Oh my god this has been such an amazing ride! I hope all of you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have had fun writing this, because I've been having the time of my life.
And, because it wouldn't be Avatar fic without a resolution, here's the finale, the last chapter, the final hurrah. Thank you, thank you, thank you times one million for reading all 210,000 words of this, thank you for spending your time on this humble fic, thank you for reviewing and complimenting and helping me grow as a writer. Even if I have written this for my own amusement, it means everything to me that, perhaps, I have entertained others. It means the world.
I look forward to seeing you on my next project, whenever that may be!
CHAPTER ELEVEN: DUALISM
Princess Yue was still as flawless and gorgeous as she ever had been.
Sokka approached her, slowly, unable to take his eyes off her, but he knew where he was, vaguely. He was in some expansive white stretch of nothingness, and that didn't seem to surprise him at all. The air around her was vaguely purple, soft and delicate, in mists around her almond skin and shock white hair. Her lips were curved into a soft smile, and the folds of her dress and the trails of ribbons floated about her, delicate, with only the subtle grace of gravity to hold them around her.
The entire place, beautiful and white and so incredibly pristine, it was heavenly and beyond simple humanity. His head was an unending whirr of thoughts and memories. Nothing in his body hurt.
"I'm dead, aren't I?" Sokka asked. Yue only glanced to the side, and Sokka followed her glance. He saw nothing, just white expanses, a void where there was nothing but Yue and her beautiful light.
Yue said, "She's trying to resuscitate you. We have a moment."
So she was. Sokka felt Suki breathing air into his lungs, his beating heart was only beating because her hands were pumping his chest. He brought a hand to his chest, and felt the pressure, but it did not hurt.
He still felt so terribly earthbound, then, and then he laughed and said, "Sure feels like it. Somehow, I figured death would be a lot more comfortable, not some big empty white room, but I'm sure I can deal."
If felt funny that the moon should be in a place so surrounded by light, when she was imprisoned by the darkness every night. But then again, what did Sokka know about the spirit world?
Princess Yue said, smilingly, "You're so funny, Sokka." She lifted her hands and reached them out, and Sokka took them. He squeezed her hands, and they were light, so light if felt as if he were holding on to something precious and breakable. She just smiled at him. She felt cold, but the fact that he could feel her alone was enough to calm him.
"So if I'm dead, or dying, and Suki's trying to save me," Sokka said, and he paused, out of sadness, and then said, "What about Katara? Aang? Toph? Dad?"
"They're all fine," Yue said, dismissively, and she said, gently, "You'll live yet. Think of this as... a dream."
"I'm dreaming?" Sokka repeated, and then he frowned. He was disappointed, somehow, with Yue's hands here in his, but then he smiled. So he wouldn't have to leave his family behind, after all. Sokka shook his head and then he looked at her, unblinking. Seriously, almost with reluctance, he asked, "Are you really here, or am I making this up on my own?"
"I'm really here," Yue replied, "I've always been with you, you know. I told you I would be."
"I know," Sokka said. He let go of one hand to reach up and cup her face, and she leaned into his touch, so friendly and beautiful in his hands. She drew herself closer, and Sokka said, "None of my other dreams were this... intense. I feel like I can control this one."
"Lucid dreaming," Yue replied, calmly. "But you've dreamt of me many times."
"I have," he admitted. He looked down, his eyes settling down between them, and he said, "I've... missed you. It's been... it's been six months now, and so much has happened."
"I know," Yue said, hushed. "I know."
She didn't say she had missed him too, and he wondered why, but it came to him quite quickly: Yue was with him, and Yue was the moon. She had thousands and thousands of stars to accompany her, everywhere. How could she possibly be alone?
Sokka paused, and trailed, "I..."
The tears slipped. He couldn't help it. They slipped down his face and he let go of her hand and her face, and he just stared at her helplessly. His hands fell to his sides, and he fell to his knees, at her feet, and he could only grasp at the hem of her dress and cry there, helplessly.
"I..." he choked out, "Yue, I... I failed you..."
She shushed him, and reached down to stroke his hair. She offered her other hand to take his and pull him to his feet, but he just took it and cried still, and pressed a kiss to the back of her hand, and cried still. He'd never cried like this before.
"It's okay, Sokka," Yue said, delicately, "I never blamed you. Not once."
"You should," he retorted, utterly ruined. His throat hitched, his heart burned, his lungs felt as though they were shriveling up. He said, hiccuping, "I... don't deserve this."
Yue laughed, a little, and she drew his face up to look at her eyes, with one gentle hand. He sniffled, feeling utterly pathetic, and she paused for a beat while he tried to compose himself. Then, she said, "Oh, Sokka, love."
His tears rolled for a bit longer, but they were impossible to stop entirely. He choked out, "Yue, I failed, and then... and now Suki... and I hate it, I really do, I miss you but everything, and I love her, and..."
He wasn't making sense, and Yue pressed a kiss to his forehead. He wiped away the tears, one hand still holding hers, and he felt so unconditionally at peace, there at her feet. She said, lovingly as always, "Sokka, I love you, and I'll always love you, but I am the moon, and you have life in you yet."
"Damn," he replied, choked out in some sort of teasing-yet-so-serious tone.
When he just brushed away some last tears and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand, she added, so gently, "And there's life in those that love you, Sokka, you can't leave them for me."
"When I manage to die properly," Sokka replied, "you'll be there, right?"
Yue smiled, sadly, and she tilted her head just slightly. She said, sensitive and adoring, "I will be. You could choose to stay here, now, but I want you to live and love and live some more. Suki loves you too, you know, you can't leave her for the moon."
"Alright," Sokka said, and then added, "How long can I stay here with you?"
"As long as you want," Yue said, simply, "but you have to go back to your world sooner or later. Your heart is beating. All you have to do is... wake up."
Sokka nodded, rather soberly, and he looked to the side, managing to tear his eyes away from her. He looked off into the empty white, and he understood: he knew that Suki was crying over him, he could hear it, and the more he strained to hear, the more he knew what was happening there. At any instant, he could teeter over the edge and tumble out of this unconsciousness, this state of bliss with Princess Yue.
He turned back to her, with his eyes scrunched up to hold back more tears, and his hands clammy. He held onto her hand with both hands, like a child, and he felt so ridiculously small, kneeling before her, even if he was considerably bigger than her.
Sokka looked at her, straight in the eyes, and she stared back. She smiled, and he put on one, too.
"I love you, Yue," he said.
"I love you too," she said.
Yue pressed another kiss to his forehead, her palm slipping from his cheek. Her hand slipped from his, and she faded away, until nothing was left but her shocking blue eyes.
And then, with one last sad blink and maybe even the well of ghostly tears, those were gone, too, and Sokka was sitting bolt upright in Suki's arms, gasping and wiping away his own tears.
"I thought you were dead," Suki said, barely above a whisper. She had been crying, too, though presently, there were no fresh tears. She was just relieved, stunned, so grateful, and she ran a hand over the top of his head with a smile. Her face was so close he could feel her breath against his mouth, and he just kissed her, to which she pulled back, still so stunned.
"I'm alive," Sokka breathed.
"When Zuko redirected the lightning and it hit you, I thought you were dead for sure," Suki said. "I thought you were a goner. Just... agh."
She leant her forehead against his, breathing hard still, and then he said, "Wait, what happened to Zuko and Azula?"
Suki pulled back, she pointed over the edge of the roof, and Sokka craned his neck. His eyes traced the blood stains.
Down below, towards the shore, the shouts and screams of thousands were sounding out, and Sokka realized that despite this noise, not a single man was fighting. Armies were pulling back and away as whole units, he could see them moving like ants over the snow.
Zuko was alone.
He was bleary-eyed, alone, and he felt like his limbs were being pinched beneath the skin, like a newly healed cut struggling to fuse itself closed again. He was naked from the waist up, and even then, he was only wearing loose trousers underneath, with one leg cut off. He sat up, confused, and he pushed down the fur blankets around him to inspect his leg.
It looked fine, but it stung badly. He tested it, by pressing down on his thigh with his fingertips. He winced.
"Don't you dare reopen any wounds I just closed," a voice said, and Zuko turned around. Behind him was an open door, and in the frame was a pretty girl he recognized.
"It's you," he said, more surprised than offended. He tried to remember her name, and then got it: "Kya?"
"Try Katara," she said, sharply, "You know, I'd expect you to remember the names of the people you hurt, but I guess that'd be asking you to remember far too many names, right? Kya is my mother."
"My apologies, Katara," Zuko said, and then, when she didn't stop glowering, he said, almost at a ramble, "I apologize for everything I've ever done to you, to your friends, to the Avatar. Things... have changed since then."
"Last time you said that, I wound up spending two months trying to keep Aang alive," Katara snapped. "You do know who Aang is, right? The Avatar you're so obsessed with?"
Zuko started to reply, whatever came to mind about making amends, but Katara wasn't done. She dropped to her knees beside him, put a firm hand on his shoulder and pushed him into laying back, and with her other hand, she ran her fingertips along the juncture of his shoulder and his arm, testing the flesh. It stung.
She said as she checked him over, "And to think I'm healing you, that I spent my time on your sister's stupid friends, and you. There are hundreds, thousands, of people who need my help, and I stop to waste my time on you. Honestly! Someone who's a backstabber, a liar, and turncoat! But don't you dare think about turning on me again, you're in enemy captivity now! And if you try anything, we've got your girlfriend, too!"
"So why are you healing me, then?" Zuko said, almost incredulous, as relieved as he was that Mai was alright. Katara prodded his elbow a bit too hard, he grit his teeth.
"Because," she said, so tired and exhausted from all the work she'd obviously been doing that her cheeks were shock-pink and her brow was slick with sweat. "Because if you die, I have no one to slap around later."
"Well, that's fine. I deserve it," Zuko replied.
"Talking like that isn't going to make me believe you're in it for the greater good," Katara snapped. Zuko frowned, growing frustrated, though he understood why she was so testy. To say he'd been a complete pain in the neck was an understatement.
He said, "May I speak to the Ava–– er, Aang?" The name felt foreign on his tongue.
"No," she said, annoyed. "He's busy right now, he's packing your army up and sending them back home. He's sending messages to every living leader figure in the world. He's talking with Chief Arnook, setting up relief for the entire Earth kingdom. He's trying to calm the Fire nation, which you left, by the way, in a horrible wreck. I don't think he'll ever want to talk to you."
