, burying down once again. 

Exhausted, they both sat down. They worked in silence on their feet and completely freed themselves. Tossing the broken plastic into a pile, Katara pulled her knees to her chest. There were crystals in this cavern and they emitted a soft green light. It was enough to see by, though everything was dim.

“Why do you think they were Fire Nation?” She asked.

“No one else could’ve gotten past my guard.” Zuko said and sighed.

“What else?” Katara questioned.

“A lot of people in my country are unhappy with me. They think I’m going to be controlled by one of the other nations.” He explained.

“Well you’re wrong.” Katara said.

“What do you mean?”

“The two in the pit. Their knives were Water Tribe.” 

“So they were after you?”

“Oh no, I fully believe they were after you.”

“Framing the Poles then?”

“I guess your family might not like me.”

Zuko nodded and reclined with his hands pressed against the ground.

“It’s kinda funny.” He remarked.

“What?”

“Our countries aren’t exactly friendly with each other. And I almost died because of it. But these tunnels saved us.” 

Katara looked at him for a moment, taking in his expression and the line of his body. Then she too sat back, resting against Zuko as they both stared up at the twinkling cavern ceiling. 

“But our people aren’t at war. We’re both alive. And we can continue on, together.” She said.

“It’s like they get another chance.” Zuko sighed and leaned his head against hers. 

It took them a few hours to be found, and they were ready for another fight. Dragging the bound kidnappers with them, Zuko and Katara relaxed in front of the royal guard. They were then told, with panicked excitement, that they were to be brought before the Queen.

Chapter Text

Katara remembered what Rohan had told her about King Bumi. Avatar Aang had friends in every nation, but Bumi was always his closest companion and became another father figure in his children’s lives. In one familial anecdote, King Bumi had placed Baby Bumi on his throne and let him rule for the day, daring anyone to definitively prove that he wasn’t the actual king. 

It was this intimate friendship that kept Omashu safe during the war until Aang passed. King Bumi was killed during the fall of Omashu, outliving his promise to Aang that he would see the end of the war. 

His heir, Queen Liu, was not a relative. She had been his head accountant and, as stated in Bumi’s will, had been actually running the kingdom for the past decade. A head for numbers but little skill with people, Liu relied on her inherited friendship with Aang’s family to keep her seat in the turbulent political waters. 

When Zuko had reached out, hoping for a visit, Liu cleared out a villa near the palace for them. Their interactions with the Queen when they first arrived was brief, and the dinner was slightly awkward, but the villa was airy and Katara could watch the ancient mail service fly by the windows. 

Now, after the failed kidnapping, they were being brought in for a royal audience.

“I am so sorry.” Liu gushed as soon as they stepped into the throne room. Her green suit was rumpled and her crown was tangled in her short hair, giving her a frantic look that matched her energy. 

“I had my security team sweep through the area just this morning.” She continued, taking quick strides to meet them. 

The guard attending them stumbled to a stop, unsure of how to proceed. 

“Your majesty, if my suspicions are correct, there was a lot of money that made sure you wouldn’t find out anything until it was over.” Zuko said, holding up his hands. 

“And we’re fairly certain they weren’t planning on killing us.” Katara added, looking at Zuko. “Having us gravely wounded would have gotten the same result.” 

Liu stared at them. Despite her inexperience with political machinations, she was still brilliant with equations. She snapped her attention to the guard, who reacted with the same alacrity as they saluted her.

“Find out who let them in and bring the persons responsible directly to me. I want it quiet.” She said. The guard nodded and left quickly, their heavy armored clothes making a clatter.

“I hope you don’t think Omashu is involved in this.” Liu said, attending to Katara and Zuko.

“Not at all.” Zuko said.

“Well, there might be some bad blood.” Katara interjected, rubbing the back of her neck.

The scorch marks, barely a decade old, were still present on the walls. 

“Which may have been part of the plan.” Zuko agreed.

“So you do suspect someone here?” Liu asked coldly.

“No, your majesty. Only that an interested party in the Earth Kingdom would leverage that fact. Omashu was the only kingdom that was successfully invaded.” Zuko explained.

“Hmm.” Liu sounded irritated but then she let out a breath.

“We cannot come to war again. With the Fire Nation or another city-kingdom.” She said, pressing the tips of her fingers to her temple. 

“We don’t want that either.” Katara said, taking Zuko’s hand and lacing their fingers together. Liu saw the movement and her eyes narrowed. 

“How did you escape your assailants?” Liu asked.

Zuko and Katara looked at each other.

“The badgermoles saved us.” Katara said, facing Liu.

“Of course they did. They’re nothing if not hopeless romantics.” She replied. 

Both being completely confused, they stayed quiet as Liu untangled her crown. The queen sighed as she straightened her hair and replaced the simple piece. She turned around and walked back to the throne, her hands behind her back. 

Katara and Zuko followed after, walking slowly.

“I asked Bumi why he picked me, since I was the furthest thing from royalty in the entire kingdom.” Liu said suddenly, putting her hand on the flat arm of the stone throne. 

“I’m a competent Earthbender and, like him, I know my crystals.” She continued. Lifting her hand, a column of purple crystal sprouted up after her. “But I’m a bastard.”

Lowering her hand, Liu pressed the crystal back into the nondescript stone. 

When they didn’t reply, Liu snorted and sat down on the throne. Tapping lightly on the arms again, crystals erupted all around her. 

“Oma was the first Earthbender and she ripped this entire kingdom up from the ground in her grief. There used to be a forest here, did you know that?” Liu asked. “It was mostly destroyed in the war between her village and Shu’s, but the rest lost its roots when Omashu emerged.

“Bumi told me that every single ruler of Omashu has been a bastard, because of one simple curse.” 

“A curse?” Zuko repeated.

“No one had seen earthbending before. What Oma did was something people thought only the spirits themselves could accomplish. They thought her a witch, and probably would have sent her off with Shu had they not been thoroughly terrified.” Liu said. “And when she raised Omashu, she vowed never to marry and that if any marriage occurred in the royal line, they would be as barren as the desert that surrounds us. But worse, if the blood of fated lovers was ever spilled again in Omashu, the kingdom would fall.”

“So are you…?” Katara started and Liu shook her head.

“Bumi’s preferences would have a slim chance of ever producing natural children. I’m the illegitimate child of a professor and a housekeeper.” She answered. 

“Wait, are you saying that you’re worried the kingdom will fall now?” Zuko asked. 

“Had either of you died, I think we can all agree that plenty of people would look to hold me responsible.” Liu said. “My claim to this throne is tenuous at best, considering my history and Bumi’s chaotic whims.” 

“I think prophecies and curses are made vague enough that a random coincidence could fulfill it.” Katara said. 

“Why did you choose to visit Omashu?” Liu questioned.

“Our, well, the first time we went out together was to see an art exhibit about Oma and Shu.” Katara answered. “It was Zuko’s idea.”

“And why did you choose that?” Liu inquired.

“I.” Zuko cleared his throat and avoided eye contact. “I mean, I thought the similarity was interesting.”

“Two people from opposite sides of the war, but claiming no allegiance, love each other even as their people condemn them for it?” Liu asked. 

Zuko shifted uncomfortably and Katara stared at him, mildly irritated and incredulous.

“In the name of Oma’s bastard children,” Liu said, speaking the typically annoyed phrase with lofty importance. “I acknowledge the bond of this pair and will strive to protect it.”

The solemnity fell on them, and Katara couldn’t even feel awkward. 

“For as long as you two are together, you will have the friendship of all of Omashu behind you.” Liu said, speaking casually now. 

“Thank you, your majesty.” Zuko said and bowed. Katara mirrored him, but felt empty inside. 

She didn’t want prophecy or fate. She didn’t want a legacy to protect. She certainly didn’t want any part of a curse.

She just wanted Zuko.

But, Katara felt the warmth swirl in her chest, that was probably all Oma wanted too. To be with her beloved.

“Thank you.” Katara whispered to earth. 

Chapter Text


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Chapter Text

Katara had not done well in any of her creative writing projects. Flowery language didn’t come naturally to her and her public speaking engagements were riddled with awkward silences when she finished speaking far sooner than her audience anticipated. 

She worried her words lacked sincerity; Zuko often said such wonderful things about her as if he had put hours of thought behind it. Yet when she tried to reciprocate, she had situations like the time she told him he fought good after watching him practice. 

And worse still, Katara did think about him all the time.

As she walked out to her balcony, Katara gazed out over the wide ice fields. With the calm weather and the twilight midafternoon, the frozen desert looked like more of the sea. It was this empty expanse that thrummed the ache in her chest.

If she were a poet, she could describe the feeling better. But what came to her mind was the pitiful observation that longing just increased the distance between her and Zuko. Days stretched past its clock face bounds and the miles of ocean became leagues of doldrums. 

The time and space between them was long, and so her yearning was stretched painfully over the distance. 

And the wire between them, the red threads that bound her, were slowly being tightened by Arnook and her father. 

But it wasn’t going to be the threads that snapped. 

“Katara?”

She squeezed her eyes shut at the sound of her father’s voice. Rationally, she knew he would of course be staying in the North Pole until the coronation. Both as her father and the chief of the South Pole gave him reason enough to stay.

But oh how she wished Sokka was around.

“I’m out here.” Katara called.

Hakoda moved slowly through her bedroom and Katara took in a deep breath, feeling her lungs expand. As she blew out, her breath became a cloud and she watched it rather than looking over at her dad.

“How are you feeling?” He asked.

“I’m fine, dad.” Katara replied.

“You seem a little tense.” Hakoda said.

“I wonder why.” She said dryly.

Hakoda leaned against the railing and Katara glanced at him from the corner of her eye. 

She had always imagined him as broad shouldered and looming. Like he could cut icebergs in half with only a handaxe. 

But her father was as tall as Sokka, and almost as thin. His cheeks were carved deep into his face, a holdover from his imprisonment in a Fire Nation workcamp. He was not an imposing man and was often quiet, never drawing much attention in a room. 

He was only a man after all.

 “Katara, ever since the festival in the Fire Nation, I feel like you’re trying to avoid me.” Hakoda said.

“I was trying to avoid you before that.” Katara stated. “Now I just get pissed off when I’m near you.”

“What’s happened to you?” Hakoda demanded. “You were such a-”

He stopped and Katara turned, looking furious and curious.

“Such a, what? Toddler?” Katara asked. “But regardless of the whole growing up thing, I did fight in a war.”

“So did I.” Hakoda countered, his voice low and dangerous. “I was also trapped in a Fire Nation prison for years.” 

“I went out to look for you.” Katara said. “You and mom. All I wanted was for us to be a family again.”

“We can be Katara. Here and now, we can be a family again.” Hakoda said.

“You may not have noticed, but mom is dead.” Katara spat out. “We can never be a family.”

“I loved Kya and I miss her every day. But Malina is part of our family now and we can-”

“You can.” Katara interrupted. “Sokka can too for all I care. But I will never be part of a family that doesn’t include mom.”

“Except for the prince of the Fire Nation?” Hakoda asked. 

Katara glared at him, holding his eye and silently daring him to look away. 

“Zuko.” She clamped her mouth shut, feeling her emotions swirl up in her chest. Her chest was nearly heaving, as if she had run for miles, and her heart pounded adrenaline into her veins. 

“Zuko knows everything.” She started again. “Being the Fire Nation prince means he knows exactly what the war cost me personally, and he knows exactly how much blood is on my hands.”

Katara turned away from Hakoda, looking back out at the ice.

“Do you know how many men I killed? How many ships I sunk? How many bodies I took over in agnonizing torture?” She asked. “After Zhao, I thought I was a monster. After mom died, I willingly became one.”

“You are not a monster, Katara. You are my daughter.” Hakoda said firmly, but in a softer voice. 

Katara scoffed.

“You don’t even know who your daughter is. Haven’t you heard the whispers back home? Haven’t you talked with Hama?” She asked. When Hakoda didn’t answer, she turned to him. Examining his drawn face, she laughed bitterly.

“You met her.” She said. 

Hakoda turned his body away and Katara did the same. 

“She told you I was a Bloodbender.” She continued.

“It is forbidden. I know she was lying.” Hakoda said.

“She wasn’t.” Katara said. She turned away from her father to go back inside, but paused to address him.

“There is nothing forbidden to me. Not my bending and not Zuko.” She stated.

As she walked, she felt the thread pull at her. It dragged her heartstrings over the ocean and into the rich black soil of the Fire Nation. 

At the summit, when she watched Zuko circulate among dignitaries and journalists, Katara made her choice. She had sacrificed so much and gained so little in return. Every restriction she placed on herself, to make things easier, only resulted in her getting pushed around. 

There would be no more restrictions. She would not willingly shackle herself to weights that threatened to drown her.

This yearning, this longing, this distance, would be the only thing that would take her breath away and place this ache deep within her breast. 

Passing through her bedroom, Katara picked up her phone and opened her message app. 

She would see him soon.

Chapter Text

Shouting made Katara sit up in bed with a jolt. Her muscles seized with the electricity and she was frozen, listening to the commotion coming from down the hall. 

Throwing off her quilts and furs, Katara grabbed her robe as she ran to the door. She yanked the door open at the same moment guards reached it. 

“Master Katara, it’s unsafe.” One man said.

“There’s an intruder.” The other added.

“And I’m better at this than you are.” Katara snapped. 

She waved her hands and coils of water came from the walls and wrapped around their middles, pulling them to opposite sides of the hall. As the guards struggled, Katara ran onward toward the din. 

Sliding around the corner, Katara used her bending to melt the top of the ice floor to send her drifting. Ice shot out from the wall and she grabbed it, using it to push herself forward. 

“I’m allowed to be here!” Zuko shouted just as Katara slammed into the backs of more guards. 

The paltry inches of icemelt on the floor refroze and the guards staggered when their feet couldn’t move.

“What are you doing?” Katara yelled, pulling Zuko up from the floor with both hands wrapped in the front of his jacket. 

Still disoriented, Zuko was slumped enough that she was holding up all his weight. His smile told her he enjoyed that and she dropped him with a heaved sigh. 

“I missed you.” He said.

“Why did you break in? You could have called!” Katara said.

“I wanted to surprise you.” 

“Getting killed by my guards would certainly be a surprise.”

“Katara!” Hakoda shouted and Katara closed her eyes. 

“It’s fine, dad.” She said loudly. “It’s just Zuko being an idiot.” 

Hakoda pushed through the wobbling pillars of stuck guards and looked wildly around. 

“Why is the Fire Nation prince here?” He questioned.

“He missed me.” Katara said.

“A lot. I missed you a lot.” Zuko added.

“You invaded a foreign power.” Hakoda growled.

Katara rubbed her eyes with both hands. 

“Your daughter’s boyfriend tried to sneak into her house and got caught.” She said. Zuko snorted as he finally stood up.

“This is serious, Katara.” Hakoda retorted. 

Katara glared up at him. “Only if he’s the bad guy.”

“It was a bad idea. I’m sorry.” Zuko said, stepping in between them. “I honestly thought I could explain myself if I got caught.”

“If?” Hakoda asked. “Do you think you’re better than a palace full of trained armed guards?”

“What do you think happened to Yue?” Katara shot back.

Zuko winced and Katara recalled the water that froze her guard. 

“You are dismissed.” She said.

“I’m sorry, Master Katara, but Chief Arnook is still our commander.” One guard said hesitantly. 

“Is he?” Katara asked in vicious irritation. “Or do I outrank you as Master and he is my commander?”

The guard cleared his throat and bowed, gesturing for the others to leave. 

“You are overstepping.” Hakoda said.

Katara kept her back to her father. “I have told you multiple times. I am going to do whatever I want when it comes to Zuko.” 

Taking Zuko’s hand, Katara walked back around the corner to head to her room.

“Well, that did not go the way I thought it would.” Zuko said after they got some distance away.

“What did you really think was going to happen?” Katara asked, amused.

“Madam, I’ll have you know the Blue Spirit has never been caught and broke into countless impregnable cities and forts.” Zuko replied.

“Oh? So what happened tonight?” 

“I respectfully remind her highness that I am not wearing a mask.” 

Katara laughed and walked closer to Zuko.

“You’re trying to lighten the mood.” She said.

“Absolutely. That was terrifying.” Zuko agreed.

“Almost getting murdered?”

“You.” 

Katara stopped and turned to him, frowning.

“Are you afraid of me?” She asked.

“I didn’t say that.” Zuko said, caressing her cheek with his free hand. “I said you were terrifying.”

“And the difference is?”

“I’m more afraid of the fact that I now understand how Sozin felt about the comet.” He kissed her and Katara leaned into him. 

When she did pull away, Katara pulled him into her room wordlessly. She closed the door and pushed him toward the bed while she moved to the large sliding doors that led to the balcony. Tugging the curtains back, moonlight trickled in and collected in a small pool on the glassy floor. The moon was waxing, becoming an eye that would open on her coronation day to judge her. Now it was split in half, and this was a special time for Katara. The full moon was for Tui, the new moon was for La, and half moons were when the human world finally synched up with the spiritual energy and Katara regained her own mind. 

Basking in this light, Katara closed her eyes.

“I’ve never been so close to a spirit before.” Zuko murmured.

Her eyes still closed, she smiled. 

“I recall someone questioning my spirit status due to some face paint.” She replied. Katara heard him get off the bed and move slowly toward her. 

As Zuko held her, Katara relaxed into his arms. 

“You were calling me, weren’t you?” He asked, lowering his mouth to her ear.

“How did you know?” 

He kissed her just at her jaw and rested his chin on her shoulder. 

“All of the planets revolve around the sun, but the ocean only listens to the moon. I watch the waves and I get jealous.” He finally said. 

“You know Arnook is going to have your head.” Katara said.

“Let me rest it in your lap and I’d happily go.” Zuko replied. 

“Where does your family think you are?”

“Northern Air Temple. Visiting Rohan.” 

“Rohan is in Republic City.”

“Mmm, what a shame.” Zuko kissed her neck and Katara sighed. 

“Wait.” Katara said, opening her eyes and furrowing her brow. “How in Yangchen’s name did you even get into the palace?”

She could feel his smile against her skin.

“You’re not the only one who is good at what they do.” He replied. 

Chapter Text

There had not been enough dates. There hadn’t been enough video chats or text messages. Not enough tender embraces or fevered kisses.

A band was wrapped around Katara’s chest and she struggled with her shallow breaths.

“Hey, it’s okay.” Zuko whispered as he stroked her hand.

“Everything is going to change.” Katara said just as quietly. He kissed her hand, keeping it up by his lips as he spoke.

“Then we change with everything else.” He said. 

People came to dress her, both her body and hair. Her hair was braided and coiled on top of her head. Beads of bone and glass were threaded in some ornate pattern known only to the first of their people. Her robes were heavy and the fur collar tickled her nose. 

And Zuko sat on a couch watching her, smiling whenever she caught his eye in the mirror. 

Katara tried to tell herself that finals had been more stressful, that this would be nothing, but her blood thundered loud enough to deafen her. As the crashing waves of her pulse drowned out everything else, Zuko held her hand.

At least he was finally wearing his hearing aid. 

The ritual passed over her like the tide. People spoke words like incantations and she either repeated them or agreed to them, depending on the script in her mind. She was crowned and set to walk to the icy shore, the cape of her people trailing behind her. Katara led them in the darkness, while Yue lit their way.

At the ocean, Katara stripped down to her basic covering. The arctic air blew over her and she trembled. Her feet went numb instantly as the water rushed onto her.

Then La accepted her, and the ocean did not harm her. Yue-as-Tui blessed her and the moonlight kept her covered. Katara walked into the water and kept her blood circulating. She pushed; Yue pulled. Yue called and Katara answered.

In the light of the full moon, Katara could see the black strands of her hair; loops of braids swung back and forth as she walked deeper into the surf. The ocean glowed blue like an iceberg, and a swell took her under. 

It was an ancient rite that had not been done in generations. A Waterbender ruler made an offering of themself to the moon and the ocean. If the ruler was rejected, they would be drowned. Luckily, Katara knew the moon spirit and harbored the ocean inside of her.

When she walked back onto the beach of slush, people immediately swarmed her. She was wrapped in robes and picked up bodily. Zuko took her up, channeling heat into her as they all made the way back to the palace. 

The great hall was lit with impossible fires and people rejoiced in a frenzy that only near death could bring. Katara was alive and had been approved; the Water Tribes had their first legitimate ruler in over a hundred years. 

It was then that Katara could hear again.

She sat on the highest throne; the others to her sides where the masters usually sat were empty. On the ground below, long ice tables had been pulled up. Massive platters of food were displayed, music came from some unseen corner, and a large fire glowed while still surrounded by ice. Zuko stood beside her, his arm draped over the back of her throne. His head bobbed to the music and he was watching the revelry. 

“It’s unseemly for you to stand so casually here.” Katara said and Zuko smiled down at her before crouching.

“I was thinking about that.” He started and Katara shifted. Someone else had dried her, but there were still damp spots along her sides and behind her knees. It made her stick to her clothes and she moved uneasily. 

“It’s not so bad.” Zuko said, misreading her face.

“What isn’t?” She asked.

“What if I gave up the throne?” He asked in return.

“What?” 

They looked at each other and Zuko tilted his head, swinging it back to look at the other people. When he didn’t reply right away, Katara turned and settled, looking down as well. Arnook and Hadoka held the attention of a large group as Hakoda told some booming story. Sokka, Suki, and Thuy were surrounded by others; the young folk of the tribes. 

People from the South Pole and the Swamp were here; both tribes uneasy in the grandeur of the palace. So the young adults, the ones who would be expected to lead their families, started to take advice from the war heroes and the Avatar.

No one approached Katara. Except for Zuko, she was alone on her throne. 

“Arnook was right. You can’t date someone from another royal family.” Zuko said.

“Why not?” Katara asked.

“Come on, you know why.” Zuko said.

“In fact, I don’t. If it’s the case of inheritance, well, there’s still a chance that I might not have a Waterbender child of my own even if I were to marry someone from the tribes. And for you? Could you imagine how much good it would do to unite our kingdoms? I’m not even saying permanently, but if we were to have children, that would be the trust of siblings on two thrones.” Katara said. When she stopped, she stood and shrugged off the blanket over her shoulders. 

“Then the next generation would be cousins, and so on, but always bound by the thinnest thread of blood. Who’s to say that’s not enough to stop another war?” Katara asked and looked down at Zuko. His eyes glittered with firelight and he smiled. He stood with grace; a flame moving sinuously upward with exhalation. 

“It would make a lot of people nervous.” He said.

Katara smiled. “We’ve only just started dating. Let them be nervous, I won’t sacrifice my happiness because they fear the worst.”

Zuko lowered his chin to his chest as he chuckled. Then, standing straight, he held out his arm. Katara took it gently and they walked down the ice steps to the party.

The crowd parted as they approached and Zuko held her for a moment in the center of the floor. As if they were in a movie, the musicians took their cue and started to play. Katara, in her flowing ice blue skirts, smiled as Zuko spun her out an arm’s length. The beads in her hair clinked and the white fur hem of her dress swept softly on the ice. Pulling her back, Zuko placed his hand on her waist and led her through the steps of a rushing waltz. 

He wore red and was an ember in her vision in a sea of blues and indigos. Without a parka or boots, Zuko looked as if he were about to step out into an autumn afternoon. But he smiled and held her, so Katara could feel the warmth of him. 

“My father is not pleased.” Zuko said and Katara snorted.

“For dating the Ice Queen?” She asked.

“For loving her.”

Katara fell quiet and went gliding as Zuko pushed her through the steps. When he looked at her, his gaze still filled with sparks, she looked away. 

This was something she had thought about, after Thuy spoke to her of elements and balance. Too much fire could boil away a whole pot of water, but too much water could put out a fire. Everything would have to be done in equal measure; if one of them gave too much, it would end it all.

“What is it?” Zuko asked. Katara bit her lip and looked up at him. 

“Fire Prince just doesn’t sound as dramatic as Ice Queen.” She said. Zuko laughed and they stepped easily into a turn.

“Well, if we’re going to get technical, you’re not even the Queen of Ice. You’re queen of people who mostly live on ice. The rest live in a swamp.” He retorted.

The music stopped and they came to a halt, still holding each other. 

“Then I have to just say it.” Katara said and pushed herself closer. “I love you as well.” 

She kissed him and barely registered the stunned gasps in the background.

“WOO!” Thuy shouted, and Zuko smiled against Katara’s lips.

Chapter Text

Because they were all mature, rational adults, Katara met with her friends at a coffee shop in Republic City to make one of the biggest decisions of her life. Sokka and Suki sat together on the one couch, establishing their dominance over one whole corner of the shop. Rohan sipped a blended drink with more sugar than caffeine, looking oddly pleased with themself. That was probably due to the fact that sitting opposite of them was Thuy and Toph. Mister Whiskers was under their couch, nosing the white cane Toph used when she was forced to wear shoes.

“Why are you here?” Katara asked Toph. 

“Thuy is supposed to be training.” She answered. “Plus, it sounded like it could potentially be fun.” 

“Don’t you have other students?” Katara questioned.

“You don’t need to worry about them, Sugar Queen.” Toph said with a chuckle.

“Wha- Sugar Queen?” Katara balked.

“So where’s Zuko?” Sokka asked.

“He’ll be here soon. He had to stop at the embassy.” Katara replied. 

“While we’re waiting, I brought a selection of candidates.” Rohan said and laid out a line of magazines with a flourish. 

Seeing the headlines, Katara covered her face and groaned.

“No tabloids Rohan.” She said from behind her hands. 

“Well hey, I like this one. They’re reporting the existence of a creature known as a pig.” Sokka said.

“You mean a sheep pig?” Suki asked.

“Nope.” Sokka replied.

“What about a cow pig?” Thuy asked.

“Just says pig.” Sokka said. 

“No way it’s just a pig.” Toph scoffed.

“It’s a tabloid!” Katara shouted, throwing her hands up. Seeing the people turn to stare, Katara smiled weakly and sank lower into her chair. 

“Unicorn cream berry blast?” Rohan asked, offering their drink. Katara pushed it away and sat back up. 

“We’re not announcing our relationship in a tabloid.” She hissed.

“Well they’ve already been talking about you.” Suki said, sliding one magazine off another and exposing the picture. It was grainy, but it showed Zuko and Katara dancing at her coronation. 

“Lots of people have been talking about you two.” Toph confirmed. 

“How do you know that?” Katara asked.

“Uh, I’m a Beifong? A lot of puffed up dirt brains have dinner with my parents in order to suck up and I have to go to a lot of them.” Toph said. 

“Hey, sorry I’m late.” Zuko said as he swooped in on their corner. “I’m going to get a coffee, did you want anything?” 

“Not tea?” Katara asked with a sly grin. Zuko did not look amused.

“If I drink commercial tea in public, my uncle will disown me.” He said.

“Oh, uhm, would you mind grabbing me a vanilla latte?” Katara asked.

“Sure.” He said and walked to the counter. 

“Why don’t you use social media? Just announce it on your channel or something.” Thuy said.

“I don’t know if I want that to be in the same place where I post my pictures of cool rocks.” Katara said.

“You take pictures of rocks?” Toph asked.

“Only the cool ones.” Katara said. 

Toph blinked. “What?”

“Anyway, I don’t really have the following for it to be what I need.” Katara said.

“I think it’s bonkers that the Avatar, the crown prince of the Fire Nation, and the Queen of the Water Tribes all have MicroDose accounts.” Toph said.

“You don’t?” Sokka asked.

“I’m gonna give you a chance to walk that question back.” Toph said.

“Yup, I got it now.” Sokka nodded and sat back on the couch. Suki chuckled and rubbed his knee. 

“Ya walnut.” Toph muttered.

“Okay so, the good news is, I got our drinks for free.” Zuko said and walked around the couch, heading to where Katara sat. He handed her a cup and took a seat on the arm of her chair. 

“What’s the bad news?” Katara asked as she lifted the cup to her mouth.

“The bad news is that I was recognized by the barista and now everyone is staring at us.” Zuko said.

“Was it the scar? Did the scar give it away?” Sokka asked, grinning. 

“You know Sokka, I think it might’ve been the scar, yeah.” Zuko said. 

“You know, Mister Whiskers has her own MicroDose account too. She has over three million followers!” Thuy said. She leaned over in her seat and peered adoringly down at the catgator. The animal rumbled in reply and it was a sound that shot fear into the prehistoric parts of Katara’s brain. 

“Aww, Mister Whiskers wants some more whipped cream.” Thuy cooed.

“Have you decided anything yet?” Zuko questioned, resting his hand on the back of Katara’s chair.

“Only that we are not going the tabloid route.” She replied.

“They might do it for us if we don’t hurry.” He said.

Katara sighed and leaned against the other arm, propping her head on her fist.

“I know.” She said. 

“Why don’t you guys just take the plunge and do an interview? I’m sure some talk show would love to have you.” Suki said. 

“We thought about that. It’s just,” Katara started and then looked up at Zuko. 

Sucking in air through her teeth, she looked back down at her cup. “Should we even be doing this?” 

“Don’t you both have PR people for this?” Toph asked.

“Yeah, but we didn’t want them involved.” Zuko answered.

“Why not?” Toph pressed.

“Because the Fire Nation would not be kind to Katara.” Zuko started.

“And Arnook has been getting in my way since he doesn’t approve of the match.” Katara finished.

“Does anyone?” Toph asked.

“The Swamp Tribe does!” Thuy exclaimed cheerfully. 

“Thuy has won them over with her exuberance.” Katara admitted. “They’re fine with the relationship.” 

“And the South Pole is okay with it as long as our dad is okay with it.” Sokka said. 

“What about the Fire Nation?” Suki asked. 

Zuko moved his hand to Katara’s shoulder and she put her hand on top. 

“That’s the reason why we’re hesitant.” Zuko said. 

“But they can’t do anything about it right? There’s nothing in the law that says you can’t date someone from outside of the country.” Sokka said.

“There is actually. Unless it’s a matter of state.” Zuko said.

“Katara.” Thuy said with a gasp. “Did you become Queen just so you could marry Zuko?”

Katara laughed and shook her head. “For one thing, we’re not getting married. And for another, I became Queen so I could take care of my people. Dating Zuko would have happened regardless.”

“Is that so?” Zuko asked, amused.

Leaning back in her chair, Katara smiled at him.

“Of course. How were you ever going to say no to me?” She quipped.

Zuko leaned down but stopped as Sokka cleared his throat.

“Could you not?” He asked.

“What? She’s my girlfriend.” Zuko said.

“She’s my sister.” Sokka shot back.

“I’ve seen you kiss Suki plenty of times!” Katara said. 

“We’re getting off topic.” Suki said sternly. They all sat up and Suki sighed.

“The interview is the best option. I even know of some shows that would work the best. But, is this what you want? Going public is going to change things.” She went on. 

“We’re sure. We don’t want a tabloid to be what tells people we’re dating. It’ll make them think this is something that needs to be hidden.” Katara said. 

“Okay. I’ll go collect some phone numbers.” Suki said and stood up.

“I’ll call you later.” Sokka said as he rose. They said goodbye before Sokka and Suki left. Toph exited shortly after, dragging Thuy along while Mister Whiskers scurried after them. 

Rohan lingered, slurping loudly from their drink as Zuko took Toph’s empty chair. 

“Nervous?” They asked. 

“Extremely so.” Zuko said. 

“Have you ever thought about talking to Roku?” Rohan questioned.

“What?” Zuko and Katara said together. 

“Thuy is amazing at channeling the previous Avatars. I am not at all ready to see my Pop-Pop again, but I got to meet a super cool Airbender that was Avatar like, nine cycles ago.” Rohan explained.

“Do you think that would help?” Zuko asked.

“Can’t hurt. He is your great-grandfather.” 

Zuko sat firmly back in the chair, staring up toward the ceiling.

“Huh.” He said, working his jaw as he thought.

“Anyway, I’m gonna head out too. I’m supposed to be leading an Urban Dust meeting in twenty minutes.” Rohan said.

“Bye Rohan.” Katara said and waved as he walked out of the coffee shop. 

“Are we doing the right thing?” Zuko asked. He rolled his head to look at her, still splayed out on the chair like a corpse. “Want to run away?”

Katara laughed and stood up.

“I’m done running.” She said, walking to stand in front of him. “I don’t need to be afraid anymore.”

Zuko smiled and pushed himself onto his feet. She took a loose strand of his hair and tucked it behind his ear. Seeing the hearing aid, Katara smiled. 

Chapter Text

“I want to run away now.” Katara said. 

The interview left them feeling raw. It wouldn’t air until the next day, and they debated where to go. Zuko doubted even his uncle would be pleased, and Katara wasn’t looking forward to anyone’s response from either Pole. 

They were silent as they rode down the elevator. The talk show hadn’t taken them to some fancy lot, but instead sat them down in a sharply lit room with barely any furniture. Katara had kept very still in the canvas backed chair set for her, while Zuko talked with great animation. 

Overall, she could barely remember anything.

Stepping out of the nondescript building, Katara shivered. Winter in Republic City was more wet than cold, but she could still feel the humming burn of the lights on her skin. On the awning above them, the fat clumps of falling snow were fingers flicking against the top of a drop. Flinching at the noise, Katara pulled the edges of her coat tighter around her. 

After Zuko finished putting on his gloves, he put an arm around her. 

“Cold Ice Queen?” He asked, kissing the top of her head lightly. 

“Weren’t you hot in there?” Katara questioned.

“I’m very good at regulating my body temperature.” Zuko said and paused as Katara snorted. “But yes, I think the lights were particularly warm.”

Zuko tilted his head to look past the edge of the awning. Katara could feel the slate gray sky that stretched above them. With La in her veins, her bending could thread through the debris and water vapor hanging thousands of feet in the air. The weight of it just to dump clotted snowflakes over their heads. 

She shivered again.

“I don’t think it’s going to let up.” Zuko remarked, rubbing Katara’s arm absently. 

“Where should we go?” She asked.

“I’d say Ember Island, but that’s a bit too close to home.” 

“Is there any place in the world far enough for that?”

Zuko paused and Katara glanced over at him.

“There might be one.” He said slowly. He then looked back at her with a small smile. “But we’ll have to do some pretending.” 


“How did I not know about this?” Katara gasped. She then smacked Zuko’s shoulder. “How did you not tell me about this?”

“I’m telling you now!” He answered, laughter rippling through his words.

Katara gasped again, her hands holding tightly to the handles of the wheelchair. 

The ice spiral resembled a bamboo shoot. That alone didn’t make it impressive; the miles of arid desert that surround it did.

“How is it not melting?” She asked quietly.

“Oh, it’s melting. The Avatar has to do regular upkeep and obviously Thuy hasn’t been here.” Zuko answered.

“Why not?”

“She’s not a fully realized Avatar. This takes spirit energy.”

“How do you know that?” 

“Jinora.”

“I can’t believe it.”

“I can’t believe we’re going to miss our reservation.” 

Katara clicked her tongue in annoyance but started pushing the wheelchair down the smooth walkway.

One of the many amenities of the Misty Palms Oasis were the purported healing spring spas. Zuko, unable to truly hide his scar, had heavily bandaged that side of his face and plunked himself into a wheelchair. He had a fake passport, of course, and Katara had only done some slight lying to keep her presence equally under wraps. 

Not many were willing to deny the Water Tribe Queen access to healing water for a mysterious patient. One that required a different oasis, deep in the southern continent of the Earth Kingdom.

While they couldn’t sightsee, here was a privacy they couldn’t get elsewhere. 

Zuko was mute while Katara checked in. A woman in a crisp green uniform was swift, showing them to their private room with barely a sound. The door closed and the AC unit kicked on, blowing cold air into the room just as Katara walked further in. On the other wall was a wide window, and Katara pulled back the curtain just enough to peer out.

She heard Zuko stand up, groaning as he stretched. 

“Blazes this thing itches.” He muttered and Katara smiled.

The ochre sands that covered or inspired the equally sandy buildings felt warm. It was subdued where the South Pole, another desert, glared under the sunlight. Ice blue broke against her eyes, while the dunes spilled like honey.

The air conditioning curled over her flesh, raising trails of small bumps.

“I feel like those sand dunes.” Katara said, feeling Zuko standing behind her.

He collected her hair in his hands, lifting the heft of her thick curls up so he could kiss the back of her neck.

“You’re darker and much warmer.” He murmured.

She shivered.

The air conditioner ran continuously. With the curtains shut, there was no desert sun to fight back, and so the room quickly filled with frigid air. They burrowed under the downy blankets, finding each other in the subdued light. 

All hotel blankets were snow white. Even here in the desert, with the ice tower slowly melting into blue-green pools, Katara could not escape the snow. 

But, as Zuko’s body curled around hers, it wasn’t like she really wanted to. 

“My birthday is coming up.” She said.

Zuko had returned to kissing her, on whatever bare spots he could find. 

“I know.” He replied when she didn’t continue. 

“Will you visit?” 

“Of course.”

Katara sighed happily, her umber skin melting into his starlight body. 

Sokka was right; they weren’t opposites because they never opposed each other. Emptiness meant to be filled, darkness meant to be illuminated, and pain meant to be loved. 

“How do you like being in the Poles?” She questioned.

“I like it well enough when you’re there.” He said, jostling her so she turned. 

When they kissed, Katara lost all hold of time. When they stopped, she continued. 

“I wish you were more comfortable there.” She said.

“I’m more comfortable than you are in the Fire Nation.” He retorted.

“Hmm.”

Hmmm?”

“I think I’d like to spend more time there.” 

“Why?”

His tone was somewhere between surprise and disgust, but not at all suspicious.

“I want to know more about you.” Katara said.

“You already know everything about me.” Zuko replied.

“I don’t know about the war.” She countered.

“You know enough.” He said. He sounded sad and tired.

“I don’t know about the Eastern Air Temple.” She added.

“That’s…” Zuko drifted and Katara waited. 

“Difficult.” He finished. 

“I don’t know about your mother.”

“I don’t know about yours.” 

He kissed her again, knowing her tenuous hold on time. He was distracting her, obviously, and his hands spread out the sand of her body over his. 

When he stopped, the room was dark even outside of their snow white burrow. 

Katara tossed back the blanket and propped herself up on one elbow. Looking down at Zuko, she saw how his ink black hair spilled over the white sheets. It resembled something abstract, or like the cards she saw in the psych department that made people see weird things. 

Tilting her head, she looked for some subconscious imagery. As she searched, Zuko ran his slender fingers up and down her side. The heat escaped from the blanket and the air conditioning rushed in to fill the void. As his hands moved, he stirred up a current and Katara shivered.

“You have been awfully cold lately my love.” Zuko stated.

“Only when you leave me.” Katara said.

He placed his hand firmly on her lower back, and she lowered herself over him.

“I’ll keep you warm.” He said.

“Is that a promise?”

“It’s a vow.”

Chapter Text

The next day, Katara and Zuko enjoyed their private access to one of the family spring bath rooms. The bath had that velvety feel that came with mineral rich water, and there was a thread of something more potent in the cloudy liquid, but it was ultimately comparable to tap water when ranked against her oasis. 

Feeling rejuvenated, and tingling with anxious glee about their interview being broadcast, they decided to take a risk and see some sights. As Zuko contemplated his itchy bandages for his face, Katara yanked a woven hat over his head instead. The wide brim cast enough of a shadow over his face to keep quick glances from noticing his scar.

“Is this really enough?” He asked as he settled into the wheelchair.

“Trust me, people are terribly afraid of invalids. They think it’s contagious.” Katara assured him.

“Hmm.” Zuko intoned, thinking back to plenty of instances in his life after the scarring.

The Misty Palms Oasis was an ancient marvel and had housed a multitude of communities in its history. Prior to the Hundred Year War, there had been some religious commune that acted as a healing sanctuary. At some point, that became commercialized, as the oasis could never be coaxed into sustainable farmland. The oasis turned into a bustling trading hub; the perfect stop to long, desert trade routes. 

The war disrupted that, as it had many things, and the desert brigands that had once been excluded from its respite took their claim. 

Avatar Aang had calmed a lot of the more unsavory traits of the oasis, but it never regained its previous, lofty reputation. 

Ivory tiled plazas marked out the spots for wealthy people, and hosted the simulacra of a spiritual well. But pockmarked about the sand dunes and low bone white walls were shabbier buildings. They collected tourists and travellers like the piles of red sand that made their wooden walls sag. 

Katara threaded away from those places, knowing that their small manners would invite the attention of merchants more easily than the curiosity of the more wealthy around. 

Still, certain walkways could not be avoided. 

The joyful sounds of some tavern spilled out in the morning air, and Katara yanked Zuko’s wheelchair back as the sound was followed by a stumbling body.

The man offered distracted apologies and Katara kept her head down as she navigated past him.

“Wait, Katara?” The man asked.

The breath in her lungs turned into helium and as she turned, it felt like she almost lifted off her feet.

“Jet?” She asked in return. 

Despite the setting and the noise, Jet was not inebriated; at least not so soon in the day. Whatever had made him laugh inside, or else propelled him out into the street, it lingered in his smile. 

“I had heard rumors, but I didn’t think I’d see a queen out here in the desert.” Jet said, walking closer. 

His skin had darkened, and Katara assumed he had been in Misty Palms for some time. He had not followed her, this was not intentional.

She didn’t know if that made things better or worse.

Zuko, still in the chair behind her, cleared his throat.

“I’m with a client.” Katara said haltingly. 

Jet peered past her and Katara shifted her weight to the side. He didn’t seem very interested.

“Can you settle a bet for me?” He asked as he lazily slid his gaze back to her.

“What?” 

“Are you really dating the Fire Lord’s son?”

Katara felt her mind stop. 

“We were just watching the interview and you looked so stiff.” Jet explained to fill her silence. “It just didn’t match the Katara I knew.”

“Well I’m not that person anymore.” Katara said quickly.

“Oh, I’m not so sure.” Jet said with a laugh. “The Katara I knew would absolutely be in the middle of nowhere, helping out someone everyone else has probably called a lost cause.” 

“You don’t know me.” Katara replied.

“I’d like to.”

“I am dating Zuko.” She stated quickly. “I just don’t like cameras.”

“I guess Longshot owes me some money now.” Jet said with a shrug.

“You thought…” Katara, confused, couldn’t find the rest of her question.

“Like I said, the Katara I knew has a thing for lost causes.” Jet answered.

“You weren’t-.” She cut herself off. “You’re not mad?”

Jet shook his head. 

“You’re not the only one who changed.” He said softly. “Peacetime wasn’t hospitable to old Jet.”

“Well.” Katara fumbled through her thoughts. “I’m glad.”

“Me too.” Jet cracked a larger smile and swung his arms in a stretch. “I’ll let you get back to your healing. I think you’re probably nicer to him with your bending than you were to me.”

He winked, changing the meaning of his tone, and Katara sputtered as he walked away.

Jet had guessed it was Zuko in the chair. Of course he had.

“Let’s go.” Katara muttered, turning around and shoving the chair forward.

“You sure you didn’t want to catch up some more?” Zuko muttered back.

She snorted, feeling her mood shift.

“Are you jealous?” She asked.

“Of course not.” Zuko snapped.

“Have you even been jealous before?” 

“I’m not jealous.”

Despite his claim, Zuko was peevish during their outing. He complained about the heat, the crowds, and the lack of mobility when trying to access various sites and shops. Katara tried to jostle him out of it, modeling increasingly ridiculous outfits and accessories. 

But her own nerves thinned her patience, and by lunch she was just as tired and irritated. 

When they made it back to their room, Katara darted immediately into the bedroom. Thin lines of sand had collected in her joints and ends of her clothes. She shed the fabric, but the sweat and sand clung to her like another outfit.

The shower stall was separate from the large, whirlpool bath, but it took up almost as much space. Tiled in sea green glass, Katara relished the cool ripple under her feet. Craving coolness, she stood under the spray instead of waiting for the water to heat. 

The bathroom door opened, and Katara kept from looking through the clear glass door as Zuko stepped in. 

His heat fogged the glass as he approached, making her aversion easier. 

“So Jet seemed happy to see you.” Zuko began. He was trying to sound neutral, or conversational, but it was like he had forgotten how to make that inflection with his voice. 

“Of course, I won him some money.” Katara said. 

“Did he look any different?” 

“He looked more like a guy closer to his thirties than his teens, yeah.” 

“Mmmm.” 

They were both quiet, and Katara started to thread her fingers through her hair. 

“I’m not jealous of him.” Zuko repeated. Katara didn’t reply and focused on plucking free a tangle. 

“I am jealous of his freedom.” He finished.

“What?” Katara looked up at the shower head, still unable to see Zuko through the condensation. 

“You know him. Maybe not what he’s been up to in the meantime, but you have a history. You could catch up over a coffee and it wouldn’t be this lecture of pain and trauma. 

“And just the fact that you could go out with him in the first place. But I have to be disguised just to go anywhere with you in public.” His sentences spewed out like steam from a boiling kettle, but it chilled Katara.

“History doesn’t always make things easier.” Katara said. “You can keep a lot of assumptions about people.” 

“Fine, even if it wasn’t him, wouldn’t you rather be with someone you can actually date?” Zuko asked.

“We date.” Katara protested.

“Barely. I think we-”

“We what?”

“I’ve never told you what that night was like for me. When I met the Painted Lady.”

They were quiet again and Katara let her hands fall down by her sides.

“Ever since that night, I was fascinated by Waterbenders. I spent months looking for the pretender, but only heard rumors. And even after the war ended, every time I met a Waterbender that was around the right age, I wondered. 

“By the time I met Sokka, I had given up. But then he told me about being in the war, about you being a Waterbender, and it shook everything up. I had to meet you. And when I did, I wanted you to be her so badly.” Zuko finally said. 

“Why? Love at first sight?” Katara questioned.

“Yes.” Zuko answered readily. 

“Spirits, how terrible would it have been if I wasn’t the same person?” Katara asked, slightly bitter and slightly unnerved. 

“You don’t understand, it’s because I fell in love with you at first sight. And I wanted some destiny to intervene.” Zuko said. 

“Oh.”

“And so now there’s two of you. There’s always been two Kataras. And I wonder if you and I are just meant to be a fairy tale.” Zuko said. “That’s what I’m jealous of. His freedom of being more rooted in reality.”

“I prefer the fairy tale.” Katara said, trying to sound prim but achieving something more acidic. “Plus, the ending is much better than the practical.”

“What’s that?”

“‘’And they lived happily ever after.’”

“Ah.” Zuko paused and she heard him chuckle to himself. “Got room in there?”

“I think I can manage.” Katara replied, assuredly sounding coy.

They could use the ever after to figure out the rest of their story, she was certainly in no rush.

Chapter Text

Walking back to her office, Katara flipped through her personal papers and correspondence. It was still shocking to her how many people still wrote letters. Then again, as her fingers lingered on the corner of one, it made sense to send something that couldn’t be hacked into or leaked. 

