I'm trying my hand at Avatar fanfiction after the finale left me so inspired! Please read and review and tell me what you think. Constructive critisism is always welcome. I've tried to watch my spelling, but with all the odd names and words and not knowing whether some are one or two words I hope the die-hard fans can forgive me if there are any errors. The small part in italics is in the past. I'm a bit nervous about what you think, so I'll warn you there is a mention that implies Sukka, though it could just be interpretted as friendship. Sorry I'll stop rambling now...
Zuko watched the familiar igloos come into view as the ship headed for the Southern Water Tribe's port. It had been the starting place of the real adventure and, little had he realised at the time, the beginning of his new destiny. His feelings were mixed coming back. On one side this was a place he had terrorised in order to find the Avatar, on the other he was bringing troops in order to help with the reconstruction.
The frozen air suddenly picked up speed and he closed his eyes while it passed him; a quick reminder of where he was. He heard a chirp and suddenly felt a warm fuzzy body wrapping itself around his neck. It seemed that Momo was also not happy with the cold. Zuko hoped they would have some warm weather gear available when they arrived. He absently scratched Momo's head as he watched the village get larger before returning below deck.
He desperately wanted the village's forgiveness, not least because his friends Sokka and Katara lived there, but also to set the Fire Nation's record right with the Southern Water Tribe. It was almost another hour before he felt the ship come to a stop and went to the side of the ship to disembark.
Momo had been a gift from Aang in a way. When the Avatar had last seen him at a meeting in the Earth Kingdom Momo had taken to finding Zuko and keeping the young Fire Lord company. In turn Zuko had provided an excellent way for Momo to stay comfortably warm and an abundant supply of leachy fruit. Aang had told him that Momo had recently not appreciated travelling around and felt that his small friend needed a place to settle. It was only a few weeks later that Aang brought the flying lemur to the Fire Nation, which seemed to please the little guy, so he had been staying with Zuko for the past couple of months.
With Momo safely tucked around his neck Zuko took his first step onto the icy surface. It looked as if the whole village had turned up to see what the Fire Nation ship was doing docking on their piece of land; Zuko had remembered the village being small. He looked around hoping to spot at least one recognisable face (that he was on good terms with), but he only settled on Hakoda, the Chief of the Southern Water Tribe. It seemed that Katara and Sokka were either not around or had not bothered to meet him and Zuko debated which would be worse.
Nevertheless, Zuko smiled and walked up to Hakoda and the gesture was returned, before he was almost crushed by the Water Tribe Chief giving him a hug.
"Welcome to the Southern Water Tribe Fire Lord Zuko. I trust that your journey went well?"
Zuko noticed some of the mothers pull their children further from his reach when they heard his title, not that he expected them to do anything less. If it was his mother in their position he knew she would have kept both him and Azula away from someone who was known for being a threat.
"It was long, but without any difficulties. I have brought a dozen of my best workers to help with the reconstruction. They have already been warned this is no ordinary job."
Hakoda nodded at the answer and brought Zuko closer to him to whisper into his ear, "My daughter is with her grandparents over there. I'm sure she would appreciate a visit from an old friend."
Zuko nodded before bowing to his host and telling his workers who to follow. Once he had made sure everything was in order he walked over to the house that Hakoda had pointed out with Momo quietly chattering in his ear, his excitement at seeing an old friend obvious (for Zuko had a feeling Momo knew who they were going to be seeing).
When he reached the door he suddenly felt awkward. There was no door to knock on and no bell to ring. Was he supposed to shout or tap the ice next to the overhanging furs on the door? Fortunately it seemed fate was smiling down upon him (for once) and it was just then that Katara's grandfather – Pakku if Zuko had remembered correctly – walked outside.
"I was just about to see what all the commotion was. I should have guessed the racket was coming from the Fire Nation." The small upturn of his lips gave away his mild amusement at the disturbance.
Momo was the first to react, taking his chance and diving through the opening and into the house. Zuko greeted Pakku before he was directed inside.
Katara sat by the fire across from her grandmother – Zuko was dreading having to reconcile with the older woman – with Momo in her lap and a sad smile on her face. Katara's grandmother looked up at him with a slight scowl on her lips before turning back to the fire.
"I don't know whether to be happy or annoyed to see you, young man."
