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02 October 2010 @ 09:04 pm
As Time Passes By : Part Three  

Title: As Time Passes By

Rating: T

Word Count: 10,000 +

Summary: “The dawn of your new nation will come as quickly as the sun has set on your father’s empire.” Zuko’s first year as Fire Lord does not go as he expects.

Written For: the All in a Year challenge, a very old challenge prompted by [info]nuitsansetoiles for [info]katara_zuko

As Time Passes By






Toph promises to cover for him with the generals and royal advisors if—he swears that at some point it does cross his mind that maybe it isn’t a good idea—he gives her temporary control of the imperial firebenders. He sneaks out of the palace in commoner’s clothes, leaving her in the throne room chuckling wildly, and walks down to the beach. As he dodges over boulders and around puddles of mud, he hopes that everyone under his employment won’t have quit by the time he gets back.

She waits in the surf for him wearing only her simplest wrappings, confusing the tides by manipulating the waves, and for a long time he just watches her. The sun dips lower on the horizon, casting her shadow farther up the beach, and he smiles as she takes in the last few rays of daylight. She refuses to admit it to his face—she’s too proud to acknowledge the beauty of his country—but he knows she likes the Fire Nation. She insists that a fresh bouquet of flowers be a staple of her room, and she likes to take midnight strolls around the gardens. No matter how she insists that it’s only for the sake of the moon, he sees her from the windows, running her fingers along the bark of trees and the leaves of bushes.

She told him she was leaving soon—a Fire Nation balloon is already schedule to carry her back to the south—and that she wanted him to meet her on the beach alone. His curiosity overcomes him and he strips off his shirt and shoes, leaving them carelessly in the sand before trudging down to stand at her side. “It’s about time you showed up,” she chides, bending a globe of water at him. He disperses it with a quick burst from his fist, and she grins. “I have something to show you.”

He glances at the ocean warily and remembers all the time he’s spent in it as being only time he has spent being thrown from his ship. She extends her hand to him and he takes it, his footsteps at her side far more hesitant than her own.

“You can swim, right?” she asks, wading further into the water.

“Of course. I had to know how. I lived on the ocean for three years.” She nods distractedly. “But I don’t particularly like it.”

“That’s about to change.” She bends another ball, but this one surrounds his head and he can breathe inside it. “Cool, right?”

“How…? This is…”

“Just wait until we get underwater. But stick close. The farther away you are, the harder it will be to keep the bubble around your head.” She creates her own orb, and he follows her out into the waves. “Ready?” she asks, her voice warped—but still as melodic as always—by the rushing water. He nods slowly and watches in wonderment as she simply sinks below the surface. He follows as quickly as he can—certainly with far less grace—and they swim along the bottom of the ocean for quite a while before Katara nudges him to look up. A family of sea lions floats just above their heads, the baby nuzzling against his mother’s side. They dance around each other, their flippers padding gently against the sea as they twirl. He grabs for her hand, his fingertips wrinkled by the moisture, and squeezes.

Briefly, she merges their bubbles. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? They’re so beautiful.” Her mouth is inches from his and when she whispers he feels her breath against his cheek.

“I’ve never seen anything like this.”

They have separate helmets again. She gestures for them to head back up. As they break the surface, the globe around his head dissolves.

“Do you always get that close? What other kinds of animals have you seen?” He bombards her with questions and peers back down, his hands pawing at the water as though he can move it aside and observe the gentle beasts once more. She answers each one, making sure they continue to stick close together—because firebenders are well-known for drowning—and watches him closely.

Floating by her side far off shore, surrounded by nothing but the rhythmic up-and-down of the water—and the blue, it’s so blue—he feels a smile on his face. It falters briefly, as he glances over his shoulder at the massive volcanic island that suddenly seems to shudder against the sky, but she touches his arm and turns his head back.

“It’s okay, you know,” she says, “To be happy. You’re allowed to have fun.”

He hums thoughtfully, his face falling back to seriousness as he brushes a sopping clump of his bangs away from his forehead. He doesn’t want her to go—not ever, because running a down-trodden country is so much less awful when she’s around. He hears her sigh quietly and catches sight of her focusing on the waves behind him. Taking her distraction as the perfect opportunity, he splashes a fistful of water into her eyes. She lets out a shriek, blinking rapidly and wiping her face, and then smirks.