Shaking her head, Katara ruffled the edges of the stack and focused on the hall. In front of her, a woman was backing out of her office, staring at something inside. 

The woman heard her approach and turned, bowing quickly.

“A delivery, your Majesty, from your brother.” She said.

“Thank you.” Katara replied and the woman walked away, leaving the office door ajar.

Peeking in, Katara saw a wide bouquet set in a bulbous vase on her desk. Petals, leaves, and water dripped around the base and Katara frowned. She would never have been so sloppy with an order.

Then, with a snort, Katara went to the desk. It was funny to think a queen had ever helped with flower deliveries in the first place. 

Katara set down her papers and plucked the laminated card off the flimsy plastic holder wedged between two, fat flowers.

I don’t know how your boyfriend knows about Jet or why you did this, but please get Zuko to stop bothering me about flowers.

Now running her fingers over the blossoms, Katara tapped the card against her lips. The smell of sugar water made her smile. It was an odd mix, and she knew Sokka was thoroughly distracted by Love Day from the sight of it. The vase itself was the first bizarre choice and Katara leaned over to look at it. Seeing it head on, it reminded her of the fancy pots some nobles back in Caldera kept their betta koi. 

The porcelain vase was white with the images of mountains and clouds painted in gold ink. None of that gave any meaning to the flowers it contained. 

Standing back up, she looked into the vase. Smooth pebbles created the base, making her think more of a koi pond. But there was a spray of tall flowers and greenery that created a regal sort of backing, like a throne. The other flowers were like toads, squashed together on the wet rocks and still voluminous. 

Thinking back to the many, many times she listened to Sokka talk about flowers, Katara mused over the blooms. The tall flowers in the back were hyssops and not, according to Sokka, a popular line flower. 

If she remembered correctly, the blue flowers symbolized sacrifice. 

Katara sat down, putting the card to the side and propped her chin on one hand while the other prodded the flowers. As she shifted one toad, she was surprised to find daisies. Beyond their innocent reputation, daisies were secret keepers and Katara smiled as she found their hiding place inside the vase. Secrets and sacrifices, apparently Sokka wasn’t as distracted as she thought. 

The bouquet was simple only in that there were four flowers. The design was exceptional, blending function and form; all of the flowers could be coaxed by skilled hands to grow through the end of autumn and into winter. Sokka put a lot of focus into this, and it made Katara wonder what kind of conversation he and Zuko had about Jet. 

Examining the two competing types of toads in the vase, Katara thought more seriously about them. One was sedum, which took up space but didn’t have the same weight as the other flower. It was thought to be a cure for broken hearts and Katara did feel an ache in her chest as she thought about it. 

The last flower eluded her and Katara sat back in her seat. Just as she settled, her phone rang and she fished it out of her pocket while still regarding the bouquet. Her finger tapped the back of the phone, illuminating the screen with Zuko’s face.

“Hey.” Katara said absently.

“Are you busy?” Zuko asked.

Instead of answering, Katara flipped the camera to the back to show Zuko the flowers, then switched to the front.

“Ah. So he did send it.” Zuko said, sounding embarrassed.

“How long did you two spend on it?” Katara questioned, now looking at the screen.

“Too long in Sokka’s opinion.” Zuko replied. 

“I like it.” Katara said and he smiled, relaxing. 

“I’m glad. Your brother is a genius.”

“Don’t let him hear you say so.” 

Zuko snorted and Katara looked at the flowers again.

“I know what most of them mean, but I can’t figure out one of them.” She said.

“Which one?”

“One of the big ones. Not the sedum.”

“Oh, the camellia.” Zuko answered quickly and Katara looked at him in time to see him blush.

“A camellia?” She prompted.

“Did you know it’s in the same family as the tea bush?” Zuko asked instead and Katara grinned.

“Adorable.” She then narrowed her eyes. “But what does it mean?”

“Your brother picked it out.”

“And?”

“Your brother has been hanging out with my uncle.”

“Zuko.”

Zuko sighed and Katara fought down her smile in preparation.

“You’re a flame in my heart.” He murmured.

Katara snorted, but still started laughing as Zuko rubbed his face and groaned. 

“Zuko, that’s so cute.”

“Sokka ended up liking it more than he thought and my uncle says it’s his favorite.”

“That’s really sweet.”

“He did name it and it’s become a sort of installation piece at the Jasmine Dragon.”

“You’re kidding! What’s it called?”

“It’s a portmanteau of us; Zutara?”

Katara looked at the bouquet. Flowers in a teacup made for fish. It seemed fitting. 

“I like it.” She repeated.

Her phone pinged as a notification slid down from the top of her screen. It was a MicroDose message from Thuy.

“Thuy just messaged me.” Katara said and Zuko tilted his head.

“Me too.”

Katara started laughing again as she pulled down the notification while Zuko read his. 

It was a picture of her bouquet at Iroh’s upstairs table in the Jasmine Dragon.

WHY DID YOU NOT TELL ME THIS EXISTED I WANT TEN!!!!!!!

“Looks like she posted it to her story.” Zuko said.

“Yeah, with the hashtag Zutara.”

“Katara. It has over a thousand likes.”

“She just posted that today.”

“Have we….” Zuko started as Katara spoke up: “Have you…”

“I haven’t gone back to Caldera yet.” Zuko whispered.

“Arnook is at the Swamp.” Katara whispered in reply. 

“What happened after the interview?” Zuko asked.

Katara pulled down on the screen and saw the numbers on Thuy’s post jump.

She didn’t have an answer, but she didn’t think people were going to be happy with this attention.

Chapter Text

Zuko was distracted on their video call. Katara let her words trail and it would take a few moments for him to respond. After watching him for a moment, Katara finally reclined on her couch. 

“So, what’s new with you?” She asked. That got his attention and Zuko looked at her nervously. 

“Katara, we’ve been dating a few months now.” He said, but didn’t seem to pick up the thread after trailing off. 

“Yes?” Katara prompted. 

“I don’t want to rush things.” Zuko said, as if that were a complete thought.

“But?”

“But certain people are asking about the long term.” 

“Zuko.” Katara sighed and Zuko’s camera jostled as he sat up. 

“I know, I know. Like I said, I don’t want to rush things. I just want you to know that people are asking questions and I’m answering them the best I can.” He said.

“That’s ominous as all get out Zuko.” Katara replied dryly.

“I just don’t want you to be surprised by the news or anything.” He replied easily.

“What did you do?”

“Nothing! Well,” Zuko looked strangled as he formed the words. “Azula and I are fighting. Or maybe my father is fighting me through Azula. Either way, we’re going to be in the news.”

“Is everything okay?” Katara asked.

“It’ll be fine.” Zuko replied. “I promise.”

It was not the news that told her.

Rohan landed their sky bison Dawa in the middle of the courtyard as Katara was going through her exercises. The large animal slid on the ice and bumped into the wall with a low groan. When they jumped off, Rohan pressed themself into Dawa’s massive head, bury their face in her fur.

“My poor baby. Did that hurt?” They cooed and Dawa lowed gently. 

“Rohan? What are you doing here?” Katara asked as she approached. Still keeping their body pressed against Dawa’s head, Rohan turned their face. They were still mostly obscured by the long fur, but an attempt was made. 

“Pop was thinking you and I should go to the Fire Nation.” They said.

“Arnook doesn’t want me leaving the palace. I still have a lot of learning to do.” Katara replied.

“Yes well, Azula challenged Zuko to an Agni Kai.” Rohan said.

“WHY DIDN’T YOU LEAD WITH THAT?” Katara yelled. Panicked, Rohan flipped around and Dawa growled at Katara.

“I DON’T REALLY KNOW.” They yelled back. 

“WHY ARE WE WAITING?” 

Katara pushed herself up with the ice and Rohan leaped onto the saddle. 

“Yip, yip Dawa!” They said and Katara barely had time to brace herself.

The sudden force of air knocked her back, but after Dawa levelled out her flying, Katara was able to move. She crawled on her hands and knees toward Dawa’s head where Rohan sat with the reins.

“You need to explain to me what’s happening.” Katara said. Rohan turned, idly flicking the reins in their lap. 

“Azula has stated that by continuing to pursue a relationship with you, Zuko has dishonored their family and should have no right to the throne. She’s challenged him to an Agni Kai for inheritance.” They answered.

“And he accepted?”

“He had no choice. His father wasn’t going to stop it; it’s kinda the end all, be all of decision making. And you know,” Rohan fidgeted as they spoke. “He had accepted the Agni Kai where his father burned him.”

“WHAT?” Katara gripped the edge of the saddle and felt the pressure against her palms. 

“Like I said, it’s how they do things in the Fire Nation. Zuko didn’t really have a choice.” Rohan replied.

Katara sat back and stared off into the sky. Agni Kais were rare, but all of them were broadcast. They had been outlawed in the United Republic, and among any Fire Nation citizen in other kingdoms. The dangerous taboo created a massive allure and young Firebenders in the Fire Nation would routinely call for one, knowing that it would be televised. It was definitely their chance to make a mark on the world. 

If Katara really wanted, she assumed she could find a recording of Zuko’s initial Agni Kai. Where his own father pressed his hand to his son’s face, in public, and marred him. 

This one would be just as public. And against his sister.

Katara tried to think of the last time she had fought with Sokka. It was over the summer, when they had planned to eat dinner together and they disagreed over acceptable pizza toppings. She had thrown a loaf of bread at him. They weren’t even having pizza.

“So what can we do?” Katara asked.

“Thuy is already there with Pop trying to de escalate, except that neither Azula nor Ozai are actually, you know, emotional about it.” Rohan said.

“They’ve been looking for a reason.” Katara murmured.

“Probably.” 

“You don’t think she’d kill him, do you?”

“It’s not illegal.” Rohan answered, answering her question as gently as they could. 

“We have to stop this.” Katara stated.

“We literally cannot.”

“Then why did you bring me?”

“Just in case.” 

Feeling sick to her stomach, Katara rolled on her tailbone until her back was against the edge of the saddle. Her arms fell along the edge as well, making her look like a boxer on the ropes. She felt like she had been sucker punched. 

It took two days of flying to get there. Dawa pushed through as if sensing her riders’ desperation. Rohan showed Katara how to fly and they took shifts as they crossed the unending ocean. From a hastily packed bag, Rohan pulled out various foodstuffs and their eating times were the only moments they had together. They tried to think of a plan but had nothing, and fear gnawed at the underside of Katara’s heart. 

When they landed, both Katara and Rohan leaped down. Katara pulled water from the grass on the ground to brace herself and Rohan’s wind ball gently shrank while propelling them forward. There were guards, because of course there were, but Rohan’s gusts snuffed out the pit of their fires while Katara swept them aside. 

“The arena is over here.” Rohan yelled and Katara followed them closely. In front of them was also a large reservoir of water. It would make sense, in case the firebending got out of control. And it made things easier for Katara.

“There!” She exclaimed and found soldiers waiting for them. Rohan made a noise in irritation before spinning into an aerial kick, blowing them away with a gale. They floated down with a huff and Katara sped up to match their stride. 

“They’re lucky I took a vow of non-violence.” Rohan muttered as they continued on.

“You’re lucky that I did not.” Katara said and Rohan briefly smiled at her.

They crashed into the doors and immediately struck bodies. There was a crowd gathered to watch the spectacle and Katara fumed. Rohan took a deep breath and blew out; a whirlwind burst out of his mouth and people were shoved away from them. It was just enough of a gap to see the raised platform where Zuko knelt, a cloth over his shoulders. Katara and Rohan bolted forward just as he stood, the cloth falling away.

And a burst of blue fire surged toward him.

Katara screamed even as Zuko turned out of the way, moving the blue fire around his body and changing it into the orange she recognized. 

The fire was loud, which surprised her. It was also hot, which made her wary to get closer. Still, she stepped forward and Rohan put their hand on her shoulder.

“We can’t now.” They said. Katara, pained, looked at them before turning back to the platform. Zuko moved like a waterbender, sliding his feet as he pulled Azula’s attacks around himself before pushing it back at her. When he did get defensive, he spun with his feet arcing over his head, like an Airbender. And when the attacks were too large, Zuko took a deep stance and broke the line of fire, much like an Earthbender. 

“What is he doing?” Katara asked.

“Tiring her out. Zuko’s hung out with us for so long, he’s picked up so many different styles, Azula can’t get past them.” Rohan replied. “Once she’s exhausted, he’ll knock her down and he’ll win.”

They smiled, looking relaxed, but Katara frowned. 

“That seems very anticlimactic.” She said.

“But it’s a good thing.” Rohan retorted and she shook her head.

“Except Zuko said his father is dramatic.” Katara said before looking back Zuko. “Do you think it’ll be that easy?”

It wasn’t.

As soon as Azula went down - having been slow to react to a curve ball of fire and so Zuko swept her legs out from under her - Zuko immediately stood at attention.

Azula got up on a knee and started to laugh.

“You have brought dishonor yet again onto our family, prince Zuko.” Ozai’s menacing voice came from the far end of the raised walk. “You have fought with your sister in front of the entire world.”

“But he-” Katara started but Rohan grabbed her arm, shushing her. 

Zuko put his fist to his hand and bowed deeply.

“I meant no disrespect.” He said, his voice hollow but still ringing in Katara’s ears.

Ozai stepped from the shadows; shirtless, as was required by the Agni Kai. 

“So it’s time for a rematch?” He asked.

Zuko stood upright for a moment before sliding into a waiting stance. This marked a choice, not a reaction. He knew what he was getting into.

“Trust me,” Zuko said darkly. “It won’t be much of a rematch.”

Ozai’s burst exploded, making the air around the audience pop. That scattered most of them as the bending bordered on combustion; a trained combustion bender could control it, but Ozai did not focus on that form. 

Zuko didn’t waste his time tiring out Ozai, mostly because his fight with Azula had already weakened his own stamina. 

Looking around, Katara was finally able to see the people she was hoping for as the crowd fled. Tenzin, Iroh, and Thuy stood yelling at each other just a few feet away.

“Thuy!” Katara screamed and started to run. The Avatar turned and Tenzin preemptively held her back. When Rohan and Katara made it to the group, Katara was seething.

“Why haven’t you stopped this?” She damned, looking at Iroh and Tenzin. 

“Our hands are tied here.” Tenzin started.

“All of this is perfectly legal.” Iroh added.

“But it’s not right!” Katara yelled.

“Watch out!” Thuy pushed Katara back and pulled up a rock wall as fire spilled off the platform. 

“I’m going up there.” Katara stated.

“You are the queen of another country, you cannot interfere!” Tenzin said. 

“Yeah, well, I’m the Avatar and it looks to me like the sovereign of the Fire Nation is terrorizing his heir, which I’m pretty sure can lead to some serious political consequences so I’m gonna have to overrule you here.” Thuy retorted forcefully. 

“Look!” Rohan called out. Everyone turned and saw Zuko push Ozai back, now very clearly mimicking Waterbender styles. As Ozai shielded himself, the flames dissipated and Azula jumped up next to her father.

“That certainly isn’t legal.” Iroh said.

“Let’s go!” Thuy grabbed Katara’s hand and rocketed themselves upward on a protrusion of rock. 

“There’s water under the grates.” Katara said just before they hit the platform. Thuy grabbed from the right side while Katara pulled water from the left. Bringing their wavering columns together, they clashed on the eruptions of fire heading toward Zuko. 

Things worsened when the soldiers made it into the arena.

Iroh, finding himself yet again on the enemy lines, fought defensively. And as both Tenzin and Rohan had taken vows of non-violence, they were quickly occupied with keeping themselves safe while also not allowing anyone else to join the fight on the platform. 

For the ones above, their fight was nothing less than brutal. Azula and Ozai went with sheer power, attempting to push someone off the platform. The fall would easily be enough to break a leg, making escape impossible. So Katara and Thuy pulled on more limbs of water, catching themselves when they got too close to the edge. 

Thuy had no formal firebending training, but instinctively she was able to disperse indirect attacks. 

But as Zuko got hit with a fireball, Thuy lost it. She pulled too hard on the water, bringing Zuko up but nearly taking Katara off in the process. 

“Just. Stay. Put.” Thuy seethed through gritted teeth. Right before her eyes started to glow.

Katara had never seen Thuy in the Avatar state, and it terrified her a bit. Air swirled up around her, tossing her hair up that made her look like she was drowning. Large slabs of rock were ripped from the ground and circled her like an armor plated atom. Fire jumped between the slabs, creating a protective net, while water fell upward to coat the entire platform. 

“We are sick of you and your forefathers treating everyone like filth.” A booming voice that was not Thuy’s said. “Your heir has atoned and we will bestow our favor on him.” 

Ozai laughed. He laughed right in the face of the Avatar.

“You are a coward. You all were cowards! You can’t strike me down because of the balance!” He shouted.

The elements parted around Thuy, but something cloaked her. She was taller, wearing robes, and with a large headdress. 

“I can assure you,” A clearer voice, but still not Thuy’s, rang out. “I was no coward when I killed my master.” 

Avatar Kyoshi swept her hand and a large rock ripped itself free of the arena and slammed into Ozai, knocking him clear into the other wall. 

The shroud changed again and Katara gasped at the sight of the blue parka. Water slammed into the place where Ozai had landed, just as the rock exploded. Avatar Kuruk ran on the water bridge he created and created a fist of ice. 

“Don’t forget about me.” A lilting voice sang out. Blue fire shot toward Katara as she turned. Pulling up a sheet of ice, Katara took a moment to admire the shimmering explosion of blue that rippled behind it. Then, stepping forward, she shoved the wall at Azula. As Azula broke it, Zuko had spun through a series of sets. Azula charged them then, splitting them cleanly down the middle with a wall all her own. 

Azula was good at keeping them apart, putting Katara on the defensive while forcing Zuko to choose between pushing an attack or trying to deflect spill over from harming Katara. They would dart at each other, only to have Azula fall back while attacking Katara.

The fight had barely gone on for ten minutes, but that was longer than any other duel. Zuko and Azula were both visibly panting, and they both swayed in their stances. Off to one side of the arena, the Avatar was beating the Fire Lord into the ground while the other side saw the trio slowly losing their footing. 

Suddenly grinning, Azula stood up and took a different stance.

“Azula.” Zuko called out as a warning.

“Dear brother, this ends now.” She said. The electricity arced between her fingers and Katara froze. 

She knew what happened when electricity met water. Unsure of what to do or how to help, she looked at Zuko. 

“I can handle you Azula. For as long as it takes.” Zuko shouted, getting his voice over the snarling sound of lightning growing around Azula.

“Is that so?” Azula remarked casually. 

Zuko stood, his body tilted and grounded. 

And Azula turned to face a new direction.

Katara could see her gold eyes glint but she didn’t hear Zuko yell.

She saw the lightning and she saw Zuko. And she saw Zuko’s body. He was just a few feet from her, she could reach him.

Steam erupted as Azula shot fire in front of her. 

“Oh no you do-” Azula began but cut off as the steam curled and shot up like a spear. Katara pulled more and more water, levitating ice shards all around her and sending them hurtling toward Azula. The water moved like a wave over the platform and while Azula twisted to dodge one of the ice spears, her ankle rolled and she fell to her knees. The water froze, adhering her to the platform. To keep her from bending, Katara pulled more water up and created an inverted bubble around them. 

Then she froze it. 

Bending was an art. Some benders were born with inherent strength while others could improve through rigorous training, and still others were stuck with low ability no matter what. But it was all dependent upon the benders chi, or spirit, or metaphysical energy. Whatever they called it, it was an energetic field that they could manipulate. Most of the time, benders had to move in order to control their element as they could never achieve true mastery of their chi. 

Some monks among the Air Nomads were rumored to have achieved it and would float without the need for food or water.

Katara felt the frozen rage down to her core and the water around her obliged. She breathed, and the ice melted to let her pass. 

Moving through the ice, Katara picked up the cloth Zuko had worn at the beginning of the Agni Kai. With it, she bound Azula’s hands, then refroze them. At least this way it would take longer for her to get frostbite.

Melting the ice block, Katara kept Azula pinned to the ground and her hands encased in ice. 

Then she ran to Zuko.

Turning him onto his back, Katara knelt down to listen for a heartbeat. Not finding one, she immediately started CPR. As she counted, she used her bending to move the blood through his veins. 

“I could use a little zap here!” She paused to yell. Focusing on her compressions, she had no idea how long it took Iroh to get up to them. When he did, she sat back and watched as Zuko was electrocuted again. 

Gasping, Zuko rolled onto his side and Katara fell on him, crying.

“I have to heal you!” She sobbed. “I have to.” 

Her hands glowed as the water came to them and she ran it over his chest. She had cracked his sternum during CPR and had to concentrate on pulling the fracture together. Her chi went into him, sewing the bone together. She healed his veins and the damage done to his heart. But the scar would not go. Dark veins bled out from the strike, but at least they were working. 

“Zuko.” Katara said as she fell on top of him. “Why?”

“Tradition.” Zuko said weakly. “I wasn’t allowed to say no.”

“Get rid of it.” She murmured, burying her face in his chest.

“As soon as the crown touches my head beloved.” He brought his head up and kissed the top of her head. 

“Yeah but seriously, someone needs to check to see if the Fire Lord is dead.” Rohan said from above them. “Because Thuy went all out on him.”

Chapter Text

Fire snapped, water dripped, and rocks tumbled down walls. As Katara clung to Zuko, she felt his hold on her weaken. The moment he slipped into unconsciousness, everything in her body tensed. Instinctively, Katara pulled walls of ice shards up whenever someone approached. She did the same when someone tried to get to Azula.

“Katara.” Rohan said softly, holding up their hands as they approached.

“No one can touch them.” Katara hissed, the ice rippling like a spine. “I don’t trust anyone here.”

“Thuy needs help. You need help. And there aren’t enough of us.” Rohan said.

“THUY!” A panicked yell ripped through the crowd and Katara snapped her body around Zuko’s unconscious form. Peering back out into the pit where the audience had gathered, she saw two young women arguing with a few guards and Tenzin. They were the twins Katara had seen skulking around the palace when Thuy was there.

She narrowed her eyes.

“No.” Katara said.

“Katara-”

“Then get more people Rohan!” She snapped. “No one else is allowed near them.”

“You need to let go, Katara.” Rohan said.

“Back off, Rohan.” Katara seethed, pulling the shards closer around herself and Zuko. “I’m warning you.”

Rohan held out a hand and placed it gently on her shoulder.

“Let me help you.” They said softly, holding her gaze.

Katara began to tremble, first feeling her chin wobble before her whole body dissolved into tightly held tremors. 

“Okay.” She whispered. 

Rohan squeezed her shoulder and everything went dark.


When she came to, Katara scrambled to her feet. It was pitch black and her head swam, making it impossible for her to get her bearings. Her stomach pitched and she almost went with it, but Katara swallowed the lump in her throat.

As she looked around in the nothingness, she tried to find some clue as to where she was. The air was stale and reeked of metal. Not just steel, but the stench of long containment. 

A bright light snapped on, blinding her with its large, watchful eye. Katara tossed her arms up to shield herself from the searchlight and it felt cold on her skin. Still, it gave her light to see by, and Katara looked under her arms to see where she was.

It was a simple hallway. The floor was metal but the walls were painted white stone, with long, thin vents running at the top. That was what circulated the air through this underground chamber, albeit poorly. It was cool and dry, keeping things from getting damp or sweaty. 

It was one of the places the Fire Nation would keep Waterbenders.

“We have to keep moving.” Katara said and started running. Behind her, she could hear two pairs of feet following. Then more. The two were planned, the others were not. 

Hama had told her about this place, had warned her about it, had prepared her for it. 

But after seeing Kya again, Katara swore she wouldn’t use it. 

“Hama!” Kya’s voice cried just as something hard hit the metallic floor behind Katara.

“Go!” Hama urged.

But Kya was a nurse. Kya wouldn’t go. 

Fire blazed as Katara spun around, catching the brunt of it in the cloak Suki had supplied. But not all of it. She faltered, clutching her forearm, as the Fire Nation soldiers thundered down the hall. 

Shadows licked up the edges of the bright white spotlight, and Katara could hear everything. 

Guns made such a unique sound. It was more than a pop; it was all about air being forced out of a space by the sudden arrival of something very deadly.

So much like lightning, the thought flashed just as suddenly as the muzzle in front of her.

And the lightning stopped as it buried itself in someone else’s abdomen.

“Bend it!” Hama demanded.

“No.” Katara said, stepping over her mother’s body and crouching low. “Not her.”

She held out her hands as the muzzle flashed and the lightning cracked.

Them.”

“MOM!”

Katara jolted upright, her body soaked in sweat, and she started to cry. The tears frightened her, as the nightmare left her and the emotions came on as a confusing wave.

Her hands searched erratically until they hit something firm and she dug in. Zuko, still out, lay peacefully next to her.

Katara curled around him, her sobs interrupted by bouts of hiccups as her body was frantically sucking in air. 

“No, no, no. Zuko, WAKE UP!” Katara yelled, grabbing his shoulders roughly and shaking him. “WAKE UP!”

Hands were on her and Katara fought viciously. Ice at her fingernails sliced through skin and blood ran down her arm.

A bloody handprint had healed the burn on her arm.

Katara felt the blood drain from her head and the room tilted backwards, shoving her back into bed.

Back into the darkness.

The second waking was much gentler.

The bedroom had a window and the gauzy curtains ruffled timidly from the air conditioning. That was about all Katara could see of the room from her position.

“I assume I’m restrained for a reason.” She said to the other person in the room. 

“You are correct.” Iroh replied. Katara was quiet as she heard him close a book and push a chair back.

“I hurt someone.” She stated.

“Correct again.”

“Badly?” Her voice was small.

“I’ve had worse.” Iroh stood over her, a wide bandage taped to his cheek. 

Katara’s body went cold but her face flushed and she looked away as Iroh undid the light restraints. 

“A moment of psychosis, which is common with PTSD, but more extreme than I think anyone was prepared.” Iroh continued. “I thought this was a bit much but everyone is... a little on edge right now.”

When the restraints were off, Katara rubbed her wrist lightly. There was still dried blood under one of her fingernails. 

“Is Zuko okay?” She asked, staring at her wrist.

“My nephew is physically fine, and I thank you for that.” Iroh said and Katara lowered her hands. 

As she stayed silent, Iroh continued.

“He is furious about your treatment.” 

“Well, it makes sense. I did assault you.”

Iroh chuckled and Katara finally looked over at him.

“I appreciate the sentiment, but actually it’s because of Azula.” He said.

“What?” Katara balked and Iroh laughed again.

“Until what happened yesterday is sorted, you technically assaulted the princess of the Fire Nation. I’m just a pardoned traitor after all.” He explained.

“That’s completely ridiculous.” Katara said, her eyes going flat.

She jumped upright as the bedroom door slammed open. Iroh stood in front of her, but Katara peered around him.

Zuko stood in the doorway, his hand smoking on the door and his robe undone.

“She’s awake.” He said.

“How-” Katara started as Iroh stepped aside. But Zuko crossed the room in long strides and grabbed her. 

“Let’s go.” He said, hefting her into his arms.

“Zuko!” Iroh bellowed as Zuko headed toward the window. Katara wrapped her arms around his neck, her heart galloping under her ribs.

“I won’t let them arrest you.” He said, flinging the curtains to the side. 

Iroh grabbed his arm as Zuko lifted a leg, seemingly getting ready to kick out the window. 

“You idiot, they’re not going to arrest her!” He snapped.

“You gave him too much!” Rohan’s voice came from outside of the bedroom and Katara clung tighter to Zuko.

“I’m sorry!” Thuy cried. “I didn’t know you used it to raise the dead!”

“Zuko.” Katara said softly, cupping his cheek with a hand. 

He stilled and looked down at her. 

“It’s alright, my love.” She said and smiled. 

Zuko nodded and let her down, almost immediately crumpling at her feet. 

This time she kept her composure and, as Rohan and Thuy barreled into the room, Katara laid Zuko on his back.

“Did you give him adrenaline or something?” Katara asked, looking to Iroh as she pointed to the teapot at the table he had been sitting at.

“Worse. Airroot.” Rohan said. 

Katara checked Zuko’s pulse and nearly scoffed at the rapid beat. It wasn’t anything alarming; it was equitable to having made an all out sprint. 

“He’ll be okay. Firebenders have a natural resistance to poisons and drugs like these. Their metabolism is crazy.” She said, smiling at Iroh as he handed her the teapot. Still feeling tired, she poured the contents over Zuko, using her bending to cool the liquid and spread it into a flat puddle. 

“Oh thank Tui and La.” Thuy sighed, slumping down on the floor with her back against the bed. 

“Now,” Katara prompted as she focused her attention on Zuko’s liver. “Can someone tell me how much trouble I’m in?”

Chapter Text

The Earth Kingdom royal palace was far more ornate on the inside than the fortress appearance suggested. Yet the rooms were still cavernous and the space echoed with the angry voices. They became like a cloud as the rage swirled, sucking up the air underneath. 

Everyone stared at Zuko and Katara. 

Zuko looked at her and nodded.

“I reject the authority of the White Lotus to hear this case.” Katara stated, keeping her eyes on the handful of people in green. “But I also reject the idea that a council be created with fifty-six seats for the Earth Kingdom.” 

“You are not represented in this case!” One king called out. 

“Not in this one. But this is about precedent, and I will not allow such an indecent grab for power.” Katara said.

“That is why you must allow the White Lotus to take this.” Arnook interjected and Katara’s eyes fluttered.

“We already represent all of the nations.” He finished and Katara turned on him.

“I am your Queen.” She stated. “Blessed by Tui herself.” 

Arnook shrank from her and Katara felt a pang of remorse. Still, it wasn’t the time for squabbling; the world was falling apart in an empty dining hall. 

“Perhaps we should consult the Avatar-” Tenzin started and Zuko stepped up.

“The Avatar is an arbiter, not a diplomat.” He said.

“The Avatar is also still in training.” Toph added, snapping the end of her white cane against the floor. “And if you bag of dusty farts are trying to strongarm a child into picking your team to be the bestest, most importantest bag of dusty farts, I will personally challenge each and every one of you to arm wrestle over it.” 

Zuko snorted and Katara sighed, repressing her urge to roll her eyes. 

“Why are you even here? The Beifongs don’t run a city-state.” Someone too far back to be seen said.

But Toph didn’t need to see. She tapped her foot and smiled.

“Oh, is that you Gyuhwan? Didn’t you borrow money in order to cause that whole mess a few years back so you inherited your kingdom over your older, and frankly smarter, brother?” Toph asked. “Should we talk about how much you owe right now?”

“This is not a game.” Another queen seethed, but Kuei held up a hand, holding his chin with the other.

“No wait, I want to hear this.” 

“Sire.” Queen Liu spoke up and Kuei faced her. “Perhaps we should listen to what the High Queen has to say?” 

“Of course, of course.” Kuei said and turned to Katara, gesturing with a magnanimity that grated on her. “Please, continue.”

Forcing the grumble back down her throat, Katara took a breath. 

“The White Lotus sought to become advisors to the Avatar, and that failed.” Katara said. “Their request to become a global council is a ludicrous request of a consolation prize.”

“If you think that’s what this is,” Piandao said, his voice honed with a dark edge. “Then you must not think highly of us at all.”

Katara rolled her head over and glanced at him, indifferent.

“I don’t.” She stated.

Zuko made a pained noise next to her and Katara sighed again.

“You all did a great job being the shadowy organization that spied on the Fire Nation and kept Iroh alive, however, I don’t think your plan involved a group of teenagers sinking the Fire Nation fleet.” She retorted. 

Turning back to Kuei and the Earth Kingdom contingency, Katara composed herself. 

“Zuko needs to be recognized by some sort of international agency in order to keep the situation in the Fire Nation from escalating into another civil war. Clearly, it should involve the heads of state and not a secret cabal with no oversight.” She said.

“So you’re connected to one of the heads of state, who you’re asking us to confirm, yet also restrict full representation of the Earth Kingdom?” The first king to speak perked up again and Katara scowled.

“Fifty-six seats is completely asinine.” She said.

Zuko touched her arm and Katara huffed.

“The Water Tribe would be one seat, with three tribes. The Air Nomads have four temples but would have one seat. The United Republic isn’t under Fire Nation jurisdiction, rightfully so,” Zuko added quickly. “And I would have one seat. Even if Katara and I consistently voted the same, we can still be countered by the Earth Kingdom.”

“But one seat for fifty-six states?” The minor king repeated.

“Sire.” Queen Liu spoke up again and Kuei was attentive to her. The power of Omashu was not to be trifled with it seemed. 

“There is that other matter.” She said. Kuei looked at her silently for a few seconds, and then his eyes went wide and he hit his palm lightly with a fist. 

“Oh, yes!” Kuei then turned his bright gaze to Katara. “I will agree to your terms if I am made Emperor.”

“Emperor?” Katara asked as the green contingency behind Kuei exploded. 

“Of what Empire?” Zuko questioned.

“Of the Earth Empire of course. I already have authority over all the city-kingdoms, this just makes it more formal.” Kuei said. 

“Sire!” Multiple voices rang out but Kuei seemed to not hear them. 

“That’s...still concerning.” Zuko said.

“You see how that’s worse, right?” Katara asked.

Kuei looked shocked and waved his hands. 

“No, no, I don’t have any sort of colonizing ambitions.” He said and Zuko made another noise. “I had enough of war after all that business with Ozai.

“No, I just think it would have been harder for the Fire Nation to invade if I had more authority over my empire.” Kuei clarified, as if he had been explaining how to boil water. 

“Okay.” Katara replied, just as simply, and held out her hand. Kuei took it with a small chortle, finding the gesture amusing, and they shook hands. 

“Now,” Kuei said, clapping his hands together. “We need to discuss Ozai’s execution.”

“Pardon?!” Zuko shouted. 

That night, after Katara had dressed for bed, she stepped out onto the attached balcony. Vaulting up and onto the low siding, she twisted around to grab the edge of the roof. Pulling herself up, Katara scrambled onto the still warm clay shingles.

Zuko was already there.

“Is that how it’s always been?” Katara asked as she laid down. 

“What?” Zuko asked.

“People who’ve never been outside of any palace walls drawing lines all over a map and calling it a day?”

Zuko looked up at the evening sky, took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. A small flame, resembling a kazoo for its size and placement in his mouth, erupted between his lips. When the breath was gone the flame extinguished without a wisp of smoke. 

“Pretty much.” He admitted. “It was that kind of thing that got me into my first Agni Kai.” 

Katara was quiet for a moment, her eyes tracing the few constellations she could remember of the northern sky. 

“How far away do you think my old apartment is from here?” She asked.

“The one I helped you move into?” Zuko asked, sounding close to shocked.

Katara smiled and nodded, putting her hands under her head.

“Wow.” He breathed. After a few seconds, he spoke again. “I have no idea.”

“What about the Ice Blossom?” Katara asked.

“Or the Jasmine Dragon?” Zuko chuckled and rolled his head side to side. “Blazes, it’s all right there in the middle ring, isn’t it?”

“And only a year ago, that’s where we were.”

“A year?”

“Almost.” Katara said.

“Spirits, it feels like so much longer.” He murmured

“A lot has happened.” 

“And it looks like there’s more to come.” Zuko’s hand found hers and he squeezed it. 

“Congratulations, by the way.” Katara said.

“Thanks. Can’t wait to plan my coronation while also finding appropriate jail cells for my father and sister.” Zuko said and rolled his eyes, wiggling the fingers of his free hand in the air. As Katara laughed, he lowered it, resting it on his abdomen. 

“Ba Sing Se is insane.” Katara said with a sigh.

“But I’m glad we were here.”

“Me too.”

They rolled towards each other and kissed lightly. Zuko’s lips were still so warm. 

“I heard there’s a great cavern here. Absolutely teeming with crystals.” He whispered, shifting fully onto his side and running his fingers through her hair. 

“We don’t have the best luck with caverns and crystals.” Katara noted.

“No, we got trapped twice with Omashu’s caverns and crystals.” Zuko corrected.

“Twice?”

“The museum?”

“That was in Ba Sing Se.”

“It was an Omashu exhibit.”

“I think that means Ba Sing Se is included in this crystal cavern conspiracy.”

“Oh that was some amazing alliteration.”

Katara laughed as Zuko pulled her closer. 

“I’d get trapped with you anywhere.” He added. 

“Even in ice?” Katara asked. 

Zuko cradled her cheek and pressed the side of his face to hers, holding her to him. 

“My heart burns for you.” He whispered into her ear. “It could do with a little ice.”

Katara kissed his jaw, making him pull away to kiss her properly. 

“I wish we were in the same room.” She sighed.

“Me too. But you know why not.” Zuko replied, sounding pained.

“We literally helped create an empire today.” Katara muttered. “I think sharing a bed is a non-issue.”

“But it is.”

“That’s dumb.”

“I love you.”

“I love you.”

Under the stars, in the Upper Ring, Zuko kissed Katara for the thousandth time. 

Chapter Text

Katara stood in the garden watching as Thuy paced back and forth, a large boulder floating beside her. As she walked, Thuy chewed on her thumbnail and mumbled under her breath.

“I don’t understand the problem.” Katara said.

“I have aphantasia Katara!” Thuy cried and flung her arms out. The boulder went flying, thankfully crashing into the outer garden wall and not the palace. 

“And that means?”

“It means I have no inner eye. I can’t plan anything out.” Thuy replied, her voice thin as she whined.

“No I get that. I just don’t understand why we’re terraforming.” Katara said. 

“Because it has to be perfect.” Thuy froze patches on the pond to walk across, heading toward the boulder. Katara held the stepping stones of ice as she followed. 

“You can just ask him.” Katara stepped onto the grass and watched as Thuy pried the boulder loose. As it popped free, she then attempted to smooth away the dent in the rock wall. 

“He’s the Fire Lord. It’s a little bit different than asking people who are expecting it.” Thuy muttered.

“I just don’t think you need to go through all this trouble. Zuko would be happy to do it.” 

“You haven’t seen him since he became Fire Lord. He’s all grumpy and stressed out now.” 

Katara flinched at Thuy’s words. “I have seen him!” 

“I meant in person.” Thuy turned and trotted back across the pond. It took a minute before Katara followed.

It was true, she hadn’t seen Zuko in the months since his coronation. She was still technically being trained, and Zuko now officially had his kingdom to run. Plus, with Ozai and Azula in prison, he was under a lot of emotional stress. 

They had talked it out over their video chats, but time was scarce for both of them. Katara was only here in the Fire Nation because it was Thuy’s birthday; she had missed his birthday a few weeks prior. What felt like her attempt to make up for it, the ever romantic Thuy wasn’t kidding about what she had said in the Avatar State. She was clearly showering Zuko with her favor, and now Katara wondered how much of it was an unnecessary bribe. 

A lot of people were reading into Thuy’s birthday party plans. The televised Agni Kai had in fact almost caused an international incident. The Fire Lord had openly attacked the Avatar, which was generally frowned upon. And while Zuko had triumphed, Ozai’s betrayal left a sour taste in every leader’s mouth; they had been dealing with Fire Nation turmoil for a hundred years after all. 

Since the fight, Thuy was attached to Zuko. She frequently commented on their shared ancestry; his through blood and hers through reincarnation. Whenever Toph would let her off for a break, Thuy would travel to the Fire Nation to see a show or visit a beach. It had gotten to a point where rumors were flying that Zuko was set to become her official master. 

Such a practice had been abolished after what happened to Kyoshi.

It was wildly unusual - the Avatar’s master was always a Bender of their birth element - and this perceived power shift made people nervous. And if Zuko was a different person, Katara could understand the fear. But as he wasn’t a sinister person, the favoritism ended up saving him since he had no interest in political machinations. 

Tonight was going to upend those rumors at her birthday party. She was planning on asking Zuko to become her firebending instructor and her official residence was going to be on the literal middle ground: Avatar Island in the United Republic. 

Now, Thuy was upset that the garden where her party was being held wasn’t perfect. 

Katara spent hours helping her adjust the landscape as much as she could. Toph wandered out for a moment and stood on the ground, watching them in the strange way she did. Finally, after a few frustrated minutes, Toph finally walked out and started doing the heavy lifting. 

The Earthbender was terse, but funny. As Thuy kept pointing out things, Toph kept reminding her that she was blind. Thuy responded by stamping her feet and yelling “YOU KNOW WHAT I MEANT.” 

“Do it yourself then Wet Wipe.” Toph would retort and Katara couldn’t help but laugh.

By the time the landscaping was how Thuy wanted it and she went inside to get dressed, Katara was exhausted. She and Toph sat on the deck; Katara watched the palace staff bring out tables and chairs while Toph chewed on a piece of dried grass. 

“She’s a good kid.” Toph said suddenly, flicking the grass onto the ground and rubbing it into the dirt with her heel. 

“She really is.” Katara agreed. 

“You gotta stop babying her if you’re going to be her master though.” Toph went on.

“Me? I’m not her master.” Katara said, looking at her in confusion.

“You sure? Who else is supposed to teach her to behave all upstanding and everything?” 

“That’s usually someone who knew the previous Avatar. So, probably Tenzin.” Katara shook her head. “But Avatars don’t take a master any more.” 

“I think Thuy’s gonna need it. Her parents were really smart, but the world’s changing. Borders are getting weird, loyalties are shifting.” Toph stood and kicked up a small mound of dirt. “I don’t think anyone in the swamp is going to understand it.” 

“And I do?”

“I think you know a lot about shifting boundaries and making unusual loyalties.” Toph remarked and turned her head. Zuko exited the palace from further down, directing people with ladders. 

Putting her foot down, Toph flattened the mound without touching it. 

“The girl needs a master.” She added and walked back inside. 

Letting her head loll back, Katara watched the clouds pass overhead. It was still light out, even as the day stretched on. It was almost summer again.

It was a very long time ago that she worked in Sokka’s flower shop.

“What are you thinking about?” Zuko asked as his face came into view. Katara smiled and raised her arms. Zuko moved himself so that she could put her arms around his neck. He lowered his head towards hers and she kissed him.

“Do you remember the first day you saw me in the flower shop?” She asked and released him. Zuko sat down beside her and looked up at the sky himself.

“Sure. You gawked at my scar.” He said and glanced at her from the corner of his eye. She sucked her teeth as he smirked. 

“You gave me a snowmelt flower.” She said.

“Did I?” 

“It’s my favorite flower.”

“Is it?” 

“So how long have you known about me?” Katara questioned.

Zuko sat up and looked at her. Silent, he took her hands and held them in his lap. 

“Sokka is really proud of you.” Zuko started, staring down at her hands. “And he would talk about you a lot. It almost felt like…”

He drifted with a light laugh before looking into her eyes. “Did you ever watch that stupid drama about a king in the Earth Kingdom and how he was tricked into marrying this lady?”

“You are going to have to smooth this over really fast Zuko.” Katara replied dryly. Zuko chuckled and lifted her hands up, kissing her knuckles. 

“There’s a noble family that has gone bankrupt so they try to get their daughter married to the king. Her cousin works at the palace and talks her up to the king every day. He ends up falling in love with this hyped up mystery woman and proposes before ever meeting her.” Zuko explained.

“So Sokka talked about me so much, he tricked you into falling in love with me?” Katara asked.

“Well, not exactly. I did have a girlfriend at the time.” He said. “I just really started to like you as a person. You were a fighter, a survivor, and then you were accepted into medical school. All I ever did was sabotage my own country and serve tea.” 

“Zuko, you are the strongest person I have ever met because when life kept handing you crap, you thought you deserved so you just took it.”

“You literally carry the bond of a spirit.”

“You survived what should have been a lethal burn to the face because of how connected you are to your bending.”

“You fought through three different countries trying to save your parents.”

“You fought your father and sister, who were trying to kill you, and didn’t want to hurt them.”

“I want to tell you you’re beautiful because of how much you love the rest of the world but I still get caught up in your eyes.”

“Well I can’t think about how much you love me because I’m terrified to admit I love you that much in return.”

They both stared at each other and, as if in a staring contest, Katara clenched her mouth shut. Still feeling the blood rise in her cheeks, she nonetheless saw Zuko’s face flush first. 

He turned away, covering his face with his hands, and he was steaming. Katara laughed and put her hand on his back.

“Come on hun, we’ve got to get ready for the party.” She said. Zuko nodded and then rubbed his face vigorously. As he stood, he pulled Katara up.

“You are the worst.” He said. Katara patted his chest and smirked.

“Get used to it.”


The party went very well. The Earth King, having basically been a shut-in, related oddly well to the equally sheltered Avatar. Tenzin and the other head monks circulated through the crowd with varying degrees of success. Rohan had shaved their head for some reason, Jinora was there with her baby, and Ikki flitted about with her new husband. Meelo was sitting at a table looking forlorn, lamenting the imprisoned Azula. 

Iroh had dragged the White Lotus members out and found some Fire Nation natives that were allies to sit as the Fire Nation contingent. But Katara could tell that Zuko felt alone, standing in his uncomfortable red robes and seeing so little reflected back.

There was a lot of blue. The majority of the party was actually split between green and blue; the people from Kyoshi Island jumping sides with the blue while the Swamp Tribe balanced things out in green. 

All of Thuy’s planning, with Katara’s envisioning ability, turned the small garden into a meandering spot. Small hills forced people around and turned them as if they were walking through a labyrinth. It helped people talk for longer as the short distance around took more steps than first assumed. 

Toph had also raised a small waterfall in the pond, using metalbending to create a vacuum system that would keep it going. Katara didn’t comment on the bending, unsure if she was supposed to know already or not. Internally, she panicked. 

The effect, with the string fairy lights in the trees and softly tinkling water, was a softer place that glowed with ambient light. Around the tables stood the large torches to keep the cool spring nights at bay, but around the pond it was certainly twilight. 

After the meal and with drinks being served - with Thuy trying, unsuccessfully, to get her hands on one - Zuko took Katara by the hand. They strolled around the grassy hillocks arm in arm and Katara was surprised by how quickly the noise dissipated. 

“What are the customs for birthdays in your tribe?” Zuko asked suddenly. Katara turned away from the party and regarded the pond. 

“There’s not a lot of ceremony that surrounds just us as humans. It’s more about celebrations of the world around us, or the spirits.” Katara replied, staring out over the water. “Things like birthdays and weddings aren’t usually very big.” 

“There are rules to birthdays here.” Zuko blanched and Katara smiled to herself. 

“It must be nice though, to have things like this.” She replied.

“The necklace is a North Pole custom, right? For engagements?” Zuko asked. Katara touched her neck and shrugged.

“So I’m told. But I don’t ever see me getting rid of it.” She replied.

“Modern conventions can sometimes be more fun than custom.” Zuko said.

