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Worth it.

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The next morning Jeong Jeong woke Aang in a dramatic fashion again. Aang grumbled again. Toph got up and told Jeong Jeong to shut up (most rudely) and stomped back to her room – all before Aang managed to pull himself out of bed. I got up not long afterwards because I couldn't go back to sleep after such a dramatic awakening. I went downstairs and Zuko and Iroh were already awake and playing Pai Sho. Zuko was losing badly – but neither of them were concentrating on the game that much.

They were chatting about Zuko's coronation and trying to iron out a few details. They had decided against having it in the traditional Coronation Plaza – because that whole area was still a friggin burnt-out mess and most of the buildings there were a little on the charred side. They were tossing around other options. Iroh was leaning towards someplace called Reunification Square. It had been built after one of the civil wars as a symbol of unity and peace and tolerance between the fire islands. Iroh thought it would be a nice choice.

While Zuko and Iroh played Pai Sho an urgent messenger hawk came. It was from Pakku. It had a lot about what was going on in the earth kingdom including the news that King Kuei had been found. This was big news and warranted immediate attention. I knew from listening to their conversations that the Earth Kingdom was so fractured now that dealing with all the principalities separately had been a nightmare for Iroh (and I guess now it would be a nightmare for Zuko). Everyone had different demands and everyone felt differently about the peace. The only thing they agreed on way that the firenation had to pay, in some shape or form.

Now that the High Earth King was back, the various Kings, governors and generals were once again working co-operatively under one leader. Pakku was remaining in the Earth Palace as a representative of the white Lotus – to help 'facilitate' the various meetings. By facilitating Pakku meant scold the various Kings, Governors and Generals as if they were squabbling children – and frequently they acted like they were. Pakku had sent for Bumi to join him and help 'facilitate' – though from the tone of his letter, it sounded like he doubted how much use Bumi would be at 'facilitating'.

Pakku wanted Iroh to know that soon the earth kingdom would be ready to present a united front and peace negotiations could begin again (they had stymied for a while there apparently – after the initial armistice – there had been a lot of disarray and disorganisation). Pakku wanted a rough estimate of when Iroh thought that the firenation would be ready to come and negotiate a formal peace treaty. It would have to be in Ba Sing Se. The second thing that the earth kingdom generals had agreed on was that they would not, under any circumstances go into 'enemy territory.' If the firenation wanted peace so badly, they would have to "come to the table" so to speak. Pakku had managed to get everybody to agree that Ba Sing Se would be the best city for negotiating and signing a peace treaty – but even that had been a hard task.

He advised Iroh, that even though he respected that the situation in the firenation was complicated right now, Iroh would have to sort it out – and quickly! A peace treaty should be worked out soon, while they were all still in an amenable frame of mind. Pakku recommended that the firenation should crown a firelord, (Pakku said that Iroh knew his feelings regarding this matter) and get a delegation to Ba Sing Se as soon as possible.

Pakku said that he had informed chief Arnook and had received a reply - the Northern Watertribe were ready to send a delegation whenever they got word of final dates. Pakku had also written to my Dad to inform him – but as Dad was in the firenation and so was Iroh, Pakku thought it would be good if Iroh and Hakoda could have a "chat amongst themselves" and also if Iroh could include them in his travel plans. Pakku also sent Sokka and me his love – but that was a bit jarring with the tone of the rest of the letter.

We all had a read of it. Zuko slumped a little and said that reading between the lines, he assumed that this letter now meant that his coronation was going to have to happen soon. Iroh agreed and said that if the Earth Kingdom had its King back – it would be wise for the firenation to present a Firelord in response. Zuko sighed and said that now his coronation was going to be one of those tawdry rushed affairs for the sake of convenience. Like a fireblast wedding. Iroh said he assumed correctly, but he shouldn't look so down about it. Sometimes fireblast weddings were the most fun.

I asked what a fireblast wedding was. I am still getting used to all the firenation slang and idioms. When Zuko and Iroh talk – they just throw these little phrases out all the time. Iroh answered quickly and said that a fireblast wedding was when a couple had been amorous but had not been careful about being amorous and the lady in question was in a delicate state. Sometimes the lady's father would feel the urge to approach the gentleman in question, holding a fireblast in his hand - or getting a firebending friend to hold a fireblast in his hand. Who held the fireblast wasn't the point of fireblast weddings. The point of fireblast weddings is that the Father would say something along the lines of I have a fireblast and a shovel and I can make it look like an accident to the lady's gentleman friend. Weddings normally ensued pretty quickly. Zuko said that those weddings were normally so tacky and he didn't want his coronation to be tacky. Iroh said the tackiness made it more fun. Uncle would have Zuko know that he had the best sex of his life at the reception for a fireblast wedding.

I snorted my tea all out my nose. Iroh just took me by surprise with the way he said it so blatantly. Zuko patted me on the back (as I was doing that inelegant choking on the tea thing). Zuko was making an aghast face at his uncle and said that he was going to need at least two whiskey sours to forget he ever heard that – and it was far to early in the morning for either whiskey sours or for Uncle to be in an over-sharing mood. And Uncle shouldn't say that sort of thing in front of me. Uncle waved off his protestations and said why the delightful miss Katara's like family now! She doesn't mind.

Truth be told, I really didn't mind. Not really. I mean Iroh surprised me with the way he'd so unashamedly dropped sex into the conversation. People in the watertribes don't do that. We are as awkward as gaggle of unco-ordinated turtleseals about that sort of thing. I mean no one really talks about sex like it is a normal, natural thing in the watertribes. The first time Suki said with her usual directness- that sex was a normal and natural thing, I was a bit taken aback to be honest.

I sometimes think that whenever Uncle Iroh wants to get a rise out of Zuko or make him smile or distract him from his various woe-is-me funks- he says the most inappropriate thing he can think of. It is frequently about sex, tea or pai sho – or some freaky combination of all three of the above! It usually works. It had this time – Zuko was definitely not sulking about being firelord at this present moment.

Zuko did not what to talk about his Uncle's sex life (no surprise there). In fact his Uncle's sex life was the only thing he wanted to talk about less than the Coronation of Doom. And so he swiftly moved the conversation back to that. Zuko was said that the only bright side of having a fireblast coronation was the fact that it would have to happen quickly. The rapidity in which in needed to be organised would limit Uncle's time to order ridiculous things like glitter explosions and fireworks in the shape of fireferrets or whatever ludicrous things his Uncle had in mind.

Uncle looked a little sheepish and pointed out that while Zuko had only just found out he had to be firelord, Uncle had known for quite some time and had taken the liberty to arrange a few things. Zuko leaned back in his chair and gave a long suffering sigh. Uncle said that he shouldn't be cross. Everyone loved fireworks in the shape of fireferrets. Zuko used to love the animal shaped fireworks as a kid. Iroh could remember this one time when he and Lu Ten took Zuko and Azula to the May Day festival and...Zuko quickly cut him off and said Katara doesn't want to hear this story Uncle! sounding somewhat panicked.

I really want to hear this story now!

I'm sure I will get it out of Iroh later.

I am like family after all.

Uncle said he had just been doing his best for Zuko. Uncle wanted to make sure that Zuko's coronation would be an Event! The firenation needed a good Event after all the recent uncertainty. The firenation, in general, hated uncertainty, especially the uncertainty that arose from not having an official leader. These few weeks had been the longest time in history that there had not been a sitting firelord. Normally when a firelord dies all the heirs scramble over each other to snatch the crown. They needed to make this coronation go off with a bang!

Zuko said that if he did have to be coronated he wanted to do it his way. Not his father's way and not his Uncle's way. No offense to his Uncle, but Uncle tended to go over the top when it came to parties and Zuko didn't want that. He wanted to do it properly and seriously. He didn't want it to be like his father's (which is the only other coronation he had ever been to). Apparently Ozai didn't even recite the scared oaths. This is somehow really bad.

Iroh seemed pleased that Zuko had finally shown an interest in planning the coronation (rather than just bitching about the inevitability of it.) Zuko'd clearly thought about it and what he wanted, even if he claimed otherwise. Iroh said that they would do it Zuko's way then...as long and Zuko's way could have a giant feast and celebratory ball because Iroh already had the menu all planned out and the drinks ordered. Zuko acquiesced. Iroh asked if Zuko's way could also include a firework extravaganza...because Iroh might have already commissioned one...and paid a non-refundable deposit. Zuko sighed and said fine. Iroh started asking if Zuko's way could also make room for...Zuko cut him off and said oh for goodness sake! Why don't you just write me a list of everything you've already organised! Iroh thought that this was a splendid idea. A list would be a much better place to start – and he knew how fond Zuko was of lists. He left us to go write long lists joyfully.

-?-

After he had gone, Zuko gave a long sigh and said that stuff like this was why his uncle was eight hundred million times more embarrassing than Sir Hakoda would ever be. I smiled and said I thought his Uncle great! He smiled at me, but he was looking tired and seemed a bit grumpy. I poked him and bothered him about his grumpiness and tiredness. Zuko said that he was just feeling a bit put out because everything was happening so fast. He thought he'd have at least a bit of time to sulk about things before he had to be pushed into the hot seat.

Zuko said that he was that even though he was stupid at politics... I said you're not stupid, so don't say that! really quickly. Zuko amended his statement and said even though politics wasn't his strong point. He knew enough to know that coronations were big deals. They said something about who you were and what you stood for and what kind of a ruler you wanted to be. He'd stayed up late reading about past coronations last night – that's why he was really tired today.

I know he hates how tired he's felt all the time since he got struck by lighting. He's always trying to push himself because he used to be all go-go-go. This makes me a little cross because he still needs to take it easy and he's not completely recovered yet. I told him this in a mildly scolding tone. I hoped that now that he was going to be firelord, he wasn't going to work non-stop and forgo important things like sleeping. Because sleep was important.

Zuko said that in his defence, he had actually found out some really interesting things. He told me that he'd never realised how vulgar his Dad's coronation was – until he read up on how they were meant to be. He wanted his coronation to be the opposite of his dad's. What was so bad about his dad's? Well he held it during Grandpa's funeral for a start! Zuko said. Apparently "grandpa" (known to the rest of the world as firelord Azulon – one of the most dastardly men ever to exist) was still on fire next to Ozai, when Ozai made grabby hands for the crown.

