Hi Prince Zuko,
My name is Katara. My mom knows your mom and she says I should practice writing Fire Nation. So she told me to write to you. Because you need to learn Water Tribe. Because when we’re older we’re going to use it to trade and stuff.
It’s cool that you’re a Prince. We don’t have Princes here, like the kinds in the stories. My dad is the Chief but we aren’t royalty. It sounds interesting. Do you live in a palace? It sounds amazing. One day I want to go to the Fire Nation.
I like the Southern Water Tribe, though. Everyone is fun and I spend a lot of time with my older brother. His name is Sokka. I think he’s closer to your age but he doesn’t like writing. He likes hunting and swords and stuff. And I’m a waterbender, too. Are you a firebender? That’s cool.
I like penguin sledding and I like dancing and I like telling lots of stories. What do you like?
Sorry if this is weird. It’s nice to meet you.
Can you tell I'm soft for no-war AUs?
It's going to be a very happy ride. Thanks for reading :)
Edit: Hey, I'm just leaving another note here to assure new readers that this fic doesn't stay in the 'kid-zone' for very long. Stick with me a bit and they'll stop being so cringe :D
Chapter 2: Two: Zuko
Hi Lady Katara,
My mom said to call you a Lady because that’s what you are. I hope it’s okay. I need to practice my Water Tribe. Your Fire Nation is really good.
I live in a palace and we have lots of servants and people. But I try to be nice to them. The best part is the turtleducks. They are these animals in our courtyard. They’re really nice to watch. I like them. The Southern Water Tribe sounds really interesting. I’ve never seen ice. Doesn’t it get really cold?
I have a sister. Her name is Azula, and she is your age, but she can’t write as good as you. She’s a little bit mean though. But she’s okay. She likes bending a lot.
Waterbending seems really cool. I’ve never met a waterbender. I’m a firebender but I’m not really good. I’m not as good as my sister, she’s really good. My mom lets me practice with swords sometimes though. I think I‘m going to be really good at them, even more when I’m older. Benders aren’t really supposed to use swords but I like them. I like using my swords and I like watching plays and I like reading stories too.
It’s nice to meet you.
Dear Prince Zuko,
That’s honestly really cool. To be called ‘Lady’. It’s really fancy. I told my mom I want to be called Lady and she said that we don’t have titles like that here and I’m just Katara. But it would be cool if you called me Lady. I was a little surprised when you wrote back but also happy. Your Water Tribe is really good.
Yeah, the ice at the South Pole is really cold. I’m a waterbender but I’ve never been swimming. Can you go swimming in the Fire Nation? That would be really funny. I’m a waterbender and I can’t swim! I would freeze and die if I did though. A couple of years ago Sokka fell into the ocean while he was trying to help and my dad jumped in to help him and they both got really sick.
It’s really cool to be good at swords. Benders in my tribe aren’t really supposed to fight. I’m supposed to bend to heal and help people, which is cool. I kind of want to learn bending to fight even if there is no war. Just in case. Swords are just as good as bending. They’re really cool to look at too. Do you have one sword you like a lot or a style you’re good at?
I told Sokka about your sword and he said that it was really cool that someone his age was also using one. I think he’s a year younger than you. He said he wants to spar you one day. I told him to write but he really doesn’t want to learn Fire Nation. Siblings are annoying. If he ever does I’ll make him write your sister.
Do you travel a lot? I’ve never left the South Pole. My mom left for the Fire Nation because of diplomacy and stuff with my dad, of course, but she says I can’t go to the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom until I’m older. I really want to see more of the world though.
I’m really glad we’re gonna be friends.
— Lady Katara
I know they're being annoying for now but they're kids. The 'cool's and 'really's will disappear in a bit.
I'm a little pissed AO3 doesn't have a good messaging system so I do have a Tumblr I don't know how to use now, @antarcticasx. Just leaving that there :)
Also there is not enough dark!Zuko in this fandom smh.
Yeah, I don't really know what this note section is. I'm losing my mind, I hope you guys enjoy this soft little fic, thank you for reading xD
Chapter 4: Four: Zuko
Dear Lady Katara,
It’s weird that you find that fancy to me. I guess the Fire Nation is must be a lot different from the Water Tribe. You don’t have a monarchy, do you? The idea of having a chief is interesting, I’ve read about it in my books. I like history class a lot, my uncle teaches me and he’s good at it. He likes to teach me things about life while we go over it.
Your family must be really close, for your dad to jump in the water for your brother. I don’t think my father would do that, he would probably have one of his guards get me if something like that happened. My father isn’t really nice. My uncle is, though. I think he would save me. His son is on a diplomatic trip, has been for more than a year, so my uncle likes watching over me and Azula. Even though Azula is still mean.
I hope you can learn to fight. It’s good to know how to fight a little, even though healing is also really interesting. Water is a really good element because it can do stuff like heal. Fire isn’t really like that. It needs emotion and it can be harmful. My father tells me that I’m not strong enough and peaceful enough with my emotions to be very powerful. I don’t even know what that means. I try to meditate and I think it’s working.
I like fighting with two swords. Maybe one day I will meet your brother and we can spar! It would be nice to meet you, even if it’s in a while.
I would like to show you the Fire Nation. You should come here whenever you’re older. I’ve gone to lots of towns in the Fire Nation and I’ve gone to the Earth Kingdom. I have to work more on my education but eventually I will have to be an advisor to my cousin when he is Fire Lord so I will have to travel more.
Write back safely! I‘ve heard winters are hard near the poles.
Chapter 5: Five: Katara
Dear Prince Zuko,
Yes, we don’t have a monarchy. The people choose the chief and we’re all equal. We think that we should live with everyone because our socytee (society?) is really about living with everyone else. Even if I would be a Lady I would still have to help with the wash and sewing and cooking. I like it though. We can all be friends. It’s cool you have a history class! We just pass stuff on through the family. We didn’t even have paper until a while ago. Paper doesn’t do really well in really cold weather. Your Uncle seems nice. My Grandmother tells me stories.
I’m sorry your father isn’t that nice. I think your mother is, right? Also, your uncle sounds pretty cool. He teaches you history and he hangs out with you. That made me want to give you a big hug. I love my dad a lot.
I don’t think that’s fair. Fire can be a really cool element too. We could definitely use firebenders here, it’s so cold! Waterbenders might be good at healing but firebenders are also really powerful. Also, I think meditation will help. But don’t let your dad tell you you’re not strong. I only know you through letters and I know you’re strong! You use swords and stuff and you’re only a few years older than me. That’s crazy.
I would like to meet you too! I think you would find the South Pole a little cold though. We’re a lot different than the Fire Nation. My parents say that the Fire Nation is a lot more mechanically advanced. Like you have stores and more factories and everything. We aren’t that in-dust-rial-ized. Mostly we fish and hunt and stuff. But that’s why my dad is growing trade agreements. He wants us to be a little more like you.
Life will be more strict when I get engaged and stuff. That will happen in a few years. I made my mom promise that I will get to leave at least once before I get engaged. Maybe I will go to the Fire Nation! That would be cool.
Winters are bad here, but I think it’s better than your summers! I’ve never seen a place that isn’t icy. My dad said you have a lot of ground and stuff in the Fire Nation too.
— Lady Katara
Dear Lady Katara,
That sounds like a really good idea. My grandfather isn’t really like that. I think he thinks he’s better than his people. I think a leader should be equal to his people but it doesn’t really matter what I think. I won’t ever be Fire Lord, just advisor to my uncle and then my cousin. I’m really glad my father will never be Fire Lord, honestly. And I’m glad nobody reads these because I know he would be really mad if he knew that.
I just want to write it, Katara. I don’t like my dad. And my sister, but my dad more. He’s not a very good person. Neither is my grandfather. My mom is good and my uncle and cousin are but that’s it.
That felt good to write out. You know a big secret about me now. And thank you for the hug.
Thanks. It’s good to hear that I might be strong. A couple of days before I received your last letter my dad reminded me that my sister was born lucky and that I was lucky to be born. He says that a lot. I don’t think I should let it bother me but it does. I’ve started to train more secretly with my uncle and I’m doing more practice with my swords. Father says they’re weak and for non-benders. He’s so confusing. I don’t like him. I wish I had a good family, like yours. I don’t think my family really loves each other.
The Fire Nation is really advanced. I talked to my uncle about the trade agreements and he said that I need to concentrate on school right now, but next year I could go on the trade ships. He says it can be my rite of passage when I’m fourteen. So I might be able to meet you in a few months! That will be cool. I can show you around my ship and show you the engines and firebend. I want to see just how cold the poles are.
That’s early to get engaged. I can get married when I’m eighteen and that’s a long time away. I don’t really want to think about romance and stuff right now. My sister keeps trying to make me play with one of her friends but it’s weird. Love is for when I’m older. You understand, don’t you?
I can’t imagine a world of ice! I don’t see ice very often here at all.
Me: I want to keep this slow.
Also me: no.
My outline changed. I'm literally averse to conflict so aside from some risky waters coming up the rest of this is going to be really smooth and really Zutara. They just have to grow up a bit.
Chapter 7: Seven: Katara
I know that this isn’t really in response to your last letter. Sorry about that. But I need to tell someone my feelings right now and I don’t know who because my dad is really sad and Sokka hasn’t been talking at all. But my mom died.
It feels so strange. Everything feels so weird, like nothing is alright anymore. She was in a canoe and then something happened with pirates. I still don’t know what. Nobody will tell me. My dad just hugged me and now it’s been a week and I haven’t seen him. Sokka went on a long hunt, even though he’s not supposed to. Nobody stopped him. They’re doing whatever and they left me with my grandma and it kind of sucks.
She keeps telling me to be strong and that everyone in the tribe is watching because I’m the chief’s daughter and that’s why my dad left because he didn’t want to look so weak but I can’t do it anymore and then I saw your letter and I just felt like I could tell you. I think your mom is friends with my mom. Was friends.
I miss her so, so much Zuko, and I don’t want to be strong I just want to cry all the time. I was supposed to help with the stitching but I couldn’t and I’ve just been in my furs for so long. I don’t want to eat or anything I just miss her. She used to tell me stories before I slept every day. And she would always hug me when I wasn’t feeling good and she cooked dinner and everything just tastes so terrible. I have her necklace, she left it in our tent. It was my grandmother’s before her, like a betrothal necklace. I can still see her in the back of my mind but I also can’t.
What if I forget her, Zuko? I don’t want to forget her I love her so much. I can’t believe those pirates took her for whatever stupid reason they’re just EVIL. I wish they were dead and I wish I had my mom back.
No. I don’t wish they were dead. But I want her back so much it hurts. I want to leave here and the entire stupid South Pole where I have to be put together I’m just weak. I’m not strong at all my mother is dead and I’m a bender I’m supposed to be able to save her right? I don’t know Zuko I just don’t know anymore I want to cry.
I went back and read over your letter. Your dad sucks so much, I hope you know that you were definitely born lucky. You’re really nice. And I hope that you come here soon. I want something new too. I wish I was gone I hate this place.
I’m so sorry that this letter is all over the place but I didn’t know who else to tell. This sucks, Zuko. This sucks so much.
I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry that you’re going through this right now. I wish I could see you and hug you. It will be okay.
You’re not weak for not wanting to put on a brave face, not at all. It’s a special kind of bravery to acknowledge the hard parts of life. I know that you’re so, so strong. If there is anyone in the world that could get through this it’s you. You have such a big heart and I know that this’ll hurt but you will get through this.
My mother sends her regards, she says that your mother was a very close friend of hers and that you can count on the Fire Nation now as always.
I don’t really know what else to say. I hope that you know that I’ll always be here for you. You’re never alone, you can tell me anything you want to and I definitely won’t judge. I told you about my father, didn’t I? I’ll stick next to your side, and when I come visit you next year we can take my ship and take a trip if you want to. We’ll go anywhere you want and need to go. I’ll help you find the pirates too. I’ve got you, Katara.
At this point they're thirteen and eleven (Katara is a sort of well-written eleven-year-old, but that was the age I started writing fanfic, so let's roll with it).
Chapter 9: Nine: Katara
Thanks for letting me rant out to you. I’m sorry you had to read that. It’s been some time since she died. A few months, I think. It still hurts.
My grandmother is trying to teach me family traditions that I was too young to learn from my mother. I know she’s trying to keep it together too but it hurts when we do things like learn recipes and sew quilts, because it just isn’t my mom teaching me. I wish it was her. Sometimes I see her when I close my eyes.
My dad came back and he apologized for leaving, and Sokka and I have been sleeping together ever since he came back from his hunt. It’s comforting. I never really realized just how much I loved them until I lost mom. I think my dad just had to leave because he loved my mom so much, I feel like he’ll never maybe be the same. Some part of me wants to have that love in my life, but then I would also never want to go through that kind of heartbreak. Maybe the idea of arranged marriages isn’t too bad, then. I wouldn’t want my heart so broken in two.
Thanks for your words. They have helped a lot. It’s nice to know that you’re there on the other side of the world and you think I’m strong, because I can’t really feel it here at all. The entire tribe treats me like glass and all the women just look at me with pity. I don’t want pity. I want my mom back. And if that’s not possible I just want life to go back to normal. My grandmother says I have to come to terms with it but that’s hard. It’s so much easier to pretend that nothing happened.
But honestly, Zuko? Even though I think everyone thinks that I’m getting better I’m not. My hair loopies — they’re a way I do my hair, I just realized you don’t know what I look like. I have darker skin than the Fire Nation traders and dark brown hair and my eyes are blue and my hair has loopies. My mom used to help me do them and now I have to do them myself. That hurts, and other small things do. Sokka understands, even though he’s too much of a ‘proud warrior’ to say it.
I don’t really want to think about it anymore. How’s life in your fancy palace? I hope your mom’s okay and I want to remind you that you are so strong and so much better than what your dad says. You can bend and you can use two swords and on top of that you’re kind.
I’ve got you. I can’t wait to see you. When are you coming?
Lots of hugs,
Chapter 10: Ten: Ursa
Addressed to Lady Katara of the Southern Water Tribe,
Hello, Lady Katara. I hope you are doing well, and once again, please send your condolences to your family. I miss my dear friend Kya deeply.
Zuko received your last letter but he refused to have me read it aloud to him, so he does not know what it contains. He wanted me, however, to let you know that he is currently injured and unable to write or read very well. He has been burned — that is all he wants me to say.
Your father will receive an explanation of events that have recently transpired in the Fire Nation. We stay staunch allies.
Zuko does not know that I am writing this, but I would like to thank you for being a friend to my son. He has few and he values you.
Chapter 11: Eleven: Iroh
Transmission — to Chief Hakoda of the Southern Water Tribe. From Fire Lord Iroh of the Fire Nation.
My Dear Friend,
I would like to tell you of the recent happenings of our nation, in order to bely your concerns. Many rumors have been flying internationally of what has occurred. You have always been a friend to me and we will, of course, stay allies. Please send my regards to your family, and your dear daughter Katara. My nephew is very fond of her.
My son, Prince Lu Ten, was terribly injured in a border skirmish several nights ago. After me he is heir to the throne, and as I have no other children and do not wish to take another wife, that would have left the throne to my brother Ozai if he had died. My brother claimed to our father, former Fire Lord Azulon, that I had been weakened due to the death of my wife and my son’s terrible injury, and that I was not fit to the throne.
Much of what transpired afterward is not fit for discussion. Ozai committed heinous sins and attempted to murder several of those in the palace, eventually committing treason and killing our father. When I interrupted this madness he challenged me to an Agni Kai — we have discussed these, have we not? — and I imprisoned him and took on the mantle of Fire Lord.
My son has recovered from the attack and will still stand to inherit the throne. My sister-in-law, Princess Ursa, and her daughter, Princess Azula, are fine. I believe that Princess Ursa has sent along a missive to your daughter as well, from my nephew. He was terribly injured by his father’s actions.
Take care, Chief Hakoda. May our two nations only grow closer.
Chapter 12: Twelve: Katara
I hope you’re alright. Please be alright. Your mom sent me a letter which said you couldn’t write because you were really badly hurt and then my dad got a scroll from your uncle which said that your dad had hurt you.
Please, please be okay. Then you can come and I can take you penguin sledding and you can take me on one of your giant ships and we can have all the fun in the world. Please just be okay. Please tell me you’ll be better.
I can’t believe I don’t know what happened. What’s taking so long to heal? Will you end up alright? Is your head okay?
I can’t believe your dad did this. I’m so glad that he’s in prison and I’m sorry if that’s wrong. It was so terrible for him to kill your grandfather, that’s just so terrible, I can’t believe how he would have treated you. He hurt his father and you’re his son. That’s so . . . so, so bad.
I was so scared when I got your mom’s letter, Zuko. I thought that you might die, that I might have lost you before ever really even knowing you. I don’t even know what you look like or what your favorite food is but you’re a good friend. It felt like my mom all over again.
Please, please read this, and please tell me that you’re okay. Lots of hugs from me, you’re so strong. You’re going to get better and come here, okay?
— Your Lady Katara :)
Chapter 13: Thirteen: Zuko
Hey, Lady Katara :)
Sorry I missed your last letter, I didn’t want my mother to read it to me. We have to stick together. I have read it, now, because I’m better, and I want to remind you that not being okay is okay. I don’t like your tribe. They shouldn’t be forcing you to be someone you’re not. You’re twelve!
In terms of my face . . . it’s a long story. You asked me a few questions. In terms of food, I like fireflakes. In terms of how I look . . .
I was never really that great to begin with, but my father burned my face, Katara. He got angry and murderous and he told me I was a terrible son and he went into my room and burned half of my face. The left side. It was really bad, I couldn’t see for a long time and that’s why I couldn’t read or write letters. I’m so glad he’s gone. That probably also makes me terrible, but I’m glad that he’s in prison and can’t really hurt anyone anymore. I’m glad my Uncle Iroh is Fire Lord.
I never really thought I looked that great. It’s weird, saying this, because you’re a girl. But I was average. I just have really dark hair and pale skin and golden eyes. But the scar my dad gave me is really bad, Katara. It’s really bad. I can’t even look at myself anymore. I don’t know how other people are going to look at me. It’s just red and pink and all across my face and I can’t hide it!
I feel like everyone thinks that I should be more mad about my father being evil and killing my grandfather but I’m really more mad about my face. I think that makes me vain. But I knew my father hated me and that he would harm me. I’ve always known, he’s terrible. But I never thought something would happen like this. I’m going to be known as the scarred prince of the Fire Nation. At least I’m not in line for the throne, at least Lu Ten is alive. Thank Agni.
I never really thought about marriage and stuff and girls and things like that (this is weird to write because you’re a girl) but even if I was going to be fine before I’m ugly now. I’m just ugly, Katara. I don’t want to ever show anyone my face again. Azula just keeps laughing and laughing at laughing at me. I hate it so much. I want to be normal again.
It’s not a big deal. My grandfather is dead. Your mom is gone, too. Those are big things but I care so much about my face.
Thanks for being amazing, Katara. I’m so mad that I made you feel that way. I should have made my mother clarify, but I was a little delirious when she wrote you that letter for me. At the end of the day, I’m fine. I have a little blind spot but I can fix that with more training, and my eye is okay. I’m okay.
Lots of hugs from me too. Uncle said that I can go to the South Pole in a couple of months. Later than expected, but late is better than never, right?
— Zuko the scarred prince :(
Chapter 14: Fourteen: Katara
Zuko the not-ugly prince,
First of all, it’s totally okay for you to feel bad about your face. Your dad was a terrible person so it makes sense that you’re not that surprised about him. Something was clearly wrong with his brain or something, for him to be that evil. He hurt you. He hurt his son. I can’t imagine just how messed up that makes him. Family is important.
I don’t think you should be ashamed of your scar at all. Of course it feels strange to you because it’s new to your face, but I know that in the Water Tribe we’re proud of our scars. They give the hunters honor. I know that Sokka wouldn’t mind having a scar because that would mean he’s a man. So you can think about it like that, like you’re a man now.
I think scars are cool. Yours is a sign of the fact that you overcome your terrible father, and that’s why you should be proud of it. It’s a battle scar. So don’t be ashamed of it, use it as a reminder of how he used to make you feel and make sure that nobody makes you feel that way, and that you don’t make anyone else feel that way. Not that I think you ever would, anyway. But it’s a reminder that you should stay nice and kind and a good kind of strong.
Azula shouldn’t laugh at you, nobody should. I don’t think most people would laugh at you, Azula just seems really mean. I can’t imagine having a sibling that’s so mean. You’ll have fun meeting Sokka, he’s nice, even if he can be annoying sometimes. At the end of the day, he’s always one of my best friends.
Also, what are fireflakes? Those sound kind of spicy! We get Fire Nation spices here but nothing too crazy. We eat a lot of fish.
And yeah, don’t scare me like that ever again! I got really sad. And then Sokka started teasing me about liking you too much. He doesn’t get that it’s not like that.