“What does that mean?” Katara turned as she asked and found Zuko on a knee. “What.”

“We did talk about this.” He said, holding the box out.

“In theory!” Katara whispered sharply. Her throat tightened and tears stung her eyes, but she almost started to laugh. Zuko grinned up at her.

“I love you Katara. I thought up a lot of fancy words to say but right now I am so nervous and your face is so pretty.” He said as tears fell down his smiling face. Katara did laugh then, the choking laugh that comes with tears. 

“I love you Zuko.” She murmured and put her fingers over her mouth.

“Will you marry me?” He asked.

Her throat sealed shut, Katara could only nod. As Zuko gasped and stood, she could see his hands shaking and she laughed again.

“Yes, of course.” She finally managed.

Zuko slid the ring on her finger and Katara jumped on him, kissing him deeply.

“WOO!” Thuy yelled and Katara laughed. They both had to wipe their faces as they walked back to the tables; everyone stood and clapped for them. Feeling the blood rush to her face, Katara put her face into Zuko’s shoulder.

“Congratulations, nephew.” Iroh said as he walked up.

“Thank you uncle.” Zuko replied. 

“Let. Me. See. THE RING.” Sokka demanded and darted around Iroh. Katara still didn’t show her face but held out her hand.

“Moonstone? Spirits Zuko, you are so cheesy.” Sokka said.

“It’s what she wanted!” Zuko snapped defensively. 

“Hey Katara.” Thuy said as she slid behind Zuko.

“I thought you were going to ask Zuko to be your instructor.” Katara hissed.

“Oh I did that last week. Tonight, I just announced that you’re going to be my master!” Thuy said.

“WHAT.” Katara squawked and jolted upright. All the blood drained too quickly from her face and as everything went dark, she fainted.

Chapter Text

It was weird having other people pack her things. Granted, Katara had absolutely no free time, but it was still odd to be in the middle of a meeting and know that other people were sorting through her clothes and packing up her books. 

For the fall, she was going to stay at the Avatar’s residence in Republic City with Thuy’s instructors. While Thuy was still firmly entrenched in her earthbending training, it had been common practice that all of the instructors would live together to oversee all aspects of the Avatar’s training. 

Having spoken directly to Kyoshi, Thuy understood that Kuruk’s companions had been very close, so at first she had enjoyed living with them. Katara was optimistic about the situation, since she was at the very least friendly with everyone that would be there. 

She was less excited about Thuy’s animal guide though. A giant catgator was not ideal to keep around. 

When everything was packed and ready to go, Katara met with Rohan in the library. They still had their head shaved, but wore normal clothes. It was odd to see the blue tattoo run up the back of their head, but mostly it was due to the climate and less to do with their fashion. 

“Are you ready to go?” Katara asked. Rohan turned, holding up a heavy tome. 

“Can I take this?” They asked.

“Sure. But what is it?” She replied.

“A philosophy book. I think Meelo would like it.”

“Meelo?”

“Hey, me and my siblings are all complex and nuanced.” Rohan tucked the book under their arm with a smile. “Let’s head out.”

Since riding on Dawa months ago, Katara actually preferred it to normal flight travel if she was the only passenger. There weren’t a lot of flights in or out of the Poles, so the environmental cost was hefty each time. So when she could, Katara often asked Rohan for a ride. It helped since they were going in the same direction and Rohan had been staying in the Northern Air Temple. 

As they walked out of the palace, Katara watched them in silence for a moment.

“Rohan?”

“Hmm?”

“Did you ever get to meet Aang?”

Rohan’s eyebrows shot up but they still looked forward. 

“Well yeah. I was seven when Pop-Pop died.” They answered.

“Is it weird, being around Thuy?” Katara asked.

Rohan sighed and tilted their head from side to side.

“Sometimes. Like at her birthday party and seeing Pop sad. But he was my grandfather, you know? And he was busy with the war. Well, so was Pop. But anyway, my mom says I’m a lot like Pop-Pop so mostly I’m just glad that Thuy likes me.” They explained.

“Does Thuy talk to him?”

“Yeah, but we don’t ask.” Rohan said with a laugh. “That’s just a little too much.” 

They then sighed again and rubbed the back of their head.

“Honestly, I miss my aunt Yangzom. She idolized Avatar Kyoshi and married a Kyoshi Warrior, using the excuse of protecting her spouse as a way to wriggle around her monastic vows. She kicked serious Fire Nation butt.” They said. 

“Did she?” Katara asked.

“Yeah, she and aunt Jun died when the Fire Nation was taking a mining town.” Rohan cleared their throat before continuing. “Jun’s fans had been wrapped in orange robes.” 

“I’m sorry Rohan.” Katara said softly.

Rohan finally turned to her and smiled. “It’s fine. It’s good to speak of the dead. It lets them know we still love and honor them.” 

Katara touched her necklace and smiled back. 

“Did I tell you that I think Suki and I are related because of aunt Jun?” Rohan asked excitedly. Katara laughed and shook her head. 

Rohan talked about their family for the whole trip, and it was interesting to hear. They definitely had a different perspective on the Air Nomads than Tenzin, and it amused Katara to think of the future council meetings. 

When they arrived at Avatar Island, Thuy was there to meet them. She had grown since her party and was as tall as Katara now. As they hugged, Katara could smell the dirt in Thuy’s hair. But as she smiled she heard a threatening hiss from the ground.

“Oh stop that.” Thuy turned and put her hands on her hips, glaring down at the catgator. “You’re old friends by now.” 

“Mister Whiskers.” Katara greeted with a flat tone.

“Avatar Roku’s dragon was named Fang.” Rohan remarked playfully. “Very intimidating.”

Thuy rolled her eyes and held out her arms as she faced them.

“I was four, okay? And I didn’t have any fancy Fire Nation pride or fun Air Nomad names.” She stated. “She has whiskers and she’s dignified. Her name is Mister Whiskers.” 

“How on earth did a toddler befriend a catgator?” Katara questioned.

“Let’s just say if I wasn’t the Avatar and Mister Whiskers was a regular catgator, then she would’ve gotten me and not just Uncle Farid’s arm.” Thuy replied.

“This is bizarre.” Rohan said. Thuy pouted and knelt on the ground, wrapping her arms around Mister Whiskers’ flat head.

“Hey, Mister Whiskers ate two Fire Nation soldiers for me!” She said. Both Rohan and Katara held up their hands.

“Fair enough.” Rohan said.

“Katara!” Zuko called and Katara lifted her head. 

Of course she knew that her priority was in handling Thuy’s affairs, but she had been looking forward to this most of all. 

“Zuko!” Rohan yelled and ran to intercept him. Katara and Thuy laughed as Rohan launched themself skyward, only to have Zuko crabwalk to make sure he caught them. Landing lightly, Rohan put their arms around Zuko and said something. Zuko only shook his head and continued walking, still carrying Rohan. 

“Pop-Pop would’ve really liked you.” Rohan stated when they were all together. 

“The Avatar?” Zuko asked, dipping down to let Rohan free. 

“I already do like him.” Thuy said and then stuck out her tongue as Rohan rolled their eyes. 

“Shouldn’t you be training?” Katara asked. 

“Sifu Toph is still asleep.” Thuy said.

“We all know that’s not a real answer.” Zuko countered. Thuy stood still, trying to maintain her bluff, but finally let out a breath and ran off. Mister Whiskers moved frighteningly fast after her. 

“That thing terrifies me.” Katara announced.

“Oh yeah. You do not want to run into Mister Whiskers in the middle of the night.” Zuko said and shuddered. 

Their days were spent in a leisurely routine. Toph dominated most of Thuy’s time with rigorous training. Earthbenders usually split their time between strengthening their bodies and controlling their bending. Toph, a stout but slender woman, definitely had Thuy lifting weights, but spent more of her time teaching Thuy how to see with her feet. 

That was what made Toph an extraordinary Bender, more so than the metalbending. She was so completely in tune with her element that she didn’t need to be a bulk of muscles to do impressive feats of strength. Thuy excelled very quickly and was excited by the prospect of being able to see in the dark. 

Zuko still hovered during a lot of those training sessions as he argued with Toph about chi and specific points in the feet and hands that were important to Firebenders. As Thuy ran around without shoes, Zuko worried that she was blocking off part of her chi circulation. Toph argued that Thuy couldn’t continuously have tender feet, as that would lead to more injuries. Katara, always having to step in as a mediator, created a simple compromise; after every training session, Thuy had to go to undergo acupressure. 

Oddly enough, the best practitioner Zuko could find was one of Azula’s former friends, and there was a bit of awkwardness when Ty Lee arrived. Luckily, she, Thuy, and Rohan were all kindred spirits and she assimilated quickly.

Ty Lee and Rohan got on remarkably well in fact. When they started to disappear, Katara tried not to ask questions. 

Katara’s role hadn’t changed much from the duties she had as a queen. Instead of managing the finances and policies of the three tribes, she instead was taking a break to manage the finances and schedule of the Avatar. Gifts had to be sorted, invitations answered, and documents proofread. In the evenings, she, Zuko, and Thuy would sit together and go over various things. 

Every single city-kingdom within the Earth Kingdom was upset by this arrangement. Having two heads of state directly advise the Avatar was a terrible concept on paper. And Katara would admit that there were times that she wished she could always act in the best interests of her people instead of constantly being diplomatic. But that was what always rose to the top, for both Katara and Zuko; they wanted to guide Thuy into being the best Avatar she could be. 

In this rare time of peace, it was the best opportunity, and they both felt like they had earned this from their time in the war. 

Also, the only thing that made Thuy actually sit and listen for the whole time was their promising to talk about their wedding plans with her. 

At night, Zuko and Katara had to go their separate ways. Their unification could be a euphemism but was always a very real, tangible thing. If they were going to sleep together, it had to be approved by their people, as it would - on the stage of global politics - be two kingdoms that went to bed. 

It took Katara longer and longer to fall asleep the longer she stayed on the island. When the fall ended, she would be taking Thuy on her political visits while Zuko went back to the Fire Nation. Katara would have to visit the Swamp Tribe and leave Thuy there with Toph while she continued onto the South Pole. Then, before the spring equinox, she would have to return to the North Pole.

Never would it feel like going home. 

With Katara’s new position, Sokka felt more comfortable closing the shop. It was actually preferable as his business had exploded; many wealthy patrons were obviously trying to buy access to the Avatar but Sokka was smart. He and Suki had visited a handful of times already and brought piles of gifts for Thuy; all of which had been distributed to various organizations or charities and the presenters had been sent a lovely thank you note from Thuy.

Still, all in all the palace was a lonely place. It made Sokka feel weird and he made a point of avoiding the Spirit Oasis. But at the South Pole, everyone treated her differently. Katara had wanted what Sokka had, a quiet life doing enjoyable work. Instead, she ruled a kingdom split over three continents. 

With a heavy sigh, Katara threw off her blanket and got out of bed. The light of the full moon trickled in from her blinds and light enough of a path for her to make it to her door. 

The hallway felt the same way her body did; dry, warm, and in need of a tall glass of water. But as she made her way down to the kitchens, she heard someone clattering around.

Expecting to find Rohan rummaging through the pantry, Katara leaped into the doorway with a yell.

Zuko dropped a teapot and swore colorfully. 

“Oh no! I’m sorry, I thought you were Rohan.” Katara said and rushed into the kitchen. Zuko knelt down and picked up the pieces of the teapot.

“It’s okay. I know how to repair this.” He said and stood up, holding the large pieces in his hands. He looked at them, tilting his hands slightly to catch the light in the outer glaze.

“What I love about Kintsugi is that the beauty comes from the fixing, not from the damage itself.” Zuko looked up at her and Katara suddenly felt embarrassed. 

“So, want some tea?” He asked as he walked over to the counter.

“Sure, but why are you up so late?” Katara replied and followed him. 

“Couldn’t sleep.”

Katara pushed herself up onto the counter and watched Zuko make tea. There was an electric kettle with settings for different types of tea, but Zuko chose a metal kettle and heated it himself. It was a slow process and Katara flicked her gaze from his face to his hands.

“Why do you bend like that?” She questioned. Zuko looked up at her, confused.

“Like what?”

“Like you’re not a Firebender. You don’t do a lot of, you know,” Katara paused to make quick, jabbing punches in the air. “Firebender stuff.”

“I absolutely still do a lot of that.” Zuko retorted, clearly offended. “I am and will always be a true Firebender.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant, you’re very,” Katara struggled to find the right word and strained over it. “Adaptable?” 

Zuko looked down at the kettle, staring at it intensely. After a moment, he decided the water was hot enough and set it on the stove to prepare a new teapot. 

“I am going to tell you something I have never told anyone.” He said as he opened up a cupboard.

Gripping the edge of the counter, Katara stayed quiet. Zuko rummaged through the cupboard and pulled out a tea tin, examining its label before replacing it.

“I met Avatar Aang.” He said. 

Katara still stayed quiet and Zuko pulled out another tea tin, approving of its label and prying open the lid. 

“It was just before he died. He came to the palace to speak to my grandfather. I was nine, so obviously I wasn’t allowed to officially meet him since he was trying to persuade my grandfather to stop the war.” Zuko scoffed and scooped tea into the teapot’s strainer. “I was only the son of the second born prince of the Fire Lord. I was a nobody.”

“And now you’re the Fire Lord, making his own tea in the Avatar’s house.” Katara interjected. Zuko chuckled and pointed the tea scoop at her.

“A vast improvement to be sure.” He said. He then continued making the tea and with his story.

“I snuck out that night while they were all at dinner. I remember my main reason for doing so was because we had to eat vegetarian since Aang was and I didn’t know what that meant.” Zuko poured water into the teapot and slid on the lid. 

“Well, they had all been arguing and suddenly out comes this really old guy. I mean, he looked better than my grandfather, but ancient was ancient. He seemed really angry and I wasn’t supposed to be out of bed, so I was terrified. I thought he was going to drag me into the dining hall or something.” Zuko shook his head and leaned against the counter next to where Katara sat, crossing his arms over his chest. “But instead, when he saw me, he just smiled. He knelt down and introduced himself to me, looking very interested in what a nine-year-old nobody had to say. And then, I’ll never forget this, he put his hand on my shoulder and looked directly at me and said, ‘Zuko, be better than them.’ And then he got up and walked away.”

Zuko paused for a moment, staring off into space, and then turned around to pour the tea. He spoke as he handed Katara her cup.

“He sent me a gift for my tenth birthday a few weeks later. Aang had written on the inside of the wrapping paper, saying he hoped I’d be friends with the next Avatar. He had died while the gift was in transit.” He concluded. 

“How did that impact your bending?” Katara asked, rolling the teacup gently between her hands. 

“Azula was always a better Firebender than me. But I could be a better Bender. I could be like the Avatar and respect all of the elements and use their teachings to live a more harmonious life.” Zuko brought his teacup to his lips but hesitated, suddenly laughing. “I mean, as a kid it was all because I thought I had some grand destiny and was a self important idiot. But during the war, my uncle really helped me get my head sorted and I was able to put it together.” 

They drank their tea and Katara sighed in contentment. 

“What are you going to do when you go home?” She asked.

“What do you mean? I am home.” Zuko replied. He set down his teacup and held Katara’s hand as she set hers down before sliding off the counter.

“I’ve put out the fire wall in the throne room, dismantled statues, and closed up other manors. I have the palace, and I have you. One for work, and one for home.” He continued softly, holding onto her chin. He kissed her and Katara’s breath fluttered in her chest.

A door opened nearby and Katara jumped, making them both laugh even as voices approached. Rohan and Ty Lee walked into the kitchen and stared.

“It’s about time you two got back.” Katara snapped. Ty Lee looked mortified while Rohan just laughed. 

“What are you old farts doing up so late? It’s way past your bedtime.” They retorted.

“You’re three years younger than me.” Zuko said. 

“And yet you act like my Pop.” Rohan clicked their tongue while shaking their head. “What a waste of youth.”

“Did you want any tea?” Katara asked.

“Sure!” Ty Lee chirped. Rohan went around to rummage through the pantry and found a bag of cookies, turning the quiet moment into a midnight tea party. That woke up Thuy and Toph, making the whole thing an event. They laughed and chatted, mostly about a new video game Rohan and Thuy were playing. At one point, Zuko took Katara’s hand and squeezed it. A gentle reminder that they were home. 

Chapter Text

Katara sat in her office after breakfast, sorting through all of the correspondence that had flooded in for Thuy. It always surprised her how much obvious bribery went on and, as she sliced open a letter, she watched dispassionately as an ornate broach fell from the packet. Both broach and letter went into the donation pile, and Katara frowned at the growing number of thank you cards she was going to have to write with thinly veiled reproach. 

Before she could even make a dent, Zuko knocked lightly at the door. The others had gone out to watch Thuy at her earthbending practice.

“Come in.” Katara called from behind her desk, reaching for another letter.

“How’s it going?” Zuko asked.

“About the usual.” She replied.

Zuko put his hands on the desk, leaning over it so he could kiss her. She relished the soft pressure of his lips against hers and the brief scent of shampoo when his hair slid forward. 

“Want to go see Thuy?” He asked, still leaning toward her. Katara, angled forward herself, smiled and watched his mouth.

“I really should get through all this.” She said.

“But then how can I show off in front of my fiancee?” Zuko asked.

Katara kissed him again and then rose from her seat.

“Alright.” She said. “Let’s go.”

Large nets surrounded the training grounds, in anticipation of future inexperienced Avatars. Rohan and Ty Lee were outside of the nets, sitting on one of the few benches at the perimeter. Zuko, still feeling some sort of way about his sister’s friend, sat next to Rohan. Katara wandered closer to the next, watching Thuy and Toph spar.

“Welcome to the cage match!” Rohan said and Katara snorted.

“It does look a little bit like Toph’s arena.” She said, not turning around. 

“Could you imagine what other element arenas would look like?” Rohan asked. 

Katara tilted her head, thinking. 

“I mean, we all know what an Agni Kai is.” Zuko replied dryly.

“Okay, we’re not talking duels, but actual, like, bouts.” Rohan countered.

“I don’t think anyone dies at pro bending.” Ty Lee added. 

“I think it’d all be the same concept right? Like trying to knock the other person out of the ring. But maybe with more obstacles.” Katara said, finally turning.

“I like that idea actually.” Ty Lee said.

“What if you had to face off against a bender of another element?” Rohan asked.

“Well, then it’s not really a show of skill at all. The forms are different.” Zuko countered.

“Sure, but it’s like that one trading card game. You know, it was super popular with kids a decade ago. Aw nuts, I’m blanking on the name.” Rohan snapped their fingers, looking at Ty Lee.

“I know what you’re talking about. The one with the energy rat.” Zuko said.

“That’s it!” Rohan clapped their hands and turned back to Zuko. “So Thuy is going to have a hard time with airbending because it’s the most unlike her birth style. Earth is mildly frustrating, but fire should be a piece of cake.”

“I wouldn’t say that.” Zuko replied dryly.

“I’ve seen you move, you’re like a secret Waterbender.” Rohan stated.

“That’s not usual Rohan.” Ty Lee said. 

Rohan looked at her, confused. “No?”

Ty Lee shook her head and they turned back to Zuko.

“I knew we rubbed off on you, but I didn’t think it was that much.” They said.

“My uncle taught me other forms. He said it would make me more balanced.” Zuko said. 

“And? Are you balanced?” Katara asked.

“Want to see?” Zuko asked, sounding coy. The energy shifted and Katara felt her face warm.

“Yeah, let’s go, you and me.” She said, putting more confidence in her voice to cover how he had turned her spine into jelly. 

Zuko stood and started to unbutton his shirt as he walked to the fencing.

“Hey Beifong!” He called. 

The clattering earth stopped and Zuko waited, still carefully removing his shirt.

“Her feet are fine Lord Bunsen Burner!” Toph yelled back.

“I was more wondering if you’d let us use the field.” Zuko said. He fully removed his shirt, folding it over his arm. His undershirt was tight and Katara, aware of the audience, forced herself not to stare. 

Thuy and Toph conferred for a moment.

“Why?” Toph asked.

“Sparring match.”

“With Wet Wipe?”

“With Katara.”

“WITH MASTER KATARA?” Thuy shouted.

“Ditches and pits girl, lower your voice!” Toph snapped.

“Sorry Sifu.” Thuy replied. 

“Yeah, that’s fine. I’d like a chance to witness what it is you keep going on about.” Toph said, starting toward the door of the fencing. “Find out if all of Ty Lee’s hard work is for a purpose.” 

Zuko tossed his shirt over an empty bench as he and Katara walked to meet them. Thuy was nearly bouncing in excitement when they met at the door. 

“Water?” Toph asked, sounding more like a prompt.

“I’m fine Sifu.” Thuy chirped.

“No, I meant go and get your Master some water to work with, you walnut.” Toph retorted.

“Oh!” Thuy looked alarmed and then darted off. 

“You don’t have to be so hard on her.” Katara said.

“Why not? Everyone else is falling over themselves to kiss her backside.” Toph replied, shoving Katara lightly to the side. 

Zuko and Katara went into the caged field. Pausing to kiss her cheek, Zuko was quiet as he jogged to the middle and started stretching. He was clearly taking this seriously.

Thuy returned to the door of the fencing carrying two large and battered buckets filled with water. Katara wondered where on earth she had even found those.

“Thank you Thuy.” Katara said.

“Of course Auntie!” Thuy replied cheerfully and darted away before Katara could reprimand her. 

“Ready?” Zuko asked as Katara walked over. 

“Let’s go.” She said, dropping the buckets.

The moment the metal bottoms hit the ground, Katara pulled the water up around her. The force of it actually kept the buckets momentarily suspended, but fell with a dull clatter. 

Thinking back to their late night talk, Katara couldn’t help the wry smile as she watched him take a more traditional Firebender stance. 

Firebending always seemed more like fencing to her, and Katara pulled her water around Zuko’s sides playfully, testing his open sides. He was fast, though, and get under her attacks before she could refocus. He was taking it far too seriously.

Very quickly, they fell into step. Remembering their dance at her coronation, Katara smiled freely as they stepped in close. Zuko would feint and flicker, but Katara was patient. In a one on one battle, fire was meant to injure, so Zuko had little in the way of movement to test her. On the other hand, Katara was used to larger fights with multiple assailants, so finding a way to fine tune her approach took time. They danced together, testing for weaknesses and vulnerabilities. As they got in close, Zuko winked at her, and Katara faltered on her heel. 

“I’ve seen musk sloths move faster than you!” Toph yelled.

“You can’t see at all!” Katara yelled back. 

“Yeah but I can and this is BORING.” Rohan added.

A gust blew them back, with Katara immediately pulling a frozen shield across herself and Zuko. 

“A new challenger approaches!” Rohan stated, standing in front of them. 

“Shall we?” Zuko asked, holding out his hand.

Zuko relaxed and Katara found herself relying on his style in order to free her movements. Rohan seemed more interested in dodging, which was easier since they weren’t bound by any physical need to stay on the ground. 

And it was all fun and games, until the Earthbender attacked.

Toph jumped in, deciding that a sparring match had to actually involve sparring. When Rohan still wouldn’t get pinned down, Toph decided to change the game.

Avatar versus the four nations.

Thuy, having not even started Firebending or Airbending, was summarily chased around the fenced field. Katara, feeling for her bending kin, took her side, while Zuko ran interference.

Knowing she wasn’t getting anywhere, Toph called it and yanked Rohan out of the air after they made the mistake of bumping into one of the protruding earth columns. The two of them then called over Thuy, and they started planning something.

Zuko avoided the benches, and instead sat down against the fence as he watched the others. Katara groaned as she fell next to him, leaning against his shoulder. They were both sweating and smelled like dirt, both wet and charred. 

Throwing his arm over her shoulder, Zuko pulled her close and kissed her hair quickly. Hating the warmth of his skin against hers, Katara still relaxed against him, not wanting to move. 

“I am going to be so sore.” He said. 

“I can fix that.” Katara said. 

“Look at them, disgusting.” Zuko said, jokingly. 

Still, Katara looked at the trio in confusion.

“What?” She asked.

“This is all they have to do. No leaving to run a country, just playing tag with the Avatar.” 

“Oh, that.” Katara remarked. “Yeah, that does suck.”

“Doesn’t it?” Zuko rubbed her arm, but his fingers pressed into her skin in a familiar way.

“We can’t.” She whispered.

“Can’t…?” Zuko turned to her and, upon seeing her face, blushed deeply.

“Ah.” He added and cleared his throat. “Right.”

“I swear, every time you practice, you get like this.” Katara said, laughing. 

Still blushing, Zuko smiled and kept his gaze averted. 

“My blood’s hot, what can I say?” He replied. 

“That’s not where your bending comes from.” Katara countered. “It’s more here.”

She pressed the tips of her fingers against his abdomen and Zuko held her hand, pressing it against his chest. 

“And yours?” Zuko asked softly, leaning toward her.

“Would you two please get a room?” Toph shouted. “I can feel your weird vibes from here!” 

“I’m pretty sure Zuko’s gonna spontaneously combust if he has to wait much longer.” Rohan said.

“Does that happen?” Thuy gasped.

“According to some urban legends, yeah.” Ty Lee answered, moving to the fence to get closer. 

“Could that happen to me? I’m going to be a Firebender too.” Thuy asked.

Zuko grumbled as he stood up, but Katara snorted. 

“I don’t know, who are you dating, young lady?” Rohan asked.

“There’s a guy that keeps hanging around my school. I guess I know why now.” Toph said.

“Sifu!” Thuy shouted. 

Zuko held out his hand and Katara took it, standing as he pulled her up. 

“I need a shower.” He said.

“We both do.” Katara replied.

“Oh come on!” Toph yelled. “Just leave already!”

“Don’t have to tell me twice.” Zuko said, giving Katara’s hand a firm squeeze.

“They’ll probably be distracted for awhile.” Ty Lee said, as the pair came through the door. “It looks like Rohan is drawing diagrams in the dirt.”

“Hmm.” Zuko grunted, not looking at Ty Lee.

“Just make sure Thuy gets her acupuncture and I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Katara said lightly. 

Ty Lee patted the pouch clipped to her belt and Katara smiled. Then Zuko yanked her away, heading purposefully back to the house.

“Zuko? Your shirt?” She asked.

“I’ve got plenty.” Zuko said shortly.

“We don’t have to rush.”

“You owe me some healing.” Zuko said and glanced over his shoulder. His gold eyes glinted and the edge of his gaze was a razor in her lungs. 

She wondered if she would ever get used to him like this.

Chapter Text

Now, her palms sweating as she clenched her hands into fists, she watched as Zuko stood talking to Jinora. Her Sky Bison stood as a backdrop and there was plenty of activity around, but Zuko chatted easily with the woman. 

It wasn’t Jinora making Katara feeling this sick. The woman was beautiful and looked serene even as her baby was shrieking in her arms. Zuko smiled and peered into the bundle, offering a wiggling finger. 

No, it was the very fact she was there that was upsetting.

Katara had watched the day approach and dreaded every solitary moment. It had gotten so bad that for the past few nights the awful nightmares that had plagued her after the war returned. She was constantly trying to reach someone but couldn’t run fast enough.

Making herself walk over, Katara smiled uneasily at Jinora.

“Oh, Katara, I’m glad to see you!” Jinora said, turning to look at her. She always did that, gave her full attention to whomever she was speaking. It made Katara feel shy and her sick feeling passed. 

“Hi Jinora.” Katara said softly and then smiled at her baby. “How is Bumi the Second?” 

“I still think-” Zuko started but stopped with a broad smile as Jinora whipped her head around to glare at him.

“King Bumi wasn’t family, Uncle Bumi was the first in our family, and that’s not how names work Zuko.” She said vehemently and Zuko chuckled. Jinora then sighed and turned back to Katara.

“Did you want to hold her?” She asked. Katara nodded and held out her hands. Handing her over, Jinora arched her neck as she watched Katara support Bumi’s head. 

“She’s beautiful.” Katara murmured as she instinctively began to sway. Bumi calmed, offering the faintest of rebukes. 

“Thank you.” Jinora replied and smoothed down the downy tufts of hair on Bumi’s head. 

“You look good with a baby.” Zuko stated and Katara gave him a chilled look.

“We’ve got plenty of time for that.” She retorted and he laughed. 

“Congratulations by the way.” Jinora said. 

“Thanks.” Zuko and Katara said at the same time. Katara laughed and handed Bumi back to Jinora.

“I’ll give you two a minute, but we are going to have to leave soon.” Jinora said. Zuko nodded and held up a hand in goodbye as Jinora walked down the hill. Katara watched her go and realized Rohan had arrived; they were going to be taking Toph, Thuy, and Katara on Thuy’s trip back to the swamp. 

With a sigh, Katara crossed her arms over her chest and watched as the siblings greeted each other. 

“Hey.” Zuko said softly. Katara didn’t turn and Zuko embraced her from behind, covering her arms with his own.

“We’ll see each other soon.” He said and pushed his face into her hair.

“Stop.” Katara said flatly. Zuko nudged past her hair and kissed the back of her neck. He then moved to rest his chin on her shoulder. 

“I don’t want our last moments to be sad.” He said.

“But I am sad.” Katara replied quickly. 

“So am I.”

“Well.”

Katara was sulking, and she knew it. But she couldn’t stop it either. Her emotions often got the better of her, sucking her down or rocketing her skyward. No one ever complained when she was happy, but it’s hard to maintain something when it’s only enforced some of the time.

So now she was sad, and it was a smothering kind of sadness. 

“I love you.” Zuko said and Katara straightened. He wasn’t pleading or needling her. He just stated it as he usually did.

“I’m being a brat.” She replied.

“I mean, kind of, but I don’t think you like being left.” Zuko said. “And that’s not something that should be dismissed as bratty.”

Katara leaned away to turn so she could look at Zuko’s face. He looked, normal.

“What?” She asked.

“I’m the same way, a little bit. I don’t like it when people disappear for no reason.” Zuko let go of her and stepped back. “When Mai and I were younger and she was mad at me, she’d ghost me. I’d freak out, because I start to think the worst and that I did something horrible. Luckily, she realized how awful that was and stopped.” 

“I can’t stop you from leaving.” Katara said. Zuko took her hands lightly in his, jostling them as he smiled at her.

“No, but we can work on this. You know, cope.” He said.

“Cope.” Katara repeated, her tone bland.

“I won’t go into the whole thing, but there are three statements I need to make.” Zuko said and squeezed her hands.

“Okay.” 

“One, I understand that this is hard for you and that there isn’t an easy fix for it. Do you believe me?”

“Yes.”

“Two, I am sorry that I’m leaving you and I love you very much. Do you trust that?”

Katara was silent for a moment before answering. “Yes.”

“And third, the truth is that we are going to talk a lot over the next few months and we can find a way to make the time pass quickly. We will see each other soon and nothing is changing between us, even with the distance.” Zuko said firmly and then brought up her hands, kissing her fingers. “Do you trust me?”

Sniffling, Katara nodded. Zuko pulled her arms over his shoulders and they hugged. Pressing her face into the nape of his neck, Katara sniffed to keep her face from leaking all over him.

“I’ll call you tonight.” Zuko said and kissed the side of her head. “Okay?”

Katara nodded against him and then stepped away.

“Okay.” She mumbled and Zuko kissed her. He smoothed the hair away from her face, then kept his hands on her cheeks. 

“I like how you think you’re somehow not special enough to keep my attention while I’m worried about you mingling with those barely dressed people.” He said. 

Katara struggled not to smile, pulling her head back but Zuko kept his hold of her, making her cheeks bulge forward. 

“I like how you assume I’m not freaking out about you looking stunning among the ice while I’m surrounded by stuffy ministers.” Zuko said more adamantly, making Katara laugh in a shuddering way.

“Zuko!” She said, her lips pursed while she still struggled to pull away.

“I am just tickled that you believe I’m not concerned about you living with all those Waterbender guys.”

Just before she dissolved into laughter, Zuko dipped in and kissed her again. They embraced again and Katara sighed when Zuko moved to press his lips against her cheek. 

“There’s only one sun in the sky.” Katara said.

“There absolutely better be beloved.” Zuko growled into her ear. She giggled, but shivered before they broke away. 

“That’s enough you two.” Rohan called. Zuko and Katara turned to see them and Jinora walking back up. 

It was time to go.

Chapter Text

During the two day trip to the Foggy Swamp, Katara had to disconnect from her role as Thuy’s Master and step back into her work as Queen. This visit had nothing to do with the Avatar as she needed to meet with the Matriarch of the Swamp Tribe, and Thuy was simply going home. Toph, as her current instructor, was always going to come along but was herself interested in seeing the swamp. 

For someone who invented metalbending, Toph was certainly very interested in mud. 

The layover was, amusingly, in Haru’s hometown. With their arrival publicly announced, Haru’s parents sent a short letter to her hotel room, but there wasn’t any attempt to meet. Katara was only there for the night, and Haru was happily married in Republic City. 

Still, it was nice to be thought of.

On the flight the next day, Thuy became more animated and even Mister Whiskers was showing more signs of life. The amphibious creature clearly missed her damp home. 

“Did you hear that, Sugar Queen?” Toph asked loudly, making Katara turn from her laptop. “Thuy says they eat bugs.”

Katara blinked and shut her laptop slowly.

“And?” She asked.

“Doesn’t that weird you out?” Toph questioned.

“No?” Katara put a hand on top of her computer. “Some of us didn’t live in a manor for the entirety of the war.” 

“Are you saying I’m soft?” Toph demanded, not sounding angry but leaning over the arm of her seat menacingly.

“Oh Toph, you’re as dense as a rock.” Katara replied sweetly. 

Toph cackled, slapping the seat arm and sitting back. 

“See Wet Wipe, you have to give as good as you get. Otherwise people will walk all over you.” She said to Thuy.

“I just don’t think it’s nice.” Thuy huffed, picking up her squirming catgator. Mister Whiskers had taken to chewing on the empty seats in front of them. 

Katara did not like how many sharp teeth were in that wide mouth. 

“Avatars don’t get anywhere by being nice.” Toph countered.

“Don’t I know it.” Thuy muttered. 

Due to the unpredictable nature of the swamp, the plane landed at a small, private airfield next to the looming entity of the banyan grove. 

As they disembarked, figures came out from the treeline and Thuy ran to meet them, Mister Whiskers loping cartoonishly after her. 

One figure Katara recognized as the matriarch. Dong-Lee broke away from the group and walked leisurely toward Katara as she and Toph made their way to the trees.

“Welcome, our queen.” Dong-Lee said. A chorus of shouts raised from the group behind her and Katara felt her face start to warm.

“Please, Matriarch, Katara is perfectly fine.” She said, waving the comment away. 

“You are bringing the other tribes back to our family, we are proud to call you our queen.” Dong-Lee replied.

Katara’s mouth twitched at the comment, but she ignored it. 

“I appreciate the welcome, Matriarch.” She said. 

“Is the Fire Lord still onboard?” Dong-Lee asked.

“Zuko?” Katara frowned in confusion. “He’s in Caldera.”

“He didn’t come?”

Dong-Lee sounded surprised and Katara did blush then.

“We’re not married yet, I wasn’t aware you were expecting him.” She explained. 

“I apologize, Thuy had told me you were handfasted already.” Dong-Lee said.

“They are!” Thuy shouted indignantly. “They announced their coupling ages ago and then she accepted his pledge on my birthday!” 

“That doesn’t mean we’re married!” Katara snapped anxiously.

“Sure it does.” Thuy said, sounding calm and unconcerned as she walked back over. “A wedding doesn’t make you married, a pledge does.”

“That’s not how it works in other places.” Katara said and sighed.

“That is how it works here, though.” Thuy said. “And we are your people too.” 

Katara sighed again and rubbed her face.

“I’m sorry, Matriarch, Zuko isn’t coming.” She said.

“Like dragon spit he isn’t.” Thuy said. She pulled out her cellphone and Katara lunged. Thuy avoided her easily, pushing herself away with her bending. 

“Zuko, Auntie said you’re not coming to the swamp even though I promised everyone.” Thuy started, continuing to move away as Katara made a strangled sound in exasperation. 

“So,” Toph interjected as she strolled over. “I was told there were bugs?”

By dinner, Zuko was already in Republic City making further travel plans. At Thuy’s invitation, Sokka and Suki decided to tag along and the three of them would be in the swamp by the next evening. 

Having her script so completely disrupted, Katara sulked and grumbled at her seat. 

Toph had gone hunting with some of the tribe members, returning completely drenched in swamp mud but clutching the still writhing bodies of leopard eels. Apparently having an Earthbender made it much easier to catch the fish by hand, and an unsettling sack proved it. 

The catch was gutted and cleaned at the docks, with Mister Whiskers getting her fill of offal. None of that bothered Katara, save for the blood that spilled onto their woven mats. 

There hadn’t been much in the way of technological advancement in the swamp. Whatever spiritual energy shielded Thuy’s home, it was complete and fickle. The tribe used peat and water to make steam engine generators, but they didn’t power much outside of the few telephones, radios, computers, and satellite for reception. And that was certainly spotty, often requiring a shaman or Thuy herself to go into the swamp and yell about it. 

Torches, bug nets, and rickety walkways were sprinkled over massive banyan roots and linked the various thatched huts or raised pavilions. Family groups lived in nodes and each node could communicate with the others via the root system and a shaman. So the technology they did have only came, Katara found, after Thuy was identified as the Avatar and her family knew she would need it. 

Other things, like books, weapons, and clothing, trickled in at random times when an outsider was allowed access to the interior. 

The swamp had protected Thuy and provided her with everything she needed. 

It reminded Katara very much of the South Pole.

Which oddly did not help her mood.

“Is her royal majesty being snooty?” Toph asked, sitting down hard next to Katara.

“No. I’m just mad I didn’t know they expected Zuko to be here.” She replied.

“I’m surprised too, to be honest.” Toph said, putting her hands down behind her and reclining. “What do they want with the Fire Lord?” 

“That’s a good question.” Katara replied. 

The answer came after dinner had been cleared away. 

A shaman, adorned with bright feathers and a carved wooden mask, stepped out onto the wide dock. Everyone quieted and turned; Katara looked expectantly at Thuy, but she was already focused on the shaman.

“We welcome the return of our kin, Thuy.” The shaman said and clapping filled the heavy air. Katara clapped slowly, still unsure of what was happening. 

“Before we understood our world, we told stories to explain what we saw. The Avatar represented all of our questions; where did we come from? Why do we have Benders? Why are there four elements? And how are we to live with the spirits?

“The ancient stories tell us that the sun and the moon fought over the ocean. That one day, when the moon triumphed, the sun fell into the ocean and from it’s boiling, the lands were made. The bubbles made the air we breathe and pushed the sun back into the sky. So the elements were made, but as they came from strife, only one would ever inhabit a human at a time.

“We know of space now, of gravity, but we also still live among the spirits. We see how they alter the world around us, how they bestow gifts, and how they take things away at a whim.

“After the great and terrible war, the rest of the world is turning away from the spirits. It is why the Avatar has been born here, in this sacred grove, to remind us of what we are all still connected to.” The shaman paused but no one spoke or made a noise. 

“The rest of the world is being reminded. Our spirits, not our adopted family of the Great Banyan Tree, but our spiritual parents Tui and La, have reconnected to our human world. The honorable princess Yue has ascended to the sky as the handmaiden of the moon. And here sits our awe-some protector, the Matriarch of All Waters, our queen!” The shaman continued and a roar went up around Katara. 

Toph, unable to find a snarky comment, only sat up straight. A shiver ran through Katara and she gripped uselessly at the mat under her. 

“The sun has fallen again into the ocean. We must prepare for what is to come.” The shaman said, raising his hands to quiet the people. 

“Tomorrow, the queen and her husband will go out into the swamp. When they return, we will abide by whatever message they bring.” The shaman said and then turned his carved mask toward Katara.

“Long live La!” He called and the shout was quickly picked up by the others.

“Looks like someone has a new, terrible destiny.” Toph whispered.

“Alright Huu, get down and let the fiddlers start!” Someone yelled and laughter replaced the solemn calling. 

The energy immediately shifted and Katara let out a breath, slumping onto the low table. 

“I am so sick of destiny.” She muttered.

That night, Katara sat awkwardly tucked in a knot of a banyan tree. She had to climb higher than she liked to get a decent signal on her phone.

“Divination at dinner?” Zuko asked. 

“It’s starting to feel like we never had a choice not to be together.” Katara grumbled.

“And that’s a bad thing?” He questioned haltingly.

“It makes it seem like it doesn’t matter what kind of person I am if you were fated to love me anyway.” 

“I don’t know. Even if people say we were meant to be together, we still had to be the people we are to make that happen. And I do love you because of who you are.”

“But I don’t want to be this. Whatever this person is that everyone is making me out to be.”

“And what’s that?”

“Liu called me Oma, everyone here thinks I’m La, and Rohan is trying to make me think I’m the embodiment of yin.”

“What do you want to be?”

“Me! I just want to be me. And your wife.” Katara added, lowering her voice and wrapping her free arm over her chest. “I just want to be me with you.” 

“The quiet, unassuming wife of the Fire Lord?” Zuko asked and she snorted. 

“I could never just be a wife.” She said dryly.

“Which is why I wanted to ask you…” Zuko started and Katara sat up.

“What now?” She asked.

“I want you to become the Fire Lady.” He said.

That stilled her and Katara stared off into the darkness. 

“You still there?” Zuko asked cautiously.

“Yeah, no, I’m still here.” Katara said. “Just, thinking.”

“I know it’s a big ask.”

“That’s two crowns, Zuko.”

“I know.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re my queen too. You will be queen to my people. Our people.” 

Katara went quiet again, and Zuko waited. 

“You want children.” She said finally.

“Yes.” He was quick and honest. “Don’t you?”

“I don’t know.” She said, just as honestly.

“I never wanted them before. But with you?” Zuko’s voice drifted and Katara felt her pulse quicken.

“If they’re really saying I’m the sun falling into the ocean-”

“Zuko.”

“-then maybe what they mean is how many little islands I can-”

“Zuko!”

“The allegory is right there Katara.” 

Katara laughed and her anxiety left her. 

“I’ll think about it.” She said finally.

“That’s all that I ask.” He replied.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” She said.

“I am so excited for our field trip, you have no idea.” Zuko joked and Katara laughed again.

It was certainly enough to think about for one night.

Chapter Text

Thuy climbed up onto a towering root, pushing Mister Whiskers back down when she tried to claw her fat body up as well. 

“Okay, so the most important thing to remember is that the swamp has a mind of its own and it’s super not great to get separated.” She announced.

Sokka raised his hand and she looked at him.

“Why are we going out at night then?” He asked.

“We did just get in, Thuy. Is this a good idea?” Zuko added. 

“The swamp is to be respected! You don’t keep the grove waiting!” Thuy yelled.

Mister Whiskers turned her head on her thick neck and snapped at them, driving the point home. 

“Besides, if we stick together then we don’t have to worry about anyone getting eaten.” Thuy finished and jumped down. 

“That doesn’t sound….great.” Suki said.

“It’ll be fine.” Thuy replied.

They were, of course, separated almost immediately. 

A mile away from the huts, all of their flashlights went out at once. Someone, probably Sokka since it was him that started to swear, tripped over a root. The splashing seemed to attract attention, as Mister Whiskers let out a low, long rumble in warning.

Thuy told them to run back to the huts, but the heavy canopy over them let little of the full moon’s light down to their level. 

Toph had unhelpfully decided to stay, dropping a bombshell on them that she had, in fact, been to the swamp before. So she wasn’t around to help them navigate with the terrible light.

After running for nearly twenty minutes, Katara started to frantically shake her flashlight. Turning around, she illuminated the empty, twisting spaces between the trees. 

She was completely alone.

“Thuy? Zuko?” She called out.

There was no answer.


Sokka

Muttering and swearing, Sokka kept his flashlight out in front of him as he sloshed through knee-high swamp water. 

“I just want one, stupid trip with my sister to not involve spirits.” He muttered. “Just one!”

After he had calmed himself, he quickly reoriented his path and knew with some surety that he was heading back toward the village. 

“Is it because Katara pretended to be a spirit? Is that it? Are we being punished for that?” Sokka asked aloud, not expecting or wanting a response. 

“Or is it La? Because I would think that would make this easier.” He continued, pushing through the unpleasant water and trying not to think about what was clinging to his legs. 

“I try to keep her safe but every single time, something weird has to happen.” He grunted, switching the flashlight to his other hand. 

“It was never your job to keep her safe, Sokka.” A woman’s voice said from behind him. 

Sokka whirled around, nearly dropping the flashlight.

“Mom?” He gasped.

“Hello wolf pup.” Kya said. 

Tears came to Sokka’s eyes and his hand went weak. As the beam of light dipped, leaving his mother’s face, he gripped it tightly with both hands.

“You died.” He stated, mostly for himself. 

Kya smiled sadly.

“I did.” She confirmed.

“We tried to get you out.” 

“I know, wolf pup. Katara nearly did.”

“What?” His voice was barely there, and Sokka didn’t know if he had even managed to speak the question aloud. “She said you were already dead.”

“No. We were caught by some guards and Hama used her bloodbending on them. But she was killing them, and your sister wouldn’t let her. When they fought, Hama lost her control.” Kya said.

“They killed you. In front of her.” Sokka continued for her. 

“I tried to protect her, but I couldn’t keep her safe.” Kya said. 

“Why didn’t she tell me?” Sokka asked.

“Your sister holds her pain in secret. She knows what you have sacrificed.”

“I’m her brother! I’m supposed to!”

“No.” Kya said firmly. “You are supposed to do no such thing. The war demanded it of you unfairly.” 

“I’m all she had!” Sokka cried. Tears poured down his face and the light trembled. 

“And you did so good, wolf pup. You stayed so strong.” Kya said.

Sokka took one hand and rubbed his eyes against his arm. He felt arms around him and he started to sob.

“How are you here?” He asked, still keeping his eyes covered.

“You know our spirits do not fade. When my namesake is born, I will return. But for now, in this place, I can be with you.” Kya said. 

“I miss you.” Sokka murmured.

“I know. But my love is always with you.” Kya said and pressed her forehead against Sokka’s bent head. 

“I love you, wolf pup.” She whispered.

“I love you, mom.” Sokka said. He stood still, even after he felt the arms leave him. Even after he knew he was alone again.


Zuko

Finding solid ground on a peat bog, Zuko slammed the butt of his flashlight against his palm. The light flickered but continued to give out. Frustrated, he pocketed the heavy piece of useless metal and brought out a bright flame in his hand. 

As he continued to walk, the shadowy edges smoothed and the ground under him became hard. It wasn’t what he expected to find in wetlands and Zuko used both hands to make the fire bigger.

He wasn’t in the wetlands anymore.

He was in the woods of Hira’a.

