Zuko still hates sea prunes.
It's the texture that bothers him more than anything. It's sort of rubbery, and maybe kind of slimy. Either way, it doesn't go down easy. Zuko would know, Katara has coaxed him into trying it a couple of times, claiming that the human taste buds change over time.
But they're still disgusting.
And they taste like fish shit.
However, in the three years that Zuko has spent in the Southern Water Tribe, he's discovered that he quite likes a lot of their cuisine.
Like smoked seaweed, ice pops, seal jerky, and elk. Actually elk is quickly becoming his favorite, and Zuko has developed a flare for hunting. Whenever Sokka visits they make a formidable team.
Zuko has also become fairly popular amongst the citizens of the Southern Water Tribe. He's most often described as a grumpy yet loveable man who has a not-so-nice temper when pushed to the brink. Zuko is not entirely fond of these descriptions but is just glad that the people don't hate him.
After all, he is the Chief.
In title only of course, Katara holds the majority of the power in terms of political decision making. But Zuko helps out as much as he possibly can, and he and Katara actually share an office.
Being married to her is fun. Sometimes she does get cranky and Zuko occasionally finds himself sleeping on the floor, or, if Sokka is in town, staying with his best friend.
Granted, Katara's reasons for being cranky are justified. Like the time when Zuko and a tribal elder got into a physical fight over whether or not Sang could accompany Zuko into Councils, and the time when Zuko accidentally burned down part of his and Katara's house in the middle of the night during their first year of marriage.
(The latter was not entirely his fault. Sometimes Zuko just gets too hot, and Katara hadn't been helping considering where her mouth had been at the time.)
Then, of course, there are the Dark Months. Those aren't so fun. But Zuko survives. His body understands that the sun is there, just hidden for a little while. He still firebends just fine, but the intensity of it is reduced, like it always is during the night time. Even still, Zuko would be a liar if he said he didn't feel extreme relief when the Dark Months are over and the sun reveals itself once more. But in the end Zuko doesn't really mind.
Zuko is a happy man.
He figures he's luckier than most.
"Have you been feeling sick lately?" Zuko asks Sokka, twirling smoked seaweed around his chopsticks.
Sokka pushes the meat in his mouth into his cheek and answers around it. "Nah. Why?"
Zuko gives a half shrug. "It's just Katara."
They're at one of the eateries in the middle of the vast city, and technically with their high status amongst the tribe they could get a more private table. But neither of them really care.
Aside from meat, Sokka has dried fruit and something dark green that Zuko has never had the nerve to try before on his plate. It's the healthiest thing Zuko has seen Sokka eat in eons. The Avatar is rubbing off on Sokka more then he realizes.
"Why do you ask?" Sokka says after swallowing.
Zuko frowns pensively. "She's just been throwing up at random times lately, and she's always tired. And it's like she's planning something. It's so weird. I was thinking if you knew of a bug that's going around, or if you had been feeling funny."
Sokka shakes his head. "Nope. I'm healthy as an ostrich-horse." He and Zuko shrug at each other before going back to their meals.
Approximately two minutes later both men freeze at the same time.
"I'm going to kick your ass," Sokka exclaims, chopsticks clamoring down onto his plate.
Zuko's mind is too blown for him to comprehend how asinine that is. His chest is already heaving. "Agni…" His vision starts to tunnel and he grips the edge of the table so hard he singes it. "Katara is going to kill me."
Sokka pauses in his ass-kicking tirade, confused. "Why?"
"Because I'm not supposed to know before she tells me!"
Sokka instantly goes into best-friend-slash-brother-in-law-mode. "Deep breaths, Zuko. Do not throw up. I cannot handle you puking right now." He leans forward and grips Zuko's shoulders. "Okay, here's what's going to go down. You'll wait, alright? You'll wait until she tells you yourself because knowing my sister she's got a whole thing planned out. And you're going to act surprised."