Apparently, in the firenation, it is customary to wait at least a day until the funeral pyre has burnt out and there's only ash left of the previous firelord before you make grabby hands for the crown. Ozai didn't do this. The whole funeral/coronation thing took about two minutes. The firesages lit grandpa on fire and then literally two seconds later they put the crown on Ozai. Zuko said that as a kid he didn't really think about it. But looking back now – it was all kinds of messed up. Ozai decided to forgo all the sacred oaths – which are basically promises to try and be a good leader. He just wanted to be made a firelord as soon as possible. And then he turned out to be an impatient and terrible leader.

Zuko said that he'd only decided on one thing. He wanted to do his coronation old school style – with Aang there. Apparently all the firelords before Sozin had been blessed by the Avatar of the time (unless the avatar at the time was too young). They would pledge to the Avatar that they would try live in harmony with stuff and maintain the balance and all that sort of thing. Really? Zuko said he'd been a bit surprised too. They never got taught that stuff in school and the first firelord to break the tradition had actually been Sozin and that was the weirdest thing – because he and Roku were still friends then. And obviously no firelord since had been blessed by an Avatar. But Zuko wanted to bring the tradition back.

Apparently Kyoshi had been there for eight coronations during her long life. Avatar Yangchen had actually been best friends with Firelady Zarsa and had gone a little overboard on the 'blessing' front. According to several records- both Zarsa and Yangchen had gotten a little wankered during the festivities and Yangchen had memorably gotten up and given a drunken little speech about how Zarsa was her "bessh fren" and would be the "bessh firelazy ever". And much fun was had by all.

Zuko didn't want Aang to replicate Yangchen's example (and neither do I). Zuko didn't really want anyone to give any drunken little speeches – especially Aang and his Uncle (the coronation was already going to be embarrassing enough thank-you-very-much). But he thought it would be a nice idea if Aang could be there, give a blessing and say a few words. He asked what I thought and I commended this idea.

-?-

Uncle also agreed, when he came back (with a long list). Iroh had actually planned a lot – he hadn't fixed the dates or anything, but mostly everything that needed to be booked had been booked. There would be a coronation, then a big giant party, then fireworks, then more party. Iroh wanted everything to be big and loud and fun! Zuko wanted everything to be small and tasteful and proper. They bickered a great deal about canapés vs sit down dinner (canapés won – more variety because everyone has different tastes), what sort of music (the flameos – my suggestion – because Aang really likes them and neither Zuko or Iroh have much of a preference) and did Zuko think streamers everywhere was too much? (Zuko did).

Aang came and joined us after training with Jeong Jeong. Zuko told him about the past Avatars role in coronations and asked Aang about saying a few words. Aang was delighted with the idea and very touched that Zuko wanted to include him in what was "Zuko's big day". Zuko gently corrected him and said that he didn't want this coronation to be all about him and he didn't want it to be seen as his "big day".

This coronation would be the official start of a new era. The war was over after 100 years and everything was going to change. Zuko thought it should be more about peace and inclusion and tolerance and stuff like that. Aang was the Avatar and he stood for all that and Zuko wanted him by his side for the coronation. Aang said yes happily and Zuko got a big hug from him. Aang was really excited because he had never been to a coronation before, but he heard that they were meant to be so much fun. Iroh said that's what he was planning on.

Aang had a small request – since he was going to be an official part of the celebration now. He asked if there would be fruit tarts and fruit pies at the feast because the Airnomads had them for every celebration. Iroh thought this was a splendid idea! We could have food from around the world at the feast. If Iroh had his way, there would be an endless array of canapés and nibbles and desserts from the four nations!

Toph woke up and came downstairs – just in time to be badgered by Iroh about her favourite earth kingdom dishes. Toph was perplexed by this high-spirited, snack-related interrogation first thing in the morning – but indulged Iroh while he frantically scribbled down her suggestions. Aang told her they were planning all sorts of things for Zuko's coronation and asked if Toph had any suggestions.

Toph's only suggestion was that there be some sort of games at the post-coronation party. Hoity-toity parties got so boring when it was just a bunch of adults standing around getting drunk and chatting. Games would make the whole thing more fun. Especially games in which people could win money/prizes. Everybody loved those. Iroh agreed. Iroh loved those too! And what a brilliant idea! Uncle's enthusiasm for their ideas encouraged Toph and Aang a great deal. Many more suggestions were made without the need of input from Zuko or myself. The three of them got quite into planning together and the coronation became bigger and bigger – to Zuko's quiet dismay. At the start he would demur things like don't you think that's a bit ...much, but eventually he resigned himself to letting Toph, Uncle and Aang plan things.

Zuko stretched back (I found this distractingly sexy) and said that the more he protested that he just wanted things small and tasteful – the bigger the coronation grew, so he was just going to keep his mouth shut from here on out. I teased him about the unlikeness of this. Whenever Zuko resolves to be silent about something, he always has a lot more to say on the subject and it invariably slips out. I think sometimes he just likes to huff that he's not going to say anymore on the subject.

I said that if small and tasteful didn't work out, he could suggest other things he wanted. His Uncle had been delighted when he thought Zuko was showing an interest. Zuko shrugged and said that aside from having Aang up on stage with him, there wasn't much else he wanted – except for his Uncle to refrain from singing the hedgehog song. Zuko thought that this was very unlikely.

Zuko told me quietly that he was a bit worried about having Aang 'bless him' – but he thought that it would be worth it – in the long run. The benefits of Aang with him were manyfold. It'd sent the right impression to the rest of the world. It was traditional and progressive at the same time. It was a good symbolic gesture. Aang loved attention and Zuko did not. Zuko hoped that he would either "hog the spotlight" or that Zuko could palm off almost all attention/applause to Aang and then they would both be happy.

And people just liked Aang. They took one look at his little face and felt the urge to take him home with them and give him cookies and milk and pinch his cheeks. He said this a bit sardonically, but actually this is true. When I first met Aang – well I didn't give him cookies and milk – but I did want to take him home with me and give him seal jerky and five flavour soup – which is like the same thing.

Zuko smiled at said that he hoped the Aang-factor would work on firenation people. The firenation had some funny ideas about Airnomads and the Avatar. But Zuko was hoping that if he presented Aang to them as a hero and a force of good – they would be less terrified of him. I asked quietly, but with some surprise, Why would anyone be scared of Aang? Zuko glanced at Aang quickly – but he was deep in discussion with Iroh and Toph about the logistics of getting a giant trampoline. Zuko turned back to me and mouthed the Siege of the North.

Oh.

I'd not thought about that. Aang still was in the dark about the extensive amount of firenation casualties that day. It would be understandable that the firenation people would be a little apprehensive about the Avatar – frightened of him even - after being on the sharp end of that display of power. Zuko said quietly that he'd thought a lot about it, but in the end he thought it was crucial that the firenation people accept Aang. This peace wouldn't work without Aang. Zuko knew that he'd need Aang on his side to help him negotiate with the earth kingdom. They all loved him in the earth kingdom after all. But that wouldn't go down well with the firenation if they still saw Aang as an enemy.

He needed Aang to be seen as a hero and an ally for ending the war – rather than the all powerful Avatar who did that thing he did at the North Pole. He asked what I thought and I agreed that this would be a good idea. Aang has to be Avatar for all the world, not just for the Earth Kingdom and the Water Tribes. It would be better if the firenation wasn't alarmed by him.

I pointed out with a smile that Zuko wasn't as crap at diplomacy as he thought. He had come up with this all on his own after all and it sounded like a good idea to me. He said he was glad I thought he was better at diplomacy – but he didn't know if he would ever be better at politics. He didn't want to become another slimy politician anyway. I said I didn't think Zuko was in danger of that ever happening.

He couldn't tell a lie to save himself. He was obsessed with his honour and keeping his word. And he was just too awkward to ever be considered a "smooth operator". None of these things were conducive to being a 'slimy politician'. Zuko looked like he wasn't sure if I was insulting him or not and he drawled out thaaanks? (making it sound like a question in the process). I gave him a friendly nudge and a big smile and told him I meant it in a nice way and it was a very good thing. He smiled back at me widely.

-?-

My Dad came sauntering over, "ostensibly looking for Sokka". I could tell this was just a cover and he had really come over for a different (potentially nefarious) purpose. I said quickly that Sokka was still asleep and would be down when he was ready. (I know for a fact that Suki is up there right now and the last thing anyone needs is my Dad busting in on...whatever they're doing.)

Uncle invited Dad to sit with us while he waited and Dad took him up on his offer. Uncle had wanted to consult us on watertribe cuisine for the coronation feast. Dad said that naturally the first thing he would have to recommend was stewed seaprunes. Uncle's face was a frozen mask of politeness – but evidentially he had heard of stewed seaprunes before. He said in his normal jovial tone Aside from stewed seaprunes – what else could you recommend. My dad made a few recommendations and said proudly that I knew the recipes for all of them and was a wonderful cook.

Uncle nodded sagely and said that knowing the recipes would be invaluable – but my cooking skills would not be necessary. I was a war hero after all and it was hardly expected that I would be regulated to the kitchen for such a feast. I could pass the recipes on to Lenka and she and her staff would be more than capable of whipping up a feast suitable to even the fussiest warrior.

Dad smiled and said he hoped so. He said it had been a rather steep learning curve for the firenation cooks that Uncle had assigned for him and the other warriors. It took them a few tries before they got the hang of cooking for watertribe men. Of course once they got the hang of 'salty meat and lots of it' all the meals they had been served had been delicious.

Lunch was served and everybody tucked in. Over lunch, my dad said speaking of delicious meals... as a very awkward segue into the real reason he had come over. Dad had been wondering if Iroh, Zuko, Aang and Toph would like to come over to the Watertribe house for what would be as close to a traditional Watertribe dinner as could be achieved in the firenation - tomorrow night.

It was not a "big deal" but Bato wanted to introduce his new girlfriend Ming to his family and his culture. Bato considered Dad, Sokka and I to be his family and we considered the rest of the gang to be out family and Iroh was always welcome as far as my Dad was concerned. Also Iroh was a good friend of Ming's and Dad thought that might make her less nervous about meeting everyone properly. Bato also thought she would be more comfortable if there were a few other people present and it wasn't just a Watertribe warrior sausage-fest.

