Author’s note: In which most loose ends are tied, there is shipping you saw coming and shipping you probably did not see coming, reunions, parties and Sokka’s atrocious painting skills.
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It was not surprising that Azula woke up first the next morning. Opening her eyes slightly she saw Zuko still sleeping peacefully next to her. Katara had bandaged his wounds while they were out. The princess couldn’t help the prick of guilt that she felt. Hearing footsteps she sat up in alarm, not seeing the waterbender anywhere and still feeling too drained to firebend. The door opened quietly and Azula’s eyes widened when she saw the woman that stood in the threshold.
“Mother?” she whispered in disbelief. Ursa had hardly changed since she had last seen her, although she was dressed in plain red robes now. Without pausing to think of her tiredness the girl jumped off the bed and hurried towards her mother, pausing in front of her. Ursa hesitantly took a step closer, opening her arms to embrace her youngest. Azula didn’t need to be told twice. She threw herself into her mother’s arms, feeling the last piece click back into place in her mind.
“I’ve missed you, little one,” Ursa told her daughter tenderly.
“Zuko will be so glad to see you,” Azula murmured, throwing a glance at her brother’s sleeping form. She turned her eyes back to her mother. “I am too,” she added shyly. Ursa just smiled.
“Zula?” a sleepy voice came from the bed. The princess returned to her brother’s side, helping him to sit up.
“Look who’s here Zuzu!” she said excitedly. Zuko followed her gaze and his face split to the biggest grin Azula had ever seen.
“Mom!” he said elated. Ursa walked up to her son and pulled him to an embrace as well, content to be near her children at last.
Suddenly a yell came from outside.
“No, you can’t bother them!” Lia’s annoyed voice rang out clearly through the door. “They’re probably still sleeping,” Katara added, just as annoyed. She had been up all night worrying over the two firebenders. The early morning visitors wasn’t helping her temper much.
“But we need to tell Zuko the news!” Sokka whined. “And why won’t you have a look at my leg? You can heal it, why do I have to walk around with a crutch?”
“Because your sister is very tired,” Lia said sternly. She opened the door to see Zuko and Ursa giving her amused looks. Azula just seemed confused by the argument. Katara appeared next to the redhead.
“We didn’t wake you up, did we?” she asked worried. Zuko shook his head.
“Zula woke me,” he explained with a smile. “Not that I’m complaining.”
“Who’s Zula?” Sokka asked appearing behind his sister. His eyes doubled when he noticed the princess. “You!” he yelled in shock, struggling to jump in front of his sister. Katara rolled her eyes, pushed him back and looked at Azula apologetically.
“They just came and I haven’t had time to explain,” she said.
“Explain what?” Aang’s voice came from behind them as he and Toph joined the group.
“Why Azula is here,” Katara said. The Avatar and earthbender looked at her confused before turning towards the bed. The princess was sitting between her brother and mother, hiding her nervousness behind a calm look. There was silence for a moment before Aang’s face split in a huge smile.
“Well, if Lia lets you anywhere near Zuko we have to welcome you to the group,” he decided happily.
“I agree with Twinkle-Toes,” Toph added. “Everyone knows that Blazes is paranoid.” Lia raised an eyebrow.
“Since when do I have a nickname?” she asked. Toph shrugged.
“It’s about time if you ask me.”
Sokka remained silent, watching the rest of the gaang gathering around the bed to share stories of their separate battles. Suki joined them soon and pulled her boyfriend along. Before he knew it, the Water Tribe boy found himself recounting enthusiastically how he had destroyed the airship fleet, seemingly not noticing that most questions came from Azula.
Aang had left again in the afternoon to bring the members of the White Lotus to Sozin for the final formalities that followed the ending of the war. Zuko was declared Fire Lord after both Iroh and Azula had explicitly told the nobles that in no way they would step between him and the throne. The official coronation was scheduled in a week so that he could recover enough, not that that stopped Zuko from ordering the release of any prisoners of war that were still held.