"I'm the Fire Lord," Zuko said, "I hate to upset you, Katara, but he'll want to talk to me at some point."
Katara was stubbornly silent. She unwrapped his bandages. She rewrapped them, freshly, and Zuko said, "If you hate me that much, you could have just let me die."
"I'm not like you," Katara said, irked. "I could never do that."
"I've never left anyone to die," Zuko said.
Katara didn't reply. She just angrily kept on re-bandaging him, and when she finished, she sat back on her heels and stared at him long and hard. When she said nothing, he just stared back at her, and he said, "Go ahead, then. Slap me."
For some reason, Katara said, "No thanks." She looked off to the side suddenly, avoiding his eyes, and her anger was still palpable, but suddenly, something else was there.
"Look," Katara said, "your Uncle died protecting Aang and I last night. Your mother's here, too, but she's very ill. We can worry about slapping later."
Zuko stared, stunned, and she looked like a deer in the headlights until he let out a shudder of a breath and rested back on his elbows. He stared at her, and she avoided him. She left, hurriedly, and Zuko didn't know what to do with himself.
When Zuko was well enough to move, after a brief healing session, he was on his feet immediately. His joints felt stiff, and rightly so, and the early signs of a cold were settling in, but he hardly noticed. His mother. His mother was here. He didn't even knock when he was brought to the door. He just opened it.
In the dim ship light, he could see his mother. Her back was to him, and there were two blanketed figures laid out on beds. The one against the wall was much larger, and Zuko felt his stomach sink into his gut and his eyes well, knowing exactly who it was. But the closer one – the one his mother was leaning into – had the sheet pulled down.
His mother turned, hand on Azula's forehead, and she was already tear-streaked when her eyes landed on Zuko. Zuko felt his breath escape his lungs, staring at his mother. It had been five years and she looked like she had aged three times that. Her hair, once so elegant and fine, was pulled into a simple low ponytail, and her gold eyes were dark under her eyelashes.
She looked away from him, with a pained breath, and looked at Azula. In the torchlights, he could see Azula's skin was shock white, her angular features so striking against her dark hair. There was no life there at all, but Zuko almost expected her to sit up and kill them all.
Fear lived on, regardless of its creator.
He watched his mother stroke Azula's forehead and cry, and he wanted to tell her to stop, to get away from her, in case her poison still existed. Azula's hands, folded over her stomach, hadn't been cleaned of blood, and her nails still seemed deadly sharp.
"Mom," he choked, stunned by her presence.
She sat back, covering her face with her hands, and Zuko fell to his knees in front of her. With his head on her lap, he cried, and felt her arms go around him.
He'd never felt weaker –– or stronger –– in his entire life.
It was the most humble thing Zuko had done in his life. Over the years, he had broken laws, he had been exiled, he had been shamed. He had sacrificed his secret identity, he had sacrificed his real identity, he had fought for others and for himself. He had eaten stolen scraps and begged.
But nothing was as humble as going to his knees before the Avatar, a mere thirteen year old boy, and saying, "On behalf of the Fire nation, I beg for your forgiveness, for all my personal wrongs, and hope we can right all the wrongs committed in the past hundreds of years by my family."
The Avatar – or Aang, as he was supposed to be called, but Zuko was finding it hard to think of him as a young boy named Aang, and not simply the Avatar – just stared down at him, blankly, with big grey eyes. Zuko didn't lift his head. He kept down, on his knees, while the Avatar stared.
And then he smiled, and said, "So everything's going to be perfect from now on?" He sounded excited.
"Yes," Zuko said. It wasn't really a realistic thought, but it would be eventually.
"Great!" Aang replied, and he knelt down to Zuko's level. He put a hand on Zuko's shoulder, and Zuko lifted his head. Aang said, "We'll be friends now, right? Like Sozin and Roku in reverse. Better."
Zuko stared, taken a bit aback, and Katara and Toph were laughing, and he just replied, stunned, "Yeah. Friends."
Sokka was awake after twelve hours, and the second he was, Suki was right there, by his side. In fact, she was next to him, curled up in a sleeping bag, writing something. He stirred, groaned, sat up, and she launched herself on him with wild abandon, minding his bandaged hand but still recklessly overjoyed.
"You took that hit for me, I was sure you were going to die," Suki rambled, and she was clinging to him so tightly that he was positive he was going to die by suffocation. "Or at least, be out for weeks and weeks and weeks, oh for the love of Avatar Kyoshi, I thought…"
"Woah," Sokka choked out, unable to move because her arms were locked around his neck and her lips were kissing his forehead over and over again, and her bosom was quite snugly pressed up against his chest. Not that he could complain, but he would have liked to breathe.
"Never, never take direct hits like that, Sokka, oh, you big stupid idiot I love you but never, ever do that again, for the—"
"Suki!" Sokka laughed, outright, against her neck, and she released him just slightly to hold him back.
"You dumbass!" she huffed, and he rolled his eyes at her and laughed again.
"I'm okay, really," he said, and then he paused, and grinned, "We won, didn't we? No way anyone who'd lost would be so overjoyed, unless you REALLY missed me, huh?"
"No one won," Suki reminded him, but her smile was huge, so huge. She said, cheerily, "The Fire nation is down, Zuko's co-operating, and tomorrow is the first day of peace in over a hundred years!"
Sokka laughed, and then he said, "And tonight's the comet! Let's watch it together."
"Yeah," Suki agreed, and she kissed him full on the mouth. Appropriately, Hakoda, Katara and Aang came in at the same time.
"The message is being sent across the Fire nation, now. It's official," Hakoda said, "Azula is dead, and Fire Lord Zuko has surrendered."
Sokka put his arm around Suki and snuggled her to his chest, fully aware of how weird it was to do that in front of his sister and dad, and Suki just lay there in his arms, looking up at him oddly. Hakoda, Katara and Aang seemed to keep their eyes off the fact that Sokka had Suki laying like that with him. He replied, "So Azula is dead."
It was very sobering.
"Yeah," Suki replied, almost hollow, all of the sudden. "Azula... is dead."
Sokka repeated, "Azula is dead."
Katara looked between them, bemused.
"Suki?" Sokka said, and she lifted a hand to wipe her eyes before she started tearing up too much. She stayed calm, and when she pulled her hand away, she accidently smudged her make-up, which was already all over the place. He reached over and fixed it with his thumb, and she gave an odd smile.
"I'm alright, Sokka," she replied, "She's finally dead."
"Hey? What? No," Sokka protested, blinking rapidly because his eyes felt teary, too. "You can be upset if you want to, it's okay, I'm man enough to cry with you, and all. Just... no. And yes. I don't know what I should say, okay?"
"Then don't say anything," Suki said. "Like I just said... she's finally dead. Everything really is in the past now."
Sokka hushed up, immediately, and he reached up to roughly rub one eye with the back of his hand, almost mad that he was getting all emotional anyway -- Azula was dead, why be all teary over that? Suki sighed, and she pressed her face against his neck, so that her nose squashed against his skin, and he just sighed right back at her and held her tight.
"Kyoshi didn't teach us to be vengeful," Suki replied, as if he had been a Kyoshi warrior all his life, as if he was just getting a reminder. "I'm glad it's done."
Her voice sounded funny against his neck, but he figured his was just as dumb, muffled against her hood. She was standing with the balls of her feet on the toes of his boots, and it was an uncomfortable yet friendly position to be in, with the lengths of their bodies together, even with the coats between them.
"Hey, it made you want to pick up your fans and kick my ass around the place a lot," Sokka replied, "you're a warrior again."
Zuko bowed his head, curtly, and he said, "We were never formally introduced. My name is Zuko. I'm the Fire Lord."
Suki regarded the boy with some sort of cool look, her eyebrows drawn into straight lines, her teeth clenched just slightly. It gave her a pinched look. She didn't really want to acknowledge him. She said, "Last time I saw you up close like this, you had just attacked me with your war rhino."
"I apologize for that," Zuko said, and he had an odd pause, and then he bowed so low his torso was making a right angle with his legs. Suki was stunned by this gesture, rather, and wondered if Zuko was just overdoing it a bit too much. But no, he went and did what Suki expected least. He said, seriously, "And for everything my sister's done to you. I know actions speak louder than words, and it's impossible for me to apologize for what she's done through words alone, but... I hope you can accept my apology, not her for actions, but for my cowardice to stop her."
"How could you possibly have stopped her?" Suki said. Her walls came up. She didn't like this sort of blame-game, this sort of assumed fault. Suspiciously, she added, "I don't understand."
Zuko seemed to hesitate. He said, "She spoke of you quite a few times... visited you once with me there. She came back with a bloodied lip...? I could have done something then."
Suki froze, she didn't seem able to put together a reply to that. That was so terribly awkward, and she half-heartedly wanted to accuse him of it and not forgive him. But when she glanced at Sokka, who was looking at Zuko with some sort of murderous look, she just said, "Stand up straight."
Zuko did so, and face to face, Suki said, "Look, I'm not going to accept your apology for the same reason I don't want to acknowledge any of Sokka's. It wasn't your fault. And I'm not going to believe it was my fault anymore, I accept it wasn't my own weakness."
She paused, and then she said, "I should thank you for killing her. The fault lies, entirely, with her. Though I'd've liked to hear an apology from her, that's impossible now."
"Azula never apologized for a single action in her entire life," Zuko replied, "Death is the only way to stop her."
Suki nodded, and then she bowed her head, a short, curt little action. She glanced at Sokka, and then said to Zuko, "Sokka's going to mind, but I'm going to invite you anyway. Coming to dinner with us?"
Sokka did, indeed, make a noise of protest. Zuko glanced at Sokka, and then back to Suki, and he said, "Perhaps I should decline. I have to find out if I can see Mai, and I probably should speak with Ty Lee, too..."
"Mm," Suki murmured. She nodded, and said, "They can come, too."
"Suki," Sokka protested, and Suki cupped his cheek with one hand. He stopped there, and gave an odd smile.
She said, logically, "Shh, I'm fostering peace between the nations."
"That's the Avatar's job," Sokka said. He glanced at Zuko, lifting his own arm to pull Suki close, and he said, defensively, "I don't care how many times he gets on his knees and begs for forgiveness, I'm excellent at bearing grudges."
"Everyone has to work on peace," Zuko said, defensively, "And what did I ever do to you, specifically, anyway?"
