Author: DamageCtrl PM
Post-Series/ZWeek12 - Azula was taken to the Southern Water Tribe in hopes of being rehabilitated, but three years later, Zuko finds himself not has happy with her progress as he thought when Azula and Ursa seem completely integrated in a new family without him. Katara reminds him that he is not alone and he swears to himself that as long as he is alive, she never will be, either.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Friendship - Zuko & Katara - Chapters: 7 - Words: 52,052 - Reviews: 94 - Favs: 64 - Follows: 36 - Updated: 07-20-12 - Published: 07-14-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8321339
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
All Standard Disclaimers Apply: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender or anything related to it.
Today's Song - "Every Breath" – Boyce Avenue
The air was chill and the island was covered with a nice layer of fluffy, white snow. It wasn't enough to make moving around the island troublesome, but was more than enough for a snowball fight.
"Hah! I got you!" A tightly packed ball of snow exploded against a young man's head as it slammed into him.
"Aww…no fair, Korra!" the new Avatar's earthbending friend protested as he turned around, still packing together his own snowball in his hands. "You waterbended that!"
"Nuh-uh! Korra and I just have good aim!" Ikki stuck her tongue out.
"Ikki," the elderly woman's raspy voice scolded gently. "What did we discuss about sticking out your tongue." Her granddaughter deflated a bit.
"But, Gran-Gran, he's making false accusations!" Ikki pouted. The silver-haired woman stopped on the path and gave her grandchild a dull look. Ikki slumped forward. "Fine…."
As Katara continued up the path to the meditation pavilion, Bolin grinned from ear to ear. "Looks like Gran-Gran is on my side-"
Another ball of snow hit him square in the face. Ikki narrowed her eyes and pointed from hers to Bolin's. "I'm watching you."
Katara shook her head tiredly. "Gran-Gran," Jinora said as she skidded to a stop as she passed the elder. She still held a basket that she had used to bring fruit to the flying lemurs. "Do you want to join us now that you're done with your morning walk?"
"Whoa, whoa!" Korra shouted behind them. "I don't think that's fair, Jinora! That's tilting the balance a little too much. Katara's the best in the world! Whoever is on her team is sure to win."
"Umm, Korra," Mako asked from where he was seated on a bench by the path. He was eating a peach he'd gotten from Tenzin's eldest. "You're the Avatar. I think you have a slight edge over the other team already."
"Yes," Korra conceded as she motioned her hands towards her master before moving them back to herself. "But she is the person who taught me." She crossed her arms over her chest and gave him an unimpressed look. "Do you get where I'm going with this, Mako?"
"It's alright," Katara chuckled. "I think I'd rather take a rest after my walk around the island."
"See," Mako pointed out. "Master Katara doesn't have time to play games with us."
"Us?" Bolin drew his head back and let out a little scoff. "Meelo hit you in the head once with a snowball and then you quit."
"Yeah, you quitter!" a little bald boy yelled as he peeked out from behind the snow fortress he and Bolin were using as a shield. "Is that all you can take!" he challenged.
Mako ran his hand down his face. "It is when my own teammates hit me," he grumbled.
"It was friendly fire!" Meelo argued earnestly. "And who said you could get in the way of my aim!" he added, pointing accusingly at the firebender.
Katara barely held back a laugh as she turned back to Jinora, who was shaking her head. "I'm happy just knowing you kids are having fun," she told them warmly. "Jinora, will you go inside and have someone bring me some tea?"
"Of course, Gran-Gran," Jinora nodded dutifully. "What kind?"
"Jasmine," Katara told her. The pre-teen turned and headed back to the main house. "Use the Jasmine Dragon brand, Jinora!"
"Okay, Gran-Gran!" the girl assured her. "I'll have someone bring it up to the pavilion for you!"
"Thank you, dear," the old woman smiled intently and continued her slow, steady walk to pavilion.
Korra watched her mentor go, somewhat amused. Her friends had been treating Katara like a fragile old woman and while Korra acknowledged that Katara was old, she knew the master waterbender was still far from fragile. She had no doubt Katara could out bend her any day.
"Korra, duck!" Ikki shouted. The young Avatar barely managed to bend a wall of snow in front of her before Bolin and Meelo's attack could hit her.
"No fair!" Katara continued to chuckle to herself as she heard her grandson and Bolin's protests.
The old woman took a seat on a bench Tenzin had the acolytes put for her on the pavilion. Since she arrived a few days earlier, she had joined them a few times for meditation, but her son fretted about her 'old bones'.
