Title: Midsummer Madness
Summary: Katara learns that there are both advantages and drawbacks to being a female water bending master, and pays back a favor to an old friend.
Disclaimer: This is a fan made project, I didn't create any of this. I don't claim it as my own. But you should definitely go buy Avatar merchandise, mainly because it rocks.
Chapter 32: Promises
"Don't you think it would be grand, Fire Lord Zuko?" Ling persisted, "after the fire jugglers and the poetry readings, then we could have all four nations represented in the festivities!"
Zuko was hardly paying attention as he rifled through his files. His desk had gone from neat and tidy to practically unusable in a matter of days, and it was starting to annoy him that he could never find what he wanted. When he didn't answer, Toph, who was laying on the floor in her usual recline, fingers laced behind her head, one leg straight, the other bent and flat on the floor, responded for him.
"Why don't you whatever you think is necessary, Scowls, neither of us care about weddings."
"Well you should!!" The taller aristocrat scolded, then promptly went back to gushing, "It will be the first official joining of the two great nations of Earth and Fire."
"Toph, can you please take your tutor somewhere else for a while?"
"You asked her to administer her lessons here, where you could keep an eye on me!!" Toph protested, "Why would you want us to leave now?!"
"I'm trying to get work done." Zuko pinched his nose. The little earth bender was taking advantage of the situation far more than he had thought she would.
"No you're not." Toph had dedicated herself to being unhelpful, "You're looking for something."
"There was a letter from Sokka here, now I can't find it." Zuko replied, "Did you take it Toph?"
"Yea, cause I was just dying to read it . . ."
"Perhaps, Lady Toph, you should be more courteous to the Lord? You're etiquette and posture are positively indecent."
Abruptly, Toph sat up and pointed in her tutor's general direction, "Alright, lessons are over, you may go."
The older woman huffed, but picked up her green skirts graciously and swept out of the room flamboyantly. When the door closed, Toph flopped back onto the rug, and began picking at her teeth.
"Is she gone?" Zuko's voice was a whisper.
"Yea, She is stomping off to the library."
"Thank god, I couldn't handle any more of that inane chatter about romance and unions between the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation."
"I know! I don't know why you have to keep her around." She complained.
"You know perfectly well why we're keeping her around," Zuko had ceased the searching of his desk and begun rifling through the scrolls piled on the floor, "It was your idea, remember?"
"I didn't think that you would hire her as my private Tutor!! I thought you would just pretend to fall for her pathetic idea of seduction." Toph raised the pitch of her voice and spoke in baby talk, "'Oh, Fire Lord, I've always wanted to live in the Fire Nation, I do hope I will be able to stay for a long time! You are the shining torch leading the way to peace and love between all the benders!!'"
"It's called being coy." Zuko was being evasive, "and what did you expect from a poet other than lyrical flattery?"
"'Coy'?! Do men actually like that?!"
"It depends on the man, but Toph, I really AM trying to find this letter." Zuko ran his fingers through his hair and then sank down next to her in frustration, his back pressed against his desk.
They had decided that the best course of action would be to keep their friends close and their enemies closer. If the women trying to manipulate him though that everything was going according to plan, they would stick to said plan. If they figured out that he was wise to their game, well, he didn't know what they would do, and he hated surprises. Worse still, if they found out that he had every intention of locating and apologizing to Katara, they might do something to her. He knew they were not above killing . . . all they had to do was wait for a new moon . . .
"Wait, is this it?" Toph transferred her weight to her shoulder blades and feet, raising her hips. Placidly, she then pulled something out from under her butt and dropped it into his lap.
"You were sitting on it?!" Zuko's voice jumped half an octave higher as he spoke, "I was looking everywhere for it for an hour!!"
Toph shrugged, grinning, and wiggled her toes, cracking the bones in them, "So, are you going to read it to me or what?"
Zuko heaved a long sigh and then broke the seal, he was more interested in what the letter said than fighting with the earth bender and she knew it. The paper unrolled and he scanned the script, it was written in Sokka's sprawling hand, but it was worse than usual, as though he had written it in a hurry.
I got a letter from her today. It's been months, and finally she sent me one damn letter, apologizing and explaining that she was somewhere where the messenger hawks don't fly. She was very cryptic about where she was, why she was there, and what she was doing. I'll bet you anything that she is in that Foggy Swamp with those crazy seers.
She mentioned you several times; I thought you would want to know,
P.S.: Suki sent a couple Kyoshi on an expedition to the swamp to check it out when we got the letter, they haven't come back yet though.
"At least now we know she is alive." Toph told him as he finished, "and that she still thinks about you." Her usual mocking tone had vanished, and she smiled sincerely at him.
"They probably won't be back until after the full moon . . ." Zuko re rolled the scroll carefully and placed it on the floor in front of him and stared at if for a long time.
"Do you want me to go and check it out for you?" Toph offered after a long silence, "Since you can't go grovel in person."
"No." Zuko told her. He wanted to go. He wanted to snag the next ship and turn the swamp upside down looking for her. He could too. He was a master at chasing and finding people, and he knew her so well, but he had other responsibilities. The Fire Nation needed him, and he had to deliver. His own freedom to do as he pleased was the forfeit. As if reading his mind, Toph snorted, and then grumbled.
"You never should have let your Uncle weasel out of the throne."
Zuko grunted a response.
"Soooo," Toph chewed on her lip, "Does the Katara wildcard mess up our plan? Are you still going to ask our wannabe-bard to the wedding?"
It had been surprisingly easy to convince the baby's aunts to let her go once they regarded Katara as "one of the swamp tribe". So easy, in fact, that Katara wondered if she had been slightly played. As soon as the little sprout was weaned from her wet nurse, she had saddled up the (now shorn) buffalo deer and swaddled the baby and fashioned her to her back like the women of her tribe showed her years ago. Then she had climbed onto a raft that the priestesses provided, and let them ferry her to the edge of the mire.
Bean, for her part, squalled like Katara was torturing her for the whole ride out of the swamp. The tantrum alternated between spurts of flame and spurts of spit up, and Katara found herself doing a lot more bending than she thought that she was going to have to. Finally, the infant had exhausted herself and dropped into an uneasy sleep which continued until Katara awkwardly mounted her buffalo deer.
Upon awakening however, the little girl didn't scream, and Katara was grateful, the squirming of the baby was aggravating her still healing tattoos, and straining her back. The role of caregiver was already starting to lose its luster. Instead of throwing a tantrum, the girl gazed mesmerized at the sky, as though surprised at being able to see it without a canopy of fog obscuring it.
It took until sunset to reach the closest village to the Swamp. It was a small, fisherman's village, perched along the delta, but luckily it was large enough to have a tavern, and Katara was grateful to get a room for the night and a warm bowl of stew.