The temperature hadn’t changed, and the humidity was still oppressive, but the trees were the tall, isolated spires of his mother’s home. The woods were quiet, and Zuko couldn’t even hear the noises of the swamp.

Moving slowly, Zuko continued walking, hoping to find his way out of this waking dream. There was no one around, but he still kept himself from calling out. He didn’t know who, or what, would answer.

Eventually, he broke through the treeline and found a wide lake. Holding one hand out, Zuko looked around the open bank.

A figure stood at the edge of the lake, her long red robes damp from the lapping water.

As Zuko got closer, he recognized the robes.

He recognized the long, black hair.

He recognized the crown.

“Mom?” Zuko asked, quietly, cautiously. “Mom, is that you?” 

Reaching out, Zuko went to touch her shoulder.

The woman turned, her face gone. Zuko jumped back, a scream frozen in his throat and closing off his lungs. His fire went out.

“Zuko.” Ursa’s voice came out of the darkness. 

Shaking hard, but forcing himself to breathe, Zuko recalled his fire and held his hand up.

His mother had a face now.

And it was one that he knew.


Suki

Growing impatient, Suki started to pace and glance up at Thuy as she walked. Chewing on her thumb, she tried to think of a solution.

Thuy was meditating, trying to tap into the root system to find the others, but it was taking a lot longer than she had said.

Suki had a good sense of direction, she mulled over the possibility of heading out on her own and getting Toph. Or anyone else. Or everyone. 

Someone would be able to use the roots to find everyone else.

“Didn’t you learn patience?” A woman asked.

Suki froze and looked up. Thuy hadn’t moved and that certainly hadn’t been her voice. It was deeper and had a familiar accent to it. 

When she turned back, she screamed.

Avatar Kyoshi looked down at her.

“And how is my captain doing?” She asked Suki.

Falling to her knees, Suki knelt in supplication.

“Avatar Kyoshi, I’m honored.” She said. 

“Oh please.” Kyoshi scoffed. “I’m not the Avatar any longer.”

As Suki looked up, confused, Kyoshi tapped her closed fan against her chin. “Or I guess I always am? Was?”

Shaking her head, Kyoshi looked unconcerned. “Doesn’t matter.”

“Are you,” Suki stammered, straightening while still kneeling. “Is Thuy channeling you?”

“In a way.” Kyoshi replied, looking over at Thuy. “She has connected to the swamp and I am connected to her, so here I am.”

“On your own?” Suki questioned.

Kyoshi looked back at her.

“Again, in a way.” She said. 

“Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.” Kyoshi sat down, crossing her legs and resting her fans in her lap.

“Is it okay if I leave the warriors?” Suki asked.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Kyoshi asked in reply.

“Well, everyone assumes I’m going to keep leading.”

“Do you want to?”

“I mean, I would do it. But Sokka keeps getting called away. And I like going with him.”

“I have seen how someone will find fulfillment in following their beloved.” Kyoshi said. “There is nothing wrong with that.”

“But I don’t want to stop being a warrior.” Suki said.

“You could never stop being a Kyoshi Warrior.” Kyoshi said. “That is a calling you carry for life. Would your man leave you if you had to return to it?”

“Never!” Suki said quickly and then lowered her face in embarrassment. “Sokka has worn the robes, he knows what it means to me.”

“Then let them find a new captain. A Kyoshi Warrior is not bound to the island. I travelled everywhere, and so should you.” Kyoshi said. 

“Thank you.”

“Of course, little sister.” Kyoshi stood up again, looking back up at Thuy. “I’ll give her a little push. Hopefully that can help her find your friends.”

As Suki got to her feet, Kyoshi disappeared. Turning to Thuy, she stepped back when the Avatar’s eyes opened and started to glow.


Katara

Seeing something shimmer between the trees, Katara barreled over tree roots. Hoping against plausibility, she thought it was a rare electric light shining at the edge of the huts. In her rush, her hands slipped over a mossy root and she fell forward into another standing pond. This water, unlike the rest she had trudged through, was cold, and she came up gasping.

Wading quickly back to the tree, Katara climbed into the roots and looked around.

The warm swamp air had condensed over the cool water and moonlight was a glittering column caught in the fog. Tilting her head up, Katara saw an empty space in the canopy and the full moon was visible in the night sky. 

“Well that’s nice.” Katara huffed and continued climbing up the roots. 

When she was high enough over the water, she used her bending to dry herself, dumping the swamp water back into the pond. Her flashlight was beyond repair but Katara kept the hunk of metal in case she met one of Mister Whiskers’ unpleasant cousins. 

“It’s been awhile.” A woman said.

Looking up, Katara yelped and fell backward, tangling her limbs in the roots. 

Yue floated over her, tilting her head.

“I visit.” Katara retorted.

“You visit Tui.” Yue corrected. 

“Well how am I supposed to call you up?” Katara snapped as she struggled upright. 

Yue floated back, her hair and robes waving as if underwater. 

“You know how.” She replied. 

Katara sighed and tapped the flashlight against her knee.

“So did you drag me out here for a chat?” She asked.

“The swamp does what it wants. I just saw a chance.” Yue said and shrugged. The unearthly princess with her divine robes shrugged.

“Okay…” Katara said. “How’s it going?”

Yue giggled and Katara smiled in spite of herself. 

“I wanted to see if I could help you be happier. Or more at peace.” Yue said.

“I’m plenty happy.” Katara said sharply. 

“Except for all this fate and destiny talk.” Yue said. “Which I might understand a little bit about.” 

Feeling guilty, Katara looked away.

“It’s hardly fair to say you were a debt held in trust.” She said, mostly to herself.

“I think I was less fated and more living on borrowed time.” Yue said.

“I’m sorry I didn’t stop Zhao.” Katara said, looking back at her. 

Yue sighed and twisted a bit in the watery air.

“It wasn’t your fault. You did what you could, but you were still learning and he was a Master Firebender.” She said. 

“And now I’m engaged to the Fire Lord.” Katara said, feeling sick.

To her surprise, Yue smiled. 

“Isn’t that a good thing?” She asked.

“What?”

“I gave back Tui’s energy because it was what I was supposed to do, even if it wasn’t fated. We’re Water Tribe, we have to protect our spirits.” Yue said. “And you protected our people. Marrying the Fire Lord only makes that goal easier.”

“How politic of you.” Katara said wryly.

“I was a princess.” Yue quipped.

“And now you’re the lady of the moon.” 

“And you can be the lady of fire and water.”

Katara gaped at Yue, who laughed.

“Marry Zuko,” Yue said. “And become Fire Lady. If for nothing else than because you can.”

“I had the Avatar tell me to date him, now I’ve got a spirit telling me to marry him.” Katara said.

“It’s not like you’re willing to listen to anyone less.”

Katara snorted.

“Can you help me out of here?” She asked, standing up.

“I will send the lights to guide you.” Yue said. “If you promise to visit more.”

“I promise.” Katara said softly.

Floating down, Yue put her hands to the sides of Katara’s face and kissed her.

“Goodbye, my other half.” She murmured.

“Goodbye, princess.” Katara said.

“Give Sokka my love.”

“I will.”

In a blink, Yue was gone. Sighing, Katara turned and looked for any light. Seeing nothing, she shook her flashlight in frustration.

A bone white beam burst out, cutting through the darkness.

“Oh, okay.” Katara said, and followed the light. 

Chapter Text

Katara bumped into Suki and Thuy as she made her way through the grove. Together, with Thuy’s directions and Katara’s light, they found Zuko and Sokka only yards apart. Both men were quiet and withdrawn, and covered in mud. 

Not finding the words to breach his silence, Katara only watched Zuko from the corner of her eye. 

Back at the huts, the group was led to the showers so they could bathe. The stalls were outdoors, all in a row, but curtains were hung to give them privacy. Relaxing in the warm water, Katara used as much of the lumpy, sweet smelling soap as she could. She rinsed repeatedly, washing out debris from her hair every time. 

When they emerged, clean clothes were waiting for them and Zuko immediately went to the hut he shared with Katara. She followed after him, still quiet. 

Lifting the flap to the hut, she saw him lying face down on the mattress. 

“Okay, so obviously you saw something out there too.” She said as she walked in, the flap falling behind her.

“What did you see?” Zuko asked, his voice muffled.

“Yue.” 

Zuko rolled over enough to lay on his cheek.

“For real?” He asked.

Katara chuckled and sat next to him. As she did, he rolled onto his side and propped his head up on a fist. 

“She tried to help me with the burden of destiny.” She said.

“Wild.” Zuko said.

“Who did you see?”

“My mom.”

“What?!”

Zuko nodded and Katara laid down on her side facing him.

“What happened?” She asked.

“Nothing really. When I first looked at her, she didn’t have a face.”

“That is terrifying.”

“I agree. But when I looked at her again, she did have a face.”

“Oh spirits don’t say it was your dad’s face or something.”

“It was Noriko’s.” 

“Like, Noren’s wife?” 

“Yeah, her.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know.” Zuko rolled his head in an attempt to shake it. “Noren was friends with my mother and her boyfriend Ikem when they were younger.”

“Did Noriko know them?” Katara asked.

“Not that either of them have said. But Noriko had an accident in the woods a while ago and lost a lot of her memory.” He answered. 

“What kind of accident?”

“I never asked. I felt it was too invasive, you know?”

“Well, what happened to Ikem?”

Zuko laid on his back and put his hands on his stomach, but turned his head to look at Katara.

“It got awkward when Noren was telling me about him. I didn’t really want to know. But he doesn’t live in Hira’a anymore.” He said. 

“Maybe it has something to do with Noriko’s accident?” Katara suggested. 

“I don’t know.” Zuko said.

“Let’s go back and ask.” 

“Go to Hira’a and ask Noren about my mom’s old boyfriend?” 

“I mean, if you saw your mom with Noriko’s face in the swamp, maybe it’s all connected. Your mom, Ikem’s disappearance, and Noriko’s accident. Can’t hurt, right?” She asked. 

“Might be worth a shot.” Zuko said.

Katara leaned over and kissed his forehead.

“I’ll let Dong-Lee know.” She said.

Zuko held onto her and Katara lowered herself, cuddling into his side. She might need to make peace with destiny, but for now she could at least help Zuko with something important to him.


In the morning, when Katara explained her plan to cut the visit short so she and Zuko could head to Hira’a, the matriarch refused. Dong-Lee insisted that what the swamp showed him was far more important and insisted that they leave that day. 

Sokka looked haggard and didn’t ask to join, so Toph jumped into the decrepit old car stashed at the edge of the swamp. 

“What are you doing?” Katara asked as Toph buckled herself into the passenger’s seat. The driver didn’t seem to care and she began to work of turning over the engine.

“You do know the nearest city is Gaoling right?” Toph asked. “That’s how come I’ve been to the swamp before. I used to run away a lot.” 

“Are you going to visit your parents?” Katara asked.

“Rolling into my neighborhood with the Fire Lord and Water Tribe queen in this hunk of junk?” Toph asked. She paused as the engine roared to life and the car shook. 

“You better believe I want to visit the Beifong estate.” She said.

Toph returned to her childhood home like a landslide. In a matter of moments, Toph had dragged the equivalent of a front yard’s worth of dirt all over the pristine entry room, commandeered her parents’ private plane, and sent their driver back to the swamp in a much nicer car. 

Before Lao and Poppy Beifong could even properly introduce themselves, Zuko and Katara were swept back out, heading to the airfield. 

Toph stayed behind, for reasons only known to herself.

The plane stopped in Republic City, and that was when Zuko started to second guess the trip. 

“They have been nothing but generous, I can’t go sticking my nose into their private lives.” He babbled as they waited for the fuel truck. 

The new pilot had already boarded, and the new attendants bustled in the back preparing some sort of meal for them. Katara held Zuko’s hand as she looked around. 

“We’re just asking some questions.” She said, ducking her head down to speak quietly. “If Noren’s told you about your mother and Ikem before, I’m sure it’ll be okay.” 

“What if she went back for him and Ikem isn’t gone, he’s dead? And what if that’s the accident Noriko had?” Zuko asked. 

“We won’t know until we ask. And Zuko,” Katara waited until he looked at her. “It’s your mother.”

Looking pained, he only nodded.

It was the middle of the night when they landed in Hira’a. Too anxious to sleep, Zuko threw himself into work while Katara tried to coax him to at least lay down. He ignored her and she had to give up, too tired to fight him.

In the morning, he looked haunted. He was quiet as they ate breakfast and got ready for their outing. After washing his face and having some coffee, a little bit of life returned but it still wasn’t much to dispel his mood.

“Ready?” Katara asked.

Zuko nodded. 

They took a taxi this time, as Zuko was too jittery to sit on a motorbike. As they neared Noren’s home, his body seemed to spasm.

Katara took his hand and he stilled.

“It’ll be okay.” She murmured.

When they exited, the door to Noren’s house opened. The taxi pulled away when Noren stepped out.

“Zuko?” He asked, clearly surprised. “Ah, forgive me, Fire Lord.”

Noren bowed and Zuko took in a deep breath, releasing it slowly. 

“Noren, I need to ask you something.” He said.

“Of course. Come in, come in.” Noren said hurriedly, gesturing for them to enter.

Zuko and Katara walked in, feeling the cool AC brush against their faces. 

“Noriko left to take Kiyi to her art class. I hope you’ll stay long enough to see her.” Noren said as he shut the door. “Now how can I help the Fire Lord?”

“I need you to tell me about Ikem, and my mother.” Zuko said, turning around to look at Noren. The other man’s face paled.

“Your mother?” He repeated.

“Zuko saw a vision of Ursa in the Foggy Swamp. And Noriko.” Katara said.

Noren staggered backward, falling into the door. Katara grabbed him, steadying him and looking back at Zuko.

“Your mother…” Noren murmured.

“You knew her. Both of them.” Zuko said.

“They were childhood sweethearts, you said.” Katara added gently. 

“Yes, yes I knew them.” Noren said, nodding and standing on his own. “I knew them well.”

Noren stood, looking distantly into his memory. Zuko stood quietly, watching him.

“Should we have something to drink?” Katara suggested. 

Noren shook himself, looking bewildered from her to Zuko, as if he didn’t expect to see them there.

“Right. Tea.” He mumbled and walked to the kitchen. Katara took Zuko’s arm and led him to the couch in the living room, sitting him down.

“Are you doing okay?” She asked.

“Yeah.” Zuko said softly. 

“I’m going to see if Noren needs any help. I’ll be right back.”

“Sure.”

Katara walked to the kitchen and could hear Noren speaking quietly as she neared. Stepping through the archway, she saw him standing at the phone mounted on the wall, covering the mouth piece with his hand. 

“Just do some shopping or something. You can bring Kiyi back home for dinner.”

Katara frowned and stepped further into the kitchen.

“Is everything alright?” She asked.

Noren jumped and slammed the phone back onto the mount. 

“Noriko forgot her grocery list. I was telling her what we needed.” He said and moved hurriedly to the stove. 

“How thoughtful.” Katara said flatly.

Noren grabbed his kettle and moved toward the sink.

“Let me.” Katara said, sweeping in and grabbing the handle from him. Pulling her hand through the air, water shot out of the faucet, causing the handle to screech as it was forced up to open the valve. 

Keeping icy eye contact, she filled the kettle and used the rest of the water to slam the handle back down. Then, flashing Noren a cold smile, Katara returned the kettle to the stove and clicked the knob to turn on the gas. 

“I know you know something, Noren, and I know Noriko is involved.” Katara said, watching the spark under the grate before it caught the gas. A flame shot up and she turned the knob down, placing the kettle on the grate. 

“I know you want to protect your wife,” Katara turned and stared at Noren. “But you owe Zuko the truth.” 

“The truth is going to make things worse.” Noren said.

“You don’t know that.” Katara replied.

“Trust me, I do.” He said.

“No.” Katara repeated firmly. Her hands curled into fists and the kettle started to scream, steam already pouring out of the spout and spitting boiling water. 

Tsk.” Katara wound water from the air around her hand, freezing it as she grabbed the handle of the kettle. “It’ll scald the tea.”

Noren collected the teapot and tea tin, setting them on the counter as Katara brought the water to the correct temperature.

“You’re a Firebender aren’t you? Make it hot.” 

Katara sighed, chilling the water and calming herself as she poured. Zuko was far better at making tea. 

Noren busied himself with the tray while Katara made the tea. She followed him back out to the living room, where Zuko was still sitting quietly.

“That was fast.” He said.

“I can make water hot too.” Katara said, bumping purposefully into his knees as she moved to sit next to him. 

“Now, Zuko, you said you had a vision?” Noren asked as he poured out the tea. He handed out the cups, but avoided Katara’s eye.

“Yes.” Zuko said simply and Noren sat down.

“The Foggy Swamp is one of the places on earth where spirits have an easier time moving through the veil.” Katara explained. “We went out with a group and I think we all saw something.”

“The spirits?” Noren asked, sounding anxious again. “There are other places where they enter?”

His words stuck out to Katara but she nodded.

“The oasis in the North Pole is always open because of Tui and La, and that’s not always a good thing.” She said. “I heard there’s a couple of places in the Earth Kingdom, and it’s rumored there’s a library in the desert, but the Foggy Swamp is the largest place where spirits have been found.”

“Is there a place near here?” Zuko asked, having also caught on Noren’s question.

“I…” Noren brought up his tea cup but didn’t drink. He lowered it and looked down into it. 

“There are three lakes in the woods, just outside of the village. A spirit visits on each solstice and has...powers.” He said. 

“What kind of powers?” Katara asked suspiciously. 

“It’s said that she is fate and controls the past, the present, and the future. And that she shapes each and every human before they are born, creating their entire lives.” Noren said.

“What does she do at the lakes?” Zuko asked.

“She can change….things.” Noren answered.

“What things?” Zuko questioned.

“I-” Noren started but jumped as the front door opened.

Noriko burst in and looked around, shocked to see Zuko and Katara.

“Fire Lord?” She asked, confused.

“Noriko.” Katara said and stood. 

“Gah!” Noriko shut the door and smacked the back of Noren’s chair. “I thought there were burglars!” 

“I told you not to come home!” Noren said, putting his tea cup down and turning in his seat.

“Why? Because the Fire Lord and the Queen are here?” Noriko clicked her tongue in annoyance. “They come to see us all the time.” 

Noriko pushed past Noren’s chair and went to Zuko, holding out her arms.

“It is so good to see you, la.” She said and Zuko rose. He hugged her and Noriko rested her head on his chest for a moment.

“It’s good to see you, Auntie.” He said.

“Oh! You sound so tired! What happened?” Noriko patted her hands against Zuko’s chest and then turned around. “What tea is this? Did you get this out of the gold tin?”

Noren shook his head and Noriko clicked her tongue again.

“Serving the Fire Lord such mediocre tea. His uncle owns a tea shop in Ba Sing Se! This is ridiculous.” She said.

“Noriko.” Noren said but Noriko waved him off, walking to the kitchen.

“I’m making a fresh pot.” She said.

“Noriko.” Noren said again, sounding desperate. Noriko stopped and looked at her husband. She then glanced at Zuko and Katara.

“What’s happened?” She asked.

“Auntie, when did you come to Hira’a?” Zuko asked.

“When did I…?” Noriko frowned. “I was born here.”

She turned to Noren. “I was born here, right?”

“My mother came here, thirteen years ago, didn’t she? Looking for Ikem?” Zuko asked. 

Noriko, still frowning, wrung her hands.

“I don’t know them.” She said.

“Noriko.” Noren said gently, standing up and taking her hands in his. He lifted them to his face and kissed her hands.

“Ursa came back, as you said. She wasn’t looking for Ikem though. She thought he was already dead.” Noren said, lowering Noriko’s hands and staring at them. “She knew her husband was a jealous man.”

Katara took Zuko’s hand and felt the chill of his skin.

“I met her at the theatre. I recognized her immediately; it was like she hadn’t aged a day.” Noren said, looking now at Noriko’s face. “She’s still the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.”

Noriko pulled away and Noren turned to Zuko and Katara.

“The Mother of Faces can change how someone looks. She can also take away memories.” He said. 

“What?” Zuko asked. 

The Fire Nation was a series of islands and surrounded by miles of ocean. Even here, in the hills and near the tall, sheer cliffs, Katara could hear the crash of waves against slate rock. She could feel it rushing toward her as her mind fell into the vast ocean inside of her soul. 

“Ozai sent men after me, shortly after Ursa left the village. I tried to hide in the woods and found the Mother of Faces by accident. I asked her to change me, but to leave my memories so I could always remember Ursa.” Noren said. 

“And when Ursa came back, you took her into the woods.” Katara said.

“It was to protect her.” Noren said and faced Zuko. “Your father was going to kill her.”

“Was it protecting her when she forgot her children?” Katara demanded.

“Noren, what are you saying?” Noriko asked, pulling on Noren’s sleeve.

“She thought she’d never see them again. That she’d never see you again.” Noren looked from Katara to Zuko. “It was unbearable for her.”

“You were able to keep memories of Ursa, did you know you would see her again?” Katara shouted.

Noren, hurt and panicked, stepped toward her.

“No! But I couldn’t think of living a life without a memory of her.” He said.

“So when Zuko was in your home, playing with his half-sister, you were happy to say nothing?” Katara questioned.

“Ozai could still-”

“Zuko is Fire Lord now!” Katara yelled.

“Stop!” Noriko cried, stepping in front of Noren and holding out her arms. “Please!”

“Both of you are incredibly selfish.” Katara spat. She glared at Noriko, even as the woman cowered. “How could you choose to forget your own children? After what you did for them?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Noriko said weakly, slowly dissolving into tears.

“Katara.” Zuko said, his voice flat.

“Childhood sweethearts.” Katara said mockingly. She then pointed at Noren. “You are just as jealous and possessive as Ozai.”

“Katara, let’s go.” Zuko said. “She made her choice.” 

Katara turned and they both started to walk to the door, hearing Noriko whimper behind them. As Zuko touched the handle, Noriko spoke quietly.

“Turtleducks.” She whispered.

The handle in Zuko’s hand melted. 

“What.” He croaked, looking at the door.

Katara turned and saw Noren holding Noriko, who was looking down at the floor.

“I remember a turtleduck pond. And a little boy.” She said. “Turtleducks don’t live in Hira’a.” 

“They live in Caldera in the summer. The ducklings would always hatch around my birthday.” Zuko said. 

Katara leaned across him, cooling the metal and pulling it off. Dropping it on the floor, she could feel Noren and Noriko jump at the sudden clatter. 

“Come on, let’s go.” She said, slipping her fingers into the space where the doorknob was and ripping the door open. 

“There was a little girl too, do you remember her?” Zuko asked, now sounding hurt. 

“Kiyi?” Noriko asked, sounding hopeful.

Zuko winced, shutting his eyes and Katara tugged on his arm.

“Let’s go.” She said again.

Katara got the taxi and gently handled Zuko into the backseat. He moved like an old man, or someone recovering from a bad fever. His skin switched rapidly from hot to cold and Katara forced him into the bathroom when they got to their rented home. 

She drew a bath for him and sat next to the tub. Zuko brought his knees to his chest, curling over his legs and sobbing. Katara stayed quiet, having to focus on her bending to keep the water from scalding or freezing him as his own bending went haywire. 

This was something they had talked about; their shared history dotted with moments of self-destruction. 

When the water stayed the same temperature and Zuko started to slump, Katara leaned over the edge to wash his hair. At the very least, she could manage that. 

After rinsing the soap out, Katara grabbed a towel as he got out. She dried him gently and Zuko stopped her. He hugged her tightly and Katara dropped the towel, feeling his damp skin cling to her shirt. 

“I’m so sorry.” She whispered.

“She said she poisoned Azulon to protect me. But then she just….forgot me.” Zuko said, choking up again. 

“I know.” 

“She forgot Azula. Azula truly had no one.” 

“She had you.”

“And look what I did to her.”

“Zuko.” 

“How could she forget us?”

“I don’t know.” Katara stepped back and held Zuko’s face in her hands. “But so many people have chosen to keep you in their lives. I chose you, and I will continue to choose you every day, for the rest of my life.” 

Zuko nodded and she picked up the towel. After she got him in bed, Katara sat in the bed and watched him fall asleep. As she gently pushed his long hair out of his face, she examined the different halves. 

Plucking the water out of her shirt, Katara swiped a finger at the edge of the scar. 

From the moment she first saw him, she knew what the scar was. Third degree burn, having damaged the epidermis and dermis. The burn was treated well but resulted in permanent hearing loss in one ear, vision loss in the affected eye, and contracture scar. Scarring is the result of damage being healed and collagen production. 

Only water from the spirit oasis had ever done anything to clear away scars. 

As Katara shook the water off her finger, she knew nothing had changed. 

He had been a child.

He had faced his father, knowing his mother had died at Ozai’s hand. 

“I wish I had known you when we were children.” Katara whispered as she laid down next to Zuko. “I would have loved you then and ever after.”

Curling into his side, Katara closed her eyes. When she had children, she would be a better mother. 

Chapter Text

Katara sat perfectly still at the table, listening to the raised voices. Across from her, Zuko mirrored her posture. He held his tension in his eyes and Katara could see the tiny lines around the right one. Katara held hers in her shoulders, and she could feel her muscles seize as she continued to hold the pose. 

This was the first time the United Council had convened since its creation with the trial of Ozai and Azula. Seeing the apoplectic faces of the provincial kings and Kuei’s representative, Katara was glad they had insisted on the limit. 

Because of the nature of this so-called issue, the Earth Empire had called the Avatar to sit in. Thuy was overwhelmed and sat next to Hakoda, her shoulders hunched and her eyes darting around. Dong-Lee sat on her other side, looking away from everyone. 

The fact that things had come to this point irritated Katara beyond reason, and so she had insisted they meet at the North Pole. There was no way in the frozen depths she was going to step foot on Earth Empire ground for this.

“My esteemed guests,” Katara said, raising her voice to be heard over the din. “I suggest you take your seats.”

The people arguing paused and begrudgingly sat down, but one of the kings immediately spoke up.

“We demand an explanation for the recent trade agreement between the Fire Nation and the Water Tribes.” He said, slamming his fist down on the table. It was made out of ice, so whatever effect he was going for, his flesh only thumped lamely against the surface. 

“What is there to explain? It’s a forthright document.” Katara asked.

“You’re giving them equitable drilling rights for oil in the south western sea.” The king said.

Katara blinked at him, feeling the numbness of anger begin to form in her mind.

“And? Those waters are completely within our boundaries.” She replied.

“The Southern Air Temple shares those borders, yet they were given nothing!” The man said.

Katara closed her eyes and counted to three before opening them again.

“Why would I consult with the Air Nomad council over trade that involves my water, my oil, and my borders?” She asked. Unfortunately, she wanted to ask why an Earth king would be so interested in Air Nomad trade.

“What if they wanted to drill?” The man asked petulantly. 

“Then they can come to me the same way the Fire Nation minister of trade did.” Katara seethed.

“We don’t even have the industry.” Rohan added, then rubbed their eyes and continued. “We don’t even care about oil, we use renewable energy.” 

“By the way, I’ve been meaning to have my energy minister talk to you about that.” Zuko said, reaching his hand across the table toward Rohan.

“This is exactly the problem!” A queen shouted. “All of the Avatar’s instructors are cavorting about and making deals outside of their official positions.”

“It’s favoritism.” A third person added. 

“I met with the trade minister in Republic City! How is that favoritism?” Katara demanded. 

“Katara.” Hakoda said gently and Katara forced out a deep breath. 

“I know exactly what the problem is, and unfortunately for all of you, I’m not politic enough to beat around the bush.” Katara said and looked around the table. “More of my people voluntarily came to the Earth Kingdom’s aid than the Air Nomads. The Earth Kingdom kings and queens were more interested in fighting each other over the centuries that your navy was laughable. My people sent ships. They sent food and literally ended droughts for you. And you never sent anything back. You didn’t even send my mother’s body back.”

Sliding her chair back from the table, Katara stood and ran her hands over her abdomen. She would never get used to the touch of finer clothing, and it shocked her enough to lighten her mood.

“The Earth Empire was fine seeing us go without for so long. We would never rise up to threaten you if we couldn’t even feed ourselves.” Katara said.

“No see here-” The first man to speak tried to stand up but Katara pulled his chair back in with the barest flick of her wrist. 

“My people will not continue to go without any longer. The Fire Nation has produced most of the technological marvels of this age, and only requires the most minimal amount of oil in their production of plastic. I can sell a sustainable amount of oil for a good price and invest that money in my tribes. It has nothing to do with the fact that I will be marrying the Fire Lord.” She finished.

“But won’t you be the Fire Lady?” Thuy asked. Katara turned and the others murmured behind her.

“Won’t the Fire Nation be your people too?” Thuy continued. 

Katara held her breath to keep herself from visually reacting. Thuy had just managed to undo weeks of work in a question. All because of teenage romantic ideals. 

“One kingdom acting with two hands makes it a lot easier to manipulate things.” A queen remarked and Katara’s upper back seized. 

Katara whirled on the Earth Empire contingent and barely repressed a snarl. 

“I am one kingdom with three hands already.” She stated. Taking in and releasing a shaky breath, Katara retook her seat. 

“Katara will be Fire Lady,” Zuko said calmly. “But she won’t have any power in the Fire Nation. They never do. She’d be just as subject to flattery and manipulation as any other person in that position would be. And many rulers have been controlled by their spouses.”

He turned to smile down at the Earth Empire side of the table. Many of the sovereigns looked away.

“The spouse of the King or Queen of the Water Tribes doesn’t even get a title.” Katara said. Then, looking at Thuy’s pained face, went on. “I try to do my best for everyone when I’m in a situation. Outside of, you know, war.”

“You did fight in the war, didn’t you?” Zuko said brightly. “What did you do again?”

“Hmm, you know, I think I sank the entire Fire Nation navy. Sorry about that by the way.” Katara said, genuinely apologizing at the end. 

“That’s okay. You see, I actually fought on your side as well.” Zuko replied.

“You mean for the Earth Kingdom liberation?” Katara put her hands to her cheeks in mock surprise. “I had forgotten!” 

“This chincery is extremely rude.” A king muttered. 

“But extremely funny.” Rohan said.

“Rohan!” Tenzin whispered sharply.

“We understand what you’re doing, Queen Katara.” The king said.

“Do you?” Katara asked and leisurely turned to address him. “Because I don’t understand why you’re sitting here having a hissy fit if you did.” 

“Katara.” Hakoda said and Katara shook her head.

“I think a lot of people made a lot of money during the war, and they want to continue to tiptoe through peace whispering about shadows to keep people afraid. Either we are committed to this peace and we go on with our lives, or we openly admit to suspecting each other and see if those whispers come true.” She said.

“I am marrying Katara for love, not for power.” Zuko said.

“That’s easy to say, young Fire Lord.” Tenzin said. Zuko looked at Katara and she nodded.

“Yes, we’re young, but we’re not foolish. My uncle says that wisdom comes from survival, and I have survived more in my young life than many of you.” He said and then composed himself. “So on the new year, after my marriage, I will be formally announcing the Fire Nation’s transition to a constitutional monarchy.” 

“Our marriage will be a symbol of unification, but the power will belong to the citizens of the Fire Nation.” Katara said and smiled lovingly at Zuko.

“Ahhhh, I get it now.” Dong-Lee said, mostly to herself. 

“What?” A queen demanded.

“As I am now the Avatar’s master, I understand the importance of having different perspectives. So the Water Tribe will be ruled by a triumvirate. And as neither Sokka nor myself are Chief Hakoda’s heir, eventually things will settle out to be more equitable.” Katara clarified. 

“And where is the Earth Empire left in all of this?” A king sputtered and now the entire other half of the table glared at them.

“What business does the Earth Empire have in the rulers of foreign nations?” Rohan questioned

Shamefaced, the king lowered his head.

Glancing to her side, Katara caught Thuy’s eye and smiled. Still looking overwhelmed, Thuy nodded curtly and gave her a watery grin in return. 

The four nations were going to live in harmony again, whether they liked it or not.

Chapter Text

Katara made sure everything was zipped and buttoned before stepping out of the small control building. She was grateful for the early morning survey trip; being in the South Pole brought in a lot of things too close for comfort. 

The village she had selected for the initial drilling was on the northern side of the mountains watched over her childhood. On an especially clear day in summer, it was possible to see the far distant peaks of the Air Nation archipelago.

Or else, that’s what she assumed those smudges on the horizon were.

Shaking her head, Katara forced a smile at the workers waiting for her at the dock. She assumed she had a touch of midnight sun sickness, since her body was used to the perpetual darkness of the northern winter at the moment. Even with the new simulated nighttimes, Katara was not adjusting as quickly as she had hoped. 

It made her head feel like a balloon despite her body feeling sluggish. 

“Shall we?” Katara asked, looking from man to man. They were unfamiliar to her, but so were many of the people she met in the South Pole.

The only time she had ever left her village was the once. And she hadn’t properly returned from that trip. 

A lifetime ago, Katara had stepped onto a different sort of rickety boat. This one was made of metal, required some sort of crew to operate, and was probably more likely to survive a squall in the open ocean.

But her head still rocked violently when she was fully onboard.

“Gum, Majesty?” One of the men offered. Katara smiled in a closed lipped, queasy sort of way. Taking the thin rectangle of foil, her fingertips felt numb while unwrapping it. The gum was a pale pink, like the meat of any arctic fish.

That image didn’t help her head.

Her jaw worked slowly, feeling the gum nearly disintegrate between her teeth. The flavor was odd, but there was enough mint to calm her a bit. 

Sitting on a box of supplies, Katara looked over the edge as the ship pulled away from the dock. The Beifong representative had been complaining of pirates for weeks. Small, quick boats that harassed their supply ships. Usually the attacks were pointless; the expensive equipment had been installed months ago. But medical supplies, shelf stable food, and other minor sundries were beginning to add up on the list of pirated goods. 

Fire Nation engineers weren’t bothered by the pirates. Many of them were former military and were not at all subtle about their wish to interact with sea bandits. 

Not to be inferred as wanting to fight Water Tribals of course, your Highness.

They were a congenial sort, in their own way.

As they continued on, Katara rubbed her eyes. A migraine was building at her forehead and she called up the cold water to attempt to heal it.

The brain was tricky, and sometimes she had trouble healing herself as she often didn’t think it was bad enough to worry over. Pressure pounded, but the pain stayed as that cloudy prophecy of worse to come. 

In her mouth, the gum quickly lost its flavor, so Katara spat out the wad into her palm. The pink was long gone, and the wrinkled gray lump looked foul. 

“What even was that?” She muttered and turned around. The man who offered her the gum was standing next to her, a bag in his hands. 

Thinking it was trash, Katara moved to shake out the used gum.

The bag went over her head.

When she came to, the sun was setting. This meant two things: that she had been unconscious for a very long time and that they were no longer in South Pole waters.

And noting that she was also in a straight jacket, bound to a tree, Katara figured she was in the Earth Empire. 

The pirates, as she assumed them to be, were near enough by that Katara could see them at their small fire. The light faded before it got to her, and so she couldn’t make out faces or words. 

Looking around, and trying to shift into a comfortable position, Katara knew she was in the woods and far from the ocean. The straight jacket kept her arms and hands from bending, and her legs were shackled tightly together. 

Rohan had told her stories about how the late King Bumi could earthbend by wriggling his eyebrows, but Katara wasn’t that skilled. Yet.

Sighing, Katara looked back at the fire. 

Historical pirates had been her people, but they were effectively wiped out during the war. Airbender Bumi had created his Sky Pirates, and now they had been replaced by Earth Empire citizens. A counterclockwise Avatar cycle.

Bound and still feeling sick, the night air was at least steadying her senses. But she really didn’t know what to do next.

And yet, she really didn’t feel the need to plan. The situation almost made her feel calm. It took the sudden figure behind her to tell her why.

“I’ll save you from the pirates.” A soft voice whispered into her ear.

Katara snorted, turning it into a sneeze in case she was overheard. She was, and one of the pirates got up to investigate.

“Oh no. A ruffian approaches. Whatever shall I do.” Katara said robotically. 

The man frowned as he neared.

“Don’t think of calling for help.” He said.

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Katara replied and smiled broadly. 

“You think somethin’s funny? I’d like to see you try your bending now.” He said.

“Neither of us needs bending to kick your ass.” The shadowed man said.

The pirate straightened just as the hilt of a sword smashed into the side of his head. The man collapsed as his assailant moved into the dusky light. 

The blue oni mask sent electricity through Katara’s veins.

“Let me help you out.” Zuko said, crouching next to her and slicing through the straps.

“You might want to focus on them.” Katara said, wiggling out of the restraint. 

Zuko stood and turned, separating his dual swords and rotating his wrists to loosen them. 

“Be right back my love.” He said and darted forward. 

Katara watched as closely as she could, shouldering off the straightjacket. Zuko moved quickly, as he always did, and many of the pirates were unable to even reach their guns. Those that did nearly lost a hand before Zuko knocked them prone. 

To her surprise, there was an actual Earthbender among the group and Katara wondered if she should intervene. She was working on the shackles on her ankles when the cannonball of earth slammed Zuko into a tree. But the Blue Spirit leapt back onto his feet and kicked debris into the Bender’s face. By the time Katara snapped off the frozen metal, the Bender was face down on the ground.

Zuko paused to put out the small fires made when he kicked their cook fire before walking back to Katara. He held out his hand to help her up and she dusted off the back of her pants as he sheathed his unified sword. 

“How did you get here so quickly?” She asked.

“Sokka helped.” He explained.

“But this?” Katara questioned, gesturing to his costume.

“I had plans.”

“Plans?” She stepped in close, running her fingers along the edge of his mask. “Did it involve a veil?”

“For you it involved only veils.” He answered, putting a warm hand on her lower back.

“KATARA!” A man’s voice bellowed and they jumped apart.

“My dad?” Katara choked out.

“It would make sense that others would be responding to this incident, yes.” Zuko said stoically, like he was also just realizing this.

“You need to go.” She hissed, shoving at Zuko’s side.

“Where?” He whispered back. “I don’t really know where I am!”

“KATARA!” Hakoda called again, much closer now.

“They can’t see you! You’re a wanted man!” Katara continued to shove, but Zuko didn’t move.

“My boat is that way!” He said, pointing past her to where Hakoda’s voice had come.

“KATARA!” Hakoda sounded desperate, and it actually raked at Katara. 

“You have to get-” She stopped as she heard multiple people run into the clearing.

“GET AWAY FROM MY DAUGHTER!” Hakoda yelled. Katara turned, spreading her arms wide.

“He saved me dad!” She yelled back.

Hakoda halted and looked around. Seeing the very recent carnage, Hakoda made quick gestures. The others with him ran forward, securing the unconscious pirates.

“Who are you?” Hakoda asked cautiously, walking slowly up to them.

“This is the Blue Spirit. I’ve actually met him before, during the war.” Katara explained haltingly. She lowered her arms and glanced upward. “He’s….mute?”

“Well then.” Hakoda was awkward and his words were just as fumbled. “Thank you.”

He then made a sort of pained face, tilting his head slightly. “Are you really a spirit?”

“Probably not.” Katara said and heard Zuko huff behind his mask.

“At least, the Fire Nation thinks he’s just some traitor.” She added.

“I haven’t much cared for the opinion of the Fire Nation.” Hakoda muttered and Katara frowned.

“But I thank you for rescuing my daughter.” He continued. “Man or not, I must thank you properly for your help. It’s my duty as a chief, and a father.”

As Katara started to protest, Zuko moved from behind her and bowed. It was a modified gesture from the typical Fire Nation salute. It was meant to show respect to other nations.

“Great, now we can see what a spirit eats.” Katara growled, her jaw clenched.

“You know, we should hope he is a spirit.” Hakoda said as they started to walk in the direction Katara assumed the boats had moored.

“Why’s that?” Katara asked in exasperation, knowing Zuko would want to ask himself.

“You said you’ve met before. I don’t think the Fire Lord would appreciate the competition.” Hakoda finished. 

Zuko huffed again and Katara sighed.

Chapter Text

Whatever plans Hakoda may have been plotting, they were tossed into the depths when they made it to the Air Temple. It was closer than the village, and where they were supposed to meet Zuko the following day. It was also where most of the oil rig workers stayed. Which meant a throng of people were clustered on the shore. 

Nearly all of the people waiting were Fire Nation. They yelled in unrestrained relief as Katara came into view. When the Blue Spirit appeared, many immediately recognized him, and a group reevaluation happened in a blink of an eye. The former soldiers saw a traitor, but they had rescued their Fire Lord’s intended wife. And since Zuko was allegedly in the area, they were overjoyed that she had been returned so quickly. 

They unanimously and without discussion agreed that the Blue Spirit was forgiven. 

Katara was more surprised to see them happy for her safe return. 

“My lady! My lady!” Multiple voices clamored. None of them really had anything to say, though some of them called out welcomes and praises for her safety. But mostly they just kept repeating, “My lady! My lady!”

One bold woman approached Hakoda, bowing low in the traditional Fire Nation way.

“Please, great chief, as the father of our lady, we ask that you request the Fire Lord pardon the Blue Spirit.” She said. 

Hakoda looked uncomfortable and Katara stepped forward.

“I will ask him.” She said. The woman nearly knelt, but caught herself as she remembered Zuko’s edicts. 

“Thank you, my lady.” She said and backed away, relating the news to her friends. 

The Air Nomad monks easily housed the Fire Nation exuberance, careful not to fan the flames. But in the shifting, Zuko slipped away. She supposed he went to bury the mask under the pile of veils he allegedly brought. 

When he reappeared as the Fire Lord, Katara wondered why the request for a pardon had even been made to her. The workers clamored for him, nearly spilling over their self imposed boundary to make him hear. 

Looking bewildered, Zuko calmed them and claimed an empty pavilion as a pseudo-hall to bring some order to the chaos. 

Katara was presented by the masses, holding onto a plate of food someone had handed to her moments before. 

“I’m glad you’re safe.” Zuko said with genuine relief.

“I’m glad you’re here.” Katara said and kissed him, in thanks and in greeting. The group behind her applauded.

At least the common folk liked her. 

A small feast was ultimately thrown together, and the Fire Nation workers celebrated as they always did. The fires burned large and hot, but burned itself out with nothing more feeding it. They slept in any open spot they could find, finally on some common ground with the Earth Kingdom workers. 

Zuko and Katara went to a private room, and she made him show her the veils. 

Near dawn, Katara woke to an absence. Zuko hadn’t gotten far, only sitting on the edge of the bed. She crawled to him, resting her chin on his shoulder and pressing her body against his back. He had the mask resting on his legs and Katara placed her hand on it. 

“Will you tell me about it?” She asked gently. 

“My mother was an actress.” Zuko said.

Katara felt the splash of rage, remembering Noriko and Noren. Zuko was still ignoring them, burning all of her letters.

“She would take us to see the Ember Island Players every single time we went to the island. They were terrible, but I would watch her mouth the lines to so many different plays. She wasn’t even very good at it, but obviously it was a connection to something she loved a lot.” He went on. 

Zuko sighed and his head lowered.

“Or maybe we were all too good at acting our own parts. We had to.” He added.

Katara said nothing but wrapped her arms around him.

“When she left, my father was burning everything of hers. This was the only thing I could save. I can’t even tell you what play, but I think it was the closest she could get to the Dragon Empress mask.” He said. 

“Did you know? About what the play meant?” Katara asked.

“No. She talked about it after we saw a play, how she was cast as the Dragon Empress. Azula said it was because it was the last time our mother felt important. Turns out it was probably the last moment she felt happy.” Zuko said. He sighed, like he wasn’t getting enough air. 

“When did it turn into the Blue Spirit?” She inquired.

“When I was leaving to join my uncle, I grabbed it as a memento. I hadn’t really thought about using it. But when we were having problems getting past an outpost, I knew I could get in there. I just had to cover my face, because my scar would give me away.” Zuko shrugged, bouncing her head. 

“I was spotted, so good thing too. And that’s when the legend of the Blue Spirit was born. Uncle figured it out right away; he knew I had the same mask.” He said.

“Was he mad?”

“Furious.” Zuko laughed and Katara smiled. 

“Why did you keep it?” She asked.

“I always thought she’d see it and recognize it. Then she’d know I was away from the palace, that it was safe to see me again.” Zuko rested his head against hers. “When she didn’t come, I knew she was dead, so I wore it to honor her. Ursa was fighting back.”

“Ursa would have been proud.” Katara said.

“I’m going to issue the pardon, but I won’t be pardoning my mother.” Zuko stated.

“I didn’t know she-”

“For killing Azuloun.”

“Right.”

“I am going to pardon Azula.”

“What?” Katara jerked her head up, forcing Zuko off her.

“On the Fire Nation charges, she’s still going to be held on the other things.” He said calmly. He turned a little to look back at her, and she almost broke seeing his bare chest. And the scar that wouldn’t leave.

“She tried to kill you!”

“Can you blame her?” 

Katara gaped but actually looked at Zuko. His bare chest. And the scars that would never leave. 

“Yes!” She said and then heaved out a heavy breath. “But I get it. I do.”

“She stays locked up.” Zuko said.

“I know.” She replied, suddenly tired. 

“Maybe Meelo will make a breakthrough.” He offered and Katara rolled her eyes.

“I wouldn’t hold your breath. Her mask is on pretty tight.” She said.

“Thank you.” Zuko said and kissed her.

“Of course.” She replied. “We’re in this together.”

Chapter Text

The pirates and the drilling were not the only reasons Katara had come to the South Pole. It was also for her favorite festival, which coincidentally, also included her birthday. It focused on hunting, and Katara often explained it as a blend of spring cleaning and autumn harvest. There was no spiritual importance, and many of the traditions were tied to preparing for the approaching winter. Even the games had another purpose.

Sokka sat down on the bench next to Suki, pushing her closer to Katara. He handed out the flimsy paper bowls filled with flavored shaved ice. At his insistence, Katara was trying the new “fire flakes” flavor. Suki stayed with matcha. They were stationed on top of a small snow mound, watching the activity.

Below them, on a cleared ice field, a dozen shrieking children were running around blindfolded. Zuko, also blindfolded, was snatching them up one by one.

“He learned orcashark and sealotters quick.” Sokka noted. 

“We have a similar game in Kyoshi, but we’re all swimming.” Suki said.

“That sounds fun.” Katara said and lifted the small spoon of shaved ice to her mouth. The sharp scent of chili hit her nose and made her sinuses prickle. 

“This game gets the small ones used to the safer cracks and pops of ice. It makes them more comfortable on the fields.” Sokka added.

“Isn’t it better to be wary of any ice noises?” Suki asked, leaning over to stare at Sokka.

“Not in the dark season. You shouldn’t be running from safe ice to thin ice just because you were startled.” Sokka answered.