Katara snorted. She was old, not broken. Sighing, she took a moment to take in the view of Yue Bay. Even over the sound of her pupil, grandchildren, and their friends below, she could hear the steady sound of the ocean and relished the familiar sea breeze against her worn face.
She slipped her hand into the pocket of her thick, blue parka and removed an envelope. A formal seal had been placed on it and stamped with an all too familiar design. Her gloved hands moved over the seal.
His Royal Highness, Fire Lord Zuko's Official Seal.
Briefly, she still wondered why he still used it. She removed the carefully folded letter and settled in to re-read the last message he sent her.
It always took some time for him to get used to the cold, but it wasn't unwelcomed. It was refreshing in a way; different from the humid heat of the Fire Nation. He found that he sort of enjoyed the snug feeling of being wrapped in a warm coat.
He finished buttoning the top of the heavy, black trench and tucked his blue scarf carefully around his collar to make sure to keep his body heat in.
"And you sure you'll come for dinner?" he asked the woman who had walked with him outside. "I've already sent a message to Tenzin telling them to add an extra seat."
The woman, who still wore a metal uniform under her own trench coat, nodded. "Yes, Uncle," Lin replied, though somewhat exasperated. She didn't exactly feel like taking a ferry to Air Temple Island after an exhausting day at work, but she couldn't turn down the old man's invitation. "I may be a little late, but I'll make it."
"Good girl," he told her. He smiled warmly and gave her a light hug. "I will see you tonight at dinner with the family." Lin nodded and stood on the sidewalk as the retired Fire Lord's driver opened the back door of a dark red vehicle.
Zuko stepped in and the door closed behind him. Lin gave him a wave as the car started up and drove away. The old man checked the watch in his pocket once more an nodded. He was right on time.
Squinted gold eyes looked out the window as they passed through the city. Every time he returned, there seemed to be new buildings and new sights. Nothing really matched the fast pace of Republic City. It was a bit overwhelming, even after all the places he had been to in his life.
As they drove passed various buildings, including the city hall, the police station, and the park, he also noticed the buildings that had been built over old ones. That was where the metal workshops once more. On that corner was the restaurant Sokka used to take him and Aang to drink on 'men's night out'.
A nostalgic smiled reached Zuko's face as he saw the tower. He could still remember when it was a half-built piece of metal jutting out of the sky line one very amazing night, many years ago.
His sister had always been quite persistent about him and Katara. He chuckled to himself before looking down sadly at his hands. That was where he had met Lin early that morning; at Azula's memorial. It was a well-kept, modest crypt overlooking the city. His sister always did like being on top of the world.
Lin was there to change Azula's incense, as she and Tenzin alternated doing every month, and was surprised to see him there. She thought he hadn't arrived yet. Zuko had insisted he take her to breakfast to catch up and he had sat through and listened, interested, as she told her story of the siege of the city.
He had heard bits and pieces; stories from letters from his grandson, Katara, the others. He couldn't wait to hear Korra's version.
As Lin finished her story, Zuko felt his eyes moistening. He silently blamed his old age as he told her that Toph would've been so proud. He then paused and added "So would your Auntie Lala."
After coaxing her to join them for dinner, he headed out. He had plans that day.
"Ah, Mr. Yee, can you stop a moment," Zuko leaned forward to tap his driver's shoulders. "By that flower shop. I need to get something." The car pulled to the side and Zuko got out, insisting that his driver stay in the car.
The Fire Lord emerged from the shop holding bouquet of black and white lilies. His driver was impressed. The shopkeeper walked Zuko out, bowing and thanking him for his rather expensive purchase.
A few moments later, they drove past his statue and he felt somewhat embarrassed. It was a rather flashy statue, now that he thought about it. Still, Aang had absolutely insisted. Sokka and Teo had engineered the eternal flame coming from the statue's hand.
Katara said she liked it, he remembered. "It reminds me of when you were young and good-looking." Zuko frowned. She had been teasing him back then, but now, as he caught the reflection of himself on the window, he wondered if she still thought him so.
He was old and wrinkled. Women no longer fainted in his presence nor fanned themselves upon the sight of him. Now, it seemed, that sort of attention had been passed on to Iroh and, when given the chance, the boy could deliver. Zuko chuckled to himself. "Just like Uncle."