Chapter 15: Fifteen: Zuko
I don’t really need to write to you because I’ll probably get to the South Pole a few days after you receive this. But I like writing to you so it’s fine.
Everyone’s been trying to make me feel better about my scar but you’re the only one who really did. I can use this scar as a sign of my courage. I can. It’s strange, because lots of people have burns in the Fire Nation and they’re seen as a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you can’t control your bending properly. But the entire nation knows that my father did this to me and it’s easier to think about how it makes me strong.
So thank you, a lot, for that. I’m going to be confident and proud, even if it’s ugly. My uncle said that some girls might like the fact that it makes me look dangerous. I guess that isn’t the worst thing to have going for me. Please don’t read this letter in front of me, I’m going to die of embarrassment. I can’t believe I just wrote that down.
Right now I’m about to leave for the ship to the pole. Azula is staying behind with my mom. She told me that I have to come here without her because I’m officially a man now. The scar and traveling by myself (well, and my uncle, because he’s always busy) are my transition into ‘manhood’. I’m going to miss my mother, she’s been there for me even though I know the fact that her husband is in jail sort of hurts. I think they used to love each other. Lu Ten’s staying too, he’s more of a sibling to me than Azula, so I’m glad he’s okay. He’s healing and conducting affairs. Good riddance to Azula, at least.
I’m going with a few soldiers and I’m going to practice bending with my uncle and fighting with them. My uncle says that watching waterbenders will make me a stronger firebender and that spending time with your warriors will help me learn new fighting tactics. It’s going to be fun . . .
Except I am a little bit blind in my eye now, the one surrounded by my scar. The physician said it might get better but he doubts it. My balance is off and now I need to retrain a bit. But it’s fine. I can manage it. I’m just going to train even harder with my swords. I’ll show you, too.
I’ll see you soon after you get this!
I know that you’ve been to the South Pole so I won’t detail all of it out to you but it’s so strange and different from the Fire Nation. The air here is so clear, it’s less humid and it’s cold. And there’s no ground to be seen; everything is simply white and ice! It’s a whole new world, essentially.
I’d almost forgotten about the language differences when we’d arrived, but of course my Water Tribe is much better than it was a few years ago, and although some of the crew struggled with communication we’ve mostly done well. I’m settling in well on the ship; Uncle opted for us to stay on board instead of stay around the actual members of the tribe, for reasons I think are diplomatic.
I think that he’d wanted me to spend more time with him, more time learning about diplomacy and such, but I’ve been having fun here. I’ve been spending my time mainly with Katara, of course, and her brother Sokka. Frankly, I wish my relationship with Azula was like theirs, they are so close. But all of the people here are. There are so few people compared to our nation!
I do think it would be funny if you were to set up a correspondence between Sokka and Azula. He is so lighthearted and she is so . . . not. It would be hilarious. And I don’t mean that in a mean way! Sokka is a great person, and he’s close to my age. He’s also a good warrior. We spar for at least two hours every afternoon, after I practice bending with uncle, and we are both learning from each other.
The Fire Nation’s style is so much more . . . I cannot find the word. Structured, I think, than that of the Southern Water Tribe. In all ways, from the lax way they govern and the sort of random and unpredictable way Sokka fights and the versatility of waterbending. I don’t know whether or not that’s good or bad, truly, but it’s interesting. Uncle told me I should learn from Sokka and Katara and I am. I would be able to take Azula on, after this, if you ever allowed us to actually fight!
I haven’t mentioned Katara, yet. She’s amazing. It’s so hard for me to realize that she is the same age as Azula and Ty Lee and Mai because she is so different. I don’t necessarily mean that in a terrible way, but she is just . . . kinder, and her heart is more open. She’s not cruel at all. I told you, she told me I should be proud of my scar.
When she saw me, for the first time, she knew it was me. And she hugged me! I know you’re always saying that young boys and girls should not embrace but she didn’t hold back, like Mai or any of the other noblewomen's daughters would have done. That’s just her personality. She’s so genuine. It’s so great to realize that the letters I was receiving were authentic, that she really exists. She’s kind.
We’ve talked about everything, Mother. I train with grandfather and with Sokka, and then I spend time with both of them (we’ve gone penguin sledding, it’s terrifying!) and then Sokka leaves to eat or whatever and I spend a few hours with Katara. Uncle told me at first that he was suspicious that I had romantic inclinations towards her — he doesn’t realize that I am much too young for such things! I will entertain such thoughts when I am older. And you know that the scar puts such thoughts up in the air. I will marry a girl for love, and I will not marry someone who simply wants a path to the throne and will aim to depose Lu Ten.
Anyway, Katara and I do talk about everything. We talk about her mother’s death, and death in general, and then father and other things. Besides you and uncle and Lu Ten it feels like everyone is always playing a game with me, but she isn’t. I know she isn't. And she’s definitely well-spoken, and educated at that. Of course, I consider my spoken Water Tribe relatively decent, but she weaves words like poetry. And when she tells stories the words themselves are nice to hear.
I brought fireflakes for her and she spit them out, but then she made me try seaprune stew and I also threw that up! It’s salty and slimy and . . . disgusting. Sokka just wanted to stay in the weapon’s room when I took him to the ship but I showed her everything. She wanted to see the barracks, and where I sleep, and even meet the crew. They all couldn’t talk to her very well and they laughed at me that night and teased me but it was fine. I mean, she’s twelve, and she’s just my best friend now.
She’s a very good bender, too! She practices with Master Pakku and Hama, and she’s almost a master herself. Her bending is also amazing to watch, beautiful in itself, and its fluidity has been helping me with my style.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I want to conduct my life when I’m older. I definitely want to be a great ambassador, and I like the idea of living in a ship, and I loved this journey. Perhaps I could commission a ship and make that my home, besides when I’m staying at the palace. That way I could go wherever, even the South Pole, and when I have a family we’ll live everywhere. Obviously that will have to happen in about five years, but I would have to start commissioning such a ship now, right? I like that idea. I like the South Pole, with its interesting weather.
This is better than home, Mother. Katara, and Sokka, and time with Uncle Iroh — I suppose I should spend time in the main area, tomorrow, so I can learn something about diplomacy. But I won’t let it cut into my time with Katara. Can they come to the Fire Nation next year? I would love to show Katara more than the ship. There isn’t that much technology here, at least right now, and I’d want to show her the balloons and the other large ships. I think she’d think they’re interesting.
I have to go to dinner now, we’re meeting with Chief Hakoda today. I will see you soon, Mother. I hope Azula is fine.
Your son, Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation
Zuko is writing differently because this is Fire Nation, not Water Tribe :)
I've also expanded the chapter count. It's generally subject to change, although forty sounds good right now.
Chapter 17: Seventeen: Katara
Zuko is about to leave.
I’m going to miss him a lot. Dad told me that I can go to the Fire Nation sometime in the next four years, before I have to settle down and look for suitors and stuff. This all seems so outdated.
I don’t know what opened my eyes when he came here, but I want more than this life now. Zuko is so worldly. He speaks several languages, he’s a bender, he’s a fighter, and he knows the culture of every nation to prepare for his role as ambassador for the Fire Nation in the future. He tried to tell me stories about everything he’s learned. He isn’t really a great storyteller but he got his points across. There’s an entire world out there!
And I went on his ship, Mom. I know you and Dad have been to the Fire Nation so you know how advanced they are. The ship is SO BIG. It could probably easily fit half of us, and it’s not even a warship, just a basic ship. It’s built of metal, not ice, and he has paintings and tapestries. I know those things don’t keep well in the ice, but still . . .
I really want to go to the Fire Nation, and the Earth Kingdom, and see the different technology they have. I’m glad you helped orchestrate these trade agreements. Hopefully, I’ll live to see the Southern Water Tribe look like that.
Zuko is so amazing, Mom. He’s so smart and he’s a good bender. You should see him bend. He’s not the best, obviously, but he puts so much effort and energy into his training. He meditates and gets up every morning with the sun — and it’s rather early, right now — and does training exercises. I wish I could be that disciplined. He sticks to his schedule so cleanly. And he’s a Prince, so he technically has jurisdiction over his entire crew with his Uncle, but he’s kind to them! And they teased him when he brought me on board but he ignored them and took me everywhere. He’s so nice to me.
I thought he might like Sokka more when he got here, because Sokka is his age and they both fight. And, well, they did fight a lot. But they didn’t even get that close. Zuko and I spent at least two or three hours together every day. We talked about you, and what really happens when your spirit ascends, and if he should ever forgive his father.
Dad got a little mad at me, you know, because I was spending too much time with him. He said it wasn’t really appropriate because I’m getting older. Zuko doesn’t see me like that, though. He sees me as a friend.
I’m just going to tell you, Mom. I think I might have a tiny crush on Zuko. It’s not a big deal and it’ll go away. But I need to tell someone. If I tell Dad or Sokka they’ll just say that they told me so. But me liking Zuko isn’t even a big deal. It’ll go away. He’s just my best friend.
He’s just so . . . nice, and I know that sounds like a terrible reason to like someone, but it’s not just that! He always talks to me and listens to me, like really listens to me, not like everyone else who just pushes me to the side, and he didn’t pity me when I talked about your death, and he even hugged me. And he’s so smart, he tells me everything about the Fire Nation and how everything works, like these giant balloons that fly in the air, and he listens to my stories about the history of our tribe, and he knows so much about math and science and politics! And he cares about everything, so it’s fun to listen to. And he’s kinda cute. I don’t know, he’s like me, he’s going through puberty, and I can almost see him grow taller every day, but he has a nice face and his hair is nice and smooth and he does have some muscles, even though appearance isn’t what really matters. He hates his scar but I really do think it’s a battle scar. It makes him look older and mature. He let me touch it and it was a little sore. I tried to heal it but it didn’t really work, even though I fixed a little bit of the pain. That too! He actually likes that I can bend, and he thinks it’s interesting, not like all the other boys who get scared by me or tell me to stop. He watches me train and he thinks it’s cool and he told me that I’m a better waterbender than he is a firebender and I’m pretty sure that’s sort of a compliment. I know that he doesn’t like me back, but it’s a little fun, liking him.
I know everyone will just make fun of me because I’m twelve and I have a dumb crush. I’ll get over it. Zuko is going to get taller and have more muscles and he’ll have like five pretty Fire Nation girlfriends when I go visit him. I can’t believe he thinks he’s ugly. I’ll get over this. He’s my best friend, anyway. That’s what matters.
I’m really glad I got to tell you this, Mom. I’m going to hug Zuko tomorrow and we’re going to keep writing. I’ll grow out of it the next time I meet him. I will.
I love you and I miss you so much. Thanks for listening to me.
Love — Your daughter, Katara
Chapter 18: Eighteen: Zuko
I know that I was only with you for a month but it felt like a long time. In a good way — I miss you and Sokka a lot. I even miss the terrible cold of the South! It’s so humid here. You’ll understand when you come up here.
When can you, by the way? There’s so much to show you, from the museum to the courtyard. Also, I want to show you Azula. Sokka didn’t believe me when I said she was really, really terrible, so he should spend time with her. He can suffer.
Mother and Uncle both said that you could come anytime and that it would depend on what your father would be okay with. And they said you could stay as long as you want! We have rooms for visitors in the palace and I know the perfect room for you. It has a window which looks right at the moon, I know you’d love it. Your Dad is due to visit here too, right?
I want you to come but don’t come too soon. That sounds wrong, but . . . I’m accompanying Lu Ten to the Earth Kingdom! And I wouldn’t want you to come here without me because you’d be stuck with Azula, who I’m starting to think is insane. She tried to fire a servant for having hair too long! Like, really?
We’ll go spend time with the King, obviously, but I’m really looking forward to seeing Ba Sing Se. It has these large walls and it’s full of people, and everyone is really close. The Fire Nation is built of islands and the Southern Water Tribe is on ice but the Earth Kingdom is . . . well, on land. I’ve met earthbenders before but never a whole city of them, kind of like waterbending. I wonder what I could learn from them to improve my firebending.
And I learned a lot from you! When I came back I was practicing with Azula and she kept making fun of me because my styles were so ‘primitive’ (I swear, she’s evil, she didn’t even say hi to me when I came back) but we sparred and I beat her! Mother got mad afterwards because we aren’t supposed to so that we have good relationships with our siblings, not like Uncle and Father. But I think that Azula is practically Father anyway, so . . .
Wait, does that make me like Uncle? No, no. Please stop me if I ever get obsessed with Pai Sho and tea, Katara. Please save me. Promise me.
We’re going to the Earth Kingdom tomorrow! Hopefully it’ll be a good trip.
I miss you. I just wanted to say it again.
I miss you a lot too! I can’t wait to figure out what humidity is. I talked to Dad and he said that we’ll go to the Fire Nation when I’m fifteen. So that’s in two years? It seems so far away. We’ll be so much older. I tried to ask him to let me and Sokka go earlier but he said that it didn’t make sense for us to go to the Fire Nation for diplomacy when you just came. It makes a little sense but I wish I could see you sooner! We’re friends, it’s not about diplomacy.
I want to go to the Earth Kingdom! You’re very lucky that you’re allowed to do stuff like that! I’m a little jealous, I won’t lie. Tell me everything. Earth is brown and dirt and stuff, so are the walls too? Is it really sunny? How does the King live?
Azula does sound terrible, I know, I’m sorry. It was really mean of her to fire someone because of their hair! That’s just stupid! I feel bad about calling your sister stupid. I’m sure she isn’t stupid. It just sort of made me mad that she would do that. She already has servants and stuff and she fires them? That’s just spoiled, I think.
But I’m glad you beat her. Everyone fights with their siblings, it’s fine! And yes, I, Katara of the Southern Water Tribe, do solemnly swear to stop you, no matter the cost, if you start drinking tea and playing lots of Pai Sho. But honestly, Zuko, I don’t think your uncle is the worst person to be. He’s really nice and tea isn’t that terrible!
It feels so strange to get back to life without you here. I know you were only here for a few weeks but you sort of made our routine work so well. Sokka tries to be a big bad warrior about it but I can tell that he misses you a lot. He’s always complaining about missing a sparring partner. I always crush him when he tries to fight me. Perks of being a waterbender and living on water!
Me too. I miss you.
As of now they're thirteen and fifteen! Stuff is about to hit the fan a little.
Two years is a long time. I already can’t wait to see you again.
Wow. The Earth Kingdom has been . . . interesting, so far. The walls are brown and large and just . . . I want to explain it but I don’t have your way with words! I miss your stories. I’ll have to take you here, one day. It’s very hot here, but the weather is drier than the Fire Nation, more like the South Pole. I think that’s because it’s a desert and not tropical. The King lives in a large palace, sort of like mine. He’s fine . . . and all, but he has a pet bear, Katara. A pet bear. It doesn’t sound that strange on paper but trust me . . . it’s weird.
Feel free to call Azula stupid, honestly. I was starting to not mind her again but then she used her bending at my mom when she was angry! That was terrible, and I didn’t stay for the fallout but I know Uncle was very mad at her. I guess he isn’t the worst person to be.
But the weirdest thing happened yesterday! Lu Ten wanted to wander the . . . poorer side of Ba Sing Se, the Lower Ring. So we went in disguise — I would think that the scar would be really distinctive, but I wore a straw hat and nobody seemed to realize it. We sat down in a tea shop (Lu Ten is definitely Uncle Iroh’s son) and there was this girl serving us. Her name was Jin and she sort of kept talking to me. She asked me for my name and I couldn’t exactly say Zuko so Lu Ten interrupted and said Lee. Lee. The most basic name in existence.
I sort of just ignored her but then Lu Ten said that she kept coming around because she thought I was cute. Can you imagine it? Me, cute. It was really awkward and I just wanted to leave but Lu Ten wanted to finish his dumb tea. And then she asked me if I wanted to get dinner with her and I was going to say no because it was really awkward but Lu Ten said I wanted to. And he’s still my cousin and technically ranks above me so I listened to him.
Yeah. So. Lu Ten took me to this random house and paid the people in it to use their bathroom and he messed with my hair and then we went back at sundown and she was there. It was so awkward, Katara. Like, really really awkward. But Lu Ten left me alone and sent a few guards after me in the shadows and I had dinner with her.
She was relatively nice, but it was just . . . nothing great, you know. Our conversation didn’t really flow but she kept trying so we sort of got into it. I swore one of my guards was laughing in the shadows. I really need new ones. I’m fifteen! It was just a strange . . . date, I guess. I ended up telling her I was from the circus.
The circus. Just so you can understand how awkward it was. After that she wanted to go to this fountain, except she wanted the lights to be on, so I lit them up for her because I forgot I was a firebender and that I was supposed to be undercover. She didn’t really mind, though.
Okay, whatever, but she kissed me, Katara. It was really really weird and my first kiss and just . . . weird. It didn’t feel that right for whatever reason, even though it should have — she knew me as this random Lee guy and not Prince Zuko so she couldn’t have been hatching a conspiracy or anything. She was just a nice girl. Kissing is weird and gross, by the way. Don’t recommend it.
I ran away after that and Lu Ten just laughed at me and told me that kissing would probably be better when I found the right girl. Sometimes I hate him. No, not really, I like him a lot. But ugh. That was so weird. He said I’m a man now, though I find it weird that an awkward lip smush is an indicator of me being a man.
I hope you could feel my awkwardness through that story. Tell Sokka I miss him too! I can’t wait to see you guys. Please tell me a stupid story too, I wish I was with you.
Remember when you were thirteen and you figured out that your older crush was into someone else and didn't see you that way? Poor Katara.
Chapter 21: Twenty-One: Katara
Okay I lied. I haven’t grown out of my crush on Zuko. I tried really badly to get over him but I kept thinking about his dumb face and the first letter he sent me which was really nice. And then the last letter he sent me . . . well.
He kissed a girl. He went on a date and kissed a girl. I wish it had been me. That made me really angry even though it shouldn’t have because he is his own person and he can kiss whoever he wants to. I shouldn’t care. He’s older and he obviously is attractive. Girls like him. I told you that in my letter a while ago, didn’t I? He’s going to have like ten pretty Fire Nation girlfriends. I shouldn’t be jealous because he’s not mine he’s just my best friend AHHH
I cried a lot when I got the letter. A lot. Like, it was so bad that Sokka asked me what was wrong during dinner. He looked up from his food to ask me if I was okay. Just so you realize how bad it was. Dad’s distant as usual and Gran-Gran just told me to keep my head up. I didn’t actually tell Sokka what happened then because he would probably tease me but he did hug me and tell me that he would beat whoever made me cry up. That made me smile.
At least he didn’t like it, right? He thinks kissing is gross! But also . . . he sent me that letter. A really detailed letter. About his date. Which means he’s stupid (yeah who saw that one coming, right?) and that he really doesn’t see me in a romantic light at all. Which is fine! It’s fine. I’m probably like a sister to him, a replacement for Azula . . . that’s disturbing. I really don’t want to be like a sister to him.
Okay, but remember how I said I didn’t tell Sokka what happened then? Well, he sort of figured out that I have a crush because he can be weirdly intuitive sometimes. He’ll be a great chief one day. Luckily he didn’t figure out that it was Zuko, that would have been terrible because he probably would have told Dad and then Dad would get mad at me for spending so much time with him . . . ugh. My relationship with Dad hasn’t really been that great lately. I know I should fix it but . . . I don’t know, Mom.
But Sokka thought it was one of the guys his age in the tribe and he was ready to get up and murder all of them but I convinced him otherwise. Although it did feel sort of good to know that he’s ready to defend me like that. He’s a good brother, even if I could probably murder them faster. It’s the thought which counts. I sort of sulked for a week and then he TRIED TO SET ME UP ON A DATE.
Yes. Sokka tried to set me up on a date. SOKKA tried to set me up on a date. I literally didn’t think he knew anything about romance. He’s such a . . . boy, like Zuko. And for all his talk about defending me I didn’t think that he would try to set me up with someone, especially because he still thinks I’m a baby. But then he said that it would make the other guy jealous and let him know what he missed. And I couldn’t exactly tell him that Zuko would never find out, right? If I told him whoever I liked wasn’t in the tribe he would automatically figure it out. And then I thought about it more and thought that I could tell Zuko about my date in my next letter. Maybe it would make him jealous?
Okay, yeah, my thought process going into that was not the smartest but I was a lot more mad at Zuko back then. I’ve calmed down a little. A little. I’m still really mad . . . but I’ll tell you what happened, I guess. It didn’t really go well.
The boys in the village have only gotten more scared of my bending since you left, except for the one that can bend, but Sokka set me up with some guy who’s more obsessed with being a warrior than he is! And that’s an accomplishment. I think that he thinks that guys who want to be a warrior are strong and stuff but the guy was just sort of . . . sexist. I should have taken offense to it but it was just . . . really funny, Mom. You would have gotten so mad at Dad if he had ever acted like that with you.
Our ‘date’ was getting food and taking a canoe downriver to have a picnic and talk. I think we were both supposed to talk, but it was basically just him talking about how amazing of a hunter he is and how he’s going to be to Sokka what Bato is to Dad. Whenever I said something he ignored it. And he ate all the food. Well, not all of it. He left a single sea prune for me.