The day of the coronation was sunny, and Zuko wondered if Agni was doing it on purpose to annoy Lia, silently approving the new Fire Lord. He turned his attention back to struggling to pull his official robes on. Despite the repeated healings by Katara, the lightning had done a lot of damage and he hadn’t had much chance to rest and recover. He winced when a clumsy move made pain shoot through his torso.
“You need some help with that?” an amused voice came from the doorway. The soon-to-be-Fire Lord turned with a huge smile.
“Katara!” he hadn’t seen her much in the last few days, other than during the brief healing sessions. He smiled sheepishly. “I guess some help wouldn’t hurt.” The waterbender helped him pull the stuffy outfit on.
“How do you feel?” she asked him, concerned.
“A little sore,” Zuko answered truthfully, knowing better than to lie to a master waterbender/healer. “And nervous,” he admitted in a more quiet tone. Katara smiled at him reassuringly.
“You’ll do fine,” she said, placing a hand on the side of his face. “We all believe in you and we know that you will make a wonderful Fire Lord.” She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him softly. “And if you ever have a hard time Lia, Azula and I can always deal with whoever is the issue.” Zuko couldn’t help but laugh at that.
Iroh came soon after to talk over some last-minute issues with Zuko. Sokka and Katara met up, determined to look for their father in the hundreds of people that had gathered for the coronation. Finally, after navigating through a swarm of swampbenders they found Hakoda and Bato talking to each other.
“Dad!” they exclaimed as they rushed to the man. Well, Katara did. Sokka was still limping around.
“I heard what you two did. I am the proudest father in the world,” Hakoda said embracing them. “And your mother would be proud too,” he added, more to Katara than Sokka. Sokka looked up to notice a group of girls dressed in forest-green approaching.
“There’re my favourite warriors! I have to admit, I kind of missed the face paint. How does it feel to be back in uniform again?” he asked his girlfriend smiling.
“It feels great!” Ty Lee said, jumping from behind Suki. Sokka had lost count of the times he had been shocked, but this definitely took the cake. He half-jumped in front of Suki, pointing his crutch in Ty Lee’s direction.
“Careful Suki! Ty Lee is pretending to be a Kyoshi Warrior again,” he said accusingly.
“It’s ok,” Suki chuckled. “She’s one of us now.”
“Yeah, the girls and I really bonded in prison,” the acrobat explained. “And after a few Chi-blocking lessons, they said I could join their group. We’re going to be best friends forever,” she exclaimed, smiling brightly.
Zuko paused before the doors that would lead him to the coronation ceremony and took a deep breath. Aang was standing next to him in his formal monk robes.
“I can’t believe a year ago my purpose in life was hunting you down, and now…” Zuko trailed off.
“And now we’re friends,” Aang completed the sentence peacefully.
“Yeah…we are friends.”
“I can’t believe a year ago I was still frozen in a block of ice,” Aang said lightly. “The world’s so different now.” Zuko placed a hand on his pupil’s shoulder.
“And it’s gonna be even more different, when we build it together.”
Zuko stepped out and instantly thunderous applause rocked the full courtyard. On the plateau stood Ursa, Iroh and Azula dressed in ceremonial robes for the coronation. Zuko raised his hand.
“Please, the real hero is the Avatar,” he said, taking a step to the side and allowing Aang to take the centre. “Today, this war is finally over,” he continued to address the crowd. “I promised my uncle that I would restore the honour of the Fire Nation, and I will. The road ahead of us is challenging. A hundred years of fighting has left the world scarred and divided. But with the Avatar’s help, we can get it back on the right path, and begin a new era of love and peace.” Aang stepped back as Zuko knelt for the coronation. The head Fire Sage moved forward with the crown when the unexpected happened. He paused. From the shadows emerged the figure of a redheaded woman, dressed in an elaborate scarlet kimono with golden dragons stitched on it. The Sage bowed low to her and handed her the crown. With a proud smile Lia stood behind her adoptive brother.