". . . and what would you like for the little lady? Some mashed pea cabbage?" the bartender asked pleasantly, yanking a hand away as the little girl swiped at him with a burst of green fire. "What's her name anyways?" he asked slightly less pleasantly.
"Oh, She doesn't have one yet," Katara explained, "I'm bringing her to Ba Sing Se to meet her father. It's sort of tradition that he gives her a name since she is a fire bender."
"Well, you're very brave, a single girl like yourself, traveling alone with an infant." The man shook his head as he pulled out a spatula and began mashing the vegetables into a paste for her, "If I were you, I would make her father come and meet YOU."
"Well . . . he doesn't exactly know she exists . . ." Katara confessed, thinking of Iroh's blissful ignorance, "but I'll be fine, I'm a master water bender."
"Wait . . . are you Katara of the Southern Water Tribe?" he asked suddenly.
"THE Katara of the Southern Water Tribe?"
"Water bending instructor to the Avatar, Katara of the Southern Water Tribe?"
"Yes, I am . . ." Katara squinted at him, she had expected the IQs of the men to increase as she got further away from the swamp, not plateau.
"Hey!! Shuzi!! We got Master Water bender Katara here!!" he was apparently calling to one of his coworkers, "Forget about the fifth room, give her the suite!!"
"Oh, I'm sort of on a budget." Katara told him quickly.
"No extra charge!" he grinned then drawled on, "We heard you vanished!! The Fire Lord and Water Tribe Prince went ballistic! For a month or so there were ships combing the shoreline, asking for you."
"Really?" Katara felt a pang of guilt, she did send word to Sokka . . . what if her letter had been lost?
"Ah well, yer here now, and that's what matters," The man turned his head as another patron called for ale, "Oh, if you'll excuse me for a second, Master Water Bender . . ."
Katara sat alone with her thoughts for the rest of the night as she helped her charge gobble down her dinner. She kept catching people staring at her, and whispering back and forth, but she wrote it off as gossiping. Even so, it made her feel self conscious, and she retired early.
Apparently, a woman attempting to beat up an honored warrior was grounds for house arrest. As soon as she was no longer allowed to leave the building, she began yearning for the outdoors.
The wanderlust set in as soon as her body began synching with the sun, which it hadn't been doing while she was ill. It started out vague, the need to get away from the whispers and the hateful glances in the hospice, and then grew to an obsession. She would wake at the false dawn every morning and jealously watch the fishermen sailing in from a night of work. Then she would pace her room for the next two or three hours, waiting for breakfast, and by the time the healers roused themselves to tend to her, her mood was always black. Usually she would swear at them and throw whatever the brought her to eat against the wall, sending the lackluster water benders scurrying off for cover.
Finally, one day, disgusted by the imposed schedule she had raided the cabinets and awkwardly applied the lotion to her back, arms, legs, and right cheek herself, grabbed her parka, and left. She would miss her breakfast, but the slop that they insisted was edible tasted so vile and fishy to her that she hardly cared. She would also miss her medication, though that didn't bother her either. If they wanted her to take it, they should be more prompt and efficient in administering it. She didn't know what it was for, and she doubted she would die from skipping a dose.
Silently, and in just her slippers, she tip toed to the door, careful not to wake anyone. The ability to move silently through the shadows was something else that seemed to be embedded into her, and despite the fact that she couldn't remember where she learned it, the application of it was easily accessible to her when she needed it. While she wasn't sure, she had a feeling that the healer Vel had somehow sorted things in her mind and although the old bat had locked away the memories, she left the training intact. For that, Azula was grateful.
The sky was full of dusky colors as it sometimes was when the light hit the ice caps just right, and the air was cool. She could see her breath as it disbursed before her, but that was not uncommon, even when the air was warm enough not to show anyone else's her's was always visible. The inner fire of her lungs heated the little oxygen far beyond anyone else's capability. The geometric ice buildings were quiet, their inhabitants would begin stirring in an hour or so, after the men had brought in their night's haul of wriggling things from the mud at the bottom of the water to be cooked, or not cooked as the case may be. Delightful.
Her stomach turned over just thinking about it. She would see them unloading spearfish, shark, squid, even porpoise whale meat sometimes, but none of it ever made it to the hospice. They were both an all women and charitable enterprise, and therefore got the dregs of the catch and things nobody else wanted.
Yugoda had suggested that she take up hunting and fishing, if she disliked the food, but for some reason, the tasks had sounded menial and beneath her. It was forbidden by Tribe customs anyways for her to learn such skills anyway. Later, she had figured out why the old woman had pressed it before the fight.
It was her burns.
As long as she lived on their ice, she had to abide by their rules, and in their heathen culture, the husband was the provider for his family. A girl moved out of her father's house, and into her husband's sometime between her sixteenth and eighteenth birthday, and then she relied on him to keep her warm and fed while she bore him plenty of sons. Yugoda knew that nobody would ever want to marry her with her scars, though some men might have been interested, (after all, she was royalty, and she did come with a stipend) had she not been disfigured. She was on her own. If she was ever released from the hospice, she would have to take care of herself. It had disgusted her beyond reason, sobered her beyond compare, and finally pushed her into action.
So there she was in the pre dawn light, in her worn blue parka, poking around the warrior's igloo, looking for a spare spear that she had no clue how to wield properly. Apparently they were not used like a quarterstaff.
Finding the equipment room was easy, and the spears were all lined up neatly along one of the longer walls. Unfortunately, anyone looking at the rack would know immediately that one was missing. So instead of taking one of the nicer ones, Azula continued her exploration, finding a closet of dusty, damaged ones that seemed to have fallen into disuse. It was easy to see why, the carved bone was dull and chipped, and the shafts were cracked and off balance.
Deciding that spinsters couldn't be choosers, she swiped the one that seemed to be in the best shape and slunk back out into the morning light. Stepping gingerly from ice patch to rock to hard packed snow, she navigated away from the building, careful not to leave any footprints in the soft snow. At that hour, there were no benders near to create a break in the ice wall surrounding the city, so she searched around for a place where she could scale the thing. Luckily, the houses were pressed right up against the side, and with a little bit of a scramble, she got to the roof of the igloo, then jumped easily from it to the top of the fence, then another jump, tuck, and roll absorbed the shock of landing on the other side of it.
Stopping, she listened for signs of life, and when she had deemed herself in the clear, she padded clumsily across the tundra, dragging the spear behind her. Since she had no idea where to find a turtle seal, she decided it would be best to first learn her landscape, so she set off east along the shoreline, figuring she could easily follow it back towards the tribe. They were aquatic animals, right? They would stay near the shore, right?
