As soon as Ozai fell, Zuko took off. "Where's he going?" Sokka asked. Katara shrugged and went after him.
How I know the way to this room is beyond me, Zuko thought as he raced to a room that no one had entered in a hundred years. He was about to open the door when he heard Katara's voice.
"What is this room?" Zuko turned.
"My great-grandfather had this room and the bell in it made so, on the chance the Fire Nation lost the war, someone could ring this bell. Everyone knows what it means, though no one's ever been in here." Katara nodded.
"Need help?" Zuko smiled and nodded. Together, they opened the door. The bell inside was huge, with the words "The day this bell sounds is the end of the Fire Nation" written on the bottom of the bell. Zuko found the cord and heaved.
Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! Four times, for the four elements.
The fighting stopped cold. Down below, everyone turned to the bell tower. Zuko and Katara went to the window. Aang and Toph had followed them; they joined the two older teens.
"The war is over! Victory for the Avatar!" Zuko cried out. About half the people below started cheering while the other half dropped any weapons and surrendered.
Katara was crying softly. Zuko took his beloved Waterbender in his arms. "What's wrong?" he whispered, pulling close.
"Nothing. Everything's alright."
At least, it was for a few hours. As soon as the battling stopped, someone ran back to get Iroh and the remainder of the crew on the ship, and that started a rather large problem. The problem of getting everyone to accept the newest Fire Lord.
Some of the nobles were eager for a new Fire Lord. Ty Lee's aunt, after squeezing her niece to death and sizing up Sokka, said, "Ozai was mental case waiting to break and it's about time someone dethroned him. Iroh or Zuko would make a much better Fire Lord than Ozai or Azula. Ty Lee, I told you not to hang around with that girl and did you listen to me? I'm thankful Sokka here got you away from her and showed you the light."
There were some who were ready to duel anyone who wanted to place Zuko or Iroh on the throne. And there were those who wanted to be ruler or a son to be ruler.
Toph came up with an idea that she pitched to the others one day in the makeshift infirmary. Lakai and Katara were on healing duty and couldn't leave.
"Why don't you just banish the ones who want Azula on the throne and dismiss the ones who want to rule? Or throw them in the dungeons. That always works."
"The entire family?" Iroh asked. Toph shook her head.
"Just the head of the family. Cut off the head and you kill the snake. If you were to dismiss someone, just strip the entire family of noble ranking and keep guards on them until they chill out."
"You know, that might work if it gets bad," Iroh agreed. At that moment, the sounds of an impromptu Agni Kai broke out. Lakai laughed humorlessly.
"Like right now?" she joked dryly. Iroh rolled his eyes and looked to Zuko.
"Nephew, would you be so kind…?" Zuko sighed and nodded. It was going to take a looong time before life was even semi-normal.
He was right. It wasn't for another three weeks before everything started settling down. Finally, they could get to the real problem. Which of Ozai's male family members would be Fire Lord?
As far as Zuko was concerned, it wasn't a problem. He wasn't ready to be Fire Lord, that much he knew. Iroh would make a much better one; he had had all the required training and knew politics. Zuko did not.
"For the last time, Uncle, I'm not taking the throne. Not yet, anyway," Zuko said. "Maybe when I'm older, but I just don't think I'm ready just yet."
It was obvious that Iroh wasn't going to give in. "I'm too old, Prince Zuko. I don't expect to live another decade."
"Yes, but you would be what's best for the Fire Nation right now, after this war. You can handle those ignorant 'nobles' and the generals. I was banished in the middle of my Fire Lord training, and I don't remember much anyway. I'm not ready. End of discussion."
"I will take the position," Iroh sighed, giving in, "for only five years. Then you will be Fire Lord." Zuko sighed.
"Fine. But you will take the throne?"
"As soon as we either find the old hairpiece or have a new one made, I will let Avatar Aang make me Regent." Zuko nodded.
Lakai, who had been listening with everyone else, raised her hand. "That's fine and dandy, but whatcha gonna do about Azula? Some of the lookouts say they spotted a ship that might be hers." Iroh nodded.
"I have a plan for my niece, should she return. I highly doubt that she will, but if she does…precautions have been taken." Lakai nodded.