Iroh was delighted – both to be invited for dinner and for Ming. Iroh was pleased for Ming because he had always wanted her to meet a nice young man and he was sure that Bato – as a close friend of my father's - would fit this bill. Also he had never really tried much watertribe food – but Master Pakku would wax lyrical about something called slow simmered seal belly and Iroh hoped he would have a chance to try that.

Zuko, Toph and Aang were a little less enthusiastic than Iroh. Possibly because they had tried watertribe cuisine before. I know their various strong emotions on the subject of stewed seaprunes. Aang piped up that he was a vegetarian (really quickly and with some alarm). He said more calmly that even though he knew it was an imposition, he asked if there could be just some plain veggies for him. Dad agreed. Toph also claimed vegetarianism and said that we better make it double quantities of plain veggies. Dad gave her a quizzical look – because he knows full well that she can eat a great deal of meat in one sitting - but said okay.

Zuko looked like he was fighting a severe internal battle between claiming vegetarianism and potentially insulting my dad/water-tribe cuisine/culture and being polite and eating water-tribe cuisine later. He gave me a look and then schooled his features and said pointedly at Toph and Aang that he wasn't a vegetarian. He diplomatically that he was sure everything would be delicious and he would love to come. Dad nodded in approval and said well that's settled then.

Iroh brought up Pakku's letter and asked if Dad had received his yet. Dad had. Well he said he'd received word from "the old curmudgeon" which seemed to be his name for Master Pakku. Conversation moved to diplomatic things and the peace negotiations in Ba Sing Se. Iroh offered to give my Dad a great ship so he could get everyone he wanted to Ba Sing Se. Dad said that he might need a second ship, because some of his men were getting quite homesick and were wanting to leave for the South Pole at the earliest opportunity and Dad wouldn't need all his warriors with him and reasoned that the ones who had wives and children back home should get back to them as soon as possible. Iroh agreed.

Dad asked how Iroh and Zuko were planning on getting "their lot" to Ba Sing Se. Were they planning on going by ship too? Iroh said that was most likely. My Dad thought that ship travel might be a bit slow – considering how quickly Pakku insisted that everyone get their arses to Ba Sing Se. Aang offered the use of Appa – but I pointed out that there might be a few too many people for Appa. My dad suggested the airship that he and Chitsang had fixed up. It was built to be a war ship – but it could be refitted on the inside. It would be more than spacious enough and those airships could travel fast. Iroh was intrigued by this idea.

Dad asked what Iroh thought about Pakku's directive to "chat amongst ourselves" – because my dad found that to be a rather patronising instruction. Iroh said that Pakku was often inadvertently patronising and you got used to it. He probably just sick of dealing with squabbling Earth Kingdom leaders who didn't know what they wanted. It would be easier if the Firenation and the Southern Water Tribe came into negotiations knowing where their country stood at least – and clarifying your position with another always helped with that. Iroh said that it would be a good idea if Zuko –as Zuko would be the firelord during the negotiations- and My Dad could chat, at least informally, about where each of their nations stood before they got to Ba Sing Se.

Dad leapt on this idea and said that was a great idea. He added, in the most awkward fashion imaginable, that he had been hoping to have a quick chat with Zuko about something important, if Zuko had a moment. Then he just stared at Zuko in awkward but determined Dad fashion. Zuko said now? with some confusion. My dad said if you've got time with his words. But with his eyes and his tone he actually said of course now!

Oh bollocks.

The moment was upon us! The moment where Zuko and my Dad had a man to man conversation. I could see no way to stop or halt this. Zuko didn't seem to mind and willingly got up and said sure, Sir Hakoda, now is good. He followed my dad, who had started walking off, but as he got to the stairs he turned and mouthed don't worry at me and then he was gone.

-?-

I worried.

Of course I worried.

I was just a ball of worry. I worried for about thirty seconds before I also got up and made some lame excuse. Iroh actually smiled knowingly at me and waved off my lame excuses. I followed them, intent on eavesdropping. It only took me two seconds to find them. They were in the room that Iroh liked to use as an office. My Dad was giving his congratulations.

He had heard that Zuko was going to be the next firelord and he wanted to offer his congratulations. Zuko said thanks. There was a pause and then my Dad said, almost as if he was saying this against his better judgement, aren't you a little young to be leading a whole nation? Zuko didn't take offense but said I know –right with a rueful shrug. He explained that he'd ended up in the hotseat because Ozai and Azula were both completely out of their gourds and the earth kingdom refused to even consider making peace with his uncle. Dad gave him a sceptical look.

Zuko started doing his nervous babbling in response to my Dad's sceptical look. He basically said (with a lot more words and bonus stammering/yammering) that Sir Hakoda didn't need to worry –about how Zuko being firelord would effect... like peace negotiations and relations between the Watertribes and the firenation and all that sort of thing, because Zuko wanted to make sure that the Southern Watertribe were compensated for...he trailed off here and just settled on everything.

My dad was looking at Zuko quizzically. He has not had much experience with Zuko's awkward nervous babbling. He said that he hadn't brought Zuko aside to talk to him about peace negotiations or anything like that – there was time enough for that later. Zuko looked visibly relived. My Dad huffed and sighed and crossed his arms. Then asked if Zuko wanted some advice. Zuko said sure. Dad said you're nervous about being firelord right? But it wasn't really a question. Zuko paused and then nodded.

Dad said well the best advice I can give you is just to act like your not.Zuko was confused by this. Dad confided that he had been nervous too, when he first became chief. But then he quickly realised how much everybody was looking to him to lead. He pretended that he knew exactly what he was doing and that proved good enough for that first little bit.

So you're saying I should fake it til I make it? Zuko clarified. My dad said he wouldn't put it exactly like that. Most people wanted leadership and they would follow anyone who had some authority and looked like they knew what they were doing. The key to success as a new leader – according to my Dad – was just to do everything with conviction and the rest would follow. Dad said conspiratorially that he had no idea what he was doing for the first few months, but he never let on and just pretended he was a good leader... until he was. Dad said that he found out one day that it wasn't an act anymore and he just knew what to do. Dad added that he knew some of the Earth Kingdom leaders that Zuko would have to negotiate with, and learning how to act with conviction would be crucial for Zuko in any dealings with them. Dad lowered his voice, but said in an encouraging tone you're going to need to prove to them that you're a man – not a boy.

Zuko smiled hesitantly and nodded and said thanks Sir Hakoda. My dad smiled back at him and said Sir Hakoda? How many times? You really can just call me Hakoda okay – I've never been knighted by the Earth King after all. Zuko said Okay. Thanks Hakoda.

There was a slight pause that then became an awkward pause. Zuko thanked my Dad for his advice again and got up from where he was leaning on the desk. Dad was puzzled by this and asked where Zuko was going. Zuko said Hakoda had wanted to talk to him and now they had talked... My dad said that he hadn't talked about what he wanted the talk about. Zuko said oh, okay and sat back down. There was another long awkward pause. Zuko said so...what did you want to talk to me about? In an effort at stopping the Awkward Pause of Doom.

My dad collected himself and began with lets say there's this guy called...(here Dad searched around for a name)...he settled on Iroh. Zuko made a dismayed face and said something along the lines of oh no, what's he done now? Has he been exposing himself inappropriately again! My dad said no quickly and then did a double take and said again? Zuko shrugged and said it was his Uncle's "thing" and if Hakoda liked, Zuko could have a talk to him, because what's one more humiliation at this point.

My dad said that it wasn't about his Uncle very firmly. He merely picked Iroh as a name for this imaginary guy - because Iroh was one of the only firenation names he knew. Zuko nodded and said that Lee was always a good fake firenation name - there were plenty of Lees. Dad nodded and said he'd keep that in mind. He began again and said okay, so there's this guy Lee... he trailed off and seemed unable to continue. He made a little wiping gesture and said that Zuko should forget all that and this analogy wasn't going to work for my Dad anymore. I think the idea of an inappropriately exposed Iroh was distracting my Dad and not in a good way.

Zuko looked really confused by this whole awkward thing. Because he is used to being the most awkward person in the conversation and I think he has never previously been out-awkwarded before. Suddenly my dad collected himself and asked Zuko what he thought about dinner. Zuko looked like he thought this was a trick question. He answered slowly that he thought it usually happened in the evenings and it would be in his top three favourite meals of the day. Dad said he meant what Zuko thought about tomorrow night's dinner with Bato and Ming... not dinner in general. My Dad didn't say "you dolt" but I know he thought it. Zuko nodded in comprehension and said that made so much more sense.

Zuko said, after a pause (during which he probably decided against any comments made re: stewed seaprunes) that he thought it was very nice of Hakoda to invite other firebenders, especially one who was Ming's friend. Zuko said that meeting all the Watertribes at once could be intimidating for Ming. My dad nodded and interjected I should hope so!

Dad then asked what Zuko thought about them as a couple. Zuko seemed even more confused by this question than he had by the dinner question and answered that he didn't know either of them very well enough to comment on that. But Sokka only had nice things to say about Bato and his Uncle had only nice things to say about Ming. Zuko trailed off and said they seem like nice people? But he did that thing where he made it sound like a question.

My dad suddenly leaned next to him on the desk and sighed like he was very tired. He pinched the bridge of his nose. Zuko seemed a bit alarmed by this and asked if that was the wrong answer. Dad waved him off and said no, it was a good answer. They were nice people. Dad drew himself up and turned to face Zuko and said that he had something to say to Bato and Ming and he didn't know how to say it without sounding like an arsehole. And the fact that they were nice people just made it harder.

Zuko asked what my Dad would say. Dad said bluntly, but not unkindly I would say that they both should cut their losses right now and break it off. He's watertribe - she's firenation and it is not going to work out in the long term. Dad added that realistically he just couldn't see a future in which it could work out happily between them. Ming couldn't come and live in the South Pole and Bato would never adjust to life here. Dad knew that Bato would never listen to him regarding this matter, but if he ever got the chance – he was going to have a quiet word with Ming because Dad thought that she would be more practical.

Dad had to do this, he had to say something - not because he wanted to be horrible and it was not anything against Ming as a person – because Zuko was right- she did seem like a nice person. But he had to say something because he only saw misery ahead for the two of them and he wanted to spare them that – could Zuko understand that. Zuko quietly said he did.

Dad got up abruptly and patted Zuko on the back and said that he was glad that they had this talk.