After a few hours of wading through knee deep snow, and not seeing so much as a belly trail, Azula sat down, exhausted, miserable, and famished. Apparently walking through knee deep fresh snow was more difficult than it looked. In fact, a lot more difficult than it looked, she could still see the smoke on the horizon from the settlement. As she chewed her lip in disgust, the wind hit her square in the face, throwing back her hood and tossing her short, shaggy hair around her nose and mouth. Glancing around, she saw a large crescent snow mound that hid a cave mouth, and she staggered over to it, getting inside the lee it provided.
Pulling off her mittens, she blew sparks of heat into her hands, momentarily illuminating the surrounding rocks with the tendrils of flame. In the light, she noticed first that the snow in front was hard packed, the place was well trodden, and that the ground was littered with trinkets and shells, bones, toys, but mostly weapons.
Scanning the area, she found that the far wall had been sanded smooth, and was covered with names. They were carved into the rock, most with titles, and some with honors they had achieved.
It was some sort of graveyard.
Looking around, it was not hard to imagine a ceremony. People standing around, weeping while someone carved a name into the wall. They couldn't have been burned, there was not enough wood available, and they couldn't have been buried, the ground was frozen solid year round. They were cast into the ocean. The knowledge came easily, like most things she knew but didn't know she knew. Their bodies would be sunk to the bottom.
She shuddered, it was barbaric and primitive. As long as they didn't try to do it to her, however, she didn't really care what they did with their dead. As she studied the inscriptions though, she heard the voices and footfalls of people approaching, and hastily she hid behind a stalagmite. Technically she was supposed to be under house arrest at the hospice, it wouldn't do to be found here. Chief Arnook had left on business with his elders the previous day, and the tribesmen would throw her in the jail until he returned to cast judgement.
"You know, I'm sure it's not a curse." There were two of them, both young and male by the sound of it. She was armed and had the element of surprise, it would be no contest.
"Then what is it?" It was Hahn. Azula's grip on her spear tightened.
It would make more sense to use bending, she chided herself, the cave ceiling isn't high enough, it will hamper a staff swing. It's not a weapon anyway, it's a tool, the balance isn't right for fighting someone intelligent.
"I don't know. It's all just coincidence." The other one was saying, "I mean, Yue, your betrothal to her was arranged, she wasn't in love with you. Plus, she was gentle, she wouldn't do that to you. Even if she had loved you, she wasn't the jealous type."
"Everyone thinks I'm cursed, none of the Tribesmen will accept my offers."
This made her forget about looking for the opportune moment to strike. Azula perked up, interested in spite of herself, anything that made Hahn sound so miserable was worth listening to. Silently, she peeked around the corner of the rock formation, trying to catch a glimpse of the men.
"Well, people are just superstitious." The other, a bender by the look of him, was saying, "My uncle doesn't blame you, you followed your orders, that's all anyone expected you to do."
"That kid Sokka didn't."
"That's all water under the bridge. So, Uncle Arnook likes him, so he is a prince now, so what? In the spirit of kinship, why don't you ask him for his sister's hand? It would do me a huge favor."
"You're not helping."
They sat in silence for a while, and Azula saw him pull off his glove and extract a small, carved toy from his pocket. He turned it over and over again in his fingers, staring at it blankly.
"I'm going to be just like Master Pakku, aren't I?" he mumbled, "Living in the barracks with the trainees and unmarried warriors until I'm sixty."
"No, of course you're not, he forsook women, you and I? We've been rejected."
"He would be a year old by now." Hahn continued, "If I wasn't cursed, that is."
"I told you already, it's a coincidence!"
"Four times a widower is not coincidence."
"Come on, Hahn, this place is depressing you, let's get back so we're not late for morning practice."
Azula counted to two hundred after their footfalls died away, and then stood up and brushed herself off. With little respect for the dead, she tromped over and picked up the toy Hahn had left, it was a strange bird she didn't recognize, with two sets of wings and a short, squat body. He must have carved it, the skill of the sculptor and time spent was apparent on the first inspection. The anger flooded her, the hate, the guilt, the jealousy. The more she thought about it, the more unfair it seemed, and the quicker her pulse came. Somehow, the idea chafed against the unknown festering wound in her mind. With a grunt of satisfaction, she dropped the thing to the ground and shattered it underneath her heel.
Nobody mourned her.
Traveling across the Earth Kingdom with a child actually proved easier than expected. After the initial tantrums, Bean had settled down and been quite agreeable, as long as she was fed on time and changed promptly. She had also discovered grabbing, and Katara soon found her jewelry and hair mercilessly jerked on whenever she wasn't paying attention. She had to heal herself nightly to compensate, but she felt too much pride over being sixteen and by custom, allowed to wear them. It was a mark that she was a woman; officially not a young lady anymore.
Lodgings, had also proved easy to find. Everywhere she went, it seemed, people already knew about the water bender and her sudden reappearance. Whenever she arrived in a new town, someone always seemed to need healing, and the family would offer her some provisions and a place to stay the night. Soon her saddlebags were full, and she actually had to turn down proffered payments, as she had no means to carry them. The only times she would avoid civilization and find a nice secluded meadow to stay the night in were her power spikes.
It was starting to become painfully obvious that she would need a lover on some sort of permanent basis.
She hated the idea that her hormones, the moon, and her bending could force her into such a situation, but Katara was a realist, and the reality was that she could either take control and find a lover, or wait for the situation to spiral out of control and let the cards fall as they pleased. Perhaps that's why the women of the water tribe consented to being married so early. Pure sexual frustration.
There was, however, nothing she could do about it on the road, and as soon as the sun rose on the second day, she would begin to feel better, and her body's appetite would diminish.
Everyone seemed to be very interested in Bean, though she was careful not to divulge any information about the squirt. Technically, she was the heir to the Fire Nation Throne until Zuko had a child, and she didn't want word getting out about it. She remembered all too clearly the brushes she had had with the fire nation rebellion, and the secret order of women worldwide.
Bean, for her part, seemed to be enjoying the attention. Katara worried though, as caregivers tended to. She had talked herself hoarse to the girl during their travels from everything from the war to make up, but the girl had yet to speak at all. She would wail when she was discontented (or bored), and shriek when she was delighted, so Katara knew there was nothing wrong with her throat. Sometimes, the water bender swore the little girl understood her when she talked, but she had no proof.
There was also the question of the green fire. Ty Lee had said that it was a game of temperatures, but Katara was not so sure. It was logical, plausible, and hard to disprove as there wasn't any real way of measuring the heat of bent fire since it flickered out so quickly.
Katara couldn't help but feel like it had something to do with the girl's parentage. Azula's mother was rumored to be some sort of ocean creature's offspring, and Bean's mother, well, she definitely was a swamp woman. Maybe she had some sort of something in her heritage as well? Was it something that only affected the women or could the men bend colored fire naturally too?
"You have a lot of nerve, you know!"
Katara looked up from the glass of water she had been trying to coax Bean into drinking.
