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Notes: Annnnnd done! I know this epilogue wasn't really worth waiting for, but I have a confession to make. I've gotten distracted by Primeval, and for the next little while I'm probably not going to be doing any AtLA fics besides getting to the end of Airbender's Child: Other Perspectives. I hope you all can forgive me. So, without further ado, I give you the epilogue.
The royal wedding went ahead on schedule, mainly because the key parts that were specific to the bride and groom had yet to be started or were simple enough to adapt, such as hemming the bridal gown to fit Katara instead of Yue.
The wedding and the week leading up to it was as lovely as it could be, considering that the bride had to be tackled by Lu Ten and dragged back to the suite where she was supposed to be in contemplation of the infinite. Four times. When Zuko stopped by after one of his tiresome traditional displays of manly bending prowess, he discovered Katara had hidden the daughter of one of the dignitaries in her suite and had struck a deal with the girl.
"Sweetness here promised me she'd get me dropped off on Kyoshi Island on her way to the South Pole in exchange for food," Toph Beifong said cheerfully. Katara, in direct defiance of Fire Nation tradition had a plate of chicken lizard and noodles in front of her and a stack of fruit tarts.
"Excuse us a minute," he said to the blind girl, and dragged Katara to a corner. "What are you doing? You can't leave that girl alone on some random island, no matter how miserable she is at home."
"Why not?" demanded Toph from the other side of the room.
Katara had a sweet smile on that Zuko didn't trust for a moment, but he loved her and he trusted her not to be evil, so when she told him to meet Toph in a particular field at the city limits, he did it. When he came back the next afternoon, the day before the actual wedding ceremony, he stomped past the servants and his startle mother, bruised, battered and covered in a layer of dirt. "Fine, I agree," he told her. "But I'm never trusting you again when you smile like that."
"Like what?" Katara asked, smiling.
"Like that," Zuko groused, and stomped back out the door, muttering the whole way about violent women.
The actual ceremony went perfectly, the wedding night was even better, and a few days later they were on a boat, accompanied by Toph, who instantly ingratiated herself to the Water Tribe sailors by being possibly more crass than they were.
It was a sharp learning curve for Zuko, who'd never needed to learn about ships. Now that he was part of the Tribes, even if only by marriage, he had to know about it, so he did his best. And if the rigging and jibbing and rudders and sails and everything was all ancient Air Nomad dialect to him, the freedom of the ship and the open seas was refreshing. The time that wasn't spent helping as best he could with the ship was spent tussling with Toph and curled up with Katara, unwilling to do anything more lest they be overheard by someone on the ship.
Toph was dropped off, as promised, on Kyoshi. She and Katara promised to write each other just as soon as Toph had someone she'd trust to read and write her letters for her. Then they made their way to the South Pole.
Zuko's first impression was of sheer sparkling white. Then of masses of black and white bodies. Hakoda sighed in a way that conveyed the feelings of a parent who's come home to the sight of finger paint on every wall of the home. "I told Sokka to get the penguins out of the settlement, not keep them in the main square."
"What, exactly, did you tell him?" Katara asked her father.
"To get the damn things out of the way," the chief said.
Katara laughed. "I'm sure they're out of the way. I'm also sure Sokka's got some scheme with the village kids going."
"Why I ever thought he'd make a good chief after me," Hakoda grumbled as he went off to complain to Bato, who'd actually sympathise with his plight.
They docked, and Zuko looked around at the people who'd come to greet them. A white-haired, tall, disapproving-looking man stood next to a grey-haired woman. "Gran-gran!" Katara exclaimed, and ran up to the woman. "It's so good to see you again!"
The older man walked up to Zuko and fixed him with a dark glare. "So, you're the man who's married my best student," he said.
It was unpromising, but he was already married to Katara and her father didn't seem to hate him, so he'd deal with this. He bowed low, as he would to any master bender back in the Fire Nation, saying, "I am honoured to make your acquaintance, Master Pakku."
"Oh, no need to be so formal!" Sokka said, coming up behind him. "Gran-Pakku's a big softy, isn't he?"
"I told you never to call me that," Pakku said to Sokka. He followed this by locking Katara's brother up in a block of ice up to his neck with a gesture.