“All hail Fire Lord Zuko!” she said in a loud voice as she placed the flame-shaped crown on his head. The entire courtyard knelt in front of the new Fire Lord as he stood up. He turned to the Spirit to see her bowing slightly as well, though not to the ground as the rest of the people did. They shared a smile as his family stood from their bows and gathered around him. Zuko could see that Lia was, for the first time in the last few months, at peace.
The early afternoon found Azula standing uncertainly in front of a door, a package held tightly in her hands. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so uncomfortable and suddenly wished that someone was with her. But her brother was busy signing papers with the guidance of their uncle and the newly-reappeared Jeong Jeong, whom Zuko had made a member of the Council of advisors, and her mother was overseeing the preparations for the ball to celebrate the end of the war and Zuzu’s coronation. Get a hold of yourself! Azula scolded herself. You have faced worse things than that.
So, taking a deep breath, the princess knocked and opened the door to Katara’s room. Just like she had imagined all four girls of team Avatar (as Sokka insisted more than ever on calling them) were there. Following Katara and Lia’s example the other two girls had welcomed her. Azula took a moment to survey the scene. Toph was lying on the bed, seemingly overlooking everything, while Suki, Lia and Katara were sprawled on the floor chatting. They smiled at her and Azula smiled back hesitantly.
“I thought you were preparing for the ball?” she asked, unsure of what the etiquette was for this occasion. Since her very first lessons at the Fire Nation Academy for Girls it had been drilled to her that a princess ought to always follow the proper etiquette.
“Oh we were,” Suki explained, standing up to help the other girl place her package on the floor. Azula followed her and sat between the Kyoshi Warrior and the Fire Spirit. “But given the fact that none of us knows what to wear we were trying to figure it out,” Suki concluded. Azula had thought of this.
“That’s why I’m here,” she explained, gaining courage. Becoming friends with Ty Lee and Mai had been so much simpler. “I thought you probably wouldn’t have anything appropriate with you so…” she paused after a snort from Toph. Had she offended them? She thought worried.
“Ignore Toph,” Lia said eyeing the box. Azula nodded. “So I had some dresses made for you,” She finished in one breath. Even Toph looked surprised at that.
“Wow Sugar Queen! I think you just found a competitor for the title,” she said jumping from the bed.
“Thanks Azula,” Katara smiled gratefully. Said girl glowed with happiness.
Opening the box she took out the first dress. Although its style was obviously Fire Nation, it was made out of icy blue silk with silver decorations. Katara looked at it speechless for a whole minute before blurting out “I love it!” Relaxing a little Azula pulled out the second dress. This one resembled the uniform of a Kyoshi warrior, forest green with golden decorations. Suki squealed and impulsively hugged Azula. The firebender looked a little shocked but nevertheless pulled out a smaller, simpler dress in pale green.
“This one is for Toph,” she explained. Not hearing a reaction the earthbender approached and ran her fingers across the fabric nervously.
“How does it look like?” she asked.
“Like Aang asking you out the moment he sees you wearing it,” Lia said finally. Toph blushed and snatched the dress.
“He’d better!” she muttered. Taking out the last dress, Azula handed it to Lia.
“What do you think?” she asked. The dress was scarlet with golden flames decorating it, leaving the left shoulder bare.
“Whoever made this dress,” Lia began slowly, “is a genius!” she concluded with a huge smile.
Suki and Katara talked Azula into staying with them for the rest of the evening and the princess found herself slowly loosening up at their company. When they were finally ready later that evening they walked out of the room to meet Zuko, Sokka and Aang, all dressed up for the occasion. They walked together to the ballroom of the palace, chatting carelessly along the way. Zuko and Katara entered first, followed by Aang and Toph, Sokka and Suki and finally Lia and Azula. As the entire Team Avatar walked in, another round of applause rocked the packed room. Mercifully, as Lia put it, there had been no great need for formalities and soon everyone was mingling, old friends meeting again and couples dancing the night away.
Much to Toph’s displeasure Aang had been whisked away after only one dance by a bunch of nobles who wanted to meet him. This left her, Azula and Lia standing together chatting quietly.