"Disappearing like that then showing up with his kid." June slid into the seat across from her, a mug in her hand. She looked the same as ever, her make up was impeccably applied, and her lip color never seemed to come off on her mug. The only new addition to her appearance was the hilt of a sword sticking up from her back where the sheath was affixed. Obviously she had mastered whatever Piandao had to teach. "Where have you been?"
Katara slid her sleeve up and revealed the snake tattoo on her right arm, "You know, around." Was all she said aloud. June's sneer evaporated, both of them were sworn to keep the secret of the temple.
"I thought it was just rural gossip." She shook her head, "Katara, I thought you were smarter than all that."
"Look, it's just something I have to do." The water bender explained, "It's not fair to her not to introduce her to her father."
"I have half a mind to go tell Zuko you've reappeared myself, you should have seen him flip out once he noticed you were gone." June took another drink, "that, however, would cost money, and you and your friends are quite the financial hemorrhage."
"I'd really rather talk to him myself, in person, if you don't mind. It is our business after all." Katara replied, bristling.
"Whatever, it's your reputation." With that, the bounty hunter tossed a coin on the table for her ale and left.
"Fire Lord Zuko!" Ling was half walking half running towards him, across the garden path, her skirts fluttering around her legs, "I have just heard the most distressing news!!"
"Whatever Toph told you, it's probably a lie." Zuko replied, standing politely. The Turtle ducks scuttled back into the water, spooked by the sudden movements.
"It's not her." She was angry, he could tell, but like Mai and most of the other well brought up ladies, she was bottling it up, "It's Master Katara, she's . . . she's traveling for Ba Sing Se."
"Is she?" Zuko tried desperately to feign disinterest but couldn't, whatever had made the usually proper girl so upset had to be important.
"She's not alone." Ling's eyes narrowed, she was watching his reactions, analyzing them. He only knew it though because he was looking for it.
"That's good." He replied, trying to keep his voice neutral, "It's still a bit dangerous to travel parts of the Earth Kingdom alone."
"She has with her a child. A fire bender." Ling elaborated, "one with gold eyes." Her expression was fierce.
Zuko wished wildly that Toph was there, she would know if this was a lie or not. It had to be a lie. Katara drank that swamp herb mixture to stop unwanted children! She did disappear so suddenly . . . his mind reminded him, and she didn't say why . . . what if . . .
"Fire Lord! I advise you to take immediate action! We have our reputations to maintain!!" the aristocrat was insisting, "You must denounce her at once!! What will people say at the Earth King's wedding this market-day if news gets out?!"
Zuko resisted the urge to shove the manipulative lady into the pond. How dare she talk that way about his lover?! Biting the inside of his lip hard, he reminded himself that the girl fancied herself the future Fire Lady. She had, as far as most of the courtiers knew, gained his favor, and would soon officially be his girlfriend.
Without speaking to her, he fled the garden. She called something after him, but he didn't stop. He needed to find Toph, and he needed to find the source of the rumor. He needed to write his Uncle for advice, tell Sokka, and probably Chief Hakoda and Chief Arnook.
He needed to find Katara.
Iroh bustled back and forth in his tea shop, smiling happily at his patrons as they sat and sipped their drinks. It was the usual early afternoon crowd, and he looked forward to a busy evening. The weather was cool, and most people fancied a cup of tea after their evening meal.
As he wiped one of the recently vacated tables, he heard a knocking on the doorframe, and someone called his name. That was odd, the door was open and there was no need to knock.
"Come in, come in . . . Katara?" The water bender stood there, her ice blue eyes tired. Her travel cloths were dirty, and she held a baby in one of her arms. She also was sporting new tattoos on her arms that looked Swamp, bone piercings that could not be mistaken for anything other than water tribe, and her hair was a bit shorter. It was easy to see that she had begun to embrace the fashions and customs of her Tribe. If he hadn't had caught sight of her blue eyes, he might have mistaken her for someone else.
"Hello Iroh, how are you?"
"I thought this day might come when someone showed up with a child." Iroh said solemnly, "I would have wagered it would be Ty Lee though . . . never mind that, so, is this your daughter?"
"My... daughter?" Katara blinked, "Wait, she's not mine." By then, all the pai sho gaming had ceased and all the eyes in the tea shop were pinned directly on her and Iroh. Everyone wanted to see the father drama play out.
"In fact," Katara continued as she stepped in to give the older man a good view of the infant, "she's yours."
"Mine?!" Iroh sounded stunned, "You must be mistaken Katara, I'm far too old to have a ch-"
"Her mother's name was Naj." Katara watched as recognition swept across Iroh's features, "So, you do remember." She tried not to sound as pleased with herself as she felt.
"But why have you brought her here? She seemed like a very capable mother!"
Katara's smile faded and she shuffled her feet, she hated to be the bearer of bad news.
"She died in childbirth, Her daughter, your daughter couldn't stay, fire benders cant stay there, it's against tradition. It was either here with you, or . . ." Katara frowned, glancing at the eavesdropping old men, "or the Warriors." She whispered.
"So, that's Iroh's girlfriend?" one of the men asked another.
"No, you old coot! That's his daughter and grand daughter! Are you deaf?" the other yelled back, with total disregard for the volume of his voice.
"Perhaps we should go into the kitchen." Iroh suggested, and Katara nodded hurriedly. The room was much the same as it had been seasons earlier when she had offered to heal Zuko's scar. The tea was lined up the same, the window was the same, even the work bench was the same, only now it was covered with half ground leaves.
"May I?" Iroh asked, holding out his arms.
Katara smiled and handed over the baby, "See? She has Fire Nation eyes."
The little girl stared up at him, said eyes going wide like saucers then she reached out, grabbed Iroh's beard, and yanked. The older man howled and detangled the small but deadly fingers from his facial hair. Stepping to the window, he pushed her wispy hair back from her face, and smiled.
"What's her name?" he asked, bouncing her a little bit and making her giggle.
"She doesn't have one." Katara explained, "It's your, I don't know, 'fatherly privilege' to name her."
"Ursa." Iroh smiled, "the second."
Katara returned his smile, "I like it."
At that, the newly named infant seemed to grow bored, and began to scream.
"I'm afraid I am out of practice." He confessed, "It's been decades since Lu Ten was a toddler, what do you think she wants?"
"She is probably just hungry." Katara reached out and took her, "I'll feed her, you worry about your patrons."
"Nonsense, I'm calling in a personal day, It's not every day you become a father!" Iroh tapped his lip thoughtfully, "What do you plan to do now, Katara?"
"I was going to go home."
"You wouldn't be interested in staying on a few days?" Iroh's expression turned to that of a puppy dog, "I'm quite unprepared, and it would be easier for her and me both if we had a helper until I could hire a permanent nanny."
Katara chewed her lip. She was old enough to be able to sense an ulterior motive when she heard one, but he probably did need the help.
"One week, is that fair?"
