A/N: Sometimes I really wish I didn't live where I did… Something always happens to keep me from updating. Like now: the internet was down at my house for a while. As soon as we got it back up…down it went. Up…down…up…down… It's like a seesaw. I figured I should update while I can.
Summary: Destiny is a funny thing, you never know how things are going to work out… Things change and people change.
Reluctantly, the firebender gave in. In the back of his mind, though, he wondered what Sokka would say when he found out about his little sister's relationship with his new 'man of honor.'
Chapter Fifteen: Telling Sokka
A couple months passed by the Fire Nation palace in a whirl of wedding plans, paperwork (for Zuko anyway), and the late arrival of Toph and Aang. Aang didn't show up at the palace for quite some time ("He's being all uncomfortable about it," Toph told the group, shrugging. "I don't think he'll be around for a while.").
Winter crept into the steamy nation on invisible feet, bringing only chilled winds and rain that froze whoever went out in it to the core. It was the kind of winter that Zuko welcomed with open arms but caused Sokka to mope about the vast palace and complain about the lack of snow.
"You would think," Katara had said with a smirk, "that after living in the South Pole all his life, Sokka would like a bit of a change."
But change was something that never sat well with Sokka. That poor war-hardened water tribesman was terribly set in his ways for someone so young in age. He liked things to change only when he said so and he was never comfortable when something upset the balance he tried to keep in his life now that the war was over. And, unbeknownst to that clueless brother, friend, and husband-to-be, his younger sister's seventeenth birthday celebration would bring one of the most unforeseen changes of his life.
Looking back on this momentous event later on in his life, Sokka would wonder how he had never seen it coming at him full speed ahead, but when one lives his or her life in an almost permanent state of oblivion…things approach completely unnoticed.
All the clues were there in plain sight, lurking right under his nose. But that Katara and Zuko would have any romantic interest in each other whatsoever was so completely and hilariously absurd to Sokka that the thought never even crossed his mind.
Still, he should have seen it coming when the two spent almost every spare minute of their time with one another. He should have seen it coming when he stumbled across Katara walking in the direction of Zuko's room late one night (but she'd claimed she was just talking a walk because she couldn't sleep!). He should have seen it coming when he noticed that Zuko was always holding open doors for Katara and doing other gentlemanly things for her (but Zuko was royalty, so maybe that had just been something he was used to doing…). He should have seen it coming when Zuko started showering Katara with little trinkets. He should have seen it coming when Suki and Toph insisted on him leaving Zuko and Katara to each other's company. He should have seen it coming when Zuko insisted that they have a party at the palace to celebrate Katara's seventeenth birthday and then spared no expense while helping her to plan it.
And he really should have seen it coming when both Katara and Zuko were late to said party and he found them kissing in Zuko's study.
But he hadn't. And it was in that unforeseen moment that Sokka's relatively balanced world went smashing head first into chaos.
Zuko watched in boredom as Sokka paced across the room. He shifted in his seat; his butt was starting to fall asleep.
"Nnng!" Sokka held up a silencing hand. Zuko shut his mouth and looked at Katara who had started organizing his desk, occasionally looking at her brother in an exasperated manner.
"Sokka, I-" Zuko tried again, but Sokka shot him a dark sort of glare.
After a few more minutes of pacing, Sokka halted, placed both palms on the desk and looked seriously at Katara and Zuko. "So you're trying to tell me that you're…" the warrior trailed off, looking sick.
"We're dating, Sokka," Katara told him, sounding like she had given up on getting a positive reaction out of her older brother.
Sokka let out a pained whine and slumped down into the plush chair on the other side of Zuko's desk. "Why?" he dragged the syllable out in an extremely unnecessary way.
"Is it really so hard to believe that your sister and I have feelings for each other?"
Katara shook her head, glossy brown hair sweeping across her shoulders. "Sokka, quit being such a baby about this. We were going to tell you anyway."
Sokka looked at her with squinty, accusatory eyes, causing Zuko to roll his own in exasperation. Sokka was always one for dramatics. It must have been a family trait or something.
"You're my baby sister," the blue-eyed teen said staunchly, "you're not supposed to have boyfriends. Aang was one thing, but Zuko, Katara? Of all the guys in the world - Zuko?"
Zuko didn't know whether he should be offended or not. He knew Sokka would probably react badly, but knowing was much different from actually experiencing. Just as it was one thing to think you were hardly worthy of the girl you had feelings for and then have her older brother say it.