Zuko has broken out into a sweat, despite the cold weather. "I don't think I can pretend not to know. And isn't she supposed to tell me first? I'm not supposed to find out before she tells me! Isn't her telling me she's pregnant with my child supposed to be an event? Some joyous thing?"
Sokka flings a hand into the air and huffs. "Why are you asking me like I'm supposed to know, Zuko? There is not an illegitimate mini-Sokka out there! I have no experience in this matter!"
Zuko turns his chair so that he can place his head between his knees. Sokka gets up and pats him on the back reassuringly.
"Just pretend not to know," Sokka reasons before pausing for a moment. "Dad is going to be so excited."
"What's going on?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"You're my husband, Zuko. I know when you're being weird. You've been pouring over law scrolls for the past three days like it's your new mission in life."
"I didn't realize that understanding the Southern Water Tribes laws was weird—"
"I—it's just…you're acting funny when you do it!"
"I am not! And you know it's not just you who's acting weird. I saw Sokka in the market today and instead of saying hi to me he and turned and sprinted in the other—Why do you look so panicked, Zuko?"
"You just twitched!"
"Sokka and I don't know anything! Stop asking me questions!"
"Can I hide out here for a little while?"
Gran Gran turns and regards him with amusement. "Perhaps you should tell Katara that you know she's pregnant."
Zuko's mouth drops open. "How'd you know?"
Gran Gran gives him a withering look that makes him bow is head. "Right, never mind."
"You'd be better off telling her that you know," the old woman advises. "Who told you not to tell her anyway? Wait, don't answer that. It was my grandson. I'll have to have a word with him. And what are you doing standing up? Sit down. I'll make you some lunch."
Minutes later there is a bowl of hot stew in Zuko's hands. "Thank you."
Gran Gran smiles at him warmly. "You're welcome, son."
A moment of companionable silence stretches between them before Gran Gran speaks again. "It's a girl. I know these things."
Zuko instantly thinks of a mini-Katara, but maybe she'll have his eyes. What will they call her? Nervousness twists in his belly. To be responsible for another human being is huge. What if he's bad at it?
"How can you be sure?" he prods, now imagining a boy. Maybe he'll firebend. But, Agni help him, what if he's like Sokka?"
There's a knowing twinkle in Gran Gran's blue eyes. "There are some things that we old folks just know, Chief Zuko. I suspect it's because being so close to death means we're closer to the Spirit World. We get intuitions."
"You just want a great-grand-daughter that you can knit pink baby slippers for."
Gran Gran grins. "That too."
I hope this finds you well, and I hope that you are as happy as you were the last time I wrote to you. I have just recently gotten a certain feeling, an intuition if you well, straight from the Spirit World. Enclosed is a gift I hope you find useful in the near future.
Zuko opens the package and then peers inside.
It's a set of blue baby slippers.
Sang loves the snow, but he's old now. The cold creeps into his bones and clings there.
Zuko is pouring over a law scroll that dates back two hundred years ago, his eyebrows pulling together in concentration.
Sang whines and nuzzles his neck.
"Not now," Zuko says softly, trying not to be distracted.
Sang's next whine is louder than the first, and he licks Zuko's neck instead of nuzzling it.
Sighing, Zuko rolls up the scroll and glances at his wolf. "Yes?"
Sang turns his head and stares out straight ahead. The sun is setting and casting exquisite colors over the tundra.
Zuko relaxes, suddenly at ease.
He reaches out and scratches behind Sang's ears. "It's pretty, huh boy?"
The wolf's mouth opens, his tongue drooping out as he happily pants. Zuko swears he's grinning.
He's shaking, mostly from terror, but some of it is excitement as well.
He's sitting in a chair in the opening room of their home, waiting for Katara to come home from speaking with Hakoda about something or another.
When she finally walks through the door, Tomkin right behind her, he resists the urge to hide under the bed.
He should have just stuck to pretending he didn't know.
