Passing of the Fire Lady
The great crimson nation mourned the loss of its matriarch, of the gentle woman who had been at their Fire Lord's side for as long as many of them had been alive.
All across the nation, brilliantly displayed flags were lowered to half-mast, and many cried freely, unashamed, for The Fire Lady had been loved.
But none missed her more than their Fire Lord, whose hollow shell sat alone in his darkened throne room, waiting for those who, like him, had known her before she was The Fire Lady.
The Fire Lord looked down at his scarred hands, clenching them into tight, agonized fists as he remembered all that he had done, and what it had meant when he realized she had forgiven him. It had been so long, and still The Fire Lord felt that warmth in his heart. Had he really been so brazen?
Katara swore softly as she tried to balance both the baskets, and she almost jumped when she heard him behind her.
"Do you need some help?"
Katara set the baskets down, and turned around, favoring Zuko with an amused smile.
The exiled prince was covered head to toe with mud, pieces cracking off as it dried. "What happened to you?"
"Aang wanted to find out if he could control all four elements at the same time." Zuko replied simply. "I got the worst of it, but Toph's chasing after him right now, trying to extract revenge."
Katara laughed. "Well, this is tonight's supper, so I'm not sure I want mud all over it. Why don't you go wash off, and you can help me then."
Zuko nodded, and walked off toward the temple's washrooms. Katara shook her head at his retreating back, and went back to what she was doing.
A short while later, Zuko reappeared, and stood there waiting for her orders. Katara handed him a knife and a bowl full of peeled vegetables.
"Cut these up for me."
Zuko took the bowl, and stood next to her, slicing the food into pieces. Katara made some remark that brought a smile to Zuko's face. His reply brought laughter to hers.
After supper, the others vanished like they usually did, running from chores, and Katara sighed.
"Care for some help?" Zuko asked.
"You?" Katara asked, smirking. "You won't break anything, will you?"
"I promise to try not to." Zuko replied seriously.
Katara looked at the heavy basin, and considered. "I'll wash, you dry."
They worked together in companionable silence for a while, and then Katara growled. "You know, if the others didn't flake out, we could have all the chores done already."
"They leave because you always do the chores." Zuko replied simply. "You're kind of like the group's mother."
"Huh?" Katara turned a blank look on the prince.
Zuko scoffed. "You actually don't know that? Think about it: you do the washing, and the mending, and the cooking. You make sure everyone has enough to eat, and that nobody gets injured. You do everything, and you still have time to train Aang in waterbending."
Katara bit her lip, focusing on the dishes. She actually hadn't thought of that. "I don't mind, really…" Katara began. "But still, everyone should help."
"I'm helping." Zuko commented, wringing out his rag. He started when he felt Katara's arms wrap around him.
"Thank you for that, Zuko." She said.
Zuko's throat tightened, and he felt a strange sensation in his chest. "You're welcome."
They finished their chores in silence, but both were smiling. Later, as they parted ways, Zuko caught Katara's hand.
Startled, the girl looked at him with wide eyes as Zuko caressed her cheek. "You should make time for yourself." He told her, and went into his room.
Katara touched her cheek, blushing furiously.
Shortly before The Fire Lady's funeral, the packed capitol city pointed up in relief at the shaggy form that flew overhead, carrying the last of The Lady's dear friends to arrive.
Eyes followed as the great beast landed in the open court of the palace, their Lord there, ready to meet them, dressed in the same white robes now worn by an entire nation.
With old, practiced ease, The Fire Lord helped a diminutive form clad in green robes down from the saddle, setting her to her feet close to him, and stood there, waiting for the others to follow.
A short, bald man, deep wrinkles of worry and wisdom creasing his face, hopped down, his mood as faded as the dull blue arrows that crossed his body. An aging man of the Lady's complexion dressed in a simple blue tunic followed him.
The small group shared an embrace, and despite the years, the Nation can see past the gray of age, past the scars of battle, to what they had once been.
Katara wrapped the chains securely through the grate, then bent the water away, finally releasing the trapped air in her lungs. Next to her, Azula caught her own breath, trapped to the metal grating.
Katara crawled to her feet, and ran to Zuko's side. He was still, and Katara's heart stopped.
"Zuko…Zuko hold on!" She bent what water she could, focusing on healing the wound that Azula's strike had caused.
Zuko groaned, opening his eyes. "Katara?"
