First Impressions
Chapter One

Alright, I know that I should be working on Illusions of Deception. However, I started on a challenge a while ago, and this is the beginning of it. I only have ten days to complete it, so while I would usually post the whole thing at the same time, I'm going to be updating from different locations. This is my little Merry Christmas special to everyone on Fanfiction, and especially my fellow Zutarians.

Disclaimer: I own absolutely nothing.

"Zuko, stop it. You look fine."

No matter how gentle and reassuring Katara's voice was, the young Fire Lord still struggled against his parka. "How can you get used to wearing this?" he asked in disbelief. Blowing furiously at a bit of fur that tickled his face, he wrinkled his nose. "It's so itchy. And freezing," he added bitterly, entirely out of his element.

Smiling in amusement, Katara clutched her betrothed's gloved hand, tugging on his arm. "Well, now you know how I feel when I'm stuck in that muggy, sweltering place you call civilization," she quipped. Reluctantly, he followed after her. He felt completely ridiculous in the large, thick water tribe ensemble. As if to make things worse, he was about to meet her complete family for the first time, to assure them that he wasn't trying to use and manipulate their kin. Even Master Pakku had made a voyage to the newly rebuilt Southern Water Tribe to have decent acquaintance with his pupil's future husband.

"Please, Zuko; don't do that in front of them. Complaining about ones culture never does good for a first impression," Katara warned as she led him over the hill bordering the village. She hadn't seen it in years, not since Zuko himself had made his own rather tasteless impression in her life.

Behind the couple followed three bickering officials, who she assumed were muttering about the cold under their breath. Their signatures had been required for a treaty that was to be signed. Still, Katara wished that they had joined them on any other trip than Winter Solstice, which was one of the few holidays her tribe kept to religiously. They usually had no time for any sort of fun. Still, she couldn't help but be relieved that the mandatory sailors and soldiers had stayed aboard the ship for the first evening, even if it was only to keep amongst the familiar, warm atmosphere they created.

Snorting at her plea, Zuko rolled his eyes. "I'm Fire Lord—King of a strong and powerful nation. Why should I worry about impressing them?"

He had been prepared for any of Katara's comments. An 'I worry', 'They will make your life a living hell,' or even an 'I will freeze you where you stand if you don't comply' would have sufficed. But no, instead she froze and gave him the look. Yes. That look. The one where her perfect lips drew into a pout. And spirits damn those wide, innocent eyes. The ones that made his heart melt. Zuko cursed the day he had fallen for those damn brilliant eyes—and how easy they made him turn into a puddle before her.

Sighing in resignation, he didn't even have to admit his defeat. Katara was used to this, and rather than drawing out his humiliation and being overcome by a girl, she gave him a soft kiss on his cheek. "Thank you, honey."

"Yeah, yeah," he grumbled, pouting slightly and he finally came to a set of stairs made of snow, packed tightly to hold their weight. It obviously lead into the city. Inside, he was beyond grateful. He didn't know how much longer he could stand trudging through the mounds of snow.

"I still don't see why I have to wear this giant—thing."

"It's called a parka," came her serious tone, as if she had been saying the name of the clothing for over an hour. "It's tradition and my father will be greatly impressed," she assured him.

"Besides, you look cute. Now stop whining."

The two continued in silence for a moment before Zuko couldn't hold back.

"Don't they at least come in red?"

As the young couple entered the freshly built tribe, the two couldn't help but stare in awe. Katara wondered how the small village had become this massive city. Zuko wondered if a magical typhoon had passed, replacing their old tents with this wonderful work of art.

"When Master Pakku mentioned rebuilding, I simply thought he meant adding a house or two and restoring Sokka's watchtower," she gaped in disbelief at a large—well, it could almost be deemed a Kingdom, rivaled only in architecture by its sister tribe.

Little children raced across a bridge, laughing as they played their games. Never before had children had time to have fun—they were always worrying about housing, keeping the tents from falling and the fires from going out. What shocked Katara most of all, however, was the moment she found a row of gondolas. Gondolas! In the Southern Water Tribe! Never before had there ever been a need for them. Now the waterbender took notice of the beautiful canals that lead to and from the major parts of the city.

"Wow," was all she could murmur. Silently, Zuko nodded, concurring with her statement.

"Lady Katara, welcome back," a sudden voice caused her to jump. Glancing at the speaker, she recognized it to be Menko. He was two years older than her brother and had left with the other men when they had gone to fight. Seeing him here now was amazing—they had gotten along well enough, as the two and Sokka were the only ones around their age from the village. She didn't even get a proper greeting in, however, as Menko had bowed before Zuko, only to be received with questions.

"Have we come to the right place? The Southern Water Tribe?" the Fire Lord asked.

"Yes…" Menko trailed off, confused as to how he could not possibly know.

"This here…this city?"

"Yes, my Lord."

"The same city that was once a village, no more than five tents and sat on a chunk of ice? That Southern Water Tribe? Ow!"

Grumbling, he rubbed his arm where Katara had smacked it soundly. "Stop it. Please, ignore him," she instructed Menko before glaring at him. "Honestly, you sound just like Sokka."

Gasping in horror, Zuko shook his head. "How could you? Take that back!"

"No," came her abrupt refusal, sticking her tongue out before glancing back towards one of the gondolas. "Now come on, we need to go," she tugged on his arm once more, guiding him onto the platform. Menko moved to step on behind them. Katara quickly held up a hand to stop him.

"No, we'll be fine," she assured him. "You might want to help them," she pointed behind herself towards the officials that climbed the long steps, cursing under their breaths. "And be—gentle with them," she added, and Menko smirked mischievously, giving her a quick nod.

"Of course, my lady," he nodded once more before turning away to tend to the men who were stumbling over their own feet.

Pusing off from the dock, Katara gently guided the water behind them, directing it to glide in slow motion through a route farther from the large buildings. Frowning, Zuko took quick notice of this.

"Hey, aren't we supposed to be going towards the big building," he asked curiously, a frown crossing his face. He was cold enough already, and he didn't fancy being stuck outside longer than he had to. Besides, it was starting to snow.

Smiling softly now, Katara shook her head. "Just a moment," she reassured him. "I want to show you something."

Gently guiding the gondola down the canal, Zuko sulked in his own private corner. Whatever she was planning on showing him, it better be good. He wasn't freezing his royal fire butt off for nothing.

Well, there is the beginning. Please tell me what you think. I've never really done a challenge before, and it was hard for me to think up a winter holiday theme. I hope you like it so far, there will probably be around only three more updates if that at all. I'd really like to be working on IoD right now, but I just got stuck on this so I feel like I need to work at it until it's done, hopefully it'll be finished soon. Thank you so much to my readers for bearing with me to this point. Read and Review, please!

Merry fourteen days.