Zuko resolved never to irritate the water master. "I hope we can discuss matters of bend-" Zuko started to try to make it clear he wasn't like Sokka, when Katara's grandmother came over.
"Oh, Pakku," she said with a sigh. "You're always such a stodgy old man." She looked Zuko up and down, then said, "Call me Gran-gran. Everyone does."
"Uh . . ." was the only response he could muster.
In spite of the strangeness of being among people who never stood on ceremony, except Pakku, and having a brother-in-law in Sokka, who was sometimes the strangest person Zuko knew, he came to love the South Pole, which was the first place he ever got to make a first impression himself, without ever having his mother or father or sister or uncle or anyone else make it for him, before he'd even met a person.
He loved the Midnight Sun celebrations, the incredible feelings that came from the sun being up all day and all night. He much less liked the endless winter nights of the pole, but he'd agreed that Katara had been away from home long enough that it was only fair she get to spend the whole year there.
Standing beside Katara for the celebration of the first sunrise, marking the beginning of the end of the winter months, Zuko knew he'd found his home. Not in this sometimes miserably cold place, and not in the Fire Nation they'd be returning to after Katara's year at home, but with the place he had that he'd earned, that no one begrudged him, with friends he could laugh with, and with his teacher, friend, lover and wife. He'd found that home with Katara.
When they finally returned to the Fire Nation, Yue and Sokka coming to tender proper, personal apologies for nearly wrecking the treaty, Zuko was nervous. Katara knew he was, but she couldn't think why. Instead she just reminded him of how nice it was to be somewhere warm, thinking of the beautiful, clear, sandy beaches with all that warm water.
And then they were so close to the docks where Katara had first seen Zuko and his family, Yue standing beside her, but everything else so different. Including the fact that she didn't have to make a good impression on her in-laws, since she and Zuko were already married. With that thought, she tossed off her outer robe and dove into the clear blue water. When she came up, she saw Zuko and Sokka's shocked faces, Yue laughing beside them.
She called up, "The water's perfect, Zuko!"
Zuko thought a moment, then kicked off his shoes, shed his outer layers and dove in after her. Katara burst into giggles, hearing Sokka shout, "Katara! You're a bad influence!"
They played a bit, but since the ship was outpacing them, she towed them both with her bending to the docks, hurtling past the boat, then created something rather like a geyser and blasted them both into the air. They landed, laughing and dripping next to his family. "People are going to talk," Zuko told her, laughing even as he tried to pretend he was a stern and forbidding husband.
"Let them," Katara said. "This is a family visit and we're heading home to the South Pole later."
He laughed again and steamed himself dry while Katara bent the water out of her clothes. "Hello, Mother," he said.
She blinked. "It's good to see you again, Zuko." She shot him a narrow-eyed look. "I see you've shed some of the formalities."
"It does no good in the Southe Pole," he told her with a shrug. "All it does is get Kanna to harass me."
"Call her Gran-gran," Katara insisted for the hundredth time. When would he get over his need to be all formal with family?
"And wind up on the wrong side of Master Pakku? No," he told her.
The boat had caught up to them and docked by that point. "Mother, Uncle, Lu Ten, I don't believe you were ever properly introduced to Sokka, Katara's brother and now Yue's husband," Zuko said, formally bowing to his family as he introduced Sokka.
"You're going to be a bad influence on my children," Sokka informed his sister. "I'm not letting you anywhere near them." Since Katara felt the same way about him, and knew that they'd both give in and ask each other to babysit anyhow, she just stuck her tongue out at her brother.
"This, from the man who still penguin sleds?" Zuko asked him.
That was true too, of course.
The Fire Lord smiled beneficently and said, "You must tell me more of this penguin sledding, Prince Zuko. It seems like a most entertaining pastime."
At the palace, Katara dragged Zuko into the hot springs on the palace grounds. Floating in the beautifully hot water, her wonderful husband by her side, she knew she had found that perfect point of balance. Warrior and wife, fire and water, and not one thing excluding her being another, least of all the husband she'd sometimes been sure she'd never have. But Zuko loved her as both the woman who cooked for him and mended his clothes, and as the warrior she'd become in the war, and whenever she didn't think she was as pretty as the girls, he'd make her feel beautiful all over again.
And even though they'd be travelling between her home and his for the rest of their lives, that didn't matter, because he was her home.