"One week is generous of you. I will have to see which of my teas will lend themselves to being iced . . ."
Katara had closed the shop, swept, and dusted by the time Iroh had returned. The patrons had slowly filtered out, and when the last one left, she had turned the door notice from open to closed, and pulled in the sign announcing the days specials in. Bean, for her part, was laying on her back on a blanket, chewing adamantly on her own toes and squealing with glee.
Iroh was accompanied by several clerks carrying bags of cloths, toys, furniture, food, and diapers. The water bender wondered briefly if he had bought out the entire upper ring marketplace.
"I sent a message to Zuko, though I doubt he will get it, in time, next to the hawkery though, there was a new toy shop! They had the most beautiful dolls, I couldn't decide which I liked the best." The older man informed her, "So I had to buy them all."
"You're going to spoil her." Katara told him but didn't press the issue. He had never had a daughter before (surrogate or otherwise), so he might as well live it up. Something told her he would make an excellent girl's daddy too.
"Will I? Oh, I picked up something for you too. Consider it a thank you for months of babysitting." Iroh took a covered dress from one of the clerks and pulled up the bottom, revealing a soft, blue tinted fur dress.
"Iroh, where did you FIND this?" Katara dropped to her knees to get a better look. It was from the Northern Water Tribe, but much lighter than their usual dresses. It must have been specially designed to mimic water tribe looks outside a water tribe environment.
"Oh, I have my ways." Iroh waved his hand back and forth loftily, "I hope it fits . . ."
"Oh, I'll try it on, I don't have anywhere to wear it to, though." Katara seized it and darted into the steeping room, shutting the door behind her.
"Not so," Iroh argued, "You have Earth King Kuei's wedding. It is the day after tomorrow."
There was a large thump, then a swear, that echoed from inside the storage room. Iroh suppressed a chuckle. In all the excitement, the Water Bender had forgotten. As he swallowed his laughter, the door hauled open.
"I can't go!! Sokka will kill me." And Zuko will be there.
"But it is such a special occasion!! The union of Earth and Fire!!" Iroh wheedled, "You cannot MISS it!!"
"I wasn't invited!" She protested.
"I believe the Earth King Kuei sent Sokka your invitation."
"I don't have a date!"
"If you truly want one, I'll find you a date. Every single one of my patrons has at least three grandsons that would give their left ear to be able to attend the Palace's ceremony."
"I don't have someone to watch B . . . I mean, Ursa."
"One of the regulars has already volunteered to watch her for us."
"I don't have any shoes to go with this!"
Iroh held out a pair of blue and white hand beaded moccasins, "Will these do?"
Katara opened her mouth, but she seemed to have run out of excuses. Pouting, she reached out and grabbed the shoes, then closed the door again. It was a bribe, of course it was. A beautiful, soft, form fitting, curve hugging, scoop necked, high low layered, hip silted, fur trimmed bribe. It was Iroh's way of making sure she and Zuko were at the same place at the same time.
Doing the buttons back up, Katara straightened and smoothed the thing around her, then opened the door.
"How do I look?" She asked tentatively, wishing for a mirror.
"Like a Water Tribe Princess." Iroh complimented, "Exotic and alluring."
"Do you . . ." Katara swallowed, debating, then blurted it out, "Do you think Zuko will like it?"
"I think he finds you enchanting no matter what you wear," Iroh was laying it on thick, Katara knew it, and yet, she didn't mind in the slightest, "Although this dress makes you exquisite, it brings out your eyes, I hoped it would."
"Thanks . . ." she turned to go back into her improvised fitting room.
"Katara." Iroh's hand fell heavily onto her shoulder, stopping her, "Limitless like the ocean are your excellent qualities. My nephew knows this, he is just a little spoiled sometimes, you know how aristocrats are."
Step. Step. Step. Pivot. The Fire Princess walked the yard, careful to step into her own footprints. Her hood was tossed back, and the wind froze her ears, but she hardly paid attention. The older women seated and enjoying their lunch talked about her as though she wasn't there. If her hood was down, she could hear it.
"She won't sleep, she won't eat, and she has been pacing in the yard like a caged tiger bear for nearly two days!" One of the nurses was complaining to Yugoda, "She is well, she cannot stay here much longer. She disturbs the other patients."
"I am fully aware of that, Once Chief Arnook returns from the wedding, I will propose that he move her to the barracks with the warriors." Yugoda responded calmly, "I believe she will be happier sparring, hunting, fighting, and salvaging with them than staying here. Hopefully, it will exhaust this manic restlessness out of her."
"She cannot! It's forbidden for a woman to train with the men!!"
"I will remind the Chief that that rule was originally put in place to keep the girl benders isolated when their moon cycles ran. Azula is a fire bender, she wont climb into another man's furs the instant the moon changes, I doubt any of the men would want to take her into their furs anyways. Despite our best efforts much of her is utterly ruined."
"Many men don't judge on appearance alone."
"She is not the sweetest flower in the garden either." Yugoda persisted, "The men are used to subservience and docility. In my opinion, she will fit right in as 'one of the boys'."
"Perhaps she could take a wife!" giggled the other, "She likes being waited on enough!!"
Azula stopped, swaying back and forth, "I refuse to house myself with such animals!"
"Behave yourself sweetie, or I will have to tell the council about your disappearances in the early hours of the morning." Yugoda smiled, and waved the girl back to her pacing.
The Princess stared contemptuously at them for another long moment, then resumed her trudging around the yard. As soon as she did, the women resumed their conversation.
"Sneaking out in the small hours of the morning?! Perhaps she does have a lover." The nurse whispered, scandalized.
Yugoda shook her head, "I would have been able to tell, I keep an eye on her neck for bruises and her body for scratches."
Azula turned away and rounded the corner, disgusted. Who did they think she was?! Some sort of common whore?!
Pulling off her mitten, she touched the ragged flesh on the back of her hand. It had faded to her skin tone, but never smoothed. It never would. It would always be as rough as a komodo rhino, and she would never regain much feeling in it.
Her fingers twitched restlessly. Maybe staying in the barracks with the unwed warriors would be okay for now . . .
The sun had barely reached the zenith of it's journey when Katara, who had been moping in her room, heard a horrible clatter coming through her doorway. Sokka threw his arms around her from behind, nearly taking her down in the process. She knew it was him instantly, nobody smelled quite like him. Suddenly, everyone was yelling, she heard Suki, Toph, Aang, Ty Lee, and Kisa shouting at him, but whatever it was they soon abandoned it to deliver hugs of their own.
"Oh my gosh, Katara!!" Ty Lee beamed, "You look like one of the Water Tribe Warriors from an illustrated romance scroll!!"
"'Tara, you should pull the shades up!" Suki commented, letting the light in the room, "It's nearly noon!"