“Point.” Suki pulled a look in agreement, returning her attention to the game, and Sokka smiled. 

“Sokka, this stuff is way too spicy.” Katara blanched, sticking out her tongue. 

“Wuss.” Sokka retorted.

Katara poked at the shaved ice as she watched Zuko clear out the rest of the children from the field. The sun was warm, the sounds of the village filled her, and she felt light. Even spending time with her father had been easy, not letting the dark cloud get in the way of her enjoyment. 

Suki read into her expression and nudged her slightly.

“So what do you think about kids, Kat?” She questioned.

Katara snorted.

“No way.” She said quickly. Then sighed as she thought back to her conversation with Zuko.

“Maybe?” She amended.

“Absolutely not.” Sokka said, scraping the sides of his bowl.

Suki sighed, jamming her spoon into the shaved ice. 

“Sokka says he won’t share me.” She said.

“I just can’t imagine the…” Katara drifted and frowned.

“All the dealing with the psychological trauma of losing our mother and having an estranged father?” Sokka offered.

Katara leaned back to glare at him behind Suki, but he didn’t acknowledge her.

“So what about you?” She shot back.

“Suki and I go to therapy. I might change my mind. Or I might have a healthier reason for saying no. We deal with it.” Sokka said, sounding purposefully snide at the end. 

Katara grumbled and tossed her shaved ice over at Sokka, more frustrated when he caught it. She stood and slid down the snow, heading to the ice field.

Zuko, face flushed and puffing, was lifting his blindfold as she approached. 

“Hey, Katara.” He greeted with a smile, kissing her quickly before she could respond. 

It made her grin.

“Why was that spicy?” Zuko asked, smacking his lips briefly.

“Sokka got hot ice.”

“I must try it.”

As Zuko started up, Katara stopped him with a hand on his arm.

“Want to play?” She asked, tilting her head toward the field.

“Sure.” Zuko said and waited for her as she took up one of the discarded blindfolds.

As they walked out, Katara tied on the blindfold and walked away from where Zuko had stood. She took a moment to get her feet used to the ice and waited.

“Chomp, chomp!” Zuko called and Katara snorted.

“Oh no!” Katara called back.

Zuko was fast, relying on his speed to cover for his inexperience on the ice. But Katara could feel him coming and she dodged his first grab, sliding in an arc around him with her hands behind her back. 

He didn’t call out again. 

Hearing the scrape of boots against ice, Katara skated sideways. Zuko’s arm brushed the front of her parka and she did let out one, quick laugh.

Then she lowered herself, digging her fingers into the ice to help her turn. Her bending melted the few inches she needed, giving her a hold but also creating a bit of a tripping hazard. 

Sure enough, Zuko stumbled but only for a moment. She barely had time to fall to her knees as Zuko’s hands reached for her. Sliding under his arm, Katara melted the ice under him for a moment and he finally fell.

She knew he had caught himself when a spray of hot water splashed her backside while she got up. 

Knowing he was too close, Katara lifted ice into a small ramp and heard as Zuko collided with it.

“This is cheating.” He said.

“I’m on the ice!” Katara retorted.

She tried to keep herself elevated but the ramp dissolved behind her as Zuko melted it. Laughing, she froze it again, catching Zuko in it and dashed off again.

They kept their silent distance, but every once in a while, Zuko would fall into her orbit and Katara would startle. The surprise of it always made her laugh and the urge to just let him capture her grew. 

But she was overly competitive. 

Zuko, on the other hand, was supercharged by the constant presence of the summer sun. 

Katara heard a low groan, followed by a loud pop and she jumped. The ice was thick enough that it was beyond the question of safe. Yet they were all trained to be respectful of the ice, and the pop was so loud, so close, it reminded her of a gunshot. Of course she panicked and of course she ran away from the sound. 

She felt Zuko’s presence too late, but pulled up the ice around her. It caught her blindfold, lifting it, and she found Zuko trapped in the ice with her.

His breath seethed through his teeth and the ice melted to the edges, giving him space to breathe. His hands moved through the ice, pushing through it like it was slush and not frozen solid. He grabbed her and pulled her to him.

She kissed him, bending the ice around them to a more yielding state. He was so warm and they were encased in ice. 

When they inevitably ran out of air, Katara let the ice go, taking the water from their clothes to fill in the trench she created. Zuko lifted the blindfold and smirked. 

“Hot ice, what a concept.” He said.

Katara rolled her eyes and pushed him playfully.

“Let’s go get you a snack.” She said.

She turned and Zuko grabbed her around her waist, playfully biting at her shoulder.

“As if you aren’t one already.” He murmured.

“Oh!” Katara blustered, trying to swat at his side, but Zuko only released her and laughed.

Chapter Text

For dinner, the family stayed in the large estate near to the village. The festival had attracted the Air Nomads for years, and this time they brought along the workers from the oilrig for a well-earned reprieve. All that meant Katara and Zuko couldn’t always be out in public or else they’d be swarmed.

And Katara wasn’t keen on getting attacked or kidnapped again, especially when she was in such a good mood. 

“So what do you think of the festivities, Zuko?” Malina asked as she and Hakoda brought out large platters of food. Sokka followed after them with a covered tureen that still couldn’t contain the smell of seaprune stew. 

“It’s been amazing. I have a weakness for festivals like this though.” Zuko replied.

“The kind that won’t piss off the spirits if you do them wrong, you mean?” Sokka asked, setting the tureen down on the table. 

Katara leaned over and plucked off the lid, breathing in the steam. It smelled right for once.

“Who made this?” She asked, looking around. Hakoda opened his mouth but, looking past her, quickly shut it.

“It’s Gran-Gran’s recipe, Kat. Don’t worry.” Sokka interjected, picking up a ladle and slopping a generous scoop into a bowl. She narrowed her eyes at him but took it. 

“Do you have a favorite festival?” Suki asked.

“Does it have to be Fire Nation?” Zuko asked in return.

“No?” Suki looked confused and Zuko leaned over to look in Katara’s bowl.

“I only ask because my favorite is an Earth Kingdom one. But I do have one I like a lot in Caldera.” He said and started pulling the bowl. Katara shoved it over and returned to the tureen. 

“Let’s hear the favorite.” Suki said.

“I can’t remember what it’s called because I only got to see it when I was a kid.” Zuko started, picking up a spoon. “I must’ve been really young because my cousin was…”

Zuko smiled sadly and focused on the seaprune stew.

“Anyway, my mother had taken Azula and I to visit my uncle and a festival was going on when we got there. My cousin took my sister and I out to attend, and it was a lot of fun. The cherry blossoms were in peak bloom and there were picnics and tea; I knew it was probably my uncle’s favorite festival too.

“But at night, the town had set up these lights under the trees and you could walk around this garden looking at them. When the sun had fully set, other lights went on and they made sculptures with them. It blew my tiny little mind.” Zuko explained.

“So, a colony.” Hakoda said.

Katara sat up, but Zuko nodded.

“Yes.” He answered and looked back at Hakoda. 

“I think,” Malina said slowly, resting her hand on Hakoda’s arm. “We can all appreciate what Zuko went through to end up here with us.”

Hakoda looked at Katara’s face and grumbled. 

“My favorite is Avatar Day.” Suki stated, loudly clattering food onto a plate. Katara relaxed, rolling her eyes.

“We’re lucky Thuy’s not here.” Zuko said.

“That’d only be a problem if Katara said it was her favorite.” Sokka corrected.

“Oh for sure.” Suki said, drawing out her accent for effect. “Zuko can never leave Katara or else Thuy will smack him down.”

“Like she did his dad.” Sokka quipped and Zuko burst with a laugh.

“What’s your favorite festival, Sokka?” Malina asked.

“Love Day.” Suki and Katara shouted together and started laughing. Sokka groaned with loud exaggeration and Malina laughed lightly. 

“I don’t like most festivals if they have fireworks. Those bug me.” He did say, tearing his flatbread into shreds. 

“I like the solstice stuff. I get a kick out of how serious everyone gets when in reality they’re talking about Yue and my bratty sister.” He said finally and Katara launched a seaprune at him. 

“What about you, Malina? Hakoda?” Zuko asked. 

“Anything with good food is the best in my opinion.” Hakoda answered gruffly. 

“Mine is similar to Zuko’s, actually. But I lived in the northern part of the Earth Empire and I think what you were talking about is in the south.” Malina said. 

“Cherry blossoms bloom all the way up there?” Zuko questioned.

“Not natively, but for a long time the trees were a common gift the kings would send to each other. You can find them dotted all over capitals but only in the south are they everywhere.” Malina explained.

“They’re really something.” Zuko said.

“Oh yes. They reminded me of the North Pole, or at least, how my parents talked about the North Pole.” Malina said in a rush.

“Flowers?” Zuko asked.

“What about them?” Sokka snapped.

“How are they at all like the North Pole?” Zuko asked, bewildered.

Sokka looked over and met Malina’s eye, making Katara frown. 

“I mean, have you actually looked at snow?” Sokka asked, turning to Zuko. 

“You are clearly Piandao’s favorite.” Zuko murmured and Sokka scoffed. 

“My parents would always talk about the North Pole when it snowed. Maliq and I would go crazy seeing how little it snowed inside Ba Sing Se, and how quickly the snowplows would come through.” Malina laughed and tapped Hakoda’s arm. “We were not prepared for coming back home.” 

“Did you know that some places pickle cherry blossoms and make tea out of it?” Sokka asked and Zuko choked on his soup. 

“Oh spirits what.” Sokka croaked. 

Katara patted Zuko’s back and shrugged.

“Apparently it’s a wedding sort of tea and Iroh gave it to Zuko and me a while back.” She said.

“I was trying so hard not throw myself at you at that point too.” Zuko said, wiping his eyes. 

“Excuse me?” Hakoda interrupted sharply and Malina snorted.

“Well, turns out you’re married by swamp standards so we should probably go pick up some more.” Sokka said.

Excuse me?” Hakoda repeated. 

“We have to get married before them, really.” Suki said, looking at Sokka.

“We should probably elope then, because at this rate they’ll be married twice over.” He said.

“Now hold on…” Hakoda leaned over the table and Zuko put his arm around Katara.

“We’re going backwards through the Avatar cycle. We just have to figure out which temple Aang was born at so we can get hitched there.” He said. 

“No.” Hakoda said firmly, and everyone turned to him. “Both of my children are getting married in the South Pole.”

“Dad, we were just kidding.” Sokka said. 

Hakoda sighed and leaned back.

“I know.” He said.

“And Suki and I are getting married in Kyoshi.” Sokka added.

Hakoda sputtered and even Katara turned to stare at Sokka. Her brother took Suki’s hand and stared down at their rings.

“I hate being in the Poles.” He said softly. 

“What?” Hakoda and Katara shouted.

“O-kay.” Zuko stood up, jostling the table. “I’m taking Sokka to show me the penguins.” 

“I can fight my own battles!” Sokka protested, but Suki also stood and the two of them grabbed either of his shoulders.

“I love you man, but I am trying to keep my future wife and father-in-law from hating my guts.” Zuko muttered as he and Suki started dragging him out of the room. 

“That’s not my problem! Hey wait the stairs guys wai-” Sokka’s voice was cut off by the sound of chaotic thudding. 

“So, Katara, what do you want to do for your birthday?” Malina asked.

Katara lowered her face into her hands and groaned. 


“Cherry blossoms, huh?” Katara asked, laying on her back and looking up at Zuko.

Zuko’s long hair acted like a curtain as he propped himself over her. He was doing what he normally did when they were able to sleep together; trying to see which parts of her were ticklish as he lightly kissed her. 

“They’re pretty.” He said with his lips against her shoulder. 

“And very dainty.” Katara added.

“I’m not in love with cherry blossoms, Katara.” Zuko murmured, moving down to her collarbone. 

“I’m just saying.”

“And I’m just saying. Though it would be nice to see you in a bath with some cherry blossoms. Seeing them stick to your skin.” Zuko laid himself on her and went back to her neck. “Mmmmm.” 

“You just constantly run hot don’t you?” Katara said with a laugh threading through her words. 

“You should have seen me as a young man.” Zuko said, pushing himself up to look directly at her. “And when I was plagued with thoughts of a very mysterious spirit.” 

“You’re still a young man.” Katara retorted, putting her hands on his chest. 

“Did you ever think of me?” Zuko asked.

“The Blue Spirit?”

“Yeah.”

Katara paused then, trying to recollect. Her memory was shoddy at best, and some events were warped by time and trauma. 

She remembered her first kiss with Haru before staging a prison break to rescue his father. She remembered seeing Yue in the moonlight and knew love and heartbreak in the same moment as she saw Sokka’s face. She remembered digging her nails into Jet as if she could mold him into something else. 

And she remembered the vigilante that she could never figure out.

“I used to dream about running into you over and over again in the war. We’d fight the same villains, we’d tease each other because we are always suspicious, and you would unmask yourself while proclaiming your eternal love for me.” Katara said. 

“Funny, I always imagined the same thing.” Zuko said.

“I would never have unmasked.” Katara scoffed.

“There’d be no need.” Zuko said with a smile and then lowered himself again. “I told you that you sweat your stripes off.”

“Zuko!” 

Chapter Text

Republic City Pride was the largest gay pride celebration in the world. While the Water Tribes and Air Nomads had historically embraced other types of gender and relationships, the Fire Nation and Earth Empire were struggling to catch up. So the youngest country, filled with people from all over, found it easier to embrace the future with welcoming arms. 

Yet the concept of a celebration, especially on the heels of a long, global war, reminded them that it came at the price of a struggle. Places existed where they were not welcome. It made some, like Thuy, uncomfortable. 

“A lot of people don’t really know about me.” Thuy said as she picked at her lunch. 

“Coming out is hard, especially since you have to do it more than once.” Rohan said. “Even to the same people.” 

They were eating outside on Avatar Island, and from their spot they could see the docks of Republic City in the distance. 

“But everything is so political now.” Thuy said, looking dolefully out over the water. 

“If it makes you feel any better, we do out number the straights right now.” Rohan said.

“Hey!” Zuko and Katara said in unison, both shrinking as the table turned on them.

“Excuse?” Sokka asked, looking pointedly at them both.

“Okay, you know about me.” Zuko said, literally pointing back at Sokka.

“Sister?” Sokka asked, staring at Katara.

“I don’t have to explain anything to you.” She huffed.

“It was Yue, wasn’t it.” Sokka said.

“Of course it was Yue!” Katara blustered and then slid down in her seat. “And maybe a few others.”

“You’re gay?” Thuy demanded. 

“Maybe? I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about it. Gender isn’t important to me.” Katara gushed and Thuy stared at her, wide-eyed.

“Sokka does drag.” Suki stated.

“What?” Rohan slammed their hands on the table, standing and jostling the settings. 

“Kyoshi inspired the drag scene! With those boots and that makeup? Sit down Rohan, you’re embarrassing yourself.” Sokka retorted. 

“He walks better in heels than I do.” Katara said and Sokka nodded. They high-fived and Suki laughed. 

“But Zuko?” Rohan continued. “How could you not tell me such a thing?”

“It’s still pretty vague to be honest!” Zuko shrank back, his face twisting in discomfort. “The Fire Nation isn’t really supportive of that whole thing and I only really dated Mai and Katara.” 

“So everyone here is gay?” Thuy questioned.

“Not me.” Sokka said. “I am your token straight guy.” 

Mmmmmm.” Suki whined and Sokka leveled a warning look at her. 

“Everyone who’s had a crush on Zuko, raise your hand.” Katara said while raising hers. As Suki did, both Zuko and Sokka turned red. 

“Heteroflexible.” Sokka muttered and Rohan laughed. 

“Is there a trans community in Republic City?” Thuy asked.

“Honey, the whole thing was started by transwomen.” Suki stated. Thuy’s eyes nearly sparkled.

“Can we go to the parade? Together?” She asked.

Katara looked at Zuko and he rubbed the back of his neck. 

“I’ll figure it out.” He said and gave a pained smile. “I might not be out, though.” 

“I did not bring the right shoes for this.” Sokka murmured. 

“I’m going to see if Sifu is awake. I bet she’ll want to go!” Thuy said, jumping up and bolting from the table. 

“Zuko, you know just being there is going to make Caldera explode.” Rohan said.

“Oh, I know. I’ll figure it out.” Zuko repeated. 

“You could always wear your mask.” Sokka offered.

“No way. People already think Katara should be with the Blue Spirit. I don’t need to fuel that particular fire.” Zuko said quickly.

“I feel like I am missing context here and this displeases me.” Rohan said, steepling their fingers in front of their mouth.

“I’m going to start Thuy on her training now.” Zuko announced, standing up. 

“Have fun.” Katara said and smiled as he kissed her head. 

“Speaking of gay.” Sokka said, waiting until Zuko was out of earshot. “When are we telling Zuko that Ty Lee and Mai are dating?”

Katara dropped her cup but managed to hold onto the water, having it hover over her lap.

“They’re what?”

Chapter Text

Being woken up in the middle of the night was never ideal. But for both Zuko and Katara, with their backgrounds, the heavy thumping immediately put them in fight or flight mode. With the only light coming from Zuko’s fire daggers, Katara was disoriented and tried to steady herself. She was indoors and a voice was calling for the Fire Lord. 

None of that helped her figure out if she was safe.

“It’s for me.” Zuko whispered, dissipating his weapons and turning on their bedside lamp. 

Pulling on her robe, Katara stood at the bed while Zuko answered the door.

“Apologies Fire Lord, but we caught a thief in one of the gardens. She says your mother sent her.” A man in the hall said.

“My mother?” Zuko repeated.

“She said her name is Kiyi.” The man added.

That woke Katara up.


“What are you doing here?” Zuko hissed.

Kiyi sat in the armchair, her arms crossed tight over her chest. She glowered angrily at the floor as Zuko paced back and forth in front of her.

“You haven’t replied to any of the letters and it’s not like I can pick up the phone and call the freaking Fire Lord.” Kiyi stated.

“But why are you here?” Zuko asked.

“You’re my brother aren’t you?” Kiyi retorted, turning her glower up at him.

Zuko froze and Katara sat down on the couch opposite them. 

“They told you?” Zuko asked.

“Told me?” Kiyi laughed bitterly. “We live in a hut. They couldn’t really keep it a secret.” 

“That was all months ago, why now?” 

“Mom went back to the lakes. She got her memory back.” 

“And?”

And?” Kiyi sputtered and her cheeks flushed. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“I wanted her to not have forgotten me or my sister in the first place.” Zuko snapped.

“Don’t you think I might know how that feels? I found out that my parents were other people in disguise and lied to me my entire life.” Kiyi rubbed her eyes vigorously and huffed. “My dad let me hero worship the Fire Lord instead of telling me that I’m his half-sister.” 

“So you want to join my family now? Is that it?” Zuko’s voice dripped with venom and Kiyi flinched.

“Zuko.” Katara warned. “She’s upset.”

“And I’m pissed.” Zuko said, still watching Kiyi. 

“I just want a family. But right now I only have fakes.” Kiyi said, her voice wobbling as more tears came.

Zuko shook his head and walked to the couch, sitting next to Katara and leaning forward. He held his head in his hands and focused on his breathing.

“I looked up mom online. I saw what she did and so some of it makes sense. Like dad with his face. But it wasn’t just their faces, it became everything. Like they realized they could pretend nothing happened.” Kiyi explained. “I don’t want to be the Fire Lord’s sister or anything. But I am your sister and I just want… I want something real.”

“I have a sister.” Zuko said.

“I didn’t ask to be Ursa’s daughter.” Kiyi shot back. “I wasn’t the one that made her forget you.”

“You are not Ursa’s daughter!” Zuko shouted, sitting up. “You are Noriko’s and part of the problem is you don’t understand the difference.”

“Yes I do!” Kiyi cried. “I’m the bastard child of a murderer!”

Zuko fell back in his seat and Katara turned to press her knee against his. Kiyi pulled her legs up, resting her feet on the seat cushion so she could hide her face to cry. 

She was just a teenager. 

“Zuko, she’s hurting.” Katara said softly.

“Aren’t we all?” Zuko replied, laying his head on the back of the couch. He rubbed his face with both hands, sighing. 

“Ursa didn’t send you here.” He said, letting his arms fall to his sides.

“No.” Kiyi sniffed.

“But they’ll figure it out where you went.” 

“Yeah.”

“Why are you here, Kiyi?”

“I missed you.” Kiyi sounded so small. “You stopped coming around and then I found out why and I knew you hated me. But I didn’t hate you.”

Zuko sat up and looked at her.

“I don’t hate you, Kiyi.” He said softly.

“But you hate mom.” Kiyi said.

Zuko opened his mouth but nothing came out. When Kiyi looked up at him, he nodded.

“Yeah, I do.” He admitted. 

Kiyi sighed and lowered her legs.

“Mom cried for days when she got her memories back. She kept calling out for Azula and dad actually got rid of our computer so she couldn’t look anything up. But I searched everything at school. No one talked about your Agni Kai but I found a video. I saw what happened and I knew mom made the right decision to leave. But I didn’t know why she didn’t take you with her.” She explained. “I don’t know why she left you both behind.”

“It was too dangerous. Ozai would have hunted her-”

“He did. That’s why she had to change her face. She got lucky.” Kiyi shook her head. “You two could’ve been changed too.”

“Ah.” Zuko said and Katara touched his leg.

“Then we wouldn’t have met.” Katara said. 

“I know.” Zuko said softly, sadly. 

“You got lucky.” Kiyi said.

Zuko and Katara looked at her.

“It’s not like you had to go through all of that just to be here. If our parents were less terrible, who knows?” Kiyi clarified. “I’m glad I was born, and I’m glad you have this now, but that doesn’t make what they did okay.”

Kiyi sniffed as she started crying again.

“They all want to pretend that the ends justify the means but this whole thing sucks.” She added.

Zuko chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. 

“I missed you too, Kiyi. I had thought of you as my little sister before I found out you actually were.” He said.

Kiyi stared at him and started crying hard. Panicked, Zuko looked at Katara and she pushed at him. Zuko stood and went over to Kiyi, crouching next to the chair and awkwardly hugging her shoulders. Kiyi turned and wrapped her arms around his neck, sobbing into his shoulder.

“I’m so sorry!” Kiyi sputtered and Zuko patted her back.

“It’s not your fault.” He murmured. “Ssssh, it’s okay.” 

When Kiyi cried herself out, Zuko held her hand and escorted her to one of the guest bedrooms. Still fully clothed, Kiyi buried herself under the blankets and immediately fell asleep. Standing in the doorway, Zuko and Katara stared at the lump on the bed. 

“Sometimes I ask myself if all this is worth my mother’s death. Or if I’d give up everything to get her back.” Katara said suddenly.

Zuko startled and pressed his back into the door frame.

“Then I remember that that’s not how any of this works. Nothing in life is truly transactional.” Katara said. “There is no fate, no destiny. There is only moment after moment, with some cause and effect sprinkled in.” 

“So random happenstance is disguised as a glorious purpose?” Zuko asked. “Doesn’t that make everything meaningless?”

Katara turned and smiled at him.

“You mean an awful lot to me. Moment after moment, until my time runs out.” She said.

“Which means I’ll never be able to prove how wrong you are. Our love is a story for the ages.” Zuko said.

Katara laughed and tapped his chest.

“Let’s go back to bed.” She said. “We can deal with Kiyi in the morning.”

Zuko smiled back at her and slowly shut the door.

Chapter Text

There usually weren't any physical downsides to Katara’s connection with La. In the ocean and under the full moon, she almost felt invincible and was at her peak. During the new moon, when there was less of a pull from the sky, she was sluggish. But even then, she just napped more than normal. 

A total lunar eclipse was an entirely different beast. 

The palace was on high alert for the days leading up to the eclipse. La must have felt it coming, because their connection was charged with anxiety. And spiritual anxiety was more than Katara thought she could deal with. It made her feel like her brain was buzzing with a thousand kilowatts of electricity, while her body had been filled with rock. 

It hurt to move, to breathe, or even to think. 

Zuko, visibly shoving off clerks in his video chat, was rushing to her. 

“You don’t need to come. Sokka and my dad are already here.” Katara groaned from underneath her heap of furs and blankets. 

“I will be damned before I let anyone else take care of you during this time.” Zuko snapped. “Don’t you know this is when you’re the most vulnerable?”

“Yeah, announce it to the whole world!” Katara snapped back and Zuko frowned at her.

“You are the most important person in my life. There is no way I’m going to be anywhere else in the world than beside you.” He said.

Katara shut her mouth and watched as Zuko pushed into a room. She recognized his bedroom and stayed silent as he yanked open his closet. 

“When will you be here?” Katara asked quietly. Zuko stopped and cradled the phone in his hands, looking at her with more tenderness than she had seen before.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can. I love you.” He said.

“I love you.” She replied. “Hurry.”

As Katara found out later, Zuko left his driver at the airport to pick up his luggage while he took the car to the palace. He wasn’t the type to leave anybody behind and it surprised Katara when Sokka told her. 

What also surprised her was that the staff, already tense, was suspicious of the Fire Lord bursting into the North Pole when their ruler was at her weakest. 

There was a lot of yelling from the hall and Katara struggled out from under her warm heap. Shuffling to the door, she wrapped a blanket around herself and opened it. Zuko was yelling with no less than two servants and three armed guards.

“Zuko.” Katara called weakly. Zuko’s head snapped around and he shoved his way through.

“Beloved, what are you doing up?” He asked. Before she could reply, Zuko swept her up and stepped into her room, using a foot to shut her door behind them.

Placing her back in bed, she watched as he stood up and started to unbutton his shirt. Feeling shy, she buried her face in her blanket, keeping her eyes just above the edge of it.

Zuko raised his eyebrow, keeping his face straight.

“What’s all this?” He asked casually.

“You’ve never undressed like this before.” She said.

“Like what?” He asked and discarded his dress shirt. His undershirt was just a plain white t-shirt but it reminded her of early mornings.

“Just so, familiar.” She said and tightened her grip on the blanket as he undid his belt.

“We’re going to be married. You’re going to see this a lot.” He said.

“Who said I have to get used to it?” She asked.

“Fair.” 

Katara stayed quiet as his pants fell to the floor and only moved over as Zuko climbed into bed with her. He pulled blankets and furs over them both and then untucked her from her blanket shield. 

“So what symptoms should we expect?” He questioned.

“I haven’t gotten caught in a total eclipse before, but I’m assuming it’s going to be like the partials, just worse.” Katara answered.

“Why didn’t you leave for this one?” Zuko asked.

“And leave my people? They’re just as defenseless as I am. More if I leave.” Katara shook her head and wrapped her legs between his. “The walls are thick, but they’ve been breached before.” 

“How long do you stay like this?”

“I guess I’ll just get worse until the actual event. And then the eclipse lasts for about three hours, so I should start to feel better after it passes.” 

“So you’re going to be miserable for the whole day?”

“The eclipse isn’t until Wednesday Zuko.” Katara stated.

“That’s in two days! Are you going to die?” Zuko sounded terrified but Katara laughed.

“Waterbenders have survived every lunar eclipse since the beginning of time.” She replied.

“None of them were bound to the ocean spirit.” Zuko retorted.

“Aren’t you supposed to be making me feel better?” Katara grumbled.

Zuko smoothed her hair back and kissed her forehead. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

For the next two days, Zuko became her guard dog. He answered the door every time, taking messages and meals. Only Sokka and Hakoda were permitted access, though Katara could see the strain in Zuko’s eyes as he had to stand back. Still, he did everything. On Wednesday, Katara lost all physical strength. He bathed her, getting into the basin with her and combing out her hair. With muted videos playing, Zuko learned to braid and pulled back her hair. 

Her meals were simple and he helped her sit up before feeding her. She couldn’t take in much, but he was patient and slow, coaxing her to eat more. 

When the eclipse happened, Katara let out a gasp. It scared Zuko and he jumped on her, making sure she was still breathing. She was, but they were shallow breaths that shuddered in her throat.

“My bending is gone.” She said, weeping. Zuko held her and rocked her, running his hand up and down her arm. 

“It’ll come back. It’s temporary.” He murmured into her ear.

“Oh spirits, it hurts.” She cried. There was no pain, but the ache consumed her from the inside. Katara had nothing, was nothing. All that she was had disappeared.

“It’ll come back. I promise.” 

“Zuko it’s gone. It’s gone.” Katara clung to him, sobbing, and feeling the blank space inside of her. It was a smooth piece of glass; it held nothing and nothing could fill it. 

Zuko held her and rocked her for three agonizing hours.

When the eclipse was done and the shadow started to leave the face of the moon, Katara sighed in relief. While she and her bending both were weak, at least it was back. It was so calming, in fact, that Katara promptly fell asleep.

Waking up, she knew the eclipse was completely over. She stretched under the blankets and her hands went searching over the mattress. 

No Zuko.

Curious, Katara got up, feeling wobbly from the lack of food, and walked through her room. Her door was open just a crack and she slowly opened it just enough to peer out into the hall. Surprisingly, she found Zuko and Sokka sitting together on the floor. Zuko had his hands in his hair while Sokka leaned in, his hand on Zuko’s back.

“I mean, I’ve gone through a solar eclipse, I know what it feels like. But Sokka,” Zuko’s voice wavered and Katara put her hand to her mouth. “I thought she was going to die.”

“We all kinda did.” Sokka admitted. “When she and I were running, it was.” Her brother’s voice choked off and Katara pressed her back to the wall, unable to look at them.

“It was like she got really sick. Everything left her. She was able to move, and she still kind of had her bending, but she’d pass out if she used it. We started to shelter when they happened, if we couldn’t get out of the area, but each time I was terrified we’d be found and they’d get us. And those were partial eclipses.” Sokka finally explained. 

“I can’t lose her.” Zuko said.

“I know man, I know.” Sokka laughed in dark acceptance. “But you probably shouldn’t have punched my dad.” 

“I wasn’t leaving her side.” Zuko said darkly.

“Woah buddy, I understand! I’m just saying, he’s not going to be happy about it.” Sokka said.

Taking in a steadying breath, Katara pushed open her door and walked into the hall. Sokka and Zuko scrambled to their feet.

“Are you okay?” Zuko asked.

Katara smiled and nodded, watching both he and Sokka relax.

“It’s over.” She said and held out a hand. “I’m back to normal.” With a flick of her wrist, ice pulled from the wall and into her hand. Melting it, Katara took a drink.

“Dad wants to see you.” Sokka said.

“I guess I have to heal him, huh?” Katara asked, eyeing Zuko.

“I’m not apologizing for punching him, but I am sorry it came to that.” He was terse and Katara wondered what sort of scuffle had occurred while she was sleeping. 

“I’m sure Malina found him a healer.” Sokka interjected. “He just wants to make sure you’re alright.”

“Okay. But can you go get him? I want to go back to bed.” Katara said.

“Of course.” Sokka nodded. Zuko took her hand and she led him back into the bedroom. Katara waved at her brother and then shut the door.

“How are you feeling?” Zuko asked gently.

“Better. Thank you.”

“I was so scared.”

“So was I.”

“When is the next one?”

“About two years.”

“So soon?”

“They’re easier to achieve than solar eclipses.” 

Zuko let out a breath and pressed his forehead against hers. 

“Can we please not be here when it happens?” He asked.

“Oh come on. Now we know what to expect. It’ll be easier next time.” Katara said jokingly. Zuko took her other hand and squeezed both.

“Katara, this really scared me. I think your people would like it better if you were safe and healthy and maybe on a nice warm beach for the next eclipse.” He said.

Seeing the fear in his eyes and hearing the exhaustion in his voice, Katara sighed.

“Okay. I’ll talk to Arnook about it.” She said.

“Thank you.” Zuko wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly.

“I love you so much.” He said, kissing her hair. 

“I love you.” Katara replied and nestled her head against his shoulder. “Too bad my dad is definitely going to kill you.”

“Let him try.” Zuko grumbled and squeezed her tighter. “You’re mine now.”

“Zuko!” Katara squealed. “That’s too tight!”

“Too bad. I’m never letting you go.” Zuko said and held her fast as she started to wriggle in his grasp. They both started to laugh, loudly and almost crazed. Katara could feel her anxiety dissipate and she knew it was the same for him.

Maybe a beach next time wouldn’t be so bad. Or maybe a swamp.

She could probably get away with a swamp.

Chapter Text

The day after the eclipse, Katara still felt weak. But even as she struggled to walk very far on her own, she was still shoving Zuko to leave.

“You are the Fire Lord. You can’t be spending all of your time in the North Pole.” She snapped angrily. Her quilt was piled on top of her but still dragged behind her as she pushed against Zuko’s back. While he was a slender man, he was still taller than her and had been trained to not be pushed around by an invalid. 

“Katara, I can’t leave you like this.” He said.

“I have my family here, plus the palace staff, and the oasis. I’m fine.” She stated.

“That’s all well and good but I, your intended husband who will be caring for you the rest of your life, cannot leave you like this.” 

Katara stopped pushing and rested her head against his back.

“They’re going to overthrow you and, I don’t know, put Azula on the throne and I do not need that pain in my life.” She said. 

“You make a good point and I am slightly conflicted.” Zuko said. He craned his neck to look at her behind him. “I want to talk to Sokka first.” 

“Fine.”

“And you go back to bed.”

“Zuko.” 

Katara yelped as Zuko turned and picked her up, walking her over to the bed and dumping her onto the pile of blankets and pillows.

“The doctor put you on bedrest.” He said.

“I am the greatest healer in all three tribes!” Katara said.

Zuko turned and started to walk out of the bedroom.

“I healed my own wounds in an active battlefield!” She yelled after him. “No one can tell me what to do!”

Zuko said nothing as he left, shutting the door behind him. 

“I bet he’d change his tune if he were stuck in a bed.” Katara muttered, nonetheless burying herself in the warm nest they had constructed over the past few days. 

She must have dozed off, because the next moment had her startle upwards as her door slammed open.

“Shush!” Zuko’s voice was sharp.

“She’s going to kill you regardless.” Sokka said angrily.

Sitting up, Katara pulled her quilt back over her head like a hood. Sokka stood in the doorway with Zuko’s arm around his neck. Her brother held onto Zuko and Katara looked down.

His right leg was in a cast.

“Spirits above, what on earth happened?” Katara asked.

Sokka grumbled incoherently as he staggered forward, supporting Zuko, and led him to the bed. 

“I broke my leg.” Zuko said, easing himself onto the bed as Katara moved over. 

“I can see that, yeah.” Katara retorted, annoyed.

“This idiot got into another fight with our father, tried to do something stupid to prove a stupid point, and fell off a wall.” Sokka clarified. 

“You did what?” Katara exclaimed.

Zuko looked calm as he got comfortable on the bed. He then turned and looked at her, seemingly unbothered.

“I broke my leg.” He repeated.

“Zuko!” Katara grabbed a pillow and hit him with it. 

“Tui’s gills and La’s fins, I hope she beats some sense into you.” Sokka grumbled. 

“I can’t heal you right now!” Katara said. “I’ll exhaust myself resetting a bone.” 

“As you can see, the bone has already been set and I am in a cast. I can heal like the normal people that aren’t engaged to the greatest healer of all three tribes.” Zuko said. 

Katara hit him with the pillow again. 

The palace, remembering Zuko’s previous unannounced visit to the North Pole, was more prepared for his stay this time. A temporary space was made for him in Katara’s office, and Zuko made a call back to Caldera. 

The prime minister, having an irascible relationship with Zuko at best, inquired how long he would be away. Katara had forced Zuko to say three days, as she would have her full strength back and be able to heal his injury at that point. 

His assistant Toyo, a man Katara couldn’t totally pin down, was on a chartered flight that night with all of Zuko’s accumulating paperwork. 

In the North Pole, Arnook was doubly displeased. He had kept to himself after Katara’s coronation, but after Zuko’s own crowning, something had set him off again. 

Katara wanted to assume the former king would be pleased with the results, all things considered. 

Sokka kept Arnook away, yet Katara knew that stressed him out. Things had already been tense with the eclipse, and now it was getting worse. 

“What did you two fight about?” Katara asked as she helped Zuko get ready for bed. 

“It was something ridiculous, and not at all the point.” He said, moving awkwardly to assist more than he needed to. Katara swatted his hands away and gently pulled his pajama pants up over his cast. 

“What do you mean?” She pressed.

“Well it’s obvious they don’t trust me.” He said.

“Sure, but I do and so does Thuy. And we can beat you up if we need to.” 

Zuko gave a bark of laughter and Katara sat back to let him adjust his waistband. 

“Your dad isn’t worried about me hurting you, though that’s what he says. He’s worried about my people.” He said.

“They won’t do anything to me.”

“They already tried.”

“That was your father, you know that.”

“Katara, come on, you know what they’re saying.”

“And? They’re saying the same things about you here.” Katara laid back and Zuko held her awkwardly, the rough cast bumping into her legs. 

“Yeah but-” He started and she clapped her hand once firmly against his chest.

“You matter, stop it. You’re going to be my husband. You are going to be part of the tribe.” Katara stated. 

Zuko held her hand against his chest and looked up at the ceiling. 

“I just want them to know I’m not planning on taking you away. That I want to be a part of the tribe.” He said. Turning his head, they looked at each other. 

“They’ll get it.” Katara said.

Toyo arrived bright and early, immediately putting Zuko to work. Arnook, grumbling about the growing red stain, shut himself in his rooms with his wife. 

Suki and Thuy showed up with Rohan, mostly to make fun of Zuko. Whale Thuy and Rohan pestered both Zuko and Toyo, Suki slipped off to wherever Sokka was hiding.

As she felt better, Katara wandered through the palace, wondering where her family had gone.

Unfortunately, she ran into Malina.

“Oh! Katara!” Malina said, smiling brightly after the surprise. “Are you feeling better?”

“Much.” Katara replied, slipping her hands into her sleeves like a muff. 

“Are you looking for your father?”

“Sokka.” 

“I think they’re together actually.”

“Wonderful.” Katara croaked and Malina’s smile fell. 

“You know, your father misses you terribly.” She said.

“He seems to be filling his time just fine.” Katara shot back. 

Malina sighed but didn’t fight back.

“I think your father and Sokka are in our rooms.” She said and walked away, leaving Katara to make her way alone.

Her family and Arnook kept their private rooms close to Katara’s and it wasn’t an arduous journey by any means. But as she approached the door, she saw Suki outside, leaning against the wall. 

“Hey.” Katara called out. Suki turned and stood up.

“How are you feeling?” She asked as Katara approached.

“A lot better. I might be able to heal Zuko tomorrow.” She replied.

“Don’t push yourself.”

“I won’t.”

The conversation died and Katara tilted her head.

“Is everything okay?” She asked.

Suki sighed and rubbed the back of her neck; a gesture she borrowed from Sokka. 

“Sokka hasn’t been here since before we all went to the Swamp. It’s making him anxious.” She said. 

“What about you?” 

Suki shrugged.

“Is Sokka with my dad?” Katara inquired.

“Yeah. I wouldn’t bother them right now.” Suki said, glancing at the door. 

Katara followed her gaze and frowned.

That night, Katara tested her bending as she washed under Zuko’s cast. It didn’t tire her as quickly as she feared, and Katara knew she’d be able to heal him at the Oasis. 

“How does it feel?” She asked as she dumped the dirty water.

“It aches, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.” Zuko answered, hopping backwards onto the bed. 

“We’ll get the cast off tomorrow and you’ll be back on your feet by the afternoon.” Katara said, joining him under the blankets.

“Are you sure that’s not too soon?” Zuko asked. 

“It’s nothing I can’t handle.” She quipped and Zuko grumbled in annoyance. 

“I don’t want to leave you.” He said.

“It’s only a few more months until the wedding. Then I become Fire Lady and I’ll be in Caldera all the time.” 

“No you won’t.”

“Watch me.”

“No one here is going to let you be in Caldera for very long.” 

“No one else here is Queen of the Water Tribes.” Katara snuggled close to Zuko and she smiled as he kissed the top of her head. 

The next morning, the doctor arrived to cut away Zuko’s cast. He brought a wheelchair and Katara pushed him down the halls toward the Oasis. Thuy and Rohan joined them, chattering about the Oasis and other spiritual places in the world. 

To her surprise, a lot of other people were waiting for them at the entrance. Arnook and his wife, Hakoda and Malina, plus Sokka and Suki.

“This is a sacred place, Fire Lord.” Arnook said before Katara could ask about his presence. She frowned but Zuko nodded.

“Of course.” He said.

Katara ignored them and wheeled Zuko in, careful not to jostle his leg as they went over the bricked path. Stopping before the bridge, Katara walked around and started to take off her parka. 

“What’s going on?” Zuko asked.

“I’m getting in.” Katara replied. 

“I thought we were going to the pond.” Zuko said.

“No need.” Katara said, dropping her outer layers on the grass. “I’m close enough to La I can practically hear its weird, fishy thoughts.” 

Walking to the edge, Katara touched her foot to the water. It always surprised her when she found it warm. She continued into the water, slipping a bit on the slick mud under her feet.

When the water reached to her waist, she turned and looked at the gathered audience. 

“Can someone bring him to me?” She asked. 

Sokka stepped forward but Zuko held up his hand.

“Wait, I need you to promise me something.” He said.

Katara crossed her arms over her chest and eyed him.

“What?” She asked.

“You only heal the leg.” Zuko said.

“What?” Katara repeated, confused. 

“Not the lightning and not the burn.” He said.

“Zuko…”

“Only the leg.”

They stared at each other and Katara sighed when she gave up.

“Fine.” She said.

Sokka helped Zuko up and steadied him as he hopped to the bank. He sat at the edge and put his legs in as Katara held out her hands.

“Only the leg.” He said again.

“I promise.” She replied. 

Zuko pushed himself off the bank and Katara caught him as he sank into the water. 

Having him close and being in the Oasis, Katara felt her heart hammering in her chest. With every beat, light shimmered over the top of the water. Joy filled her and Katara squeezed Zuko. He hugged her tightly and they both started laughing. As he was still trying to hold himself up on one leg and with the mud offering nothing in return, they both slid as they held each other. 

Katara gasped when she went under but Zuko hauled her back up, sputtering and trying to shake her hair out of her face.

Blinded by her hair, she jumped when Zuko suddenly kissed her. Still, she relaxed and kissed him back, pushing her hair back after he pulled away. 

“I love you.” He said. 

“I love you.” Katara murmured. 

“You’re soaked.” Zuko said and laughed again.

“Well you’re…” Katara gasped and pushed on his chest. “You’re standing up!”

“Yeah, you healed me.” He said.

“I didn’t!” She exclaimed and Zuko frowned.

The glow on the water dimmed and they both turned to look back at the grass.

Everyone was looking at the pond past the bridges.

Sokka suddenly sat down and Suki crouched next to him, rubbing his back. Arnook and his wife held onto each other, while Hakoda and Malina walked to the water’s edge.

Hakoda held out his hand to Zuko.

“Welcome to the family.” He said.

Zuko hesitated but took the offered hand and Hakoda pulled him out of the water. As water streamed from his clothes, Zuko pulled up his pant leg to look at his injury. The skin was smooth and unbroken, without even a bruise to hint at the break. 

“What happened?” Katara asked, pushing herself onto the bank and looking around.

“When you went under the water, a black circle glowed where you had been.” Malina said and then looked back at the pond. “And the pond glowed white.”

“Yue?” Katara asked anxiously, taking a step toward the bridge.

“No.” Hakoda said. “But, it was Tui.” 

“It was her.” Sokka said, his voice thick. “She.”

He cut off and lowered his head, putting his hands on the back of his neck while Suki hugged his side. 

“She told him he didn’t need her forgiveness.” Suki said. 

“She said we shouldn’t seek forgiveness for falling in love.” Arnook corrected, finally turning around. “Still, I feel I should apologize to you, Fire Lord.” 

“Oh.” Zuko said, moving to stand beside Katara. “It’s okay.”

“Katara.” Hakoda said and Katara glared at him.

“Don’t ruin it.” She said. “I’m not Tui.”

Holding onto Zuko’s hand, Katara used her bending to remove the Oasis water from their bodies. After returning it, she bent down to grab her clothes and walked off. 

She had done the healing she had come to do and that was enough. 

“Hey.” Sokka said, grabbing onto the parka under her arm and forcing her to stop. 

Katara looked down at him and Suki.

“Are you okay?” She asked.

“Can I have a hug?” He asked in reply.

Katara dropped Zuko’s hand and her clothes, falling onto Sokka. They hugged and Katara pressed her cheek against Sokka’s. 

Then again, she’d do anything for her brother. 

Chapter Text

After the exhausting trip, a daylong comedy of errors, and a scathing phone call from Katara, Zuko and Sokka sat across from each other, staring down at Zuko’s phone. Zuko was sure they were both trying to process everything that happened, but there wasn’t any way for him to begin to understand.

He was still trying to find out if he was going to get in trouble for breaking into the North Pole and breaking his leg. This was completely out of his capacity for logic.

“Could you imagine if it was Katara instead of me who ended up as ambassador?” Sokka asked suddenly.

“Hmm.” Zuko intoned, narrowing his eyes.

“What?” Sokka asked, making Zuko look up.

“I’m trying to figure out if that would be better or worse.” Zuko said.

“I’m going to assume you mean that as a purely hypothetical because you are, of course, thrilled that your best friend is living here now.” Sokka said, shoving Zuko’s face hard enough to make him back up.

Zuko chuckled, quickly sitting up.

“Of course. But I think I’d somehow manage to get even less work done with her around.” He said.

“That’s my sister, dude.” Sokka groaned.

Zuko laughed. But as the night went on, and he lay in bed, he wondered what it would have been like.


“If the Fire Lord is ready,” the assistant said, bowing low, “the White Lotus has arrived.” 

Zuko straightened his robe and stood behind his desk, nodding curtly for the assistant to usher in his guests. 

When the White Lotus announced the ambassador program, he worried about what kind of impression he would make on the diplomats. He was the traitorous son of the now imprisoned usurper Fire Lord. Iroh tried to assure him that the Earth Kingdom delegate was sympathetic, but Zuko didn’t know how fully he believed that.

And neither Sokka nor Katara had given him much of a hint when he asked about the Water Tribe.

“Good to see you again, Zuko.” A subdued voice said and Zuko roused himself.

“Welcome, Master.” He replied, bowing. Piandao waved his hand dismissively, and Zuko tried to calm down as he straightened.

The other members of the White Lotus, excluding Iroh, trickled in.

When Tenzin came into view, Zuko flinched. He could never figure out where he stood with the Air Nomad leader. 

“Fire Lord Zuko, I have the appointments here.” Tenzin said. As the older man walked forward, he held out the dense scrolls; a number of colored seals spilled out from the ends. 

“Thank you.” Zuko said, starting to walk around his desk but halting as his assistant intercepted the scrolls. Of course he couldn’t take his own paperwork.

