Disclaimer: I don't own ATLA
As Appa crossed over the invisible border of the Fire Nation, a strange peace settled over the group riding on his back. Tensions and tempers had been high when they left for Zuko's coronation ceremony.
The peace was unusual because the Fire Nation had long been their source of stress and fear and now it seemed to calm them. Maybe because they all knew that there was someone in the Capitol suffering much worse then them.
Aang was quiet for the duration of the trip, stewing over the fact he had snapped at Katara. Sokka and Toph kept trying to strike up conversations with him, to no avail. Katara also was silent.
As they touched down in the Capitol, memories of the fights that had occurred were all stirred up in their minds. They had twice charged these gates, once on the Day of Black Sun, and once when Sozin's Comet arrived. Now they were walking peacefully through them, ushered by servants.
One of the servants in the crowd around them broke away, to notify soon-to-be-Firelord Zuko of their arrival.
Avalon rushed into her room, shutting her door quickly and quietly behind her. She jumped a mile in the air when she turned and saw Zuko sitting on her bed, nestled in between her bags.
Avalon's mouth hung open for a moment before she snapped it shut, trying to conjure a hard look on her face.
Zuko's mind was racing, looking for a way to keep her here. Anything that would make her stay. He would get down on his knees and beg if he had to. A small thread in his pocket felt like it was burning through his pants to make itself known. He acknowledged it swiftly, grasping it in his pocket like it was his last hope, which it probably was.
"Avalon," he choked out, the words were as slow and heavy as molasses, "I do have one last question for you."
Avalon bit her lip; she could give him at least this, "Okay, Zuko. I'm listening."
Zuko drew a deep breath and pulled the necklace from his pocket, holding it out to her, "Will you … marry me?"
The interminable silence between her reply was excruciating. Zuko could feel it dragging on and on, he was drowning in it. Finally, though it was maybe ten seconds later, Avalon sighed and sat down next to him on her bed, pushing the bag aside.
"Zuko …" she said. Zuko shut his eyes, sure that he didn't want to hear the rest of it.
"When are we going to see Zuko?" Sokka grumbled, "Some host he is. Leaving his guests out here in the cold."
It was in fact a beautiful spring evening, promising the next couple days to be the same and a warm summer after that. Darkness was falling fast.
"I am truly sorry," the servant that had been sent to fetch Zuko had come back empty-handed, "I told His Highness, and I thought he was right behind me. He just disappeared."
The man was about to send every servant under his power on a search for Zuko, but Katara halted him. She had a feeling that Zuko's absence was related to Avalon in a way. Luckily, her intuition served them well once again.
"Just go," Zuko whispered, "Don't drag out the inevitable." He shook her hand off of his shoulder.
"I can't stay," Avalon said, desperate to explain her actions, "This isn't my life here. Balls, nobles, higher society, the whole shebang. I don't belong here, Zuko. And if I did stay I would be miserable, even more than I am now."
Zuko laughed scornfully, once, "I propose to her, and she's miserable."
"Don't do that," Avalon pleaded quietly. Zuko reprimanded himself, reining in his temper. He was pleasantly surprised when he found that he could.
"We both know it's true," Avalon put her hand under Zuko's chin, raising his face so that she could peer into his eyes.
Iroh hurried over to where Aang and his friends sat in the Imperial Garden. They greeted him happily, Aang especially. Iroh always brought with him a sense of wisdom greater than any Aang had known, besides for maybe Monk Gyatso.
"Do you think Zuko's ready?" Aang asked Iroh after the greetings. The way that Zuko would handle this nation was of great interest to Aang, because he knew it would influence the rest of the world. His world.
"I think that Zuko is more than rady for this. I do not think that you have anything to fear from him, Aang," Iroh said, as happy as he could be with a full stomach. Those months of prison, and poverty before that, had hardened him and he couldn't remember the last time he had a good, roasted pig-chicken.
Aang felt better with Iroh's words, "I'm glad that it's going to be Zuko on the throne. I think I can trust him."
"You should," Iroh smiled widely, and Aang's returning one matched, "Zuko will be a magnificent Firelord."
"I know," Zuko mumbled, because he really did. He knew, somewhere in the back of his mind, that she wouldn't stay. Anger tried vainly to bubble in his stomach and out his mouth, but Zuko repressed it. Even now, when she was in the midst of leaving him, Zuko didn't want to hurt her more than necessary.
Avalon picked up her bag and her guitar case on the other side of Zuko. As she moved out of the door, she turned and said, "I would've married you. Under any other circumstances."
Zuko got up from her bed then, holding out the betrothal necklace to her once more, "Then you should take this. I won't be giving it to anyone else anyway."