"Hey," Sokka said, sharply, "hey. What you do to Katara and Aang, you do to me. And I seem to recall getting hit in the face multiple times with the handle of a halberd."
Zuko replied, taking a step closer, "You did the same to me but you knocked me off a ship at the same time."
"Alright!" Suki said, loudly, and she put her hands between Zuko and Sokka's chests. "Alright! Enough size-competition, really! Sheesh!"
Zuko and Sokka glowered at each other for a moment longer, and then Aang and Katara stepped into the room. Aang was flushed red clear out to the tips of his ears, and Katara had a funny smile on.
"Yeah, no fighting," Aang said, brightly. "So when's dinner?"
"I'm going to miss you two," Ty Lee said. Her smile was present, as usual, wide and enthusiastic, but there was something unusual about it today. It was sad. Maybe even a bit lonesome. She pulled both Mai and Zuko together in a big hug, and squished them to her chest. She had crazy arms, for a girl.
"Write me often," Mai said, with a rare smile. Ty Lee released Zuko in favour of hugging Mai; she squished her so hard she lifted Mai right off her feet, despite being taller. Mai gave a protest, but she laughed.
"Every, every day," Ty Lee agreed. She let go of Mai and hugged Zuko, not quite as tightly, and she said to him, "You ever let her get bored, you'll take her to the circus, right?"
"Sure," Zuko agreed, but no one really believed it was happening. After all, Ty Lee was going to the Earth kingdom, she was going to be in a circus again, and she was going to start fresh. Zuko thought that maybe he and Mai would visit her someday, but he had a crumbled and wounded world to help, with the Avatar's aid. They'd be plenty busy.
"See you around," Mai said, softly, and Ty Lee laughed, wiping away tears. She sounded so honest.
"I'll dedicate every act to you all," Ty Lee replied, "And one for Azula, too. I'll tight-rope walk across a flaming net, prove to her I can do it fearlessly!"
"Sounds good," Zuko said, though somehow he thought pleasing Azula wouldn't be any easier in her death than it was in her life.
The only difference was, maybe, he had the chance to do things without her voice whispering lies in his ears.
"Oh man, it's gonna be great," Sokka enthused. He was practically bouncing in his steps; he was so full of energy. His boots crumpled in the snow loudly, his breath was foggy on the air and it came rapidly, and Suki had to slide around on the ice to keep up with him, her hand firmly clamped in his.
"Take it easy," Suki warned him. He heeded her warning, but it didn't stop him from being loud and obnoxious. Katara had been rightly freaked out by his little rendezvous with Azula's lightning, and, as she put it, "it was a miracle they weren't going to be spending the next two months in some backwater igloo struggling to survive." Suki agreed whole-heartedly.
"I'm going to eat spicy foods every day," Sokka announced, "and we can laze around in the sun all day, and wear practically nothing, because it's so hot. And we'll go to beaches every day, and check out all the big palaces, and go shopping, oh, Suki, we have to go shopping in the Fire nation, I hear they have really cool weapons, and –"
Suki laughed and she interrupted him with, "Will we, now?"
"Yeah!" he confirmed. "And we can eat and enjoy ourselves and relax, on the side of ruling over the entire world, and it's going to be the most fun we've ever had. Nothing will be stressful."
He was rambling, going on and on about the places they'd see and the things they'd eat and the activities they'd take part in, and Suki followed alongside him, warm in her parka and laughing along with him. She didn't suggest anything, and after fifteen minutes, Sokka asked, breathless from listing, "I can't wait. Aren't you excited?"
Suki smiled and nodded, but she said, then, "I am, Sokka, but I think I have to go home."
He was so stunned the smile slid from his face, and it as much like slipping off the ice and into the canal, except not as wet. His face was plunged into some sort of frozen blankness. He just stared, for a moment, and then he squeaked, "Home?"
"I want to go to the Fire nation with you," she promised, "but I need to go home. I really just feel as if I should be going there. They need me back home."
He stared at her, stunned, and then he asked, "Really?"
"Really," she confirmed.
"What about happily ever after?" he asked, awkwardly.
"Hey," she said, with an odd smile. She liked the sound of it, but she couldn't entertain it right that second. She said, "We always go back to each other in the end, right? We'll be back together before you know it."
Sokka seemed unsure for a moment. He was silent, stony, utterly mislead by this suggestion. And then he relaxed to say, with a smile, "Yeah. Of course."
She just laughed, and playfully punched him in the arm, hard enough that he felt it through his jacket. She said, brightly, "Just don't meet a prettier girl out there, alright?"
"Suki," Sokka replied, soberly, "no one is as pretty as you, let alone prettier. I'm doomed to be lonely until we see each other again."
Suki laughed, and pulled him into a hug. He laughed, too, squeezing her tight, and she kissed him on the lips warmly, her cheek cold against his from the winter breezes.
"I would threaten you with the same," he said, "but I know I'm the most attractive guy on Kyoshi Island."
She laughed again, throwing her head back, and he pulled her back into another kiss.
Barely two days after the end of the war, they were packing up to head for the Fire nation. Sokka looked at the next few days of riding Appa with dread, not because he was sick of flying (oh, alright, maybe he was) but because as soon as they reached the earliest juncture between the Earth kingdom and the Fire nation, Suki was being dropped off. He wanted to fly her all the way home, but he knew that'd take a month straight of flying. That was a month they couldn't afford.
So then came the parting of the ways.
Katara and Suki hugged, said their goodbyes, and parted. Aang and Suki exchanged well-wishes and laughs, and parted. Suki bid good-bye to Momo, pressing a kiss to Momo's tiny nose, and a big good-bye to Appa, who nearly knocked her off her feet with his giant nose.
"Bye," Toph said, curtly, and Suki looked back at her with a smile. For a moment, Toph didn't say anything else, and nor did Suki. Toph folded her arms.
"See you," Suki replied, casually, and then she smiled and hugged Toph tightly. Playfully, she pressed a big kiss to Toph's temple, and Toph protested and struggled for an instant. Suki said, teasingly, "Keep an eye on Sokka for me, will you?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I will, lemme go," Toph said, slinking out of Suki's arms like a little kid would. She said, with a sudden grin, "If he so much as looks at another girl, I'll set him straight."
Suki laughed, and gave Toph a real hug, and she said, "Thank you, Toph."
"No problem," Toph replied.
Zuko was a bit more awkward about the hug, and when she hugged him and pressed a kiss to his cheek, he acted all dismissive and said "I don't deserve that." Suki laughed, kneed him in the thigh, and told him, "Get your act in gear, don't knock heads with Sokka too much." He reluctantly agreed.
And then came Sokka, who babbled like an idiot and held her hands and refused to let her escape from his killer hug, and kissed her all over the face until he was covered in white and red and pink make-up. He tried to reason with her and asked her, one last time, if she'd come back to the Fire nation with them. She politely declined, though her pack was already heavy on her back.
And with one last kiss, Suki forced herself to turn her back on him and start walking. He just stood there, like an idiot, and started following. After about ten paces, she looked back, and he was still watching her, and she blubbered, "Sokka, go."
The others were waiting on Appa's back. Sokka put his hands on his hips, then folded his arms, then let his hands hang. He blinked rapidly, and she couldn't bear the sight: she turned around the whole way and ran at him, and hit him like a train, locking him in a hug.
"This is stupid," he protested, sniffling, "You don't want to go, I don't want you to go, why are you going?"
"I have to," she said. And then she kissed him. It was a definite good-bye kiss, and she knew it, and so did he. When they broke off, she said, "Write me every day you can."
"Twice a day," he promised. "It only takes weeks to deliver, that's all. So we'll have a constant conversation going."
"Right," she said, wiping one eye. Then, forcibly, she wormed her way out of his arms and gave his hand one last squeeze, and off she went.
It was terrible business. Aang noted, dully, that just because "the right person" was on the throne, it didn't mean the Fire nation was immediately solved of all its problems. In fact, it complicated things. It didn't matter if Zuko wore the crest, few people liked him regardless. Azula's body, frozen, on a boat somewhere en-route to the Fire nation, was still what they wanted, no matter how dead she was. Zuko didn't want a big funeral. He just wanted to put her in the ground, and put it behind him. Put it behind his mother.
But the people wanted Azula's rule. They wanted Azula's counsel. They wanted Azula, and not Zuko, and not an Avatar. They wanted their victory spoils from the Earth kingdom. And, too, another problem was the Fire nation and the former Earth kingdom -- all the colonies, the hundreds of them spread across the west and south and stretching up into the north-east, were a dangerous middle ground. On one hand, they were shunned by the Earth kingdom communities for pushing them out, and on the other, the Fire nation hated the colony citizens, treating them as second class. Many wanted to stay, despite their citizenship, simply because they'd never even been to the homeland, and no one knew what was right.
If anything, people feared that the after-war would be more terrifying than the hundred-year-war, but everything was laid to a restless peace quickly when word got around that the war was over. Humanity, as a whole, seemed to decide that they were tired of war. War ceased, though the arguments and hostility did not.
All of that was crazy, until Aang and Zuko started campaigning them to understand what, exactly, was so bad about Azula and Ozai's Fire nation. Then people started to listen, but Aang understood quite clearly that it was the next generation that was going to really like him, not this one.
In fact, the children in all the nations were the most forgiving. They were the ones that the gang enjoyed greeting in each village or each town, the ones that loved them and poured hero-worship onto them. The adults were warier, as many grew up believing the Avatar was an abandoner, or an enemy, but everything warmed up fast enough. There were always exceptions to the rule, at any rate, people who were just grateful to be freed from the bondage of war, no matter what age they were.
And Zuko became their friend through it all, more or less. Sure, there were awkward times, where Aang was forced to choose between spending his time with either Zuko or Katara, because Katara simply wanted nothing to do with him. And sure, sometimes Aang wondered what would inspire a person to change so drastically, and that made him wary of Zuko's honesty about everything.
"You know," Zuko commented, one time in the early days of their peace campaigns, as they sat on Appa. Katara was laying with her head in Aang's lap, fast asleep, so she wasn't going to rebuff Zuko for speaking. Zuko said, "I wish I knew why people liked Azula. That's going to bother me for the rest of my life."
"I don't know," Aang replied, honestly, "I mean... did no one see how crazy she was? Why didn't people care that she was killing people left, right, and center?"