“Fire Lord.” The assistant said, bowing. Zuko withheld his sigh as he took the scrolls. 

Cracking open the Earth Kingdom seal on one, he quickly scanned the characters. He had no idea who Mr. Ying was, but maybe that was a good thing. No news was good news.

Setting the open scroll on his desk, he neatly split the Water Tribe seal. 

Before he could even read it, his eyes caught on the familiar characters.

“Katara?” He questioned.

“While she does not have a lot of experience,” Tenzin said carefully. “She was appointed by the Avatar herself.” 

“No, that’s fine. It’s just…” Zuko cleared his throat, trying to regain his composure. “I was under the impression that Master Katara was enrolled in medical school.” 

“She’s doing this at the personal request of the Avatar.” Katara’s voice said from behind the door.

“Master Katara, this is highly inappropriate.” Tenzin said, his voice flat.

“Aw come on, you knew this was going to happen.” Katara replied as she stepped into the room. Zuko’s throat dried and he busied himself with rolling up the scroll.

“That’s why I was against this whole thing.” Tenzin sighed.

“Too bad no one can say no to Thuy.” Katara retorted and then turned her attention to Zuko.

“Hi Katara.” Zuko said, unable to stop his smile.

“Hey.” She said with a bright smile of her own.

Dinner that night passed in a blur. Zuko could barely remember talking to the Earth Kingdom ambassador, instead watching Katara engage with the others at her table. For some reason, it made his heart flutter seeing her laugh with the governor of Hira’a.

After dinner, Zuko offered to show Katara around one of the gardens. She agreed readily, and they went out into the cool night, silence finally finding them.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” He asked, when they were far enough away from the palace.

“I wanted it to be a surprise.” Katara said.

“But what about school?” Zuko asked. 

“It wasn't going well.” She sounded pained, and Zuko grabbed her hand, squeezing it gently.

“I’m sorry.” He said.

“It’s okay. Maybe I’ll go back later, to a smaller school. I know I can do it, but those lecture halls were massive.” She replied and they were quiet again.

There was work to be done with her around, and Zuko knew that rationally. But a lot of the work involved the war, and as he looked over at her, he grew concerned. 

One of the many projects meant to handle the wartime tragedies was paying out reparations and benefits to former POWs. That included Katara’s own father. 

Then there was the subject of her mother. 

“The work is going to be hard.” Zuko said.

“I know.” 

“And personal.”

Katara stopped him, pulling on his hand to make him turn.

“Do you think I can’t handle it?” She asked.

“It’s not that. I’m worried it’s going to hurt you.” Zuko replied. 

Katara took his other hand in hers and gently swung them, looking down at the ground.

“I know it was rash, but I didn’t want to lose this chance.” She said.

“What chance?” Zuko asked.

“Being with you.” Katara looked up at him, a small smile on her face.

Zuko frowned, and her face fell.

“What is it?” She asked.

Zuko took back his hands and held her face, stepping in to kiss her. Katara leaned into him, running her hands up his back. Her lips, her tongue, her breath, everything that he could take in, Zuko took greedily. 

When he did step back, Katara reeled, slightly dazed.

“That was nice.” She murmured. 

“This isn’t like you.” Zuko said.

“What are you talking about?” She asked, a laugh in the background of her words.

“You would never put me before everything else.” Zuko said, then sighed, looking bemused. “As much as I would love that.”

“Of course I would! I love you, Zuko.” Katara said.

“No, you wouldn’t. You would’ve dropped out when I asked you to if that were true. You would always chase your dream to be a doctor, because you love your people more than anything else.” Zuko countered.

“You are my dream.” She said firmly. 

“I am very much not.” Zuko, still holding her face, looked into her eyes. “Plus, you would be terrible at this job.”

“And why’s that?” Katara asked, moving her hands to hold onto his arms. 

“Because if I were to work in any sort of proximity with you, I would be trying to get you alone and in a locked room.”

“Zuko!” 

“You would be amazing. You would fight for your people here, even as the work eroded you. You would balance out all of the hostile mess in my court. You would be bound to the spirit that surrounds my entire country and that, well,” Zuko smiled and Katara’s face flushed. “I don’t want to explain why that intrigues me so much.” 

“So why do you say this isn’t my dream?” She asked.

“Because it’s mine.” Zuko said softly, kissing her again. 

Having her near him was everything he could ever want. He wanted to dress her in red and black, with the blue tied neatly at her neck. He wanted her at court, bearing down on his ministers and governors that constantly stymied his work. He wanted her compassion and her vengeance as he made his penance for the war. 

There would be long nights as they worked together on these projects. He wanted to see her asleep every single night. He wanted to pin a crown in her hair.

“I am going to marry you.” Zuko said.

“Yes.” Katara agreed.

“Blazes, I’ve never wanted anything so badly in my life.” He said, his voice shaking manic energy.

“Nothing?” She asked, coyly.

“Well…” Zuko replied.

Loud knocking made Zuko jolt upright.

“Fire Lord? Your breakfast is ready.” Someone called through his door.

Sitting up, Zuko rubbed his face. 

It had been three days, and he was already back to having these dreams again. 

Gripping his blanket, Zuko looked over at the empty half of his bed.

A broken leg hadn’t been that bad, all things considered.

Chapter Text

The closer her wedding day got, everything got harder and harder. The nobility in Caldera weren’t happy, but kept to themselves because the Earth Empire also didn’t want the marriage to happen. And Arnook ramped up his sullenness to the point that they no longer took their weekly meal together. 

For all of that talk about destiny, it seemed to Katara like the whole world was against her marriage to Zuko.

With a headache building, Katara headed to the oasis. True to her word, she had started visiting Yue more often, finding the trips less uncomfortable. The conversations were a lot better too.

Katara took her place next to the pond and focused her breathing on Tui and La. As Tui rose in her vision, she inhaled. When La rose, she exhaled. After a time, she closed her eyes.

Projecting her spirit felt similar to the falling sensation she’d get when laying in bed. She moved forward without moving, and when Katara opened her eyes, she was at the edge of the pond. Standing, she looked back at her body. That was always disconcerting.

Facing the pond again, Katara dove between the spirits. Without having to breathe, Katara swam down for longer than her physical lungs could manage. At some point, the swim down flipped to a swim up and Katara broke the surface of another pond.

It was a full moon, and usually Yue was waiting for her here.

But no Yue.

Pulling herself up, Katara looked around. The landscape of the spirit world fascinated her and some of the fauna approached her in curiosity. Being connected to La, Katara radiated with a dark light that was only possible in this realm. Some spirits kept their distance, whispering the phrase “vattu,” but neither Yue nor Thuy could tell her what that meant.

Regardless, she wasn’t threatened, wearing the scales of La, so Katara started to walk about. A breeze she couldn’t feel ruffled the long purple grass, making the sloping hills around her undulate. 

In the distance, Katara saw the tiny figures of bipeds and she squinted. Iroh and Rohan explained to her that Airbenders were able to access the Spirit World easily, and a handful of others that could master their spiritual balance. Katara had yet to run into other humans in all of her visits, but Yue assured her that there were plenty around.

“Looking for me?” Yue asked, directly behind Katara. She laughed as Katara jumped, whirling around.

“I was beginning to think I was being stood up.” Katara remarked, making Yue smile.

“I had something take longer than I thought.” She said and Katara narrowed her eyes.

“So what were you looking at?” Yue asked, floating past her.

“Are those humans?” Katara asked, turning back and pointing to a far hill. The figures were gone.

“Hmm, always possible.” Yue said, rolling in the air like a seal. Becoming a fully-fledged spirit had relaxed her apparently. She was like this a lot of the time; ethereal and fluid.

“You now, I never asked, but what does being the moon spirit entail?” Katara questioned, continuing her aimless walk.

“Does it need to be something?” Yue questioned. “Is there something about being the ocean spirit?”

Katara scoffed, casting Yue an incredulous look.

“Of course. Blood, boats, and babies.” She retorted and Yue rolled her eyes.

“You’re really fond of your quips.”

“I’m serious. You know our people, we live and die by the ocean. Salt water runs in humanity’s veins, and amniotic fluid is salty. But boats sink, humans drown, and sea water is poisonous. Life and death exists in the ocean.” Katara explained, gesturing with her hands as she spoke. 

“So what is the moonlight?” Yue pondered, tapping her lips with one slim finger. 

“Yearning.” Katara murmured and Yue paused. Her hair and robes continued on for a moment, flowing in the watery air. 

“Oh?”

Katara laughed and looked around.

“I don’t think I could ever get tired of being here.” She said instead.

Yue nodded and rolled over, flipping to look in the same direction.

“We just have to be careful. Time passes differently here, and we want you to have a body to return to.” She said.

“That’s alarming.” Katara laughed.

“Do you want to try to find the humans?” Yue inquired.

“What if they’re not humans?”

“We’ll be fine.” 

They traveled on, moving in what they both assumed was an arc to keep close to the pond. While the thought of skipping the next few days was appealing, Katara didn’t want to go back to a grave. 

“So what’s bothering you?” Yue asked and Katara sighed.

“There’s just so much. After the last lunar eclipse, I just don’t really have the energy to deal with it anymore.” She replied.

“Those are always scary for me. I can’t feel you or anything, and I don’t like being so helpless.” Yue said.

“At least you don’t have a physical body. I think that’s how I’m going to die.” Katara muttered.

“Oh, no, that was the same for me when I was alive. I had to stay in the oasis during an eclipse because I almost died each time.” Yue corrected and Katara winced.

“Sorry.”

“I forgive you.” Yue flashed her a grin and swam forward again. “So how’s Zuko?”

“He’s…” Katara drifted and looked away.

“What’s the matter?”

“How did it feel when you knew that no matter what, you weren’t going to be able to marry Sokka?” 

When Yue stayed quiet, Katara looked back at her. Still floating in the air, Yue was looking off in the distance.

“I’m guessing you mean before I died.” She said.

“Yeah.”

Yue sighed and rocked backward, reclining in the air.

“There just wasn’t another option for me. There was a war going on, and my father needed the support.” She answered.

“I know you said that I should marry Zuko and become Fire Lady, but I don’t know if that’s what our tribe needs.” Katara said. “I love him so much, but every world leader is standing in our way.”

“Every single one?” Yue questioned.

Katara frowned and waved her away.

“Near about.” She muttered.

“There’s the two of you, and I think that should be enough.” Yue stated primly.

“On what authority?” Katara pushed Yue’s floating body and watched her lazily rotate. 

“On my own authority, as the spirit of yearning.” She needled and Katara groaned. 

“I just want to know everything is going to work out.” She said and Yue lowered herself, putting her feet on the ground. With her hair and robes, it still looked like she was made of silk, being pulled through the water. 

“Katara,” Yue said and took her hands. “What does that even mean?”

Her flippant question, coming from a serene and godly face, made Katara laugh. 

“No seriously.” Yue continued, sounding on the edge of laughter herself. “Things can work out, but how you feel about it depends on so many things. I mean, look at me.”

“You? Look at me!” Katara countered. “I’m some kind of Avatar knock off with this miserable little connection.”

“What are you worried about?” Yue pressed.

Lowering her head, Katara sighed again. She ran her thumbs over the backs of Yue’s hands, desperate to feel something.

“I just don’t want my desires to overcome me again. I want to know that I’m not going to hurt anyone and that this choice, this marriage, it’s not going to ruin anything.” Katara explained.

“Is that what you think happened?” Yue asked.

Katara shook her head.

“If it was fate, it’s not my fault, right? It was supposed to happen. But that’s so dumb.” Katara looked back up at Yue. “I chose that for all the wrong reasons. I want some confirmation that I’m choosing this for the right ones.”

“Well, we both know you’re not going to listen to me.” Yue said and swung their hands back and forth.

“What do you mean?” Katara asked, affronted.

“I’ve already told you my answer and you’ve obviously ignored it if you’re still being a baby about this.” Yue answered and released her hands. 

“Hey!” Katara chased after her as Yue floated back into the sky.

“Wait, do you feel that?” Yue asked, pausing and rotating around.

“Yeah…” Katara murmured, also looking around. The air was warm, which was impossible since she didn’t have a physical body.

“The veil is thinner here. I wonder…” Yue drifted, in thought and body, and Katara watched her.

“It’s the solstice!” Yue chirped.

“What?” Katara exclaimed but Yue patted her hands in the air. 

“Calm down. I told you time is different here. You’re still fine, I can see you at the pond.” She said.

“Well which solstice?” Katara demanded.

Yue regarded the empty space, rolling over to examine the patch of nothing from other angles. 

“Definitely summer, and in the northern hemisphere. But I can’t tell if it’s a past one or future one.” She said.

“The past?” Katara stepped closer to the spot Yue regarded, trying to see what Yue did.

“Sure, why do you think so many humans are desperate to get here? The potential to see the future is too tempting to pass up.” Yue said and straightened. “It’s a good thing the monks and some very confused Waterbenders are the ones who usually manage to find their way.” 

“Is someone trying to come through?” Katara asked, taking a step back.

“Maybe. Spots like this open up all the time and no one notices them.” Yue shrugged. “I mean, a lot of them are miles in the air or deep underwater, but eh.” 

“I think we should head back.” Katara said.

The empty patch started to shimmer and she took a few more steps back.

A figure walked through the patch, making Yue yelp. He was tall and his long hair was clipped back. His topknot and pointed beard made Katara’s absent heart stop. 

It took her a moment to realize that this man had a different face than Roku, and she recognized him just as the man recognized her. 

“Katara?” Zuko asked.

He was forty years older than she had last seen him.

“Zuko.” Katara whispered as Zuko looked over his shoulder. He looked back at her, confused.

It made her laugh.

“What are you doing here? Why aren’t you in-” He started but Katara shushed him, waving her hands in the air.

“Ssh! I’m not there yet!” She said sharply. “I’m still, I mean, we haven’t… Spirits, we do end up getting married, right?” 

Zuko stared at her before doubling over, laughing. 

“Married? You look so young.” He wheezed.

“I’m twenty-five!” Katara balked. 

“Hello Zuko, it’s been awhile.” Yue interrupted and Zuko stood, his chest still jumping as he contained his mirth. 

“Yue, I know you’ve been busy.” He said.

“So you know!” Katara accused. 

Yue gave another of her fairylike shrugs. 

“I know sometimes. This hadn’t happened yet, so I didn’t know. But also, I’ve met you both over and over through the years. I can only tell you things linearly since that’s how your minds work.” She explained. “Once you ascend, you’ll understand.”

“Asce-” Katara squeezed her eyes shut and pinched the bridge of her nose. “No. Nevermind. That’s a tomorrow conversation.” 

“Katara, I’m surprised to see you. But it’s...wow.” Zuko said and approached. Katara lowered her hand and found him right in front of her. 

If she had a pulse, it would have thundered up her neck to make her blush to her hairline.

Spirits above and below he was still handsome. 

“I always say you are as beautiful as the day I met you.” He said, taking her face in his hands. 

Katara would have ripped the spirit world apart to have her body here. 

“I probably look like my grandmother.” She mumbled.

The corner of his mouth hitched.

“Do you want me to tell you?” He asked.

Katara sputtered and he laughed.

“Blazes, I know you’re my wife but I feel like a lecherous old man.” Zuko said and lowered his hands. 

“So we get married?” She asked meekly.

“We do. And so far, you’ve stayed married to me.” He replied.

“I want to ask about so many things, but that feels like it’s cheating.” 

“It does take the fun out of things.” 

“But can you tell me if everything ends up okay? I mean, you’re here, we’re still married, so everything works out, right?” Katara questioned. 

Zuko stroked his beard, looking so much more like his uncle with that simple gesture. 

“There’s a lot that happens in the forty-some years. A lot I’d love to change or avoid.” He mused. He shook his head and crossed his arms loosely at his chest. 

“We’re all safe and happy. Everyone that you know and love is fine.” Zuko said. 

“And us? We’re still how we are, now?” Katara questioned. Her tone caught him off guard and he looked surprised.

“Katara, if anything, you and I get better.” He said. 

The empty patch behind him shimmered again and Yue clapped her hands.

“Well, time to go!” She said.

“But I want to see!” Katara pleaded as Yue grabbed her arm.

“Say goodbye to your husband.” She said and Katara pulled against her.

“Wait!” She said, but Yue pulled her up, launching them both miles into the sky.

As Yue dragged her back to the pond, Katara tried to keep the image of the woman who started through the portal. Her hair was long and curly, tied back in loops. She looked so young


“Who was that?” Riza asked. 

Zuko patted her back and they started forward.

“Your mother.” He said.

“What?” Riza shrieked and Zuko chuckled, stroking her hair. 

“She hasn’t gotten to that part yet, and you were absolutely meant to be a surprise.” He said. 

“Da-ad!” Riza whined, pulling on his arm.

“You’re just trying to get out of finding Bumju. You lost him and it’s your responsibility to find him.” Zuko said. 

“UGH.” 

Chapter Text

The metal under her feet made Sokka’s nervous tapping very obvious. In the mirror, Katara watched as Sokka held his chin and nodded, going over something in his head. But as his boots continued to tattoo against the floor, Katara sighed. The woman doing her hair paused, her hands hovering above Katara’s head, and looked nervously in the mirror.

“What is it, Sokka?” Katara asked. 

At her question, Sokka stopped all of his movement and looked up at her. His eyes meeting hers through the mirror, his eyes were wide and innocent.

“Nothing?” He replied curiously. “I’m just thinking.” 

“But why are you nervous?” Katara asked.

“I think I’m allowed to be nervous.” Sokka retorted.

“You’ve already gotten married!” Katara snapped. 

Grinning, Sokka looked down and twisted his wedding band. “Yeah, but I knew that was going to be perfect so there was nothing to worry about.”

“And this is going to be fine.” Katara said with a sigh. “Why don’t you go check the flowers?”

“Why? Because I’m the florist and it’s my job?” Sokka asked.

Katara glared at his reflection and just grinned wider, standing from the couch behind her.

“Alright. I’ll come and get you in a little bit.” He said as he walked to the door. Once he was gone, Katara nodded to the hairdresser and she continued.

There were many things in life that Katara would never have chosen for herself but still ultimately enjoyed. This overly feminine dress up was not something she, or others, would assume about her, but Katara did enjoy the process. The whole group went for a spa treatment; Toph stayed longer in the mud bath than anyone else and it was almost impossible to get Zuko out of the steam room, but they all had a good time drinking tea in overly soft bathrobes. 

Now the hair dressing was something that Katara relished. The oil and combs worked through her thick, wavy hair till it shone. Then it was braided, coiled, and pinned. Beads of colored glass and dyed bone that matched her dress were constellations in her hair. Two large, circular beads, holding the main loops on either side of her head, were carved with different symbols. One was the matched set of Tui and La, the other was the stylized version of the sun. 

After the hair came the dress.

It was blue and cut to swirl around her body. Black fish swam around the hem and a spray of sea foam leaped up the bodice and down her arms. Katara touched the fabric lightly, fearing that it would dissolve under her fingers. 

“You look beautiful, Majesty.” The attendants said. Katara smiled.

“Thank you.” She said.

Sokka came to collect her, wiping away tears as they walked down the cramped metal corridor. The sounds of the metal shifting were unnerving, but Katara focused on keeping herself calm. Coming to a door, Katara took a deep breath while Sokka pushed it open. Sunlight blinded her and she walked out holding a hand above her eyes.

“Oh my baby girl.” Hakoda said as he stepped into view, blocking the sunlight enough for Katara to see. Sokka was wearing a tux, but Hakoda had chosen to wear a traditional parka. The caribou skin was richly embroidered and his own hair had the same beads threaded in. Seeing him represent their home, Katara started to sniffle and Hakoda embraced her.

A breeze came up over the deck of the ship and blew Katara’s skirts, making her shiver. Hakoda chuckled and kissed the top of her head before putting his arm around her.

“Let’s go get you married.” He said, his voice thick with emotion. Katara nodded and they walked off to the side of the ship.

They stopped at the top of the ladder, Hakoda and Sokka standing at either side of her, and Katara shook out her hands. Just as she brought her arms up, Sokka yelled.

“Wait!” He said and darted off. Katara looked at Hakoda, puzzled, and then laughed as Sokka came sprinting back.

“Forgot your bouquet.” He huffed. The flowers were pristine - the whites, reds, and blues all distinct yet blending well together - and Sokka held them gingerly. Katara shook her head and gently brought her arms up, conducting the waves to her intended score.

The iceberg was a short distance away. She and Zuko had flattened the top yesterday, alternating between melting and reforming the ice. The audience now sat in glistening blue chairs of ice, while Zuko stood waiting. He stood out, dressed in red robes, but he wasn’t the only one. Rohan, fully dressed in orange robes, stood as the officiant. Suki, having quietly bonded with the Fire Lord over the years, wore her Kyoshi Warrior outfit as she stood at Zuko’s side. 

Now, in the southern arctic sea - the only international waters that belonged to all four nations - Water joined the other elements. 

The sides of Katara’s gown were woven wide, so her arms were able to move freely. Among their friends and family, and the few special political guests, Katara called up the sea to carry her across. Making a sheet of ice wide enough for the three of them to sand, Katara stood patiently with her father and brother as the water ferried them to the iceberg. 

When they made it, Katara dismissed it as if she were shedding a cloak. Sokkka handed her the bouquet, kissed her cheek, and then walked to the altar. Hakoda wordlessly offered his arm and Katara took it, the two sharing a very small smile.

Speakers had been embedded in the ice, giving the sound better acoustics than if played in the open air. To a bridal march, Hakoda escorted Katara down the aisle. 

“You look as pretty as Kya did on our wedding day.” Hakoda whispered as they approached the altar.

“Dad.” Katara gasped, abruptly in tears. 

“Oh Kat, no tears. Look, the sun is shining and the ocean is beautiful. When your mother and I got married, it rained.” Hakoda said. They reached the altar and Katara could only nod. Hakoda then turned to Zuko and held out his hand.

As Zuko placed his hand in Hakoda’s, Katara looked at her intended. 

“You don’t need my approval or blessing, but understand that I am here to support you.” Hakoda then joined Katara and Zuko’s hands. “I love you both.”

Zuko started to tear up and Katara chuckled. Hakoda kissed Katara’s forehead and went to sit down, making both Katara and Zuko start to sniffle as they stood in front of Rohan.

Rohan looked at both of them and smiled. They then held out their hands and looked at the rest of the audience. 

“Today, we are all watching something amazing. For the world, we are seeing the first time that two nations have chosen love over all else. For us gathered here, we are witnessing something more important; the marriage of two of our favorite people.

“I have not known Katara for very long, but there is no way I couldn’t be in awe of her. At fifteen she bound her soul to the Ocean Spirit to protect her people in a place that was not her home. At seventeen, she sank the entire Fire Nation fleet to help swiftly end the Hundred Year War. She is the Avatar’s master, she is Queen of the Three Tribes, and most amazingly, she can routinely and on demand make the Fire Lord smile.” Rohan said and various people chuckled while Zuko ironically fought down a smile. 

“Zuko I’ve known for longer. As a spiritual cousin, Zuko and I have been friends since we met. He is also the kindest person, as he has faced more ugliness in his life yet not only accepted it but moved through it with genuine compassion. And as a very wise man once told me, when one is clothed in honor, filth will not stain them.

“Zuko never asked for anything. He never asked for his position, but always did what was right. I certainly know that he never asked to be rewarded for his actions but, as you can see, he has been.” Rohan smiled at Zuko, who was more openly crying. Katara, handing back the bouquet to Sokka, took both of Zuko’s hands and squeezed them.

“Now, to the serious part. Katara, do you promise to respect Zuko, to treat him with dignity, and to honor his value as a person?” Rohan asked.

Katara smiled at Zuko. “I do.”

“Zuko, do you promise to respect Katara, to treat her with dignity, and to honor her value as a person?” Rohan continued.

Zuko smiled back at Katara. “I do.”

“May we have the rings?” Rohan looked from side to side. 

Katara turned to take the band from Sokka, her hands shaking as she moved slowly back.

“The bride and groom have prepared their own vows.” Rohan announced and then leaned in toward Katara. “Go ahead.”

Taking Zuko’s left hand, Katara focused on his fingers as she spoke.

“Zuko,” She paused, took a breath, and brought her face up to look at him. “I have sworn to protect my people above all else. My place as Queen transcends any other oath or bond, save for my connection to La. But I give all of my earthly self to you. Every mortal want and faulty need, every good moment and every bad day, every morning bedhead and every nightly kiss are yours. Time will wash away our human lives, but it is in that tide where you and I will exist.”

She slid the band onto his ring finger and Zuko paused to take her ring from Suki.

“Katara, you have taught me the fallacy of opposites. After all, we can’t make tea without both fire and water.” He said and Katara laughed softly. 

Zuko smiled and went on. “I promise to embrace the opposites with you. I promise to push when you pull, so that we can strengthen each other. I will be with you in every dark moment and every light. I will heal your sickness so I can rejoice in your health. I will abide with you in lean times, so that we may feast together in good ones. I know that nothing will ever stay the same, so I promise to never abandon you as we wait for the tide to come in.” 

Zuko slipped the wedding band onto Katara’s ring finger and Rohan clapped their hands.

“With the promises made and the rings exchanged, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may seal your pledge with a kiss.” They said.

Katara propelled herself at Zuko, who caught her and kissed her deeply. The gathered group cheered and applauded, fading into the sound of waves crashing against the iceberg.

It was then that rain started to fall.

With a yelp, Katara jumped back and Zuko put his arm around her shoulder as they both looked up.

“A sunshower?” He asked.

Frigid rain splattered on her face, running into her tears even as she smiled.

“Legend says a sunshower happens at a fox wedding.” Katara said and looked over at Zuko. 

He smiled and kissed her again.

Chapter Text

Dragons.

Katara stared, open mouthed, from her spot far below the suspended walkway. Red and blue scales rushed around Thuy and Zuko, bringing tears to her eyes.

Red and blue.

“We felt it was almost prophetic,” One of the Sun Warriors next to her said. “When the Fire Lord married a Waterbender Queen.” 

“I can see why.” Katara said hoarsely. 

“And with the Avatar being a native water element, it was equally auspicious.” She went on.

“Okay, sorry, I know you’re trying to say something profound,” Katara said, still watching the entwining dragons. “But those are dragons.” 

The Sun Warrior chuckled. 

“I can see why a Spirit chose you. You have the appropriate amount of reverence for these things.” She said.

Katara did turn then.

“Pardon?” She asked.

“Iroh related to us what kind of person you were, to let us make a better judgement. You are soul bound to the Spirit La, correct?” The Sun Warrior asked.

Katara said nothing. Thuy’s shriek of joy snapped through the air and Katara faced upward again. 

“Are those spirits?” She questioned instead of answering. 

The dragons rushed back into their respective caves and Katara tried to follow the pair down the long stairs with her eyes.

“Ran and Shaw are ancient beings, but they are not spirits.” The Sun Warrior stated.

“But they don’t live forever.”

“No.”

“That’s a shame.”

“Not quite.” The Sun Warrior said and Katara looked over at her. The woman’s smile was coy, which made Katara frown.

Nothing more was said about it until dinner. Thuy and Zuko had talked nearly non-stop since they were within earshot on the stairs. Zuko was near tears for parts of it, as he spoke about feeling his inner fire connect with the dragons when they passed by. Thuy, who was part way through her training with Zuko, had worked through her mental block around the element. 

“Fire is life, Auntie.” Thuy enthused repeatedly. “The sun feeds the grass, fire bakes our bread, it’s all connected.” 

“You sound like those musicians Suki likes.” Katara said gently and Zuko laughed at that. 

As the revered sun set, the equally sacred torches were lit to illuminate the dining area. Fire dancers appeared in the square of beaten earth, and they only vaguely resembled the ones Katara had seen at other festivals in Caldera. The facepaint made her think of home and the drums became hammers to drive the feeling to heart. 

The men and women who danced told a story in a language Katara didn’t understand, but she knew what it was meant to evoke. It was a shared fear of the dark, of the dangers that lurked in the unseen spaces around the safety of their hearth. It was a call for the sun to return. 

As both Zuko and Katara were caught up in the emotion, a train of dancers covered by a dragon stamped into view. The drum beat changed and the dancers became more grounded, and the Sun Warrior from earlier approached their table.

“Avatar Thuy, I humbly ask for your wisdom.” She said, bowing low. 

Thuy looked over at Katara, who nodded, and cleared her throat.

“Of course.” She replied.

The Sun Warrior stood and gestured. Two men came over, carrying a chest on a small palanquin between them.

“A prophecy stated that the blood of an Avatar would be required to bring back the dragons. But as their return is to bring balance, balance would be needed as well. We have looked for a man and woman, light and dark, yin and yang, and we believe you will lead us to the prophecy.” The Sun Warrior said. The two men lowered the palanquin in front of her and she opened the chest. From her seat, Katara could see a glittering gold egg.

Thuy shifted uncomfortably.

“I’m…” She started. Zuko stopped her, putting a hand on her shoulder.

“Her spirit and her body is that of a woman. Nothing else.” He said, his voice firm. 

“My most sincerest apologies, Avatar Thuy, I did not mean that.” The Sun Warrior said, bowing lower.

“Maybe you could skip the formalities and just speak plainly?” Katara offered. 

The woman smiled.

“That would be wise, yes.” She said. “Thuy, I have recognized your transition and I believe you are able to find the ones who make a balance, not that you are that person. I don’t think the prophecy speaks of one person, but of two.”

“We did try Hikaru and they couldn’t do anything.” One of the palanquin bearers said, mostly to his companion. Thuy heard him and snorted.

“I appreciate that, really. And, I know it might seem obvious but…” Thuy looked down the table at Zuko and Katara.

“What?” Zuko asked.

“Us?” Katara added incredulously.

“We had the same thought.” The Sun Warrior agreed. 

“What?” Zuko repeated.

In bed that night, Zuko and Katara sat up with the egg between them. It was warm to the touch and Katara could feel something hum inside of the shell.

“Do you think this is an actual, for real dragon egg?” Zuko asked.

“They say it is.” Katara said, looking at the egg. 

“And we have to hatch it?”

“I guess?”

“How?”

“Does it look like I know how to hatch a dragon egg?” Katara shot back, bewildered. 

Zuko frowned, also staring at the egg.

“Why wouldn’t Ran and Shaw hatch it?” He whispered.

“Is it their egg?” Katara asked.

Zuko looked up at her.

“I don’t even know what gender they are.” He said in naked confusion. 

“But why would they need a Waterbender to hatch a dragon egg? Dragons were the first Firebenders!” Katara continued in exasperation.

“I think.” Zuko started, but stopped short, staring hard at the egg again. “I think it’s a spirit thing?”

“But that’s not a spirit egg.” Katara said, but sat back. “Do spirits lay eggs?”

“Augh! This is so frustrating!” Zuko fell back on the bed, his hands in his hair. 

“You know, I really wasn’t expecting our marriage to become some sort of fated, prophecy fulfilling sort of thing.” Katara said. 

“Dealing with the political nightmare is enough for me really. I don’t need prophecies added to it.” Zuko muttered.

Katara crawled up toward him, laying down next to him with the egg nestled between them. It certainly felt alive to her. 

“It’s still nice, being here with you.” She said softly.

Zuko rolled onto his side and started to brush her hair back from her face with his hand. He was searching her face, looking for something or simply trying to memorize it. This was becoming a habit, now that they were fully entrenched in their schedules. 

“Three months is such a long time.” He said, just as quietly. 

“How did we handle the separation before?” Katara asked.

“I feel like being married should’ve made me more comfortable with it.” Zuko said.

Katara leaned in and kissed him lightly. He held her face and she relaxed under the warmth of his touch. 

“I am glad we got married though.” She said.

“Oh me too, absolutely.” Zuko said and she huffed out a breathy laugh.

“Even if it’s not fate, I’m glad you are who you are. Loving you, being able to love you, kinda helped a lot of other things in my life.” She said.

“Because I’m the son of the man who murdered your mother?” Zuko asked wryly.

“I mean, sorta, yeah.” Katara quipped and made him laugh. 

“Maybe that’s the point of this.” Zuko said, lightly tapping the egg with his knee. “Healing after violence.” 

“You have to cultivate life in order to heal.” Katara said, quoting one of Iroh’s many wisdoms. Zuko smiled, gazed into her eyes again, and then kissed her. 

“I love you Katara, much more than I thought I could ever bear.” He said.

“I love you more than I ever wanted to again. It scares me.”

“Why?”

“What if I lose you? I would die.”

“No, you wouldn’t. You would go on.”

“How do you figure?”

“The love doesn’t go anywhere, Katara. As long as you’re alive, my love for you will exist. Just like how your mother’s love still exists.” Zuko explained. 

Katara touched her fingers to her necklace and Zuko brushed his thumb over her cheek. It was only after she felt the cool dampness left behind his movement that she realized she was crying. 

“I don’t think we’re hatching this egg.” She sighed. 

Zuko looked down and shrugged.

“It’s pretty though. We can keep it in the palace.” He said.

Reaching down, Katara pulled the egg up to their chests. It was almost like a swaddled fat baby, if she squinted. 

“Let’s just keep it warm and in the morning, we can tell them we tried.” She said.

“That’s fair. Well, goodnight baby dragon.” Zuko patted the egg and Katara rolled her eyes.

“What would you name a dragon? Fang Jr.?” She asked.

Zuko snorted. “That’s as bad as Mister Whiskers.” 

“Oh hush.”

“Maybe Druk.”

“Druk?”

“It means thunder dragon. And, I mean, when I think about our elements together, a storm isn’t out of the range of possibilities.” 

“I like it. Druk.” Katara repeated the name. Then, wrapping her arms around the egg, she pressed her cheek against the gold shell. “Goodnight Druk.”

It took them a while to fall asleep. The bed wasn’t very large to begin with, and the egg took up a lot of space. But it wasn’t too foreign; the living aura it gave off made Katara feel like there was just a third person in the bed with them. When she did fall asleep, the sounds of drums and heartbeats tattooed rings of color in her head.

“Katara.” Zuko whispered sharply, sounding terrified. “I broke the egg.” 

Adrenaline shot through Katara’s muscles and she was upright before she was even awake.

“What?” She slurred, looking around.

Zuko shushed her, putting his hands on her shoulders and yanking her down.

“I think I rolled over it in my sleep. It’s broken.” He said. 

Looking down, Katara saw the silvery, mother-of-pearl sheen of the inner shell. Large, rounded pieces were still between them, with flecks of gold scattered around the bed. 

“Oh we are in so much trouble.” She whispered. 

“But now we know it was empty.” Zuko said weakly, picking up two of the largest pieces. He looked up and met Katara’s eye, his face pale and sick. 

“I don- OW!” Katara’s shoulders seized as something sharp dug into her back. As she went to slap whatever freakish Fire Nation bug had bitten her, the sharp bites moved upward. 

Her hand was lightly nipped and her eyes widened. Staring forward, Katara watched Zuko blink.

“What. Is on. My shoulder.” Katara said slowly. 

“Druk.” Zuko said.

The thing perched on her shoulder gave a small trill. Something leathery and warm wrapped around the back of her neck and Katara felt her throat dry. A thin red whisker floated up into the corner of her vision.

“Oh. Cool.” Katara said and her breath quickened.

“So, uh…” Zuko leaned forward, holding out his hands. Druk, still unseen, trilled again and beat small wings against Katara’s face.

Moving her hands slowly, Katara pushed the back of the dragon’s small body.

“It’s okay.” She said and Druk protested, but hopped forward. 

Zuko’s hands dipped under the unexpected weight, but Katara was focused on the dragon.

Druk was the size of a cat owl kitten; much smaller than what she expected to be in an egg of that size. His scales were a deep crimson color, seemingly purple in the low light. He had a crest of pale yellow fur on his head and his whiskers seemed to have a mind of their own. 

Wrapping his tail around Zuko’s hands, Druk postured nobly and shot out a burst of fire. 

“I’ve heard most couples get a pet before they have kids.” Zuko said, looking up at Katara.

She moved her hand slowly to the dragon, lightly petting the fur on his head. Druk chirped, flapping his wings, and Katara yanked her hand back quickly.

“How long until he’s as big as them?” Katara asked, holding the hand she had pet Druk with tightly in her other. She looked up and Zuko looked pleased, which annoyed her.

“I don’t know. I don’t know much about dragons at all.” Zuko said, smiling. 

Druk flapped more, lifting himself out of Zuko’s hands. He hovered for a second, but then darted right to Katara. She caught him, anxious, and held him to her chest. His front claws came up toward her collarbone and she held him there.

“We brought dragons back.” Zuko said in awe.

“How?” Katara asked, confused.

Zuko finally looked at her, putting both hands to her cheeks and kissing her deeply. 

Katara understood then. The Fire Nation had not just hunted dragons after all.

Druk chirped indignantly, shoving his head in between their faces. Zuko leaned back but gently stroked Druk’s fur.

“I guess he has a favorite.” He said.

“Mom is everyone’s favorite, at first.” Katara said, tilting her head to look down at Druk.

“Good morning, Druk.” She added.

Druk stretched upward and nipped the bottom of her chin. 

Of course he was a brat.

Chapter Text

Katara straightened her crown in the mirror, turning her head side to side to make sure it was straight. Her wavy hair had resisted the pin, and the thickness certainly fought the top knot, but she had eventually managed to get the thing on.

“Are you sure it doesn’t look silly?” She asked, nervously rubbing the medallion on her necklace.

Zuko came into view behind her, sliding his hands around her sides to hold her lightly. 

“As silly as mine does in modern clothes.” He replied and kissed her soundly on the cheek.

“I don’t think it’s made for hair like mine.” She muttered.

“Sounds like a design flaw, not a you flaw.” 

“Mmm.”

Mmm?”

“MMM.”

Zuko kissed her cheek again and backed away. The loops usually at the side of her face had been pulled back to start a simple sort of braid. The beads were still present, and she was wearing her necklace, but the crown stood out as an accessory.

“I know it’s a flame, but doesn’t it look a bit like a crescent moon?” He asked.

“That’s a stretch.” Katara said.

Skittering claws came into the room and Katara turned as Druk bounded toward her. He was less than a year old but already the size of an adult owl cat. His wings were still clumsy and he could only fly short distances, yet his legs were powerful enough to send him racing down hallways.

He terrified the palace staff and greatly annoyed the also still alarmingly growing Mister Whiskers. 

“Don’t.” Zuko warned both Katara and Druk. Both of them ignored him and Druk launched himself at Katara, making her stagger as she caught him.

“He can’t jump up on people like that.” Zuko grumbled. “It’s poor manners.”

“Aww, my sweet baby just wants attention.” Katara cooed, rubbed her nose against Druk’s snout. He smelled like soot and heat, and Katara cuddled his chest close to her face. He nipped at her crown and Zuko sighed in annoyance.

“A dragon shouldn’t be carried like a toddler. It’s undignified.” He said finally and Katara turned to him. 

“How dare you say such a thing about our boy.” She said. 

“This is why he’s a brat when you’re gone.” 

“Of course, he misses his momma.” 

“You both are deranged.” 

Katara kissed Druk’s scaly head and set him down. The dragon hopped indignantly, blowing out bursts of flame.

“You know he’s going to be a terror when we have actual children.” Zuko said, holding out his arm. Katara linked to him and held on with her other hand.

“Why do we even need anymore? Let’s just crown Druk and the Fire Nation can have an actual dragon as it’s Fire Lord instead of making up all these fancy honorifics for you.” Katara said.

“If history is any indication, they might not tell the difference.” He agreed.

Walking out of their bedroom, Druk followed them closely. Having returned with a dragon, the court and the city of Caldera had changed its attitude toward Zuko. The rest of the world still thought dragons were extinct, so Druk was a miracle bestowed to their Fire Lord as a sign from the spirits. As they had all sworn an oath never to speak of Ran and Shaw, no one disabused people of that notion. 

Now, even the prime minister had quelled his adversarial politics. 

Ozai and Azula both had been recorded as having thrown massive fits about it. 

Katara and Zuko headed toward the ballroom, watching with wry amusement as the staff jumped out of Druk’s way. When they reached the massive double doors, Katara called Druk and held him again, knowing that he didn’t do very well in large groups of people. 

“Fire Lord, Fire Lady.” A member of the house staff jumped when he opened the door, seeing the royal couple on the other side. 

“We wanted to see how everything was progressing.” Zuko said.

The man glanced at Druk, curled in Katara’s arms and she smiled back at him. 

Being favored by a dragon was also helping her image at the palace as well.

“Of course.” The man said, stepping to the side. 

Katara followed Zuko inside and looked around. While Zuko himself wasn’t overly interested in celebrating his birthday, there were expectations for the Fire Lord. These expectations somehow included the Water Tribe Ambassador rearranging all of the flowers. 

A sour faced man approached them, bowing obviously to Zuko and leaving Katara in her place at his side.

“Is everything to your liking, Fire Lord?” He asked.

Zuko turned to Katara and idly scratched Druk’s crest. 

“Lady wife?” He asked.

“Yes?”

“Everything pales in comparison to the luminary beauty of yourself. I am unable to adequately judge these offerings with you standing so close to me.” 

Katara smiled and had to keep herself from laughing.

“How can I do any better? The light of your loveliness blinds me to anything else.” She remarked. 

“My most prudent and beloved queen, I beg that you give me some words to describe this room that does not degrade your glittering visage.”

“Oh honorable husband, for that you would have to leave my sight and I could not bear to stand in such darkness.”

“I think,” The sour faced man said bitterly. “I will have to trust the Fire Lady’s most esteemed brother then?”

“Sokka is a marvel, I think that might be best.” Katara said, wrinkling her nose and giving the man a patronizing look. 

The man bowed to them both and walked back to the activity. Zuko did laugh softly then and Katara turned back to him.

“Light of my loveliness?” He asked.

“Glittering visage?” She countered.

“Hey, the words may have been stuffy, but they were still true.” He replied.

“So what words would you really use?” Katara asked. 

“Hmm,” Zuko thought and took some of her hair in his hands. He stared at it as he rolled the strands under his fingers.

“I would start by saying how devious fate must be to make my love part ocean spirit as I most certainly am in danger of drowning when you’re around.” He started and twirled her hair around his fingers. “You take my breath away, but also, there are times when I don’t feel like coming up for air.”

“Zuko!” Katara whispered sharply, her face heating up in a flash. 

Zuko only smiled and released her hair.

“I would say that thank the spirits you’re brilliant because I lose all sense when I look at your face, because your beauty is enough to make a fool of any man.” He continued. “And I’d quite like an opportunity to play the fool soon.”

“Spirits, you are brazen.” Katara said with a laugh. Her grip on Druk tightened and he squeaked in annoyance. 

“Sorry Druk, I’m displacing you as your mother’s favorite.” Zuko said and scratched Druk’s neck. 

“You are always my favorite.” Katara said. “No matter what season it is in the Poles, I only feel like the sun has returned when I’m with you.” 

“I don’t see how I can compare when you are always the one lighting up the room.” 

“I wish I could paint with ink the same shade as your hair so I could write every character with the same kind of elegance.” 

“I wish I could train birds to sing in the same notes as your laughter so I could hear your joy every morning.”

“My laughter? I wish I could keep your voice with me because it soothes me better than the sound of a far off thunderstorm.” 

“I am going to vomit all over the floor if you two don’t stop.” Sokka interjected.

Katara lowered her face, blushing, but Zuko chuckled.

“Aw come on! They were being really cute!” Thuy added as she approached from behind them.

The twins that hung around Thuy, who Zuko swore were harmless, watched them with different levels of interest. Suzu looked gleeful while Zula looked bored. Or mildly irritated. She was harder to read.

“I see my wife every other season. You’re lucky we’re out of our rooms at all.” Zuko said.

“Zuko!” Katara blurted while the three teenage girls burst out laughing. Sokka only sighed and tapped the heel of his hand against his forehead. 

“Can we play with Druk, Auntie?” Thuy asked, changing the subject.

“Please.” Katara said, holding Druk out even as he clung to her in protest. “He needs to potty.”

“Thank you Auntie!” Thuy said and forcefully took the dragon, running off with him before he could break free of her grip. Suzu jogged after her and Zula walked stoically after. 

“Okay you two, try to focus for long enough to look at these terrible centerpieces.” Sokka said. “I think I’ve managed to salvage them.”

Chapter Text

The party went a lot better than Katara had feared. Of course there were the ones that Zuko had to invite, but they were already edging toward the door. Then there were the ones she hadn’t agreed with inviting in the first place, but Mai and Ty Lee seemed content talking with Thuy and the twins. 

Of the rest, they were all friends and family. The Air Nomad cousins flitted around, Sokka was telling a story to a group of uneasy ministers, and Suki was oddly conversational with Ty Lee. Hakoda and Malina circulated around, with Malina looking much more comfortable in the space than Hakoda. 

“Happy Birthday Zuko!” Malina called out as they both approached.

“Thanks Malina.” Zuko replied and hugged her. 

Katara looked away, not wanting to be so close to the neatly woven necklace the other woman was wearing. Her fingers twitched as she fought the urge to touch the medallion at her own throat. 

“Katara, you look beautiful.” Malina said, clasping her hands together at her chest. 

“Thank you. It feels a bit weird.” Katara laughed awkwardly and touched her crown. “I think I might have to cut my hair to get-”

“NO.” Malina said forcefully, startling Katara.

Shrinking, Malina’s face reddened and she stepped back. 

“Sorry. It’s…” Malina calmed, set her shoulders, and looked back up at Katara. “You and my brother have the best hair. You shouldn’t cut it, it’s too lovely.” 

“Malina has a bit of hair envy.” Hakoda said, holding her hand.

“My grandfather was an Airbender, and my mother and I inherited his complexion. It’s why I don’t always...fit.” Malina said, waving her hand near her head. Her reddish hair was cut short and very modern. It had been one of the things that irritated Katara when they first met. 

“I hadn’t realized you’re a quarter Air Nomad.” Zuko said.

“It happens more often than you’d think. They don’t have a problem with relationships, but they only take Airbenders into the temples.” Malina said. “If you know anyone from the Poles that’s, well, like me, they most likely have an Airbender parent or grandparent.” 

Katara thought about Hama’s ghoulish appearance and gave a small grunt. 

“But yes, I’ve always wanted the thick hair of the Poles. I don’t look like any of the Waterbenders from my childhood books, you know?” Malina gave a laugh, as if it didn’t bother her, but Katara could hear the pain in it. 

It wasn’t something she cared about, but she could recognize it. 

As the party wound down, the Katara slipped out to the wide porch attached to the back of the hall. Sokka and Suki were already there, a bottle of something mysterious open and being poured into four glasses.