As the car turned on to a road flanking the bay, he looked out at the ocean and this thoughts turned to the inevitable: Katara. It didn't matter what age she was, in his eyes, she was and always would be that beautiful, breath-taking young woman with the blue eyes he still dreamt of.
It had been too long since he had last seen her, having been caught up with his work and she guiding the now fully-realized Avatar.
In the bay, he could see the statue of his friend and behind it, Air Temple Island – his next stop. The car parked in front of a private cruiser baring Fire Nation flags on its stern and bow.
Mr. Yee got out of the car and rounded the side of it. He opened the door and the elderly Fire Lord stepped out.
"The cruiser is ready to take you to the island, Your Highness," his driver bowed his head. Zuko gave him a small nod.
"Thank you, Mr. Yee," he said as he began to walk towards the ramp leading to the boat. Several guards were waiting for him.
"Your Highness, would you like another coat or perhaps a cloak?" one of the men on board asked as he reached the main deck. "It will be colder on the water."
Zuko shook his head and turned his attention to the front of the ship. "It's alright, Captain," he assured the younger man. "I love the cold."
"Okay, buddy, we're cornered. They out number us, they have a waterbender, and probably more snowballs than we can count," Bolin huffed as he crouched behind their fortress wall, trying to give a pep talk to his teammate. "But we I believe we can do this. Are you with me, little bro?"
Meelo nodded. He threw his arms in the air. "Let's get those stinky girls!" he cheered.
"That's the spirit!" Bolin agreed. He handed Meelo a snowball. "Let's do this!"
"Yeah!" The two shot up from behind their wall, their arms pulled back and ready to throw the snow balls when they saw three girls standing in front of them.
"Heh," Korra smirked as she held a snowball in her hand. "I don't think so."
"Ahh!" Bolin cried out as he was suddenly pelted over and over with snow balls.
"Retreat!" Meelo screamed as he dove back behind their wall. "Retreat!"
Mako remained on his bench, shaking his head as his brother dramatically fell to the ground, twitching and reaching for him. "Mako! Mako, save me!"
"You're on your own, Bo," the firebender grinned as he pointedly ignored his sibling.
Korra raised a brow. "Too mature to have a snowball fight, are you…," she mumbled. She narrowed her eyes. "I'll fix that. Girls," she called, huddling them closer.
Mako heard a trilling beside him and smiled as he saw the fire ferret wiggling up the bench and beside him. "Hey, Pabu," he smiled. "Hungry?" he asked as he reached for another peach.
Pabu seemed to answer and sat up on his hind legs, waiting for the treat. Mako carefully ripped a peach in half and gave one to the animal. Before he could bite into it, the fire ferret let out an alarmed squeak and jumped off the bench.
Confused, Mako turned around and saw the snowballs. He rose to his feet, unsure whether to dive for cover or not, just as a wave of blue fire seemed to fly from the side. The fire made quick work of the snowballs.
Bolin's jaw dropped as Mako fell back on to his seat, stunned.
"What was that!" Bolin choked out as he turned towards the source.
Tenzin was approaching them with someone beside him. He was an elderly man with white hair, dressed in a classy black trench coat and a blue scarf. His hair was pulled back into a neat top knot and a worn scar marred his left eye. Under one arm was a large bouquet of panda lilies.
"Hey!" Mako shouted as he shot up from his seat. "What are you doing! You could've burnt somebody!"
"Tenzin," the old man said as he narrowed gold eyes and he leaned upwards. "Is that the firebender?"
"Yes," Tenzin nodded. "That's him."
A snort left the old man, clearly unimpressed with Mako. He passed the young firebender on his way to the other children. "He needs to practice more," he said under his breath. Mako looked affronted. He opened his mouth, but the old man was already past him.
He turned towards the master airbender. "Who does that old man think he is?"
"You don't recognize him?" Tenzin asked, raising a brow. He had thought the scar was tell-tale. "He is Fire Lord Zuko."
The airbender found some amusement watching Mako pale. Across from them, Korra was hugging the old man.
"Zuko, I'm glad you come!" she beamed as she embraced him tightly.
"It is good to see you, Korra," he said as he pulled back. He smiled affectionately at the young woman. "And look how you've grown since I last saw you!"
Korra laughed. "You say that every time you see me," she grinned lopsidedly.
"I wanted to congratulate you on your firebending test, but after what I heard happened here, I think I need to congratulate you on more than passing a test," he told her.
Korra shook her head. "It's my job! I am the Avatar!"