“May I have the honour of this dance fair lady?” A smooth voice said behind them. The three girls turned to see a black-haired young man dressed as Fire Nation nobility. Recognizing him Azula tensed but before she could say anything Lia cut in.
“I thought you promised not to interfere with the mortals,” she pointed out. Agni offered her a Fire Lily and a crooked smile.
“But you are not a mortal.” To Azula’s surprise Lia grudgingly took the offered flower.
“Just one dance and then you’ll disappear,” she warned as they made their way to the centre of the room.
“Care to tell me who this guy is?” Toph asked the princess. “His vibrations were weird.” Azula regained her speech.
“That was Agni,” she managed to say, her eyes never leaving the couple dancing gracefully and silently.
“Agni?” Toph raised an eyebrow. “As in the same Agni she tried to kill a few days ago?”
“That one.” Toph cackled.
“Well that explains her vibrations,” she grinned. “And by the looks of it he has quite the crush.” Just in time the dance stopped. Agni whispered something in Lia’s ear before bowing and promptly disappearing through the crowd. The red-head made her way to her friends.
“So?” Azula asked curiously. “What did he say?”
“Nothing!” Lia said, her blush deepening. She had placed the Fire Lily in her hair.
“I can tell you’re lying…” Toph said in a sing-song voice. “So spill.” Lia muttered something under her breath. “What was that?” Toph insisted. “We couldn’t hear you.”
“He likes the dress,” Lia said louder.
“And?” Azula prompted.
“And he said I still owe him a kiss.”
It took two months, during which the gaang split to return to their respective nations and help the rebuilt effort, for Toph to stop teasing Lia. Now, with the excuse of a trade agreement, they had all gathered at Ba Sing Se again. Today the Jasmine Dragon remained closed to the public as Aang, Katara, Sokka, Suki, Toph, Zuko, Azula and Lia gathered for the evening. Iroh was playing the Tsungi horn on a corner, the melody he made up filling the air. At a table nearby Azula and Suki were playing Pai Sho with Katara and Lia observing them. Aang was playing with Momo and Zuko was going around bringing cups of tea to everyone.
“Zuko, stop moving!” Sokka suddenly yelled. Everyone’s eyes turned to him in surprise. He was holding a brush and had an annoyed expression. “I’m trying to capture the moment. I wanted to do a painting, so we always remember the good times together,” he explained in a softer tone.
“That’s very thoughtful of you Sokka,” Katara smiled at him as everyone walked around to see the picture. Her face fell. “Wait! Why did you give me Momo’s ears?” she asked.
“Those are your hair loopies!” Sokka explained. Zuko crossed his arms.
“At least you don’t look like a boarcupine. My hair’s not that spiky!”
“I look like a man,” Azula complained.
“And why did you paint me firebending?” Suki asked confused.
“I thought it looked more exciting that way,” Sokka shrugged. Momo jumped on the table and chirped. “Oh, you think you can do a better job, Momo?” Sokka asked the lemur annoyed. Iroh put the Tsungi horn down and came to see the offending picture.
“Hey, my belly’s not that big anymore, I’ve really trimmed down!” he said. Toph spread her arms in the air.
“Well, I think you all look perfect!” she said, making everyone burst out laughing.
The little earthbender stopped laughing when she felt Aang walk out. She had been in Ba Sing Se with Bumi and a few of her friends from the earthbending matches the last two months and before that she hadn’t managed to confront the flighty airbender about their argument on Ember Island. Determined, she following him outside.
Aang was leaning against the railing, his thoughts on his earthbending teacher. During his fight with Ozai he had been forced to finally let go of Katara, completely unlocking the Avatar State at last. Now, his thoughts and meditations often turned to a petite, blind earthbender. He turned to say something to her when Toph’s hand grabbed the front of his robes and brought his lips down to hers. Aang’s eyes widened before sliding shut and he kissed the girl back. Words could wait. The world was finally at peace and everything was as it should be.