Zuko tried to slip out soon after, but Druk’s clattering talons gave him away. Katara only huffed as Druk propelled himself into her lap while Zuko sat next to her.

“Remember the first birthday of yours we celebrated?” Sokka asked, handing over a filled glass.

“I try not to.” Zuko said and Katara laughed.

“Remember how Katara’s biggest problem was medical school?” Suki asked and Katara’s laugh turned into a groan.

“Do you ever wish you had just become a doctor?” Sokka asked.

Katara shrugged, taking a sip from her glass and idly stroking Druk’s crest. 

“I think I was only trying to be a doctor because of mom. I don’t know what I’d do if I went to school for myself.” She said.

“Did you ever go to college, Suki?” Zuko asked.

Suki shook her head.

“There was no need. I had a job in Kyoshi, and now I just make sure Sokka survives whatever it is y’all drag him into.” She answered. 

Sokka stuck out his tongue and Suki pushed him. 

“You know, now that things have settled down, I’m trying to think of what to do next.” Katara asked.

“Things have settled down?” Zuko retorted and she chuckled.

“You know what I mean.” She then sighed and tilted her glass back and forth. “I have to think about what comes next.”

“I can’t imagine your situation is easy.” Suki said.

Zuko and Katara looked at each other. 

“It’s gotten easier for me, since I don’t have to deal with the day to day things. The Prime Minister is a pain, but it has freed up a lot of my time.” Zuko said before downing the rest of his glass.

“But no one in Caldera likes you being in the Poles so often.” Katara countered and Zuko shrugged, holding his glass out to Sokka for a refill.

“What will you do when you have kids?” Sokka asked. 

Katara squeezed Druk’s fur and he squeeked, nipping her hand before bounding off her lap.

“We can’t have kids right now.” She said.

Sokka raised an eyebrow and she felt her face warm. 

“It’s a lot of things, but tonight, Malina said…” Katara drifted and hastily took a drink.

“Malina said what?” Sokka prompted.

Katara swallowed slowly and put both hands around the glass, tapping the sides with her fingers.

“It doesn’t matter.” She mumbled.

“I think it-” Sokka stopped as Suki held his arm.

“I think it’s a private matter.” She said, tilting her head toward Zuko.

“Fine. How about we play liar’s dice?” Sokka asked, fishing out two dice from his pocket.

“I am going to regret this.” Zuko groaned.


Katara sat at the vanity, the crown in her hands. It was late in the night and the palace was eerily quiet after such a busy day. She could hear Zuko in the adjacent bathroom, the shower acting like white noise. 

Placing the crown on the vanity, Katara leaned forward and examined her face. Thirty was fast approaching and she looked at the tiny fissures near her eyes. Benders as a whole tended to live longer and aged slower than the non-Bender population. It was one reason why Malina looked so uncomfortably young standing next to Hakoda, despite them being close in age. Benders also didn’t conceive as often or as quickly, so they could have children far past others without worrying about major health risks or complications.

So it made sense when Sokka announced that he and Suki were trying for children.

But that conversation was another brick in the tower Zuko had been building for months.

As the shower shut off, Katara opened one of her cream jars and lifted it, breathing in the scent of seaweed and salt. She started to apply it just as Zuko came into the room, followed by a rolling fog of warm, jasmine scented steam. 

He was wearing his pajama pants and his towel was around his neck, so Katara got a good look at his chest as he watched her. 

Tossing the towel in a hamper, Zuko walked over and stood behind Katara, reaching over her to grab her brush. 

“Your hair is so heavy when it gets wet.” He said, grabbing a portion in his hand. Starting at the ends, Zuko worked the brush slowly up her hair, carefully plucking free any knots. 

“Maybe I should cut it.” Katara said lightly, rubbing the cream into her face in small circles. 

“If that’s what you want. I’d hate to see it go.” Zuko replied.

“I like your hair long.” 

“You know, back when Agni Kais were more common, this kind of length would have meaning.” Zuko smiled and lifted another section of hair. “Now it’s just custom.”

“Do you think…” Katara stopped and lowered her hands. Wiping them off on a cloth, she screwed the lid on her face cream.

“Would you be upset if our kids had my hair?” Zuko asked. 

Katara snapped her head up, looking at him through the mirror. He kept his eyes down, brushing her hair. 

“That isn’t it.” She said.

“Isn’t it?” He asked.

Katara turned and took hold of Zuko’s hand holding her brush.

“Where would our children fit in?” She asked.

“What do you mean?” Zuko finally looked at her and Katara winced. His was a pain she cared about.

“We don’t live together, Zuko. We spend weeks out the year together but that’s mostly when we’re at Avatar Island. These visits aren’t…” She drifted again, unable to vocalize her frustrations.

“That could change.” Zuko said.

“How? If we have a Waterbender, they’re going to be my heir. Any other and they’re yours. We have to acknowledge that people will not be happy if they don’t live in the right spot and then what about us? Could you be apart from me and our children?” Katara stood and hugged Zuko tightly.

“Every time I think about hair or complexion or bending, it just reminds me that I’m never going to have a Water Tribe child that I raise in a small village. Our child will always be somewhere in the middle and I. I don’t know if I want that.” She continued. 

Zuko wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her just as tight. 

“I know, Katara, I do. But I can’t explain how badly I want a child. How badly I want our child.” He said. “I’ll get Thuy to pull the Poles down here if it means I get to be a parent with you.” 

“But Zuko,” Katara tilted her head back to look at him. “What if I just want it to be us?”

He stepped back and took her face in his hands. His eyes flicked back and forth between hers. 

“Katara, do not ask a Fire Lord what he would do to get what he wants.” He said and Katara took in a sharp breath. 

“But children-”

Our children.” His fingers pressed into the back of her head and Katara leaned toward him. “I will have you and no one else.”

“Zuko-”

“I will do whatever I must to prove to you that this will be okay. We can adopt. We can have one child or a dozen. I will raise volcanoes to make islands so that I can walk from here to anywhere in the world to be with you. You are my home, Katara, and I will be the only one in your life for as long as you want if you just say eventually we can have a family.” 

Katara was silent as she stared back at him.

“I want a palace.” She said.

“Done. Where should I put it?”

“Republic City.”

Zuko blinked and a slow smile spread across his face.

“Beloved wife, I’ll make sure they build one large enough I can see it from here.” He said.

“Good.” Katara stepped closer to him and pulled his hands down to her sides. “And we can talk about one or two.”

In bed, Katara laid her hands on her abdomen. Counting the phases of the moon, she wondered. It could be as early as next month.

Her heart fluttered but it wasn’t such a bad feeling this time. 

Feeling Zuko shift in his sleep, Katara looked over at him.

Maybe later. She wanted more time as his sole favorite.

Chapter Text

Zuko’s hands shook as they stood in front of the door and Katara rubbed his back. The Fire Sages with them looked away, allowing Zuko this moment of weakness.

“Does the Fire Lord wish to assist?” One sage asked.

Zuko’s face went blank and he held up his hands.

“I wouldn’t want to overstep.” He said.

Thuy shook her head and chuckled.

“Come on Zuko, he is your great-grandfather.” She said.

“Mmm.” Zuko intoned but stepped forward nonetheless.

Thuy, not yet a fully realized Avatar, stood next to Katara as Zuko and four Fire Sages lined up in front of the temple door. All five men took the same stance and, at the same moment, began the same set. Five fire blasts hit the door, triggering the unlocking sequence. 

Stepping lightly, Thuy, Mister Whiskers, and Druk entered the room first, while Katara took Zuko’s hand. 

“We will wait here, Fire Lord.” A Fire Sage said and Zuko nodded. He and Katara followed Thuy and the doors shut after them. 

Zuko jumped at the heavy thud and Katara squeezed his hand.

“Did we really need to do this here?” She asked Thuy. Thuy shrugged and plopped down at the base of Roku’s statue. 

Druk, now double the size of the catgator in height and length, still skittered when Mister Whiskers hissed at him for getting too close to Thuy. Druk ran back to Katara, flapping his wings so she could hold him. Which was certainly not getting any easier. 

“You are such a crybaby.” Katara cooed as Druk began to chirp in annoyance.

“I definitely could do this anywhere, but I want to make a stronger projection. I can only do those at anchor points with the spirit world.” Thuy said and gestured.

Zuko knelt in front of Thuy while Katara sat off to the side, forcing Druk down. 

“So what now?” Zuko asked.

“I go into the Avatar state.” Thuy said.

“Is that easy to do?” Zuko questioned.

“I grew up in the swamp. It’s easier than spittin’.” Thuy said. “Now close your eyes.”

Katara watched the two, seeing a world of difference. They were both sitting up straight, but Zuko held himself in trained discipline. Thuy was more relaxed, allowing her weight to fall comfortably on her various joints and pressure points. Her legs crossed, her upturned wrists relaxing on her knees, and her shoulders fell. She was fluid and in the act of falling.

Zuko was one shape and as he breathed, there was only the slightest flutter. He would be a flame that burned still as long as something fed him.

And after nine breaths, there was a third.

Roku matched his statue almost perfectly. His long beard came to the same point as many older Fire Nation men.

In his hair was the crown Zuko used to wear. The one his cousin had worn. And his uncle, for a time. 

“Ah, so it’s you.” Roku said.

All Fire Nation men looked surly to Katara, but she worried about the tone. Zuko opened his eyes and frowned.

“Hello, Avatar Roku.” Zuko greeted and bowed, pressing his forehead to the floor.

“I see nothing of Sozin in you, nor Rina.” Roku said.

“I look a lot like...my father. He takes after Azulon.” Zuko said, sitting up. 

“You’ve been dishonored yet I see you are Fire Lord, and the Avatar calls you a friend. Explain.” Roku said.

“Hey.” Katara snapped, forcing both of them to look at her. “That’s not why we wanted to talk to you.”

Roku’s eyes narrowed.

“You are the Fire Lady?” He asked.

“I am Queen of the Water Tribes and Zuko’s wife.” Katara huffed, then paused. “And also Fire Lady, yes.”

“How is this possible?” Roku asked, looking back at Zuko. “You actually married her?”

“What do you mean?” Zuko asked, genuinely confused. 

“They would never allow…” Roku turned back to Katara. “Queen of the Water Tribes?”

“Oh yeah, a lot of people aren’t happy about me. Druk helps.” Katara said, scratching Druk’s head.

“Is that a dragon?” Roku demanded.

Indignant, Druk hopped up and started spouting small blasts of fire until Mister Whiskers hissed at him again. 

“I guess Thuy has been keeping secrets.” Katara said.

“What did you want to talk about, young Fire Lord?” Roku asked, sounding much gentler now.

“Please, call me Zuko.” He said and Roku nodded.

“How may I help you, Zuko?” Roku asked.

Zuko steadied himself and took a breath.

“I need to understand my family. My uncle is a good man, though he wasn’t always. And I know I’ve changed. But my father and my sister won’t listen to me, or anyone. I refuse to think we’re supposed to be this way, this polarizing. And my mother…” He shook his head. “Tell me what Sozin was like, what happened with your daughter. Tell me how this all happened so maybe I can understand how to reach them.”

“It is a long story, Zuko, and will be a strain on Thuy. She’s a good child, and I do not wish to burden her. This may take many meetings between you and I.” Roku said.

“Please, great-grandfather, I will do anything. I will come as many times as I need.” Zuko said, bowing again.

“I didn’t mean to give the impression I was unwilling, only that I cannot give you all the answers today.” Roku sat and stroked his beard, looking at Katara.

“I would like to ask a favor in return.” He said.

“What?” Katara asked, her voice low. Thuy could vouch for him all she wanted, Katara didn’t trust Roku in the slightest.

“I would like to hear how this came to be.” Roku looked at Zuko as he sat up. “This union between you two. Was it diplomacy?”

Zuko huffed an amused breath.

“More like I had to make her mine from the moment I saw her.” He said.

“That sounds like Sozin.” Roku replied, equally amused.

“I’m not ashamed of it.” Zuko replied.

“That sounds like me.” Roku said, smiling.

“Katara has to be a part of this.” Zuko said.

“Katara? You are the Katara?” Roku questioned her.

“The?” Katara asked.

“I have heard of you.” Roku said.

“From Thuy?”

“Not at first.” 

“What?”

Roku chuckled, stroking his beard again.

“Through Thuy, I am still connected to the spirit world. It’s how I can be here with you both. I learned of you before Thuy did, when I met with a river spirit.” He said.

Katara pulled her lips together and looked away.

“Roku, could you tell us about how the war began? I think even that will help me fix things here.” Zuko said.

“Of course, of course.” Roku nodded and tilted his head. “Your grandmother was always a good hand at mending things. Perhaps I was wrong about not seeing my line in you.” 

Katara settled in, waiting for the story.

Chapter Text

The library felt both cavernous and claustrophobic as Katara thought of the hundreds of pounds of sand above them. It had been lucky that Malina introduced them to Professor Zei, who she had met when they were students at Ba Sing Se University. It had been lucky that Toph was able to feel out the library, despite the sand rendering her truly blind for most of their trip. And it was lucky the weird fox showed up when it did.

But as they started over one crumbling walkway, Katara felt her stomach twist. 

The stacks were massive and defied reason as they seemed to hover in empty space. Toph was quiet, only pausing to tap her feet everyone in a while and shake her head. Thuy, having found her group, clustered with the others and whispered among them. Out of all of them, only Mister Whiskers seemed unbothered.

Zuko led the way, holding out a flame. 

At an intersection, they stopped at the wide platform and looked around. A breeze picked up and a massive shadow slammed down in front of them. A few of the young ones behind Katara yelped. 

A large white face turned to them all and Katara almost lost her breakfast.

“Why have you trespassed in my library?” The titan of an owl asked.

“Wan Shi Tong!” Professor Zei exclaimed, rushing forward. “We’ve come seeking knowledge!” 

“The last human I allowed in my library sought knowledge for the purpose of destruction. I will not abide such desecration. Speak your intentions and I will decide if you may enter.” Wan Shi Tong said. Katara’s stomach sank and she grabbed onto Zuko’s arm for support. 

“I’m only tagging along since I can’t, you know, read.” Toph spoke up.

Wan Shi Tong tilted his head to a disturbing angle and Katara swallowed a lump in her throat. 

“You okay?” Zuko whispered.

“Fine.” Katara hissed.

“We have texts in all forms, including the ones read with your,” Wan Shi Tong lifted his wings and flapped them gently. “Fingers.” 

“Oh lit.” Toph said and Thuy groaned. “Then what do you have on metallurgy?” 

“Why?” Wan Shi Tong questioned. “I have seen how your kind has weaponized even the meanest of elements in this world.”

“I just like being an asshole.” Toph stated with a shrug. “And I want to know how to make equipment more cold resistant.” 

“Aw, Sifu.” Thuy said and Toph waved her away. 

“Acceptable.” Wan Shi Tong said. “Now, the rest of you.”

“I am only here to seek as much knowledge as I can.” Professor Zei said.

“A lie.” Wan Shi Tong announced.

“Sorry bucko, but the nerd is telling the truth.” Toph interjected.

“And how do you know that, human?” Wan Shi Tong shot back.

“My bending. I can tell when someone is lying. And how many of those weird foxes you have in here.”

“How many?”

“Fifty-seven.”

“Seven? Ling got out again.” Wan Shi Tong muttered. He then ruffled his feathers and straightened. “Fine, but what of the rest of you?”

“The Avatar and I are looking for information about Energybending.” Katara said.

“The Avatar?” Wan Shi Tong flew past them, an eel of blackness, and coiled around Thuy. Forcing the others back, Wan Shi Tong loomed over her.

“Ah, I see. I am sad to hear of Aang’s passing. I was fond of him.” He announced. 

“He did not tell me you were this scary.” Thuy rasped out. Wan Shi Tong’s head bobbled and he laughed.

“My apologies, Avatar.” He said.

“I know the rest of us just came along with Thuy,” Tashi said, grabbing Wan Shi Tong’s attention. “But since this is actually real, I would like to find stuff pre-Avatar Wan.”

“Wan.” Wan Shi Tong muttered.

“I do not need to hear anything further. I will leave you to my attendant, but be aware that I will know what you take. If I think you are attempting to abuse my library, I will sink the whole building with all of you in it.” He said and, before the group’s bewilderment could find a voice, launched himself upward.

“I am done with spirits.” Sokka muttered.

“Alright team, let's go.” Thuy said, trying to sound cheerful.

“I’m going with Toph.” Jae-hwan announced.

“Figures.” Toph said, pushing her student. 

“I’d like to go too, if that’s okay.” Aktuk said. 

“You’re not trailing after Thuy?” Jae-hwan mocked and Aktuk blushed.

“He’s got the leg you idiot.” Toph said, smacking the back of Jae-hwan’s head. “Of course he’s going with me.” 

“If this place really has everything, I’m going for the poetry.” Sokka announced.

“Poetry?” Jae-hwan questioned.

“You know, if you put something other than dirt into that blockhead of yours, you might be a better Bender.” Toph said.

“He’s not a Bender!” Jae-hwan protested.

“And yet he will always kick your ass, dust bunny.” Toph said and then ruffled his hair, grinning. 

“I’m not feeling well, so I think I’m going to stay here.” Suki said, sliding down the stone railing and pulling off her backpack. 

“Mister Whiskers can stay with you.” Thuy stated.

“Thanks, hun.” Suki said and smiled. 

“I’ll stay too.” Tashi spun his closed glider and sat near Suki, laying the apparatus across his lap. 

The rest of them split up, following foxes that took them down separate walkways from the platform. Katara and her group were led to a large table to set up a sort of camp. Foxes brought lanterns or else escorted Thuy, Suzu, and Zula off to find books. 

From their packs, they pulled out snacks and water, setting into the tomes and scrolls that the fox librarians pointed out for them.

Energybending was a theory Avatar Aang had explored. Airbenders were assumed to be more in tune with the energy of the world, but Waterbenders had a stronger connection to spirits. Aang wondered if there was a connecting force after seeing how some Waterbender midwives were able to identify if an unborn child would be a Bender.

That, along with the concept of chi blocking, led him to believe that Bending ability could be locked and unlocked, even in people believed to be non-Benders.

Zuko was hoping to find something that would help him deal with his father. The recent coup attempt was backing him into a corner and neither he nor Katara wanted to see the man executed. 

For hours they poured over books, while Katara sucked on various candies to help her nausea. They broke to eat and compare notes, but only Katara and Thuy could even begin to make sense of what was written. The Firebenders had a different connection to their bending. 

“Wait, let me see if I understand this.” Thuy said, turning in her seat to face Katara. With a book open on the table, Thuy traced down the page with one finger while her other hand waved in front of Katara’s face.

“If the lines go from…” Thuy murmured, looking at the book for a moment before making the gestures in the air. She moved down Katara’s front and startled at her chest.

“Is that your heartbeat or your bending?” She asked.

“Probably heartbeat.” Katara said with a laugh. “The water chakra is lower down. And the Water Tribe thinks the chi is held in the bladder anyway.”

Thuy lowered her hands toward Katara’s lap and concentrated.

“I think I can feel it, but it’s weird.” Thuy said.

Alarmed, Katara looked back at Zuko for a moment.

“Weird?” She repeated, looking at Thuy, who was frowning at her hands.

“Maybe it’s me, but it feels similar to the energy around your heart.” She said. Then, shaking her head, she sat back. “I must not understand.”

Katara leaned over and looked at the book. Straightening in her seat, Katara made the same gestures over her lower abdomen.

It was a weird feeling and she frowned as well.

“What about me?” Thuy asked.

Katara turned and they faced each other. Following the diagrams of the book, Katara scanned over Thuy’s body. There was a strong energy in every major point, but a lot of it was centered at her lower abdomen. She was a native Waterbender after all. 

“Try us.” Suzu offered. Thuy stood and went to her friends while Katara turned and faced Zuko.

With the same scan, Katara could feel the energy in his stomach, right where it was supposed to be. With her bloodbending tied to her waterbending, Katara could feel his pulse and knew the difference. What she had felt inside of herself was, foreign. 

“You’re worried.” Zuko stated.

“I just don’t know what I was feeling. I get that I wouldn’t have the same thing as Thuy, but even her’s made sense.” Katara said and rubbed her forehead. 

“Suzu and Zula feel really similar.” Thuy stated. “And it confused me for a second too.” 

“But I’m-” Katara stopped and the blood drained from her face. Her voice lowered to a whisper. “Not two people.”

“What?” Zuko asked, his voice strained.

“I think I’m pregnant.” Katara said and met his eye.

Zuko blinked and then started laughing. He grabbed her, hugging her as they sat and Katara felt tears in her eyes. 

“Pregnant?” Thuy shrieked. 

“Baby?” Suzu asked as she inhaled a sharp breath. 

“So is that why you and Suki have been trying not to puke up your guts all week?” Zula asked.

Suzu whirled on her sister.

“BABIES?” She demanded. 

“Katara, this explains so much.” Zuko said, sitting back and pushing her hair back from her face.

“Like what?” She asked.

“Why you’ve been glowing.” He said.

“Hush.” Katara sniffed and wiped her running nose on a napkin. “Look, now that I know it’s not the flu, we really need to focus on this.”

“I can literally not focus on anything else but the fact that you are PREGNANT.” Thuy said.

“Blazes.” Katara groaned, laying her head on the table. With a smile, she placed a hand on her stomach. 

Behind her, Thuy and Suzu started hopping around in celebration while Zuko rubbed circles on her back. 

“Can you tell if it’s a boy or girl?” Suzu gasped.

“Why would you seriously ask that question of me?” Thuy asked. “Me?”

“Maybe it’s like chi, Thuy, and not parts. Did you ever think of that? Huh?” Suzu retorted.

“You both are giving me a headache.” Zula stated. 

“I love you.” Zuko whispered.

Katara sat up and he kissed her quickly. 

“Can we figure out how to deal with your dad now?” She asked.

“We might not need to. I’m pretty sure when he finds out he’s going to be a grandfather, he’ll have a heart attack.” Zuko said.

Katara snorted.

“Still.” She said.

“Fine. I can’t deny you anything now.”

“Like you could before?”

Zuko smiled and kissed her again.

Chapter Text

Despite the travel and the time since she had left, Thuy and all of her belongings were still covered in the thin yellow dirt of the Earth Kingdom steppe. It had been an unexpected disaster trying to work with the two city-kingdoms that claimed to own the land, yet had no intention of actually assisting with the horrific drought. Even with her being the Avatar, it had taken a lot of work to get everything settled. 

Plus, when Suzu found out about the human trafficking, that took everything from bad to worse. 

“I can’t wait to go home.” Jae-hwan said loudly as Tashi landed his sky bison. Jae-hwan was a student at Toph’s metalbending academy and often hung around Avatar Island when Thuy was in residence. 

“I’ll be happy if I never see home again.” Zula muttered as she shifted the bag over her shoulder. 

“You know you can always live here.” Thuy stated. Zula looked at her, clearly unamused.

You don’t even live here all the time.” She replied dryly. Her twin sister dropped suddenly on her elbow, smiling with the same face.

“She just doesn’t want to have to go back to teaching. She craves adventure now.” Suzu added. Zula groaned and shoved her sister off. 

“You mean teaching the pampered ladies of the Fire Nation elite isn’t fun?” Aktuk asked. 

“Why would it ever be?” Zula remarked. Tashi created a literal air mattress and they all jumped down. Thuy hefted Mister Whiskers into her arms before making the leap.

As she set him down, Aktuk waited for her while the others continued on toward the main house. Mister Whiskers set off with a huff and Thuy took Aktuk’s hand.

“I really appreciated your help.” She said. Aktuk looked away, but she could see him smile. 

“Yeah, yeah, the non-Bender proved useful.” He replied.

“I’m serious! We were all way too reliant on our bending to see what was happening.” Thuy said and then squeezed his hand. “And if you don’t lay off the self-deprecation I’m going to tell Sokka.”

Aktuk’s eyes widened and Thuy laughed.

“Now come on, I want to go put on clean clothes.” She said.

They all entered the main house and scattered about the rooms. Thuy, for all her desperation, took a moment before heading to her room.

She had been worried when she was a teenager that she’d never find her companions. It was a peaceful time, and having companions was only really useful to have in times of crisis. But Katara had told her not to worry and that peace brought its own problems.

When Thuy moved on from earthbending to firebending with Zuko, Toph decided to stay in Republic City and open a school. It took awhile for her to find proper students; many who wanted to join simply wanted to work with the Avatar’s sifu, but none of them were actual metalbenders. Jae-hwan was one of the last students to be accepted into the school and Thuy had met him during one of her visits back to the island.

Suzu and Zula lived in the capital and had gone to the palace as a way of showing Thuy the courtly side of things. 

Aktuk lived in the North Pole and she literally ran into him during a festival.

And Rohan had been mentoring Tashi.

Now in her twenties, Thuy was a fully realized Avatar with her companions, and the world promptly decided to start giving her trouble. There was a weird storm growing over the South Pole oasis and the Earth Kingdom was being plagued by a drought. There were plenty of signs that something spiritual was happening and Thuy was having strange dreams about two spirits. 

She needed to talk to Katara and Zuko, because the whole thing revolved around a conflict of opposites.

“EEEE!” Suzu shrieked in glee, still giving Thuy a minor heart attack. “Look at my little princess!”

Coming into the living room where Thuy still stood, Suzu carried a small child on her hip. Izumi’s long hair had been tied up into a topknot, making her look very serious.

Izumi beamed as Suzu came marching over to Thuy, who bowed to the princess. 

“Hi Izumi.” Thuy said and leaned in to kiss Izumi’s cheek. Izumi pushed Thuy’s face away with her pudgy little hands that were disturbingly sticky.

“Kya is here also.” Izumi announced and Suzu gasped loudly.

Izumi insisted that Kya was her twin, as they had been born on the same day, yet were cousins. This meant the entire family was here.

Dread settled on Thuy for some unknowable reason.

“Who took my daughter?” Zuko called out from another room, sounding more confused than panicked. 

“Excuse me, she is my princess.” Suzu yelled back. Zuko popped into the living room from the kitchen and smiled.

“She is in fact both my daughter and my princess.” He replied.

Izumi wriggled in Zula’s grasp and flapped her arms.

“I want Kya.” She said evenly. Suzu sighed but let her down.

Zuko watched Izumi totter off and then looked at Suzu's forlorn face. 

“I think Katara would love it if you could watch Lu Ten.” He said. Halfway through his sentence, Suzu ran past him and into the kitchen. Thuy could hear more squealing and Zuko shook his head. Katara emerged a moment after, pushing her hair back into place.

“I swear, if Lu Ten insists on grabbing my braids, I might have to cut them off.” She remarked.

Zuko said something that Thuy couldn’t hear, as she focused on the wide black stripes that streaked through Katara’s hair. There were more, which meant something else had happened with the spirits. 

“Thuy?” Katara asked gently. Thuy shook herself and looked at Katara.

“Yes?” 

“Come here, let’s sit.” 

They all moved to the circle of couches in the center of the room. Zuko leaned back leisurely, his arm over the back of the couch and his hand resting on Katara’s shoulder. Katara leaned forward, sitting more toward Thuy on the opposite couch. 

“How was your mission?” Katara asked.

“That’s not what we need to be talking about.” Thuy replied. Katara and Zuko glanced at each other, and Katara frowned. Turning back to Thuy, she sighed.

“We both know that Tui and La aren’t the talkative type of Spirit. Yet with everything that’s been going on, we need to get more information.” She said.

“I’ve gone into the Spirit World!” Thuy said quickly. “No one will talk to me.” 

“Thuy, you know we understand.” Zuko started but Thuy interrupted him.

“But it’s my job! I’m the bridge between the humans and the spirits. I’m supposed to be able to talk to them.” She said.

“Yes, but you need to calm down. Because something else has happened.” Katara said. Thuy swallowed hard.

“What?” She asked.

“The volcano on Roku’s island is,” Zuko hesitated. “Smoking.”

“It’s going to erupt?” Thuy exclaimed.

“We don’t know.” Katara said. “And Iroh thought, thinks.” She corrected herself quickly and glanced at Zuko, who sighed.

“My uncle thinks that the spirits are causing natural disasters. He went to go talk to them.” Zuko said, still looking at Katara. Shaking his head, he sat forward and looked at Thuy. “Iroh is missing.”

“Iroh is in the Spirit World?” Thuy asked softly.

“Thuy, you may have the hardest challenge of any Avatar yet. This is bigger than war, bigger than the elements. If the spirits come out of balance with our world, it may lead to our destruction.” Katara said.

“No pressure then.” Zula said dryly.

Katara and Zuko turned to see the companions standing in the doorway to the kitchen. Suzu softly bounced the bundle in her arms, while the rest looked stoic.

Turning back, Katara smiled at Thuy.

“You’ll do fine. And between the Ocean and the Fire Lord, I think we can handle the physical plane.” She said.

“Oh right, because who needs friends?” Sokka interjected, coming down the stairs with Suki behind him. 

“I guess it’s time to save the world.” Thuy said.

Katara held Zuko’s hand and patted it.

“Again.” She added.

Chapter Text

After the borders were tacked down, and things returned slowly back to normal, the mundane aspects of life started to bubble back up. Thuy was off with her group, still working on the brand new world that opened in seemingly random points around the world. The Earth Empire was restructuring, a delightful task full of awkward meetings and forgotten names on Katara’s end, and so they were all expecting new ambassadors. 

Zuko had to return to the palace for that. They had discussed for days what to do about Izumi, wondering what the best course of action was. Katara decided to meet her appointment in the new central palace in Republic City, figuring that Izumi could more easily spend time with her father should the need arise.

Not that they could figure out what was going on with their five-year-old since the news broke.

“Auntie!” Kya bellowed as she ran through the wide entry hall. Her small voice bounced off the cool marble and echoed in the empty space. Sokka and Suki followed; Sokka’s arm was thrown nervously over Suki’s shoulders.

“Hello dear one.” Katara murmured as Kya ran into her, putting her small arms around Katara’s hips. Her niece was the spitting image of Sokka, with only the faint reddish hue in her hair linking her to Suki. It made her heart ache sometimes, seeing the South Pole face and saying her mother’s name. 

It was in these moments that she was relieved Kya had been born first, securing Sokka’s claim to the name. 

“Can we practice now?” Kya asked excitedly.

“Don’t you want to see Izumi?” Katara asked curiously, too quick to think. 

Kya’s face smoothed and she stepped back.

“Oh. Right. Sure.” She said and darted past Katara into the palace. 

“She’s been really excited about this trip.” Suki said, looking after her daughter’s retreating form. 

“Should we really be doing all this formal stuff so soon?” Sokka interjected and Suki sighed heavily. 

“She’s a Waterbender. Everyone knows it and they’re asking questions.” Katara answered.

“I seem to recall someone being extremely pissed off about forced expectations and public announcements.” Sokka countered.

Katara gave him a stern look but he didn’t budge. 

“I’m not taking her away or anything. She’ll just have to come for training sometimes, which of course means you both will be staying.” Katara glanced over at Suki, who smiled. “And if she chooses not to be my heir later on, then we figure something else out. It’s up to her.”

“How is Izumi taking it?” Suki asked.

Katara looked back over her shoulder, as if her daughter would appear.

“Zuko thinks she’s a late bloomer, but I know. I don’t know if that makes things worse or not.” She said and then sighed, turning back. “She’s not really talking about it.” 

“And Lu Ten?” Suki inquired.

“He’s definitely a Firebender, but no fire yet. Which is a blessing I think.” Katara shook her head and shrugged.

“We’re doing the best we can.” She added. 

“You think this would be easy, since we saved the world twice.” Sokka muttered. 

“It is what it is.” Katara said, waving her hand in an attempt to dispel the lingering mood. “I’ve got some tea waiting.”

Kya, having forgotten her earlier disappointment, ran screaming through the halls with Izumi, two Swamp Tribe children, and a North Pole boy. Katara kept her amusement to herself as she watched the flinching security guards as something crashed in their earpieces. With the carnage, she assumed the younger brother of the Swamp Tribe matriarch was babysitting this time. 

“So I assume I’m keeping my appointment?” Sokka asked as he plucked a red bean bun from the platter. Now deeply in their thirties, Katara had hoped he would stop eating like a child but half of the bun was shoved unceremoniously into his mouth. 

“Nepotism at its finest.” Katara said as an answer. “No one else really wanted to go, seeing how Zuko spends most of his time here and the Prime Minister is kind of…”

“Dull.” Suki finished for her and Katara pointed back at her. 

“I really liked that other guy.” Sokka said, taking a drink from his mug.

“Sato? Very nice man. His son Hiroshi always played so well with Izumi. Maybe next time.” Katara said and sat back. The banality relaxed her, and she wished her work would go no further than this. 

“I’ve finalized my schedule with Dong-Lee and dad, and nothing has really changed.” Katara continued.

“Still ignoring him?” Sokka asked.

“I’m not ignoring him.” Katara snapped. “I just think he needs to spend a little more time at the South Pole. With the people he actually represents.”

“Malina really isn't all that bad.” Sokka said and Katara glared at him. He responded by shoving the other half of the bun into his mouth. 

“Look, the point is, the Earth Empire has finally selected their ambassador and he’s arriving tomorrow. There’s going to be a big, fancy dinner and I’ll introduce Kya as my heir.” Katara said.

“So where’s dad?” Sokka asked, his mouth still mostly full.

Katara slammed a hand on the table. “This isn’t about dad!”

“He’s on the triumvirate.” Suki said gently.

“And I am the head.” Katara retorted. Shaking her head, she deflated. “He’s flying up this evening. I figured he would’ve told you.”

“We haven’t caught up in a bit. Did you see what’s happening in the news right now?” Sokka replied and Katara snorted. For weeks there had been almost nothing talked about that wasn’t related to the spirits.

A knock at the door made them all turn.

“Come in.” Katara called. The door opened and a guard poked her head in. 

“Excuse me, your Majesty, but Prince Lu Ten has woken up from his nap.” She said.

Sokka jumped up, shoving the back of Suki’s chair as he moved.

“Hey!” Suki exclaimed with a laugh. “You can’t monopolize all of the baby time!”

“Those freaky twins aren’t here, so I’m taking what I can get.” Sokka yelled back, sliding past the flustered guard to run into the hall. 

After everyone was unpacked, and had a proper lunch, Sokka and Suki took Izumi and Lu Ten out into the gardens for a walk. Katara and Kya then made their way down to the practice grounds. The talk of her dad and growing stress of the next few days weighed on Katara and she hoped that this moment with her niece would cheer her. 

The sun was shining, and it was a crisp day that she cherished in the early spring. The sea was a few miles away from the palace, but the building was situated atop a bending made hill so Katara could see ripples of blue-gray between the skyscrapers. A particularly strong breeze would occasionally bring the scent of salt water to her doorstep. 

Kya held Katara’s hand as they walked over the small footbridge to the flat square. The training ground was covered in soft gravel and bordered by channels of water. It was a place they could all practice together, though more recently it was used to smooth out Toph’s plans for her new sport. 

“Auntie?” Kya asked as they walked onto the gravel.

“Yes dear?”

“Is Uncle going to teach Izumi firebending?” 

Anxiety plucked at a tendon in the back of Katara’s neck.

“Izumi isn’t a Firebender, sweetie.” 

“Uncle says you don’t know yet.”

“Well…” Katara drifted, letting go of Kya’s hand and looking off into the empty air. “Your uncle didn’t have a strong spark at Izumi’s age, but he still had one. Izumi doesn’t, and that’s okay.”

“But how do you know? Is it because you’re a Waterbender?”

“I think so.” 

“Will you teach me?”

“In time.”

“Auntie?”

“Yes dear?”

“Who taught you waterbending?”

Katara’s entire neck spasmed and her shoulders shot up to her ears. Muttering nonsense under her breath, she called some of the water from the channels and smoothed out the knots in her muscles. 

Kya, her mother, had been there when Katara found her first instructor. It was Kya’s blood that Katara used in her final test with Hama. 

“An elder taught me.” Katara said, using a truth to blur the unsaid horror. “She lives in a village somewhere in the South Pole now.” 

It went against everything she had ever been taught to even consider killing Hama. Revenge took more than it gave, and Hama was not only an elder, but the only other South Pole Waterbender alive. She had returned Hama to the South Pole under heavy guard and with charms a Kyoshi Warrior had picked up from a guru in the Earth Kingdom. Hama had promised no further violence, being overcome with the promise of going home. She did not return to her village, to Katara’s village, but she was taken back home.

Kya had been buried at the prison, with hopes that she would be returned as well.

They were still waiting.

“Auntie?” Kya asked cautiously. 

“I’m sorry, sweetie.” Katara said brightly. “Did you say something?”

“Were you thinking about the war?” Kya asked and Katara flinched.

“Why do you say that?” She questioned.

“Papa looks like that too sometimes.” Kya answered. 

“I’m fine sweetie.” Katara forced a smile and juggled three balls made of water. “Ready to practice?”

They practiced for a couple of hours before Kya inevitably got tired and asked to get a drink. By then, Sokka and Suki returned and Katara had to finish business of her own. Dong-Lee, the Swamp Tribe matriarch, was waiting for her with a dense looking folder. 

The afternoon wound down that way, with Sokka making a call to Zuko about their next meeting. Suki took charge of all the children currently in the palace, telling stories and generally keeping the chaos relegated to one room. By dinner, most of them had calmed. Just in time for Hakoda to arrive. 

Although completely expected, Katara still grumbled as Malina stepped into the main hall.

“Gran-Gran!” Kya and Izumi both yelled and Malina knelt down to hug them both. 

“You’re going to pull something Tara.” Sokka said, keeping his voice low, and patting her upper back firmly. 

“Shut up.” Katara grumbled, idly twisting the anchor bead of one hair loop. 

“Oh look-” Sokka started just as Katara registered the third figure coming into view.

“Bato!” Katara said, her voice amplified by surprise. 

Bato dropped his shoulder bag and strode forward, his arms open. Katara met him and they embraced each other tightly. 

“What are you doing here?” Katara asked as they stepped apart.

“Can I not come pay homage to my queen?” Bato said with feigned shock. Katara laughed and swatted at him. 

“If your father insists on sending me all over the frozen blue yonder doing his dirty work, I deserve the perk of visiting the High Queen in her fancy new palace in Republic City.” He explained. 

“Good to see you Bato.” Sokka said and the two men hugged with the same type of loving force. 

“Young man, fatherhood looks good on you.” Bato said, holding the back of Sokka’s head and pressing their foreheads together. 

Sokka smiled, his eyes squeezing shut and a pin prick of water poked out the corner. 

“Is Zuko not here?” Hakoda asked from behind them.

“His court is in session to approve the new Earth Empire ambassador.” Sokka said, moving off to the side. He stood between Katara and Malina, but that still put her in Hakoda’s line of sight. 

“Daddy is going to bring me a present when he comes back.” Izumi interjected and Hakoda chuckled as he bent down.

“Oh is he now? I guess I better give you my present first!” He huffed as he stood up, swinging Izumi into the air. 

“How are you Katara?” Malina asked softly. Katara watched her father carry Izumi, with Kya hopping at his side. 

“I’m fine.” She said tersely and started walking. “Dinner is nearly ready.” 

“That was ice cold.” Sokka said, jogging up to walk with her. Katara snapped sharply, sending sparks of frost into the air.

“Don’t you forget it.” She retorted. 

“It’s okay that she’s not mom.” Sokka said.

“No Sokka, it’s not.” Katara replied, her words clipped short. 

Despite their political positions, they took their dinner in the private family room, away from the other tribal members. Even with the separation, politics still dominated the table conversation. 

“Who is the Fire Nation sending out?” Bato asked. Katara settled in her chair with Lu Ten wriggling in her lap. He had begun refusing the high chair, but was still too small for a booster. So Katara had to feed him while her own food cooled just out of reach. 

“Zuko has made his appointments but the ministers have to approve them as well. I like the lady he sent to Ba Sing Se though, so I don’t see that changing.” She replied.

“Ugh, remember the ambassador last year? What a piece of work.” Sokka grunted, reaching over to cut Kya’s food. She fussed, insisting that she could do it herself, while Izumi smiled demurely with her chopsticks in hand. The mixed menu was always a struggle, and Izumi was leaning more toward Fire Nation fare while Kya was used to the knives and spoons of the South Pole. 

“Who is going from us to Ba Sing Se?” Malina asked, of no one in particular. 

“I have always wanted to do some proper travelling.” Bato said. “More than just the horrible marching in the war.” 

“That might be pushing it.” Katara said. “Dong-Lee’s sister is going to Ba Sing Se, and I’m sending Hahn to Omashu.”

“HAHN?” Sokka cut hard and the knife in his hand went skidding across the plate. With a huff, Kya pulled her plate back and started sawing the meat with her own knife.

“Two ambassadors?” Suki asked.

“Omashu is the largest seat of power in the south, and it makes sense to have people in both places. Kuei won’t let the Fire Nation send more than one though.” Katara said.

“But why Hahn?” Sokka demanded.

“He’s grown up a lot, Sokka.” Katara said, sounding tired. “And no one could accuse me of favoritism since you hate his guts.”

“Fine.” Sokka said forcefully. Suki leaned over and rubbed his upper back.

“Paw-Paw, look what Auntie taught me!” Kya said suddenly. Everyone looked just as Kya levitated the tea from her cup, pushing it high above her head.

“Careful!” Katara warned. 

“Mo-om! Kya shouldn’t play with her food!” Izumi said. 

“I’m not playing, it’s waterbending.” Kya stated. 

“That’s very nice Kya.” Hakoda said carefully. “But let’s make sure not to drop it.” 

“I won’t!” Kya fussed.

“Even if I do-” Sokka took a finger and moved it toward Kya. “This?”

Cold tea fell on Kya’s head, causing her to burst into tears and Izumi started pummeling Sokka’s arm.

“Izumi! We don’t hit!” Katara jostled Lu Ten, who was still eating peacefully, as she tried to get up.

“Don’t be mean to Kya!” Izumi yelled while Sokka chuckled. Suki bit her trembling lip as she used her napkin to mop up as much tea as she could.

“That’s enough!” Katara said, keeping one hand on Lu Ten - who was starting to fuss - and using the other to bend away the tea. 

“Izumi, go to your room!” Katara said.

“Katara, it’s fine.” Sokka said.

“Don’t tell me how to parent!” She snapped.

Sokka leaned back, holding up his hand. 

Izumi, sniffling, stomped out of the room. 

“I didn’t mean to get her in trouble.” Kya murmured.

“You didn’t.” Katara sighed.

“Kat, how about I take Lu Ten so you can eat?” Hakoda, suddenly at her side, asked.

Katara whirled around, grabbing hold of Lu Ten with both hands. 

“I certainly don’t need your help.” She said sharply.

Hakoda’s eyes went hard but he didn’t move.

“I raised two children, Katara, I know what I’m doing.” He said.

“When? When mom was still alive and Gran-Gran lived with us? Or after you went off to fight, taking mom with you and leaving us behind? Or was it after mom died and you decided to stay in the North Pole to court a new woman?” Katara shot back. “Because it certainly seems like Gran-Gran raised two more children after you abandoned yours.” 

“And where’s your husband then? He’s not here to raise them himself.” Hakoda said darkly. 

“Zuko is the Fire Lord! And, if you really want to get technical about it, dad, he’s a five hour flight from here to the middle of the spirits be-damned palace!” Katara shouted. “Now sit down before I decide to make Bato the new chief of the South Pole and kick you out of my home.”

Turning on her heel, Katara shifted Lu Ten onto her hip and walked out the dining room. Ice crunched under her feet, grinding into her soles like diamonds. Goosebumps rippled on Lu Ten’s arms and Katara let out a worried breath as she moved down the hall to the bedrooms. 

“I’m sorry baby-boo.” She whispered, kissing Lu Ten’s chubby cheek. “Let’s go call daddy.”

Katara grabbed a phone and went into Izumi’s room, letting her talk to Zuko first. Izumi immediately related what had happened at dinner, telling him all about Katara’s unfairness and tyrannical rule. Then, letting Izumi go back to dinner, Katara stayed in her daughter’s bedroom, letting Lu Ten play on the floor beside her while she talked. 

“So what else happened?” Zuko asked.

“I got into a fight with my dad.” Katara answered.

“I know all about that.” Zuko said and she snorted. 

“I just don’t get him.” Katara said with a sigh.

“Well of course. You lived with him for the first six of years of your life, while only being conscious of it for two, three years tops. Then he went off to fight when he was younger than you are now. He came back to his children being adults, and one of them bonded to the ocean spirit.” Zuko replied. Katara patted Lu Ten’s diapered backside while she listened. They were nearly done potty training, but it was a busy time and accidents happen. Lu Ten grumbled at the attention, pushing himself up to rummage through Izumi’s things.

“So you’re saying I should just forgive him?” Katara asked.

“I am the last person to ask about forgiving fathers.” Zuko quipped. “But more I’m just trying to break through your stubborn insistence to be mad at him.”

“I want to be mad at him?”

“Yes.”

“Zuko!”

“Katara, you know this. We’ve talked about it in therapy. If you feel like you’re justified in being mad at someone, it means you can get away with being mean to them.” Zuko replied calmly. 

“I do have a right to be mad!” Katara countered.

“I agree. But do you think Dr. Matsuzawa would think you’re handling this in a healthy and loving manner?” He questioned.

“Mmmmm.” Katara rolled her discontent in the back of her throat. Lu Ten repeated the noise, bouncing up and down as he did. 

“Let’s talk about Izumi.” Zuko said, his tone shifting.

“What do you mean?” Katara asked.

“You don’t normally blow up at the kids.” He clarified.

“Yeah.” The pit of her stomach twisted, shooting sour bile into her throat. 

Zuko kept quiet, giving her space to process her words.

“I’m just worried about her.” Katara said.

“Why?” 

“Why?” She repeated, incredulous.

“Yeah, why are you worried about her? Has she said anything?” Zuko asked.

“Well, no. Not yet.” Katara admitted.

“Izumi and Kya adore each other. I don’t think she’s jealous.” Zuko said.

“I don’t know.” Katara said.

“Are you jealous?” Zuko questioned gently.

Katara sat up, her stomach wrenching horribly. 

“What?” She asked.

Zuko didn’t reply right away, but sighed.

“I’ve been trying to find a way to talk to you about this, and now probably isn’t the best time to bring it up.”  He said.

“Well you brought it up!” Katara said sharply.

“Katara.”

“You think I’m jealous that Sokka had a Waterbender and I didn’t?” 

“I don’t know. Maybe? You’re weird about Kya.”

“How am I weird about her?”

“You never say her name!” Zuko stated. “Maybe you’re not jealous but maybe you want Izumi to be, so you can have an excuse.” 

“How can you say that?” Katara gasped. 