-?-

I rushed quickly back to where the others were sitting and made it just before Dad and Zuko came back out. Zuko was avoiding my eyes and looked like he was carefully trying to school his face into a neutral expression. I wanted to pull Zuko aside and tell him what I really thought about my dad's little speech – but I knew I'd never get anything out of him when his face was doing that.

My Dad made his excuses and said that he had to be off to the watertribe house now. I quickly volunteered to help him "plan dinner tomorrow". I was actually exceptionally cranky at my dad right at that point and I wanted to get him aside and give him a good scolding and this seemed like the best way to achieve that. Dad was pleased that I wanted to help out and I got up to leave with him.

I waited until we were in the gardens of the watertribe house (and thus out of earshot of most people) before I let my Dad have it. I was most stroppy at him and I asked him what on earth possessed him to say those things to Zuko. My Dad was a bit affronted that I had been listening in. I scoffed at this because everyone in my tribe listens in all the time. We are all big eavesdropping gossips and my Dad knows this. My dad is himself an eavesdropping gossip and I wasn't going to take any of his 'well I never' posturing right now.

Dad tried to play the innocent and said that he didn't see why I was so mad. He was just telling Zuko things that he needed to hear. Zuko was a fine lad, and would make a good leader but he really needed to work on his poise, because if he did that nervous babbly thing in front of General Fong and his ilk – it would be disastrous for him. Dad was just trying to give him a confidence boost. He had just been trying to help. Dad was only focussing on the first part of his little speech. I was not at all angry at the first part. The first part had been sweet.

I was exceptionally cranky about the second part. About Bato and Ming. What possessed my Dad to say all those things? Dad changed the subject on me abruptly and asked if I had known...about Bato and Ming? I feigned incomprehension. Dad said he remembered how much I had discouraged him from following Bato yesterday – did I know what Dad would find if he did? I said I hadn't and Dad looked at me sceptically. He didn't believe me. He sat down and said with a sad sigh we never used to have secrets from each other. He muttered that now everybody had a secret.

I sat next to him and said that I only hadn't told him because I was worried that he would react badly and embarrass Bato. Dad said that for my information, he would never deliberately embarrass Bato. When he saw that Bato was on a date and who this date was – he left. He did not make a scene, he did not react badly. He came back here and he waited up until Bato got home so he could talk to him about it properly.

I said that he was obviously reacting a little badly because he was running around wily-nily behind Bato's back and telling people that it wouldn't work out between them. Dad got a bit frustrated and said that he only said that because it was true and deep down both Bato and Ming knew it. I said that there was no way that my Dad could know that. For all he knew – it could work out perfectly between Bato and Ming.

Dad looked away and paused and then turned back to me. He took my hand and said sincerely the world doesn't work that way. He said it in this in a heavy and solemn tone. Bato would never be able to bring Ming back to the South Pole. Even if she could cope with the cold, she'd never fit in with the tribe. It would be like putting an icehawk in with the snow geese – there would be more than ruffled feathers. In my head, I reluctantly agreed that that this was true. No one in my tribe would react well if Bato brought a firebender home.

Dad continued and said that from the way Bato was talking about Ming – she had just been given a new job. It had a lot of responsibility and she wouldn't easily leave it. But Bato would never be able to stay in the firenation long term. They had been the enemy for too long and the people and the culture were so different here. Bato was watertribe through and through. He'd never adjust to the firenation.

So where did that leave the two of them?

I didn't have an answer – but I felt sure that my Dad should stay out of it. I asked if he was still planning on talking to Ming and he said he was. I said that he shouldn't. He should just leave them be and let them figure things out for themselves. It was none of my Dad's business. Dad got a bit stroppy back at me and said Bato's happiness is my business – he is my family and I am just looking out for him.

Dad said he couldn't just stand idly by while Bato made a giant mistake and got his heart broken. Dad was just looking out for his best interest. I said that if Dad was really doing that then he would ask Bato what he really wanted. My Dad turned to me and asked very seriously And what does Bato really want?

I felt like we were no longer talking about Bato and Ming right now. Perhaps we never had been. I felt so put on the spot – I knew what he was really asking, but I didn't have an answer for him. I ended up stamping my foot immaturely and saying with a great deal of disgruntlement I don't know! But he should be able to make up his own mind without you breathing down his neck. Then I stormed away from my Dad in high dudgeon.

-?-

I went back to Zuko's house. Iroh had gone off to see Piandao and Jeong Jeong about something. Sokka was awake and sitting with the others- but he seemed a little distracted. Suki had gone back to check on her warriors. Sokka and Aang were having a small argument about the musical selection. Aang wanted to see if we could find Chong and his friends and get them to perform at the coronation party. The Flameos were great, but Aang espoused that variety was the spice of life and we should get music from all over the world. If Zuko wanted his party to be able international tolerance and getting people in the firenation to learn more about other cultures – there was no better way to do that then by introducing them to the variety of food and music out there.

Sokka was very adamant that this was a terrible and horrible idea. If Zuko wanted to promote tolerance then worst choice of music would be Chong and his friends because they made even the most kind-hearted pacifist want to break all their instruments and beat them over the heads with them. Aang said that he was a gentle and kind-hearted pacifist and he thought they'd been brilliant. And Sokka was just being a party pooper.

Just to annoy Sokka and because I was feeling in a cheeky mood, I started humming "don't let the cave in get you down". Sokka had ranted at length about how this was the most annoying tune in the entire world after our experience in the caves. He made the mistake of singing me and Aang a few bars to prove how annoying it was... and I never forgot. Sokka got most comically stroppy. He appealed to Zuko and said that it was his coronation and it was his duty to stop the madness. Zuko shrugged and said that he had resigned himself to the madness.

Sokka gave him a stern look and bopped him lightly on the head and said what is with you today? Zuko huffed and sat up. He asked where's madness up to now? And explained that he'd tuned out for a bit there. Sokka explained the situation. Chong and Lily and their troupe were annoying nomadic singing idiots. Aang thought they were great and wanted them at Zuko's coronation (so they could make everybody who listened to them want to stab themselves in the eye with a fork). Aang said they were great and their music had a great beat and you could dance to it. Sokka said you can only dance to it – if you had no shame whatsoever.

Zuko diplomatically asked if we knew anymore about Chong et al aside from this – like a way that they could be contacted or whereabouts they might be. We did not. Zuko shrugged and apologised to Aang and said that it wouldn't be possible. If we had no idea where this Chong was aside from 'somewhere in the earth kingdom' then it would be really hard to invite them. It would be even harder to get them here on time – because the coronation would be in a couple of days – so they had to try keep most of the stuff local. Transport was a bit tricky at the moment after all.

Conversation turned to transport and logistics. Zuko told the Sokka about Kuei being found and how Pakku said that there needed to be a delegation from the Firenation and the Southern Watertribe as quickly as possible. He said that ship would probably be a bit slow and there would be too many people for Appa – but our Dad had an interesting idea about refitting the Airships. Did Sokka think that was possible?

Sokka was very intrigued by the idea and Zuko kept asking questions like how many people could an airship take? How fast could they go? Sokka got Lenka to get him some paper, ink and a pen and started drawing many diagrams and offering us all many scientific explanations and hypothesises about how the Airships could work as transport vessels rather than warships. He got so into his science-y talk. After about half an hour he was trying all our patience with his mumbling out loud about weight ratios etc.

Iroh came back and Sokka quickly stopped mumbling about weight ratios (after an ill-advised comment about how many ...err fat people could theoretically go on an airship before it would be too much weight and would crash into the sea). Iroh was pleased with all of Sokka's diagrams. He also got treated to a long science-y explanation. He said that he was impressed with Sokka's inventiveness and he could get a team working on refitting the airships straight away. Sokka said his plans weren't ready yet and Iroh tasked him with getting a final plan to him as soon as he could – but Iroh was sure that wouldn't be too long. After all, Zuko had told him what a genius Sokka was. Sokka beamed and asked Zuko in a teasing fashion you think I'm a genius? Zuko looked a bit embarrassed and said oh don't look so pleased with yourself – you know it's true in an adorably disgruntled tone.

-?-

Sokka got up to go work on some plans in the office (as he is very fond of doing work on large teaoak desks). Toph and Aang started giving more suggestions to Iroh. I was thinking that now might be a good time to see if I could pull Zuko aside and have a chat woth him. Now that Iroh and Toph and Aang were so occupied. But right at that point, we were interrupted by Ty Lee who came bounding over looking for Aang.

She said hello cheerfully and hugged us each in turn. Suki had excused her from training for the afternoon and she wanted to show Aang all her favourite parts of the city. Yesterday, on Appa, she'd promised she'd take him around when she had some spare time. Now she had some spare time.

Was this a date?

Or was it just a friendly thing?

I wasn't sure. Ty Lee wasn't acting nervous at all – like you'd expect when a young lady was asking a boy out on a date for the first time in front of all his friends – so maybe it was just a friendly thing. She just acted like it was a given that Aang would go with her. Aang surprised me when he turned to me and asked me if he could go. Aang's rarely asked my permission before. I paused just because I was surprised and he gave me the puppy dog eyes. I said Of course he could go! He should go off and have some fun. Aang smiled happily and gave me a hug. Then he bounced off with Ty Lee to go and spread explosions of happiness and appreciation for the colour pink all over the caldera.

Toph huffed a little and said with some disgruntlement I can't believe you just let him go like that. Like letting Aang go off with Ty Lee was a travesty of parenting. I said that I thought it was sweet. Toph said it wasn't sweet at all and Ty Lee struck her as a very irresponsible person (I suppressed a smile at Toph complaining about someone else being irresponsible). Toph said that for all we knew, Ty Lee was going to lead Aang into a den of licentiousness filled with big breasted acrobats. The horror! Toph was all set to go after them, just to "ensure Aang's safety", but Zuko stopped her. He put his hand on her arm and said that maybe it would be better if she had a calming cup of tea with us instead.

Iroh gave a ...delighted squeak. There really is no other word for it. It was this little happy squeaky sound. Zuko turned to him and said what's wrong with you now? Iroh said this was just the proudest moment of his entire life and wiped away an imaginary stray tear. Iroh thought he'd never live to see the day that Zuko suggested tea instead of running off and doing something impulsive. Soon Zuko would see that tea was the solution to almost every problem in the world. Zuko looked like he was about to argue that tea was not the solution to all of life's problems – but thought better of it at the last minute. He just shook his head amused and said you daft old besom affectionately and poured Toph a cup.