"I asked that a long time ago," Zuko said, solemnly.
"You want to know the real answer?" Sokka piped up, from Appa's head. Zuko turned in his seat to look, and Aang lifted his head. Sokka said, "Because she was so crazy she impressed them. Because they went 'ooh shiny' at a psycho who was, well, let's admit it -- smart and driven and actually really pretty. She did what she thought was right and didn't care what people think, people admire that sort of confidence. She wanted them all to live glorious, dramatic lives!" He waved his hands about a lot while he said this, sarcastically, exaggerating everything. He finished with a sharp, "She's dead, hurrah, let's leave it at that."
Zuko's mouth twisted up at the corner, Aang nodded and gave an odd smile, and Toph just commented, "Hooray."
IT IS HOT HERE. I complained about the desert, but here, it's hot AND humid. It's like each second of my life is devoted to sweating. And the FOOD is hot. And the CLOTHES are hot. Who can wear pants in this weather! Not me. I don't miss freezing my toes off, but they're better numb than burnt, right?
I have sent you FIFTY FOUR letters and none of them have been replied to. Thanks a lot! Katara keeps reminding me that you're footing it from here to Kyoshi, and probably aren't home yet, but I can't wait that long to write you letters, so you'll probably have a million letters waiting for you. Hurry up and get there so I at least can talk to you, with you being so far away!
What a HOT day it is. Think I'll bathe a million times. Maybe when we get together again I'll be so tanned I'll be as dark as my hair. That'd kind of be funny.
Weather aside -- ahah, when have we ever talked about the weather? -- things are going okay here. Everyone needs therapy, and lots of it. Aang wasn't well-liked and that was hard on him, and no one likes His Royal Loserness, so we thought everyone was going to drive us out, but Aang made treaties for food distribution between the Earth kingdom and the Fire nation. Now he's Mr. Popularity. As am I, by the way, with my foreign good looks, but my love for you Toph's Mighty Fist keeps the girls at bay. So as long as I keep my shirt on and my hair up, I won't get ravished. See? I can be patient. Very patient.
You know that Fire nation girls aren't as pretty as Kyoshi girls, right? I've never seen such ugly haircuts in my life. And the colours everyone wears, the volcanoes literally threw up on them, that's why they're all washed out. Ashes and soot and that junk.
Speaking of volcanoes, saw one blow the other day. Still a cool thing to watch. Someday I'm going to go really close and study how it blows up, 'cause it looks neat. Don't worry, I won't get melted.
Missing you loads,
Dear Suki ------
Still no letters! When are you going to get home? Aaugh. This is killing me, you know that? I know any mugger is going to get his butt kicked, and the Fire nation's mostly gone. I promised I wouldn't worry but I am going to start worrying within the next few minutes. Therefore, you have a few minutes until I march down to Kyoshi and find you.
Actually, Oyaji mailed me back, asked about you. Said you were going home and explained a lot of the stuff that went down, but I wasn't sure where to draw the line, so I stopped it at "Suki helped take down Azula and Zuko, isn't that swell?" I glossed over some things I figured you'd want to say yourself.
I have a feeling many messenger birds will be inconvenienced.
One more week and I am marching over the world and hunting you down.
Worried worried, worried,
OH WHERE OH WHERE CAN MY SUKI BE GONE, OH WHERE, OH WHERE COULD SHE BEEEEEEEEEEEEE?
WITH HER CUTE BOBBED HAIR AND HER KIIIIILLER FAAANS, OH WHERE, OH WHERE COULD SHE BEEEEEEEE?
MY DEAAAAAR SUKI ALWAYS MAKES ME FRET, WHEN-EV-ER SHE DOESN'T WRITE
IF SHE ON-LY WROOOTE TO ME, WHY, I WOUUUULD BEEE HAP-PY.
Okay, now I'm worried. What's up? It's been two months.
Sokka was dreaming again. He was warm, again. He was half-under his blankets and half-not, and the part under blankets was the top half. His feet were on his pillow, and his head was at the end of the bed, with his arm hanging off the edge. He was awake, but he didn't really want to be.
He rolled over, curling up a bit, and kicked the pillow off the bed. He scratched his shin and yawned, trying to keep himself from waking up entirely. If he kept his eyes closed, he could continue to dream, and stay warm in his bed.
Suki was so gorgeous, naked in his bed. He just liked having her close.
She prodded him in the shoulder, though it was more of a shove than a prod. He groaned and rolled over, and then scrambled to sit up, jolted right out the reverie. In a flurry of throwing about blankets and seizing them up to his chin, Sokka opened his eyes and groaned, "Tooopphhhh I was sleeeeping, don't DO that!"
"Katara says you've gotta get up," Toph said, matter-of-factly. She was grinning. "Breakfast."
"Eff—no. Breakfast is always good, why would I turn down breakfast? Tell her I'll have breakfast in an hour."
His stomach growled. Toph chuckled.
"You sure sound hungry, Sleepyhead," Toph said, "but okay. If you're gonna sleep, I'm gonna go eat yours! I'm just THAT hungry!"
"I gotta go bathe first, though, and I'm not exactly DRESSED, so get out."
"Why do you care?" Toph said, "I'm still blind."
"Because," Sokka protested, "it's creepy. It's still WEIRD and CREEPY to be walking around naked in front of you, thank you very much. Get out!"
"Right then, I'll go chow down on your breakfast—"
Sokka was up in a flash, still complaining and protesting ownership of his breakfast no matter what time it was, and he groaned and rolled right out of bed entirely. He grabbed his pants off the back of the chair by his bed, and he scrambled to pull them on. He was rather used to Toph barging in like a drill sergeant every morning, he was rather used to the same useless argument, and he was never going to win, against Toph.
"Perv," Sokka said, fixing where his pants settled on his hips. He decided he would bathe after breakfast, in case Toph got a little impatient. It was better than going to the kitchens and wrangling with the bitter old women there for a spare meal.
"Like you aren't," Toph scoffed, crinkling her nose.
"Oh, you're definitely a creeper, Toph." Sokka kicked her in the butt, playfully, just hard enough to jostle her balance, and she socked him in the stomach faster than he could move again. He groaned and doubled over, but laughed when she retorted.
"Just get up, lazypants!"
"I'm goin', I'm goin'," Sokka said, starting towards the door in an exaggeratedly slow fashion. Then, with a laugh, he shouted, "RACE YOU."
He bolted, and once he was out the door, he looked to see if she was playing along. She did, though she palmed the doorframe as she went by, to save herself from skimming it, or running into it. He laughed, loudly, and she fell behind as he raced ahead.
"Too slow, Tophy!"
Sokka won, as expected, thanks to his long legs. Toph lost, miserably, thanks to a freak accident with a servant going down the hall carrying a basket of towels. At least, Sokka thought, between peals of laughter, it was a soft thing to crash into.
"I thought you knew the layout of the castle?" Sokka taunted, as Toph threw herself into her chair at the table and angrily groped for an orange.
"Sokka," Katara intoned, and Sokka looked up from his plate – mmm, bacon! – to see her looking fairly unamused. "Do you know how to dress yourself, or are you still learning?"
Sokka glanced down at his own bare chest, and he complained, "It's breakfast! If I want to wander around shirtless and barefoot and eat my da—"
"It's impolite," Katara said, "and you're sweaty. Go bathe, you stink."
Sokka let out a huff of indignation, and he argued, "I'm not THAT sweaty, and it's just the smell of manliness."
"No," Mai said, diplomatically, not even taking her eyes off of Zuko's tea. She was stirring it in lazy circles, syrupy ropes of pale orange yuzu swirling around in it. She continued, complete with a crinkled nose, "You definitely stink."
"You're just mad that Zuko's more of a girl than you are," Sokka replied.
"I am not!" Zuko snapped, slapping his palm against the edge of the table. "You DO stink, go bathe. What are you, a savage?"
"Hear that, Aang?" Sokka said, "He called me a savage."
"I am NOT insulting the Water tribe, people from ANY nation can be a savage, it's not a literal thing, and you're just acting like one—"
Aang raised his hands in defense, innocently, and he said, "Guys, guys! Come on! It's not that big of a deal, can we just eat our breakfast in peace?"
He looked around the group. Next to him was Katara, who was impeccable other than the sour look on her face. Zuko was sitting tall and he looked more than grumpy. Mai looked bored and distant, though the corners of her mouth curled when she glanced at Zuko. Toph was grouchy, and Sokka was putting his energy into aggravating everyone else.
"I guess you guys will never be morning people," Aang sighed, though he had to bite back a serious laugh, and he settled on taking of sip of his yujacha and shrugging.
Dear impatient boy,
Do you know how absurd it is to come home to a stack of letters like that? Flattering, but absurd, considering the labour (of love, I'm sure!) it must have taken you. With the cost of paper these days, you could buy an entire house in Kyoshi! You should be thrilled I love you, otherwise I'd complain.
I've been home for exactly four hours, too, I'll have you know, and I realize it's been three months since I've seen you. That's longer than the first time we were apart! I'm stunned. The Southern Water tribe is practically in my back yard, compared to how far away you are now. To be completely blunt, it blows.
I've read about two-dozen of your letters now, by the way, and have, literally, a hundred left to go. Regarding that one where those boys were picking on you? If they ever bother you again, remind them that you have a girlfriend who'll kick their asses.
You probably want to hear about the trip home, right? I'll have you know I was traveling with someone or in a group almost the whole time, just like I promise, that's why it took so long: I waited at towns to find people who were heading a certain direction, and stuck with them until they continued off my course. It took a while, but it made for good company, and I'm glad I did. Most were just family groups, with lots of little kids, so it was slow moving. Some of them knew the Avatar personally, and by extension, two people remembered you! One claimed to have been your girlfriend at one point, and THEN she discovered that you weren't actually the Avatar you'd claimed to be, so she would kill you if she met you again. Do I want to know the details about that...?
I'm not sure how I'll get this to you until your bird comes back, so unfortunately, I have to wait for your next letter. Seeing how things are going, should I expect it within the next two minutes? [drawn smiley face
Much love, miss you loads, kisses and hugs and all that mushy stuff I know you secretly thrive on;
YAY YAY YAY YAY YAY YAY! [several paragraphs of text written with such gusto and excitement that it is, quite literally, unreadable
[some skipped space later
Beloved Beloved (haha, get it? Suki means beloved so you're my beloved Beloved! HA! Oh man I've been dying to use that one...)