I don’t really want to say much more about it because . . . it just sucked. He tried to kiss me but I really didn’t want to kiss him so he kissed my cheek. It was SLIMY when I got home. I told Sokka I never wanted to see him again and then I told him that he’d tried to kiss me and Sokka left the house to beat that guy up. He got in trouble with Dad that night but he told me it was worth it. I should tell him I love him more.
I feel so calm about this. But yeah, I guess I also just had my first date. I might mention it to Zuko. I can say I had my first kiss too, right? That counts, doesn’t it?
Oh, Tui and La, Mom. I can’t believe I’m doing this. I can’t believe I did that just because stupid Zuko went on a stupid date and stupidly kissed A GIRL HE DIDN’T EVEN LIKE. This has devolved. And now I think I might like him MORE because he was so much better than Sokka’s friend. Zuko listens to me and he eats his fair share of food. Shoot. So, yeah, that backfired.
I was having a fight in my brain and my brain decided to commit to the fact that I like him. So I guess I am. I guess time will just have to fix it.
I wish I could tell someone else this besides you. But thanks for listening, even if you can’t respond. I love you and I miss you.
— Your daughter, Katara
Chapter 22: Twenty-Two: Katara
The Earth Kingdom does sound amazing. I’m definitely going one day!
That date sounded really awkward. I feel bad for her too! It was funny, though. I think the only person you should really be angry with is Lu Ten. He just likes teasing you!
It’s still icy as ever. The trade agreements with your Uncle came through so we got a LOT of metal and a few engineers who are going to make our ships and canoes faster, and a lot of spices that I’ve never tried before. I think I prefer extra salt to a lot of chili, I can’t believe that you eat any of it! It gets rid of the actual taste of food and makes me feel like my mouth is bleeding. Ugh.
I went on a date too, and it went pretty well. We went on a picnic and ate lunch and just talked for a bit, and he kissed me (I agree, it’s a little gross). Sokka ran him off though.
Oh, that’s a story! Bato and a few of the men tricked all the boys in the tribe and told them that it was a secret warrior’s tradition to spend a day mimicking a penguin before they could become full-fledged warriors, to build humility. I can’t believe they thought it was real, but five teenagers spent yesterday dressed in black furs with penguin warpaint going through the town and giving rides to little children. It sounds sweet but it was hilarious! I guess I’m not really that good at telling funny stories . . .
And the delegation from the Northern Water Tribe arrived! Have you ever met Princess Yue? She’s close to your age. Sokka keeps mooning over her, it’s hilarious. She’s rather nice although she’s a lot more reserved than you are, and she’s not a bender and her father doesn’t like it when she plays with us very much. But she tells me a bunch of stories too, also about the Water Tribes, so I have more to tell you.
She’s fun and all but you’re a little better to have around. Don’t let that go to your head.
Chapter 23: Twenty-Three: Zuko
I don’t know why I’m writing this because I’ll definitely never let you see any of this, but Lu Ten told me I should face my demons. So welcome to this letter, I suppose, where you get to see that I’m living my life perfectly fine without you telling me that I’m worthless. I never told you to your face and I probably never will, but I just want you to know that I hate you and that everything is going great without you.
Mother and Azula and I are fine without you hurting us. You messed with Azula’s mind, pretty badly, somehow. I feel like you might have done it on purpose. Some of it has to be inbuilt, she’s a little bit naturally mean, but her firebending power was all sourced through the anger and pain you inflicted on her. She lost her control. Mother has been taking her to court doctors and trying to find a way to help her bending come back without you standing over her shoulder. Azula might not be my favorite person but I hate you for doing that to her.
And Mother is perfectly fine! She can’t remarry while you’re still alive but I think she’s just enjoying life. She deserved better than you, anyway. She’s doing most of the Fire Lady’s roles because, of course, Aunt isn’t here. Uncle Iroh is a better Fire Lord than you ever could have been.
I’m doing fine even with you burning off half my face. I made friends who taught me that it’s a sign of overcoming you, not of my weakness. You told me I was weak for so long — that I was lucky to be born. You are such a terrible person, I don’t know how you can call yourself a parent.
I went to the South Pole to spend time with my friend Katara and even though her Dad has some problems he still loves her and her brother. You never loved me. I think something is wrong with you.
But enough about you. Let me tell you how great my life is. I’m in the Earth Kingdom with Lu Ten, and he teases me and even sent me on a date, but I can tell it’s because he loves me, like Uncle Iroh does. I like Ba Sing Se — sometimes when I want to see the Lower Ring I pretend to be someone else who isn’t a prince and just watch people. You would find that demeaning, but I like seeing ordinary people exist. You wanted war, you wanted these people to die. You’re evil.
I went to the Southern Water Tribe before this to spend time with Katara and Sokka. You would have hated them because they aren’t firebenders, and you thought everyone was below you and primitive. But they are some of the best people I have ever known. Especially Katara. I’ve been to writing her for a couple of years and I never told you. She doesn’t treat me like Prince Zuko and she doesn’t treat me like I’m broken because of my face and you. She tells me stories about everything and she’s a master waterbender. Yes, my best friend is a waterbender. Suck on that in your cell. She’s also one of the best people I have ever met, perfect and kind. She laughs with me about ridiculous things and tells me stories — oh, one second, the courier just got me a letter from her.
It’s been a few minutes and I read her letter. The Fire Nation’s trade has grown a lot with the Water Tribe. I know you would have hated that so I’m glad. And she told me a silly story about her brother pretending to be a penguin and . . . she went on a date. I don’t really like that she went on a date, especially one that she enjoyed, because that doesn’t seem really fair, and she’s thirteen and too young for those things, and boys my age shouldn’t be talking to her because she’s too good for all of them! I do care about her a lot . . . she’s not like a sister to me, but something like that. Yes, your stupid son cares a lot about a waterbender. Sorry, deal with it, Ozai.
I’m going to answer her letter and maybe send one to her brother too to make sure that he dealt with that boy she went on a date with appropriately. Have fun in your cell knowing that my life is amazing.
Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation
Chapter 24: Twenty-Four: Zuko
Happy birthday! Well, it’s too much to hope that your birthday will land on the date this gets to you, but I hope you have a great celebration for fourteen. There’s a cave of crystals here and I found one and made a necklace out of it, it’s enclosed for you. Thanks for being my best friend.
I’m glad the trade agreements came through, that’ll mean that communication and travel will only become easier around the world. At least your date was better than mine.
I can’t believe Sokka fell for that! He’s so intelligent and a great warrior but sometimes he can just be a bit of a strange kind of stupid . . . in a good way, I like him, he’s not stupid! Kind of oblivious, I guess. He’s the exact opposite of Azula. I wish someone had drawn that or something. I would tease him in front of his grandchildren. You better do that.
I met Princess Yue once when we were both very young, when she’d come to the Fire Nation and my grandfather was still on the throne. We didn’t talk or play at all, either, because she was always reserved and had a lot of warriors around her. She’s nice though, I could see why Sokka might like her, she would be the calmness to his crazy.
Lu Ten decided to lengthen our trip to the Earth Kingdom. We’ll go to Omashu and through Gaoling and Kyoshi Island before going back home, although we’re leaving Ba Sing Se in a week or so. After that day when Lu Ten and I went to the Lower Ring I’ve been sneaking down there a little bit. I think he knows but he hasn’t said anything.
I haven’t seen Jin again, thank Agni, but it’s been nice to just exist within a group of people who treat me normally. Everyone in the Fire Nation knows me because of the scar, and even in your tribe everyone knew I was Prince Zuko. Everyone in the Lower Ring of Ba Sing Se just exists — sometimes I think that they might know that I’m me and just not care. It’s definitely not as well-done as where I live, nearer to the king, but it’s homely. It’s full of tea shops and there are festivals and people dance on the streets without a care in the world. It feels so real.
I guess I have to remember to keep myself humble, to remind myself that no matter what the world has done to me I’m privileged in terms of wealth and standing. But at the same time it reminds me that wealth isn’t everything, that the families I see walking together and the people who are having fun dates also have love in their lives. Love is what matters, more than everything else.
So much of my life has happened because of my nation. I wonder if we would have met if I was just a peasant in the Fire Nation. Probably not, and that sucks. It’s a tradeoff. If I was really Lee, a traveller from the Fire Nation, life would be more simple. But I would also miss so much. And do I really deserve this life? Yes, I’ve had to deal with my father, but many others have to deal with much worse. How is it fair that I’ll have money and food for the rest of my life just because of my blood?
I’ve been trying to make it a habit to try to help people more. Luckily, there aren’t very many terribly poor people here, but I like to pay for people’s meals if I can, and I tip extra at the tea shop, and I always leave gold coins on the ground during festivals. It’s not a lot but it feels good to make people happy the only way I can like this.
This got away from me. Miss you as always, and once again, happy birthday!
— Lee :)
Chapter 25: Twenty-Five: Dragon Spirit
Code four. Heard that Water Girl went on a date with a male. Water Girl is still young. She told me you took care of the target. Any chance you could send me confirmation? Want to make sure she was safe. What she told me was surprisingly brief. Was there contact? Did he initiate it?
Also, you like the Moon Princess? Not surprising, I could see you having a thing for girls who are much cooler than you. I could see it working out, though the other tribe has stricter traditions than yours. I think my grandfather wanted to engage me and Moon Princess at a young age but our parents stood against it.
Be cool with her, and try to isolate her to start a relationship. I have faith in you.
I am not telling you how my sister’s ‘contact’ went. You know there’s a reason why everyone thinks you like her? In terms of the target, can offer confirmation. He will not be coming near her again. Didn’t like her bending and talked about her rudely to another warrior. He has been shunned from the group and I landed a punch. Was reprimanded by my Dad, but it was worth it. I think all contact was consensual, but will, of course, not be happening again.
Yeah, I like the Moon Princess, but turns out that she’s engaged. I think she might like me too but we’re too young to do anything, least of all mess with a betrothal. It’s been nice building a friendship with her, at least. I’m glad our tribe isn’t that strict when it comes to marriage, that love is what matters. I could marry a girl from the Earth Kingdom and Katara could marry someone from the Fire Nation and the elders would just be happy about the romance. It’s rather nice.
Have fun in the Earth Kingdom. Sorry for writing in Water Tribe, my Fire Nation is terrible. Katara loves that necklace, by the way. Her letter should be under this one.
Katara's next. Would you prefer for me to finish this after they get together, get married, or after steambabies/they're older? (Spoiler, this fic is hard Zutara endgame, clearly, I'm not trying to hide it.) I'm going to have to expand the chapter count anyway. My current plan is to keep going until they're a little bit older, probably the third option, but if you feel like that would be too much I can try to cut it back. Thank you so much for reading!
Chapter 27: Twenty-Seven: Katara
I don’t know what you wrote to Sokka but he giggled a lot at it. He’s been in a pretty bad mood ever since he learned that Princess Yue was engaged, so thanks for that. They left a few days ago and he’s been getting better.
And thanks so much for the necklace! I love it so much and I put it under my mom’s, the blue fits. It’s a little funny that you made me a necklace because that’s the betrothal tradition down here so everyone is teasing me more. I don’t care, though, it’s one of the best things I own. It reminds me of you.
And your birthday is coming up soon too, you sixteen-year-old :). I don’t think that you want jewelry so I sewed you a top — it’s in silk like you wear in the Fire Nation, but it’s blue, so hopefully it reminds you of me. The stitching isn’t perfect but you have everything you could ever want, so I couldn’t come up with anything else. You’ll probably still be in the Earth Kingdom on your birthday, be sure to celebrate!
And in terms of getting out — it sounds so fun, to go out in the world and do whatever you want! All I have is the tribe, and I know literally everyone here. I’d get attention wherever I go in the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom because I’m so clearly Water Tribe, but at least people wouldn’t have seen me as a naked baby. Because everyone here has seen me as a naked baby. Privacy doesn’t exist. I like the culture, of course, but I want to know more about the outside world than stories.
Sometimes I think it would be fun to just run away, maybe to the Lower Ring of Ba Sing Se, as you said, and just wear a lot of makeup and pretend to be someone else. I guess playing pretend isn’t extraordinarily healthy but it would be fun. I could pretend I was a random Earth Kingdom girl, go on a regular date, eat at a regular place.
You’re a really good guy, Zuko, you know that? Not many people would do that for other people, or acknowledge their privilege — I have it too, you know, being the daughter of a chief. Everyone always wants to impress me, and I’ve never starved. It should be a mission that we take on in life, to look at the world and realize that happiness is what matters.
Tell me how Omashu and Gaoling and Kyoshi Island go! I want to know about the warriors, they’re all my age, aren’t they? That’s so cool!
My letter to Sokka was top secret. I’m so happy you liked the necklace — even if people think we’re engaged. Can you even be engaged at fourteen? That’s so early. The blue made me think of you.
I love the shirt so much. I wear it a lot even though I have to use black pants and the servants keep complaining about washing it! Lu Ten says it makes me look Fire Nation but also worldly, whatever that means. I love the stitching, and the dragon at the shoulder is such a nice twist. It’s just amazing. My seamstresses at home will all be angry when I tell them that I know someone better than them. And it’s expandable, too, which is great because I just keep growing. I’m already at Lu Ten’s height, he thinks I’ll surpass him. However much my dad sucked, at least he gave me taller genes than Uncle Iroh.
We skipped Omashu to go to Gaoling first, and some crazy stuff happened. I wanted to go to the Earth Rumble — it’s basically a place where a lot of earthbenders fight, and on top of just being cool to see I also wanted to observe earthbending to build up my forms. I’m going to be an incredibly unconventional bender when I’m older, and my rigid father can suck on it. Lu Ten supports me. It was pretty mindblowing to watch, I’ll take you someday, and we saw a little girl in it, and she won. And I mean a little girl, she’s maybe eleven or twelve?
I was surprised but paid it no heed, just watched the competition and all, but afterwards we went to have tea with the Beifong family, one of the richest in the world. Trade agreements, boring stuff that I had to sit in on, you know, the works. But then I learned that they had a daughter — and it was the champion! Her name is Toph and she’s blind and she has such a terrible temper, but she reminds me of you in terms of prowess, even though you’re always the best in my book. Lu Ten let me leave and we talked in the courtyard and I asked her if her parents approved of her sneaking out and she threw several mounds of dirt at me. Luckily I had my swords on me and cut through it, or I would have been buried alive.
We were only in Gaoling for a few days but I had her show me some forms. I feel a little bad for her, she’s a very powerful bender but her parents smother her quite a bit. She does have a terrible mouth, though. I learned this new firebending form where I raise a bit of fire from the ground — it’ll make more sense when I show you. Next year, remember? I’m holding you to it.
It was nice making new friends. I’ll introduce you two one day and you can work on your bending together, and we’ll grab an Air Nomad and build a makeshift Avatar together! Avatar Aang is getting a little bit creaky but Lu Ten said that we might be able to see him if we divert our path more! That would be cool, wouldn’t it? I swear, Lu Ten doesn’t want to go home.
I wasn’t able to hide away in Gaoling, but we’ll see when I settle into Omashu. I like that idea, running through Ba Sing Se wearing a ton of makeup. You’d be like the Painted Lady, have you heard that myth?
And yes, let’s swear together. We’ll do the right thing.
Once again, thank you so much for the tunic. I think it’s the most precious thing I own. I’m wearing it right now.
Steambabies for the win! I've finalized my arc for this fic and I think you're going to like it. This fic makes me so happy to write, thanks for sticking with me!
Chapter 29: Twenty-Nine: Katara
I’m so happy that you like the shirt and that you’re wearing it, it means the world to me. I don’t think I’ll ever beat out your seamstresses, though. Your clothes are made really well — it’s interesting to realize that you have seamstresses. Here every female considers themselves a seamstress, and has a lot of pride in their skills.
That Toph girl sounds so cool! Especially if she managed to mess with you like that — I would love to meet her someday. There are so many things I want to do now! See an Earth Rumble and tour the Earth Kingdom . . . all of it. But I do relate to Toph with the overprotective parents. But more, like, an overprotective tribe. I keep trying to remind my Dad that he promised to let me see you, because nobody really wants to let me leave because I’m ‘too young and impressionable’ and they think I’m going to run away when I see the actual world. Isn’t that ridiculous? They know that there’s something to run away to. Of course I would be curious!
I haven’t heard of the Painted Lady, tell me about her! It would be a nice new story to tell, I think the little ones here are a bit exhausted with all the other ones I’ve told. I’ve started to incorporate parts of the Earth Kingdom into the ones I’ve been creating . . . I made one up about a spirit who walks through the streets of Ba Sing Se and helps people who need it. Yes, it’s you!
I’ve heard so many stories about Avatar Aang! It would be so cool if you could meet him. Water is next in the cycle. I wonder if I’ll know the next Avatar, if they’re from the Southern Water Tribe. I’ve never really thought about the Air Nomads, but I think some have come through here in the past and I haven’t really noticed.
Gran-Gran admitted something to me the other day. You know that necklace that I wear, the one that belonged to my mom? It was Gran-Gran’s betrothal necklace before that. She had an arranged marriage at the Northern Water Tribe and she came down here to escape it, but she brought the necklace she’d been given with her! And you know who carved it? Master Pakku, one of the waterbending masters! She’d talked to him quite a lot when the delegation arrived but I didn’t really pay attention to it. He still seems so utterly in love with her.
It’s sweet, that they still like each other — she says that he might be coming to stay here for a while, which is great because he can help me with my bending — and I can’t help but wonder why she left him. Loving someone like that is so hard, I can’t imagine letting them go for years. If I was Master Pakku I never would have let Gran-Gran go. You should fight for love.
Again, tell me how Omashu goes, and Kyoshi Island! I’ll see you in ten months, a bit after you get back. Dad said I can turn fifteen in the Fire Nation.
Chapter 30: Thirty: Azula
Sorry I haven’t really been writing to you like Mother has. The past few months have been a little difficult.
Mother has tried to get dozens of physicians and they can’t figure out what’s wrong with my bending, if anything even is. Maybe I’m just weak. And I’ve been talking to my . . . counselor, I guess. He tells me that believing that I’m weak or strong or not is a remnant of Father attempting to disturb my mind, but that I am acting a little clearer in general.
Zuko, I’m sorry for being mean to you because Father pitted us against each other. I think I’m realizing now that he was trying to make me hate you and Mother and telling me all these things about how my fire made me better than everyone else even though that isn’t true.
My bending has literally fizzled out, Zuzu. We only sparred that once when you came back from the South Pole and you saw that it was weak. But at least I could still bend. I can create sparks and they’re still blue but they won’t actually create fire. I know we’ve never been the closest but I don’t have anyone else to really tell this to who will understand. Mai and Ty Lee definitely won’t.
My counselor keeps telling me to open up, but I don’t want to tell him exactly what Father used to do to make me bend and keep me angry. I don’t want to hurt myself in order to bend because I don’t think that’s okay, not anymore. That’s not what normal benders do — you’ve never done that, and of course you’re not the strongest bender, but you still don’t get your energy from pain. You never did no matter how hard Father tried, you always used to just cry.
Uncle and I talked about it and he told me, well, to talk to you, and also that I need to fuel my fire with love. But I have love, don’t I? I don’t think anyone really had Father’s love but I love Mother and I love you and Uncle and Lu Ten and Mai and Ty Lee. I do love all of you, right? Or do I just not . . . understand love? My counselor also said that I need to rebuild my relationships. That I should take a break and try again.
Come back soon and help me with my bending again, dumb-dumb. I miss you. A little. And I love you. And I’m sorry.
Princess Azula of the Fire Nation
Chapter 31: Thirty-One: Zuko
I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with running away to see the world, but I want deniability so I’m not going to tell you to do it.
I . . . would write out the story of the Painted Lady to you, but it’ll be easier to tell in person. It’s just half a year, after all! I’m glad I made it into one of your stories, and I’m sure the kids aren’t tired of them at all! I’ve never heard anyone else as good with words as you are.
It’s an interesting thing, love. And I agree with you, if I was Master Pakku I never would have let your grandmother go. At least they’re together now, that’s what matters. I’ve been thinking about romantic love a lot because my father said that he loved my mother but he used to hurt her and have other women and just . . . I don’t think that’s love. I think love is dedication and sticking with someone through the end of the day. I think your grandmother did it late, but at least she did it. I feel bad for my mom now, she deserves real love but nobody is going to remarry the ex-Prince’s wife.
Remember what I told you about Azula? And how she was mean and all that . . . well, she is mean, I don’t think that’ll ever change, but she sent me a letter a few days ago telling me that she loves me and that she’s sorry. What you said reminded me of that because I have to write her back and I know that no matter what I feel, I’ll have to tell her that I forgive her. But I do think that I can forgive her because at the end of the day I love her. She’s just Zula, and she’s never hurted me purely because she wanted to, like really hurt me. That was my father and I can’t hold her responsible for what she did with him breathing over us. In a lesser way it’s like your grandmother running away from an arranged marriage and love. Azula couldn’t help it.