Toph sipped her tea but was still a bit disgruntled. Sokka came out and joined us. He noticed Aang's absence instantly and asked where he had got to. Toph said he's out with that ditzy girl having a "tour of the city". Sokka said go Aang! unwisely and Toph flicked a pebble at him. Sokka tried to cheer her up and said that as soon as his leg was better – he could take Toph on a tour of something really cool. Toph smiled but said that wasn't the point.

She said she was only a little cross because Aang was getting a tour of the city and she hadn't explored any of it properly yet – aside from the manky docks. Iroh said that he had been remiss in his hosting duties – if he had never shown the brilliant miss Bei Fong around. Iroh had a suggestion that she come with him and Zuko for a turn around the city. They had been planning on going to reunification square this afternoon anyway – to check it out as a possible coronation location. Zuko said we were? And Uncle gave him a look. He corrected himself and said that's right! We were. I don't think Toph was fooled, but she agreed to go with them because she could see that they wanted to cheer her up.

Iroh invited all of us – but it was too far for Sokka with his leg in a cast. Sokka said that was fine and they could go and we would wait here. He wanted to have a chat to me about something anyway. I had kind of been wanting to go – but Sokka gave me a look here. So I agreed to stay. Also I don't feel great about leaving him completely on his own without one of us nearby – with his leg the way it is. Normally Suki or Toph or myself are always close by, in case he needs anything.

Sokka had actually finished a rough plan for Iroh and he handed it over and then Zuko, Toph and Iroh left for their "tour." However I suspect that Iroh just wants to cheer Toph up and will spend most of the afternoon ladling tea down her throat and filling her head with advice.

It was nice waiting with Sokka. We had a nice chat. Sokka actually did have something that he wanted to talk to me about. He and Suki had been wondering how I was getting on with having a word to Dad about equal treatment for women. Had I done it yet? I looked at my hands and said no, quietly. I explained that every time I tried to broach the subject with dad – something else always seemed to come up.

I told him about how Dad and I had a fight this morning about Bato and Ming. He was most surprised about Bato and Ming – because he had spent the morning snuggling with Suki rather than getting amongst the gossip at the water tribe house – he had not known. I filled him in on what I knew and told him that Dad didn't think it would work in the long term. Just because there was no way that Bato could bring Ming home and Bato would never fit in here and they were too different.

Sokka paused and looked away for a second. He asked me if I thought Dad was right. I said no, rather vehemently. Sokka nodded and said that Dad had a point though. He said when you love someone who was from a very different place it made some things much harder. People could love someone so much, but still not know if they were willing to leave behind everything they knew for that person. He said it with some odd feeling that I couldn't put my finger on. I asked him about it and he first denied that anything was worrying him – but eventually he fessed up that he and Suki had a small talk about the future.

She'd spoken like she assumed that they would live on Kyoshi when they decided to 'settle down. ' Were they settling down? Sokka said no - they had only just had their first serious talk about it. Suki thought settling down was a long way off and she wasn't ready yet – but she wanted to broach the subject with Sokka now. She had spoken with her usual candor and honesty when she said she wouldn't be able to move to the tribe if their attitude to women didn't improve. She was willing to try almost anything to stay with Sokka – because she thought their relationship was worth it -but she wasn't willing to do that.

They were both hoping I would say something soon. Suki said it would mean the most coming from me and it was "the first step." I said that I would try and do it soon, but I just found it hard to even begin that conversation. I didn't know how to say it without sounding like I was criticizing my Dad. Sokka said that he'd say something for me if he could, but Suki said that was part of the problem. Sokka might mean well but he'd be a man speaking for me rather than me speaking for myself - if he did that.

Sokka was a bit incredulous that I would be at a loss for words when talking to my Dad. He said that I ranted at him all the time about it. I just said that it was easier to rant at Sokka. Sokka said that he was on my side completely – so it was no use ranting at him. That was preaching to the converted. It's just… I've been ranting at Sokka so long. I knew that Sokka listened and heard me when I ranted. But I didn't know if all the warriors would listen to what I had to say.

Suki came over not long after that. She gave Sokka a tender little peck on his forehead in greeting. It was such an offhand, little gesture of intimacy. Like she thought she'd be giving him little kisses forever. That little gesture told me all I needed to know about the two of them and how the are together. I think Sokka and Suki can last. I don't care what Dad thinks. I think that love can last between two people – even if they are from different backgrounds.

Sokka asked about her day with her warriors and she regaled us with their antics and told us about how she'd had to give someone the afternoon off because someone was super hyper-active today. I smiled knowingly. Sokka told her about his day and said that he had just asked me to say something to Dad again.

I said that I was always intending to say something, but I was just waiting for the right time to say it. I wanted to do it properly, when I was ready and knew exactly what I wanted to say and had the menfolk's full attention. Suki and I talked a bit about the things I could/should/would say for the rest of the afternoon.

It was some time after sunset when Aang and Ty Lee came back. Ty Lee was delighted to see Suki and gave her a big hug. She explained to us all – this girl, she's soo nice! She gave me the afternoon off. As if this was news for any of us. Ty Lee had evidently overheard some of our practice speeches as she walked Aang over. We had been talking about ways to get the menfolk to actually listen to me. Ty Lee offered that if she were me – she'd just chi block them all to get them to stay still - then they'd have to listen to her. It is an intriguing thought.

Aang was a bit perplexed because I haven't really gotten much of a chance to talk to him about the problems I was having with my tribe lately. He'd been so genuinely surprised in the Northern Water Tribe when Pakku wouldn't teach me. I remembered how angry Aang had been on my behalf and how he'd thought it was so unfair. He said that he thought it was just the Northern Water Tribe who were funny about girls. I told him sadly that my tribe was also funny about girls. The Southern Water Tribe wasn't as bad as the northern one, but we still had our problems. Aang offered to say something – but I gently told him that wasn't necessary. If Aang did that, there would be the same problem as Sokka speaking for me. I wanted to speak for myself.

Ty Lee said that she was sure everything was going to be great and everything would be fixed with my tribe soon. I asked how she could be so sure. She said with great enthusiasm that she could just feel it. Things were changing everywhere – surely my tribe would be no different. We all looked at her with that same combination of bemusement and amusement that Ty Lee often arouses in people.

Suki asked her what she meant by she could feel it. Ty Lee said it was the same way she could see auras. She just could feel change in the air. Sometimes she fancied that she could feel the whole aura of a whole country. She could tell that the firenation's aura was changing.

It felt, to Ty Lee, like the whole world was changing and anything was becoming possible. She looked at me sincerely and said that if the whole world moved forward – there was no way my tribe could be left behind. She added – still in that same sincere voice- we were right at the start of a new era. In a few years everything was going to be so different! She just knew it. And this time she was sure that things were changing for the better.

Sometimes Ty Lee strikes me as an old and wise soul.

Then of course she completely ruined that image by turning to me and saying that if all else failed and if in a few years they were still being sexist jerks - I could tell them all that she would Chi Block their willies if they didn't behave (Aang and Sokka both cringed terribly here).She gave me an incredibly cheeky wink and said that she had always found that argument to be rather persuasive.

-?-

Toph and Iroh and Zuko came back not long afterwards. Suki and Ty Lee left to have dinner with the Kyoshi warriors. And we had dinner all together. Sokka and Aang and I got filled in on the events of this afternoon. Toph had a wonderful exploratory afternoon and had been taken to Reunification Square, a Firesage temple, the Palace, a metalworks factory, seven teashops, three regular shops and rather alarmingly – a firework factory. There had nearly been a minor disaster – but that had thankfully been averted by Iroh (because he's so wily).

A few things had been settled. The coronation was going to be in Reunification Square in a couple of days. Zuko and Iroh had also reached a compromise regarding the organization. Zuko could have everything his way for the coronation as long as Iroh got full control over organizing the post-coronation celebration (and the post coronation celebration was the whole point of being coronated as far as Iroh was concerned). There were a few small arguments about the post coronation party – but I think even Zuko knows that he is going to end up giving his uncle his own way with everything.

Toph got a bit grumpy at Aang at one point and he was perplexed as to why she was so grumpy with him. There was more discussion about the logistics of getting the airship that Sokka and Dad fixed up ready to fly as a passenger carrier. Iroh had given Sokka's plans over to a good metalworker that he trusted, who had a great team. They would start working on it tomorrow. Sokka is actually quite excited to have a new project and he is going to hop over and 'check out' the airship tomorrow and discuss science-y things with this metalworker and generally be a busy-body. And before I knew it the whole day had elapsed and it was time for sleep.

-?-

Later that night I was feeling awake and restless. I was thinking about how Dad thought Ming and Bato shouldn't be together and how Sokka thought loving someone from another place was really hard and Suki thought it was worth giving it a go anyway. Ty Lee thought everything was changing and Aang thought you should always look on the Brightside. I didn't even know what Zuko really thought about any of the things I was thinking and that bothered me the most.

I had been hoping to get a chance to talk to him alone – ever since he'd had that little talk with my Dad. But I hadn't got the chance. One thing after another happened today and he was so busy with his uncle organizing stuff and there just hadn't been a free moment. I had wanted to pull him aside. I had wanted some privacy. I had wanted it to be just to two of us – because I had something important to say and I think I was nearly brave enough to say it directly to his face.

I had been wanting to tell him that I did not agree with what my dad said about how it could never work between someone from the watertribe and someone from the firenation. I did not agree with that at all.

In fact, I thought quite the opposite.

-?-

I got up to make some tea at one point – as it is the solution to nearly all life's problems. When I came close to the kitchen I saw that somebody else was up – because a few of the torches were lit. I was really glad to find that it was Zuko. He was sitting on the bench with a pot of tea on one side and a small pile of books on the other. There was a long scroll of paper peeking out between the books– I couldn't read most of the small writing but the heading said Things To Do. He was intently reading the book in his hands and hadn't noticed me standing at the door. So I tapped gently and made a small coughing sound.

He looked up, startled and then he saw it was me and his face softened and he smiled. Then he looked around and realized how late at night (or I guess early in the morning) it was. He said oh I'm sorry, did I wake you? I told him not to be silly. He hadn't woken me, I had been awake anyway. He asked if I couldn't sleep and I nodded. He said me either.