Zuko smiled warmly. "Yes, you are."
"Fire Lord Zuko! Fire Lord Zuko!" another voice piped behind him earnestly. "Hi! How are you! Are you visiting? When did you get here? Ooh! Are those panda lilies! Those are expensive! Who are you giving them to, hmm?"
Zuko chuckled slightly. This one was definitely one of Aang's grandchildren.
"Well, I thought I'd give them to the lovely young ladies here at the temple," he said. He carefully pulled one flower from the bunch. "Here is one for you." Ikki squealed with delight, receiving her flower and bouncing to the side. "And one for Jinora," Zuko continued, offering another one to the eldest of the siblings.
"Thank you, Fire Lord," her soft voice replied as she received it.
"Of course, one for Korra," he said as he gave one to the Avatar. Mako was frowning.
"And who are the rest for, I wonder…," Korra grinned knowingly.
"Wait a second, how come all the girls get flowers? What do I get!" Meelo demanded as he moved in front of his sisters.
"I brought a box of green tea mochi for you-"
"Really! Where? Do you have it?" the child was suddenly crawling on his shoulders and for the life of him, Zuko wasn't sure how it happened. "I don't see it!"
"Meelo, get off the Fire Lord!" Tenzin sighed tiredly before rushing in to pry his son off. "Your mother has the mochi! I'm so sorry about this, Uncle!"
Korra laughed as Mako stopped beside her, eyeing the Fire Lord warily as Jinora asked him a question. He reached into his coat and produced a book, making the girl's face light up.
"You didn't tell us you know the Fire Lord," Mako said as Bolin seemed to check out the flower in Korra's hand.
"Of course I know him," Korra snorted, as if it should've been expected. "Zuko used to visit the South Pole all the time. He even wrote me a letter of encouragement before my firebending test! He's probably the best firebender I know!"
And suddenly, the younger firebender found himself a bit jealous.
"Yeah, but he's not just 'Zuko'," Bolin said. "He's the Fire Lord! You know royalty!"
Korra's brows furrowed. She looked down at the flower in her hand. "To be honest, Zuko never really seemed like royalty. He's pretty down to earth." Down to earth and a highly skilled firebender.
"Are you kidding me?" Mako asked with disbelief. "Look at him, Korra. The old man just screams out wealth." He motioned his arms to the Fire Lord. He was rich, too. Was that what Korra admired? Wealthy master benders who gave women expensive flowers and were good with children?
He shook his head. He was clearly overthinking the situation.
"It wasn't that," Korra said as she shook her head. "He used to come with some guards and stuff, but he'd play with me and give me firebending tips. He seemed to really know how to get through to me. He also used to tell me all these stories from my past life." She paused and looked up. "Maybe that's it," she said as she looked at Zuko. The old man laughed at something one of the children said. "Maybe it's because we were friends before."
"Was he always this thoughtful, then?" a voice asked behind them. Pema was holding Rohan, a panda lily sticking out from her bun. "Because half the older female acolytes are going crazy preparing dishes for him."
A devious smirk crossed Korra as she leaned forward, to Mako, who didn't seem displeased with no longer being the main firebender of the moment. "I heard Zuko was the epitome of 'hotman' when he was younger."
"Hmm…he is rather attractive from that statue of his at the plaza," Bolin nodded in agreement as he rubbed his chin. Mako shot him an annoyed glare. "What, it's just an observation."
"Mom! Look what Fire Lord Zuko gave me!" Jinora gushed excitedly as rushed forward. "It's a copy of the details during his first five years as the Fire Lord! It even has pictures!"
She opened it up and the bending trio looked at the carefully painted portrait of a young Fire Lord.
"Wow," Bolin stated. "The statue do not do him justice." Korra nodded. Mako ran a hand down his face. It looked like he had much to catch up to.
Behind them, Ikki looked at Zuko earnestly. "…and so we won the first three rounds, but Mako and Daddy won't play with us and so it's not much of a challenge. If you want you can play, too! We need more people. Do you want to play on Meelo and Bolin's team?" the middle child gushed.
Unfortunately for Meelo and Bolin's team, old gold eyes had settled on someone much more interesting sitting with her back to them at the pavilion. "Perhaps later, Ikki," Zuko said as he stood up straight. He patted the child on the head as he waked past her.
Ikki sighed disappointedly, but rushed back to her sister. "Hey, Jinora! Don't you want to ask him something about his mom!" she asked as she reached her sister's side.