“Katara, this isn’t an accusation. I think you’re hurting, a lot. The spirit world thing got us away from it all, but now we’re back. And there’s a little girl named after your mom, needing to learn waterbending, when you don’t really have the best experiences in your own instruction.” Zuko explained carefully. “I went through something similar with my firebending.” 

“Zuko…” Katara whispered. Her throat tightened as her nose went numb and started to run. 

“I’m coming home.” Zuko said softly.

“No, Zuko, you have things to do.” Katara said. 

“I’ve already approved the ambassador, the ministers can handle the next part.” Zuko said dismissively. 

“You can’t keep running from the palace. It’s pissing a lot of people off.” Katara said, sniffing and rubbing her weeping eyes with the heel of her hand. 

“So what? What are they gonna do, depose me? None of these governors want to go up against me, my father is rattling around in a prison, Azula is quite happy in rehab, and Iroh is convalescent. Unless they want to go on a search for Ursa on their own, they’ve got no one to replace me.” Zuko scoffed. “Plus, Thuy likes me.”

“Having the Avatar in your pocket sure is handy.” Katara murmured.

“Thuy?” Lu Ten chirped, tottling back with his arms full of Izumi’s dolls. He held out one hand, dropping most of the dolls, and reached for the phone.

“Thuy?” He repeated and Katara laughed.

“It’s daddy.” She said.

“Daddy!” Lu Ten said excitedly, dropping all the dolls, and starting to bounce again.

“May I talk to my beloved youngest child?” Zuko asked. Katara laughed again and handed the phone over. Lu Ten took it with both hands, pressing it to the side of his face. A couple of the buttons beeped.

“Daddy coming home?” Lu Ten asked. Pushing herself back to lean against Izumi’s bed, Katara watched as Lu Ten babbled into the phone. 

She wasn’t looking forward to their time apart. 

With the call done, Katara gave Lu Ten a bath and put him to bed. Assigning a guard to act as a baby monitor, she then went in search of Izumi. 

The residential wing of the palace was small compared to the rooms she kept in the North Pole and in the Fire Nation, but it was still much bigger than what she had grown up with. Being back in Republic City, Katara almost wondered if she was expecting her old college dorm. She hadn’t even returned to the campus, though they were certainly bothering her about it, but her mind kept returning to the uniform, beige buildings, relics of the war. 

This palace was made with snow white marble, iron colored lumber from the Fire Nation, and miles of Omashu crystal to remind her of ice. The rooms were a mix of styles, some with low furniture and some with the more modern style of ornate desks and heavy pieces meant to be dusted, not moved. 

Going through the rooms on the main floor, Katara found them all empty. 

Not wanting to try the other bedrooms, she descended into the basement. This was the space Sokka had designed, and sure enough, it was where everyone important was hiding. 

Sokka had built a pillow fort in the theater, a trail of popcorn leading to the draped blankets. An animated movie Katara vaguely remembered played on the large screen and she could hear both Izumi and Kya giggling. Deciding to leave them to it, Katara retreated. 

With Zuko’s flight still hours away, Katara puttered around. She made more tea, put on a hoodie, and meandered out to the main courtyard to look at the stars. The sky was different here than the North Pole, and neither was at all like the sky in the South Pole. 

Pulling her legs up higher on the lounge chair, Katara reached underneath for a folded blanket. She often spent nights out here and the staff was good about leaving cushions and blankets about for her. Folding herself over the arm was difficult with her tea in her other hand and Katara strained to reach.

“Let me.” A man’s voice said and the mug left her grip.

“Thanks.” She muttered, leaning further over and finally grabbing the blanket. As her hand folded over the fabric, the voice registered, and Katara looked down while she spread the blanket over her legs.

“Here you go.” Bato said, handing back her mug. Katara took it, holding it in her lap with both hands wrapped around it. 

“Did you come to scold me?” Katara asked.

“You’re a grown woman.” Bato said with a grunt, sitting down in the grass beside her. “I want to make sure you still know your stars.” 

Tilting her head back, Katara gazed at the stars.

“I’d rather you scold me.” She groaned.

“Really?”

“No.”

“I’ve already yelled at Hakoda.”

Katara rolled her head to the side to look at Bato, but he was still looking up at the sky himself. 

“At dad?” She asked.

“You weren’t totally wrong Katara. He wasn’t around, even if he hated being away from you and Sokka, it doesn’t change the truth. Trying to pretend that he was still a dad is his way of telling you that he didn’t want to leave in the first place.” Bato explained. “But it doesn’t fix anything.” 

“But I shouldn’t have said what I said.” Katara admitted.

“Sure, but where do you think you got your temper? It wasn’t your mother.” Bato scoffed.

“I never asked you about her.” Katara said softly, rolling onto her side to look at him better.

“Sokka did, but I wasn’t sure you would.” He replied.

“Will you tell me?” Katara asked.

“Of course.” 


Banging rattled the thin door frame and Bato jolted upright, still tangled in his blankets and furs. As the banging continued, he clawed his way to freedom and shoved his arms back into the longjohns he was wearing. Moving from his bedroom in the back, he paused for a moment to put his feet into his unlaced boots before heading to the front door. 

He yanked the shuttering door open, swearing in the bright summer sun. 

“May you and your namesakes drown for a thousand cycles.” Bato growled.

“Oh come on Bato, too much sleep is bad for your health!” Hakoda said briskly. 

“Did Kanna kick you out again?” Bato asked. He moved sleepily back to his bedroom, letting Hakoda close the door and follow. Kicking off his shoes, Bato began picking through the pile next to his bed while Hakoda leaned in the open door frame.

“She was up late for a birth.” Hakoda said, avoiding the truth.  Bato found his pants, pulled them on, and then searched for his parka. When he found it, he shook it out sharply.

“Is Kya up yet?” Bato inquired, pulling the parka over his head. 

“That’s why I’m getting you. You know her father hates me.” Hakoda said.

Bato straightened his parka and avoided his friend’s gaze. 

He couldn’t put into words what his life was like at the time. His parents had died last winter when there was another outbreak of tuberculosis. There were relatives he could have stayed with, or even gone to live with Hakoda and Kanna. Instead he chose to stay in his family’s house. They weren’t adults yet, but life on the ice and a blockade cutting them off from the rest of the world, it wasn’t like there was enough room for a childhood. 

Hakoda was trying, and so was Kya. They had grown up together; all of the children in the village had grown up together, but it was different for the three of them. Bato had known they all loved each other, but two summers ago, he found out that Hakoda loved Kya differently, and it made him feel strange. 

But it was difficult not to love Kya, in one form or another. 

Bato punished Hakoda by forcing him to wait as he got ready. Bato dressed properly, shaved, and put together a meager breakfast. Ever the spoiled one, Hakoda bemoaned the bland food, which got Bato in for whatever Kanna had bubbling away on her stove that day. 

Being back at Kanna’s wasted another hour and finally, finally, they were out on their own. 

Bato was sent to get Kya and he grinned weakly under her father’s glare. Whatever he had against Hakoda, Bato was sure it was both misunderstood and completely deserved. 

“Ah Bato, I wish we were children again.” Kya said, hanging off of his shoulder. “I miss penguin sledding.” 

“You know, I think there’s an old canoe out back of my house. My dad and I were supposed to mend it this summer.” Bato said.

“We can’t go fishing in a broken canoe.” Hakoda stated.

“But we might be able to go sledding.” Bato countered.

The sledding worked, but somehow Hakoda decided that what they really ought to do was hitch a polar bear dog to the sled and really get going. Figuring they wouldn’t even get close to a den, Bato agreed.

This resulted in them running full-tilt through the snow away from a pack of polar bear pups with their milk teeth still in. 

Wanting to hide their injuries, Hakoda then decided it would be a good idea to sift through Kanna’s ungents while she was sleeping.

That turned into Hakoda and Bato being temporarily blinded and Kya laughing so hard she fell into a slush pit at the coast line. 

From there, they all piled into Bato’s bathroom, sectioning off the shower stall for Kya while he and Hakoda squeezed into the tub.

The room was covered in clean, but cracked, white tile squares. Steam filled the space, making their vision foggy even after clearing away the odd unguents. 

This was the pair he had done his ice dodging with. All of their parents had been alive and watched proudly as they completed the ritual. Hakoda was the brave, Kya was the wise, and he was the trusted. It felt like their fate had been sealed then, and Bato relaxed into the grip of it. When Hakoda’s father died in a fishing accident, he went right back into the sea to make sure he was taking care of his mother. Kya always knew how to draw Bato out when he was pulling away. It was how they would always be.

“What do you think will happen in the future?” Bato asked, watching the steam curl within itself. 

“How far are we talking?” Hakoda asked in reply.

“Ten years.” Bato answered.

“Hopefully this war will be over.” Kya remarked. The sound of the water hitting her skin sounded different than the tile. It was a sound Bato hadn’t heard in his house for many months. 

“I hope to have children.” Hakoda said.

“Oh?” Kya intoned, turning off the faucets. She stayed behind her curtain, and Bato heard the splash of water as she wrung out her hair. 

Hakoda looked away and Bato chuckled. 

“What if the war is still going on?” Bato asked.

“Well, we’ll have to fight in it I suppose.” Kya said dreamily. 

“How do you figure?” Hakoda asked sharply, sitting up so quickly the water sloshed over the side. 

“If you want to have children, you’re okay raising them in a world like this? Where we can’t even trade up north anymore for fresh food?” Kya asked. “No one’s buying our fish, the Waterbenders have already gone off to fight and none of them have come back, and we don’t even have a local hospital.”

“But there’s so much to lose if we enlist. There’s no guarantee it’ll turn out in our favor.” Hakoda said.

“And here I thought you earned the mark of the brave.” Kya chided. 

“So are you not having children until the war is done?” Bato asked.

“I think if I married the right man, I’d have to win a war for my children.” She answered.

Hakoda, sinking back into the tub, sighed happily with a smile.


Katara looked at the cold remains of her tea as Bato’s words swirled in her head. She didn’t see any of her mother in Malina, and she couldn’t work out if that made her happy or not. Perhaps Malina was the type of woman Kya would have picked out for Hakoda herself, someone to comfort him, not challenge him. 

“Losing Kya is different for your father and me. We all got separated, so I keep thinking Kya’s just waiting in an Earth Kingdom city somewhere, waiting for us to find her.” Bato added.

“I know where she is.” Katara murmured. 

“I know. And it kills me that you do.” Bato said. “Your mother didn’t deserve any of this. She deserved to see her children grow up and to meet her grandchildren. She shouldn’t have a namesake yet.” 

“So what about dad?” Katara asked.

“Hakoda deserves peace. If you hadn’t gone through what you did, I would say he deserves to reunite with his children and live comfortably to grow old and fat. But you also deserve a father not blunted by years of imprisonment.” Bato shook his head, now looking at the ground. “You both deserve better but there is no substitution.” 

Briefly, Katara thought about Noriko, but banished the seed before it could plant itself in her mind. 

“What do I do then?” She questioned.

“My advice? Start over. Your father is a good man, and he loves you very much. We went away because we really thought we were going to protect you, to save you. He never wants to be far from you.” Bato said.

“Then why does he only ever stay with Malina? He was barely in the South Pole until I ordered him to go back.” Katara said sharply, her anger returning faster than she expected. 

“You were supposed to be in the North Pole more than you were, remember? But someone decided they were better off traveling with the Avatar, or hiding out in the Fire Nation. Places your father couldn’t easily get to.” Bato said. “And how often did you want to see Malina when you were home?” 

“Mmmm.” Katara grumbled, assenting to his point. 

“Zuko is coming, correct?” Bato asked.

“Yeah.”

“I’ll be glad to see him again. I haven’t had the chance to really talk to him.” Bato stood and stretched his back. Katara could hear the succession of pops from his joints.

“I think you’ll like him.” Katara said.

“Really? The son of the man who slaughtered my people? Who kept medicine from our village and killed my parents? You think I’ll like the Fire Lord, hmm?” Bato asked casually. Katara sat up, alarmed, and tried to see Bato’s face in the dark.

“Most of all, Katara, I think you need to understand just how much Hakoda is willing to deal with because of how much he loves you.” Bato said. “I hear that your husband is a good man, and I trust that you wouldn’t marry an evil person. But we have suffered differently, you and I. And I don’t have love to help me forgive as easily.”

Without another word, Bato turned and walked back to the palace, leaving Katara alone in the dark. Revenge was not sought in their tribe. Harming another person meant weakening the community. But there was still the matter of justice. Bato would not hold Zuko accountable for the sins of his father, but politics changed things. Katara understood that, and she understood Bato knew the difference as well. His hostility toward the Fire Lord was not the neutral friendliness he used to talk about her husband. 

Hakoda had only ever fought with her about politics when he learned of her relationship with Zuko. 

Heading back inside herself, Katara went straight to her private rooms. She showered and took extra care with her routine, wasting more of her time before Zuko arrived. Brushing out her hair, Katara’s shoulders sank seeing the wide swaths of black in her normal brown. The past two years had been exhausting beyond a physical way and had tapped into her spiritual reserves. So much had changed, but there was still that feeling of loss over what had been left behind or broken.
Very similar to how she felt at the end of the war. 

While smoothing lotion into her arms and legs, Katara took a moment to examine the scars. She remembered Zuko’s fingers tracing them years ago, his pale skin somehow paler than the raised lines on her body. 

Standing in the mirror, Katara saw the other scars that sank into her body. The stretch marks that rippled over her stomach and down her thighs. Ebony threads were like embroidery over her dark skin making no pattern but beautiful still. 

Pulling on a robe, Katara tied the belt and walked silently to the bed. Purple sheets, made of silk to protect her hair and cool to the touch. There were places in the midlands of the Earth Empire that considered purple dye to belong to the royals. Apparently King Bumi was fond of it, mixing it with the typical green attire of Earth Kingdom citizens. 

Katara just loved the blend of red and blue. 

Sliding into bed, she shivered as her damp and lotioned legs brushed against the sheets. Tucking herself in, Katara shuddered deeply once and then relaxed. She thought for a moment that she was jealous, but not about Sokka or Kya specifically. Katara had hated everything she and Zuko had to go through in order to even have this place. She hated the schedule and the weeks away from her children and husband, or missing just Zuko. 

If the world hadn’t been placed in peril yet again, they may never have won this small victory in the first place.

So in a way, Katara was bitter that she hadn’t earned any sort of simple ending. Her father, Sokka, even Thuy were uncomplicated by their relationships. Either no one was high enough or, as it was for Thuy, the Avatar was someone who could simply do whatever they wished. 

A life where she graduated from medical school, became a doctor, and lived with her little family back in the South Pole would never happen. Instead, she had to worry about her daughter’s inheritance, take on her niece as her heir, and run three different nations while also sitting as the lady of another ruler. 

And Thuy. Of course, she always had a duty to her Avatar.

Picking up her phone, Katara scrolled through the messages to see if there was any update from Zuko. The flight app showed his plane still in the air, but near enough to Republic City. With almost a decade of ruling as a monarch, her social media was limited, but it was still nice to see what her friends were up to. 

Jinora’s daughter Bumi was in elementary school and had bonded with her Sky Bison. Ikki had adopted another flying lemur, bringing her total up to four. Meelo, while not specifically posting about it, was still living near the rehab center where Azula was staying. He was actually incredibly helpful, despite the strange stories Rohan had told her. Meelo seemed to care a lot about Azula and brought his trained, monastic calmness with him when he visited her. 

Rohan was on radio silence, again, as they were doing something mysterious out at the Eastern Air Temple. 

Thuy’s new account for “the family” was called The Dream Tweem, tweaking the pronunciation of Thuy’s name for the pun. It made Katara snort every time she saw it. 

The Dream Tweem was heading to a remote village tucked somewhere in the Xishaan mountains. Jae-hwan, despite his numerous trips with Thuy, was still not a fan of the cold and there were plenty of pictures of him dealing with snow. 

Just as Katara was flicking through the album, she got a video call.

“Good evening Auntie!” Thuy said cheerfully. 

“Is that Lady Katara?” Suzu’s voice came from behind Thuy and Katara watched her push her shoulder back.

“The kids are in bed!” Thuy said sharply.

“You’re lying!” Suzu retorted and shoved Thuy’s face aside. Katara laughed as she watched the excitement drain from Sula’s face.

“Hello Fire Lady.” Suzu said sadly.

“I’m sorry Suzu, had I known Thuy was going to call, I’d have collected the children.” 

“It’s fine.” Suzu replied, dragging the last word out on a sigh while she slunk of view. 

“Have you met the ambassador yet?” Thuy asked, her face returning to the screen.

“He comes in tomorrow.” Katara said, shaking her head.

“Oh, Zuko got his then right?” 

“Blazes, how can you just call him that?” Zula asked. 

“Because my parents weren’t crazy Fire Nation royalists?” Thuy asked, annoyed and confused. 

“Are you talking to Auntie?” Jae-hwan came from over Thuy, pushing down on her head.

“Auntie, it’s cold!” He whined.

“I’m not you’re Auntie.” Katara said. “And your mother would lose her mind if she heard you whine like that.”

“Don’t tell mom.” Jae-hwan said quickly.

“I have Toph on speed dial.” Katara warned.

Thuy shoved Jae-hwan off her and sat up, looking at him offscreen.

“You know, sifu says you can’t be cold if you’re practicing.” She said and then laughed as Jae-hwan made an unseen gesture. 

“Am I going to hear from Aktuk or Tashi?” Katara asked.

“They’ve gone on ahead to scout since they can handle the cold better.” Thuy said.

“Excuse me?” Zula interjected and Thuy rolled her eyes.

“My apologies madam inner fire.” She said sarcastically. 

“Did you call for a reason Thuy?” Katara asked. 

“Oh, right. I was wondering if you’ve done any more research on the energybending thing. Tashi and I were talking about it, after that spirit debacle, but we don’t know if we should try again.” Thuy said.

Katara was silent for a moment and Thuy was also still, looking perfectly innocent. 

“Where in the mountains are you going Thuy?” She asked.

“A village.”

“What village?”

“A…. mountainous one?”

“Thuy, are you looking for the guardians?”

“Okay so, remember, you can’t really tell me what to do anymore now that I’m a fully awakened Avatar!” 

“Thuy! We were all going to go once Iroh recovered!” 

“I am so close Auntie! Tashi and I feel really good about this one.” Thuy began but stopped as Katara sat up.

“We don’t know anything about the lion turtles. It could be dangerous!” Katara said.

“Mister Whiskers isn’t even freaking out a little.” Thuy said, trying to calm her down.

“That’s probably because she’s brumating, let’s be real.” Jae-hwan muttered.

“Oh, big word from the street urchin.” Suzu said with what passed for friendly mocking between them.

“I am a Beifong you horrendous little bit-” Jae-hwan’s voice was cut off as Thuy stepped away. 

“Are any of you taking this seriously?” Katara asked.

“Auntie, we just came off a world saving mission. We know the stakes. I don’t think anyone else expects to find anything, so they’re doing, whatever. But Tashi and I can feel something out here.” Thuy said.

“Well, don’t poke around there for too long. We’ll go to Ember Island this summer. You and I already know something is out there and we can go as a family.” Katara urged gently. 

Thuy smiled and nodded.

“You know, my parents are getting kind of jealous.” She said.

Katara’s breath slowed from the coincidence.

“Oh?” She asked.

“It’s not a big deal, considering how we view family in the Swamp. But it is weird for them to have me be so distant.” Thuy said.

“Comes with being the Avatar I suppose.” Katara agreed.

“We all have things to deal with. Good thing they had other kids.” Thuy said jokingly. 

Remembering what Bato said about substitutions, Katara stayed quiet.

“We won’t stay long. I promise.” Thuy said, taking her silence as a reproach.

“Be safe.” Katara said.

“We will Auntie. I love you.” Thuy said.

“I love you. Give the others my love as well.” Katara said.

“Of course Auntie. Good night!” Thuy said.

Before she ended the call, Katara could hear the chorus of other voices wishing her goodnight. 

Laying back, Katara held her phone to her chest.

Thuy called her Auntie, but she had become more like a little sister. Thuy had picked her from the very beginning and nothing over the years could change her mind. From every bad mood to times of no communication, Thuy never wavered in her loyalty to Katara. 

Her family was such a complex thing. 

Katara found a video channel about an unseen man who made knives from all sorts of materials. Hours in, and in the middle of a video about making a knife from smoke, her bedroom door opened slowly.

“Katara?” Zuko called out softly. 

Half-asleep, Katara roused and sat up. Her body was warmer now and her robe slipped off one shoulder from her movement. Zuko paused as he stepped in, light burning in his palm.

“Well.” He said with enough interest that Katara felt her pulse quicken. She laughed and straightened out her robe. 

“Oh don’t go through the trouble on my account.” Zuko said, walking to the bed.

“Did you just get in?” Katara asked.

Zuko extinguished his flame as he put a knee on the bed, propelling himself into her arms.

“Yes. I went to check on the children first.” He said, his voice muffled as he pressed his face into the dip of her shoulder. 

“Are they asleep?” She asked. She felt him begin to untie the belt and she chuckled. 

“They were when I left.” Zuko said, sitting back now to properly attend the knot. 

“I thought we were going to have a big talk.” Katara said as Zuko loosened the knot and undid the belt. He slid his hands through the small gap of the robe and around to her waist. 

“You distracted me.” He said. 

“By sitting here?” Katara asked and giggled as Zuko pulled her closer.

“Exactly. You know how beautiful you are, how dare you be visible when we have serious things to discuss?”

“You’re impossible.” There was laughter in her voice and Katara knew Zuko was smiling in the dark. 

“I’m not sitting here flaunting such allure as if it weren’t enough to declare war.” 

“War, sir?”

“War, my lady, and while I shall put up an earnest fight,” Zuko moved her, laying her back down as he straddled her and began unbuttoning his shirt. “I do believe you will best me yet again.” 

“Oh but darling,” Katara said demurely, her fingers plucking at his belt buckle. “You may certainly try.”

And while she wished for light to see him, there had been enough years between them that she knew his body by heart.

Chapter Text

Zuko, as usual, woke up early in the morning. Katara recalled kissing him before he went on his run, but didn’t properly wake up until a few hours later. Normally, Zuko woke her up when he returned, so Katara was confused when her aide came knocking. 

After getting dressed, Katara walked into the dining room where Sokka, Suki, and the children were firmly entrenched in their breakfast. 

“Where’s Zuko?” She asked.

“He’s not with you?” Sokka asked, glancing up briefly before looking back down to continue feeding Lu Ten small pieces of bacon.

“Clearly.” Katara said dryly, taking her seat.

“Mommy, you are being mean to Uncle Sokka. You should say sorry.” Izumi said. 

“It’s okay.” Sokka said quickly.

“It’s not.” Katara said and sighed. “I have been mean. I’m stressed out and taking it out on you, which isn’t fair. I’m sorry Sokka.”

“I understand Kat. I forgive you.” Sokka replied.

“And I’m sorry Mimi. I shouldn’t have yelled at you yesterday.” Katara said, putting her hand on the top of Izumi’s head.

“I forgive you mommy.” Izumi said primly. “Now Kya.”

“I’m sorry Kya. I shouldn’t have yelled at you either.” Katara said, looking at her niece while stroking Izumi’s hair.

“Thank you Auntie.” Kya murmured, looking down at her plate.

“And Lu Ten!” Izumi chirped.

“What did I do to Lu Ten?” Katara asked, tilting her head down to look at Izumi.

“You left him out.” She stated.

“You’re right. I’m sorry Lu Ten.” Katara said.

Sokka picked up Lu Ten, thrusting the toddler over the table. Katara chuckled as she leaned across the corner to kiss Lu Ten. He, with his hands covered in greasy egg, grabbed onto her face as he kissed her back.

“Ew!” Kya and Izumi shrieked together. 

Katara leaned back, wiping her face off as the others started chattering once again.

“What did I miss?” Zuko asked as he walked in. Katara turned and was surprised to see him still in his running clothes. 

Then Hakoda, Malina, and Bato stepped in after him.

“Lu Ten got mommy messy.” Izumi answered.

“He seems especially skilled at that.” Zuko agreed. He walked to Katara and kissed her cheek.

“Good morning beloved.” He murmured.

“Kisses!” Lu Ten yelled. Zuko smiled and made his way down the table and around, going so far as to kiss Suki and Sokka’s cheeks. As he got to Sokka, he took Lu Ten from his lap and walked back to take his seat next to Katara.

“That’s very cute.” Malina remarked.

“Thank you. It was very weird at first; physical affection wasn’t something I was used to as a kid.” Zuko said, speaking easily enough to keep things from growing awkward.

“I can understand that! South Pole custom seems to be very touchy.” Malina said, playfully nudging Hakoda with her shoulder. 

“The first time I hugged Zuko, he thanked me and then shook my hand.” Sokka said. Bato sputtered out a laugh and Hakoda broke a smile. 

“Was he always like that?” Zuko asked, looking side to side for verification from the other South Pole members.

“As children, they were handled a lot. It’s nearly impossible to get toddlers through the snow when left on their own two feet.” Hakoda said. 

“Katara wore one of those wrap things when the kids were babies. Genius. I think I carried both of them all day sometimes.” Zuko said.

Katara snorted and everyone looked at her.

“One time, Zuko had Lu Ten in a sling during a financial meet and, in his sleep, decided to use his diaper.” She explained.

“Nothing is worse than potty training a child during the dark season in the South Pole when your bathroom is outside.” Hakoda interjected as the others were laughing.

“Paw-Paw, what was mommy like when she was my age?” Izumi asked.

The table quieted and Katara stared at her father.

“Well, I wasn’t around when your mother was five. I was fighting in the Earth Kingdom.” Hakoda said.

“You didn’t see her at all?” Izumi questioned with clear shock.

“Not for many years.” Hakoda said with a shake of his head.

“Sometimes I don’t get to see mommy for a few weeks when I live with daddy in the Fire Nation.” Izumi said softly. “It makes me sad.” 

“I was very sad when I couldn’t see my mom or my dad.” Katara said, putting her arms around Izumi and kissing her hair. 

“When I’m queen, I’m going to live here and I’ll be able to see Izumi every day.” Kya announced.

“What about me and mama?” Sokka asked.

“You can live here too if you want.” She conceded and Sokka scoffed in amusement. 

“Oh, why thank you.” He said and smiled over Kya’s head at Suki.

“I had hoped after the war, I’d be able to live with my entire family in one place.” Hakoda grumbled and Malina patted his hand. 

“Tell me about it.” Katara sighed. 

“Excuse me, your majesty?” A woman called from the doorway. Katara turned and waved the aide in.

“The Matriarch is waiting for you. And we just got confirmation that the ambassador has entered the city.” She said, angling a tablet down so Katara could see the verification. 

“Delightful.” Katara muttered. Then, speaking up, she tried to sound more cheerful. “Time to get dressed!”

More voices than she expected groaned in disappointment. 

The first meeting would be a quick, but formal, welcome. In the throne room, Katara had Hakoda and Dong-Lee take their seats first. Then, holding up the thick fabric of her skirt, she stepped up to the platform where her own carved monstrosity awaited her. Kya knelt on a cushion at her side, still on the platform above Hakoda and Dong-Lee. Politics were in everything.

The Ambassador was escorted in and he bowed in greeting.

“Ambassador Yi, welcome to our little oasis in Republic City.” Katara said.

Yi was a stout man, but younger than she expected. He was middle aged with a receding hairline, yet his face was fairly youthful. From his file, Katara knew he was married with three children, all a few years older than Izumi.

“Thank you, Queen Katara.” He said.

“You are here at the pleasure of Chief Hakoda, leader of the Southern Water Tribes, and Matriarch Dong-Lee of the Swamp Tribe.” Katara went on, gesturing with both hands to the other leaders. 

Yi bowed again.

“Thank you, Chief Hakoda and Matriarch Dong-Lee.” He said.

“And I would like to introduce you to my heir, Princess Kya.” Katara finished.

A third bow and Kya shifted uneasily.

“It is a pleasure to meet the princess.” Yi said.

“I know you have meetings with us separately, but did you have anything you would like to bring before the triumvirate?” Katara questioned.

“No, your majesty.” Yi answered.

“Then I give you your leave. I will see you at our appointed time.” Katara said. She stood and Yi bowed again, keeping his gaze lowered. The others stood and left, exiting behind the platform before Yi made his way back the way he entered. 

Such rituals made Katara feel stiff and irritated; she’d be taking her lunch with the man in a few hours while wearing pants. All of the preceding pageantry struck her as unnecessary. 

“He seems agreeable.” Dong-Lee said.

“Well, be careful, he’s from the Upper Ring. There’s been a lot of chatter about pruning the swamp.” Katara said.

Dong-Lee scoffed. “As if the swamp would let anyone do such a thing.” 

“Are all the meetings going to be like that Auntie?” Kya asked, tugging hard at the neckline of her dress.

“Not all of them, no. But enough of them to make you grumpy.” Katara said and Kya groaned loudly. 

“How does Izumi do it?” Kya whined.

“She’s a lot like her father I suppose. They were born into it.” Katara remarked lightly. Kya groaned again and Katara laughed. 

“I wish Thuy was here.” She muttered.

Katara only nodded.

Ambassador Yi met with Hakoda and Dong-Lee prior to lunch, talking about his goals for his appointment and the technical aspects of the placement. The lunch was far more casual, and Yi brought his family. Dong-Lee was attended by her brother and two children, while Malina came along with Hakoda. The rest of Katara’s royal family bustled in and the large table on the veranda was bursting with activity. 

Yi and his family were patient through the introductions, though Katara promptly forgot the names of everyone with him. Zuko had a better mind for names and she would have to ask him about it later. 

“Ambassador, I’d like to introduce my consort, Fire Lord Zuko.” Katara said, gesturing to Zuko. Yi and his family all gave a hasty Fire Nation salute while Zuko only smiled, holding Lu Ten at his hip. 

“Forgive me,” Yi’s wife said, sounding nervous. “But how should we refer to your Highness?” 

“Zuko is fine.” He replied and the blood drained from her face. 

Katara made a tsk sound and swatted his arm lightly. 

“Titles are very loosely held and wielded around here. We both prefer to be on a first name basis, but since we don’t have a family name, I understand it can be awkward.” She explained.

“I do think consort is rather fun.” Zuko said, smiling at Katara, who glowered back at him. 

“I was told the Earth Empire custom was a bit formal compared to the rest of the world.” Yi admitted.

“It was the same in the Fire Nation until very recently.” Zuko said. 

“I’d like us to be friends.” Katara said. “So I’d love it if you’d use our given names.” 

“That would make it easier to know when I’m in trouble.” Yi joked and Katara laughed. His wife looked mortified. 

Lu Ten started to fuss and Zuko started bouncing him.

“I think it’s nap time.” He said.

“Thank you.” Katara replied, offering her cheek as Zuko leaned in to kiss her. 

“Can we go eat mom?” Yi’s eldest son asked, tugging lightly on his mother’s sleeve.

“Please! This was meant to welcome you after all!” Katara said, shooing them away. Yi’s wife and children walked off, heading over to the serving tables.

“You have a lovely family.” Katara said.

“Thank you. Your’s is charming as well.” Yi said and rubbed his chin. “I hadn’t expected the Fire Lord to be so approachable.” 

“He’s a lot like his uncle.” Katara replied.

“Your son looks just like him.” 

“Oh yes.” Katara said with a laugh. “He’s a Firebender too.”

“But how lucky your daughter is just like you!” Yi said.

“Hmm?” Katara turned and faced Yi more purposefully. 

“I was glad you introduced her first, because my packet was incorrect. I thought her name was Izumi.” He said.

“Izumi is my daughter.” Katara said.

“My apologies. Is that her Fire Nation name?” Yi questioned.

“Yes.” Katara said slowly. “You misunderstand, Kya is my niece.” 

Yi’s eyes widened in surprise. 

“Then Izumi is not the Waterbender?” He asked.

“No, Izumi is a…” Katara frowned. “She’s not a Waterbender. Kya is my brother’s daughter. She recently came into her bending and now she’s my heir.” 

“So Izumi is…” Yi sounded panicked and confused.

“Fire Nation. Completely.” Katara said tersely. “She is her father’s heir.”

“I’m sorry. I am completely embarrassed.” Yi said in a hurry, bowing in apology. 

“I can understand the confusion. The inheritance law changed when I was crowned.” Katara said. 

“Thank you for your understanding, your Majesty.” Yi said.

“Of course. You should join your family, they seem to be waiting for you.” Katara said. Yi bowed again and walked to the table. Katara watched him for a moment before turning back toward the palace.

She saw Izumi’s face peeking from behind a wooden beam that supported the pergola. As their eyes met, Izumi darted back inside the palace. Katara sighed, a weight settling on her shoulders. 

Katara’s meeting with the new ambassador was awkward, but she merely questioned him about his goals. The Earth Empire was still gunning for drilling rights in the arctic, which simply wasn’t going to happen. They also wanted to expand their fishing and research waters, which also wasn’t going to happen. Those two points came up time and again, becoming chronic sores in Katara’s life. In the Poles at least, her people had learned how to live in harmony with the seas. They were also intimately aware of what happened when they tried to tip the balance in their favor. Seas could rise, ice could crack, and hungry things could see better than they in the night. 

After the business was concluded, Katara cancelled the debrief with Hakoda and Dong-Lee, pushing it back a day. 

She needed to talk to Zuko.

In their bedroom, Katara sat on the bed as Zuko undid his dress shirt. He never dressed down around politicians, despite his insistence on the given name thing. 

“Am I ashamed of our children?” Katara blurted as Zuko hung the shirt on the valet rack. He paused, his hands still on the hanger and slowly turned his head around to look at her.

“Excuse me?” He asked.

“Yi thought Kya was our daughter and I couldn’t just come out and correct him. It was so awkward!” Katara said.

“I don’t think that means you’re ashamed of her.” Zuko stated firmly. 

“Izumi heard me and she ran off.” Katara said.

“Did you talk to her?” 

“No.”

“We probably shouldn’t let that marinate.”

Katara groaned and bent over, holding her head in her hands.

“I am the worst parent.” She said.

“I think we can both agree that Ozai was the worst parent.” Zuko retorted.

Katara lifted her head, keeping her fingers splayed over her mouth.

“I’m serious.” She moaned and Zuko raised an eyebrow.

He brought both hands sharply up to his face, framing his scar.

“So am I.” He said. 

“I don’t even consider him a parent.” Katara said, falling backward onto the bed. “He’s a monster.”

“Fair point, yet he still is legally my father.” Zuko said.

“I think biologically too.” Katara added.

“Did you know Toph takes Lin and Suyin to her matches?” Zuko asked.

“What?” Katara asked, shooting her confused look up to the ceiling. 

“Lin caught a tooth before she even lost one of her own. It’s nuts.” Zuko said, sitting on the bed beside her.

“And?”

“And she adopted Jae-hwan, seemingly on a whim. No one knows who fathered Lin or Suyin, but Toph doesn’t care because they’d be Beifongs regardless.”

“I repeat, and?”

“And Toph is an amazing mother. Lots of people give her so much crap for simply being blind and having kids, let alone all this other stuff. None of us are perfect, but we’re doing our best. Our kids are great.” 

“I know that Zuko. But I don’t act like it.” Katara muttered, covering her face with her arms. 

“You’ve been really protective of Izumi about this bending stuff, but have you talked to her about it?” Zuko asked.

“No.” Katara said, her voice muffled. 

“I’m telling you, Izumi and Kya love each other. And Izumi is going to be Fire Lord, so it’s not like she’s getting shoved to the side.” Zuko said.

“So what about Lu Ten?” Katara asked.

“Who knows? The Fire Nation hasn’t had a good run with siblings, but Izumi and Lu Ten seem to be fine.” 

“Has there ever been a woman Fire Lord? Or a non-Bender?” 

“Well. No.” Zuko admitted. “But there’s never been a Prime Minister before either.”

“Obviously I don’t need to protect her, so why am I hiding her?”

“When Kya was born, you were so relieved. I thought it was because you were worried about Suki, but you were so anxious before Sokka texted. Then suddenly everything was easier and Izumi popped out two minutes later. I think Izumi was exactly what you wanted her to be.” Zuko explained.

“What do you mean?” Katara lowered her arms and looked up at him.

“She’s not named Kya, so you didn’t have to go through that. She looks like you when you haven’t been in the sun for awhile, and her hair is just like mine. I remember you talking about how much more manageable her hair was when it started to really grow in.

“And she’s not a Waterbender, so you didn’t have to put her through what you’re going through.” Zuko added softly. 

“But Kya’s going to be fine.” Katara said.

“Kya is going to have to live away from her parents more than you think. Sokka has a job in the Fire Nation now, remember? And Suki is still holding onto the flower shop for him.”

“I.” Katara cut off, not knowing what to say. 

“Sokka’s really anxious about this. He’s terrified of being away from Kya, because he hated being away from your parents.” Zuko said.

Tears welled in Katara’s eyes and she threw her arms over her face again.

“So not only am I a terrible mother, but I’m the worst sister and daughter too!” She wailed. 

“Katara, you know it’s not like that.” Zuko said, rubbing one of her arms.

“I hate that this happened. I hate how everyone makes these stupid choices without me and then I end up doing something terrible!”

“So it’s not your fault?”

“How is this my fault?”

“How is it anyone’s?”

Frustrated, Zuko stood up and walked back to their closet. 

“We talked about kids for years because we knew this was going to be hard. And Sokka and Suki could never have expected that their kid was going to be a Bender. And your dad didn’t go off thinking he’d never see his wife again, or that his children would grow up without him.” He said. 

Katara sat up, glaring at his back as Zuko picked out a new outfit. 

“So it’s me then? I’m the one making everything difficult?” She shot back.

“I didn’t say that.” Zuko replied.

“Then what are you saying?”

“I’m saying this sucks!” Zuko turned around sharply, holding tight onto a t-shirt. “I hate being in Caldera without you for so long. And it’s pure misery when you have the children.”

He yanked on the shirt and rubbed his nose furiously.

“Honestly, sometimes I can’t wait for the children to be grown. Because then I can toss Izumi onto the throne and Kya can move in here and then you and I can finally be together, properly.” He laughed darkly and ran a hand through his hair. “But then I feel terrible because these are my children and I’m already missing out on so much.” 

“Maybe we shouldn’t have gotten married.” Katara muttered.

Zuko advanced on her quickly and grabbed her arms, squeezing her hard enough to scare her.

“Don’t you ever say that.” He said, his voice low. “I would rather have died in the Agni Kai than even think you mean that for a second.” 

“Zuko…” Katara protested and he shook her once, softly but with urgency.

“Tell me to step down. Ask me. Order me and I would crawl from the port to your throne to become your proper consort.” Zuko said. “But don’t you ever think things would be better had I not made you mine.” 

“Stop.” Katara said brusquely, using her forearms to break his hold. Zuko grabbed her wrists, holding them up.

“You gave me your bed, you gave me children. And they are forever a part of me. But you are mine. Just as I am yours.” Zuko kissed her, loosening his grip on her wrists. Katara grabbed his shirt, pulling him onto the bed. 


“Do you suppose that was a healthy and loving way to handle our fight?” Katara asked, shaking her hands off in the sink. It was easy enough to heal the minor marks and Zuko examined his chest in the mirror.

“I would definitely say it was loving.” He said and then nodded at his reflection. “But we should probably leave out some details if we bring this up at therapy.” 

“What are you so angry about anyway?” Katara asked.

“I am angry, dear wife, that you are in the throes of your righteous fury while I’m also struggling but I feel like I have to hold everything together.” Zuko said. 

He had an easy way of talking that made Katara relax. Had it been anyone else, she would have launched right into a fight.

“I’m sorry I’m not being more supportive.” Katara said and moved behind him, wrapping her arms around his middle and pressing her cheek into his shoulder blade. 

“Like I said last night, I do understand that this is difficult for you. But I think you need to have a little faith and try letting go. Not everything has to be a battle that you win or lose.” Zuko held onto her arms and tilted his head back to bump hers. 

“Fine. So, as a wife first, what can I do?” Katara asked.

“Not much. Summer will be in a few weeks and you get to be Fire Lady again. I’ll be able to breathe once you and the children are in Caldera.” Zuko answered.

“Mom time then?” Katara said meekly.

“Mom and dad time. We’re a team.” Zuko replied.

They dressed and went to Izumi’s bedroom. Apparently, she had run there during lunch and refused to come out.

Zuko knocked on the door and called gently. “Mimi?” 

“Come in.” Izumi said, sounding despondent. 

Opening the door, Zuko and Katara hesitated before entering. Izumi was on the floor, moving her dolls around limply.

“Izumi, it is time. For.” Zuko paused with performative austerity. “The feelings wheel.” 

Izumi heaved a long sigh as she got up and shuffled to her small desk. Pulling open the center drawer, she pulled out a laminated piece of paper and went back to her spot on the floor. Zuko and Katara joined her, shutting the door behind them.

“Okay Mimi, you know the drill. How are you feeling?” Zuko asked as he and Katara sat down.

On the paper was a large circle cut into tiered segments. The wider wedges at the center of the circle were labelled with general emotions like “happy” and “scared.” Things got more specific in the thinner wedges radiating outward. 

Izumi pointed with a heavy finger to “sad.”

Zuko worked with Izumi through the process, getting her to be more specific about how she was feeling. Katara stayed quiet, watching her daughter’s face. She was surprised that Izumi identified “guilty” before ending on “ashamed.”

It wasn’t what Katara expected at all.

But she knew exactly how Izumi was feeling.

“Why do you feel ashamed sweetie?” Katara asked.

“Because I’m not Water Tribe.” Izumi said quietly. 

“Why do you think you’re not?” Zuko asked.

“Because mommy always says that I’m only Fire Nation. That I’m your heir and that’s it.” Izumi explained.

“Okay, that’s a valid reason.” Zuko said and Katara sighed.

“I say that because I know you’re part Tribal. I want everyone to know that you deserve to be your father’s heir regardless.” She said.

“Why would being Tribal be bad?” Izumi asked.

“Well…” Katara drifted, sharing a look with Zuko.

“During the war, the Fire Nation and the Water Tribe were enemies.” Zuko said honestly. “And a lot of people in the Fire Nation still feel angry about that.” 

“So they hate me?” Izumi asked, her voice quivering.

“Oh no sweetie! No one hates you!” Katara said in a rush. “It’s just, they may think being from the Water Tribe will make you a bad Fire Lord.” 

“Do you think I’ll be a bad Fire Lord?” Izumi asked Zuko.

“I think you’ll be the first good one.” He said. Izumi crawled onto Zuko, hugging him.

“You’re good, daddy.” She said.

Zuko hugged her back and kissed her hair. “I’m glad you think so, Mimi.” 

“Your father is a great Fire Lord, and you’ll be even better.” Katara added, patting Izumi’s back.

Izumi still clung to Zuko but looked over at Katara.

“So it’s okay that I don’t look like you or Paw-Paw?” She asked.

“Of course sweetie! And not all Water Tribals look like me. Some of them.” Katara stopped and took in a breath. “Some of them look like your Gran-Gran remember?” 

“And it’s okay that I’m not a Waterbender?” Izumi continued.

“Absolutely. Is it okay that Kya is?” Katara asked.

Izumi thought about it seriously for a moment and then nodded.

“Kya is going to rule the tribes and I’m going to be Fire Lord and then we’re going to take over the world.” She said and Katara sputtered.

“What was that?” She asked.

“Well Lu Ten has to have something and there are Waterbenders and Firebenders in the Earth Empire, so Kya and I are going to take it.” Izumi stated.

“You very much are not, young lady.” Zuko said, holding Izumi up to look at her. 

“But daddy, you said I could do anything.” Izumi replied simply. “And grandfather Ozai took over Omashu, my teacher told me so.” 

“Okay, we’re firing your teacher for one thing.” Zuko said and Katara gently pried their daughter from his hold. 

“Izumi, we’ll have to have a chat about why world domination is not a good thing, but do you feel better now?” She asked.

“Yes mommy. Can I have lunch?” Izumi asked. 

“Let’s go see what’s in the kitchen.” Katara stood up and held Izumi’s hand, pausing while Zuko stared off.

“Coming?” She prompted. Zuko shook himself and stood, looking curiously down at Izumi.

“Maybe we should hold off on introducing her to Azula.” He said.

Izumi lifted her head, her hazel eyes shifting in the overhead light. 

“I already know all about her. Auntie Ty Lee told me about her when we were on Avatar Island.” She said and then looked toward the door. Zuko, bewildered, caught Katara’s eye.

Auntie Ty Lee? He mouthed over Izumi’s head. Katara only shrugged.

She had her own family problems to deal with. 

Chapter Text

Dear Avatar Mi-Sook,

I am sending you my most heartfelt congratulations on your sixteenth birthday and official identification as Avatar. I hope that such a sophisticated young woman like yourself will forgive such an old fashioned present. I am a bit of an old fashioned woman.

It might come as no surprise that my fondness for books was practically a birthright. My uncle told me that storytelling is a craft, and every single thing turned by a master’s hands always carries some embellishment.

My mother, for all her sternness, used metaphors like smoke bombs and made myths of her secrets. 

My father told stories in the way of his people and relied on the printed word. To him, it didn’t matter what happened, the story that was published would be the one everyone remembered. Stories were preserved and unchanging, so much like tradition.

As I am all parts of them, I similarly tried to pave that middle ground here.

I’m certain you have learned about the Great War in your classrooms. You might actually know what really happened. 

But you don’t know the story. 

I worked on this book for all of my life. I collected the scraps my mother told me when I asked, and I found the parts my father wrote before his passing. You will note I added them to this collection, so you can see how neatly he wrote even at the end of his life. 

This book is the most precious thing in my life, outside of my children.

I collected these pages at the request of your predecessor. If you have spoken to Thuy, you will know she loved my parents dearly. And it is because of that love I am sending this book to you. I hope you will keep it, though I know Thuy will want you to publish it. 

This book tells the story of the Great War by two people who fought in it. Other family members fill in as needed; you will see the places where my uncle told a story my mother had buried. But they are all about them, the two of them, and their love for each other. 

Thuy was always a romantic. She believed that love saved the world.

I don’t know if this story will help you as you start your journey. At the very least, I hope it will allow you to connect with my beloved aunt. I miss her more than words can encompass, and I hope you will tell her so. 

Please do not mistake this aching for depression. Death is a part of our living existence, it’s just the waiting I mind. 

I hope I get to meet you in person. I have gone away to Hira’a as I recover from surgery. I probably won’t leave here, so you can find me when you’re ready. 

Thank you for receiving these words. The thought that my parents’ love continues on brings me great joy.

Happy birthday, dear Avatar.

Sincerely Yours,

Izumi
Eldest Child of High Queen Katara and Fire Lord Zuko, Keeper of Their Legacy

Spring, 20XX
Hira’a