HERE it is, the final chapter! I've decided to end this with only an epilogue. It is the end of Acquiescence, at last, and I feel rather accomplished. It didn't feel over even chapter 20, I definitely needed to include an epilogue. I debated for what to include in this epilogue, writing and then deleting various endings that I wasn't satisfied with. I hope this is alright, and finally I can end this story C: Enjoy, and please let me know what you think!
A C Q U I E S C E N C E
Sorry I haven't gotten back to you in so long! I've been pretty busy, you know, restoring peace and balance to the world and stuff, Avatar things. But anyways, I stopped by the North Pole the other month and Master Pakku told me to tell you hi! Oh, and I was at the Swamp just last week and they made a game kind of like penguin-sledding, but in the swamp. It's actually a lot of fun! Next time I go, you should come and give it a try! Maybe in a few more months everyone can get together again for old time's sake?
Enough about me, though, how about you? How are you doing in the Fire Nation? When I stopped by the South Pole, Sokka said that you were the Water Tribe representative for all the councils for peace treaties and reparation settlements. Oh! You should see how great the South Pole is looking! All the funding from Fire Nation damage compensation is really turning the village around! There're buildings now, and bridges, and it's all so nice – you'd love it, I know.
And Sokka and Suki send their love! (I'm sure you know Suki's in the South Pole for now, meeting the family, but she says she'll be on Kyoshi Island soon to help train the new recruits. I hear Ty Lee is doing well there – we should visit, sometime!) Anyways, they say you'd better be back in time for the wedding, being Maid of Honor and all (and that one of your Maid of Honor duties includes dragging Zuko to the South Pole, by the way).
Oh, Chief Hakoda and Gran-Gran miss you terribly and want you to visit sometime before you're thirty.
But I have to go! I'm in Omashu right now, helping with the reconstruction, and Toph won't let me use anything other than earthbending! (HELP ME!)
Tell Zuko (did he propose yet?) and Iroh I said hi! I'm stopping by the Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom and then I think I can swing by to see how you're all doing! Tell me how that Meat Festival you're going to later this week is! Sokka told me it's like heaven, he was pretty disappointed that I wouldn't fly him over on Appa so he could make it. Maybe next year!
May life bless you with the happiness you've brought others.
"Come on, Lee! We're going to be late for the festival!" An eager Daichi exclaimed as he bounced on his feet in anticipation. The little boy hopped from one foot to the other, singing an annoying little song regarding Zuko and his remarkably slow pace.
It was summer time once again, a full year since everything had changed, and Katara and Zuko had promised Daichi that they would return to the Meat Festival. In fact, the pair had kept a promise to the boy that once a month they would all go on a special outing just with him. Or rather, Sa and Lee had promised – it might have been silly and useless, but it helped to keep their time with Daichi just that: time with Daichi. It seemed that since rising to the throne, Zuko could rarely step out of the Capital City without being waited on hand and foot.
Besides, Daichi adamantly refused to call them by their real names.
"Hold on one second!" Zuko said, clearly exasperated, as he fought with the scarf about his head, brushing his hair first this way and that in a vain attempt to disguise his scar. The reflection of an amused waterbender appeared beside him, and he only scowled at her laughing eyes. "What?"
"Here," Katara offered with that tilted smile, "let me do it." And the Fire Lord groused, folding his arms across his chest, as she took the scarf and wrapped it about him in a way the stupid piece of cloth refused to do when he handled it. Katara finished and grinned teasingly at his reflection, resting her hands on his shoulders. "There, now was it so difficult to ask me for help?"
Zuko nodded stubbornly.
"What harm did me helping do?"
"My ego took a good hit," the firebender countered, before turning to the little boy who had exhausted himself hopping all over the place. Daichi was sitting by the wall, absently tracing along the various lines in the wooden floor. "Alright, are you ready to go?"
The boy's eyes snapped up and his smile was so wide, it took up half his face, as he cheered, leaping up into the air. "Yeah!" He exclaimed before disappearing out the door.
Katara passed through the threshold and paused, glancing back at the Fire Lord. "This place," she said quietly, "It brings back memories."
