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The Slow Path

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Katara couldn't sleep.

She'd retired early but she was too keyed up to rest. She missed Zuko even though they were together not two hours ago and it would be bad luck to see him again before tomorrow.

Instead, Katara stared over at the exquisite gown on the dress form in the corner. The culmination of six seamstress' tireless work and a lifetime of girlish fantasies sparkled like a gem. It was golden, vivid as fire, with gold brocade adding further texture and richness. All of the magnificent embroidery was red, emblematic of the Fire Nation, but the underdress was heavily gilded blue, just peeking out to pick up the colours of her elaborate headdress.

Katara could not have imagined a more perfect dress. It flattered her figure, it brought out her eyes and the colours made her skin glow.

Just looking at it made her nauseated.

The damn thing was heavy. Combined with the weight of the enormous crown-like headdress, she could barely walk or keep her head up. And just looking at it reminded her of everything that tomorrow was going to be. This wasn't a celebration of them, it was a political and historical event. It had taken sixteen months just to organize the day, not counting the endless meetings and debates over whether she was the right choice for the people, whether this would compromise her integrity as a member of the Council or affect the price of cabbages in the Earth Kingdom, with Zuko bellowing constantly in the background about how he was 'the Fire Lord and he would do as he damn well pleased by Agni's left testicle!'

Katara loved Zuko with all her heart, but she was seriously considering leaping into the nearest boat and bending herself at full speed back to where she could eat sea prunes and make faces and not wash her hair for days if she wanted to.

But Zuko had seemed so proud of all the Fire Nation traditions that they were involving. He'd been endlessly solicitous about making sure everything was exactly the way they both wanted it and Katara would have eaten her waterskin before admitting she hated the whole idea.

Sighing gustily, she kicked the sheets up and watched them flutter slowly back down. The billowing fabric blocked her view of the window, which was why she didn't notice the soft lumpy bundle flying at her until it swung through the cloth and hit her right in the face.

Sputtering, Katara disentangled herself from the bedsheet and unlaced the red ribbon that held the bundle closed. Her old blue dress rolled free of its packaging. Ocean stained and frail as a moth wing from endless and repeated scrubbing, this was the robe that she'd worn to save the world. Even after her growth in height made the dress more of a long tunic she had kept it, fastidiously cleaned and folded in a cedarwood chest. Katara laughed with delight when beneath it she found a pair of dark pants, soft leather boots and a black overshirt that brought back memories of ninja masks and secret missions. Scrambling out of bed she stripped off her sleeping robes and threw on the rough garments, easing back into them like a second skin. Strapping her waterskin belt across her chest she ran to the balcony.

Under the light of the rising moon a flying bison hovered.

Aang sat in his customary place on Appa's head, grinning fit to split his face in half, and Toph was draped over the front part of the saddle, close enough to swing her arms around his neck. Sokka and Suki were waving at her, snuggled together in a perfect cozy picture. Hanging off the edge of the saddle by one arm Zuko leaned out, offering her his hand.

"Come marry me."

Katara smiled at him, bemused. "Zuko, we're getting married tomorrow."

Toph snorted loudly from her perch. Aang steered their mount close enough that Zuko could drop off gently onto her balcony. "I know, tomorrow… we've been planning it for months and your dress and everything and we can still do it! I promise, whatever makes you happy. But that's not us." He caught her hands in his. "All that pomp and circumstance is what we grew up into but this," a gesture of his head directed her attention to Appa again and everyone on the bison waved like maniacs, "this is how we started and I want to keep that feeling forever… so, ah – Zuko here; will you marry me?"

Katara looked up at him for a moment with wide shining eyes, and then she launched herself into his arms hard enough to knock him to the ground. "Yes!" she cried, in between covering his face with kisses. "This is perfect! How did you – just what I wanted – yes!"

He chuckled under the onslaught and caught her chin long enough to kiss her deeply. They both chose not to let Sokka's squawk of "Argh my eyes! Katara stop it!" ruin the moment.

"Come on Snoozles," Toph admonished. "I think they look cute."

The pair on the balcony broke apart to glare at her. Aang gave Toph's braid a yank and she flicked him in the head before leaning down to steal a kiss of her own.

"So are you two coming?" Suki asked.


"I've got it all figured out, sis," Sokka assured her, holding up what looked like a battle plan. "Aang's ruler of a nation – technically, even if it's just him – he can marry anyone who asks."

"Hope you don't mind an improvised Air Nomad life bond ceremony," the Avatar interrupted. "Because it's the only one I know. "

"I'll give you away and Suki can be your maid of honour."

"I called dibs as Sparky's best man." Toph waved.

"I thought we could go to the house on Ember Island," Zuko suggested quietly, wrapping his arms around her waist lightly from behind. "That way we can be back for all this nonsense tomorrow, but tonight will be the real wedding. Our wedding."

Katara had to fight back tears as she nodded, completely unable to speak. Suki and Sokka held out their hands to pull her onto Appa's back as Zuko boosted her up from behind. Toph tugged her down so their knees bumped together, comfortably squished. Aang smiled at them all as though he couldn't imagine a more joyful scene, and snapped the reins.

"Yip, yip!"