Katara looked up (if Zuko had not known any better he would have thought she had worn a look of dread) and, upon recognising Zuko, seemed to brighten up a bit. A sad smile made its way to her face, but Zuko figured it was better than her previous frown. As she stood up Momo jumped over to her grandma and nestled in the older woman's lap, leaving Katara free to run over and hug Zuko, commenting on how long it had been since she had seen him and that they needed to see each other more often. He returned the hug and smiled when she stood back and looked at him.
"So are you Katara." Her grandma replied to her, causing Katara to blush with embarrassment.
Zuko laughed, "You look beautiful Katara."
The blush deepened until she suddenly remembered something.
"Of course I almost forgot! Zuko, this is my grandmother, Kana. Gran-Gran, this is Fire Lord Zuko."
"The boy who came to our village for the Avatar with all those soldiers, I remember."
Zuko took in a breath before bowing to her, "I sincerely apologise for my behaviour on that day and for everything that my nation has put you through."
Kana turned her eyes upon him, "You cannot bring back my daughter."
Zuko had been expecting that to have been brought up, but it did not help ease the stinging pain he felt knowing his nation had been the cause of her daughter's death. There was nothing to say to make it any better, so Zuko stood in silence with his head bowed.
"No, but we confronted her killer. Zuko helped me find him." Katara revealed.
Kana looked at her granddaughter in shock. The young lady had never mentioned it before and Kana had a feeling it brought back bad memories, so she decided not to ask any more questions and trust her granddaughter's and husband's (for he also seemed to trust the boy) judgement.
"Well if Katara can hold a Fire Nation royal in such high regard you must be something special." She concluded, a very small smile cracking onto her face. "Why don't you show him around the village, Katara? Dinner will be ready just after sundown so you have plenty of time to explore."
Katara smiled at her grandmother before grabbing Zuko's hand and walking outside.
"So is Sokka with Suki, then?"
Katara nodded, "He decided to move there a few months ago. I haven't seen him since then."
"I have to admit I'm surprised you stayed here. I always thought you would travel the world with Aang."
It was then that Zuko realised he had hit a sore topic. Katara's expression turned into a scowl and he could feel the ice shaking slightly.
"I thought you would want to see the world after spending some time at home." Zuko amended, making a mental note not to mention Aang again unless Katara mentioned him.
"I did, but I'm needed here more. Once the village is rebuilt and repopulated I plan on travelling again."
Zuko frowned, "Repopulated? That could take decades."
"I know." Katara whispered it so quietly Zuko almost thought he was imagining things.
"I'll probably end up marrying someone from the Water Tribe. My family will be happy at least."
Zuko stopped in his tracks, "What happened between you and Aang?"
"It just didn't work out." Katara replied looking away.
"When did you last see him?"
"A couple of months ago. The others don't know we're not together anymore. You're the first to find out, congratulations." She finished by laughing bitterly.
Zuko sighed, looking out towards the water.
"So does that mean you'll take part in a Northern Water Tribe arranged marriage?"
"Probably, there's no one here even close to my age other than the men who have moved from our sister tribe."
"Isn't that a bit defeatist?"
"Not everyone is so lucky as to find true love in their first relationship!" Katara answered back, shouting.
Zuko stepped away, feeling guilty. "I just meant that you shouldn't give up on love because it doesn't work out the first time. Finding true love with your first relationship is the exception, not the rule. But even if you do decide to marry a Water Tribe man I bet you'll have a lot of people wanting to marry you."
Katara looked up at him in shock, but a smile had made its way to her face, "Are you being serious?"
Zuko smiled, "You're beautiful and very talented at everything I've ever seen you do. You're interested in everything around you and although that means you have strong opinions it means that you can argue well and make informed decisions by yourself."
Katara blushed and a small smile crept onto her face, "Do you really think that?"
"I'm a terrible liar, so you'd know if I didn't believe it."
Zuko looked back over to the water and the smile on his face grew wider.
"Do you want to spar for a bit? Like old times, except I won't be trying to take someone away from you." He added, slightly embarrassed.
Katara looked away, "Why? The war's over; we don't need to fight anymore."
Zuko snorted, "Is that what Guru Goody-Goody told you?"
Katara looked away without answering, remembering Aang's nickname that Zuko had used when they went to look for her mother's killer.
"Do you actually waterbend anymore, or have you stopped because you're too afraid of the memories it carries? I hurt people I care about with firebending, but that doesn't stop me from doing it."