Katara (who should not be snooping in my private things no matter how much I snoop in hers; ew nasty I will never look at her the same way ever again says that my letter above is "a disaster" so this second letter is attached as a "not disaster".
YOU. ARE. HOME.
ABOUT TIME I GOT A RESPONSE. I am so glee-filled I could explode. Katara is looking at me funny and Toph is telling me to stop laughing like a madman. I think I will return to rolling about on the floor like a loon in a moment so that I can get this out of my system so my writing won't be so impossible to read.
Oh, forget it. No amount of screaming and running around the palace could get THAT outta my system. SUKI!
I am mad for you, absolutely stark-raving mad. I am so glad the trip home went great. That is a Huge Relief and now I can't wait to meet you there.
We're at a beach -- Ember Island. Fire Lord Still-A-Loser has a house there, hasn't been there since he was a kid, nostalgia, yadda yadda. We're staying in his family's old home, and it's pretty small compared to the palace. You know, after months of being in the palace, it is kind of hard to go from a bed wide enough for six people to a bed that's only wide enough for two. Geez, how did I ever sleep in a sleeping bag? How will I ever go to living in a small place? Suki, I've decided I'm going to build us a mansion. It'll have multiple stories, too, how cool would that be? I think I've figured out the engineering to make that thing without bending, just from looking at the buildings here in the Fire nation. You know most buildings here are made of stone? Fire hazards aren't very common.
Anyway, back to the beach: we took the day off and lounged around but the place is packed with civilians, so we did a lot of work anyway. Katara threatened to stay forever, but dropped that as soon as we reminded her that we're leaving for the Earth kingdom in a few days, to start the reconstruction projects everywhere. Man, rebuilding Ba Sing Se will take years, but I feel sort of cool, as that's technically my personal project.
In other news, I absolutely suck at kuai ball. It's this game with a big net in the middle, and you have to get the ball to hit the sand on the opponent's side of the net, and you can't use your hands. You have to kick it over or headbutt it or something. I ate sand, and was beaten badly by His Flamingness and Her Crankiness in the first round. I wasn't as bad as Toph, who was hit in the head a total of four times. Katara's not good at it, either, but I just can't get over the temptation to use my hands. Naturally, Aang was the only reason we stood a chance, but the No Bending rule was the death of us.
I bet you'd be good.
The One and Only Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe
"Zuko," Sokka said, with ample frustration, "If you want to win, you have got to stop sucking."
"Don't look at me," Zuko growled, "obviously the fault lies with YOU, you're the one who keeps hand-balling it. THAT is why we're losing."
"I can't kick it if you pass it at my HEAD," Sokka protested.
"That's why you hit it WITH YOUR HEAD," Zuko said. He made a horribly silly gesture, bending his knees and bobbing his head up, miming the action while waving his arms like an idiot. Sokka flailed right back at him. Aang said something about friendly games and friendly competition, and about Zuko and Sokka being on the same team, but neither seemed to hear him. He warned them that he was going to serve, whether they were fighting or not, and still, he was ignored.
"Not when it's going at a thousand miles per second," Sokka shot back.
"Don't be such a baby," Zuko snapped.
"I command you to stop arguing and play," Aang said, loudly, and he served.
"Alright, alright," Sokka said, and he bounced the ball off his head, easily. Once more, it became airborne, sailing over the net, only to be chipped back by a kick from Katara. It came Sokka's direction again, and he lunged to get it, but he couldn't quite reach it with his head, so instinct came out, and he hand-balled it before it could hit the ground and score his sister's team a point.
"Penalty," Mai said, sharply, "For the hundredth time, stop making us lose."
Sokka held the ball between his fingers, and he said, angrily, "Hey, not all of us grew up lounging on the beach and playing beach games, gimme a break."
"She's right," Zuko said, "you ARE making us lose."
Katara called over, with a laugh, "Sokka, thanks."
"I am not," Sokka shot back, defensively. Zuko started to retort, but Sokka made a gesture of hurling the ball at his head, and Zuko flinched and lifted his arms. Sokka said, "Coward!"
"Just serve the ball," Zuko said, when he recovered.
"Fine," Sokka grumbled, and he tossed the ball ahead of him. He kicked it, it soared, and it chipped off the top rim of the net and barely made it over. He pumped his fist and gave an enthusiastic shout, just because he had made it over.
"Penalty," Mai said.
Sokka's little celebratory dance ceased immediately, and he stood still to stare at her, and he rounded on her with an indignant, "What?"
"You touched the net," she said, flatly. "You have to get it right over."
"That's bull—" Sokka started, but Aang interrupted with a "Hey, hey, guys. Come on. It's just a game. Don't be so competitive."
"A game," Zuko agreed, "but he's making us look like losers."
"Not really," Katara replied, "he's making you look burdened. If you can win with Sokka on your team, everyone's respect for you will double, maybe triple. How's that for getting your honour back?"
"HEY!" Sokka said, "Katara!" Sokka ignored that Zuko gave the ghosts of a smile at this.
It was too late for protests. She kicked the ball back over the net, clearing it easily, and Mai sent it back. Aang slid in, bouncing it off his head to Toph, who accidently headed it to Katara, who smashed it right back over the net, and into Sokka's general facial region.
Zuko snickered. Sokka did not.
Dear Embodiment of Awesome, aka Suki;
So okay: you probably know her vaguely but her name's Mai, and she's the Embodiment of Apathy. SERIOUSLY. Even my funniest jokes don't penetrate her evil shield of pure apathy. Really. Nothing makes her laugh but Zuko. Zuko, who isn't even funny. All he has to do is make some stupid noise and start sniggering like the total loser he is and she's all over him, laughing and smiling and whatnot. But the second someone else talks to her, even Aang, Katara, whatever, she goes back to being a sourpuss. Therefore she is the Embodiment of Apathy and not even Koh could get her to do anything but stare at us in complete apathy. And she complains ALL THE TIME of being bored. It's sort of vaguely annoying/whiny but if you tell her about it, she gets all huffy (while still being apathetic)
So I've finally found a person who doesn't think I'm funny, other than Katara, who only finds me funny ¾ weeks of the month. I consider this a great loss. I take solace in the fact that you'll likely laugh at my jokes to make up for it, and that you aren't an Embodiment of Apathy with a knife collection.
And a question: if they made me king of Ba Sing Se, seeing as the old Earth king is gone, would you be my queen? Because I am totally in the running, and King Sokka has a great ring to it.
Regal and with Minimal Apathy,
P.S. Hey Suki, this is Katara. Sokka isn't in the running for anything but court jester. Sorry to disappoint. How've you been?
P.P.S. HEY SUKI, IT'S KATARA. DISREGARD THE PREVIOUS MESSAGE; I'M A JEALOUS, SPITEFUL CREATURE OUT TO RUIN SOKKA'S FUN. SINCERELY, KATARA.
I don't even know where to begin in half of these letters because you leave me laughing so hard. What can I say other that "ha ha ha" and "good job" and "wow that's insensitive but still funny" and "wow I miss you so much"?
I only ever spoke with Mai once before, and I have to admit she came across that way. Not that I thought her apology was insincere or anything, I know she was being honest, but she's not very warm, is she? Ty Lee, on the other hand… is she back with you guys or did she stay with the circus?
Today I got my first class of small children! Normally the retired warriors teach the children theory, first, and then we pick up where they leave off, with the real combat skills, but there are so many little girls this year that it's too troublesome to leave them all in one class, so we divided it up. It's a lot more work to teach theory, as some kids just don't want to buy into it, but they're learning. There still hasn't been a boy in the class since you, though!
I'd love to be queen, as long as I get to call the shots.
P.S. Things are great. How about with you?
Hey, hey, you, you.
I've I've been been annoying annoying Katara Katara by by talking talking like like this this all all day day. I I suggest suggest you you join join in in the the fun fun!
Actually (actually) never mind, that's a big hassle (hassle!) to write out. It's a lot more fun (fun!) when it's spoken (spoken!)
So guess what. Mai's in a Delicate Condition (which is a horrible way of putting it, if you ask me, she's still pretty annoying/deliberately frustrating) and… guess who the father is? CORRECT. THE ANSWER IS, INDEED, ZUKO. And what is so scandalous about this revelation? They aren't MARRIED YET. Scandal! She hasn't starting showing yet (yet!) so it's not so bad, but I can't wait to see the looks on the faces of all the politicians when the wedding gets pushed forward by a year and baby arrives decidedly early. And get this? His mom doesn't know yet, either.
Zuko makes the best faces if you pat him on the back and congratulate him for it, though. Seriously. When you see him, look him straight in the eyes, try not to laugh, and ask him what he thinks of parenthood. Never seen a guy go paler in my entire life, ahahaha. He's so terrified, and Mai is so grouchy all the time. You know how I told you, months ago, how she's the Embodiment of Apathy? Not anymore. When she isn't a) telling me to shut up b) telling me to stop pestering Zuko or c) complaining, she's doing the all new d) routine, which is ACTING WEIRD.
Example? Yesterday, I cracked a joke about her collecting buns (she has her hair in THREE, so having "another in the oven"…. STOP SMIRKING, SUKI, IT WAS HILARIOUS AT THE TIME) and she… burst out into tears. Not just weepy, misty-around-the-eyes, oh-Sokka-I-think-you're-so-funny-I-could-cry tears. The whole shebang, gross sniffling, face in hands, eyeliner everywhere. Seriously, I've renamed her the Embodiment of Apathy and Meltdowns, now.
(I have a cool bruise on my cheekbone from where Zuko got me back for that, though. It doesn't hurt at all. It just looks COOL. But it's not as cool as the bruise on his giant chin. I win again!)
Let's Not Do The Oven Part,
P.S. YOU have to have the babies, we're not arguing on that. I don't care how we divide the rest of the work, Suki, baby, I'm just not equipped for it.
Since we invented that silly let's-not-focus-on-the-topic-we-don't-focus-on, I still feel the need to say it, but I won't, because we have a rule about not focusing on it. So I'm just letting you know that I'm not telling you because of this rule, and not saying it specifically, incase you are inclined to send me a letter full of bird poop or something weird for my disobedience. Cruel woman. [scribbled smiley face
So I'm really writing you to talk about my adventures with aircraft, which is really kind of a silly thing, seeing as I should be sick of flying by now. We had some free time a couple weeks ago, and by free time I mean Katara was off healing people and we were "unsupervised", so Aang, Toph, Zuko and I decided to build a machine. Not just another useless, dumb machine that is doomed to rot, but one that can be used.