Avalon debated taking it, and did. Zuko tied it around her neck, keeping his tears at bay until she was gone.
She looked at him once more, eternal sadness welling in her eyes. But enough of her was already lost; she couldn't lose her freedom as well. Though the pain of leaving a love so true was agonizing, Avalon's loss of powers had sharpened her sight to the little time she had left, and she'd be damned if that was going to be all fancy, stiff clothing and polite conversation with people she disliked. She had lived through the last few weeks, barely, but still alive, and she knew that she could live through this as well.
Zuko caught her up in one last kiss, before letting her go and watching as she walked out of his life.
"Uncle!" Zuko shouted urgently as he sprinted to the Gardens. Iroh jumped off of the bench he and Aang were sitting on, running to meet Zuko.
"Zuko, what's wrong?" Iroh asked, panic in his voice. Zuko's eyes were determined though, and he had a bag slung over his shoulder.
"I have to go, Uncle. I won't be back. You're the rightful Firelord, Iroh. My father cheated you out of your birthright and I'm giving it back."
Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Toph stood, all four of them slack-jawed, and listened to Zuko. They were all confused, the same thought running simultaneously through their brains. Wasn't this everything Zuko had ever wanted?
"I'm too old, my nephew," Iroh said softly, "I couldn't be the Firelord. And what about my Jasmine Dragon?"
"No," Zuko shook his head, the determination more evident than ever, "You could lead these people ten times better than I ever could."
"He's right, Iroh," Aang piped up. Though he had nothing but trust for Zuko, Aang knew Iroh was the true leader.
"And I have to go," Zuko added quickly, hinting at Iroh for his consent.
"Is this about her?" Iroh asked.
"Yes," Zuko didn't hesitate to answer, "And if you keep me any longer, she'll be gone."
"Then what are you waiting for?" Iroh asked wearily, but a smile crept across his face. His nephew's happiness was more important than his teashop. And, Iroh found, he did want this.
"Thank you," Avalon said to the boat keeper, as he handed her the set of keys to a small, sturdy boat.
"You're welcome, miss," the man replied politely. Avalon hung the hood of the Fire Nation cloak she had taken over her head, hiding her features. She looked back at the Capitol on the hill, wishing that she could stay, but resigned to knowing that she couldn't.
"Avalon!" Zuko raced down to the harbor, calling after her. Avalon didn't whip back around to hold him in her arms gratefully. She froze and thought, Why's he throwing his life away like this? If he thinks that he's coming with me, he's got another thing coming.
"What are you doing," she hissed at him as he climbed aboard her tiny, one-man ship.
"I'm coming with you," Zuko said, thinking the answer obvious.
"No, you're not," she sighed, "You're going to be the Firelord in two days. You can't run away from that."
"Iroh's going to be Firelord. He should be anyway. And I'm not running away, I'm following my life," Zuko shrugged, "Why are you wearing that cloak?" he asked suddenly, seeming amused by it.
Iroh's going to be Firelord? Zuko isn't?! Hope bubbled up in Avalon, and she smiled widely, throwing the hood back, "Because I thought it was dramatic," she pouted playfully, "Especially this hood."
Zuko pushed the boat out to sea and settled back. Avalon flew into his arms, hugging him fiercely. Zuko laughed a little and hugged her back.
"You're not going to run away from me again, are you?" Zuko asked seriously.
"Only if you don't let me keep this cloak," Avalon joked back. Zuko sighed, that was probably the best answer he would get. But she was happy, jokingly so even, and that made Zuko happy, despite the lack of commitment she provided.
"And I wasn't kidding earlier," Avalon added, knowing what Zuko had really been fishing for. Now it was Zuko's turn to smile widely. As they set about steering the boat in the direction of anywhere else, Avalon started humming.
Zuko knew the song; it was the first he had ever heard her sing. They had been stranded at the North Pole, and he had scoffed at her, because he thought the words were so inappropriate. Like anything else she said or did, the words were imprinted on Zuko's brain and he started to sing along with the humming.
Avalon had never heard Zuko sing before, and there was good reason for that. Zuko's voice was woefully out of tune as he warbled along with her. She almost broke into laughter, but then joined in with him, her voice weaving beautifully in with his tuneless one.
"I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I've been prayin' for
It's gonna be a bright, bright, bright,
Bright sunshiny day.
Look all around, there's nothin' but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin' but blue skies
I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright ,bright, bright,
Bright sunshiny day."
Author's note - I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash. Thank you everybody for reading my little story, especially Avatarlover1, ChipFest, penz rite stuf, and Vaklu, my couple of faithful reviewers. You guys rock :)