"I do waterbend! I heal and I cook and..."
A defiant fourteen year old Katara glared at the man in front of her, "I don't want to heal, I want to fight!"
Katara sighed, "Okay, but just for a bit."
She remembered when she had travelled with Aang for a short time after the fall of Phoenix King Ozai and had wanted to spar with him. He had talked her out of it so easily, saying they no longer needed to fight, and asking her what it would prove. She had felt so ashamed of herself they never spoke of it again, yet here was Zuko who had also felt the horrors of the war and he still loved to fight.
She walked towards the shore hesitating at the edge. This was against everything Aang wanted, but that was the problem. She was like Zuko and Toph – she loved fighting, but that did not mean she did not appreciate the peace around her.
She took a breath before stepping out onto the water and turned to see Zuko stripping off his armour and his tunic. It was just then that he looked up and gave her a small smirk in response. She continued to walk across the water and with each step she started to create a path of ice. She twirled her arms and her element flowed around her. Out of the corner of her eye she watched Zuko jump onto the nearest iceberg and a smirk made its way onto her face.
As soon as his feet touched it Katara sent a water whip curving towards him from the left. He barely had time to dodge it by back-flipping onto his hands, though he cleverly used his legs to send an arc of fire towards her. Katara made a shield of ice to block it and then sent it straight towards him, so he had to jump up, but this time he had nothing to land on as the iceberg was taken with the sheet she had thrown at him.
Zuko smirked as he headed for the water, feet first. Katara looked worried until he sent a short, sharp blast of fire towards her and created two continuous concentrated blasts from his feet, keeping him airborne.
Katara's eyes widened, "When did you learn to do that without the comet?"
Zuko smiled at her while he manoeuvred through the air and landed on another iceberg, "Believe me it took a lot of practice, but I mastered it a few weeks ago. Well, I'm good enough so that it can actually keep me off the ground."
Katara laughed even as he sent a fire whip towards her. She countered with her water whips and both were reminded of their battle in the tunnels of Ba Sing Sei, though she was surprised she no longer considered the fight against Zuko a painful memory; what happened afterwards was a different story though.
Finding themselves in an area more densely covered in ice the two started attacking each other while jumping from one chunk of ice to another. Sometimes Katara would move the ice slightly so that Zuko would have to readjust his landing, which gave her more time to counterattack.
Laughter filled the air as the two circled, fired at and dodged each other; gradually getting closer together when finally Zuko sent an arc of fire in front of Katara, who, due to the brightness, closed her eyes and shielded herself with her water. When the water fell back down he was gone and Katara turned around to locate him.
Zuko used her confusion to suddenly propel himself out of the water and onto the island she had created, grabing her wrists and smirking despite being soaking wet. The smirk disappeared, however, when he noticed Katara was wearing a similar expression on her face. He looked up to see a giant orb of water floating above their heads and laughed, releasing her wrists at the same time.
"Shall we call it a draw then?" Katara asked; the smug expression still on her face.
Zuko smiled in response and blew fire at his hands to heat them up. It was at that moment that Katara noticed the scar on his chest that Azula had given to him.
"Does it hurt anymore?"
Zuko blinked before following her line of sight. He smiled and shook his head.
"Come on master waterbender, would you do the honour of taking us back to shore before we freeze to death?" Zuko asked, mock-bowing.
Katara laughed at him before moving the block of ice they were on towards the shore. It had been so long since she had felt this free. With the end of the world on their minds and then not wanting any more violence afterwards, she had completely forgotten how much she loved waterbending, especially against someone powerful like Zuko.
"Do you want a parka to wear instead of your armour? It'll probably be more comfortable."
Zuko smiled, "I would appreciate it."
The two landed on shore only to be greeted with the cheering of most of the village's children. Some were jumping up and down and others were clapping or talking to each other about their favourite move one of the benders had used.
Katara looked over at Zuko, "Shall we give them a demonstration?"
The children's cheers were so loud that some of the adults looked over to see what was going on. Knowing they could not disappoint both Katara and Zuko got into bending stances, though Katara was the first to start.
A water koi fish started weaving its way through the crowd and was soon joined by a fiery red koi as soon as Zuko had recognised what Katara was doing. The koi circled each other and left small trails of their respective element which the koi would dance around.
The children laughed and cheered and many of the adults, both Water Tribe and Fire Nation, came to watch the demonstration and take a break from work.