And this machine is awesome. It's an AIR ATTACK BATTLE GLIDER, which is my name for it. Aang just calls it the "glider cart" because its true purpose goes against the philosophies of airbending and because the war is over, but we all know it really is intended for really cool, high-altitude combat. I'm going to take you flying in it someday and you're going to like it!
Anyway, so the AABG can carry three people and Toph didn't want to ride in it (also because she didn't actually help make it, the slacker) and the girls were too busy/lame to want to try, so it left Aang, Zuko and me, and we took that thing up for its first flight. Aang figured he could get it into the air if we took the thing off a high enough cliff, 'cause it was too heavy to just go straight up, so we rolled it up to the top of the dormant volcano and got ready. I tell you, that is probably the dumbest thing in my life, I'm not even going to deny it.
Zuko was going to ride in the back 'cause the bastard made the seat too low for me to sit in it AND get my feet up on the harpoon rig (yes, harpoon rig) because he went through what BETTER be his last growth spurt, so Zuko was running behind the thing and I was running beside it so I could jump into the seat, and Aang was on the other side. And we were going SO FAST down the side of the volcano that we could barely keep up with it, so we just jumped on, but Zuko sort of... missed the step and he tripped, but his other foot got caught on the seat so he was dragged. Thanks to me, ME, reaching around and freeing him, he didn't get dragged over a thousand feet of rocks, but not until Aang had already got the thing off the ground, so we technically dropped Zuko on his head. And then that was when the thing crashed, and Aang broke his arm, and I busted my knees.
Katara was so mad at us, I thought her head was going to explode, and she lectured us BEFORE she healed us. Painful, frustrating business, but it was worth the laugh at Zuko's face.
Still not going to be kneeling any time soon,
Sokka the Kneeless
(P.S.: I actually still have knees.)
(P.S.: By time you write me back, I'll be back in the Fire nation capital. Phase one of Project Ba Sing Se is done, and there's a bunch of stuff happening back in the capital that Zuko wants us around for. It'll be a time of birthdays, babies, bashes, and meat. In that order, good, bad, good, good.)
"What're you doing up?" Sokka teased, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he walked in. "It's like... three in the morning. Do you ever go to bed?"
Zuko looked up, tearing his eyes away from the fire in the fireplace, and he replied, "Huh?" He had been so caught up in his thoughts that he didn't seem to have heard what Sokka said. So Sokka repeated himself.
"I do," Zuko said, the slightest bit of protest slipping into his voice. "I just can't move right now."
"Why's that," Sokka said, but the question died when he rounded the back of the couch and slung himself onto the recamier nearby. His eyes fell on Zuko, but more specifically on Mai, who was stretched across the couch with her head on his lap. She was asleep, her chest rising and falling rhythmically. She looked almost pleasant, without that sour look on her face.
"It's getting hard for her to sleep," Zuko said, quietly, "so I don't want to wake her when she finally does…"
"Ah," Sokka said, and his teasing mood pretty much vanished, only to be replaced with one of slight bitterness. Mai's hand was resting on her very pregnant belly, and while Sokka didn't exactly care about that, he was pretty jealous of the fact that Zuko was holding her other hand, loosely, and that he got to hold his girlfriend so close, after all.
"The midwives keep telling her to sleep on her left side, but she hates them, so she doesn't listen," Zuko said, and then he laughed, really quietly and really awkwardly. "I mean… what's with that? They're just trying to help."
Sokka forced a grimace of a smile and said, "Rii-iight."
He and Zuko still weren't on terribly friendly terms, but then again, even after a year, it was still hard to buy that the Fire Lord was someone he spent time with on a daily basis. Almost a year of crazy stalking and abuse definitely required tenfold the amount of time to heal. Sokka didn't fret too much, because, well, at least he and Zuko got along. Katara had finally settled into a period where she ignored him rather than antagonized him, very recently.
There was a very awkward period of silence. Then Zuko said, looking up from Mai, "Look, I'm sorry we haven't had time to get you to Kyoshi Island. I know you've been bugging Avatar Aang and Katara about it, but I really appreciate that you've hung around here to help out, instead of running off there."
Sokka was tempted to tell Zuko to shove it, because he just didn't want to start weighing Suki versus the entire world again, but instead, he just said, "Well, where would the world be without me? Ha ha."
It was a bit loud, and Zuko pressed a finger to his lips hurried and glanced down at Mai. Mai just continued to sleep, though she stirred just slightly. Both Sokka and Zuko were quiet for a moment, and then Sokka asked, "Scared?"
"Of?" Zuko replied, and Sokka gestured at Mai. Zuko glanced at her, and replied, "Of… Mai? No, why would I be afraid of Mai?"
"Yeah, Mai," Sokka said, sarcastically, "ha ha… no, you idiot, of the baby."
Zuko looked sheepish for an instant, and then he backed himself up, defensively replying, "Well, you sort of just gestured at HER, what was I supposed to think?"
There was a pause, and then Zuko confessed, "But yeah, I guess I am. It's kind of… early, I guess, but Mai's pretty excited, which is saying something… wants the kid to do just about everything."
Sokka wasn't about to think about how Mai was initially. Back then, Mai had been even more sarcastic, bitter, she had acted like it was all Zuko's fault, she had been an absolute nightmare around the royal palace. She had been a nightmare. Now? Well, at least she was only grumpy ninety eight percent of the time.
"I just want one kid," Zuko said, a bit randomly. "Just one. Mai wants a whole pack or something." He smiled, funny-like, one side of his mouth perking up while the other remained straight. Sokka raised and eyebrow and smiled, too.
"Yeah, well," Sokka said, "don't want that Psycho Second Child trait coming up again, huh?"
Zuko seemed almost hurt, and the brief smile vanished. He didn't say anything, and Sokka, having realized his error, tacked on a joking, "Not that you… carry that trait… or something."
Luckily, Mai grumbling, "I'm not giving birth to any demonic crotch monsters, or any sociopathic abusers, or whatever," spared Sokka from the stupidity. She shifted, and Zuko looked down at her guiltily. Mai pushed herself up to sit, and she said, "How long have I been asleep here?"
"Five hours," Zuko admitted, and Mai sighed.
"And your legs aren't asleep? Just wake me up next time," she said, leaning over to nuzzle her face against his shoulder, and she made as if to settle in again, but instead, she made a face and said, "Let's go to bed."
She took Zuko by the hand, covering a yawn with the other one, and she didn't even acknowledge Sokka as she pushed herself to her feet. Zuko followed, taking her by the arm.
"Night," Zuko said, to Sokka, as he was led off.
"Night," Sokka said.
Dear Not-Drunk Boyfriend,
So last night some of the girls and I went to the port, because they are closed to all ships leaving or entering, due to the ice. There are some people stranded here because of it, mostly men from the Earth kingdom and Fire nation ambassadors en-route to their homeland. It's pretty common for the ports to be blocked up with drifting ice, but it was especially bad this week, because the build-up is so large. I won't bore you with the details, but to summarize, it means lots of people are stuck here with little to do but tidy their boats, eat, sleep, and drink.
And seeing as I wasn't on duty and in a celebratory mood, I got... drunk. Shut up. I know you're going to look at this letter and laugh, so I'm telling you to wipe that look off your face. I know. I didn't mean to, but Katara's friend drank me under the table, and it was entirely his fault for being a) male and b) more tolerant to alcohol. Remember Haru? Well, he invited me to get drinks, because he heard I was "back in town", and despite knowing that, he introduced himself as a friend of Katara's. Apparently he's helping her with the relief effort in the South? I don't remember, but he said he was going to meet up with you.
How sad is that? I finally met someone who's going to see you, someone who can give you this letter PERSONALLY, and I was irresponsibly drunk. I could ask him again right now, but that would be embarrassing, so I won't. I do, however, recall discussing you with him, and we discussed my non-existent sex life with you. He was actually quite charming, but I'll have you know I could resist him. I expect compensation for my loyalty in the form of a sex life, eventually. I can't wait!
Haru JUST said, this morning, that you were Popular With The Ladies. He also JUST described a scenario involving two Earth kingdom girls and a tsungi horn. Are you bored without me? Sure sounds like you are, but I'm proud of you (and, coincidentally, giggling at you) regardless.
Kisses and possibly other unmentionable, dirty, improbable things that we do not talk about in the presence of fine company,
Your Not-Drunk-Anymore Girlfriend
P.S. You're sexy.
All letters from now on require a warning. I GOT THIS AT DINNER AND HARU TOLD ME TO READ IT ALOUD SO I DID. Little did I know it was full of PROVOCATIVE but decidedly AWESOME text, and now my DAD and KATARA know and Zuko is LAUGHING and [a short of paragraph of illegible scrawled writing
Strangling himself with his noodles,
P.S. You're sexy too. And cheeky. And lots of other things.
P.P.S. AAAAAAGH! The Tsungi Horn Twins were banished from my mind completely, okay. I am pretty curious but I am not THAT curious. Suki, no. NO! It is forbidden to talk about them.
Obligatory statement of love.
Obligatory assurance that Sokka is, indeed, missed.
Curious wondering about Sokka's sanity. Teasing, of course.
Comment about Avatar's upcoming marriage.
Comment admonishing kids these days, at their young ages, for getting hitched.
Slightly bitter remark about fifteen year olds beating older, hotter couple in marriage race.
Not joking, that time.
Dear MRS. SOKKA.
We are married because I say we are. We are married through the Hawkie Postal Service. We have a Literary Relationship. It is all Serious Business. Because I say so, we are now making out via the postal system, and doing unmentionable things in letters. I will let you know that you are so hot you burn firebenders. Now let's go on a Literary Date where we go for a walk down the margins of this PAGE and as we eat DINNER in the upper left hand corner of this page, we will write about how lame my sister is, and how uncool Aang is for being so smooth, or something.
Hakoda showed up in Ba Sing Se at just the right time – Sokka was standing on the sidelines with his arms folded, overseeing a bunch of earthbenders as they reconstructed the housing. With precision, a good team could erect the walls of one house every minute, forty seconds of which was preparation and moving from location to location. A roofer team followed behind at a much slower rate, doing a couple roofs per day. It was slower and tedious, but at least the foundation was going down quickly enough.