Aang smiled at her and curled his fingers in a small wave, but didn't say anything. Instead he shuffled his feet nervously on the floor. He was still quite short, but his muscles had developed and his face was starting to look more adult. Was he thirteen now, or fourteen? Katara wondered to herself.
"Why are you moping?" Sokka asked, "Haven't you heard from jerk bender?"
"No . . . don't call him that, Sokka."
"I'm supposed to ask you if you want to see him." Toph put in, "He want's to know if you're still angry with him."
"I should kick his butt for what he did to you!" Sokka punched his fist into his open palm, accentuating the fact.
"He was angry, I deserved it, I messed up."
"I can't believe you, Sugar Queen!" Toph widened her stance, digging her heels into the ground stubbornly, "After all that, he acts like a total . . . ugh, and you just SIT here and make excuses for him."
Katara stared at Toph in disbelief, but straightened and squared her shoulders against the verbal assault, "Just what do you suggest I do then, Toph?"
"You never had a problem telling him he was being a twat before! You never had a problem telling him he was being a twat, even if he wasn't being one, before!"
"You shouldn't let things fall apart now," Suki advised, "Especially now, for the sake of the baby."
"Was that your daughter with Iroh downstairs?" Ty Lee blathered on, "we heard you had one, I bet she is adorable! Does she have almond eyes like yours or slanted like Zuko's?"
"My daughter?" Katara blinked scratching her head again, "Umm, I don't have a daughter . . . Iroh has a daughter."
The room seemed to quiet as everyone looked at each other.
"She isn't lying." Toph muttered, breaking the awkward silence, but intensifying it.
"But even June confirmed it!" Sokka protested.
Katara flashed back to the journey . . . all the glances, all the questions, all the whispers. Of course. Of course. Everyone thought it was her child. Gold Eyes. Fire Bender. Everyone thought it was Zuko's illegitimate child. After her abrupt disappearance, it was a logical conclusion to draw. The time frame was skewed, but not so much that it wasn't plausible to an observer.
Nobody had actually asked her who Bean's father was, or her mother for that matter. She had just assumed!
"Katara stop slamming the back of your head against the wall!!" Kisa somehow ninjaed her pillow in between her skull and the plaster mid thump.
"Someone should probably tell Zuko . . ." Aang admitted.
"He thinks he is following in his father's footsteps as the world's worst dad." Toph explained, "He heard the rumor too . . . He was in my room for hours ranting! My feet almost went deaf."
"How can your feet go deaf?" Sokka asked, unimpressed.
"I thought you looked too good to be lactating." Ty Lee leaned into her girlfriend, "Didn't she look too good to be lactating?"
Kisa nodded, and then both giggled. Katara grabbed the pillow from behind her head and hugged it across her breasts, her face flushing. "Thanks a lot, guys."
"You should talk to Zuko before the party. If we can clear up this misunderstanding you both can get back together." Suki was trying to steer the conversation away from boobs.
"Hey! I'm not sure he deserves my little sister any more!!" Sokka argued, putting a hand protectively on Katara's head.
"Oh? What do you want me to do?" Katara asked, "Just break into the castle and find him? Sneak past the Royal Guards, and give him the scolding of a lifetime? You know how heavy the security is there!! I wouldn't even be able to get in as a waiter."
The girls exchanged looks.
"I know a secret passage into the castle from when we took it over." Ty Lee offered.
"I can sneak you past the guards." Suki added.
"I can yell really loud." Toph smirked.
"Come on guys, Katara doesn't have to sneak in, The castle staff know who she is."
"But what about his G-" Suki elbowed her sister hard in the chest, cutting her off from finishing the thought.
"What about his what?"
"Nothing!" Kisa replied hurriedly.
"His girlfriend," Ty Lee supplied, somehow having missed the elbow-talk.
"His what?" It felt, for an instant like Hama had reached into her blood and frozen it solid. Suddenly every inch of her was cold.
"Er . . ." Ty Lee looked around hopefully, and then when nobody stepped in to explain, she pressed on, "Well, he was worried about you, we all were . . . worried that someone would hurt or kidnap you."
"It was my idea." Toph interjected, "To lull them into a false sense of security."
"Yea, so he has been going along with this little power play. It was that same girl from the hallway, she's a member of the illustrious Five Seven Five society in Ba Sing Se."
"And she is my nemesis." Sokka put in, his eyes narrowing.
"He doesn't like her!" Toph added quickly, "None of us do, but we thought that they might try to hurt you if things didn't go well for them. I mean, they have before, and with Azula still in the picture . . ."
"Azula's still alive?!" Katara remembered her vision, then Ursa's words to her about the society and shivered.
"You should set things right with him. Tonight, before the Festivities start tomorrow." Toph advised.
Katara sighed, "You're right, Toph."
Ba Sing Se was finally starting to look like its old self again. The breeze that cut through the buildings was cool, gentle, and smelled of earth. The moon was rising and Katara could feel it pulling gently on her, it made her whole body tingle.
Katara was frustrated. She was frustrated with herself, with the moon, with Zuko, with everyone. Things had suddenly spiraled out of control, and she had no idea how to stop them. Sitting on the roof of the tea shop, she breathed deeply, letting the night air fill her lungs until they burned then let it out in one frosty exhale. Her powers were heightened during this phase, they always were.
She wondered briefly if her brother would be angry if he knew what the moon, his ex-girlfriend, did to her. Not only did it amplify a Water Bender's power when full, it also had a rather maddening effect on the women.
And Katara blamed both this feelings she has started having, and the curious events that had followed, fully on the moon.
"Katara?" Iroh leaned out the window, "You should get some sleep, tomorrow will be a big day, and therefore, I am sure Ursa will scream as much of the night as is humanly possible."
"I'll be in in a little while." Katara lied. Ty Lee was waiting for her at the side of the palace, she was going to show her the secret entrance. Toph was in her room, charged with keeping the baby quiet by any means necessary, minus anything violent or scary. The 'scary' part was particularly stressed when the girls discussed the plan. Suki would meet her inside since she and Sokka were staying in the palace, So was Arnook and some of his warriors, along with the Fire Lord, King Bumi, and even the Bei Fongs.
Although the whole city was celebrating, she had even helped Iroh hang decorative paper lanterns all evening, only those in the palace would get to witness the actual ceremony. Sokka had promised to come by to drop off her invitation in the morning, but she was pretty sure it would be Suki who would end up doing it. She knew how much her brother hated getting up in the morning.
"I think Iroh is asleep." Toph stuck her head out the window, "Either that or he is snoring like a lawnmower for fun."
Katara scooted over to the edge of the roof and felt around for the window ledge with her toe. Being careful not to slip, she maneuvered herself back into the guest room she was occupying.
". . . I mean, honestly, who makes noise like that while they sleep?" Toph was babbling on cheerfully, "Did Sparky have to camp out next to that every night when he was a refugee? No wonder he was cranky! He never got any sleep!"