I think I’m going to forgive her. And she’s lost her bending, too — I shouldn’t be telling you this but you won’t tell anyone. That just proves it further, that she’s just a victim. Azula has always been a prodigy and much better than I have been at bending. She was taught by my father that her skill made her worthy. Some part of me wishes that I could help her right now, even more. I’ll be back about four months before you come. Hopefully she’ll be fine by the time you come back. Maybe you could be friends as well (not better than me, of course!). Her current friends, Mai and Ty Lee, are nobles, but they probably remind her of the past. Ty Lee is unusually peppy and Mai is just a ball of doom.
Omashu was incredibly boring, more trade stuff, but we went to Kyoshi Island and now we’re about to meet Avatar Aang. Kyoshi Island was great! We met the warriors and the oldest are about your age. They’re incredibly strong non-warriors and just have great combative ability in general. I sparred with one of the leaders, Suki, and then we had a brief conversation. She says that they’re going to come through to the South to recruit younger in a few months. I think you’ll be here, and a little too old to join, but you can spread the word through all the other smaller girls.
I’ll let you know how the meeting with the Avatar goes, though it’ll probably still be boring trade stuff. So much trade! And this is my responsibility after Lu Ten ascends the throne . . . yikes. But I’m planning my future out right now, considering I’ll have to resume my duties when I turn eighteen. I think it’ll be a surprise. I’ll let you know when you come :)
Chapter 32: Thirty-Two: Katara
What am I doing? Why is my life so . . . boring? I can’t live like this. I can’t. I’m stifled.
You know I still write to Zuko and that I still have a bit of a crush on him. He writes to me as much as possible, and, well, I write back, and he’s been travelling the Earth Kingdom for what feels like years. And he’s done so much! He’s walked the streets of Ba Sing Se, met a King’s pet bear, gone on an incognito date, gone to an Earth Rumble, Kyoshi Island, and more I’m sure he hasn’t told me! Of course I’m not jealous of all of his relationships, considering his terrible father and tenacious relationship with his sister, but still . . . he’s gone out into the world.
I’m going to the Fire Nation for my birthday and Dad doesn’t even want me to do that even though he would be with me. I know that he’s overprotective after we lost you, but it’s been years, Mom, and our relationship is so . . . not good. He feels the need to protect me from something. This entire village does. They feel the need to remind me of my place, that if you’d not set up this correspondence with Zuko I wouldn’t have known of the world at all.
I’d know nothing but the South Pole, and even though I would have been allowed to marry whomever, I would still have to do it in the next few years, and then I would have kids, and that would be it. And most of the men here aren’t like Dad, they’d probably stifle me.
I’m a powerful waterbending master but all I do is help keep the walls intact and do laundry and practice my waterbending. Besides healing, what’s even the point? It’s not like I’ll ever use it in combat. And sometimes the hunters need their wounds healed but there are other healers besides me that are older and more specialized.
I’m going to go out and see the world, or at least the Fire Nation, and then when I come back here it’ll be different. I’ll make sure Dad knows that I can handle myself. I’m not nine anymore! I’m a Master and I deserve the right to see grass and the ground and . . . everything. And see Zuko. Dad would really hate it if he learned about my crush. Dad is just . . . ugh, Mom, I wish you were here to control him. He doesn’t want me to do anything.
Every time I receive one of Zuko’s letters I’m happy but then I read it and I get sort of sad because he’s doing so much. I had that one date but besides that my life doesn’t change at all. I help cook and sew and I practice and that’s it, and he can fight and learn about trade and meet new people. He and his crew and uncle are the only people out of here I know! And he meets so many girls. But that’s another story.
The trade ships are getting caught up in the weather, so I might not get that many letters from him before I go. But I’m going to go and meet Azula and Ursa and Lu Ten. I’m going to meet Zuko again and have fun, even though I couldn’t actually court him even if he liked me because of this tribe.
Everything was better when you were here.
— Your daughter, Katara
Chapter 33: Thirty-Three: Katara
I’m really glad that you’re choosing to forgive Azula. It’s a big and important step and it’s just a good thing for you to do. As I once wrote, you’re a good person. I’m glad that you’re realizing that it’s more your father’s fault than her fault. I’ll definitely talk to her when I come, I hope we can be friends! And I really hope that her bending will come back too — it’s an extended part of who we are, I can’t imagine how lost she must be without it.
I’m a little sad that I’ll miss the warriors, but it’ll be fine! I brought it up at one of the meetings, that some of the younger girls could join them, and I just got shot down. But then I talked to the girls themselves and a lot of the ones that couldn’t bend like the idea of learning how to be warriors. It’s a little hard, here, if you’re female, more so if you can’t bend. But I want to support them and I’ll help them.
You’ll probably have met the Avatar by the time you get this. I don’t think it’s about asking as much as listening, but I hope you talk to him about adapting bending styles! I wonder if he’s worked with that before, the fluidity of using waterbending and firebending together.
And now I’m curious! What does your future look like? Why can’t you tell me? Oh . . .
I’m going to have to get new clothes for the Fire Nation because my Dad says that the weather is all-too different, but I’m creating a few outfits out of silk. Can’t wait!
Chapter 34: Thirty-Four: Zuko
I’m heading back right now and I’ll see you in three months! You should be leaving by the time you answer this, so send it by messenger hawk. Or just don’t send it. We have a lot to talk about in person.
The Avatar is . . . pretty incredible, actually. Well, on one hand, he’s just an ordinary person, like my grandfather used to be, except much, much nicer. One the other he’s a little bit out of it, but I think that’s more because he’s 112 and probably about to die than the fact that he’s the Avatar. And he’s really active for his age! He had a pretty good conversation with us and said that he knew that Lu Ten would be an amazing Fire Lord (Lu Ten blushed, served him right after everything he’s tortured me through over the past few months). And then he looked at me and . . .
Well, he looked like his head was hurting for a bit, so we got up to leave, but he told me to stay behind. And then he said “Young Zuko, I knew you much better in another life. Here I hope you find happiness,” and that was confusing, right? So I asked him what he meant and he said that was all that I needed to know. Oh, wait! And then he said that I am deserving of Avatar Roku’s bloodline. Turns out that he’s my great-grandfather. That was interesting to find out, I don’t know why my Mom didn’t tell me.
I’m still a little curious as to what that meant in general. Lu Ten and I talked about it and he said that maybe Avatar Aang could use the spiritual world to see destiny and fate and that maybe there is another world that exists out in space where he knows me very well. How would that work? I . . . I don’t know, so I’m just letting it go. It seems like this life is better for me, anyway, and I’m happy with it.
I’m glad you’re sticking up for the younger girls in the tribe, but I’m not surprised at all. And I’m sure that the clothes you create for yourself will be absolutely amazing — there isn’t that much blue here, so you’ll have to wear red. Although I’m sure that you’ll look great in it!
And it’s a surprise! It won’t be ready when you come but it will be after a few months, hopefully you can stay for that long, or I’ll come and get you. We’ll plan a birthday celebration for you before my seventeenth. It’ll be amazing.
You’ll get this right before I arrive because the winds have been terrible, but I wanted to write down my thoughts on the Avatar. Because I think that Lu Ten is right — I think that Avatar Aang might know you from a different life. It seems a little out there but we’ll never really be able to understand what the Avatar does. I don’t think you had the chance to talk to him about bending, did you? We can practice. I’ll have you do your waterbending forms, let’s see if you’re still any good at them!
My Dad really doesn’t want me to go. The ship set sail about a day ago, and it’s newer and faster than our old ones, and he just wants us to turn back because he doesn’t think that I should go during such a delicate time in my life! As if. It’s already warming up and the ice floes are getting smaller.
I can’t wait to see land and all that now. I can’t wait to see you, and even Azula, and your mother, and your Uncle and Lu Ten. I can’t wait to see your fancy palace and see you bend again, and I want to go through the market. I just . . . can’t wait. My heart’s beating out of my chest.
See you a few days after you get this.
I'm so EXCITEDDD. Also, did I expand the chapter count of this fic from thirty to forty to fifty to seventy? Yes . . . because Zutara ;)
Meeting coming up next!
Let me start with the trip here. I’m a little overwhelmed. This is just a lot.
I saw land! It was a small village and we didn’t stop but basically after a point the ice melted and the ocean was just empty and the temperature was warmer. I didn’t know it could get that warm and it only got better the closer that we got to Caldera City. The ice melted and it was just the ocean as far as my eyes could see and it was warm, and I could make it ice again when I bent it. I could get in the water, and I did! I’ve never submerged myself fully before, because of course I would freeze to death, but now I understand why people swim. It’s so strange, Mom!
And land and earth. It’s so warm and so different and people bend it! That’s just . . . amazing. Dad let me go to it when we took a trade stop and I walked around barefoot! I don’t think I’ve ever really done that but the ground was just that warm, and brown and sort of grainy? It was mushy but also solid. You know what I mean, you’ve seen it. And plants that aren’t seaweed grow everywhere! Like trees and things. We were in Fire Nation territory, so there are lots of volcanoes.
I felt humidity too! Zuko is really terrible at explaining things. It’s like the air gets wet. I had to take off my parka and just wear the silk clothes I made! I could actually see my stomach and stuff, which Dad wasn’t that happy about. A man made a comment about me in the market and that was gross. But the air being wet was . . . weird. It actually felt sort of stifling, but I was able to bend most of it away.
Caldera City, seeing it from the boat . . . just, wow. Zuko actually lives in a PALACE. A palace. Like the princes from the stories, and I guess that does make sense because he’s a prince, but . . . WOW. It’s so big it could probably fit our entire tribe! And it fit all of us from the ship and I got a room all to myself! It’s in a different wing than Zuko and Azula’s, but it’s SO BIG. It’s like our entire house back home. You’ve probably lived in something like it. But he wasn’t kidding, Mom. He has servants. Like, a ton of servants. More servants than we might have people in the tribe. And they’re supposed to help with everything — even with getting dressed and stuff! They don’t use them for those reasons, of course, the royal family can take care of themselves, but still. Wow. It’s a PALACE. I can’t express to you just how shocking it is. They’re actual royalty. It didn’t really hit me until now. Like we have a similar position but we live like everyone else. This is just incredible.
And the people. I’ll start with Princess Ursa because Fire Lord Iroh (I think of him as Uncle Iroh now, and whenever I say that everyone looks scandalized but he says it’s okay) is the same, he likes tea and proverbs. She reminds me a little of you, actually. She’s incredibly kind, very much so. I can’t reconcile her being with someone like Ozai in my mind from all the stories Zuko has told me about her. She hugged me when I came and told me that she missed you and your correspondence very much. I didn’t know you used to write to her. I’m getting better about you now, but it looked like the pain was fresh in her eyes. I didn’t know you guys were that close. Our first night we talked about you, and it started to hurt a little so we talked about less-serious things and she said thank you for being a friend to Zuko. I didn’t realize that he didn’t have many friends — I guess it must be hard if you’re a prince. I didn’t have those rigid court boundaries with him.
And then Lu Ten. Lu Ten is definitely what I thought after Zuko described the whole bad date affair. He’s in his late twenties and he’ll be an amazing Fire Lord. At our first dinner he started teasing me and Zuko but then he didn’t because his dad pointed at Dad. But then the second day — well, today, he came out during breakfast and said that he’s very happy to meet me. He’ll be a good Fire Lord one day, I can tell already. He’s kind.
I was expecting a sort of demon when I met Azula at dinner. I didn’t talk to her until the afternoon today — it’s nearing midnight right now, I just got back. I know I shouldn’t have felt that way but it was just the impression I got. She seems more broken than anything else. All I could feel across the table last night was pity, although I wouldn’t show it because I don’t think she would appreciate it. She’s as well-dressed as her mother but her hair is choppy and she just looks a little sad and lost, even with all of her makeup. We didn’t really talk much at dinner, she just kept looking at me and Zuko like she was observing us.
But then we met in the afternoon and we started to talk. At first it was just about small things, like makeup, but then of course it turned into bending. I bent out a stream of water from the courtyard and she looked so sad, and then she snapped and said waterbenders are peasants, and then she looked horrified so I cut her some slack, but then she thought I was pitying her . . . it was complicated. It was a strange conversation for a bit but then she brought up her lack of bending like she was confiding in me, so I didn’t tell her that Zuko’s already told me.
I thought it would help if I looked at her blood so I sat her down and looked at her chi paths and her flow, and it all looked good if not a little dull. Normally a person’s insides glow, but she looked like she was dead inside. Not that everything wasn’t working fine, because it was, but it was . . . strange. And I told her that and she told me that’s what everyone has been saying, all the physicians, just that she has something emotionally wrong with her. I think it was too early to talk about Ozai but I made some progress with her, definitely. I think that we’re going to be friends. And that I’ll be able to help her through this.
And then . . . Zuko. You know, Mom, some part of me had hope. I was like ‘maybe he got really ugly and turned into a warrior douche’. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Zuko escaped the awkward puberty stage and is now incredibly attractive. You won’t mind if I tell you about it, right? Just don’t look at this if it makes you uncomfortable. I know it would have made me uncomfortable if you talked to me about Dad.
Okay, number one, the scar. How that guy managed to make a scar attractive, I don’t know. It should be ugly, right? It’s a scar. When I last saw it it was still healing, but now that it has finally healed it looks leathery against his skin and sort of smooth, like fire. It definitely looks more like a sign of honor than everything else. And it does give him a strange sort of bad-boy touch, which I know should not be a thing because he is literally not a bad guy, but in fact a really great guy, but it’s nice to think about. And look at. He says that people find him ugly but I don’t know who these people are, because they need a reality check.
And then just features. He looks like royalty, and the scar adds to it. His cheekbones are terrifying and his eyes are really piercing but also commanding but also soft? His face is just perfect!
. . . And, well, when I left the dock I ran and gave him a hug, which wasn’t a big deal, I give people hugs all the time, but he went from being a few inches taller than me to like, a foot taller than me (I’m exaggerating, kind of? He’s really tall). And he clearly practices with those swords and firebending is obviously very physical and punch-kick-hit based so yeshehasmuscles. And you can see them. Clearly, even though he’s not bulky. And when I was in his arms they felt really nice. And safe. And just good. Oh Tui and La, Mom. I haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet.
I know he’s not perfect, pretty much abstractly, because he has a temper and he can be very mean to people. Not mean, but like abrasive, as he is to much of the staff. He shouldn’t be that way. He has a quick temper. I know that. Just to make it clear that I know that he’s not perfect!
But he’s so nice to me, or kind, and just cute. He hugged me and then he walked by me through the market to the palace because I wanted to walk and not sit in a palanquin. He sat next to me from dinner and told me what every dish was and ignored all the stares we got. I think it’s really obvious that I like him, because everyone from Lu Ten to Governor Shen-something was staring at us. Even Dad looked suspicious. Can’t wait for that discussion. And then he helped me stand up and he walked me to my rooms, even though I’m pretty sure protocol should have had Ursa or Azula do that, because I overheard the maids talking in the morning. The maids.
So clearly he has manners. But he’s also so kind and so awkward and just so Zuko. He wears his hair in a topknot here so it looked weird at first. I didn’t see him until after I finished talking to Azula, who winked at me when I went to go see him after he finished his training and boring trade learning school stuff. Yes, Azula winked.
Lots of stuff is going wrong here. And I ended up seeing him right after he came out of the bath in the Fire Nation royal family’s private courtyard, so there were no formalities, just him with his hair down. And spirits, Mom, we talked about everything. He wanted to hear the new stories I told the kids, especially the one about a secret good-hearted hero on the streets of Ba Sing Se. He told me more about Toph and his new earthbending-fire forms. And we talked about how scared he was to have so much responsibility (his role as ambassador will mean leaving the palace) and how I was so tired of being stuck at home. We had dinner and tea brought to us. I just came back to my room.
He listens, Mom. You and him are the only people who really listen. I wish I could tell Sokka but I can’t, and I don’t think I have any real friends in the tribe. He told me that he doesn’t have any too. And just the way we talked, the way he stared into my eyes . . .
I’m almost fifteen and he’s almost seventeen. We’re not just kids anymore. I know that I’m not just a kid with a crush anymore. And the way he was looking at me . . . I feel like he noticed that, noticed that I’m no longer just a kid. I did see his eyes drop down to my stomach and above a few times, so I’ll count that as a success.
The question then, I guess, is what could happen? Dad hates the idea of me being here anyway, and Zuko is Fire Nation royalty and I’m a chief’s daughter. It’s not the worst, in terms of diplomacy. Maybe . . . I’m getting too far ahead of myself. We’re just friends.
I have a month here and I’m going to make the most out of this new world. And Zuko. If nothing happens now then it will never happen and I’ll be engaged the next time I see him. I don’t know how he feels but I don’t exactly want regrets. I can’t live out the rest of my life like that. Maybe one day I can tell a funny story to my grandkids about how I almost courted a Fire Nation Prince. I’m . . .
The way he looks at me, talks to me? I don’t know, Mom. I don’t know.
Missing you as always.
— Your daughter, Katara
Okay, so clarifying: moving on, I will not be writing like regular fic. I thought about it but "i made a map of your stars" is supposed to be a letter-fic and I don't want to detract from that. They'll be communicating mainly through letters/notes to each other, their friends/family (Azula, Sokka, Hakoda, Ursa), diary entries (regular and to Kya/Ozai), and through recordings! Aka, some parts of this will be dialogue-only. I feel like that's the best way to showcase their important moments and also keep up the spirit of the story!
Let me know if you're okay with that or if you'd rather have me switch to full-on fic. I can do that too if it's more popular.
I have no friends and my family is terrible (that’s a joke, they’re all much better than my terrible excuse for a father), so you get stuck with my musings because I have to tell someone. Well, I do have a friend, two friends, but I can’t exactly talk to Katara about this or send Sokka a letter telling him his sister has . . . grown up. And is . . . attractive. Cute. Very pleasing to look at.
Agni, when did Katara grow up? I have made SO MANY jokes about betrothals. I made her a necklace she still wears. I told her about my awkward first kiss. I thought I was writing to a twelve-year-old! Someone Azula’s age! My best friend who was like my sister! I can’t believe it didn’t occur to me that people age and that Katara was not going to stay twelve. Because she is about to be fifteen. And then she’ll be sixteen. And of age. To do . . . things. Like court.
She’s my best friend. You have to know this. I literally went to meet her and I went in thinking ‘this is my best friend’. And then I saw her and every sane thought I had flew through the window. I did so many things I shouldn’t have done. I hugged her, which is technically not very appropriate. But she fit against my body so nicely — her head fits right under my chin and she has grown in other places that I am not going to discuss because Azula is my sister and she would disembowel me if I said anything disrespectful to a female. She won’t ever read this, but still. No chances.
Katara is my best friend. I tell her everything that happens. I told her about pretending to be Lee and earthbending and what the Avatar told me. I gave her a betrothal necklace that she wears even though we are not betrothed like she does not even realize what that means and it makes me feel good whenever I look at her because it’s like a mark of me even though women are not property and I shouldn’t care.
We had that conversation about love and I started thinking that — well, uh, I do love her, in a best-friend-trust kind of way. Of course I’m not in-love with her, like romantic love, because I hadn’t thought about it till today, but then I thought about what love means, what marriage means. Once Mother told me that the best type of love is between best friends who become lovers and that is stuck in my head even though we are both children.
Yes, I like Katara. You know why I like Katara? Because she is just utterly perfect. I have so much proof.
The look in her eyes when she left her ship and came and hugged me and then looked around, it was so perfect, like it was a whole new world that she wanted to see, and she was so excited that she grabbed my arm and greeted everyone in a rush before just leaving and avoiding the palanquins. You know how much charm it takes to just evade those palanquins? I could see it in Azula’s face the minute she dragged me away. I was going to be teased later. But it was so worth it because of that look on her face. She thought everything was so wondrous. Just . . . that look. It’s the kind of look that I would want to spend forever staring at because it just . . . dropped itself into my ribcage and now it’s stuck against my chest. It’s like everything I’ve ever wanted.
And then when the market dimmed and I led her back into the palace I put my hand on her back in a perfectly cursory way and she just leaned into me. And then we had dinner and I could tell that she was excited to eat actual Fire Nation cuisine cooked here, instead of the stuff she ate on my ship, so I showed her all the dishes and told her to stay away from the ones that are too spicy because she can’t tolerate fireflakes at all.
Outwardly, dinner wasn’t great. Sitting with Katara meant that my entire family — notably Lu Ten, who has no sense of decorum whatsoever — wanted to tease me, and he would have seriously gone for it if not for Chief Hakoda. That man is terrifying, although I can admit to understanding his protective attitude over Katara, even if it does go a little too far. That said he kept his eyes drilled on me and they looked like they were on fire if I so much as touched her chopsticks. So no, I don't think he’s my biggest fan, but it’s fine.