"Hey, Dad," Sokka grinned, enthusiastically, jogging over. Hakoda grinned back.
"Sokka," he said, warmly, "how've you been?"
"Good, good," Sokka said, "Check it out!"
He gestured behind him, and Hakoda took a few seconds to inspect the housing. Then he asked, fairly surprised, "How many left to go?"
"Only about six thousand," Sokka said, "How cool is that? I'm gonna go down in history as the guy who put up a million houses in six months!"
Hakoda raised an eyebrow, and Sokka's team of earthbenders, including Toph, turned to look at them. Toph said, "You? YOU? You and what earthbending skills!"
Sokka grinned, sheepishly, and he said, "Yeah, okay. Sokka and his team of super-amazing, stone-lifting, slab-hurling, dirt-crunching earthbenders."
"Right," Toph said. "Just give us the next dimensions and let us work again, loser."
"You wound me with your cruel, abusive nicknames," Sokka retorted, going over and lifting his hands. He wiggled his fingers around in the air, above Toph's head, and before she could ask what he was doing, he used both hands to scrabble up her hair, ruffling it so hard Toph had to duck to escape the pressure.
She stomped her foot and took him out of the way pretty easily, though Sokka managed to land on his feet. It didn't matter, as he spent the next ten minutes dodging rock pellets and being chased through the empty streets.
There was a funny line being drawn in Ba Sing Se. There were five teams within the city, and Sokka was in charge of all of them, though he liked to hop between them on a day-by-day basis. The first was the builders, his favourites, who earthbent the main structures. Then, naturally, came the roofers, who waterproofed and tiled the places. Then came the decorators, who fitted the places by bending in fireplaces, rooms and other such thing. Fourth were the amenities people, who installed stoves and pumps and other such things.
And then, last but not least, the people to live there moved in.
It made a funny rippling effect, and on the far end of Ba Sing Se, marketplaces were already being set up, food wasn't scarce anymore, and the city was starting to thrive again. The farmlands were one hundred percent complete, and many people had managed to find themselves back in their original homes, from before the Fire nation came.
"You've done a good job, Sokka," Hakoda said, "orchestrating all this madness! It's been bad enough trying to get all the ports reopened along all the coasts, but getting the biggest city in the world up and running again…"
He clapped Sokka on the back, and Sokka grinned triumphantly.
"That's a pretty amazing feat."
Sokka absorbed the compliment good-naturedly, and he replied, "Thanks. After Ba Sing Se, I'm going to help out in Omashu. Bumi's got the place running, more or less, but I think it needs a bit of Sokka-style."
Hakoda didn't need to look at a map to figure out why Sokka would choose a place so far away from Ba Sing Se, when there were cities larger than Omashu that could have used a hand along the way. But he didn't call Sokka on selfishness or anything of the sort – he just laughed, and replied, "I'll look forward to that. But that isn't why I've come to see you… I have a few messages."
"Zuko wanted me to let you know that Mai's pregnant again," Hakoda said, holding up his hand, fingers splayed. He counted off the first finger, and Sokka groaned. Hakoda just smiled and continued with the next: "Katara's pregnant…"
"Already?" Sokka said, knitting his eyebrows skeptically.
"What do you mean, already?" Hakoda scoffed, though his eyes were still smiling along. "It's been years, it had to happen eventually. You should be happy for them."
"Eugh, babies," Sokka replied, more or less teasing, though he sounded serious enough. "Go on."
"Right," Hakoda said, "I'm supposed to believe you don't care at all?"
"Yeah," Sokka said, folding his arms, but he looked away. "I already know Katara and Aang are living happily ever after, yadda yadda. Do you just have pregnancy news? I'm really not into that whole deal so lemme guess: Ty Lee's pregnant, Toph's pregnant --" (here Toph shrieked "What!" at him) "—that chick that Haru married is pregnant. Mai's pregnant, Katara's pregnant, Zuko's pregnant…"
Hakoda laughed, and he said, "Sokka."
Sokka stopped, and smiled weirdly.
Hakoda said, "Third message is that I'm going to join Katara and Aang in the South Pole now, to help them rebuild the city. They need all the help they can get right now, so I'm meeting up with them in Omashu and heading south from where. Did you want to come?"
"Wasn't Aang supposed to work on rebuilding the other three Air temples?" Sokka asked, expression sobering.
"No," Hakoda said, "that's the fourth thing, he decided against it. He wanted to leave them as testaments to his people… no point in inhabiting it with people who aren't airbenders, especially when the West and East require the ability to bend to function."
"Ah," Sokka said, getting almost impatient. "Anything else?"
"Mm," Hakoda nodded, and he grinned wider than ever at the expression on Sokka's face when he handed over a scroll, one tied with a familiar yellow ribbon. "Suki."
It's currently early in the morning and I was supposed to be going to bed two hours ago, but I'm behind on work and probably shouldn't even be taking the time to write to you, but I miss you terribly and couldn't resist. So, if this is messy or covered in wax, it's because the candle is getting low. Sorry! I know neither of us really has the time to write, lately, but this is all we have, so… I just can't resist.
Apparently, somewhere on the mainland, someone discovered a network of caves through a small mountain, and they've found an entire secret bunker that belonged to Kyoshi herself. It's all very fascinating… some old histories of her childhood, and some epics on her fighting style. One says there was this rogue warrior-monk named Benkei, who had strayed from the Air temples, and he was guarding a great bridge. Every time a fighter tried to pass, he beat and stole their weapons. Kyoshi was the thousandth, and she beat him with only one iron fan, when he was armed with a spear and a collection of 999 swords!
Aang's going to be formally invited to this bunker, as the Avatar, and I don't know if his invitation will get to him before mine will, but please, please, Sokka? I'll meet you there. Even if you can only go for a day, that'd be fine, I just want to see you! It's been three years and I can't wait longer!
Sokka hadn't been through snow since he had left the North Pole, three years ago. It wasn't as if he had forgotten the crunch under his boots or the way it made him so cold, but it hadn't exactly crossed his mind that he'd be in some frozen wasteland again. He hadn't gotten a new Water tribe coat of his own, yet, and after spending years in the Fire nation and Earth kingdom, he hadn't yet readjusted to the temperature, which was easily nearing zero.
In fact, he hadn't been home in four years, and with that in mind, Kyoshi was a transitional place. A pit stop that was perhaps more of a "undetermined amount of time" stop. The place wasn't entirely snow-covered -- he crunched through the snow as often as he crunched through the dirt and barren land -- but there was snow on the air. The wind was chilly.
But up ahead, there was a warm sort of feeling, and he could hardly keep his anticipation in check.
It had been three years since Suki had left for home, and when Sokka pulled back the green curtain in front of the door, he was quite ready to sweep her up into his arms and give her the greeting he had been rehearsing since he was a teenager.
(He would be twenty, next week, after all.)
But Suki wasn't there. Instead, he found himself staring into a group of energetic little kids, none of them a day over nine. He blinked, and the girls all turned as one to look at him.
Sokka said, awkwardly, "Hey?"
Their eyes widened. Sokka's eyebrows lifted, half in confusion and half in fear, and for all the things he had done and seen in his life, everything scary seemed to pale in contrast with an army of nine year old girls, all in green and yellow. Just the way they stared at him was terrifying.
"Sihing!" a few of the girls called, almost panicked, and Sokka didn't like the sound of that. A bunch of the girls ran for the back of the dojo, disappearing into the back rooms, and Sokka lifted up his hands in surrender.
"Hey, hey, don't freak out on me, I'm just looking for Suki," Sokka said, quickly, but it was too late –– there were two very energetic, very brave little girls rushing to defend the dojo from the adult male intruder, and Sokka wasn't about to fight back against little kids, whether they were being overreactive or not.
Sokka kept his hands above his head, but that didn't help much. The few of them crowded him, and he dropped to one knee to show he had no ill intent, and he found himself more or less dogpiled in the middle. Within seconds, he had little girls holding him down, and the runners were returning with their sihing. He lifted his head, and he said, incredibly overjoyed, "Suki!"
She was just like he imagined she would after a few years apart, older but still with that same beauty about her. Same face as always, but her body was more womanly, more filled out in the places he expected she would. She wore full make-up, and in that full Kyoshi regalia, and despite how plain and normal it was for her to wear it, she was more beautiful than his mind could have pictured her.
Had she always been like that?
"Sokka!" she said, almost breathlessly, and all the little girls looked between the two of them with looks of confusion and surprise. Instantly, they burst into rounds of curious chatter, and a few asked Suki who he was. The look on Suki's face was one that was undeniably delighted.
Sokka didn't care if they knew or not. He pushed his way by them and they parted like the sea, as if he'd scald them simply by brushing against them. Before Sokka could even get four steps, she had covered the distance between them. Her arms were around his neck, he was laughing immediately, and she pressed a kiss on him that he returned without the slightest bit of hesitation. Her hakama made it awkward, but he managed to pick her up just to hold her closer, her knees on either side of his hips, all that fabric between them. Despite the ridiculousness of it, it was great.
The girls all giggled, some gasped, and only then did Sokka reluctantly let Suki go, so she wasn't hanging off him. Her feet were on the ground again, but she clung to him with her hands still, as she turned and looked at the girls with a smile. He pulled her around and kissed her again, on the cheek. She didn't hesitate, and she let him, for an instant, and then she leaned away with red cheeks and a smile. He said, "Hey," and she just stared, in one of those pleased stupors.
Then she said, as if she'd been running for miles, "Hey. Today's their first day. You're just in time. Unfortunately I can't cancel training on the first day – care to stay to help?"
He felt a bit disappointed for only a fraction of a second, and then he said, brightly, "Would I ever." He tore his eyes off Suki for as long as he dared, to say, "I'm sure I could lend a hand here or there."
"Great," Suki said, her hands still clinging to his, and her eyes darted between the girls and him. She was still red in the cheeks, and she said to the girls, sternly, "Welcome to your first fighting class, girls. Fall to rank."
In three rows of four girls, all kneeling in submission and at attention, they certainly seemed less like a ruthless army of children. They seemed controllable. Sokka was surprised, actually. Earth kingdom kids seemed to generally be pretty unruly, but he supposed that on an island like Kyoshi, things were a lot more old-fashioned.
