YEEEEE the final chapter of Sokka's Field Guide II: So She Choked on the Ring is finally here! I typed this up in the span of an hour, give or take a few minutes, so I'll likely be going and revising some things later on, but this is it! -dances- I can't believe it's done, I'm two-thirds finished with the trilogy that is Sokka's greatness :D Thanks so much to everyone who has reviewed and supported this story and its prequel, if it wasn't for all the feedback, I wouldn't have found it in me to finish this sequel off at last. I hope you enjoy it, though I don't think it's my best best work, I do hope it's still a good read and gives a sense of closure for the second installment of the Sokka's Field Guide Series!
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SOKKA'S FIELD GUIDE
A Three-Part Series
Part II : So She Choked on the Ring
'This is getting me nowhere…'
'Maybe you shouldn't even propose?'
'You don't want to be my brother-in-law?'
'Brother-in-law, I can deal with. Honeymoon? Not so much.'
'I don't think our dad would be alright with it, either!'
EIGHTH OVER-USED CLICHÉ: TRADITIONAL
It was an admittedly warm sight, if not sickeningly honeyed; though their family was broken, the pieces were enough in tact that they could simply hold together, filling in the gaps with their faith and love and affection. It was a scene that made Zuko want to turn away from the overdose of happy-family-bonding-time…as well as envy. Afterall, his family was torn apart without a shred of hope of ever fitting together once more. Even so, when Sokka broke away from the reunion and extended an arm for the Fire Lord, he gladly accepted, though hyper aware of Hakoda's suddenly suspicious eyes on his face as Katara placed an entirely unfriendly kiss on the firebender's cheek.
"So," the Chieftain opened when it was just the two of them. "You and my daughter…" — Zuko inwardly winced at the term. Daughter. He couldn't have said Katara? It would have made everything that much easier if Hakoda referred to her as a woman rather than his little girl — "…is there—ah, something going on?"
Zuko studied the intimidating man before him, briefly contemplating his odds of running away, but decided it would be bad conduct. Instead, he nodded stiffly, distrusting his voice to be of any help. The chief might have seemed like an understanding person, from what he had known of Hakoda. He was caring and strong, and rather funny – in that simple kind of humor his son favored. But that was when Zuko was running around chasing the Avatar, wielding columns of flames and trying to capture his daughter. What Zuko would give for the simpler times…
"Hm." The Chieftain neither looked pleased nor disappointed. Instead he crossed his arms over his chest, looking his counterpart up and down, and Zuko resisted the want to squirm under the scrutinizing gaze. "And what exactly is going on?"
"Well," Zuko began, only to be interrupted by his counterpart's darkened expression.
"My daughter is known for her boundless love and gratuitous trust. You are known for your quick-temper, narrow-mindedness and many, many mistakes."
The Fire Lord snuffed his urge to lash at the tall, dark-skinned man, and silently he wondered when Hakoda had ceased to tower above him. It seemed like only yesterday the chief had an entire head in height – but now a mere few inches separated the two.
"You can understand then, Fire Lord Zuko, why I have my doubts about…" and much in the manner of Sokka, the Chieftain aimlessly gestured his arms about, "…this."
Zuko stiffened. His honor was being questioned, his intentions, his love, and, for the first time since he had stepped foot upon the Southern Water Tribe, the Fire Lord was insulted. Mock him for his many errors, fine. Speak ill of his ancestors' actions, fine. Hell, prod him repeatedly upon his forehead with a the handle of a spear, fine (though any promise that said spear would remain solid would not be made). But doubt his irrevocable devotion to the stubborn, nagging, stubborn, blue-eyed stubborn waterbending peasant?
"Look, sir. My mother disappeared many years ago, my sister is mentally ill, my father, banished. Any close relatives I might have had are no longer in court because they favor my father. My Uncle is living in Ba Sing Se. Katara is the only tie to any sort of family I have. When I come here to visit her, you welcome me with open arms. You allow me to join in the tribal celebrations. You treat me as one of your own. All I want now is to make it official."
A long moment of silence passed between them as Hakoda weighed the legitimacy of the Fire Lord's words, and then a dark hand reached out to him. Zuko half-anticipated a blow to be dealt, only to feel an arm wrap about his shoulders. "Welcome to the family."
And, somewhere in the next room, an approving whoop from Sokka could be heard.
"You have worn that pendant for many years."
Katara paused mid-braid and glanced at the old woman behind her. "I know, Gran-Gran," she answered quietly, dropping her hands to the necklace. Her fingertips brushed along the familiar carving, noting the blurred and rusted edges. The ordeals the betrothal pendant had been through was clear on its surface, and Katara closed her hand about the circular charm. "But…it is the only thing I have to—"
Wrinkled hands covered hers, and the old woman smiled. "You have us. Your home. Your family and your traditions. I think, Katara, it is time to face the world anew."
"How can you ask me to give up my mother's necklace?" The waterbender whispered, staring at her grandmother's reflection in utter shock. Her own face was only pensive, voice lacking the usual spirit when she spoke of such personal matters. It was startling, that a part of her felt as though it was time to remove the pendant that wasn't hers, but her love for her mother, her refusal to forget the woman's beautiful face, her laugh, her eyes, kept Katara from moving forward.
Kanna gave her granddaughter a gentle smile. "There was a time when you needed that pendant to feel close to her. You felt lost and alone and abandoned. But look around you, Katara," the old woman said, brushing back the young bender's hair from her shoulders, "You have your father, your brother, you have your friends, you have me and you have found a different kind of love entirely."
Katara flushed at the insinuation and lowered her eyes.