"Where are my clothes?" Katara asked as she back bended through the frame, her lower back muscles and obliques engaging.
"On the bed, Hurry up and ninja-ccessorize." Toph had not moved,
"Ninja-ces . . . I'm not sneaking in." Katara raised an eyebrow but pulled the black cloths on anyway, her stomach nervous.
Slipping back out the window, Katara disappeared into the darkness.
Zuko pulled the curtains of his room back and flung the doors open. The full moon hung low in the horizon, looking larger than life. It made the corner of his mouth twitch, Katara would be feeling it. He still thought about her often, and he hoped that Toph could convince her to meet him. The little earth bender had not returned after her visit with the water bender, and he hoped that it was a good sign.
With a long, depressed sigh, he rubbed his forehead and turned away from the cityscape. Nimbly, his fingers undid the ties of his shoulder pads and outer robe, then pulled out his topknot, combing his fingers through his lengthening hair. He had just finished undoing his inner robe when he heard someone shift behind him.
An assassin?! He whirled around and threw the bulky fabric to the floor, raising his hands into a ready stance. One of the shadows next to his curtain detached itself and stepped forward, hips swinging in the most familiar manner.
"Katara?!" His voice rasped out. It was her, her mouth and nose were covered with black fabric, but he had long ago memorized her arctic eyes.
"Zuko," She replied, her voice muffled by the face mask, "We need to talk, Toph told me that-"
"'Tara, are you pregnant?!"
Katara smiled dryly under her shroud in spite of herself. That was the first thing out of his mouth? That's what he had been waiting to say? She swept her hand in a long arc, gesturing to her chest, stomach, and thighs.
"Clearly, I am not pregnant."
"No!" Zuko waved his hands, "I mean, were you pregnant?!"
"No." Katara began to explain, her voice tense, as though she expected him to explode at her again, "She was Iroh's daughter, your cousin. That's why she had gold eyes and fire bent. I bet you were really worried there, huh?"
"The rumors . . . they . . . and then . . ." Zuko was stammering, as though he couldn't make up his mind what to say first. He looked older, his hair longer, and his amber eyes tired. His chest was toned again, how it had been when he had fought beside her for his kingdom.
"I came here to talk," Katara pressed on, "I figure I owe you an explanation-"
"You're damn right you do!! How could you disappear on me like that?!" He turned this way and that, his hands gesturing wildly, "Not a note, not a message, nothing!! How do you think I felt Katara?! I was worried out of my mind! Did you want me to chase you?! I couldn't chase you!"
"I didn't want that."
"Then it was to punish me!!"
"No, I just wanted to give you your space." Katara wrapped her arms around herself, suddenly chilled, even through the heat of her moon induced desires.
"Then, why leave your necklace?!"
"You brought it with you?" Katara took a step forward, her eyes searching the room but finding nothing.
"Why? Was it supposed to make up for my mother's death somehow? Some sort of girly apology?!" Zuko didn't answer her question, only posed more of his own.
"It was a promise." Katara confessed, "A promise that I would be back for it."
Zuko stood silently, looking from the stone floor to her, then back again. His brow furrowed, and suddenly, he seemed to lose himself in thought.
"Could you put your shirt back on?" she asked, swallowing and shifting onto her right leg uncomfortably. That seemed to sober him, and without complying, he crossed the room in a few long bounds and seized her in a large hug.
"Where WERE you?!"
"Well, it's a long story really . . ." Katara took a deep breath to launch into a well rehearsed explanation, meant to quell his anger, but he didn't let her. Maybe it didn't matter anyway.
He grabbed her face mask with both hands, trying to tug it off her, and Katara instinctively grabbed it, holding it in place. When his attempt to unmask her failed, Zuko lowered his head and crushed his lips to hers as though the fabric wasn't there. Katara squeaked, startled, and wondered how her hands had gone from her facemask to his wrists where his hands cupped her face.
"Katara, I'm sorry," he whispered as he broke the kiss, the taste of the cotton over her face lingering on his tongue, "I was angry, and I know that's no excuse . . ."
"No, you had every right to be. I miscalculated; I should have been able to protect her."
"You didn't have your bending." Zuko dismissed, hugging her tightly to him, "It was utterly ridiculous of me to expect you to be able to defeat my sister."
Katara quieted, relaxing into the embrace. The familiar sensations flooded her, his slightly smoky smell, the slightly ragged rise and fall of his chest as he drew breath, the hammering of his heart against her cheek. The full weight of how much she had missed him practically collapsed her. Her hand raised to caress the star shaped scar on his breast. She wanted him so badly.
Reaching up, she pulled the mask down, off her chin, and raised her face to him, tucking the stray locks behind her ear and letting the soft moonlight fall on it. She wondered if she looked as different to him as he did to her. Older probably, fiercer, more decorated, more independent, but still Katara. Always Katara.
He stared at her a long time, his face unreadable, and she looked down and away, starting to fidget under the scrutiny. His hands, however, tightened around her waist, pulling her closer. Traitorously, her body began to tremble with excitement beneath his touch.
"I have to go. Right now." Turning, she tried to shimmy out of his grasp and flee, but he pulled her back against him.
His breath dusted hot across her neck, and somehow through unknown chemistry, turned her knees to jelly. Katara took a deep breath, she hadn't understood what he said.
"'How long' what?"
"Since you had an outlet?"
"What makes you think it's been a while?!" Katara did her best to sound haughty, "I could have had any swamp man I wanted!"
"You're not fooling me 'Tara, the sight of my naked chest was making you quiver."
"I came here to talk and clear the air, not to have an affair." If she had been less turned on, the statement would have been punctuated by a shove to his chest. Unfortunately, her desire to indulge her pride could not compete with her desire to indulge.
"What, you've never heard of make up sex?" She felt him shift, then his mouth conformed itself to the juncture of her neck and collarbone, "I'll have to teach you."
It had taken hours of fussing for everyone to be made up to Ty Lee's standards. Toph, Katara, and Kisa were all thoroughly annoyed by the acrobat by the time they were ready to go. It didn't seem to matter how many times they had reapplied their makeup, she was never satisfied.
Although she looked, she couldn't find Zuko as she took her seat between Sokka and Toph. The Earth King Kuei came out first, his bear Bosco in tow, it's circus jacket and Fez exchanged for finer looking formal robes. Was the bear really going to be the groom's man?! The band began to play, the drum beats stirring everyone's blood, then Zuko clad in his ceremonial armor, and the Bride in a luxurious red kimono and long, elaborately tied obi.
The Ceremony was boring and long winded, and Katara kept having to elbow Toph to keep the young girl from nodding off. Every time she would though, Toph would grimace and elbow her back. They had to sit through first the sun sages then the Earth Kingdom missionaries before the vows were read and the rings were exchanged. At the end however, when the young couple kissed, a barrage of fireworks lit the sky, and the whole crowd surged to their feet and cheered.