Jinora looked past the group and watched as the old man adjusted the collar of his coat and approach her grandmother. A soft smile reached her lips as she clutched her new book against her. "It can wait."
"Hello, miss," a voice said behind her as she poured some tea into a cup on the small table in front of her. "May I join you?"
"You most certainly can," Katara replied casually. Cloth shuffled beside her and she felt the wooden bench move as another figure took his seat.
"For you," Zuko said as he slipped the flowers in front of her.
"Oh, my…," Katara looked mildly surprised as she accepted the bouquet. "So this is what they were gushing about below."
"But the most flowers still go to the most beautiful woman here," Zuko told her. Katara gave him an amused look.
"Your lines get worse every year, you know that?" she asked. The old man sighed heavily and slumped his shoulders, defeated once more.
"I'm trying here, Katara." He heard her laugh and watched as she brought the flowers to her face and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath and relishing the scent. He looked hopeful. "Do you like them?"
"I love them," she assured him as she placed them carefully on her other side. "Thank you, Zuko." She reached forward and lifted a tea cup she had just filled. "You must be cold from the boat ride. Drink some tea."
Zuko chuckled as he accepted the drink. He cupped it in his hands and blew over the top. "You sound like Uncle."
"That's a compliment," Katara assured him as she took a sip of her own. "And speaking of Iroh, I just saw the boy the other day. I always knew he'd be a handsome one."
A small teasing smile reached Zuko's face. "Like his grandfather?"
"Well, I may be a bit biased on the subject," Katara replied back. Zuko chuckled.
"Meelo...he's an interesting one," Zuko sighed. "Reminds me of Aang. He and the girls share his spirit."
"I have to admit, they can be quite a handful," she admitted.
"But they're wonderful," Zuko assured her. "Aang would be so proud."
Beside him Katara nodded. "Thank you, Zuko." She brought her tea cup to her lips and took another sip, reveling in the hot liquid warming her body. The two settled into a comfortable silence, watching the movements on the bay and listening to the waves below.
As Zuko finished his tea, he caught the sight of something small and white descending slowly to the ground. He sat up straight.
"It's snowing!" he said suddenly as he watched more and more white flakes descend.
Katara looked over at him and let out a little laugh. "Yes, genius. It wouldn't be the first time."
A faint blush reached his face as he laughed back and shook his head. "Sorry…I just…you know we don't see that in the Fire Nation," he reminded her.
"Zuko, you were once stuck indoors for three days in the South Pole during a snow storm," she reminded him. He laughed once more.
"At least your dad's house was warm," he pointed out. He sighed. "The South Pole sure has changed…. Do you remember the first time we met?" he asked as he looked over at her. "It was so long ago."
Her eyes softened as she placed her cup back on to the table. "I remember," she recalled softly. "I remember the snow and ice when your ship appeared, practically ramming through poor Sokka's wall." She snickered. "You came down from the ship, thinking you were a big shot. I thought you were a stubborn, snobby, whiny little teenager."
Zuko rolled his eyes and placed his tea cup beside hers. "Thanks a lot," he mumbled. He smirked. "What about you? I remember you froze Sokka to my ship."
"Well, I advanced rather quickly," Katara countered as she met his challenging look. "Remember when we fought in the oasis?"
"Of course I do," Zuko scoffed. "I beat you!" they said at the same time. A moment later, the two were laughing at the memory. Zuko wiped a mirthful tear from the corner of his eye. "That was an eventful few months afterwards."
Katara hummed in agreement. "I've never seen someone change sides so many times in one spring."
"I was having a difficult time," he reminded her. He had been cut off from the Royal Family, he felt worthless and weak.
She looked back at him knowingly. "It was a difficult time for all of us." There had been deserts, battles, allies made and allies lost.
He sighed, conceding. "Do you remember the first time you encountered Azula? Or the first time we all stood against her?"
Katara smiled a sad smile. Her eyes moistened just a bit at the name. "If you told us then that we'd become so close, I would've said you were crazy."
The smile on his face mirrored hers. "It wasn't that surprising, really," Zuko admitted. "You two were both incredible benders."
"Mmm-hmm," Katara nodded. She struggled to keep from smiling too smugly. "We also each had an annoying older brother."
Beside her, Zuko looked unimpressed. "What a coincidence, Sokka and I always complained about our little-miss-perfect younger sisters."