He offered me some tea and I came and moved the books and sat next to him on the counter. We drank in silence for a sec. Then I asked what got had him awake in the middle of the night. He said that he'd just been thinking about the fact that by this time next week he would be Firelord – hell, he could even be in Ba Sing Se, negotiating and shit – if Sokka got the airships up and running in time. There was just so much to do and so much that he needed to learn. Because he couldn't sleep – he decided to just get up and get on with it. He'd started making a to do list of everything he needed to do as Firelord – to help him keep track. Zuko likes lists after all and everything made more sense to him in list form.

I looked down at where the list was and I couldn't help but stifle a giggle. I could only see the first thing, but it was pretty all encompassing I thought.

Things to do as Firelord

Don't screw up!

I told him with a big amused smile that I couldn't believe he wrote "don't screw up" as the very first thing on a to do list. He said it was the most important thing to do, so obviously it had to come first. He said it so sincerely and then I really couldn't help the little chortle that escaped my lips.

Oh Zuko.

He got a little stroppy and snatched the list from me and said he didn't begrudge me all my various coping mechanisms – so I should not make fun of the list. I said I wasn't making fun of it, but it was just so…cute. Zuko made a face at me because he never appreciates being called cute or being associated with anything that could be considered cute. He started folding the list and I noticed that there was actually more than one list – he must have made a few drafts. Did they all start with Don't screw up? He pocketed the lists and wouldn't let me see them, so I will never know.

He changed topics and asked me why I couldn't sleep. What had gotten me up in the middle of the night? I decided to launch right in and just start with the topic I wanted to get to. I told him that I had an argument with my Dad about Ming and Bato. Zuko's eyes widened in comprehension. He said that my Dad had wanted to talk to him about that to, during their Man-to-Man talk.

I asked him how he felt about their Man to Man talk. He said it hadn't been anywhere near as bad as I had built it up to be. He smiled a little and said it was actually kind of nice softly. My Dad was a great guy and he hadn't mentioned penguins once. He'd had some interesting advice for Zuko and Zuko thought it was good to get my Dad's perspective and being a leader and stuff.

My dad had gone off on a weird tangent and been a bit honest with him about how he was afraid of talking to Bato and his relationship with Ming because he didn't want to come off like an arsehole. Zuko thought that had been a really random subject for my Dad to be so keen on discussing with him, but he could also see my Dad's point. Things would be really hard for Ming and Bato.

I told him that was what our fight was about. I thought he was wrong about their relationship. Zuko shrugged and said he couldn't see what my Dad was so wrong about. My dad had told Zuko about how Ming wouldn't fit in with the Southern Watertribe and Bato would find it hard to adjust to the firenation. That seemed like a valid point to Zuko.

I got a bit stroppy with him and said it wasn't a valid point at all. I couldn't figure out what he was actually saying. I asked if he was he saying that he agreed with my Dad and thought that Ming and Bato should break up? He said he wasn't saying that they should break up, but he was saying that everything would be difficult for them. Bato was going to have to make a really difficult choice in the end, as far as Zuko could tell.

I asked why should Bato be the one who has to choose? Zuko said, a bit defensively, that Ming didn't really have the luxury of a choice. She had responsibilities here. If Bato wanted to be with her, he'd eventually have to make a choice about whether he wanted to stay here – because moving south wasn't going to be an option for her. Bato had to decide if he wanted Ming or if he wanted other things more.

I turned around to face him and say something a bit stroppy in response – but whatever I had been about to say died in my throat when I saw his face. He was looking at me with this really soft expression. It was almost a longing expression. There was a long pause and we just stared at each other. Then Zuko blushed and looked down and said to the cup in his hand that he was sure "Ming" would understand. If Bato decided he wanted other things, Ming would understand and she wouldn't hold it against him.

I had a feeling that once again we weren't really talking about Ming and Bato here. But I couldn't believe I was hearing this from him. I said what? a quiet, incredulous voice. Zuko shrugged and just said that there was so much stacked against them. My Dad was a smart guy and he had a point. He added after a small pause I mean, I can see the wisdom in splitting up now – before they get in too deep… or in not getting involved in the first place. I was a bit flabbergasted about what to do with this statement. I disagreed with it for a start. I said that If both of them really wanted it – if they really wanted each other - I was sure that they could make it work. Zuko smiled gently and ah, but you're an optimist. I'm a pessimist.

There was another pause where Zuko said that those kind of relationships only worked out well in stories, as far as he could tell. That kind of relationship where the other person is so different… sure it makes you feel alivehe said this with some hesitant emotion. Then he paused and looked at me again here, as if he was trying to gauge my reaction, before he added but in reality, people always end up disappointing each other or hurting each other. Maybe it's not worth the risk. He looked back at his cup and said that it probably would have been better if Ming and Bato had just stayed friends. Friends wasn't complicated after all.

I wanted to say that friends could also be really friggin complicated.

Especially when you are friends with Zuko.

But I didn't say anything like that at all. He'd put my brain in such a whirl of confusion. I hadn't liked the way this conversation had gone. But I couldn't say that Zuko was wrong to feel the way he did. But that didn't mean I had to like it. I didn't know what to do or what to say. So I did what I always do in that situation. I went on the offensive and got scoldy.

I jumped down of the bench and made a big ho-ha about the time. Zuko gave me a confused look at my abrupt change in behavior. I said something along the lines of Oh look at the time. It's so late. We should both go to bed. You're still recovering and you need your sleep – so no more list-making tonight. I said all this in a very bossy yet awkward fashion. Oh bloody hell I am turning into my dad! I decided to cut my losses and I faked a yawn and said I was tired now and was going to sleep and then I fled.

-?-

So I lay awake and pondered and thought and tossed and turned and now it is morning and I have gotten no sleep. But I have decided several things in lieu of sleep.

- Zuko is possibly the most frustrating person in the history of ever!

- I still love him.

- I don't want to be just friends anymore.

I've been thinking about what he actually said and what I think he was trying to say. He never said he didn't fancy me…oops I mean that "Ming" didn't fancy "Bato" – how did I end up the boy in this analogy? It sounds to me like he was trying to say (without really saying) that he is scared of a relationship with me and that he thinks it's all too hard and there is too much stacked against us and he would prefer it if we were stayed friends so that we don't disappoint or hurt each other.

Well boo to that!

It's too late for me. I will be exceptionally disappointed if I don't get to at least kiss him soon. I will be very hurt if he doesn't even want to give it a try with me – especially after he's gone out on dates with whats-her-face in Ba Sing Se and Friggin Gloomy Friggin Hairbuns. I mean he is capable of dates and relationships! Hell, I don't even want a date at this point, I don't even want a relationship. I just want a kiss!

Okay that's a lie. I just want lots of kissing. With tongue. One kiss would never be enough.

Okay that's also a lie – if we started with the kissing, I know I wouldn't mind a few dates…and then a relationship…and then we will get married... and have lots of children ...and I will tease him until we are old and wrinkly about how he is the most frustrating person in the history of ever.

He wants me – I know it. There is no way I could not know it, from all the touching and the cuddling and the secret sharing. I want him! I more than want him.

I love him.

I think about him so much that I am beginning to question my sanity. I just…

Gah! How did I end up in this situation?

See the thing is that he is so brave about so many things, but he's just so scared about this. The way he spoke about "those kinds of relationships" with "somebody really different." There were so many layers to the way he said it makes you feel alive and now I can't stop thinking about what he actually meant by that. It's an odd choice of words. Is that how he feels about me? Did he not feel quite alive before I came along? It makes me sad to think on it too much.

He's scared, and I totally get that. He's shy, he's been hurt a lot, he doesn't trust easily and sometimes getting him to open up is like pulling teeth. He doesn't want to ruin this friendship we've got going between us. I understand all that. But I'm scared too. It's a scary thing – thinking about trying to move forward with someone I care about to the point where it is driving me to distraction. I mean if we did give it a go and it all went pear-shaped I'd never get over it.

It's a big risk.

But I think it could be worth the risk.

We would be worth the risk.

I just want to get him to see that.

We don't have to do it like Ming and Bato – and have it all public and have everyone gossiping and saying oh it'll never last behind our backs. I don't want that. We'll keep us secret… for as long as we can. It'll be just him and me. And we'll take it slow and move forward together and see where we end up.

If he just wants to "be friends" now – then that is cool. We will be friends. I will be the best friend he has ever had. But as soon as I get the chance, as soon as things are a little less hectic and we have a bit of time and can get just a smidgen of privacy, away from the various enthusiastic interrupters that inhabit both these houses – I'm going to take him somewhere nice. And then I am just going to use all my gumption and my courage and….and I'll just tell him how I feel. Hell, maybe I'll just show him and kiss him right then. Either way, I'm pretty sure I can persuade him to see things my way.

All I need to do is find the right time. It is so hectic at the moment with the coronation and organizing the treaty. I'll do it after the coronation. After that whole shebang is out of the way – we will have more time.

Until then, I am going to just be the best friend to him that I can be.

I mean we are good friends… best friends really and I don't want to lose that at all. I just want more than that. I can admit that to myself now. And hopefully soon I'll be able to admit it to him too. Because I can't help it anymore and I have to say something soon or I'll explode.

I really do love my friend Zuko - frustrating idiot that he is.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0


The Last Ramble!

Lovely wonderful readers! You have made it! You have reached the end of Not Stalking Zuko! Thank you for reading! Also a million congratulations and I hope you enjoyed it. Enormous thanks to everyone who has reviewed or PM'ed me! You are all fabulous and we've had some great discussions and some very interesting points have been raised – so I'd like to send you all an internet sundae with cherries on the top. Reviews really do make me smile! And I can say honestly that I wouldn't have been able to write this without you guys and your lovely comments and amazing insights! So all the thanks in the world.

Also the glorious Wandering Cat *waves at Wandering Cat* made a brilliant Tv Tropes page for this fic – if you would like to check it out/help her out – just google "the stalking zuko series" and "tv tropes" and it should come up.

And now onwards to the last ramble- and naturally YMMV on everything!

At the beginning I have Pakku in Ba Sing Se – in essence helping the Earth Kingdom get their s**t together. Pakku is the White Lotus Member who gets left behind to sort out Ba Sing Se, because someone would have to step into that role. Bas Sing Se had just been liberated and there would have been a gaping power vacuum without the Earth King. So Pakku is the HBIC in Ba Sing Se at the moment. It's more of an administrative role, rather than an authoritarian one. Pakku would have to work with the various leaders rather than just telling them what to do – as he has no official authority. Actually the idea of Pakku having to be collaborative is a bit hilarious to me. Because Pakku doesn't suffer fools easily and he will be literally surrounded by them.