Katara sets her water skins down onto the ground before looking over at him. She immediately straightens up. "What's wrong?"
She quirks an eyebrow and crosses his arms over her chest. Now that Zuko knows what to look for, he can see a slight roundness to her stomach that wasn't there before.
He decides to just go for it. "The other night you were wondering why I was looking over the law scrolls."
She nods, eyes narrowing slightly. "Uh huh."
And here comes the fun part. Zuko swallows against sudden nausea. He hopes that she isn't going to be too upset. "I was thinking about what title our child should have—"
Katara groans. "You know?"
Zuko nods slowly. "Sokka and I figured it out."
Disbelief crosses her face before it's replaced with disappointment. "I was knitting these baby slippers to give to you, and then I was going to cook and it was going to be a moment!" She sighs and slumps down into a chair.
A slow smile spreads across Zuko's face. "Baby slippers? What color?"
"Yellow, since there's no telling the sex of the baby until it's born."
"Well, between you, Gran Gran and the Avatar, our child will have colorful feet."
Katara's eyes nearly pop out of her skull. "They know too?"
Zuko holds both of his hands up. "I didn't tell them," he assures her, having to bite his lip to keep from chuckling.
Katara's cheeks tinge pink with embarrassment. "Obviously I can't hide anything." She meets his gaze. "Wait, what were you saying about the law scrolls?"
The balls of Zuko's feet start bouncing against the floor in sudden excitement. "Okay, well, I talked to the elders and they wouldn't let me change your title from Chief's Wife to Princess Katara because of tradition and silly things like that—"
The sudden look of shock on her face is worth every bit of anxiety that Zuko had been experiencing minutes before.
"—but they did agree to change the title for our kids. So if it's a boy he'll be a Prince, and if it's a girl she'll be a Princess. And I'm having a crown made for them, with actual jewels this time since I don't think flowers are going to cut it—"
She's in his lap so fast she nearly knocks the breath out of him. Her arms circle around his neck and she buries her face in the nook between his neck and shoulder. Zuko breathes in the scent of her hair and sighs in contentment.
"I love you," she whispers against his skin.
He places multiple kisses on the top of her head. "I love you, too," he murmurs.
"I'm excited," she says, and he can feel her smile against his throat.
He holds her against him and rests his hands on her lower back. "Me too. It's just…"
She pulls away so that she can look him in the eye. "What?" She suddenly looks nervous and unsure.
Zuko traces circles against her back reassuringly. "What if he's like Sokka?"
Katara smacks his shoulder lightheartedly. "What if she's like Azula?"
She grins before snuggling up against him again. They don't say anything else for some time. They don't need to.
Candles flicker in the corner, basking them in the same candlelight.
Years later, when he is old and wrinkly and with a wife who is still the most beautiful person he's ever seen, Zuko concludes that the greatest thing that has ever happened to him is a little girl hitting him in the head with a yellow block.
A spot on his forehead sometimes still throbs at the thought.
As you can see, for this ending I went to the fluffy point of no return and never looked back. I apologize for it being so short. It's much shorter then I had originally planned, but if I had added more then it would have been adding more just to add more, and I didn't want to do that.
Readers—I cannot express how special you all made this story for me. This started out as me going, "I want to write kid!Zutara, and when they hit their teenage years I want to write a Ron/Hermione-esque Yule Ball-like scene. It'll be funny!" It was you guys who made this into something much bigger then I had originally planned, and for that I thank you. I don't think I could have finished this without everyone's constant encouragement, construction, and words of kindness. You're all amazing.
I don't have any sequels planned, with the exception of the Sokka/Azula one-shot that will be coming soon (hopefully).
I absolutely plan to write more Zutara. I can't seem to quit them. Next up is a WIP that's essentially the opposite of this, heh. Guess all the fluff and HEA got to me. So keep a look out!
Once again, thank you so much for reading and reviewing, and I hope you all enjoyed the story!