Chapter 18

Sokka, Toph, Iroh and Aang returned to the Fire Nation throne room, Iroh seriously in worse condition that when he had left. Iroh aided by Toph and Aang was helped across the room as the members of the Council stood up respectfully. There was no murmur, no whisper, not even the subtlest hint of a breath in the room, it was as if the very air was watching the sad procession.

Iroh gently freed himself from his aids and stood to face the Council Sokka, over looked stayed at the door of the room keeping watch. "As many of you had asked where my –" Here Iroh choked a bit but continued. "my nephew had been… and I may finally say." The entire council was still and silent but you could almost feel the eagerness leaking into the atmosphere.

" The Fire Lord has received information on the location of his mother, and joined the Avatar and his companions to find her. The path the Fire Lord took is still secret as his companions will not reveal their trip, but one fact remained clear in their report." Here Iroh choked again but along with it a single tear rolled down his cheek to be lost in his beard. "The Fire Lord has not returned from the trip, he has… passed on…" Iroh looked away and finally the Council showed life.

The men's faces all broke from the calm mask of neutrality to a mix of emotions, from crushing sorrow, to confusion to absolute and utter joy. The last however was only born on one face, which became evident as he opened his mouth to speak. "We are all grievously sorry to hear that Iroh… we know Zuko was like a son to you."

Iroh nodded and was preparing to speak again when the same man interrupted him, this man was Fong. "And if I'm correct you've abdicated the Throne. Haven't you Iroh."

"That's still Fire Lord Iroh to you pinhead!" Toph shouted, but somehow in the situation it had lost her fire.

"And so we have no heir, no members of the ruling family that could be in charge, with Ursa gone and Zuko gone now too, Azula is not fit to rule so that leaves only one choice. One person. One single man who could bring this nation back to control."

The whole council was quiet. "Ozai could, Ozai has brought order to us before." Fong started pacing about the room. "He saved us, he saved us from the rule of this" Fong glared at Iroh with an intensity that it made the older man shrink back. "Pathetic" he spat the word with such fury that it left his tongue bitter. "Man."

"You do not want to go back to a time of war, young people sent off to die?" Iroh asked quietly, almost sniveling.

"With war we are strong." Fong replied. "I don't remember having such ludicrous taxes, before war, I don't remember having such loss of jobs. Without the war we are nothing." Fong growled. The council didn't move but the air in the room was so thick with tension that you could cut it with a knife.

"There are only two things certain in this world Fong, and that is death and taxes." Iroh said wisely.

"Not these, we had a reputable life style! And now because of the outcast Son of Ozai we must live with restraints we don't deserve to have!" Fong stared at each of his fellow council members but none would meet his eye.

"The pretend boy in grown-ups clothes is now dead! Isn't it time for our fellow man to lead the flock back to its prosperity?" Fong hissed.

The flames leapt to life on the raised dais, everyone in the vicinity jump. Fong went ghostly white as the flames burned white hot and so huge nothing could penetrate their shining curtain. "See our Ruler returns to us!" Fong called and bowed low. "Fire Lord, I have the pleaser of informing you it was I that made it possible for your glorious return! I am the one who sent an assassin to your son. The one who took initiative. I am your ever humble and willing servant."

The curtain of flame broke just enough to let the solitary figure, silhouetted against the glow, to push from behind the barrier. The flames died almost as quickly as they had appeared, and Fong realized his entirely foolish mistake.

Zuko was standing there a cold fire in his eyes, Katara a little away from him keeping a vigilant eye for any moves the Council or their ill-fated country man might try.

"He's alive." Someone muttered. "A ghost" Came another voice. It seemed that the Council finally broke its silence.

"Thank you Uncle." Zuko said quietly and deadly. The entire hall fell quiet and even the flames flickering in the back made no sound. "Now Fong, since you love my father's ways so much what would he do with a traitor?"

Fong was so white he seemed transparent. It was no surprise that he didn't have an ounce of courage in his body when faced with the Fire Lord.

Under Fire Lord Ozai's regime the council man had the stability of a rich life. His children unaffected by the draft for soldiers, his business given monopolies and taxes rarely blew his way. His family and himself were prosperous but that was slowly changing with Zuko as Fire Lord.