Anyway, Pakku would have a lot of unofficial authority and the Earth Kingdom is in a shambles and the various leaders would squabble like children and they'd need someone to be the "adult". I used to do model UN for a long time and it was really illuminating at how easily things become tense and squabbling ensues –when everyone has their own agenda and everyone wants the best for their own "country." I see the Earth Kingdom not as a unified whole, but a collection of principalities and territories united under one High King – so it makes sense to me that everyone would squabble a fair bit and want the best for their principalities. A leader from a coast region would have little in common with a leader of a desert tribe. But just because they have the same High King, it doesn't mean that they all get along.

I think Pakku is the most likely candidate for this role, even though he is a grumpy old curmudgeon. I think that the Northern Water Tribe and the Earth Kingdom would be natural allies and the various Earth Kingdom leaders of the principalities will be much more willing to work with Pakku than anybody else in the White Lotus. They would not want to work co-operatively with anyone from the firenation, so that rules out Iroh, Piandao and Jeong Jeong. Bumi is an Earth King and a leader of a principality and is on the same level as them. He would have a vested interest in Omashu. The position of facilitator should never go to someone with a vested interest. Also Bumi is Mad.

Anyway Pakku would have sent out scouts looking for the Earth King as quickly as possible –The Earth King has now been found. How Kuei feels about being the Earth King now, as opposed to how he felt in season two when he didn't even know there was a war, will be explored next Now the EK leaders once again have a High King and can present a "united front." So the EK leaders are getting along right at this point and have reached some semblance of agreement. Pakku would have sent quickly for Iroh and said the equivalent of the time is now! get your arse over here as quickly as humanely possible.

To my knowledge -peace treaties normally do get underway pretty quickly after a conflict. They don't get finalized for a long time because there is normally a fair bit of squabbling – but the process is definitely started quickly. It makes everybody more comfortable when there is an official signed document saying "we won't attack you no more." So Zuko and the Gaang will have to head to Ba Sing Se not long after he is coronated to start working on a treaty (don't worry -I won't make it boring). For more tales of Ba Sing Se, you will have to tune in to Not Stalking Firelord Zuko.

There are a few subtle things that will be more important later. Pakku's feelings regarding the position of firelord is that Iroh should do it. Because Pakku wouldn't take crap from a 16 year old (Pakku don't take no crap from nobody! –except Kanna) and he thinks other old curmudgeons in the firenation will feel exactly the same way.

Also Hakoda finds Pakku very patronizing. And Pakku was a little patronizing in his letter to Hakoda. The Southern Watertribe is definitely the less prestigious of the two water tribes and I don't know if they would see eye-to-eye on certain issues. Anyway inter-tribe relations for the Water Tribes are going to come up next fic. The fall out from the Siege of the North will also be addressed.

There was a lot about coronations in this chapter. first off - Zuko's coronation can't be in coronation plaza. In the show, there is a panshot that shows all the charred buildings and then bam-coronation time. I think that the square where the coronation takes place that we see in the finale cannot be the same one that Zuko and Azula fought in. So I made up reunification square - because I thought an alternative venue was necessary. And can I just say that Ozai's coronation is just in really poor taste! It's his Dad's funeral for goodness sake! His Dad is on is funeral pyreand is, in fact, on fire (literally!) right next to him.

What is with that?

I don't think that could be customary because in almost every culture there is some sort of recognised mourning period – especially for leaders. Like seriously Ozai? At least wait until after the funeral. Have a different ceremony the next day. Wait just a few seconds before making grabby hands for the crown. I'm sure Firelord Azulon was a bit of a bastard coated bastard with bastard filling (for all we know he may have been a magnificent bastard) but it just strikes me as very disrespectful that Ozai chooses to get crowned when his Dad is on fire next to him!

It's just a bit eeurgh to me. So I've tweaked that a bit. Ozai's coronation, like the rest of his rise to power, was a little bit unorthodox – but he wanted and needed to be crowned as quickly as possible. So much to the disapproval of the firesages and the gathered nobles and army – he did his coronation his own way and used his firelordly powers to get that to happen for him. He held is as soon as his father is officially "dead" and did not recite the sacred oaths – because promises to try and be a good leader are not really Ozai's thing. And as a result his coronation was seen as a little vulgar. But the firenation is an absolute monarchy and he was firelord by then (and he is also a psychopath) -so no one is really going to say that to his face. So I count Ozai's coronation as anomaly in firenation culture.

I started thinking about what we see of Zuko's coronation and why Zuko made such a big brou- ho-ha about Aang being with him and what a hero Aang was. Aang is a hero yes, but Zuko's coronation really should be about Zuko assuming leadership – not about how great Aang is (there will already be plenty of holidays about that). I came to the conclusion that Zuko must have wanted it that way and I've come up with some fanwank to explain this.

Zuko has to present Aang as a hero to the firenation. Aang's a hero for stopping the war - and the war hurts the firenation too. Aside from a small select group of people, I think that everybody in the firenation would actually be relieved that the war is over and their sons/daughters can come home safe. Aang has to been seen as a hero and someone who is an ally of the firenation domestically for Zuko's reign to be successful. Realistically, all that most people in the firenation would know about Aang was that as the Avatar - he was their "enemy" and that he caused the most calamitous defeat in firenation history at the Siege of the North. (The Siege of the North and all the casualties will come up in Not Stalking Firelord Zuko – because Aang really needs to know at this point.)

Anyway people in the Firenation will have mixed feelings towards Aang at the start, and Zuko will do his best to improve Aang's image with his people. So that is why his coronation is as much about Aang as it is about him.

I don't think the tradition of Avatars being at coronations of new leaders is a tradition exclusive to the firenation. I think that it just makes sense that The Avatar would be there at the coronation of new leaders across the world, unless they were too young/unable. The Avatar has to balance the four nations and it would just make sense if they knew the leaders of the four nations and acknowledged when a new leader was coronated/came to power. I think that there would be a separate set of vows that would have to be sworn to an Avatar by new leaders – but no one has said them in over 100 years. But Zuko will bring the tradition back and he'll be the first to be coronated old school style – by both the firesages and Aang. Bless his cotton socks.

I think that this would have been an old tradition – but because it has fallen out of favour for 100 years, it would be seen as a progressive thing to do. My theory has a small snag in that Roku did not attend Sozin's coronation in the "Avatar and the Firelord." however I reckon the fact that he missed it could actually work for their relationship and canon.

It would have been such an old tradition and Sozin would have just assumed that Roku would come. Roku would have been really caught up in a more pressing Avatar duty (lets say there's a big problem in the EK and he needs to fix it). Roku would have said that he couldn't make it – but he knew Sozin would understand. This would be the first little crack in what was once a strong friendship.

Roku would have taken his friendship with Sozin a little for granted – and assumed that Sozin wouldn't hold it against him and would understand that he has duties. This would have been the first time that he would have very clearly chosen his Avatar duties over the firenation and Sozin wasn't cool with it. He would have written back –yeah that's cool, but secretly he would have been a bit put out. He never would have said he felt hurt by it – out of pride and a few other things – and Roku never knew there was a problem. But Roku's choice would have made Sozin start seeing him more as "the Avatar" rather than "My Oldest Childhood Friend Roku."

Aside from organising coronations - there were a few other things that I touched on that will become more important later. The airships will be given a new life as a Zeppelin fleet – eventually. Because there would be a growing need for rapid transport between the nations and there will be a lot of people moving about in the coming peace. And Sokka will be in his inventive element with this new "project." Toph is getting just a teensy bit jealous over Aang and Ty Lee. Ty Lee can Chi-Block willies and is willing to do it too – to get her own way. There is a cheeky, naughty streak in Ty Lee and Aang is a bit blind to it at the moment. I think that Aang would put any girl he develops a crush on – on a big giant pedestal. But Ty Lee is going to fall off hers pretty quickly and there will be shenanigans. There will be lots more romance related drama in Not Stalking Firelord Zuko. Especially for our Dynamic duo – because they are at a bit of an impasse right now.

Zuko and Hakoda have their man-to-man talk in this chapter and penguin sledding doesn't get mentioned once. Contrary to Katara's fears – it was not a big giant embarrassing fest. There was some awkwardness, but understandable awkwardness. This is also the first of many conversations about "Bato" and "Ming" – Bato who is a crucial part of the Southern Watertribe, has a high position in the tribe and very dear to everyone there and Ming who has just been given a new job that has a lot of responsibility and she will not be easily able to leave it or the firenation– you guys see what I did there?

Hakoda's not an idiot – he's not blind. He can see that there is "something there" despite all of Katara's denials. He's not sure if they are actually a couple, or if they are still both crushing on each other – either way he doesn't want it to go any further. He chooses to talk to Zuko about it (rather than Katara) because being a typical southern watertribe man he feels more confident talking to another man – who will be more "reasonable." Hakoda is actually as scared of talking to Katara over this - as he fears it will be a huge giant awkward schmozzle with her. Hakoda is well aware of his own awkwardness in this area. He always says the wrong thing and makes everything awkward when he tries to talk to her about sex and love and stuff and he wants to avoid that if possible.

He had a whole speech planned out for Zuko that he then pretty much threw that out the window. He adopted the "Bato" and "Ming" analogy because it oddly fit – and because Bato and Ming are on his mind too. Hakoda is very firmly of the opinion that it can't work between a fire and water couple. He and Bato have had a rather interesting discussion about this that morning – when Bato came back from his date. Hakoda would have waited at the Watertribe house for Bato and then confronted him about his relationship with Ming and his sneaky behaviour. Bato wouldn't have denied it – he is in that first flush of love and he would have waxed lyrical about Ming's better qualities etc. Hakoda would have outlined his various strong feelings on the subject and Bato would have been all "problems scmropblems – she makes me happy." He would have said that Hakoda would have to meet her properly and then he would understand - and the idea of dinner would have been cooked up.