"There's nothing wrong with Zuko, Sokka," Katara said hotly, anger flashing in her baby blues.
"You wouldn't have been saying that a year and a half ago," Sokka pointed out.
"Things were different then!"
"Not by much."
Katara looked as affronted as Zuko felt. "Sokka. How could you say that? The two of you are friends!"
"Yeah, well the two of you were friends, too! Should I go around making out with him as well? You can't just date the guys I'm friends with, Katara!"
Katara didn't say anything. She just stood there for a few moments, eyes sparkling with tears that were threatening to fall, before she stormed out of the study, slamming the door behind her.
There were a few awkward minutes of silence before Zuko finally cleared his throat and sat forward in his chair. Sokka looked at him reproachfully, eyes burning with accusation in anger. Zuko refused to rise to the bait. Instead, he remained calm.
"Sokka, look. You might think that I'm not serious about Katara, but I am. And you might think that our relationship is just some sort of passing thing that'll blow over soon, but it's not. I…I love her, Sokka. To be honest, I don't think that either of us has to ask your permission to be together. You can be as pissed as you damn well please, but it's not going to change anything."
Sokka sighed. "She's my sister, Zuko. My sister."
"I think it's safe to say that I'm aware of that by now."
"You don't just go around dating your friends' sisters, Zuko. It's completely against the Guy Code!"
Zuko stared at his friend, unenthused. This whole thing was getting to be absurd and Zuko was beginning to lose his patience with the whole thing. Friend or not, Sokka loved going into dramatics a little too much and it was starting to wear on the firebender's nerves.
"You…love her, huh?"
"Yeah," Zuko said with a sheepish grin, "I do."
Despite everyone's best efforts over the course of several long hours, Katara refused to leave her room for the rest of the evening and the party was a failure as a result. Teo, Haru, and the Duke's attempts at getting her to join the group left them frustrated; Katara wouldn't even respond to Sokka; Hakoda tried valiantly to get her to leave the confines of her room and failed miserably; Suki managed to get out a few sob-filled sentences that she couldn't understand, but nothing more; and Toph, who had actually managed to earthbend Katara a few paces away from her door, came back drenched and shivering. It seemed that Katara had managed to regain her wits for a few moments and had subsequently waterbent a large pillar of the freezing-cold rain that was falling outside straight at the petite earthbender.
Kanna, who was visiting with Pakku for the party, immediately escorted Toph to her room to help her change into some dry clothes. Pakku and Iroh sat wisely in the background and let Katara be.
Aang, who had been forced to come along to the party by Toph, was the only teen who refused to move from his spot on the outskirts of the group in order to join their efforts. In fact, he had been sulking by a window the entire time, shooting Zuko angry glances and smirking quietly to himself every time somebody came back without Katara. He was under the false impression that Katara and Zuko had gotten into a fight, but nobody knew this, so nobody knew to correct him. It really wasn't his fault that he was deluded this time.
Kanna returned a few minutes later with Toph. Aang watched as his earthbending friend settled into conversation with Suki and Sokka, gray eyes eventually following Katara's grandmother's excursion over to Zuko. She placed a wrinkled hand on the young Fire Lord's shoulder and muttered something in his ear. Zuko nodded and rose from his seat, casting her a smile.
Aang felt like throwing something. Something valuable and old that would shatter into a million pieces. Zuko was an intruder on what should have been his family. It was wrong that that family suddenly belonged more to the firebender than it had ever belonged to himself. And the worst thing was that Zuko seemed to fit in that family. Sokka liked him, Kanna liked him, Pakku liked him… Even Hakoda liked him! It all seemed so unfair…
Zuko knocked lightly on the door to Katara's room before opening it and stepping inside. Moonlight was flooding into the room through the closed doors that led to the small balcony outside. There was a fire burning steadily across the room, casting its light about the spacious room and crackling occasionally. Katara was sitting up in bed, her arms wrapped around her knees, staring resolutely at the leaping flames.
"Hey, 'Tara. You okay?" he asked softly, sitting down next to her.
Katara nodded and laughed wryly. "Sokka just makes me so angry sometimes. He can be so dramatic and grumpy when he wants to be." She sighed. "Maybe we should've told him sooner."
"Yeah, maybe. But it's done with now, and we can't exactly take back how he found out."
Katara giggled, shaking her head. "Did you see the look on his face? I thought he'd kill you!"
Zuko snorted. "He could've tried…"
"Is he…okay with us…now?"