The reforms of the New Fire Nation were hard on the nobility and easy on the peasants, slowly closing the gap between the rich and the poor, by building the poor up and bringing the rich down. Fong and others like him could not afford their old style of life, but the others 'were glad to give to the cause' and 'help raise their brother and sisters out of the ashes'. It sickened him.

He felt that everyone had a place and that they should know it, and the honor less banished prince was vastly out of place. But now, looking like an avenging angel, Fong was the one who felt like a child against a master.

"Fong!" Zuko asked again, no louder than before. "What would my father do to traitors?"

Fong knew the answer but shook his head, he feared if he spoke then he would throw up.

"Since you obviously don't know, he would have them put up against a wall and used as target practice for the new recruits." Fong swallowed nervously. "If I was my father I would make sure you are an example. That no wrong should go unpunished."

Fong felt his lip began to quiver in fear but, summoning his last vestiges of resolve, he stood firm. "You are lucky then that I am not my father."

Fong nearly collapsed as one of his knees gave out. "Thank you, thank you." Fong whimpered. It was more than he could hope for.

"Don't thank me yet, you have no idea what your punishment is." Zuko hissed the fire behind him grew. "You will be stripped of your status."

Fong nodded his head, he could live with this. Anything seemed better than being burned alive right then. "You will forfeit the rights of your company, and to your Fire Nation citizen rights. You are banished from this land."

Fong nodded again, banishment, he could start anew, at least he wasn't dead. "And you are to wear the mark of the traitor everywhere, until you die." At these words Zuko jumped and shot a very fine blast of fire at Fong. The fire caught him on his cheek and the man screamed. Everyone in the room jumped and as Fong pulled his hand away from his cheek they could see the skin burned in the shape of a T.

"You have one day to leave before I decide to kill you as my father would have." Zuko's glare was icy. Fong fled.

"You are dismissed." Zuko addressed the rest of the room and the Council uniformally got up and left. Toph and Sokka left in the mix and even Uncle Iroh left patting Katara on the shoulder as a silent message to talk to the boy.

"Zuko." She silently called out standing alone in the middle of the floor.

"Shhh." He murmured and enveloped her in a hug letting his shoulders fall his eyes close and him to simply be at peace.

It was nice in Zuko's embrace so she didn't protest and let herself be lost in his smoky scent that clung to the air like a delicate perfume.

"I don't think I can do this on my own, Katara." Zuko whispered into Katara's shoulder.

"You have your uncle," Katara murmured. Zuko being so close made her brain slow and she didn't realize the full implications of his words, but slowly she worked it out. "Oh."

"I would understand if you don't want to and it's not like I'm asking for commitment or anything, God no I'm not asking for commitment, but still I love you and well I know your father won't like it very much neither will your brother but I guess it's not really about them but they are you're family and family's important, not that my family was important, actually family isn't that important, I guess, but I'm sure yours is great but you know it's-" Katara pulled away slightly smiling, to see her boyfriends red face and nervous eyes. She kissed him very gently.

"You talk too much." She said and their lips met again. It was several minutes before they broke apart again

"Is that a yes then?" Zuko asked hopefully.

"I don't know, I don't ever remember a question being asked." Katara teased. It was funny how such a deadly, cold, cruel man can be turned into the nervous awkward teenager in just a matter of minutes.

Zuko sighed. "Katara, will you stay here with me, in the Fire Nation?" she thought a minute before nodding.

And so they stayed together in the palace for many months, growing more together, through the challenges and the peace. Through the fights, they always came back to each other, promising they would hold on forever.

When Katara went back to the Water Tribe, just for a week visit, she received seven letters each detailing how much she was loved and how much she was missed, and how she should hurry and get back to him.

When Katara finally returned she walked into her room tired after a good night kiss from her Zuko, and found a small delicate piece of string with a beautiful carved stone on her pillow next to a delicate rose. Katara took it gently in her hands and carried it to her door to find the love of her life standing behind it. "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes."

Zuko's face broke into a smile and they kissed, neither willing to let go.

i didn't edit this... sorry, this is the last. Good Bye Thanks for the memories