"You are no longer that young girl who felt alone and broken, who needed something physical that belonged to your mother to remember her. When I look at you, do you know what I see? I see Kya. Kya's eyes, Kya's nose, Kya's hair, and Kya's spirit. Tell me, are those things not enough?" Slowly, the old woman finished the braid her granddaughter had left undone.
And Katara unclasped the necklace, delicately setting it down on the dresser before her.
"Come, we have much to do before tonight," Kanna urged.
Katara smiled, taking the old woman into a fierce embrace, "I love you, Gran-Gran."
Kanna's arms closed about her granddaughter's form. "I love you, too."
"The War Tribunal go well?"
Zuko gave the waterbender a smile and nodded, hoping that his expression didn't give away just how well the tribunal went. He took a moment to look at the girl who he hoped would be his bride; hair done up in traditional festive braids, beads clinking along choice few strands that framed her tanned face. She donned fitting clothes of a silvery blue rather than the deeper shades she often preferred. A sash of sapphire-colored designs tied intricately about her waist. The long sleeves of her blouse hugged her arms, bangles dangling from her wrists. She was beautiful. But something was off, something he couldn't quite place...
Katara held up a colored stick to his face, and when Zuko leaned away, she laughed. "I know you hate all this stuff, but if you're going to join us with this celebration, you have to look the part!"
For a waterbender, Zuko would have thought that Katara's skill extended to paint. It was not so.
Later that evening as he joined the other warriors in their tent for the ceremonial preparations, Sokka couldn't contain his laughter.
"Who did your warrior paint? Katara?"
A large bonfire lit up the skies that night, the flames dancing and lapping up into the air as the women danced about it, clapping their hands to the rhythm of the drums. They laughed and sang and danced some more, feet moving so swiftly they barely left marks in the snow. Children clapped along, bouncing outside the dancing circle. Zuko could spot Katara among hundreds of Water Tribe women, so it was rather easy to find her within the ring of seven. She looked enchanting in the fire's glow, spinning and swirling with her comrades, unpredictable like snowflakes and just as beautiful, just as unique.
When the women's dance ended, they tossed a certain blue powder into the flames that made the fire roar to life, fading a shade of violet, before settling to the burning white blazes once more. Sokka told him it was a dance for La, praying for fertility, and Zuko's cheeks reddened at the thought.
Katara returned to her seat beside him, beaming, eyes even brighter than the fire, and she laughed, collapsing into the snow. "Your face paint, it's different," she observed.
"I know," Zuko admonished, gesturing towards her brother. "Sokka did it for me."
The waterbender pouted teasingly. "What, you didn't like what I did?"
He was about to let her know that her bending skills apparently did not apply to paint, but Sokka yanked him up by his arm. "It's time!" He said excitedly. "Go get'em, Sir Jerkbender."
Katara looked confused as the husbands of various women rose to partake in a dance of eternal love. Even her father joined, honoring his late wife. "What's Zuko doing?" She asked of her brother, who absently drummed his hands upon his knees to the beat he couldn't grasp. "This dance is only for men who are married!"
"Yeah," Sokka agreed, not paying mind to the girl, "That or men who have just been betrothed."
Zuko linked arms with the other men, all faces painted according to their ages – his was a warrior's makeup, depicting a wolf. Young and cunning. Across from him, he could see the dark paint on Hakoda's countenance – blackest of night. A predator. The Fire Lord swallowed and took in a deep steadying breath, taking comfort from the flames inches from his frame. He went through the steps, stomping here and jumping there, arms and legs rigid like the motions. It all might have seemed barbaric from an outsider's perspective, and, once before, he had seen it all as primitive. But he could feel the vibrations through the snow, feel the energy, the tension rolling through the air like waves of suspense, and his heart beat fast and faster as the drums rose.
It was exhilarating.
Eventually the dance came to an end and the men leapt apart, kneeling before their wives, their women, their loves. And he moved to drop upon his knee before Katara.
She laughed, "That wasn't a dance you were supposed to—"
But he held up a golden pendant strung upon a deep blue ribbon. It caught the fire light, revealing carved images of what looked to be Tui and La circling, only Tui was not a fish, but a dragon, and La was not a fish, but was a moon.
The drums ceased, all eyes were upon the two, and Katara froze.
She studied his face, the paint dripping with his sweat. His chest rose and fell with exertion, hand imperceptibly shaking in anticipation. The fire rose behind him, swirling into the skies. Katara parted her lips to inhale, gaze jumping to the faces waiting her answer. Everyone's expressions were hidden beneath their face paint, or else the shadows cast by the flames. And then she found her father who met her eyes, and nodded.
Katara laughed, tackling him into the snow sobbing incoherent things that didn't matter because Zuko managed to catch her face between his hands and barely had time to ask whether or not she accepted when she kissed him in the middle of the celebration, beneath the falling snow, before the swirling fire.
The dancing continued.
'Will your dad like me?'
'Sure! Besides the whole you being from the Fire Nation, son of Ozai, descendant of the one who, you know, took over the world with the comet - what's not to like?'
'You really know how to make a guy feel better.'
'Glad to be of some help.'
'Maybe I would have been better off asking Toph…'
END! WEEEEEE! - THROWS CONFETTI -
I'm in a bit of a rush, so I have to run,
but I just had to post the final proposal!
thoughts, comments, feedback?
And this concludes Sokka's Field Guide II.
STAY TUNED FOR THE LAST INSTALLMENT OF THE SOKKA'S FIELD GUIDE SERIES:
Sokka's Field Guide III: Attempting Murder Yet?
In which Sokka takes upon the role of marriage counselor.