The flame koi suddenly burst into a flock of half a dozen small fire birds as Zuko took the lead and Katara quickly followed up with six of her own water birds. They all danced around each other and their audience until Katara and Zuko shared a look; then suddenly the birds all flew up morphing into a trail of fire and a trail of water that twisted together and then burst sending a shower of light drops down on the audience together with sparks that burnt out before any children got hurt. A wild applause followed and the two bowed before they made their way towards Katara's house.
Dinner was usually the meal when Katara would miss Sokka the most. He would always make lame jokes (when he was not inhaling his food, at least) and start a lot of the conversations, even if they ended on something completely different. More recently Katara had found awkward silences a regular occurrence, but tonight she had invited Zuko to eat with them and once again conversation filled the room. Together with Momo's antics Katara was kept in a good mood for most of the meal.
"How is the Fire Nation economy?" Hakoda asked at one point (Zuko and her father often got into conversations involving the state of the Water Tribe and Fire Nation, which Katara found difficult to keep up with).
"Our nation is struggling to recover a bit more than the Earth Kingdom is. Since the Fire Nation economy was based upon our conquests and military technology for the past one hundred years it has been difficult to get a whole nation to stop producing weapons and start growing crops and building houses for returning Fire Nation citizens; especially because most of our fertile land is around volcanoes, which is fine as long as they aren't going to erupt soon.
"I apologise for not being able to offer more help with the construction here, but with the issues arising at home it is difficult to make up for our wrongs without the Fire Nation people feeling second best in their own nation."
Hakoda nodded in interest and understanding, and even Katara found herself able to follow the conversations. Zuko was good at explaining anything difficult and noticed Katara's interest, so if she looked lost he would elaborate or explain in easier terms. This also reminded her of Sokka and she did her best to push aside the pains of longing for her brother. Katara wondered if her brother missed her as much as she missed him.
After dinner the adults said they would clean up so the two headed out, this time away from the water and towards 'a surprise' as Katara had put it to her friend. Momo seemed to want to keep them company this time and once again took his spot around Zuko's neck and, for the most part, out of the cold. Katara was walking a few paces ahead when suddenly something hit the back of her head.
Turning around she looked down to see the remnants of a snowball powdered onto the snow at her feet. She looked up at the all too innocent look on the Fire Lord's face, reminding her again of her brother, especially since he was dressed in Water Tribe clothes. Well, two could play at that game. Momo, sensing danger, flew out of the way just before a snowball about twice the size of Zuko's head hit his chest, sending him back into the snow and covering him from his waist up to, and including, his head.
Momo swooped down onto Katara's shoulder, seemingly amused even though his warm perch had been covered in ice. Katara laughed at Zuko's expression as he surfaced, which was made even more comical when Momo swooped over and sat on his shoulder and began licking his face to remove some of the ice.
Katara was still laughing and was not expecting the fist-sized snowball to her chest. She decided throwing giant snowballs every time would get old (because she would win too easily), so she joined him in making them the old fashioned way. The two chased after each other and even Momo joined in the fun, which meant the teens had to dodge both their opponent's snowball and Momo's if he decided the person in question was going to be the unlucky one that throw.
The three kept up the fight until Katara heard a familiar sound and, forgetting about the snowball war (for that is what it has escalated into), ran towards it as fast as she could. Zuko ran after her and Momo, noticing the teens had stopped throwing snow, flew closer to the ground, so that he could fly alongside the Fire Lord.
When they reached their destination Zuko's eyes widened at the strange creatures before him. As he approached one it waddled away at a relatively slow pace, but fast enough to keep out of his reach. He had never seen anything like them at home and he stared at them puzzled.
"What are they?" He asked as he crouched down to look at one of the braver creatures that happened to be keeping eye contact with him.
Katara laughed, "They're penguins! Haven't you ever seen one before?"
Zuko shook his head slowly, trying not to scare the penguin in front of him. Momo chose this moment to perch on Katara's shoulder and began chattering. It seemed that he was as confused as Zuko was with the strange new animals before him.
Katara giggled, "When Aang first came here he took me penguin sledding. I hadn't done it since my mom had died and I'd forgotten how much fun it was. Do you want to try?"
Zuko's good eye widened as he looked from Katara to the penguins and back. He looked uneasy, but nevertheless he nodded in agreement. Suddenly a fish was pushed into his hand by Katara and the penguins flocked around him.