You know why it was fine? Because Katara was smiling and laughing the entire time. I know it wasn’t because of me, it was just all the new people and the new food and just the new — I know she wishes her life had more adventure — but it felt so good to hear her laugh. It sounds so pure and just perfect. Which is why it’s a sign of being perfect. It was just so genuinely happy. She looks so beautiful when she’s happy.
Azula’s going to claim I’m objectifying her but it would be a crime to not explain just how pretty she is. She has her big eyes and her nice . . . everything, and that’s a given, she pulls off the ‘exotic beauty’ thing, here especially, but it’s just . . . I’ve been saying it but I just can’t explain how her face lights up when she’s happy. It did at the South Pole too, but so much less. She seemed stagnant there, and it was also three years ago and I wasn’t thinking about her like this — Agni, I told her about my first date, I’m so stupid — but she looks radiant here. That’s perfection.
I walked her back to her rooms and I could hear the servants in the guest wing having a conniption about it but I couldn’t care less. Lu Ten is going to be Fire Lord and he can deal with the stupid court and the rumors. I just wanted to show her her room and her window, even if I could only do it from outside because I wasn’t allowed to step in. She looked happy, again, to be able to see the moon.
When I got back to my room literally everyone was there. Uncle, Mother, Azula, and Lu Ten. They were just waiting in my room — well, the sitting room adjacent to it, but still. Katara talked to Mother before dinner and Mother just winked at me even though she looked a bit sad. Uncle sat and poured us all tea — of course he’d make time while running a nation to tease me — and Lu Ten and Azula joined together to laugh. It was at my expense, they kept trying to act like turtleducks because apparently I act like one around Katara. I’m just glad Azula is up to her sort of mean teasing again. She eventually calmed down and told me that she thinks she’ll like Katara too, and Lu Ten nodded.
The issue with that is that Katara probably doesn’t like me at all. I’m just her older friend, she probably sees me as a brother, like Sokka, and that hurts. I remember what I learned about the Water Tribe — in order to impress girls the warriors hunt for them and do stuff like that. I can’t hunt! How am I supposed to impress her? She’ll probably want one of those boys from the village instead, like the one she kissed — ugh. I just mentioned that to the four of them and they all stared at me for whatever reason, and then I stomped off to bed. Why does my family love to bully me?
The next day I didn’t get to see her very much at the beginning because I had to train into the afternoon. I was sweaty and gross when I finished, but I like my routine so I had to do it. And then I took a bath and tried to artfully move my hair so it looked nice — I will kill anyone who reads this — and then I took her to the private courtyard and we just sat down to talk about everything, from the Painted Lady to my Ba Sing Se adventures to the struggles we’ve been dealing with — everything. Agni, she is so perfect. Our conversation flows so well, it’s incredible.
You know, she wants to see the world and her dad won’t let her. You know who could let her see the world? Me. I could do that better than a Water Tribe warrior could even if I can’t really fish. I can. If only she could see that.
We talked until midnight. Midnight. We skipped dinner and everything and we just talked and it was amazing. I don’t know how else to express it. The one person in the world who I feel like I can trust with her big blue eyes and that smile . . . it’s everything.
So yeah, I like Katara. Now I need to convince her to like me. I can’t officially court, of course, but I’m going to spend every moment I can with her. She’s perfect.
This is probably my favorite chapter so far. And I'll be sticking with epistolary with maybe some dialogue! I'm glad you guys like this style.
Chapter 38: Thirty-Eight: Palace
Fire Nation Royal Palace Protocol Notes [100 P.S.C. Southern Water Tribe Visit, Day Four Check-In]:
Crown Prince Lu Ten:
Failed to maintain proper decorum at a dinner of the state. Behavior was not received well by Southern Water Tribe Chief Hakoda. Further investigation needed.
Was late to bed, accompanied by Fire Lord Iroh and the Princesses Ursa and Azula, coming out of Prince Zuko’s quarters on the first night of visit. Seemed to regain proper attitude in the morning. Has been talking too much to Prince Zuko and the visiting Lady Katara at mealtimes. Should be reminded of the need to keep up healthy communication with Governor Shen in order to maintain relations with the Earth Kingdom colony.
Remains exempt due to physician notes. Has been joining Crown Prince Lu Ten and speaking too long to Prince Zuko and Lady Katara at meals.
Keeps up steady relations with noblewomen Ty Lee and Mai and has been spending more time with Prince Zuko since he has returned from his travels as well.
Broke protocol at the Southern Water Tribe’s official welcome. Failed to maintain proper decorum and embraced the Lady Katara of the Southern Water Tribe. Stayed in a position that was improper for much too long. Should be reminded of proper procedures for diplomatic connection. Send a reminder through Princess Ursa.
Did not take a seat on the palanquins. Walked by foot with Lady Katara through the marketplace before consulting any member of the house, including the Fire Lord. Did not maintain proper distance from Lady Katara.
Requested for the kitchen to change their place settings at the time of the Southern Water Tribe’s arrival in order to seat himself next to Lady Katara, moving her further up the table in the position of his wife or betrothed. This has not been changed in the following days. Kitchen requests must go through Fire Lord Iroh in order to fix the arrangement.
Continues to talk intimately with Lady Katara during meals. Touches her utensils. At one time was observed attempting to feed her a bite of fruit; incredibly inappropriate behavior. The Lady Katara is responsive to his touch but the rest of the Water Tribe delegation is not.
Maintained schedule through his training session the second day of arrival. Then led Lady Katara into the royal family’s private gardens without proper adult supervision. Could have been potentially compromised. Failed to come to a dinner which included Governors Huan and Lian. Diplomatic failure must be addressed with his tutors and private advisors.
Left the Caldera with the Lady Katara on the third day without taking a proper retinue of guards. Took only himself and his swords and the lady. Did not alert Chief Hakoda, Fire Lord Iroh, or Princess Ursa of this excursion. Held hands with Lady Katara in a show of impropriety when found in the marketplace. Ran away from guards sent after him. Resulted in Lady Katara being pulled aside by Chief Hakoda. Fire Lord Iroh laughed at the result and failed to make any concrete plan to fix this behavior.
Was banned from seeing Lady Katara on the fourth day of her visit. Failed to abide to this rule as enforced by the Water Tribe delegation and met her in the courtyard. Was found by Chief Hakoda and was threatened for his improper attitude. The Lady Katara looked deeply upset and Prince Zuko had a conversation with Chief Hakoda that resulted in a large amount of yelling. Fire Lord Iroh was called and apologized to Chief Hakoda. Formerly chastised Prince Zuko and reminded him to maintain proper distancing from the lady.
Prince Zuko is currently confined into his rooms by the Princess Ursa and is only allowed to meet with her and Princess Azula. Lady Katara is currently being watched over by the royal guard in order to ensure that the two maintain proper distancing. Integral to maintaining relations with the Southern Water Tribe.
[End Day Four of Southern Water Tribe visit to Royal Caldera City]
I’m at my wits end with this trip. My previous trip to Caldera City was while Fire Lord Azulon was still in charge — I am much better friends with Iroh, and our communication has resulted in our trade relations being much improved. It’s a simple fact that Iroh is a good Fire Lord, one of the best, and that his son Lu Ten will continue the tradition.
My issue isn’t as a chief but as a father. Iroh’s nephew, Prince Zuko . . . the boy is utterly infuriating. You remember him from when he came to the south a few years ago, don’t you? I seem to remember that you were fond of him. He has grown rather devilish since then. Even at that time I felt that he spent too much time with my children — and far too much time with Katara — but I did let it go because I knew that Kya had set up their relationship and that the boy was integral to aiding Katara with her grieving.
I know that they’ve kept up a steady acquaintance since then, as his letters came on the ships once every few months. I wasn’t suspicious because I trusted his honor, as it’s something they believe in so strongly in the Fire Nation. I didn’t think that his intentions with Katara were that dishonorable . . . and anyway, she needed a friend besides Sokka and he was there for her. I should have trusted my instincts better.
The Fire Nation Royals have been the picture of diplomacy in terms of their attitudes towards our entire delegation, but I am absolutely sure that Prince Zuko’s attentions toward Katara are not very noble and they are all aware of it. Even Iroh seems to be playing this game! I have to admit that I do not believe that the Prince intends to simply use her — this seems more like the result of some strange crush — but I do not trust him around her at all! She falls for his machinations much too easily. She has always trusted too easily and I feel like she is falling for this boy and the games he is playing with her.
I had my doubts at first when he sent her that necklace — surely he is not so uneducated to not know how betrothals work in the South? He will be the Lord’s ambassador and has been very well-educated so I simply cannot believe that he sent it to her unintentionally. She does not take it off and keeps it right under Kya’s necklace. She tells me that she simply likes the way it looks but to me it looks like he is trying to establish a claim on her.
Katara will be fifteen in a week and therefore eligible for courting and a betrothal. I will admit that I haven’t thought very much about the proposal. Her marriage won’t be arranged of course, she is free to make her own decisions, I have faith in her. But at the same time I always supposed she would end up with one of Sokka’s friends — or perhaps end up with one of those from the Northern Water Tribe — not a Fire Nation Prince, definitely. She is a waterbender and he is a firebender, after all. They are polar opposites and it would not last. I do not want to see my daughter’s heart broken over a boy who has an infatuation.
He is so improper in his efforts to woo her, like he does not realize how she is falling for him. I know that look on her eyes — or rather, I don’t, and that is telling as well. I don’t quite understand Fire Nation etiquette but she has been moved up the table to sit between Prince Zuko and Princess Azula, across from the rest of us at dinner. I have my suspicions that is the position of his wife or betrothed, as he is currently second-in-line to the throne. And the dinners and lunches in general, oh La, whenever they both arrive . . . it is not good, Mother. Our third day we were given dragonfruit at breakfast, a delicacy that cannot last to travel to the South Pole, so of course Katara was curious about what it tasted like. The boy lifted a piece to her mouth and fed her in a way that was much too intimate. I do not think he realized I saw him.
And that is not it with the intimacy issues. He sits much too close to her, I have seen her hug him twice — something not very appropriate for a girl of her age — and just the way they sit together, it’s almost obscene! I would move her back but I cannot risk offending anyone . . . and the rest of the royal family does not seem bothered in the least. And that is not even the worst of this.
Our second day here Katara missed dinner and took it privately in his courtyard. He probably attempted to woo her with all of this nation’s excess and monarchical structure. It’s nothing close to what we have at home. No adult supervision, Mother. Only the moon knows what they got up to down there!
And if that was not bad enough the third day he took her and they both ran away to the market! Alone! The palace was very concerned with the fact that they did not bring guards with them — that, frankly, was less of a concern to me than the fact that they did this alone. Katara willingly left and sneaked out of the palace with a boy to attend some street festival! I’m sure they can both defend themselves but that is just not alright! And then I later heard that they held hands . . .
I pulled Katara aside last night after all this and she claimed that Prince Zuko was not at all interested in her and that they are just friends having fun. And then she reminded me that I have never let her leave the Pole before . . . and she is right, of course. I did end up feeling guilt about that. I never mean to smother her, this scenario is something else. But I did ask the palace to keep them both away from each other. Friends can stay away from each other! Or so I thought.
Today was going relatively well until the evening. Katara was in her room — she is in a rather large one — reading scrolls from the library about waterbending she was interested in. Bato and I talked to the grain minister and were establishing a plan of action when I was called into the courtyard again! Because the two of them . . . Katara had snuck out and joined him in the courtyard. I did get angry at the boy at this point, Mother! He was being so improper. I told him to stay away from my daughter and that I didn’t want his reckless self anywhere near her. He listened for a minute and then Katara started crying of all things — I don’t even know why.
The boy was audacious enough to tell me that I was restricting her and stopping her from enjoying her life, which came out of nowhere and is not at all true! I allow Katara to do whatever she likes, from combative waterbending to healing and all that. I know that it’s not about what I allow. It’s about her choices.
Fire Lord Iroh did end up getting a little angry at the boy when he came out and locked him in his room with his mother and sister. I pray to Tui he will stay away.
I am thinking about leaving early, as well. After Katara’s birthday she will be free to court. I don’t . . . I have her best interests at heart, Mother. She wouldn’t be happy here. I think we should come back before she turns fifteen.
Yes, I’ll let her know. I think that is best.
Hakoda, Chief of the Southern Water Tribe
Kanna believes in Zutara rights
Zuko’s steps to get Katara to fall in love with him and convince her that he isn’t like a brother to her:
Talk a lot about how I’m not like Sokka. I have hair all over my head and not a wolf-tail. I don’t eat a lot of meat. Should I say I’m vegetarian? That would work but I don’t really like vegetables. Uh, say you hate boomerangs, Zuko. That should be convincing enough. Right?
. . . Right?
Try to get closer to her. Initiate contact. The hug on the first day was a plus. Held hands with her when going to the market, also a plus. Balance her chopsticks when she eats, maybe? Touch her hair, too, that’s easy enough. Put hair behind ear! That’s romantic, right? That’s not something a brother would do.
What if I just lean in and kiss her? (Zuko, that’s sexual harassment)
GET AWAY FROM MY DIARY AZULA
Okay, no kissing unless she does it first. And for her to kiss me she has to like me. So small contact? Hold hands, hands are a big deal. Oh, try to touch the necklace you gave her that she wears!
Point out the small betrothal things. Just do them. I already moved her into the seat of my betrothed. Well, not on purpose. But I got yelled at to change it and I’m not going to do that. So the necklace is already a plus and she’s aware of that. The tradition in the Fire Nation is a comb. I can get her a comb! Maybe I’ll ask Mother so that I can give it to her when I next see her. When I’m allowed to leave my room. Oh, Mother’s here. She says I can take one of hers. Yes. Cool.
Point out the necklace but don’t bring up her mother too much because that makes her sad. Comb . . . necklace, I don’t think the Air Nomads do anything but I’m pretty sure that the Earth Kingdom gives out rings. I can do that. Let me ask Mother. She told me to meld my own. I can sneak out to the forges and do that tonight.
This also includes at least asking to court her. I can ask her on her birthday when she’s officially allowed to. Then it’s technically not a betrothal. I mean, who knows, maybe we won’t actually work as a couple. I don’t think we won’t work.
Convince her dad to like me.
This is an issue. He hates me. He’s always hated me and Uncle Iroh said that he wanted me to stay away from her because I was compromising her virtue. I’m not quite sure exactly what that means but that’s not fair. He’s being rude by not letting her make up her own mind. And then I get in trouble for helping her make her own choices? Rude.
Okay, Mother just reminded me that getting along with fathers isn’t about being nice. She says that even Ozai had to pretend to be nice to her father. So that basically means I’m screwed. Chief Hakoda hates me even if Sokka and Katara’s grandmother like me. They’re not here so I’ve got the chief. He’s already called me an imbecile and a devil today. I’m pretty sure that’s a violation of some diplomatic treaty but nobody is calling him out on it because they think it’s justified.
How is it justified? It’s not like I stole Katara. She decided to come to the courtyard with me. Twice. And the market. She isn’t saying no. If she was I would let it go. I want to respect her.
(I’ve taught you well)
GO AWAY AZULA
Okay. Poetry. Love letters. I can do that, right? Girls like mushy stuff and feelings. I can have feelings. I might not always act like I have feelings but I can. And I can be nice. But that’s not just for Katara that’s in general. I should be nicer.
I’ve gone to literature class. I can write her something! Poetry. Poetry. Poetry? Haikus! I can do that.
You could be the moon
You make me feel so alive
Please let me court you
No, that sounds sort of weak. I have to be strong.
Katara is from the Water Tribe and I read up about their marriage stuff and men have to hunt to show that they can provide for their families, right? Well I can’t hunt and honestly that sounds kind of gross. But I can bend. I can’t bend as well as Lu Ten or Uncle Iroh (or me, dumb-dumb) but I can bend and I can also use swords. If I, potentially, had to hunt, I could. Technically.
And the sword-fighting means I work out. I have muscles. Girls like those, right?
I have my ship, the one I’ve been crafting since I first went to the Southern Water Tribe. It’ll be finished in a few days. I can show her my ship. She’s a waterbender, she’ll like my ship, right?
Lu Ten told me that girls really like guys who have big ships.
Okay. Let’s put this plan into action again. (you are literally so stupid Zuko)
Hakoda is gonna grow, I promise! I hope you like Zuko being stupid. Funny story, I started writing this fic because one of my best friends who sends me letters (well, emails) like this a lot told me he didn't ship Zutara. I'm giving him a seventy-chapter-long middle finger :D
I have absolutely no idea what’s happening right now.
So I’m pretty sure that Zuko likes me. That’s the good thing and that honestly makes me so happy. Well, I can’t tell if he likes me or like-likes me, but he does keep touching me on the arm and stuff.
The past few days have been a complete and utter mess! I love spending time with Zuko no matter how it is, whether he likes me or not, because he’s just fun to talk to. He’s so much freer and just more rebellious than I am. He reminds me a lot of Sokka, actually.
The other day after we had that late-night conversation he found me after breakfast and told me he had a surprise for me. I just sort of went with him and we jumped over the palace gate in an area where there weren’t any guards. He took me to the market and I got to see it in far greater detail. We didn’t barter because he said that it was unfair for him to try to pay lower prices, which made sense. A lot of people recognized him and started to whisper and stuff but I didn’t think it was a big deal.
And then he told me that he usually has to take guards with him wherever he goes. I find that strange because he can bend and fight, so it’s not like he needs them, but he says that it’s protocol. There’s so much protocol here. It’s all stupid. We can both defend ourselves. But, anyway, the palace did end up sending guards after us and he grabbed my hand and we ran away from them through these alleys. Everyone laughed but all I could focus on was his hand.
It was great for all of an hour until we got caught and the guards accompanied us back. I just wanted to run away further because I knew Dad was going to be a little mad and . . . he was. He made me sit in his room, on his bed, and lectured me about being careful in new areas and told me that I shouldn’t do stuff like that. And then . . . he said that he really dislikes Zuko and that he doesn’t want me to spend any more time with him. He said I’m banned from seeing him.
That’s dumb. So I went and met him in the courtyard anyway. Apparently this was a diplomatic issue — him not meeting me — so Uncle Iroh got involved and then he also got a little mad at Zuko. We just wanted to talk about the market and practice bending. But Dad came in and saw Zuko with his hand on my arm trying to help me do a firebending move and he got so angry. The two of them started fighting and Zuko told him that he was stopping me from doing what I like — which was true — and then Dad pulled me aside and basically locked me in my room. He had breakfast sent to me today morning.
I can’t believe him. I told him you would be angry at him if you were here. You know what he told me yesterday — he’s here one second
MOM. Forget what he told me yesterday. He just told me that we’re going back home the day after next because he doesn’t want to stay here when I turn fifteen because he doesn’t want ZUKO TO PROPOSE A BETROTHAL TO ME. WHAT.
Zuko would . . . propose to me? Like a betrothal? I know he teased me about the necklace and everything but . . . Dad thinks he likes-me likes-me.
Does he? Oh, Tui and La, Mom. Zuko likes me. Shoot, I’m smiling. I can’t . . . oh my La he’s outside my window. Again. We’re going to be in trouble, give me a second
WHAT JUST HAPPENED. WHAT.
Okay, start at the beginning, Katara. Zuko came in through the window. He knows the palace really well, of course, so he knows how to get in. I let him in and he apologized for whatever reason even though he definitely didn’t need to because he was defending my honor. I told him that and he blushed a little and there was something in his hand so I asked him about that and he looked so lost and then he held out a hand and it was a ring.
I’ve never had a ring before. It’s really pretty, I’m looking at it right now, it’s Fire Nation gold with a blue stone and it just fits. I asked him why he brought it and where he got it from and he said that HE MADE IT. He made the RING IN THE FORGES HIMSELF. FOR ME.
That’s something guys do for people they like. They give girls jewelry, right? Like betrothal necklaces. LIKE BETROTHAL NECKLACES. I’m so dumb. MOM WHY DIDN’T YOU STOP ME FROM BEING SO DUMB
We just looked at each other and blushed for a moment and I didn’t really know what to do so I leaned in and hugged him. His robes are sort of a lot but hugging him always feels really nice because he’s really warm and I fit right underneath his chin. It was just an amazing moment.
But then I remembered what Dad just said. He said I’m going to have to leave here before my birthday and Zuko looked so sad when I told him that I just felt like touching him and I put my hand on his scar. It was a really intimate moment. I feel like it’s something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life. His scar has healed a lot more and it’s red and velvety and touching it really feels like knowing him, more than I ever have before. We just looked into each other’s eyes.
His eyes are really nice to look at because they’re deep. Looking into them really makes me feel like I’m looking at the stars, like I could map him out and go all the places I want to travel.
Honestly, I thought we were going to kiss. But we didn’t. He just asked me if I wanted to go back.
I said no.
Then he asked me if I trusted him.
I said yes. Because I do.
Then he asked me if I liked him.
I blushed but he was looking at me like I was the moon. So I said yes.
Then he said he liked me too. And then he hugged me again and said he would find me tomorrow, and that we weren’t going to have to be apart ever again.