Then Hakoda would have gotten Pakku's letter – and thought you patronising bastard – and been even more pissed off. So all in all – it's not been a great morning for him. He would have paced for a bit and then decided that he was just going to take Zuko aside and give him A talk. He can't do anything about Bato and Ming – because they are both adults. But Katara is his daughter and he'll be damned if he's going to sit idly by while she makes the same "mistake" he sees Bato making.

He would have gone over to Zuko's house – intent on having the talk right then – but then all these other topics come up that also need his due attention. When Iroh suggests that he and Zuko need to have at least an informal chat about their respective country's positions – Hakoda is all over that idea as it gives him a valid excuse to take Zuko aside. But then when he's with Zuko his pre-planned speech kind of falls apart.

I think Hakoda would actually like Zuko as a person. The first time Hakoda met him, he was sticking to Sokka loyally at Boiling Rock and helping them all escape. Sokka and Katara both have nothing but nice things to say about him but more importantly – Hakoda can see for himself that Zuko's a decent person. But he's still firenation – about to be the leader of the firenation, and therein lies Haokda's issue.

Hakoda would very easily be able to tell that Zuko's a bit anxious about being firelord. He's a bit perplexed as to why it's Zuko and not Iroh - because Zuko is 16 and impulsive and Iroh's un certain age and wise. And so he asks about it and is treated to a barrage of nervous babbling. Zuko's a bit nervous because he thinks that Hakoda actually wants to start doing some bona-fide negotiation right now and Zuko's still feeling a little ill-prepared for all that stuff! (Zuko is also nervous because he's stuck in a room with Sir Hakoda and Sir Hakoda has that effect on him!)

This would have stopped Hakoda in his tracks. He really wants to give Zuko a hard time about Katara – but the kid is so ill-at-ease about so many things and Hakoda would have felt his Dad-Mode kick in, despite himself. Hakoda is just such a dad- bless his cottons socks – that his Dad-Mode gets activated at the slightest hint of teenaged confusion. Hakoda, as chief and as an active participant in the war, has probably had a fair few dealings with the Earth Kingdom Generals and various other people that Zuko is very soon going to have to deal with. He knows that Zuko's nervous demeanour is going to lead him into strife when dealing with those people and he feels worried for him. So he give him the best advice he can – Just do everything with more confidence and conviction.

This is good advice for Zuko as a leader, because publically at least, he will have to appear self-assured and certain– no matter how much he might second guess himself behind closed doors. Zuko needed to hear something like that. I honestly think Zuko's demeanour would be a bit of an obstacle for him. He does need to learn to present a calm, composed and convincing front. Hakoda's doing a nice thing here and Zuko's feeling pretty good about this whole Man-to-Man talk thing at that point.

Zuko has a great deal of healthy respect for Hakoda on a general level, as the blue wolf, as the leader of the Southern Water Tribe, as Sokka and Katara's father – but this is the first time they have really related on a personal level and he's got to experience some of Hakoda's epic-dadness for himself (awwww).

He's is going to listen to and think about everything Hakoda says. So when Hakoda says that he doesn't think it can ever end happily for a couple from the firenation and the watertribes – Zuko is not going to dismiss that out of hand. He is going to think on that and obsess on that for the rest of the day. Hakoda would have said all this stuff gently – because he is a good guy really and he has a good heart. He's trying to be reasonable about things. But he doesn't want the people he loves – like Katara and Bato – to be hurt and he honestly can't see how a fire/water coupling could end happily.

I think his main object to Zuko would be a cultural one – it's nothing against Zuko as a person, just like it is nothing against Ming as a person. Hakoda just doesn't think a firebender could make either Katara or Bato happy in the long run. There is a big problem posed by where a couple chooses to settle. This is a similar problem to the one that Sokka and Suki will face. Someone has to choose – and that is always hard.

Haokda's point is that it will be even harder for Bato and Ming and Zuko and Katara – because the choice will be on Katara and Bato. Both Zuko and Ming have big responsibilities in the fire nation that they cannot leave (and even if they could - it is highly unlikely that a firebender would be easily accepted in the Southern Water Tribe after everything). If Bato and Katara really want their fiery partners – they'll have to choose to stay in the firenation. Hakoda doesn't think either of them will be able to adjust to living in the firenation. Hakoda can't fathom that either of them would choose the firenation in the first place.

Hakoda sees the whole thing as doomed to failure and he wants to "spare" the people he loves all the hurt he can. He does this by going behind their backs and in a high handed manner – but his heart is in the right place and he means so well.

Sokka and Suki are also going to have to deal with a similar problem about where they are going to settle down. They have been going out for a long time and are fairly serious about each other, but now they have had their first conversation about "the future." They would not have had this conversation prior to the end of the war – because the future was so uncertain. But now that the war is over – that conversation has become long overdue. Suki would have instigated it – because she wanted to know where Sokka stood on certain issues, but then it would have turned into a big giant discussion. They love each other – but both of them are exceptionally attached to their homelands and where they will live is going to be an issue for them. Suki would have confessed that she couldn't countenance the idea of living in the Southern Watertribe – with their attitude to women being what it is. Sokka would have said quickly that he could help fix that and they could get Katara to give some of her epic speeches etc. Anyway all this is to say that I haven't forgotten this plot point and I am planning on writing more about sexism and the water tribes – but you will have to wait a little longer my lovelies.

Zuko and Katara have a chat over tea and I know some of you and probably very cranky at me right now and saying boo you – you big tease! Both Zuko and Katara have been thinking about what Hakoda has said about the infeasibility of a fire/water romance and have reached very different conclusion. They get to have a chat about their relationship without actually having a chat about it – through the analogy of "Ming" and "Bato".

Zuko would be much more reluctant to get into a relationship with Katara. He does love her and want her – but he's gotten so used to not getting what he wants that he doesn't really expect that she'll love him and want him back. When he entertains the possibility that she might - he gets terrified and insanely hopeful in equal measure. For Zuko, Katara is probably the best friend he's ever had. His relationship with her is certainly one of his healthiest – He wouldn't want to jeopardise that at all. But he also wants more from her. He had been trying to work up the courage to tell her – but now Hakoda's gone and poured cold water all over that.

I think that Zuko would be much more pessimistic about a possible relationship to begin with. Zuko does not have much trust in romantic love – I think a lot of that would have been absorbed from watching how his parents were together (and I don't think Ozai and Ursa had a happy marriage). He's much more shy and he has poorer self-image and he has been hurt/and or let down a lot in the past. He's never been the one to make the first move in a romantic/sexual relationship. Both Jin and Mai came on to him – and he reacted to them. He did not go out with them on his own initiative.

He wasn't that invested in either of these relationships (there will be lots more on how this relates to Zuko and Mai in the early parts of Not Stalking Firelord Zuko). He wasn't risking that much of his heart with these girls. When things went pear-shaped – he could cope with it. He wasn't reduced to an ice-cream eating, crying, moping, emo wreck of a person– sulking in the dark – listening to sad music. Okay granted, he already did the emo-sulking-in-the-dark thing a fair bit. But you guys know what I mean.

Katara means so much to him already, she's his go-to person for so many emotional needs. At this point, if they got involved and it went pear-shaped - he would literally never get over it. He doesn't want to disappoint her or hurt her ever – and in his experience most relationships seem to end that way - so he thinks that it would be better to avoid that whole relationship quagmire. He's already been thinking along these lines, but then when he and Hakoda have their talk – it would have really reinforced a lot of these thoughts. When Hakoda outlines the various added difficulties for a fire/water couple – difficulties that he sees as insurmountable – Zuko, who has so much respect for Hakoda to begin with, couldn't help but agree.

Zuko's not even sure if Katara feels the same way about him at this stage. The only think he's sure of, and that he manages to convince himself of during the day – is that it is not worth the risk. Katara, on the other hand has come to the opposite opinion.

"Bato" and "Ming" allow them to talk about their relationship – without having to directly talk about it. For Zuko it is so much easier to say I think "Ming" would feel this rather than I feel this. Zuko -through thinly veiled Ming analogy – is able to tell Katara where he's at. He tells her that he is scared of the thought of them getting together and having it not work out. Because there is no way that these two could get together (at this point) just for a quick fun fling. If they got together, it would be for keeps and Zuko knows what a big ask that would be for Katara. He's stuck in the firenation now and if she wanted to be with him, she'd have to give up a lot to do that. Zuko was telling her that he had no expectations of her and he'll understand if she doesn't want him – but if she does, he doesn't think it's was worth the risk. She was telling him that she thinks it very much is worth the risk and they could work it out.

Katara has also been thinking about what Hakoda said and all the various points and difficulties her dad outlined. She has decided that they are not insurmountable differences. She's thinking about the things she's learned and the other relationships she's seen and what she actually wants. She has very much certain that a relationship with Zuko would be worth the risk. She chickens out in the kitchen from saying it to his face – because it is still a bit of a scary step and she's not quite there yet. But she is willing to admit to herself now that she wants more from their friendship – despite all the risks. She is getting close to feeling brave enough to declare herself.

I wanted to have Not Stalking Zuko end in a way that reflected Stalking Zuko (the fic that started me down this rambly path). Stalking Zuko ended with Katara resolving to be Zuko's friend. This fic ends with her resolving to be more than friends – but how Not Stalking Firelord Zuko will end is anybody's guess – (actually I'm kidding, I do know how that will end).

But this is it for Not Stalking Zuko.

To all my wonderful readers – if you have read this far then you I have so much love for you.

I have lots planned for Not Stalking Firelord Zuko – there will be coronation shenanigans, more Tales of Ba Sing Se, and lots of relationship-related drama/sillyness. Three of my favourite J's will make an appearance (Jee, Jun and Jet). We will get to see how Zuko copes with being firelord. We will get to see how Azula is going and how she is coping with her illness. And how Hakoda copes with all the changes in his children. We will see how it works out between Bato and Ming.

Iroh will be a great advisor to Zuko some of the time, embarrass him terribly at every opportunity the rest of the time and give him "calming tea" all the time. Toph will find a place she fits in and can completely be her awesome self. Aang will find hope for the future of the airnomads. Ty Lee will find her purpose. Suki will find that being the calm and sensible one can be a chore when everybody else is out of their gourd. Sokka will find the recognition he craves. Mai will find an answer to her boredom. Mai will also annoy the bananas out of Katara – until Katara wants to strangle her with those gloomy hairbuns.

And Katara herself will tell us what she thinks of all these goings on in long ranting style.

Til then lovely readers!