"Just do what I do."
Zuko nodded and then the conversation played back in his head and he realised that she had mentioned Aang without getting upset. Maybe all she had needed was someone around her own age to talk to. The two grabbed a penguin each and Momo, as if sensing what was about to happen, secured himself around the back of Katara's neck, since she obviously knew what she was doing.
"If I die then just remember I have a whole nation of firebenders to get revenge for me." Zuko warned as they reached the edge of a very steep hill.
Katara grinned, "Does that mean I get a reward if the Fire Lord enjoys himself and doesn't die?"
She never heard if he answered or not because at that moment they got onto the penguins and were sledding down the hill at an astonishing pace. Katara steered her penguin more towards Zuko so that she could get a good look at his face and noted that he was watching to see how she did it. The fear was still there, but it was overshadowed by the rush of adrenalin pumping through his body and the excitement as they went faster.
Katara bent her head down close to her penguin so that they picked up speed and Zuko followed her example, though he started to have second thoughts when they were suddenly in the air, having just reached the end of a slope where there was a drop of a few paces – enough to do some damage should they fall off. As Zuko looked around he started to laugh at the rush he was getting from this experience and looked over to Katara who was smiling just as much as he was.
The ground they landed on was relatively flat so it was not much longer before they skidded to a stop. Both Zuko and Katara practically fell off laughing and even Momo seemed to have enjoyed it and flew around the teens lying in the snow. The two penguins got back up onto their feet and were about to walk away when Zuko turned back to Katara.
"Do you have any more fish? I think they deserve a reward for carrying us all the way down."
Katara laughed and produced two more fish, giving one to Zuko who fed 'his penguin,' and one to 'her penguin.' Zuko then collapsed back into the snow laughing.
"I haven't had that much fun since I was a kid!"
Zuko and Katara were breathing heavily, still recovering from the sledding trip. Zuko put his gloved hands behind his head and looked up into the night sky. The laughing subsided and a thoughtful smile appeared on the young Fire Lord's face.
Katara smiled and rolled over onto her stomach, "You know you're still a kid."
The smile turned sad, "Not anymore. I gave up being a kid when my father became Fire Lord. I had no more time for this kind of thing... even less when I was banished. Who would want to play with scarred Fire Nation boy?
"No, I haven't been a kid since I was about ten."
"That's sad, but I guess until Aang came along I was the one who became the mother for Dad and Sokka. I guess war does that to people."
The two sat in silence watching each other before Zuko looked up to the clear night sky and a smile once again made its way to his face, causing his scared eye to practically close. He sat up so that his weight was resting mostly on his hands
"I miss this." At Katara's confused expression he clarified, "Just being able to look up into the night sky and see so many stars. I used to look at the sky from my ship at night when I was banished. Other than a few secluded Earth Kingdom villages I haven't seen much of them recently. The firelight makes it difficult to see the stars at home."
Katara sat up and leaned next to him, her head on the upper-most part of his arm, and Momo perched on Zuko's shoulder, so that he was right between their heads. Katara shivered and Zuko lit a fire in his palm and brought it close to them. The two smiled at each other before looking back up to the stars, both lost in their thoughts.
After a few minutes Katara spoke, the smile returning to her face, "Thank you Zuko."
Zuko looked at her and returned the small smile she wore, "I should be thanking you for a wonderful day. What have I done to warrant a thank you?"
"You reminded me what good friends I have, no matter how far away they are. And..." Katara looked back up at the stars before continuing, "you've made me realise that I shouldn't be so upset about me and Aang, because he is still a great friend to me. He brought back my childhood and my hope and for that I am eternally grateful to him."
Zuko smiled and wrapped his arm around her and Momo purred in between them. The moon was only a sliver and the stars dominated the skies as Katara and Zuko looked on hoping for the peace to never end. Once again Katara smiled. Zuko had healed her heart and had been a true friend when she needed someone the most.
Yue, although not at full strength, watched the push and pull, yin and yang, fire and water of the couple that sat below her. Love pulls people through tough times and the love of a friend is invaluable because of it.
Thank you for reading. Again I would love it if you left a review, even a small one. Some of you may be wondering why I included Momo and the main reason behind it is because I like him and think he's not written about enough, plus it just seemed to work in my opinion.