I don’t really know what just happened. But it felt really good and I’m happy. Thanks for sharing it with me, Mom.
— Your daughter, Katara
Ah. Zutara. Thank you guys for sticking with me while I write this self-indulgent lil fic. Love you all <3
Ship: The Blue Spirit
Construction started by: Fire Prince Zuko, third in line to the throne, child of Prince Ozai and Princess Ursa, in the year 97 A.S.C.
Construction will end: Prince Zuko’s seventeenth birthday, in 100 A.S.C.
Purpose: For Prince Zuko’s travels as future ambassador for the Fire Nation. The ship is intended to exist as a home for him and his future family along with guards, servants, and other diplomats. It will include several training rooms, several kitchens, formal drawing rooms, and a department solely for the Prince and his family. Is built to withstand all weather and is suitable for royal passengers.
Notes as of the third day of the eighth month, early morning:
Construction is almost concluded on the ship in preparation for unveiling at the Prince’s seventeenth birthday. All current changes are superficial. Princess Ursa has come in and once again asked for a change in curtain patterns. Princess Azula was satisfied with her private quarters at long last.
The Prince’s private quarters, now, consist of the left-wing of the ship. Outside of that there exists a small prison system and room for his guards, along with guest rooms for diplomats. The kitchens are in the process of being stocked with nonperishables. Perishables will arrive a few days before the unveiling. The Prince will not use the ship formally until his eighteenth year.
The Prince’s private quarters consist of his room, several sitting rooms, two tea rooms, and seven empty bedrooms for no clear purpose. He additionally has private bending and meditation quarters. Rooms will not need to be inspected with the exception of the latter two and a single sitting-room until a lady is brought on board.
Notes as of the third day of the eighth month, noon:
Prince Zuko came to visit the ship and let the crew know that he wants to be ready to set off tomorrow afternoon. Why is not clear and the crew is banned from consulting the Fire Lord.
At this point in time we are continuing to stock nonperishables and stopping all ceremonial preparations. The crew is all being immediately called back to the ship and prepared to set sail. A course has been set to the Southern Air Temple. Prince Zuko notes to travel fast.
Prince Zuko additionally asked for a female maid to be added to the crew and ordered that she prepare one of the rooms in his quarters for a young woman.
We shall set sail tomorrow at noon.
lmfao go back to chapter sixteen and you will see ;)
Chapter 43: Forty-Three: Katara
Don’t freak out! I know you’re going to freak out but don’t, okay? I left Dad a message telling him that I left willingly but who knows what he’s going to tell everyone.
You remember Zuko? Ugh, you do, you remember Zuko. Well we started hanging out when we came to the Fire Nation and I like him a lot, Sokka. A lot. I feel like I should tell you this . . . remember that time I got sad because of a boy and you tried to set me up on a date? I wasn’t angry because of a boy from the tribe. It was Zuko. I’ve had a crush on him for a while. I know you’re going to overreact. Don’t, okay? He’s a really good guy, even if Dad hates him. He treats me with so much respect.
Dad got a little angry that we were spending too much time together and he banned me from hanging out with Zuko. The two of us didn’t really pay attention and kept on meeting each other. Turns out that he likes me too, now, isn’t that neat? But then Dad got scared because he thought that Zuko was going to try to propose to me on my birthday and he started planning on making us leave early. I really didn’t want to, and then Zuko and I talked about it and we both decided that we didn’t want to be separated. You get it, don’t you? If Yue hadn’t been engaged . . . you would have done anything to stay with her, right?
Please tell me I’m making some sort of sense, Sokka. Besides your big brother instincts. I’m doing what’s right for me. I don’t want to stay in one of the tribes for the rest of my life. I want to do something bigger.
Zuko has a boat — a pretty large boat — that he’s gotten made as part of his role as ambassador. It was apparently supposed to be ready for his birthday but he hurried the construction up when he realized that I was going to have to leave. He asked me if I wanted to go home and I said no. I know I probably shouldn’t have said no, but Sokka . . . I just like him a lot, okay? And if I don’t go with him now I’m probably never going to see him again. Or the next time I see him I’ll have kids of my own. If I want something with him, anything, I have to go with him.
Dad’s mad. Dad’s going to make this a whole political situation. But we tried to make it really clear that I’m going willingly in the note we left (although Dad will just say it’s coercion, he really thinks Zuko is the devil). We left one with Dad, one with Uncle Iroh, and another one with Azula, who called us both stupid and said that she’d fend for us even if Lu Ten can’t. Azula has changed a lot from the stories Zuko used to tell. You should write to her, you know! She can’t bend anymore and I think she’d like to talk about sparring with you. She’s starting to learn about swords. But that’s sort of irrelevant. But do write to her, okay?
I’m not going to tell you where exactly we’re going in case this gets intercepted. I’m really trusting you to not tell Dad about this, okay Sokka? You’re basically my only friend at home and I love you a lot and I’m always here for you. On Tui and La, please don’t betray me like that. You might be all I really have. Well, you and Gran-Gran. Gran-Gran’s probably on my side for the most part. Tell her that I love her and miss her.
Zuko and I haven’t talked about what’s happening next. We just snuck all my luggage onto the boat and left today morning. I don’t think they even really know we’re gone yet. And don’t worry, he hasn’t even really touched me. But everyone is going to think that we ran away to be with each other. I’m turning fifteen in a few days. He might propose to me, I guess. It’s a heavy conclusion but I really feel like he’s going to for whatever reason.
In terms of the political stuff and not the mushy stuff, because you probably don’t want to hear about that (even though I did listen to you tell me about how Yue’s eyes look like the sea and everything good in the world, and that you’d give up meat to stare into them), I’m really unsure what’ll happen. Dad will get mad but hopefully he won’t try to start a war or something? He can’t do that, right? Sokka, he can’t do that, right? Let me ask Zuko. He says he technically can’t do that. They have a trade clause. I wish I got to learn about stuff like that.
Zuko’s not the Crown Prince so I think the rest of the Fire Nation doesn't really care what he does as long as he doesn’t shame the nation. And international relationships aren’t that out of the ordinary. Everyone on this ship is super nice! It’s much better than the one we had coming here. And they don’t expect me to do any work, even if I try to help down. Zuko got a maid for me. A maid. Her name is Hea and she’s really nice, so I try to help her so we can sit down and talk whenever Zuko’s busy.
That is grating on my nerves a little, though. I did sort of leave everything behind for just Zuko. Not that he’s just Zuko . . . but honestly, Sokka? I’m never going to be able to say this to your face so let me just write it. My entire life, in the tribe, and especially after Mom died, I feel like I’ve been waiting on you and Dad. Not exactly, but . . . I was an extension of you. I don’t know if that makes sense. Maybe we should talk about it someday. But I really didn’t want to live my life out as that.
The Fire Nation doesn’t have that. All that matters here is skill and you can do anything, no matter who you are. They don’t just let girls bend, they support them. Everyone learns skills. So far, Zuko has been like that. But sitting here alone with my maid . . . I get a little scared that I’m going to end up the same way, waiting on him. Even though it’s his ship and of course he has to do administrative things and he’ll be back for me. I feel like I should go back. Except the same fate is waiting for me there. It’s really confusing. I guess I’ll have to take my chances. I don’t even know if this makes any sense.
But don’t pull any daring moves and rescue me or whatever, okay? I’m perfectly fine and safe and happy with Zuko. It’ll work out politically. And please don’t sell me out to Dad. I have faith in you and I love you and I miss you and I’ll see you, Sokka. Write Azula and don’t be an idiot.
— Your sister, Katara
May I say, once again, that you’re an entire idiot?
I mean, great for you for getting the girl and everything. And I know that I definitely didn’t not tell you to do this but . . . man, everything has exploded here.
First of all, remember Katara can’t stay technically near you until you get married or engaged or whatever you two are going to agree on. You technically shouldn’t get married without her father’s blessing, but I think you’ll be fine if you get her grandmother’s . . . or just hers, to be honest. Screw the patriarchy.
My rooms on The Blue Spirit are up to date so she can stay there. I also snuck on a chest of my clothes. I think we’re about the same size so most of those should fit her — I can’t imagine she was able to pack that much and her father ransacked her room like she was hiding in her wardrobe, so I don’t think she’ll be coming back for any of those either.
Yeah, um, good luck. Hakoda is pissed at me right now for letting you go and having no honor, which is false. I have honor and that man is like . . . I don’t know. I think he’s well-intentioned so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt right now but he is pissed. He’s pissed at our entire family, actually, because he sees us all as ‘complicit in this affair of the devil’. I don’t think that’s a proper phrase and comparing you to the devil is a compliment on your end (I’m the devil of the family, it’s pretty obvious. I’m amazing) but he’s making his point. Uncle Iroh’s already had to double the output one of our engineering projects to slightly appease him. So I hope you’re happy. You cost us money.
That said it didn’t really appease him. The chief is a little crazy right now and I think he’s already tried to declare war on the Fire Nation for abducting his daughter. You’re an abductor now, Zuzu. Great accolade. I want it. But anyway. He’s already having his men find a legal loophole to pull something off but frankly . . . we have more military might than the Southern Water Tribe. If he’d managed to pull the North I’m sure that Uncle and Mother would be a bit worried, but they’re really not right now. And one of his men came over and said that while they were all distressed they’re going to make sure the chief doesn’t do anything too crazy.
But I’m ninety-percent sure that Chief Hakoda is trying to track you guys down. I hope you take my advice and go to . . . you know where, because I’m the only one who definitely won’t crack under interrogation. Lu Ten is weak and ticklish so definitely don’t head for Shu Jing. Plus, this letter might get intercepted. Oops. My idea is better. Also, tell Katara girl power. She’s so got it. I can’t wait for her to put you so hard into your place. I proudly pass off the Zuko’s-biggest-annoyance crown onto her.
Okay but if you get disowned from the line of succession does that make me heir after Lu Ten? Not that I’m going to try to hurt him or anything but being second-in-line would be cool. I mean you wouldn’t be disowned you would just technically abdicate. You don’t mind, right? You’re really into this whole ambassador-sail-around-the-world-thing. And now you’ve got someone to be stupid with you. Just don’t be too stupid, stupid. And respect her.
Remember. Let her kiss you first if you guys are doing to do that in the first place. And if she doesn’t want to kiss you it’s totally cool. And make sure that the soldiers on the ship don’t make fun of her. They can be really uncouth. You should hire more females when you hit the shore. I don’t know why your task force is entirely men, anyway. We have perfectly great women in our army, you know. Tell those soldiers that if they aren’t proper Princess Azula will come behead all of them. You know I will. I won’t. But, like, I will.
Lu Ten has the worst Pai Sho face in the history of Pai Sho faces. I have absolutely no idea how he’s going to sit on that throne and look serious like Fire Lord Azulon or Uncle Iroh. He’s started to get really close to one of Hakoda’s men — I think his name is Boat or something — and they’ve both been snickering the entire day. A grown man snickering. I swear on Agni, I’m going to totally have to prop him up when he becomes Fire Lord.
Oh, yeah! Uncle Iroh has already started teasing Lu Ten about the fact that you’ve run away and fallen in love and all the good things and that he technically should have been married years ago, barring the whole injury and everything. His face when he heard that? Hilarious. And also suspicious. I think I’m going to have to look further into this!
I feel at the top of everything right now. These days have been better than a lot of them are, even though I’m not quite sure exactly why. I’ve been happy. I guess I shouldn’t because you left everything a total mess, but I am. I’m happy you’re happy and Katara, even though I don’t know her that well, is probably happy, and I’m happy we’re teasing Lu Ten. I was able to warm up my hands today, so it was good.
Also, Mai and Ty Lee said they’d come over tomorrow. It’ll be fun. But what’s up with me doesn’t matter too much. I guess you’re starting the next part of your life a year early. I actually think Mother is a little sad. She thought that she’d have more time with us, and you, before you left. She’s happy but also sad. I don’t know. But she likes Katara and she says that in a really . . . final way. It’s different, how she talks versus Chief Hakoda. He thinks that you’re both being absolutely stupid (which is true) but Mother thinks . . . Mother thinks that isn’t terrible. That stupid things can work out.
I’m rooting for you and I can’t wait to see you again, but also take your time. Have fun. Be good. Don’t mess up, Zuzu.
Princess Azula of the Fire Nation
Sorry for the unintentional monthly hiatus! I got distracted with my other/new WIP, 'we walk a fragile line'. It's on my profile and about a steambaby and has a legitimate plot, so check it out!
I'm so excited to finish this! Apologies once again, but thanks for sticking with me :D
Chapter 45: Forty-Five: Hakoda
You need to come back here right now. This very instant. I have no idea what you’re doing with the Fire Nation boy but . . . please. What is this? I never expected anything like this from you.
Running away with him? What do you think is going to happen after this? The Fire Nation is different than the Southern Water Tribe, Katara! And when he gets tired of you like the devil that he is he will drop you off somewhere and you will have no idea where and you will have to live with the title of being . . . you will have to deal with this for a long time. The political and social implications of this are clear. And if you left on a boat . . . if you stay with him there will be doubts, Katara. The court here is strange. And it will be strange at home too. When you find someone you actually like it might be harder.
You can’t actually like this boy — please, Katara. I ignored your correspondence because I knew how much it meant to your mother. And I understand that, I sincerely do. But Kya knew Zuko when he was something like eleven-years-old. He has grown and he is not the same boy.
He’s dangerous, and you know this! He took you out of the palace without permission and he kept sneaking out to meet you. I know that you don’t need my permission to do anything . . . but he did not even try to appeal to me, Katara. He simply got angry with me. What does that say about him?
Boys at this age lie. I don’t want you to get caught up in this Fire Nation boy’s web. I know that when you’re young you think that you’re in love with whoever you meet but . . . you cannot tell me that you’re willing, at age fifteen, to doom yourself to a life as the Fire Prince’s . . . whatever. You’re more than that. You deserve better than to stay on a Fire Nation vessel. What about the younger ones at the pole? You’re teaching them, aren’t you?
Zuko is not a good child. He ran away, Katara, he took you and ran away. He did not attempt to talk to me about this once, I want you to understand this too. He and the rest of the spirits-forsaken royal family here — even Bato has started to join cahoots with Prince Lu Ten — didn’t respect me enough to talk to me about this. I understand that I cannot make decisions for you, but you must let me make them with you. Or at least talk to me about them. This could have been sorted out another way . . .
Even if you really do like him . . . that would have been fine. We could have stayed here and you could have spent some time formally courting him in such a way that when you inevitably didn’t work out it would have been respectable. This is just a lot, Katara.
You can fix it all. You know you can. You need to turn around — I know you can’t be far. Please, let us have this conversation. You know he isn’t right for you, you know it. He’s improper and he doesn’t treat you properly. Please, let’s just talk about this. Please, come back.
Chapter 46: Forty-Six: Katara
I’m not coming back and I’m not sorry about that. I’m sorry about how you feel and I’m sorry that you had to ask that of me but I’m happy here. And you saying that Zuko and I are ‘inevitably not going to work out’ is unfair and terrible of you. Zuko is . . . I’m not in love with him, okay? But if I had stayed there and let you take me home I would have never gotten the chance to get to know him better.
We’ve been on this boat for just two days and he’s treating me absolutely perfectly. He’s a perfectly ‘good child’. Maybe you’re so caught up in thinking that you’re right all the time that you’re refusing to acknowledge that he may have had some points. And maybe he didn’t talk to you because you thought he was ‘dangerous’! He’s not dangerous at all! First of all I don’t even need anyone to protect me, and if I didn’t have water he’s a great bender and he knows how to use swords. That’s something you’ve got to respect.
Dad, you can’t restrict my decisions and take me away from a place because you’re afraid of Zuko. Do you realize how absolutely dumb that sounds? Sorry for saying that, but yes, it’s dumb. He’s a seventeen-year-old boy and he’s not a heartbreaker and we aren’t doing anything like that anyway! I have my own quarters on the ship, and other girls, and we spend time together and just talk. Talk — you know, that thing you weren’t letting me do with him?
I can’t believe you think that I would get caught up in some ‘web’ of Zuko’s lies. Seriously, Zuko the same age as Sokka! Can you imagine Sokka spinning a web of lies and breaking hearts or whatever? No! Because that’s just not . . . Zuko isn’t like that! And that isn’t me being biased, that’s me having common sense. He’s so nice to me and he’s a mess around me sometimes and there is absolutely no way that he left his nation a year early to play with me.
He’s been so nice to me since we arrived, Dad! He’s done absolutely everything he could to make me feel comfortable. He chose rooms in the palace he thought I’d like. I wanted to go to the city and see stuff so he took me! He took me because I wanted to go! Why do you have to assume that he dangerously dragged me outside? I wanted to be dragged! It was my choice!
He hasn’t touched me outside of friendly hugs which he always asks me for. He’s done everything for me. He still hasn’t kissed me and when I woke up today morning he’d sent me a poem, can you believe that? He’s not the devil, Dad. He’s just a boy. And I like him very, very much.
And he treats me perfectly. Honestly, he treats me better than you treated me! And yes, Dad, you’ve always let me make my own decisions. My own decisions at home! Sure, I can learn how to waterbend and do whatever, but what am I supposed to do at the South Pole my entire life? All I can do is build stuff occasionally and heal. And that’s boring. And besides that, I can keep mending Sokka’s socks and keep mothering him! He’s never going to get a girlfriend who wants to mend his socks. He should be able to do that!
I get it, Dad. Mom was killed by the pirates. Mom knew Zuko and I don’t care if she knew him when he was eight, she knew him and his mother. And Zuko has been through a lot. You know it. His own father burned off his face, Dad! Of course he knows sympathy and empathy and all the feelings — he’s a good person.
Just because Mom left for a while and got caught doesn’t mean that I’m in any similar sort of situation. I’m a little tough, Dad. And even if Zuko were to just dump me off somewhere (which he would never do) I’d be fine. Mom got very, very unlucky and those pirates were evil and they just wanted to steal from her and — you can let me out of your sight. I’m fine. I’m okay.
So no. I’m not coming back and I’m not sorry about that, Dad. You can try to find us and I don’t care. I’m staying with Zuko. He doesn’t question my ability to make decisions.
Chapter 47: Forty-Seven: Zuko & Katara
Zuko and Katara’s Completely Unorganized To-Do List:
Zuko — I guess I need to hire more people. I wasn’t exactly ready to go on this ship so I think we could do with another cook and food that’s fresh and not just, you know . . . prepackaged.
Katara — You spoiled me with your palace food. But you don’t need to get a cook, you know. I can help.
I know you can. But that’s the point. You shouldn’t have to. Maybe we can hire someone in the Earth Kingdom. It'll be diverse cuisine.
How are you paying for all of this, again?
The royal treasury because I’m incredibly privileged. And I know it. But anyway you’re not cooking, okay? Your job is to have fun and enjoy the world and that’s it.
Okay, fine. But you’re going around and doing princely things all over the ship. I want to be helpful.
And you’re helpful and you’re great but seriously don’t do people’s laundry. They’ll make fun of me especially if you’re my future —.
Your future what?
Nothing. We’re fine. We’re best friends, right?
You’re my future. I don’t care what we are in the future but I’ll give you every part of me you’ll take.
Yeah. Of course we are.
Katara — The ship beds here are absolutely terrible. We’re getting new beds, Zuko.
Zuko — We don’t need new beds. Do we?
I think that the mattresses here are a stand-in. Or hope they are. Or maybe you Fire Nation folk like to torture yourselves. Our furs are the absolute comfiest to sleep on. I wish I’d brought mine. I know that we’re still in the Fire Nation but I’m always cold on the ocean for whatever reason.
Oh. Yeah, we should get you a new bed. Maybe with pelts or bedding or something. Something to keep you warm. Have you felt me? You touch me.
Yup. And in the South Pole we used to sleep in the same tents and share body heat. We can’t exactly do that here.
Yeah. We can’t do that because that wouldn’t make any sense. So new bedding, right? Yeah, we’ll do that when we dock. New bedding. So that you’re warm. And comfortable. And not on our hard Fire Nation beds.
I wonder how it would be if we fell asleep on the deck one evening together. You know I could keep you warm.
Zuko . . . are you okay?
I’m absolutely fine. Terrific. Sublime. Let’s just . . . build the list. And meet me on the deck at night. Or well, I’ll meet you. Let’s practice our bending.
Zuko — Get Katara a crown.
Katara — . . . Where did that come from?
like it a lot. Seeing you attempt to order people around. It’s sort of funny. You’re so nice.
You need to be nicer. I’m shaking my head right now. Some humility wouldn’t be amiss, you know that! Your crew is really nice. I still don’t get why I need a crown.
There’s a reason.
No, I just
want to see how it looks on you
think that you should have one, as technical royalty.
I thought that we agreed that I’m a lady.
Yeah. You’re a lady. You definitely are.
Katara — Get Zuko a Tsungi horn.
Zuko — Okay, how did you even find out about that one? Lu Ten couldn’t have . . . oh. The crew. I’m going to murder them.