Katara smiled at him, relieved. "Don't scare me like that again."
Zuko smiled. "Thank you."
"I should be thanking you." Azula screamed, fire roaring from her mouth, and the two turned to her, watching as she finally lost all grasp on reality.
Zuko tried to slide into his robe, but his wounds still ached. He groaned at the sharp pain.
"Need some help?" Katara stood in the doorway, smiling at him. Without waiting for his response, she slid his robe onto his shoulder, and helped him tie the sash.
"Thank you." Zuko said, speaking softly.
Katara smiled, and started to turn away, but Zuko caught her hand. "I couldn't let you die."
Katara turned to him, waiting silently. Zuko continued. "I couldn't. I…you mean too much to me. I'm not strong enough…" Zuko looked away from her. "I'm not strong enough to live in a world without you."
Katara caressed Zuko's cheek, slowly turning him back to her. "You're such an idiot sometimes." She told him. "But that's part of the reason I love you."
One quiet hour later, the service began. Breaking from the traditional services of ages past, those who had known the Fire Lady in life shared their best memories of her. When the time came, for several hours, the Avatar and sages of every nation extolled the goodness and virtue of the Fire Lady.
All of the eulogists told of The Fire Lady's youth, her ideals, and most especially of her hope and love. The Avatar, speaking alone, fondly smiled as he recounted many of the adventures he had shared with The Fire Lady and her brother as they quested for peace, long before she became their Fire Lady. There were none who could mistake the love the Avatar held for The Fire Lady, nor the pain he hid poorly.
The many speakers told of The Fire Lady's courage and strength. The last speakers, The Crowned Prince and his siblings, and even their own children, told of how it was their mother who gave the strength to their father to hold not only a nation, but also a world together.
"Now before all the world, and the blessed spirits beyond, I declare this union bound unto eternity." A Fire Sage spoke, his voice booming throughout the courtyard. He grinned at the young Fire Lord and his new bride. "This is where you kiss her, my lord."
Zuko smiled widely, and pulled Katara close to him, kissing her fiercely. The entire city applauded, cheering wildly.
"Now I've got you, right where you were meant to be." Zuko whispered in Katara's ear. "I love you, now and always."
Katara drew him down to another kiss. "Good, because I'd hate to think you were fickle."
The years passed swiftly, and though they stayed in touch, the gang very rarely saw each other. They were simply too busy rebuilding a world.
Zuko and Katara laughed when they heard Suki finally dragged Sokka to the altar. They felt his sorrow when Aang wrote them, telling of Momo's passing, the last of his kind.
They felt complete and total shock when Toph arrived unannounced, dragging Haru, Teo, and the Duke after her, poking Zuko in the chest, demanding to know when she would be an aunt.
The gang gathered for the birth of Prince Haku, for the birth of the twins Lin and Chan, and again for the youngest, Kaya.
They gathered for occasional birthdays…when they could. They came together for very special holidays, but those came only a few times every so often.
So, it was a sadness that they gathered for the passing of Gran Gran, again for Master Pakku, and much later for Iroh.
Losing his uncle nearly destroyed Zuko, and it was his wife that pulled him through.
It was an era of peace, and long shattered ties developed between the nations. Trade and friendship returned, and the world slowly dragged itself from unbalance.
The world shook when the Avatar disappeared, but the Fire Lord and Fire Lady held it together by sheer will.
With the return of the avatar years later came a surprise. Several young children, the oldest already rolling around on air scooters.
The balance was completely restored.
They told of all that had transpired in the years since the end of war, and at long last, and the sun danced along the ocean, it was time to say farewell. The Fire Lord himself rose above the unlit pyre, and gazed down at the silk wrapped body of his love. The sorrow in his voice cut deeply into everyone gathered as he spoke the final, traditional words of her eulogy, wishing he could do more, but there was nothing to make them understand a lifetime spent with this woman.
With his own hands, the Fire Lord set the pyre ablaze. No one heard the softly whispered words that he spoke as the flames rose into the dying day.
"Goodbye, my love." His closed his eyes, and for a moment, he could feel her gentle hand on his scarred face once more.
(Note) Just a small comment. The themes of this story are Forgiveness, Healing, and Balance. It struck me, as a Zutaran, what would it be like at the end? So, I wrote this, and I think I did fairly well.
Adversus solem ne loquitor.