Zuko's eyes softened as he looked about the room – empty save for a single bed that reminded him of late-night talks and whispered stories, hidden blushes and secret smiles. "Yeah, it does." And he approached the waterbender whom he loved and took her hand, leading her after Daichi, down the stairs and through the renovated Tea Shop, a branch from the prosperous Jasmine Dragon in Ba Sing Se, run by Ambassadress Ling-Ling.
"See you!" Smellerbee waved after the two as she ignored a customer's order.
"Have fun!" Taihen called from the kitchens, with something of a knowing smile on her face.
Zuko's cheeks reddened as he muttered a response Katara couldn't seem to catch, and they followed after the jumping Daichi, along the dusty roads of District Nine on the long walk to the Hin Siu Province.
Upon arrival, they found that there were signs prohibiting the destruction of booths, and that the penalty for such an offense would be a ridiculous tax paid to the Fire Lord.
"Oh, oh, I want to try that again!" Daichi squealed as he bounded towards a familiar-looking game. When they approached, Daichi had already won a giant koala-monkey. "The guy just gave it to me!" He explained, pointing a finger in the direction of the male manning the booth.
Zuko waved a hand in jest, recognizing him at once as the same person from the previous year.
It was clear that he recognized them, as well, if suddenly hanging the Out of Order sign was any indication.
And Daichi happily trotted to the next game. "Oh," he said in awe as those saucer-like eyes of his watched little koi fish swim happily in a tank. "I want one!"
"You'll have to catch one," Katara explained. "With one of those tiny nets."
"I want to try!"
Zuko paid the booth operator two copper pence and Daichi leaned up over the edge of the tank, his nose just barely reaching the top, and he blindly swung his small net through the water, catching nothing. He pouted then, handing the net to his idol.
"You want me to catch one for you?" Zuko asked. Daichi nodded and so the Fire Lord fixed his eyes on the tricky little koi, watching them zigzag through the make-shift pond. He swept the net through the water, grinning smugly as he lifted it up, only to find that there was no little fish struggling in his net. He gaped, and then immediately recomposed himself, trying again.
"There's a hole in this one, give me another net," he growled at the person manning the booth.
"I don't think it's the net, Lee," Katara quipped beside him, and he just shot her a glare, satisfied in receiving a net that he inspected for any defections, muttering about annoying waterbenders. Said waterbender only smirked as he tried and tried and tried again.
Daichi tugged on his shirt, "Lee…I don't want one anymore. I'm getting hungry!"
"I'm going to win you a fish!" The Fire Lord said, earnestly swiping at the pond.
"Here, go grab some custard," Katara said, trying to keep from laughing as she handed the little boy some coins. Daichi's face brightened and he skipped off to satisfy his sweet tooth. Turning to the firebender, she held out a hand. "What did I say about asking for my help?"
Zuko grudgingly handed her the net and refrained from cursing when she swooped a koi on her first go.
"You cheated," he accused as they walked away with a tiny little fish circling about in a small plastic bag.
Katara only scoffed, "Just because I'm a waterbender doesn't mean I need to use it for one of the most basic of instincts. Hunting." She grinned then, giving his hand a gentle squeeze, "Besides, you forget I'm from the Southern Water Tribe. You think we fish for the fun of it?" But Zuko only scowled, still in an invariably foul mood, so much so, that when Daichi returned with a sweet treat larger than his head, Katara pointed out the glistening little fish. "Look what Lee won you!"
"Wow!" He gasped, "It's so cool! Thanks, Lee!"
And Zuko's wide eyes met Katara's for only a brief moment, before he offered the little boy a guarded smile. "You're welcome."
The rest of the day continued in much a similar manner (though Zuko carefully avoided any booth consisting of water or dunking or scooping any type of object from a bucket. When it came time to return Daichi home, the sun had already set behind the horizon, and said child was sitting upon Zuko's shoulders, one arm clutching his free koala-monkey, the other hand clasped tightly about the plastic bag containing his glistening new pet.
"He's tired out," Katara observed as she walked alongside the Fire Lord, passing paper lanterns that lit their path, the summer evening a refreshing break from the searing heat earlier that day. Though people were still out and about, they were retiring from their work and children were being called to their homes for dinner, and there was a simple sort of peace that made her feel at home, though she was miles and miles away from it.
Zuko nodded, holding onto the boy's ankles to keep him from falling. "He had a long day."
"So did you."
"This kid is more exhausting than the council meetings," the Fire Lord declared. "He makes me feel old."