"I wasn't perfect!" Katara retorted proudly. Intent gold eyes looked back at her, as if telling her he believed over wise. Katara looked away, embarrassed.
Zuko looked back at the water. "I went to her memorial today. Lin was changing the incense."
"She still slips sometimes and refers to her as Auntie Lala," Katara smiled sadly.
"I know," Zuko nodded. "We should go visit her while we're both here…together." Beside him, Katara nodded once more.
She gazed out over the water. "The summer after that," she recalled. "That changed everything."
"But the hard part came afterwards," he said. "In the fall." She understood. The months, even years, after the end of a hundred years of war were a difficult transition time. They were all so busy, desperately trying to keep peace and build a future for their children that wasn't consumed in war. Zuko closed his eyes. "The fall season is always the worst for me."
Blue eyes turned to him and gave him a curious look. "What do you mean?"
"When I was banished, it was the fall season," he told her. "My mother disappeared from our lives then, too." Then he paused. "And one fall, you married someone else."
His eyes met hers and she felt her chest ache once more. Sad eyes seemed to reflect each other as Katara recounted even more memories. "So did you."
He turned his head away. "We were both happy with other people, Katara," he reminded her. That wasn't a lie and he was happy that they were. "But I never stopped…I couldn't."
He looked at his hands in front of him and crinkled his yes. "I love you…and I loved Aang. He was my friend and I respected him. Cared for him as my own."
"I know, Zuko," Katara assured him softly. "And he loved you as well. I also never doubted his love for me." She took a heavy breath. "But I love you differently."
His heart was calm. "I know."
The old woman closed her eyes and seemed to inhale the seal breeze. "All the seasons that have passed cannot change that," she admitted as she opened her blue orbs. "Nor will they ever."
Zuko stared at the water, watching the snow fall around them. On his lap, he clenched his hands.
"I do not know how many more await us. Now, every season we live is a gift," he told her. He unclenched his hands. "But there is no reason to spend them alone." He turned to her and watched her eyes rim with tears. "Katara…spend the rest of them with me."
She felt her body shaking as she tried to calm herself. After years, they finally had a chance. A solid, real chance. No duties were in their way. No obligations or other people. She didn't know how long they had left. She didn't even know if they'd make it into the next season, but she would not waste this one.
He kept his eyes on her, holding his breath in anticipation.
"The fall was always bad to you, yes," Katara agreed quietly. "But how was the winter?"
A pained, hopeful smile reached his face. "Don't you remember when we met?" he asked thoughtfully. "Katara, I met you in the winter," he paused as his eyes softened. "Knowing that is what gets me through the fall."
She closed her eyes tightly. "It is cold now," she said. "Sit closer." Zuko didn't hesitate. He slid closer to her, but still being careful of the distance. When he stopped and moved no further, she closed the remaining gap. Their thighs touched, side by side, and she placed her warm, gloveless hand over his.
Zuko held his breath as the cool sea breeze swept over them gently. He looked almost afraid to look at her and turned his eyes elsewhere.
A movement caught his attention and he felt someone lean against him. He turned his head and saw Katara rest her head against his shoulder, snuggling against him to get comfortable. A smile reached his face. The old man closed his eyes and rested his head atop hers, placing a soft kiss on her silver locks.
"I don't know how many more we have. The end of our own season is coming, Zuko, and with it uncertainties beyond our control," she told him softly as her hand squeezed his. He squeezed back. "But it will be bearable and I will be happy to live it," Katara smiled. "So long as I'm with you."
BONUS CRACK – The Effects of Old People PDA
Jinora lifted her hand and wiped the corner of her eye as she watched the Fire Lord kiss the top of her grandmother's head. Beside her, Bolin sniffled from where they were watching the old couple.
"That's so cute," Bolin said as he wiped his eyes with his brother's scarf. Mako frowned before tugging it from his hands.
Korra grinned as she crossed her arms over her chest. "I didn't know Master Katara had a thing for the Fire Lord…," she trailed off. "Although that does explain why he visited so often."
"Yeah, well…I guess it's kind of romantic," Mako acknowledged as he watched the old woman turn to look at the old man beside her.
Smiling, Zuko placed a kiss on Katara's forehead. "Aww…," Jinora, Ikki, and Korra chorused. They watched the old woman laugh a bit a turn her head, only to have the Fire Lord kiss her cheek.
"Heh…okay," Korra said. Zuko then quickly kissed Katara on the lips. Korra drew her head back, cringing slightly. "Not in front of the children…."
