I can't apologise enough. I'm sorry this took so long. There's been a lot on my mind lately...
So, here's the last chapter and we're just that much closer to a more or less awesome conclusion I think. Again, I'm sorry. Enjoy? Tell me what you think? Many thanks.
DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT OWN AVATAR THE LAST AIRBENDER NOR DO I CLAIM ANY RIGHTS TO IT OR THE CHARACTERS IN THIS STORY. I AM ONLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE PLOT OF THE STORY.
Katara watched dismayed as her father was brought back to camp wounded. What had happened? What had gone wrong? Then How was carried in as well in chains. So it had happened. How had finally made his move. At least her father would believe her now.
She turned to find Zuko standing beside her. He put a reassuring arm around her shoulders and stood with her in silence.
"I didn't think it would get to this," she whispered brokenly and started to sob. Zuko turned her to face him and hugged her. It was all he could do for now. Her father had fought a great battle and won. At least that monster, How, could be punished for his crimes, but at what price?
As he watched the general disappear into the clinic, he sighed. If worse came to worst, Katara would be shattered. He wasn't sure that she could take it so he would have to reassure her instead.
"Don't worry. Your father's a strong man. He can pull through this..."
Before he could continue, one of the guards outside unlocked the door as a private stepped in.
"I am to escort you to the clinic, Miss," he said. She held Zuko's hand and was about to walk out with him when the private stopped her.
"My orders were just for you Miss. The prisoner shall stay here." he said firmly. She was about to argue when Zuko shook his head.
"It'll be alright. Go and see your father," he said with a smile. She smiled back and nodded once then turned to follow the private out of the prison. So, the reality of his situation was that he would either be allowed to join them or he would be killed. It didn't matter much to him either way. What he was worried about was whether Katara would be able to take the loss...
Katara was led into a room where her father lay on the bed. There were numerous bandages around his chest, hands and head. He opened his eyes a crack and smiled at her. For all the effort she could see him make, he was pretty badly beaten up.
"Katara..." he began weakly and tried to sit up then winced, groaned and fell back onto his pillows.
"Please relax," she said fluffing up his pillows, "you're in no shape to start moving around yet."
Hakoda smiled more easily now and sighed.
"You're still taking care of your old man... just like you used to when you were younger. Do you remember that evening I came back with a small cut on my finger and you wouldn't let me so much as move my arm?" She chuckled at the memory and sat down beside him on the bed.
"I remember. Mum and Sokka couldn't stop laughing. I didn't understand why, but I didn't like to see you get hurt," she said tears now pricking her eyes. Memories of her mother came flooding back.
Kya smiling down at her daughter as she finished up with the dishes.
Katara held onto her mother when Sokka had scared her.
Kya held Katara and wiped away all her tears.
So many sweet memories and neither one of them had brought up her memory in so long...
"I miss her too," said Hakoda wiping Katara's tears away. "You look so much like her; more and more every day."
She sniffed and smiled through her tears.
"I'm sorry," he said reaching for her hand, "I should have trusted you. I've watched you grow from the little girl who wouldn't harm a flea to the diligent, wonderfully skilled doctor you are today, and you haven't changed. You're still the little girl I remember.
"I should have seen it coming though. I thought there was something about How I didn't like. He was planning to get rid of me by causing a national disaster. I'm embarrassed to think he could have gone so far and if things went wrong, I would receive the blame and be demoted. Either way, he would win. If I wasn't a skilled strategist, I would be dead."
"You're alive though, and I'm glad for that," she said.
"Well, I do apologise for not believing you, Katara. But maybe next time you'll warn me first before you run off with another helpless prisoner?"
She hugged him then and smiled wider than she had in a long time. There was a lot she had banked and a lot she had gambled on. She hoped she would never have to make that decision again. She loved her family more than anything and he knew that better than anyone. She was glad all the planning had played out perfectly in the end.
"Well, I'm sure I can do something about those two that helped you... and I suppose I'll have to let that young man live now?" he said stroking her hair gently. She smiled and nodded.
"If you don't I might just run away again," she said.
"Now, we can't have that, can we?" he replied with a chuckle of his own.
The war was over. The tyrant had been defeated and the Southerners could live in peace once more. Sokka had returned home with the other soldiers and Hakoda had welcomed him with open arms, mainly from a thoroughly relieved nurse Suki. Katara had been simply overwhelmed.
Of course, Sokka had eventually heard about Zuko and Katara and the upcoming nuptials. Zuko had proposed to Katara the night before and she had readily accepted. Sokka didn't really take it well, but Katara was sure he would get over it.
The celebrations continued and it was clear by the relaxed faces that things were looking up for the future. There was more to look forward to now. Sokka and Suki sat together at the celebration table, not bothering to hide what they felt for each other, not that everyone didn't already know. Aang and Toph sat side by side across from Sokka and Suki catching each others' eyes when they thought nobody was looking.
Zuko looked at his fiancée and smiled. She looked lovely in her blue kimono. It set off her eyes in the evening light. He took her hand and quietly led her out to the balcony overlooking the sea a ways ahead of them.
"It's really over," she said as she slipped into his arms. He smiled and kissed her forehead as he wrapped his arms around her.
"Yes it is," he replied, "and I, for one, am glad about that." He tickled her sides gently and she laughed. It was a beautiful sound and for as long as he lived, he wanted to hear that sound every day. He made a vow to himself that he would. They settled into a comfortable silence as they watched the sin die in the horizon.
He noticed that she looked pensive and asked her what the matter was.
"Well, I suppose you'll find out sooner or later," she said and bit her lip then she reached up to whisper in his ear what she wanted to say. His eyes widened and he looked down at her incredulously.
"Wh... are... are you sure it... I mean... are you serious?" He grew more excited and she let out a relieved breath as she nodded. Laughing now, he picked her up and swung her around then he set her down and took her breath away with another kiss.
"When are you going to tell the others?" he asked her once they had stopped to draw breath.
"Eventually. For now, let's worry about getting married soon," she said with a satisfied smiled and settled back in his arms.
Now with even more reason to be happy, Zuko kissed Katara's hair and sighed. The future was definitely looking just that much brighter.
Short, I know, and I'm beating myself up over it but I hope it ended in a way you liked. Please review and let me know what you think? :)