"What happened?!" Toph bolted up, "Did someone set off a pot of blasting jelly?"
"No! Silly," Ty Lee patted her before the girl could bend, "It's the fire rockets! They're the most amazing colors!!"
The after party commenced soon after, and Katara inventoried her new dress, making sure it was immaculate before making her way over to the Fire Lord. He and Iroh were chatting amiably, sipping from small mugs of saki, and both stopped and stared at her as she walked up.
"Lady Katara!" Iroh still had no idea of her night out, "you look beautiful, may I fetch you a drink?"
"Yes, that would be lovely."
The two benders stood in silence as the older man padded away. Katara looked around, where was Sokka's nemesis? Shouldn't she be with him, hanging off of his arm? Was Ty Lee wrong?
"Uncle said he bought you the dress." Zuko offered her his arm. "In return for finding his daughter."
"Ty Lee said you have a girlfriend." Katara whispered, refusing it, "You shouldn't be so openly affectionate."
"I have an enemy I am pretending to flirt with so that she will not get suspicious. I didn't know where you were, I was worried . . . I haven't touched her, I swear, and Toph will confirm it." Zuko's face fell, and he began defending himself, as though he thought that she misunderstood and was mad. "She isn't even a girlfriend, she just thinks I like her and she will be soon!"
"I'm not mad, I was for a while, but not anymore." Katara told him in a murmur, "Toph explained it in detail, I'm glad you were looking out for me. Your mother . . . before she died, she said I could be targeted if I stayed with you."
"Targeted?!" Zuko choked on his sip of alcohol and doubled over, coughing, "You mean, like, assassinated?!"
"Don't look at me like that! I can take care of myself!!" Katara patted him on the back, helping support him, "Just, with the little one to take care of on the road, you know how it is."
"I'll cast her off right now!!" Zuko hissed as he stood.
"No." Katara tried to calm him down, scared he might storm off and confront the manipulative girl in his temper, "If you do it now, they'll know it was because of me."
"So?" Zuko looked disappointed on top of livid, he was looking for an excuse to drop the leech. Luckily for him, she was better at the silly girl games and intrigue that the Order seemed to deal in.
"Wait a month or two, then fight with her." Katara shrugged, "About anything. Make it look like her fault."
"Katara, that's ridiculous. No more secrets. No more games."
"I love you." With that, he leaned down and kissed her; kissed her in front of the entire Earth, Fire, and Water Nations.
In front of her family.
In front of his advisors.
In front of Arnook and the chieftains.
In front of the Order of the White Lotus.
In front of the Council of Five.
In front of everyone.
Zuko stood on the balcony, staring at the nearly full moon. Even in the cool night air, it was impossible to escape the blaring of the sungi horn.
"Nephew, what are you doing out here? After causing such a fuss!! You should be inside celebrating! Every man in the kingdom wants to shake your hand!" Iroh walked out to meet him, then offered him a drink. Zuko accepted the glass, but didn't drink.
"I would have thought that you would be inside, escorting your lovely new girlfriend."
"She isn't a new girlfriend."
Iroh chuckled, "Then your newly acknowledged girlfriend."
"She got swept off by the rest of the girls to the ladies lounge." Zuko swirled the liquid in his cup, "They said that with all the tears, they would need to fix her make up."
"Undoubtedly gossiping about you."
"Mmm . . ."
"So what were you thinking about, Zuko?"
"I was remembering what you told me once." Zuko confessed, "Remember? You told me destiny is a funny thing, and that you never know how things are going to turn out."
"Yes." Iroh took a sip, looking out over the city walls. The gates to the rings were thrown wide, and music floated up from the lantern lit streets. He could see shadows of figures dancing and laughing, all were making merry at the union.
"I think I understand it now.I understood it before, but, every day, it seems clearer. Almost a year ago, I started out searching for the Fire Lady," Zuko said at last, "and I think I've found her."
Katara felt faint.
She had never in a million years expected such a grand gesture. No more sneaking around, no more marriage proposals. No more sneaking around. It was almost liberating. She had slipped away from Suki and Ty Lee, claiming the need for a breath of fresh air. Really, she just wanted to be alone for a minute to absorb the events.
The word seemed unreal. She wasn't sure how it happened. Well, she knew, but she didn't know. One minute he had been kissing her, then he sunk down onto his knees and offered her her mother's necklace.
You told me this necklace was a promise. His words echoed through her mind, so this is my promise to you . . .
Reaching out, she found the pedestal of one of the stone statues and supported herself. She was still in shock. It felt so unreal. Fire Lady. Did she want to be Fire Lady?! It was so much responsibility!!
She was so absorbed in her thoughts, she failed to notice the approaching footsteps. A throat cleared in front of her, and she nearly jumped out of her skin. She paled when she saw who it was. Standing in front of her, her arms crossed, her toe tapping angrily stood the poet from Lyire's memory.
"May I help you?" Katara asked, playing dumb.
"You think you're so smooth." The woman told her, although it was a haiku, it was also a threat, "Playing lover to the Lord, I won't lose to you.
"Excuse me?" Katara's grip on the statue tightened, "I don't think you realize who you're dealing with."
"No." the poetess had abandoned the pentameter, "You don't know who you're dealing with, nobody makes a fool of me. I eat girls like you for breakfast, and it's not over yet, I promise." With that, Katara heard the click of the wooden earth kingdom shoes proceed down the hall.
Oh Iroh, you do love to shop, don't you?
Oh right . . . THE END!!!!!!
Okay, this concludes the story arc that is Midsummer Madness. I hope you all enjoyed it!! Sequel is officially up, and summary is below:
A Net to Catch the Wind
The whole Fire Nation is in a tizzy because the birth of the century is about to take place. Unfortunately, there is protocol for things like this, and only one person the Fire Lord trusts to midwife such an important labor. Zutara, Azula/Hahn, Taang, Sukka.
It would probably be easiest to find via my profile.
I missed all you Zutarians at NYCC!! I went dressed as Katara, and people kept asking me where Aang was . . . I told them I left him for Zuko, and everyone gasped and looked offended.
I did not get a single 'Zuko? Hellz yes! ::high five::'
::sigh:: Oh the Humanity!!
I hope you liked the ending, I wanted it to be a la Bridget Jones, the edge of reason. I'm not sure I like the last chapter, it feels a bit rushed, but whatever, it's been one hell of a ride.
THANK YOU SOOO MUCH FOR READING!! I am truly flabbergasted that such a silly little fic got so popular, it exceeded my wildest dreams. I hope you have had as much fun reading as I did writing!!
Hope you enjoyed the fic!! Review Review Review! It's your last chance!!!
No more chapters so make it count!!