She laughed, and any weariness Zuko felt just disappeared. "He idolizes you," the young woman pointed out, "It's a good thing. Seeing him every month."
"I wish it could be more," Zuko said softly as he leaned in one direction to keep from Daichi toppling off balance. "Agni, would you look at that sweet caramel pop? I'm surprised he's so tired, I would have bet Uncle's tea-set that he'd be up and hyper as always—Katara?"
The waterbender had stepped in front of him, stopping him in his tracks, and there was this secret little smile on her lips that Zuko couldn't seem to take his eyes off of. She was close, so close that he could have counted her lashes if he so wished, but her eyes were far too distracting. In the dim light of the lanterns around them, they appeared gold. "We're not his parents, Zuko," she murmured.
His gaze softened, and his voice was just as low, "I know. But sometimes, it feels like we are."
"Does it?" Katara asked gently, moving nearer, so near, that she could easily breathe in his suddenly staggered exhale.
"It does," Zuko agreed and he could see her nearing, eyes closed and she looked so beautiful even in her Fire Nation disguise with her hair down in curls cascading over her shoulders, and even though she preferred the color blue he always thought the reds and golds suited her and Agni she was going to kiss him—
"Am I home?" Daichi yawned from atop the Fire Lord.
"N-not yet," Zuko replied, face the brightest of reds, as he shifted so Daichi wouldn't slip form his shoulders. "Almost, though."
"Mkay," the little boy said sleepily, slumping over so that his cheek rested against the firebender's head.
When Daichi's soft snoring tickled through Zuko's hair, Katara sighed in amusement. "We should take him home," she said, and they returned the little boy to the small house (that was not theirs), where the parents (that were not them) welcomed the son (that was not theirs) home.
As the pair made the journey back to the tea shop, they decided it was far too late to return all the way to the Capital City and instead found their way back up to the large room that was once filled with a dozen sleeping little children and three people who were too squished on a single bed. Zuko took his waterbender into his arms so she sat between his outstretched legs as they found the small bed, and placed a gentle kiss against her temple, a hope that one day, all of the things that were not theirs would be theirs.
"Sweet dreams," Katara whispered into the night, leaning into the Fire Lord's form, her hands covering his that were resting on her stomach.
Zuko removed his embrace about her as he kissed her hair, fidgeting on the bed, "They always are."
"What are you doing—?"
"Shh," the firebender urged as Katara made to turn around to look at him, and she sat still, staring straight ahead where the moonlight filtering through the shades made whatever dust was in the air glisten.
Zuko held something about her neck, a moment reminiscent of a scene long ago, and Katara's hand flew to her bare neck, "My mother's necklace."
He shook his head, and she turned to face him, to eye the necklace that she never removed.
It looked different.
Where the design she had memorized to the touch was carved into the pendant used to be, sat a foreign pattern that she squinted through the faint moonlight to see. Zuko conjured a small flame to make it easier, and she gasped at the beauty, at the simplicity, of their elements drawn together, the lines intersecting and intertwining. It was delicate; the intricacies of the design so minute that she wondered at the time and effort it took to manage something so fragile. But it didn't seem to be carved, Katara noticed as she ran her fingers over the lines. It was ink.
"Your mother's pendant is on the other side," the Fire Lord said, turning the pendant around. "I didn't want to ruin it, so I carved your pendant and used ink to trace it on the back of your mother's. I knew you wouldn't want to replace it, but…I wanted to carve something for you, too. I have that original pendant still, and—"
"I love it, Zuko," she whispered, closing the pendant in her hand, "Thank you."
And she kissed him then, a promise that one day, all of the things that were not theirs would be theirs.
INFINITE THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO STAYED WITH ME FROM THE BEGINNING.
You have an immense amount of patience and I am forever thankful!
Also everyone who offered support and encouragement,
as well as those who helped me better my writing.
Now that Acquiescence is over
I'll be focusing on
(1) Revising and continuing Memoirs
(2) Finishing Sokka's Field Guide II: So She Choked on the Ring
(3) Beginning Sokka's Field Guide III: Attempting Murder Yet?
(4) Starting a completely new AU Painted Lady and perhaps Blue Spirit fic yet to be titled!
- actually, I have put up a new story entitled Aubade that might just be my AU,
take a look if you've got time and let me know what you think!