"Well, I think the initial shock of it has kind of worn off, but I still don't think he's completely happy. I can imagine how he feels. Azula was never what you would call 'normal,' and we never had the best relationship, but I still didn't like it when she started hanging out with guys. I guess it's just a thing that brothers do."
They sat together in silence for a while, watching the fire dance in its stone prison. During those quiet minutes, Zuko considered telling Katara what he'd admitted to Sokka, but the time just didn't seem right anymore. For now, he could just pray that he hadn't missed that moment completely and that it might come around again.
It had to come around again.
"I'm sorry I ruined the party," Katara said with a yawn, snuggling down into her pillows and blankets and blinking up at him tiredly.
Zuko shrugged, smiling at her fondly. "I'm sure I'll get over it. And I don't think we'll have to worry about all that food going to waste… I bet Sokka's gotten to it by now."
"Wherever there's food, there's Sokka," the waterbender murmured before her eyes fluttered closed.
The firebender stayed with her for a little while longer, listening as her breathing evened off and she fell into sleep. He heard the others as they passed by on the way to their own chambers, Toph and Suki's laughter bouncing quietly under the door along with Sokka's muffled protests that he didn't purposely get drunk in the desert.
It's funny, Zuko mused to himself, how life never turns out the way you expect it to. I suppose that Uncle Iroh was right: destiny is a funny thing. I never thought things would end up this way…
Before leaving, Zuko made sure the fire that was burning merrily in the hearth would continue to do so throughout the night, pressed a kiss to the sleeping water princess's forehead, and placed a small, wrapped box on her nightstand.
"Happy birthday, Katara…"
He met Uncle Iroh in the hallway on the journey to his own bedchambers. The elderly man smiled and nodded and joined him on the short walk. For a few seconds, neither bender said anything, but the lover of tea finally broke the companionable silence.
"You will face many challenges if you insist on continuing this way, Nephew. Do not underestimate those who will oppose it," Iroh said in his wise way.
"I'm not underestimating anybody, Uncle," Zuko said without his old tone of impertinence. "And the future you anticipate is still far off."
"So you have reached a decision, have you?"
"And you are happy with it?"
"I would rather have more time, of course. But where the sages are concerned, it is best to choose the shortest route. I don't doubt that it's the right one either. It's just…coming sooner than it otherwise would. The challenges will be worth overcoming."
"You are a fine ruler, Zuko, and you have come to be an excellent man. I've no doubt that there will be some who are shocked by your decision, but they will come around with time. In the meantime, she will need training."
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Uncle."
"Who is getting ahead?" Uncle Iroh asked, a jovial smile spreading across his creased and aged countenance.
Zuko shook his head and smiled back. "You will never grow up, Uncle, will you?"
"I am afraid not, Nephew. And you still have time yet. Do not let time and the sovereignty of a nation rob you of your lightheartedness."
"Good night, Uncle."
"Sweet dreams, Nephew…"
"Yeah, Twinkle Toes?"
"Do you still have the letter Katara sent to me a while ago?"
"Yep," the grungy little bender replied, producing the scroll from where it had been tucked into her obi for the past few months. It was smudged with earth and the seal had broken a bit, but it was the same scroll. "Do you want it?"
"I think so…"
The Shaping Destiny Playlist
Theme Song: "Everything" by Lifehouse
01. "All You Wanted" by Michelle Branch
02. "The Diary of Jane" by Breaking Benjamin
03. "So Close" by Jon McLaughlin
04. "So I Thought" by Flyleaf
05. "Faint" by Linkin Park
06. "Just Friends" by Jonas Brothers
07. "Lovebug" by Jonas Brothers
08. "You Had Me from Hello" by Kenny Chesney
09. "A Little Bit Longer" by Jonas Brothers
10. "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)" by My Chemical Romance
11. "Everybody" by Keith Urban
12. "Better in Time" by Leona Lewis
13. "Love Remains the Same" by Gavin Rossdale
14. "I Will Follow You Into The Dark" by Death Cab For Cutie
15. "Dark Blue" by Jack's Mannequin
A/N: Bah… I'm not very fond of it. It's shorter than I wanted it to be and I believe it was more filler than anything else… I think it's because I've been reading the Anne of Green Gables series all weekend and it's trying to seep into my work… But hey! At least Sokka finally found out!
We're nearing the end here, folks. There's still a few loose ends to tie up, but we've got one really big event coming up in the next chapter (or the one after) and a few other little things to get through. After that, it's sequel time!! If you want one that is…