“Antagonizing a master waterbender in the middle of the ocean was not your brightest idea, Fire Lord.”

Suddenly, the crazy three-foot earthbender in his palace doesn’t seem like much of a problem.






Acting the part of a commoner hasn’t sat well with him since the days of a failed beach party attendance, but he’s growing steadily more nervous at the way advisors seem to be assuring him that everything is fine—it can’t be fine, it hasn’t been long enough for everything to be fine, people cannot possibly be fine—and that he needs to start focusing more of his attention of external affairs.

He wonders daily if everything is truly fine, and one day he finds himself donning a plain pair of clothes—“Just in case,” she had said, holding out the gift-wrapped box to him, “You never know”—and ducking out the servants’ entrance to the palace. He had forgotten how hard it used to be to blend in with a scar marring half his face, but he finds it scarier now that his scar his royal and nowhere near as easy to hide as an arrow tattoo or a blue necklace.

Keeping his head bowed low with a hood shadowing most of his face, he wanders the streets and eavesdrops casually on conversations. The woman at the fruit stand whispers softly to another customer that the Ember Island Players are putting on a special, secret, underground performance—they haven’t notified the Fire Lord yet, still making rewrites to history—just for the people in the capital city. He listens carefully for the location and the time and then buys three ash bananas, thanking the vendor with a crooked smile.

The Players have never been his preferred form of entertainment—though they run circles around being forced to play the tsungi horn—but he finds himself curious. Love Among the Dragons was butchered every year without fail, as was his own story, but then—sitting in that dark theater, between a girl who didn’t hate him anymore and a boy who was starting to—he had been an outcast, a traitor.

The Fire Lord roams the streets until dusk and then follows a small crowd into a smaller theater.

The curtain is drawn back, and the play begins.

Some of the actors are different—her actress is younger and slimmer at the waist, the avatar is played by a boy still crying “Yip yip!” in a falsetto voice—and some small things have been corrected—her brother’s jokes are taken straight from the improvement cards offered last time, his scar is on the proper side and his hair is less embarrassing—but much of the play remains the same. She doesn’t see the avatar as a little brother, and there’s a scene where she outright loathes the boy who has tied her to a tree, but she still embraces him with a foot kicked high in the air in the catacombs.

The big changes come at the end.

He no longer shrinks behind a tower of flames, crying in agony at the thought of his un-reclaimed honor. Instead, he twitches in pain on the ground, wrapped in a blue ribbon of his sister’s lightning, crying out for the avatar’s girl. She fights a good battle, but he winces when she drowns his sister without mercy, cackling manically for a moment.

“Oh, how I hope I can save you,” she shouts, falling to her knees at his side. Her hands shine in a spotlight for a moment and his chest tightens up in the stands as she appears to smear jelly over his fake wound. Suddenly, he pops up with an agility he can’t recall having and thanks her. “I think I’m the one who should be thanking you.”

Her inflection is different than he remembers, but her words are the same, and she leans forward with a smile—he doesn’t remember there being a kiss, her lips never touched his, but there it is on the stage, his hand cupping her cheek, her mouth moving against his, their limbs tangling around each other—and his eyes go wide. The audience hoots around him, several people clapping, and he takes deep, bracing breaths. He looks away quickly, finding other things to look at—a balding man who looks like his uncle, a little girl dipping her hand into three different bags of Fire Flakes, a boy sticking his tongue out at his mother.

Still, on the stage, he lays there kissing her.

His muscles all feel strained, pulled taut beneath his skin, and he wonders how his lungs are still drawing in oxygen. The girl on the stage isn’t her, he knows, and even if it was it isn’t him she’s kissing, he knows, but he feels it. He feels her touch against his cheek, scarred and unscarred alike, her breath against his ear, her skin under his tongue.

A full year after the fall of his father, the people of his nation have seen what nearly was destroyed the day of Sozin’s comet, seen how the world was nearly sentenced to sudden death, and cheer as the avatar wins, but boo as the play curtains close with the same avatar wrapping his arms awkwardly around her neck.






After her letter, he does little other than to wait for the flying bison to appear on the horizon.