Please don’t. They’re all very nice. And they have so many great stories about little Zuko giving them recitals.
They’re trying to turn you against me. Terrible, all of them. Blasphemous.
But you were such a sweet kid.
We’re not getting the horn.
Please, Zuko? I’ll sing with you. We can give the crew a concert!
I’ll do whatever you want.
Fine, I guess, if it means that much to you.
Zuko — Go to a library or a bookshop and get Fire Nation tales and history. And find anything on the Water Tribes for Katara to read.
Katara — Thank you. Our history is mostly oral because paper doesn’t do that well in the south and I feel sort of bad about that.
Never be ashamed of who you are.
It’ll be interesting to read more about the Fire Nation. Your lore is so cool.
I can’t wait to listen to all the stories you’ll create out of them. You’re an organic storyteller. The legend of Tui and La had the crew enthralled, you know. They were talking about it when I went down to their quarters. They like you a lot.
I’m glad. It’s nice to have an audience that actually gets the nuances of what I’m saying. It’s nice to talk to people that aren’t just kids. I mean, these stories aren’t just for kids. They’re for everyone. I do miss the kids, though.
I love how
You’re great with kids. That’s a hard thing to be. I think they’re all scared of me.
Don’t flatter yourself. You’re a turtleduck on the inside, Prince Zuko.
For you I am.
Katara — More paper and ink, Tui and La. I swear, I want to write about everything we see. And draw it. Sokka always thought he was the best at drawing. Maybe we can send him art supplies.
Zuko — Yeah, I think he’d like that. So you’re always writing in your journal?
Yeah. It’s nice. Oh, and I’ve heard that you paint, too? We can paint together.
You’re the most talented. I went to lessons but was terrible at it. Even Piandao, my swordmaster, thought I was terrible at it. And he’s all about creativity. I can’t paint for my life.
Do you write about me? I write about you. I’m always with you and you’re still all I think about.
Don’t sell yourself short. The way you use those swords is a work of art. Oh — do you think you could teach me? How to fight with a weapon. Not a sword, maybe. But something else.
Of course I can.
You act like I can say no to you.
Zuko — Get a dagger for Katara. Maybe a sword? No, a dagger. Small and sharp.
Katara — I am not small!
Yes you are. You’re tiny
and adorable and gorgeous and you make me melt
and cute. It’s nice to see.
You were my height the last time we met!
No, I wasn’t. But yeah, I’ve grown a lot in the past few months. Thank Agni. I was pretty short for a while there.
I want your gene pool. I wish I was tall.
I like you the way you are. I like that I can help you step out onto the floor because you’re a little too short for the ladder. I like you. A lot. I like you a lot. I really, really do.
Chapter 48: Forty-Eight: Sokka
So you’ve run away with my sister. And . . . my dad told me terrible things about you but Katara told me to stand by her. And I had to make a decision about this and I chose her — or rather, I chose her individuality. Because she’s good for a lot more than fixing my smelly stocks and I have a lot to atone for with her.
I respect you, Zuko. I haven’t seen you since we were both much younger but I’m hoping that you aged the same and that you are as Katara writes you, not as my dad does. I am putting a lot of my faith into her descriptions. I am putting a lot of faith into you, in general.
No matter who you are, Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation — Dragon Spirit — my friend — you have taken my sister away from my dad and he is angry. And you’re both on a ship without proper supervision and I do not know what you’re doing. I know Katara and I know that she would kill you if you did anything untoward which is why I’m not searching you out as you read this — but mark my words.
I don’t care that you’re a prince.
I don’t care that it would cause a war.
I don’t care about your money or your influence.
If you hurt or dishonor my sister you will find no place in the world to be your safe harbor. I will chase you across every single sea, from the Northern Water Tribe down to ours, and I will kill you. I will. Katara, for how much we fight, is the most important person in my life. You have a sister and I think you might understand. If I so much as learn that you made her cry I will personally slice off your head with your own sword.
I’m not like my dad but I was worried when I realized that you two were on a ship together because you’re well aware of how this works. After the commotion you two have caused from the Fire Nation to down here — my dad is due to arrive in a few days — you better stick by your word. If you’ve endangered my sister and marked her and played with her like a toy you should also be counting out the rest of your days.
For better or worse, this is it for her and you. And I hope that she’s chosen well. I can almost believe she has because this is Katara. And also . . . if you don’t treat her like the absolute lady or princess or whatever you call her that she is, it will also be your end. You better give her everything, Prince Zuko. Everything you have. Treat her like a queen or I’m going to burn your boat.
So that’s done. Tell me, how’ve you been? We haven’t talked in a while and I think we might be brothers soon. Thank you both for the art supplies, it’ll be used. Strange to see a package addressed from Zuko and Katara but I suppose I’ll have to get used to that.
Chapter 49: Forty-Nine: Zuko
I am writing this letter with Katara’s approval, although she does not know what it contains. I’m aware that although you have not addressed a letter to me specifically during this time you do think terribly of me — Katara and even Sokka have let me know.
No, I am not personally offended by what you have said. And Katara has let you know her thoughts on the matter. Those should be what really matter to you. I do want to clear up some of your misconceptions about me:
First of all, your allegation that I am dangerous because I took Katara out of the palace. I’ve heard several renditions of this, including you calling me a devil. I’m not sure where all of this came from and of course you wouldn’t take my word that I am not any of those things because it would be biased — that said, I hope you take Katara’s word and even those of the people in the palace. Yes, sir. I have faults. But I would hope that none would make me equivalent to Koh.
And then your statement about my not seeking approval to talk or court Katara. First of all, I tried to be nice to you but it seems as though you disliked me from the start. I’m not even sure why because when I went to visit your tribe years ago you didn’t seem to dislike me quite so much. And although you are allowed to have your own opinions, Chief Hakoda, I ask you to acknowledge that you did not really give me a chance.
Additionally, it is not protocol in the Fire Nation to ask a father for his daughter’s hand in any capacity. I did not ask Katara for her hand at any point anyway, but generally, I thought this custom was also outdated in your tribe, although I know that it still occurs at places in the North. I apologize for not doing this as it seemed important to you, so I shall address your next point and make a case of my own.
The one claim you made that truly bothered me in all this is that I would . . . let us dissect this paragraph. “ And when he gets tired of you like the devil that he is he will drop you off somewhere and you will have no idea where and you will have to live with the title of being . . . you will have to deal with this for a long time. The political and social implications of this are clear. And if you left on a boat . . . if you stay with him there will be doubts, Katara. The court here is strange. And it will be strange at home too. When you find someone you actually like it might be harder.”
Putting aside the name-calling, I swear on my honor, on Agni, on every star in the sky, that I would never leave Katara somewhere like that. I would never leave her alone without any help. I would never leave her at all. If she was to leave me I would let her go but as long as she chooses to stay with me I will always choose her, sir. Always. I would do anything for her. I refuse to let anyone believe that I would ever do such a worthless thing and leave her on her own anywhere. Even if she insisted on it I would ensure she was safe.
Are you trying to claim that she would have to live with the title of being used? That is greatly disrespectful to your daughter, Chief Hakoda, and I don’t even think she understands what you are saying. This all sounds incredibly archaic. Katara is not defined by her relationship to me and will never be.
The court in the Fire Nation is not strange. I think you’re talking about the ones in the Northern Water Tribe, not even yours. Whatever Katara wants to do will be respected as her personal decision. And any man that wouldn’t want her for any reason can meet my swords. Can you imagine Katara being denied by anyone? No. This sounds archaic of you, Chief Hakoda. And it sounds uncharacteristic of what I’ve heard of you. I sincerely hope that this is reactionary and not your personal thought process.
I’m sure you are perfectly angry at me at this point and are surely calling me a devil to anyone in your nearby vicinity, and that’s fine. Watch how you talk about your daughter and what you infer about her. She deserves more of your respect. She’s not just a child.
You were angry that I didn’t ask or even mention my interest in courting her yet. That’s because she was not of age yet — fifteen is a bit early here but I believe it’s alright for you. I’m sending this off to you right before her birthday and I intend to ask your daughter to formally court me today. No, we have not done anything before this at all. My officers could tell you as much — we’ve been friends and that’s all. And I enjoy being her friend more than anything. I will be happy if she accepts my offer and I am letting you know that I am asking.
But it does not matter what you think about the matter. There is only one person whose answer here I care about and it is not you. It is your daughter’s. If she says yes or no I will listen. I’m sorry, sir, but you do not speak for her.
Regardless of what occurs in the coming years I ask that you talk to your family and make a decision about how much you trust and love your daughter. I am not going to divulge what she’s told me to you because I hold her in high regard. But I will say this, Chief Hakoda; it is important to have good relationships with your children. I say that as a son. Children grow resentful fast.
— Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation
From the journal of Lieutenant Jee—
It is clear to see that the Lady Katara sleeps later in her quarters than do I and the vast majority of our men, and also Prince Zuko. I believe that this is because she is a waterbender and I do know that she grows powerful with the moon. I often see the lady and Prince Zuko on the deck when I do my latest rounds at night. Prince Zuko looks relatively exhausted, as he stays up and bends with her at night and then wakes up early to meditate.
The prince’s schedule is rather dedicated and commendable. It is exciting to serve under someone so committed to his nation and rather bright-eyed, although his young age can also get in the way of our official affairs. Currently, the prince is rather enamored with Lady Katara.
I do know that he started the mission early for her benefit and I’ve heard details of a sordid love story occurring but truthfully . . . they are really just children and spend all their time doing rather innocuous tasks, reminding me of my children. They bend on the deck and I have heard Prince Zuko play the Tsungi horn for her like he did when he was much younger — Lady Katara enjoys spending time in the kitchens and playing with our ingredients. They are young and children and friends although from the looks of it Prince Zuko aspires for their relationship to be something more.
He has made Lady Katara a ring — at least, I assume it is his ring that she wears all the time, along with a necklace. I awoke this morning to him in front of my door and a comb in his hand, looking rather askew with his hair down. He has never really been one for formalities and that is refreshing. The comb looked to be royal, studded with clear gems, and while he did not tell me clearly what his intention for it was, I assume that with what followed after he intends to ask for Lady Katara’s hand in courtship.
It is not exactly proper of me to offer him help or guidance but I have known Fire Lord Iroh personally and seen the young boy grow up into this man, and it was delightful seeing him so distraught with his planning this morning. He placed his hair into his topknot in front of me and then said that he wanted to dock quickly at the nearest port. Let me note that this was very early in the morning, with the sun barely on the horizon. It was clear that he did not want Lady Katara to know what he was doing.
I cannot deny him, of course, so we went to a local market in the Earth Kingdom village we landed on. While I am a fan of the prince I will admit that he is not always the most inconspicuous . . . and he was not even trying to be! It took minutes for word to spread through the village that a Fire Prince was there and they all looked . . . scared and terrified and also happy? I suppose this was a monumental occasion for them.
I, for whatever reason, had assumed that Prince Zuko wanted to buy Lady Katara . . . dresses, or something. Instead, he loaded several crates of flowers into my arms — beautiful white and pink ones — and then went and bought books and food items, of all things. After collecting dozens of peaches and several scrolls we headed back to the boat. I was curious but had stayed silent all this time — then I asked him what his intention for all of this was.
I will admit that it was almost adorable how much the boy blushed — he is still rather handsome, barring the scar — when he crossly admitted that ‘Lady Katara loves moon peaches’ and that ‘she wanted more reading to do’ and that he’s ‘planning on asking her to court him on the deck tonight’.
Some part of me wanted to laugh but I managed to hold it in and clapped him on the back. He’s truly becoming a real man now, isn’t he? I can recall him when he was just a child — poor boy has gone through quite a lot, too, with his ridiculous father. It feels relatively nice to see him happy over this girl. She is, truly, a nice girl, and even though he quietly admitted to me that he is scared that she will reject him . . . I do not believe that will occur. They are both utterly enamored of each other. I do not often believe in young love but it is more than love — it is deep friendship and understanding.
It is now evening and Prince Zuko has asked us all to leave the deck empty and spent several hours in the kitchen, asking several of the newer female soldiers to distract Lady Katara (and they are succeeding, not because she is naive but simply because she is too nice). I think he is baking pies or something of the sort, and he has arranged the flowers circularly at the top of the deck, as well as created a comfortable arrangement out of blankets. And the way he has been holding onto that comb!
It will be nice to have another lady here, even if I am speaking too soon. I hope I will have good news to write to Fire Lord Iroh tomorrow — or perhaps I can wait and have Prince Zuko send the missive first. I’m sure it will be positive.
sorry my update schedule is wack but I hope you're enjoying this fic anyway aha
The Words of the Moon Spirit.
My name is Tui. Existence these days is rather dull, there is no conflict. I am grateful, because I know of another timeline in which terrible things would befall this world. Here there is no war, and Avatar Aang maintains the balance as well as he can.
Today night I rose as the sun dimmed and came above La. I have started to make rounds, these days, to observe how humans are doing; I cannot explicitly aid, always, when they need help, but I can offer a kind of spiritual guidance. I spend my time at the North and also the South and I observe all of the benders. I find myself fond of several individuals, such as Princess Yue of the Northern Tribe and Chieftain Hakoda’s daughter Katara in the South. Both share a strong spirit and enjoy their culture.
I have been spending the vast majority of my time observing Princess Yue lately, as she is ready to be married to a man I do not quite approve of. I’m unsure how to explain how I see all of his actions, intrinsically, from the Spirit Oasis — I am simply very fond of Princess Yue, and do not wish that she would spend her life attached to someone of such a temper. I will deny any involvement in several embarrassments that are happening before the wedding; her betrothed’s pants fell off during a formal meeting, but I really am unaware how that occured — but I do approve of whoever is managing this. I believe La might be playing a role, please accuse her.
But yes, I have been spending the majority of my time in the North lately. I went back to the South to see Master Katara, daughter of the Southern Water Tribe, and was presented with an utter mess earlier this evening! Chief Hakoda and his mother were having a screaming match in front of the village, and her brother, Sokka — he is rather cute, I would have to admit — was watching them in shock. I saw from him that he did not actually know where Katara was! She was in the Fire Nation.
It was a bit of a whirlwind, that night. I went to the Fire Nation to see if she was there, and then was greeted with the headspace of Princess Azula of the Fire Nation. Now, that one is a strange mind — as the Avatar knows, she would have gone utterly crazy in another timeline. Still, in this one she is fine. I did some snooping around and found a correspondence between her and her brother, and also between her and several of her friends. That girl is young but already has quite a few interesting romantic prospects in front of her. I do feel sorry for her, though. I will, soon.
I didn’t have that much time to spend spying on Princess Azula and the seemingly constantly depressed Crown Prince Lu Ten — the Fire Nation has quite an interesting and extreme gene pool — before I was sent off in order to find Prince Zuko, who is apparently with Master Katara. All of these interactions seemed to have a romantic subtext, and I didn’t know what quite to think of them. So I had a conversation with La (who is, apparently, quite angry with me for laying the blame at the North Pole on her; she’s rather bitter, I swear on myself) and discovered where Prince Zuko’s ship was sailing the seas.
Intriguingly enough, the prince and Katara seem on the path to talk to Avatar Aang. Perhaps they are seeking shelter there, or perhaps they are just attempting to find a safe space for themselves. Avatar Aang should not involve himself in the conflicts of the royalty of all the nations, but he is sensitive to the world and likes playing games. I do believe he is more a child than an Avatar at heart . . . ah, all the better, I suppose. Some light-heartedness is not always amiss in the world. And he is terribly sensitive because he knows both Prince Zuko and Master Katara from another life! I cannot see it clearly, but I know he has some sort of personal relationship with this.
Ah, I am getting distracted. As it is, I went to go search out La and she told me not to search for Katara at this time, but I pressured her and went to go see her. I am not worried for Master Katara, you see. She is a prodigy of my own, and she is as strong-willed as the moon. She could hold her own against some sort of measly firebender. I am not concerned for her safety, at least . . . I am concerned for her heart. But the Fire spirits speak of Prince Zuko, and they say he is a relatively nice man. And I have heard of the evils of Ozai before — surely the son is better than his father?
I should start spending time outside the poles, maybe.
Regardless, I came upon the ship at night to a scene that was utterly intimate! And dare I say . . . no, I will not claim adorable, because I am a spirit with dignity! But there was a circle of bright flowers and silken blankets arranged on the ship’s steel deck. I wish a spirit had romanced me like that. It was rather empty for a few moments before Prince Zuko came up to the deck with at least five pies in his hands. I could smell them from where I stood, and frankly, they seemed delicious. I wish I was able to further enjoy corporeal food. Ah, I keep getting distracted.
Yes, I was a little tentative about this prince! I have seen his sister, and she is growing from her cruel streak, but she still contains it. But that soon disappeared. He was utterly adorable as he went across the deck, going to find several teapots and spreading the flowers in different directions on steel and even finding a collection of peaches. He does have a scar, but he wears it with a strange kind of pride, and his face is innocent. Ah, the follies of youth. . . he is better than Hahn, at least. I will refrain from pants-dropping. In fact I did refrain from pants-dropping the entire night I was there! Such an accomplishment, I am aware. It speaks to Prince Zuko’s good intentions —
Oh, and his intentions! I saw a comb in his pocket and he was looking at it so concernedly! Poor boy. Of course he is such a mess over Master Katara. Understandable, of course. She is powerful and she has definitely been growing into her own personality. I am proud to call her a child of the moon.
I did feel a small amount of guilt for watching what played out afterwards, but it was nice and calm, and not the kind of human drama I am usually subjected to. Sometimes, I simply want to love the world I preside over, and watch over humans and their small acts of love. And when I saw Master Katara and Prince Zuko come on that deck together and blush at each other and refuse to look each other in the eye . . . to them, it was simply awkwardness; yet to me it was the beginning of a beautiful story.
It came simply. Master Katara was led onto the deck by Prince Zuko, and he kept his hands over her eyes and smiled largely. She was laughing nervously as he led her on, and seemed to be cold in the wind. It made me almost giddy (I am an old and respectful spirit, I promise, but some small things still bring me joy!). So he took her to one of the silken blankets in the corner and had her sit down on it and open her eyes.
Katara beamed with utter delight when she opened her eyes to see the work that Prince Zuko had put into this . . . date? I believe that is what they call it, these days. She smiled at him largely until he was smiling, and then she drew him in for a hug. I thought the hug would end, but apparently she thought Prince Zuko was quite comfortable. She told him to “stay close” because he is “a giant heater”. Prince Zuko didn’t seem to like the comparison all too much at first, but his excitement didn’t dim and he held her close.
They are quite a pretty picture, the child of fire and water. Nice to see, and a sign of peace. I can almost revel in my boredom when it makes such instances as this exist. Yes, I know, I am being rather self-centered. I will return back to the children!
After a few minutes of sitting on the deck Prince Zuko reached towards the tea and the pies in the corner, and Master Katara looked sad as he let her go in order to set up their meal. They shared a soft smile that I was definitely looking away from in order to give them some privacy. Then he heated the tea and pie and they ate together, huddled up in a blanket together, facing . . . me. And they started talking to each other, whispering rather . . . sweet things, I suppose. And constantly blushing! They are both clearly heads-over-heels (is that the saying?) for each other!
Katara noted that the pie was good and asked if Zuko made it, and he blushed and said that he did, and she kissed him on the cheek in thanks! Then he reached forward and drew some of her hair out of her face and she turned red. When the tea got seemingly uncomfortable to handle, she bent it out of her cup and into her mouth . . . and his. Rather an intimate use of her skills! I can only be proud.
And then Master Katara asked him, after he put their plates to the side, what all of this was for, anyway. Prince Zuko froze up for a second and scooted near her and I was so certain at that moment that he was going to say . . . his purpose! And yet he did not, he was scared out of it. That boy . . . it’s alright. He leaned back with her and asked if she wanted to look at the sky with him together. They laid down and held hands loosely and simply . . . stared at me for some time.
I will admit that I was chanting kiss kiss kiss in a rather juvenile fashion from up here, but am I to be blamed? Their tension is so blatantly obvious and I just would like them to be happy. And also . . . I won our staring match, even if they were not aware it was occurring.
Their conversation was absolutely sweet! Master Katara started discussing the North Star and the ways of her people, and how she knows how to map using the sky. And then Prince Zuko reached out for her hand and traced the stars with her, drew constellations. They talked about the Earth Kingdom, and the Eastern Air Temple, and the North Pole . . .
It took me some time to realize that they were not just mapping out the stars, but their entire lives. It was such an intimate moment that I found myself looking away from, too, as they simply stared into each other’s eyes . . .
I am here, always. They will not always be. Human life is precious in its short length, and these two know it.
When I looked back they were upright on the deck and looking deeply into each other’s eyes. In Katara’s eyes I saw myself, and in Zuko’s I saw the stars. I was hoping he would not jump out of this one . . . and he did not!