It continued on. A kiss on her nose. A kiss on her chin. A kiss on her lips…they weren't letting go.
"Ah!" Bolin grimanced as he and the others turned the way the moment it became clear the Fire Lord was not going to let the waterbending master settle for just a small kiss. "Gross! They're old!"
"I think we've seen enough!" Korra said as she turned around and began ushering the girls away. "Uh…let's head back to the hall and get some mochi before Meelo eats it all!"
Everyone quickly agreed and began making a beeline towards the hall when they saw someone approaching from the dock. For a moment, they didn't recognize him without his uniform.
It was Jinora gasped and stood up straight as she recognized him. Her cheeks flooded with a blush. "General Iroh!"
"Hi, girls," the tall man smiled warmly at them. He wore casual, civilian clothing. "Korra, boys, how are you all doing?"
"Why does he call us boys? We're not that much younger than he is," Mako sighed.
"Hello, Sir," Korra said. "We didn't know you were coming today."
"Grandfather's orders," the man smiled. Korra could almost see a twinkle in his smile as he did so. "Is he here already?"
"Um…yes, Sir, but I think you should wait with us in the hall," Mako offered. "He brought some mochi and they're going fast."
"Yeah!" Bolin urged. "Not that we're trying to distract you or anything!"
Korra and Mako both gave him a look and he shrank back, smiling weakly.
"I should go greet him first," Iroh told them, still smiling. "Where is he?"
"He's in the meditation pavilion!" Ikki piped. Korra's hand shot down to cover her mouth.
"Pefect! Thank you, Ikki," he said. He began to walk around the group, heading towards the pavilion.
"Sir," Jinora winced.
"I'll follow you all over in a bit," he assured them. Concerned, but unable to stop him, they watched as the United Republic general headed around the corner.
"We tried." Mako asserted.
They made it two more steps to the hall, when a horrified yell filled the air.
BONUS CRACK II – A Few Moments with Azula, Fire Nation Princess, Ambassador, and Best-Selling Spirit World Novelist
His lips slowly trailed down her stomach, pressing gently against her soft, rich flesh as bit her lower lip and tried to restrain a cry. She tilted her head back, her eyes shut tight, as his fingers deftly untied her belt.
"I don't think we should be doing this...," she panted. A hot breath seared just below her naval as his hands slid between cloth and skin, tugging the thin, blue fabric down.
"You came to me, child of water," his rough voice replied. His golden eyes rose, looking at her from beneath hooded lids as his tongue raked her skin. "But I'll give you one chance to. Yes or no." She shuddered as she felt his hands riding up her bare thighs. "Answer me."
"Okay!" The book snapped closed and a pair of gray eyes looked at the affronted spirit across from him. "I can't read this."
"Why not?" Azula demanded. "I need to know if I should add anything to my draft before I submit it to Wan Shi Tong!"
The last avatar handed the book back to her. "Azula, no offense, but it's kind of clear who you're writing about and I don't think I need to visualize my wife with your brother."
Azula scoffed. "First of all, it is not your wife and my brother!" she hissed as she snatched the book from him. "He just happens to be a rough and tumble, disgraced noble with a heart of gold, looking for redemption and she is water fairy princess who is going to save him from himself! Honestly, what do you think I write!"
"I'm not reading it," Aang stressed as he began to walk away.
"Yangchen, Kuruk, and my great-grandfather enjoyed it!" Azula shouted after him. She scowled. "Humph...who else is on my list..." She took out a piece of paper. "Ah! Mothers!"
"It is the third in my series," Azula told her mother proudly as she presented the book to two women who were seemingly having a picnic. "Wan Shi Tong gave me until next week to send him the draft for publication at the library, but I wanted to see what others thought."
"Have you gotten any good feedback, darling?" Ursa asked as the other woman accepted the book. Slender brown hands flipped through the pages curiously.
Azula scowled once more. "Nothing! The Avatars, except for that tasteless hack, Aang, enjoyed it, but they didn't give me any solid statements. All Yue and Suki do is gush over it and every time I get Sokka to read it, he has 'ideas' and completely ruins what I as going for."
"Azula, dear, is this about the noble and the water fairy princess again?" the blue eyed woman asked, looking up and smiling at her. Azula nodded.
"Oh, Ursa! We've been waiting for this!" Kya beamed. She clutched it against her as she looked at the other woman. "We must finish it before Hakoda gets back!"
Azula looked somewhat disappointed. "Dad doesn't like it?"