The lesson started and Sokka remained in his stunned gaze, all his attention on Suki herself. He hardly heard what she was saying, other than snippets about duty and coming of age and the right to bear arms, but when she turned to him before the class and said, "Care to help me show them a quick demonstration?"
Sokka grinned and said, teasingly, "What, me kicking your butt in front of your students?" He winked at her. Suki smiled wryly, the corner of her mouth twisting up and her eyebrows dipping.
"No, I mean you being put in your place for even suggesting you can do such a thing," Suki said, and the girls let out a quiet "ooh" of challenge. Sokka kept on grinning, and shook his head in disbelief.
"Hey, I've been training for years. I won't believe it until I feel it, Suki," Sokka said, and he bowed briefly before adopting a prepared stance. Suki smiled, and she sank into a graceful bow before lifting her hands at the ready.
"Get ready then," she said, and she rushed him.
Sokka was more than ready. Her hand darted up in an arc towards his shoulder, and he brought his arm in front of him to knock it out of the way, and he knew she'd bring her other hand up to take out his other shoulder. She did exactly that, but he didn't bother bringing up his own arm to block, because it was simpler to take her feet out from under her.
She seemed to foresee that, though, and she stepped over his out-swept foot and delivered a blow to his shoulder anyway. Sokka fell back, but he didn't lose his footing. Suki withdrew, but only enough to give him a second to find his bearings again. Then she was on him again, aiming quick blocks here and there.
That was fighting from a realistic perspective, not just as a show for the kids. Those little girls were operating on a belief that real battles were drawn out affairs, but no. Any real fighter aimed for the kill on the first hit, they didn't dabble in parries and back stepping, but Sokka wasn't so sure he wanted to play that part.
Suki dipped into that mindset relatively quickly. She darted forward, and Sokka moved forward to meet her head on, bringing his hands up again. Her hands came towards him, fingers slender in their blue and white gloves, and he watched the way her back arched as she stepped forward, taking a single breath before landing the blow.
Within seconds, she had him on the floor. She stood over him with a smile, and she said, "And down."
He did that intentionally, and he knew she knew it. Suki knew combat better than anyone else in the world, in his opinion, and under no circumstances did she forget it, but Suki thought him pretty impressive anyway.
The girls cheered. Sokka sat up, and one of them chirped, "No wonder we don't teach boys to fight on Kyoshi! No one takes down girls!"
Sokka raised an eyebrow and glanced to Suki, who switched her fond look at him for one of reprimand for the girl. Sokka waited for it, and there it was: "Now, Sang-mi. This man is an impressive fighter. We never insult or dishonor our opponents, nor do we insist that either sex is the better fighter."
The girl sank into an apologetic bow.
"Now you know better," Suki smiled, and then she said, "Now… who can tell me what fatal flaw Sokka made?"
Sokka later learned that before learning to fight, potential warrior girls spent a year or more in classes that taught them to recognize fighting techniques before they actually learned to use the techniques themselves. A theory class, basically. But at the time, Sokka was stunned that eleven of the twelve girls could identify it, when they had presumably never fought before in their lives. The smallest girl said, cheerily, "He wasn't focusing on your hands. He was watching your chest! Is that why we don't teach boys?"
Suki laughed, and Sokka climbed to his feet, stunned and flushed red, and he laughed, too. Suki glanced at him sidelong, and that wry smile came back for her to say, "Now there's a statement that isn't so unfounded." A bit more seriously, she turned to the class and said, "Anyone can be distracted in a fight, be it by their opponent, by their surroundings, or by something their opponent is doing. It's imperative that you focus your attention on your opponent's attacking parts, not the parts of their bodies that pose little threat to you."
The girls nodded, and Suki glanced at Sokka, who had fallen back into staring at her in rapture, not exactly surprised but still impressed. In fact, she could have been explaining the weather, and he would have been impressed. At that moment, he cared about nothing but Suki.
Sokka said, "Intentional, I swear."
Suki laughed, and so did he. She said, "Let's see him do it again, and correctly this time, and then we'll pair everyone up and work on your form."
Sokka agreed, so they did. The second round was a bit less dangerous to his reputation, and that thrilled him, and even though he technically wasn't allowed to beat Suki in front of her new students, he put up a great fight before she turned the tables on him.
He wasn't expecting it at the time, but she grabbed him by the wrist and spun him, twisting him around her body so she was behind him, and there she grabbed him by the sash of his shirt. She pulled it off with little difficulty, and he almost laughed, he was so surprised by the familiarity of the movement, but he knew how to avoid it, this time.
Sokka wasn't so sure she could bind his wrists this time – he saw it coming, and he used his free hand to grab her by the forearm. She stopped twisting him to drag to a curt halt, but he kept going, and she stuck her foot out so he sailed right over it, face-first to the floor.
She still had his sash, and when he hit the floor he stayed there, grinning against the floor, and he was about to roll over and get up when she planted her foot on the small of his back and held him there with a bit of weight. She leaned over, and he surrendered, offering his wrists behind him, but she only smiled and shook her head.
He was glad she thought hogtying him again would be going a bit too far, especially in front of her students, who were all giggling behind their hands. Suki moved her foot from him with a cheery, "What did Sokka do wrong there?"
"He didn't have his head in the present," a girl with pudgy cheeks said, breaking free of her giggles. "He wasn't focused on the fight."
"Precisely," Suki said, and she offered him a hand up. He took it, and she gave him a tug up, and then she said to her class, "Alright. Pair up. We'll do some basic distraction work."
Sokka kept that dazed smile on his face as Suki discreetly brushed her shoulder against his as she broke away from his side, to deal with the girls. He followed, bemused, and while she went to work with the one girl who didn't understand the first demonstration, he was swarmed by four of the girls.
"So who are you?" they asked, and Sokka looked down at them, rather surprised. They were a set of twins, a girl with her hair in pigtails, and a girl with waist-length brown hair.
"Name's Sokka," he said, "I'm from the Southern Water tribe, but for the past, er, well, almost five years, I've been traveling with the Avatar."
They seemed impressed, but the girl with pigtails didn't seem to care about this as much as she cared about who he was in relation to Suki. She demanded, "That's nice and all, but what do you want with our teacher?"
Sokka glanced across the room at Suki, who was adjusting a girl's battle stance. Sokka recalled being in this very dojo all those years ago, as a teenager, letting her do the very same thing to him. With her eyes back on the little girl, he said, "Suki's my girlfriend."
The giggles that erupted were enough to lift Suki's head, so she could bossily say, "Stop pestering him and get to work." They all apologized, and she gave him a warning look for distracting them, though it was softened by the fact that her eyes didn't seem capable of adopting this same imperiousness.
"Sorry," he said, sheepish all the same, and she smiled, vaguely. Then, turning to the girls, he said, "Alright, let's see those battle positions."
When the day ended, the girls were given permission to leave rank. Before Sokka could get away, a few of them corralled him and started pounding him with questions, but Suki stepped in for some damage control.
"Hey," she said to them, flushed in the cheeks but remarkably playful, "if Oyaji asks how today went, you won't tell them about me letting Sokka interrupt us, right?"
"That's lying, sihing Suki," one girl piped up. Suki laughed, and peeled her arms off of Sokka to turn to the girls, and he reluctantly stopped bugging her with kisses. She knelt down to their level, much more like their friend and less of a teacher, right then.
"If he asked if my long-awaited boyfriend finally came to get me, and you said 'no', that would be lying," Suki said, with a cheeky smile, "but no, absolutely not, if Oyaji asks about Sokka being here, it's true, he was. Don't you ever lie to Oyaji. Just don't bring up the subject around him, alright?"
There was a nod of agreement all around, and Sokka laughed. Suki looked up at him, fondly, and she seemed to inspect him up and down, head to toe. The years had been very, very good on him, so her smile was one of approval. Sokka grinned.
"I did talk to Oyaji before coming up here, you know that?" Sokka said, and Suki's mouth dropped open for a second. He said, quickly, "So he knows I interrupted you. Anyway."
"He doesn't know you were slobbering all over each other. It's funny to watch," one little girl piped up. Sokka reached down the ruffled the girl's hair roughly, mussing up her plait. "Hey!"
"Slobber? Nah," Sokka said, and he pulled Suki into one arm. "But I can do that again, if you want to see."
Before Suki could protest at being manhandled in front of her students, Sokka dipped her back and kissed her full on the mouth. Suki kicked out one leg, startled, but she settled rapidly, and when she broke away from him, she was laughing.
Another little girl sighed dreamily and said, "I hope a boy kisses me like that some day! When're you getting marrrrried?"
Sokka laughed, a sharp "ha HA" and Suki launched into a discussion, with the girls, about when it was and wasn't appropriate to do things like that. Of course, at one point, this discussion had Suki reprimanding Sokka for doing that without asking, but every time she spoke to him for the benefit of the girls, she had the biggest smile on her face, the biggest one Sokka had seen in his whole life.
The wind was chilly, and the sun was setting fairly early that day. Sokka found himself huddled inside a borrowed coat, wondering the logistics of living in the tundra, as Suki snuggled against him. She was in the same borrowed coat. She was wearing her own coat, of course, but she was compact enough to fit between the buttons on the front of his and the crook of his arm. Her cheeks were tinged pink by the cold, and he guessed his were too.
They overlooked Kyoshi from the mountaintop with some sort of unspoken joy. Her fingers were tapping against his shirt, calmly, and he lifted a hand to stroke her hair with a smile, and without even saying a joke, she laughed and pressed her cheek against his. She was warm. He was happy. He cursed his coat sleeves for preventing him from exploring a bit of her body at the same time. It had been a while, to make an understatement, and an entire day of martial arts classes and obligatory "hi how are yous" with Katara, Toph and Aang had left Suki rather busy, and himself rather impatient.
He just wanted to be with her alone, and on the solitude of the mountain, away from friends and family, Sokka figured he'd finally get to keep her.
"Man," he said, "it's only been a few years and the change is so dramatic. It's like it's a whole new world out there."
"No kidding," Suki said, "it's so weird to feel unthreatened, like war isn't going to happen again for a long time. Maybe even for a century or two, or forever."
"Can forever start now?" he said, mischievously, and she shifted under his coat, so that her shoulder was digging against his side a bit, and he wiggled over to accommodate her. When she breathed, a cloud of steam slipped between her lips like smoke. She was so close; there wasn't a single bit of lingering distance between them.
"I don't see why not," she said, and pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth.
And all was good.