Under my watchful and appropriate gaze they entwined their hands together and Prince Zuko took out a lovely silver comb from his pocket. Master Katara looked at it with her eyebrows twisted and then Prince Zuko began a beautiful monologue that will surely go down in history. Let me see if I can recall it . . .
“Hi, um, I don’t know why I’m saying hi, because we’re both here, and we’ve been here, and you’re here with me. So, the thing is, I like you? No, it’s not a question. I like you a lot. It’s been a few weeks and you’re all I can think about. But not in like . . . a weird way? I mean that you’re really nice, and sweet, and adorable, and I’m always thinking about how adorable and kind and strong and powerful you are. And you get me, and I get you, and we just work, the two of us? And honestly, I’ve been trying to do this right, and I really have been — I’ve been doing this right, I swear. I would wait longer, maybe until you were older and I was formally of age and maybe your dad and whoever is right, maybe this is fast of us, but you’re all I ever think about, Katara, and I was wondering if you would court me? Not, um, marry me. Not like a betrothal. It’s not one. Yet. It won’t be until you want it to be? Just forget I said that. But, just . . . will you court me—”
He was then cut off by a rather graphic kiss. On the lips, from Katara. It was a rather adorable moment, all in all, and I asked La to calm the ocean and clear the winds so that the two of them could have that moment — wrapped in each other’s warmth on the ocean and under the stars. Prince Zuko slipped the comb into Master Katara’s hand and then she placed it in her hair, silently, and then she crept closer to him until she was sitting on his lap and kissed him again. I looked away quickly then, because humans can be strange. But I did hear her response, and it is worth telling. For she told him that she didn’t regret the journey they were taking and then she said . . .
That she thinks she is learning to love him, even with all of his awkwardness. He blushed and looked away until she kissed him again.
I let them have the moments next to themselves . . . but anyway, I feel rather fulfilled today. I have seen millions of humans cross these lands, and I have seen thousands of love stories. Many of those do not pan out well — in another life, perhaps these two would also have been doomed. But it is nice to see soulmates meet in a story such as this, and it is nice to see them exist with most of the world on their side.
Sometimes I enjoy the understanding that love, of all kinds, is one of the purest of human emotions, and that is why I exist as I do. It is the benefit of caring for a people who take down and destroy — observing these small moments of utter goodness.
It was a nice night, definitely. Perhaps I have gotten myself too invested in this . . . oh well. I think Hahn is due for another pants-dropping.
I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy as I was today. I think today was one of the best days of my life. I wish I could share it with you. I wish I could share it with Dad and Sokka, but it’s okay. Because I got to share it with Zuko. And that’s a thing now, me and Zuko.
I was thinking about when you died. I’d thought, back then, that I would never feel okay again. Dad left, and Sokka and me sort of crawled up together. I don’t want you to think that I’m replacing you. I feel bad for saying that today is the happiest day of my life, too . . . because I miss you, and every day I had with you . . . those were the best days.
I think I have to move on, Mom. I love you. I love you like all the stars, and I’ll love you till the end of the earth. And I don’t want it to seem as though I’m replacing you with Zuko — because I’m not. I’m learning to love him, but I’m not. I just don’t think I should speak to you anymore. You’re watching over me in the stars, and I think that’s good for now. We talked a lot last night, and we figured out what we are to each other, and that thing that we are . . . it’s really deep.
But yeah, Mom. We kissed last night, for the first time. And I’m glad that he was my first real kiss. He was so cute, he gave me this whole speech about how much he liked me and everything. In that moment it was just us; just Katara and Zuko, and we were staring at the sky, and everything behind us disappeared.
Maybe Dad’s right and this won’t last. I don’t think I even care. I’m fifteen, and I’m young, and I think I’m stupid, but Zuko feels final for me. Like . . . not like we’re getting married or anything. But we talk about everything, and we have talked about everything but our feelings for each other. And now that those are in the light, I feel like I can tell him everything. I’m not going to, because that isn’t healthy either, but I trust him. I trust him like I trust you.
So we’re courting now. I asked him if kissing is still gross, and he told me that he doesn’t think anything to do with me could ever be described as gross. I like him so much. He’s so warm, and he makes me feel nice and safe, and it’s . . . it’s scary, to like someone this much. Because I like him so much.
Thank you, Mom. Thank you so much. Thank you for lifting me up and letting me be honest with you. I know you’ll always be in the stars, and I can’t wait to see you again. I love you.
— Your daughter, Katara
100 is nice and even. Right?
Chapter 53: Fifty-Three: Zuko
You know, every single day without you my life keeps getting better and better — it’s absolutely incredible, isn’t it? Hope you’re having fun, wherever you are. I don’t think you have the emotional capacity to fix yourself, so I hope you’re stewing in yourself and suffering. And no, I’m not sorry about that. Forgiveness is not the answer.
Yeah, so I’m not really big on checking in. Just wanted to give you an overview of how great my life is. I’m courting Katara, and she is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I kissed her tonight, and she hugged me, and we got to see the stars together, and I think I might be in love with her.
I’ll be honest. We were sitting under the stars for moments, staring at the moon, and I was thinking that — thinking that I might love her. But then I grew a little terrified, because I don’t know romantic love very well. You were terrible to mother, an absolute brute, and Uncle Iroh is a flirt. Lu Ten isn’t in a relationship, and I have my doubts about Azula (who’s doing absolutely amazing, by the way) but I’m not about to talk about relationships with my baby sister.
I’ve seen relationships, plenty of them, but the only active one that I’ve seen my entire life is your’s and Mother’s. And you were so terrible to her — she’s still suffering the consequences of your actions. I think she cries at night sometimes. And I’m older now, you know, I’m not thirteen. I have a pretty good idea of what you did to her. I remember her trying to protect us, and I remember you yelling.
You’re lucky I’m on the seas, because I do want to hurt you right now.
That’s the only relationship I’ve actually witnessed, and it was barely a relationship. And I hate this, I hate this self-doubt, but I have your terrible blood in my veins, and all I know is you. I can’t pinpoint what I feel for Katara, but I don’t think it’s something you are capable of.
My greatest fear is that this is what you were capable of. My greatest fear is that you once loved Mother, that you felt the same way for her that I might feel for Katara, and you turned into a monster anyway. I don’t know who you were. What if that happens to me? I know that I’m short-tempered, and I can mope, and I can be angry. And everyone thinks that Azula is the one who is going to be like you, not me, because . . . it’s always been her. But there is a lot of my life left to live, and sometimes I remind myself of you.
Courting Katara, sitting under the moonlight with her, and holding her around me . . . it’s all so amazing. She is something I am almost terrified to lose. But I can’t be like that. I need to be loose, and I need to respect her. Her father hates me, and a lot of it is because of you. Because he can see parts of you in me. I don’t want to turn into you. I really don’t. That’s my worst fear. And I don’t want power, or the throne. But I want happiness. And don’t all monsters start out wanting happiness?
You know what —
I’m getting stuck in this cycle of self-doubt again. I hate you. I just had the best day of my life, and I hate you. And I am not going to let you destroy this like you destroyed my face. I’m proud of my scar because it means that I am strong, and Katara thinks that I am strong, and your opinion and who you are does not matter.
Because . . . I am not going to be you. And if I ever do, I hope I get put in prison. I would get rid of the world before hurting someone I claim to love.
You don’t deserve my headspace. This feels like a dirty way to discover my feelings, so I’ll try to figure them out some other way. But yeah, I’m happy, Ozai. I have everyone you ever wanted, because I never wanted what you wanted. I don’t want the throne. I want to be happy. I have that. And every day of my life is the best one.
I hope you’re rotting well.
Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation
Chapter 54: Fifty-Four: Hakoda
Please let me back inside. We can have a discussion about this. I know that you’re mad at me, and I’ve been taking this time to self-reflect. I understand that Katara has the ability to make her own decisions, but this is different. I’m not going to place her in an arranged marriage or make her do something which she hates, or be with someone she can’t stand . . .
It’s just that she is still so young, and I think she is heading into this whirlwind infatuation with the Fire Nation Prince all too soon. I didn’t even know if I expected her to marry, and certainly not young! She had a whole life ahead of her here as a healer and as a warrior.
She hasn’t just done this for him — she is going to give up all of this for the boy whose intentions are still up in the air. That is what bothers me, not her ability to make her own choice. She is just fifteen, and I missed her birthday, and I want her with me. I don’t want to give her away to a Fire Nation Prince or to one of Sokka’s friends. I thought she would stay as my strong, independent daughter. I lost Kya. I cannot lose Katara too. And . . .
We are losing her. We have, and we are going to . . . is she going to come back? She left all of her materials here and she simply does not seem to intend to come back. Should I just accept that I’m no longer going to have any more time with her? That she didn’t even say goodbye to me?
I love her, but this is a lot. And all of this for a boy and a courtship that is nothing close to final. I do not care what he says, he has the ability to simply leave her . . . and then she will be so crushed . . .
I just ask you to understand my perspective. I will never undermine Katara’s authority as an individual, and I swear that this is not like your father and Master Pakku. If this was more final, if we had talked more and come up with a concrete plan, I would have . . . I would have been fine. But this running away at such a young and tender age broke my heart.
I just don’t want to lose Katara the same way I lost Kya, Mother. Maybe . . . I should not have called the prince such terms. But still, they are too young. I want her back with all of us, in the city and the village, making soup and sewing and healing and fighting the boys. I’m not ready to let her go.
Please let me in. It’s getting cold out here and I’ll get frostbite. And I think I’m starting to understand where you are coming from, just . . . please let me in.
—Your son Hakoda
Chapter 55: Fifty-five: Sokka
You better love me. I’m in the most awkward spot in our home right now trying to ensure that Gran-Gran and Dad don’t see me taking notes on their conversation to send back to you. My back hurts, Katara. Owie.
Okay, so background. Gran-Gran’s about to let Dad in. She kicked him out two days ago. I think he’s been chilling with Bato because he’s not dead yet, but I also think he’s embarrassed that his mother kicked him out of his own house. Gran-Gran’s the one who’s really in charge around here, anyway. She got really angry at Dad for how he treated you and kicked him out, and then calmed down and asked me what actually happened. I told her the truth, and she got more pissed.
I think I’ve got the brain cell for now, because I have no idea what Dad even thought he was going to succeed at by telling Gran-Gran, who wasn’t allowed to make her own choice in her marriage at the North Pole, that he didn’t like your choice. I mean, I don’t know how I feel about Zuko, honestly, but I care about myself enough not to tell that to Gran-Gran.
Anyway. I digress. She just let Dad in . . . and they’re screaming. Whoop-dee-doo. Didn’t see that coming.
Dad just said that he knows that you should be able to make your own choices, and that he greatly supports you.
Gran-Gran just said that he doesn’t seem to be applying what he means, considering that he actively tried to take you from the Fire Nation because he thought that you liked Zuko. Apparently he wrote her a letter about this. Dad is dumb.
Dad just went very quiet and then said that you remind him of Mom and that he doesn’t want to lose you too. Now, I’m gonna cut into this with a brother thing. This is wrong. You’re not Mom, and you’re right. I’m sorry if you’ve ever felt like you were. You’re not Mom, and you deciding that you want to be your own person is not like Mom at all. Mom loves you, and she is very proud of you.
Oof. Then Dad went for it again and said that he just didn’t think Zuko is a good person. Oh, Gran-Gran is on some spicy jerky today. She asked him what he knew about Zuko.
Dad said that Zuko is just like his father. He’s really on some bad takes, huh? He’s . . . seen Zuko, right? The guy whose Dad burned half his face off? Yeah, he’s just like his dad. Zuko’s a nice guy, from what I remember. He’s always liked you, and he’s good with swords, not just that hot fire guy jerkbending. This is kinda pissing me off.
Oh, Gran-Gran just burned him. She went on this entire rant about how judging people off their parents is wrong. That shut Dad right up. Now he’s sitting quietly.
This is a good one. I think it changed Dad’s mind. “Being a good parent is about doing what’s best for your child. And whatever you think about Prince Zuko, self-discovery is good for Katara.”
Dad turned sad and whispered that he’s really scared that you’ll never come back.
You’re gonna come back, Katara. I know you are. I’m not gonna say this is just a phase or whatever, but you’re still my little sister, and we still have entire lives to live out together. You’ll always be here.
Gran-Gran said that her father might have been scared of that, and his insistence ensured that she never went back home. Even though she loved Pakku.
I think Dad has regained his brain cell. He is now crying.
Gran-Gran said that you seem happy, and that she doesn’t know how great Prince Zuko is, and that she won’t know until you bring him here, but that you have the same right to self-discovery as everyone else. You shouldn’t be frozen here by Mom’s memory or anything. You deserve to do whatever you want to do. This isn’t just about romance, especially because she knows that you and Zuko have been writing forever. It’s about a really solid friendship, and a lot of trust. You’ve always wanted a lot, and you deserve to have it.
I mean yeah, I agree. I’m sorry if I’ve ever made you feel anything different. You deserve a lot, Katara. I love you. And I don’t hate Zuko.
I just want you to be happy. Dad’s a mess, but I think that he wants you to be happy too.
Just come back, alright? Don’t . . . forget about us, or anything.
It’s been going good here. I’m sending you a couple sketches I made, please don’t make fun of them. Indulge me. Keep them up. Remind yourself of your poor little brother sitting here in the South Pole. That is legally a joke.
These warriors came down from Kyoshi. You’ve heard of it, right? You know about it. There’s a girl who’s leading them about my age, and she’s really cool. Her name is Suki, and she . . . kinda destroys me when it comes to fighting. But it’s fine. I think I’ve grown up, too. I think she broke a couple of my bones, but then she initiated me with their makeup and traditional dress. Yes, I wore makeup. I think I might technically be a Kyoshi Warrior now? I don’t know.
Suki is really cool, though. It’s so different from Yue. She’s such an amazing fighter, and she’s cool and independent and she’s strong. And she’s pretty. You know, she almost reminds me of you. I really think that you two could get along and bully me together.
In unrelated news, I’ve learned how to wash my socks. I am so sorry for what I’ve forced upon you, and can only hope that you forgive me. My feet suck. I sent you clean socks. In an unfunny way. And also a blanket, and one of your furs. And some more of Mom’s old jewelry. I know Prince Zuko is probably blah-blah fancy rich, but I hope that you remember home.
Can’t wait to see you again.
Chapter 56: Fifty-Six: Zuko
I’m so sorry I left early this morning, but I promise it’ll be a good surprise. Our first real person date tonight is going to be absolutely amazing — I’ll make sure of it.
No laundry or anything today, okay? I checked that your bath was connected to the heaters and there are oils at your side, so have fun bending in the bath. I also got a shipment of clothes Azula ordered for you (before you complain about money, this is all her). She said that they’re a mix of Fire Nation styles in Water Tribe blue, and that she thinks you’ll like them. She’s the expert and obsessed with clothing, so look at those! She also sent you a bunch of nail and hair care things — I’m sure you could get help from the other crew members with that. Maybe you girls can have a . . . I don’t even know. A spa day?
Breakfast will be delivered to your room at the eleventh hour, because I know how late you wake up, and I love that about you. Extra salt for your nonexistent taste buds, and that tea I know you love. I think Uncle talked to me about it—it’s some sort of peach flavor. I hope you like it.
I also cleared the deck for the evening, in case you want to practice bending. I’ll be back by after lunch, but that’s ready for you, too. I prepared a table on the deck (please don’t ruin it with your bending . . . or do. Do whatever makes you happy), and you can eat lunch there. More tea, and a special dish. I just want this day to be super nice for you. Do whatever you want.
When I come back I’ll show you what I’m preparing and we can have our date. I’m super excited. I just want you to be happy, and I think you’ll like it. It’s . . . I mean don’t expect too much of me, I guess? I hope you’ll like it. Yu Shong is a nice city, I’ve been here before. I think you’ll find the locals interesting, too.
I’m so excited. And I miss you, miss-gets-up-in-the-afternoon. But I’m just kidding — have fun today, Katara.
— Zuko <3
Chapter 57: Fifty-Seven: Yu Shong
The Yu Shong Scrolls
Fire Nation Prince, Water Tribe Chief Daughter Witnessed at Tiger Festival Today
Today, at the annual celebration of the Tiger Festival, the city of Yu Shong saw a new sight; a Fire Nation boy and Water Tribe girl walking through the streets together, an uncommon sight in this part of the Earth Kingdom. The authors of this article looked up and cross-referenced who these outsiders could be, and came across several gossip rags which we hate associating with from the Fire Nation court! Apparently, Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation has run away with the daughter of the Chief of the Southern Water Tribe, a master waterbender.
Your authors are always one to explore their thesis, so we both followed this strange couple and saw where they came from. There is, indeed, a glorious blue and red painted ship on the harbor, one which looks relatively out of place here, that likely belongs to them. We came across several employees from their ship, who verified this statement. We had a brief interview with them, as seen below:
Are those Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation and Master Katara of the Southern Water Tribe?
Why are they here?
I’d assume to go to your stupid festival.
Are they married?
[Lots of laughing] Might as well be.
Then the woman we were interviewing stomped away, though not before yelling at us and claiming that we were uncouth — can you imagine? We followed her and watched the young couple throughout the festival.
Master Katara was wearing a fashion that will surely be trending in the town lately, clothing that looked like a Fire Nation style but which was in blue silk. We caught a glimpse of Prince Zuko and saw a crown in his hair, one relatively hidden but still there. They were holding their hands, and coming close (we ducked behind a tree to evaluate them further) we did indeed see a courting comb in her hair. Perhaps they are about to get married!
They were both smiling absolutely disgustingly at each other, and Prince Zuko took Master Katara to several stalls and bought her a variety of foods. Let our young viewers know that they seemed fond of the banana-cream but not of the berry-pie, so that may now be trending.
While at first they walked slightly apart and seemed to awkwardly blush, as they made their way through the bustling streets of our festival their hands grew close to each other, and they held each other. The best part of the night was at the end of it when Prince Zuko drew Master Katara into the courtyard where all the young couples of Yu Shong dance. They did dance with each other, rather well — to be expected of children of the nations.
We did a bit more following, as they left the clearing after a bit, aiming to be discreet — however, we are good at that as well. Prince Zuko led Master Katara to our side-forest, to a clearing lit with lanterns and blankets on the ground, as well as a proper dinner.
We are not so intrusive, and we did not stay around to see what they did in that clearing. We will say this, teenagers of Yu Shong; healthy relationships are trending, even amongst the Four Nations’ royalty!
Happy Tiger Festival!
Chapter 58: Fifty-Eight: Katara
I’m sorry. I just . . . I had the best day today. Zuko took me to a festival and we talked a lot and had fun there, and it was just an absolutely amazing day, and I came back to this letter and . . . I guess I could have hurt Dad, a little. I still think that he’s wrong and being a little intense but he misses Mom. We all miss Mom.
We got back on the ship but then I got your letter right before I went to bed and I started crying because I said goodbye to her but I still love her and I miss her so much, Sokka. I just want her back and I can’t have her back. I was reading your letter in my room and then I just went to the hall to go nowhere and Zuko found me and he let me cry, and that was . . . cathartic, if not good. It felt decent. He let me be me — just me. I miss you.
I do. I miss you. This is fun, but I miss you, and I want to see the world, but I also want to see you, and I want — I want Dad to get to know Zuko. I want you to get to know him. I want to show him penguin-sledding and force him to eat your stupid jerky. His family knows me but you don’t know him.
Your friend Suki seems nice. We’ll probably miss her when we get to Kyoshi Island on our stop, but hopefully she’ll still be there when we reach the South Pole. I’m going to get Zuko to wear water tribe clothing, and I’ll get more paint for you! And I know that Gran-Gran has always liked reading and I got her some old stories too. A lot of them are romances. You know she’s a secret sap.
So, yeah, Sokka! We’re going south. Zuko doesn’t really have a plan anyway and he said that we can go wherever I want. Actually, he was the one that suggested going home. It’s late, but we’re going to tell the crew tomorrow. We’ll need to get them more outfits and things and get them all ready for the cold weather, especially because they’ll all be staying on the ship. This ship is great so it’ll withstand the ice, but it’ll be — it’ll be fun.
Honestly, he seems more excited than me. He said that he wants to train with my masters and that he and Dad can have a proper conversation. I told him about warrior initiation and said that you might make him do it and . . . maybe you should! I want him to feel welcomed into our culture like he’s welcomed me into his. And he’s made such an effort. I want to make an effort. But it’s so awesome — I know he’ll be alright with everything, too.
It’s going to be good to see everyone again. It’s only been a few months but I miss you. And I just — I thought it was going to be a bad day after I finished reading your letter, even though Zuko made it so awesome with the festival — it was a Tiger Festival, I’ll tell you more about it, and I’m sending these buns with this I know you’ll love and — and I’ll be there soon. Don’t worry about financial strain or anything because we’ll push our own weight. It’s going to be so fun.
It’s so cool to be able to just. Change directions like that. Change plans. Change my life. This is so amazing.
If this page is wet it’s because of happy tears, okay?
I can’t wait to meet Suki, and I’m so glad you learned how to wash your socks.