"Oh, and the repairs are complete and the servants said the palace is clean enough for human habitation," she added.
Zuko nodded. "Come on. I'll show you the rooms you'll be staying in."
To say they were staying in mere "rooms" was an understatement. They were more suites than anything. Ty Lee and Sokka were sharing the honeymoon suite until the wedding, when they would move to Ty Lee's remodeled rooms. Toph and Aang had the Avatar Suite, an old set of rooms that had been long forgotten until the servants were ordered to make them livable. Toshi and Lakai would be sleeping in Admiral Zhao's old suite.
This left only Katara without at room. Whenever she tried to ask Zuko about it, he ignored her or answered her with "We'll get there."
Finally, they were alone, near the Royal Quarters. "You kept asking about your rooms, right?" Katara gave Zuko a withering glare. "Um, right. Well, here they are." He pulled open an intricate screen that blocked off a room covered in snow lotuses and moon peach blossoms.
"Oh, Zuko. It's just like you said it would be. Thank you." Katara embraced Zuko tightly, then began to inspect her new suite.
"Don't you want to know what the suite is for?"
"An ambassador, I suppose."
"No." Zuko shook his head and walked over to Katara. "I'll give you a hint. My mother, my aunt, and my grandmother all had this room at one time." It took Katara a few minutes to realize what Zuko was saying.
"All women who were…
"Engaged to a Fire Prince." Katara paused, then sat down on a chaise lounge.
"I had expected a slightly more romantic proposal, but given the events of the past few weeks, I understand," she muttered. "Zuko, I don't know. What about my dad? And Sokka?"
"Both of them have given me permission," Zuko said, sitting next to Katara and embracing her. "The actual ceremony wouldn't be until you are sixteen, of course. Katara, I love you more than you can imagine."
"Oh, I'm sure I could imagine…" With that, Katara pinned Zuko beneath her. Zuko smiled and reached up to touch her face.
"So you accept?" Katara laughed.
"Would I do this if I didn't?" She nestled her head in the crook of Zuko's neck and bit softly. He refrained from the moan he wanted to let lose and instead returned the favor.
A Year Later…
Iroh was right. Azula never returned. Some poor fisherman had found her body while fishing one day; apparently, her crew had mutinied and killed her. Mai was found a few days later, marooned on an island not far from Azula's resting place.
Her punishment, it was decided, had already been carried out in part when she was marooned. Nonetheless, she had agreed to work in the palace for a few years to repay the damages done. Jun had died when her pet paralyzed her heart.
"Thank Agni," Zuko muttered one night as he nuzzled his fiancée. "She was creepy." Katara laughed as she scooted closer to the Fire Prince.
"No creepier than Azula or Mai. Now, no more talk of the other women in your life. It's me you're marrying in a few months. I just hope the wedding is nothing like my brother's." Sokka's wedding had had a lot of pink and light blue, plus a pregnant bride.
"Well, seeing as how you aren't pregnant, and neither of us is overly fond of pink, I doubt a reoccurrence of Sokka and Ty Lee's wedding is a big issue."
The date of the wedding had been agreed upon. It would be on the day Aang had come back to the world, the day the whole expenditure had started. It was that day, a year after the war, that Katara and Zuko were found panicking.
"My dress doesn't fit! Oh, I have to untie it."
"What if she leaves me?"
"Is he thinking about ditching me?"
"Does the wedding gown fit?"
Needless to say, everyone was happy when the ceremony went off without a hitch. It was a traditional Fire Nation ceremony with a few major Water Tribe aspects thrown in. (Basically, where there was supposed to be a jumping over flames, Zuko and Katara wading into freezing cold, ankle deep water.)
"Y'know, it's funny how, when we first saw each other, I was ready to hurt your grandmother and you were scared witless of me," Zuko said at the feast afterwards.
"Fate is funny that way, I guess." Zuko nodded and led his new wife out onto the dance floor. Dimly, in the far recesses of his mind, he heard his conscience pipe up after a year-long absence.
Told ya so.
So, that is the end of my longest fic ever. Wow. But, if you want another story, you won't have to wait long.One, VP (my sister) will probably start pestering me to get teh next fic up. Two, I've already got the next fic planned out. So, just hang on and wait for that little Author Alert Email in your inbox!