At the pleading of his advisors, he signs a law into order and presides over a public trial, but he finds his mind wanders with every syllable uttered in his direction. The days seem to grow longer, the sun crawling across the sky with half the speed of a snail sloth, but finally the day comes and he stands anxiously at the airship docks as the creature soars over the ocean, tail flapping against the clouds.

She leaps off the saddle as the beast touches down, landing on the planks in sync with the avatar, but charges ahead of her companion and into his arms. He hugs her for a long time. “Zuko? Where’s Toph?”

“She left. She’s in Ba Sing Se visiting my uncle,” he mumbles into her hair, “And I have been very lonely.”

She giggles lightly. “We missed you, too.” He releases her and turns to shake his friend’s hand, clamping a palm down on the boy’s shoulder as he leads them back to the palace. Aang is taller now, and he’s letting his hair grow in—the style looks familiar, Zuko thinks, reminiscent of Ba Sing Se—but his smile and enthusiasm are the same.

Dinner is a wide array of food—he remembers her cooking, he teases, and this is drastically different—but he barely has time to eat anything between the stories and the laughter. Halfway through the meal, Aang takes her hand the threads their fingers together, and suddenly the Fire Lord isn’t hungry any more. He watches them eat their dessert—ice cream, in a cone shaped like a bowl—rather excitedly, and then asks softly to be excused.

He sits on the edge of the roof outside his room.

He hears the footsteps before the voice and lets out a soft sigh. “It’s isolating, isn’t it?” Aang asks, taking a seat beside him. “Ruling the world?”

Zuko smiles in a half-laugh—because if anybody rules the world it’s the avatar. “Yes. It’s very lonely.”

“I’m gone a lot,” the boy admits, swinging his feet out over the short drop to the balcony. “I feel bad for leaving her behind, but it’s not fair for me to drag Katara away from her family all the time. If she wanted to go, it would be just like old times again, but she always wants to stay and help them rebuild. Plus, she’s an Ambassador now, so she has a job to do.”

“She’s very good at helping people.”

“Yeah.” Aang shrugs his shoulders. “I think I’d like to settle down one day and have a family one day. Roku had a family. He had a wife and a baby and a house. I think I’d like to have that.”

“You’re still a kid, you know,” Zuko reminds him quickly. “You don’t have to worry about that yet. You have plenty of time to grow up before you need to start thinking about babies and wives.”

The avatar frowns slightly. “I don’t feel like a kid. I used to. I used to want to go penguin sledding and ride the elephant koi and invent new ways of windsurfing. Now, all I ever have time for is keeping the peace. I’m always moving, going from one place to another. I’ve been everywhere and anywhere. Twice.” He traces a finger along the blue tattoo on his arm. “One day, when things aren’t so crazy, I want to stay in one place.” He lets out a deep sigh and shakes his head. “I’m glad Katara is going to live here for a little while. You can keep each other company.”

“We can try.”

Aang hasn’t been around very long before he has to leave. He manages a few breakfasts, a solitary lunch, and several sparring matches before he packs his only bag. Appa lumbers carefully up to the palace so that everyone can see him off. His new height allows him to press a soft kiss to Katara’s forehead without stretching—much, the Fire Lord muses, because he still has a good four inches on the avatar—and he smiles.

“Take care of her.”

“I think I’m mature enough to take care of myself,” she objects, straightening his collar. “I am a master waterbender, after all. If anything, I’m here to take care of Zuko. After all that time with Toph, I’m sure he has a few exciting wounds for me to work on. Internal bleeding, a fractured rib, a self-inflicted burn from a moment of confusion…”

Aang chuckles, brushing a strand of hair from her face, and looks over her head. “Take care of her, alright?”

“I won’t let her get herself into too much trouble. But even if she does get arrested, I’m sure I can pull some strings and get her off with only some community service.” Katara sticks her tongue out at him, and he chuckles. “Oh, yes, you’re very mature.”

Waving until the bison disappears into the clouds, she turns to him. “So, Fire Lord, what do you want to do first now that you’re responsible for babysitting me?”

“I was thinking about taking over the world today. Maybe we’ll feed some turtleducks tomorrow.”

She rolls her eyes. “That’s not funny.”

“I’m glad you’re back.” He grins. “I missed you.”




- Part One (January, February, March)

- Part Two (April, May, June)

- Part Four (October, November December)


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