"It's not that, darling," Ursa told her, unsure how to phrase it. "It's just that...it seems to make him upset."
"He has this odd notion in his head that the noble is Zuko and the princess is Katara," Kya sighed, exasperated. "We keep telling him that's not the case, but he seems so adamant over such a silly idea."
Azula frowned. "Well, give it a read and let me know."
"Of course, my dearest," Ursa said. Azula bent down and received a kiss on the head from both women.
"Thank you, Mothers. Once you finish, I have some others to give it to."
"I think he's an arrogant noble. He doesn't deserve the poor, sweet water fairy," Pakku snorted as he pushed the book away from him distastefully. Across from him, Iroh shook his head.
"He's not arrogant, Pakku. He is simply confused and in need of guidance," Iroh asserted.
"I liked it!" Bumi said as he moved his Pai Sho piece across from Jeong Jeong. "You've got another good one, Azula!"
"Thank you, Bumi," the female spirit nodded. She looked over at Piandao. "And you, Sir?"
"I think you need to add more action scenes when he's running around with a sword," the older spirit told her. "I still enjoy the second book best, when they're wearing masks."
"I'm more the first book, where he captures her and they bond," Iroh beamed.
"That's not bonding, that's a hostage syndrome," Pakku rolled his eyes.
Iroh easily ignored him. "Well, my niece, are you ready to give this Wan Shi Tong?"
"I supposed," Azula conceded. "Thank you for reading."
"Pre-orders? Already?" Azula asked as she stood beside the owl. Several library spirits rushed past her, readying copies of her book.
"Yes, several, actually."
"Who?" the female princess pried.
"The usual. Suki, Yue, Haru, The Boulder, Admiral Jee, your mothers, your grandmothers, your great-grandmothers, Lu Ten and the 23rd branch of the Fire Nation military that perished during the siege of Ba Sing Se, the usual Avatars, Ty Lee, and of course, Zhao," the owl said as he walked beside her. "We have some new ones, as well. Brothers, I believe. They highly enjoyed your last two books and were praising the characterization of the noble as an antihero. The eldest one, Noatak, I believe, has paid extra for a signed copy."
Azula's chest puffed up with pride. And Toph said she couldn't write a book...
"Excellent, I'll be sure to do that," Azula said before heading out the door of the library.
"By the way, Princess Azula," the library spirit asked. It cocked it's head to the side. "Do you have any plans on your next book?"
"Book four?" Azula asked. The spirit nodded. She smirked as she began to vanish from sight. "I was thinking of a whole new cast with some old characters. Possibly a new city with a new threat."
"Do you have a title?"
"No. Book four is still up in the air."
A.N. – Thank you all very, very much for your patience with my fanfic. I know it has been a angst-filled, heartbreaking ride and I cannot thank you enough for taking time to read and trying to have faith in me. While it's not the best Zutara, I felt it was as plausible a Zutara as I could write in accordance to canon, and I hope I have at least somewhat lived up to your expectations. I am also sorry if anything I wrote made you cry at inappropriate places, such as work or school. I also apologize for any images of old!Zutara doing um...activities.
This has been my first Zutara Week and while I tried to start early, I didn't get to the first chapter until the day before it started. I tried to put as much planning and effort into this, even though I wrote each chapter the day before it was due. I spent quite some time looking up songs to listen to and the ones I suggested are the main themes for each chapter.
I have long wanted to write an Azula gets emotionally and mentally healed in the Water Tribe fanfic, along with Ursa secretly falls in love with Hakoda, but Hakoda still loves Kya fanfic, so I integrated those in this story. As for Iroh and his tea shop, we are exploring that in our Brothers of Ba Sing Se Jet/Zuko/Sokka vigilante bromance fic.
As for writing more Zutara (because someone will ask. Someone always asks.), I probably won't be any time soon, considering I'm in the middle of another fanfic and editing/writing two pieces of original fiction of self-publication (one is a Christmas present) ^_^. Always happy to chat, so if you can find me, don't hesitate to drop a note. I always try to reply.
Anyway, it has been a pretty hectic week for me; writing during breaks at work, late into the night at home, and so forth to get out these chapters (even with all the typos and errors – I apologize; they were hastily written), but it has been enjoyable. I hope to be able to do it again next year. Thank you for joining me on my first Zutara week! Now, off to get a manicure – my fingers and nails deserve it after the pounding I gave them this week. Much love and take care!