- Title: Those Final Moments
- Rating: G
- Genre: Romance, friendship, drama, hurt, comfort
- Characters: Aang, Zuko, Katara, Kuei
- Mentioned characters: Mai, Ty Lee, Sokka, Toph
- Shipping: Kataang, Maiko (mentioned), Zuko/Aang friendship, Katara/Zuko friendship
Tense negotiations in the Yu Dao Crisis come towards their end. Will Earth King Kuei and Fire Lord Zuko, facing the possibility of another world war, settle the differences and make compromise? Or is it war all over again?
The story Edit
03:00, Ba Sing Se Edit
The moon cast down a small light through a starry sky, seemingly implying a calm night over the Earth Kingdom's capital. But Ba Sing Se was anything but calm, even at such a late hour.
All through the rings of the city, people gathered together, wandering the streets as they hoped for any good news. The Yu Dao Crisis had reached a breaking point, and war was looming again. They prayed to the spirits, parents consoled their fearful kids as they recalled when the Fire Nation stormed the city last year. They were not ready for this again. It could not happen again, they thought. They hoped for any compromise.
Within two hundred feet of the Royal Palace, guards blocked off several people who demanded answers to all that was ongoing. The situation had turned hostile earlier in the night, with people nearly banging down the doors of the palace. At that point, the Earth King ordered his guardsmen to barricade the area. Screams of "Harmony now!" were prevalent amongst the desperate cityfolk.
At the Fire Lord's place of stay, multiple guardsmen, both of the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom, stood guard. This home had also been attacked earlier in the evening as people tried to end the man who had seemingly placed the Fire Nation back to their old ways.
Right outside the palace door sat a young waterbender. Most prefaced her name with the term "master" due to her prowess in waterbending, but she preferred the more simple name of Katara. After being within the negotiation room as her boyfriend tried to pave the road to peace, she had been sent outside as secondary guard after the situation grew hostile. But she couldn't stay focused. He was in there, trying to stop a war, and she was worried about everyone.
She had nearly lost him once before to war.
She had lost her mother to war.
She and her friends were in constant danger due to war.
She did not want war again.
Inside the palace, two guards stood at the entrance to the throne room, the two elegant doors sealed shut to prevent any additional and un-needed traffic from entering.
Finally, through these doors, the world's future was being decided.
There, all parties sat, desiring peace. A large table with several papers, on which many maps and arguments were kept, separated the arguing men. In the middle sat the world's key to peace.
Going to the far left of the table was a man decorated in his green and yellow royal robes, a green necklace around him, and a green hat with the Earth Kingdom's emblem at its front, a small gold point sticking out. His name was Kuei, still at the young age of twenty-six. Back at the end of the Hundred Year War, his goal was to push every Fire Nation colony out of his kingdom. But now, this seemed impossible without a new war.
At the far right of the table sat a younger man decorated in a large red robe, and elegant but somewhat armored clothing. His black hair was in a top-knot, and a five-pronged golden headpiece, crafted in the shape of a flame decorated his head. This was seventeen-year-old Fire Lord Zuko, whom had changed sides late in the Hundred Year War, and set himself on helping the world to peace and taking up Kuei's side. But, when he saw just how much his people had done in their colonies, he refused to support the so-called "Harmony Restoration Movement" any further, and seeing the Earth King's refusal to back up, Zuko decided it may be time to go to war to protect his people.
In the center of the table was an even younger man. He was decorated in Air Nomad robing, a blue arrow at the top of his bald head. Biologically, he was even younger than the both of them at the age of thirteen. His name was Aang, and he was the Avatar. Aang, Kuei and Zuko had all agreed to the movement a year ago after the end of the War, but now, he watched one of his closest friends betray the movement and revert to older ways that were tearing their friendship apart. Aang believed deeply that harmony was impossible if one nation controlled another, but to avoid war, it was clear he would have to alter his position somehow.
Kuei and Zuko had been arguing for hours, with Aang trying to think of a way to keep things calm. He was the meeting's mediator, hoping to think of a solution to satisfy both sides. He believed he had gotten the idea, but was hoping that the Fire Lord and Earth King could compromise. In the back of the young Avatar's mind, if peace couldn't be reached, he might have to follow up on his fatal promise to his friend.
"Drop the stuborness and get out of this nation!" Kuei yelled. "The war is over, and I will not allow the Fire Nation to continue controlling my people!"
"I will not let you destroy what my people have made of your lands!" Zuko replied with a stinging tone. "The people of Yu Dao worked hard for over a hundred years to built what they have, and I will not allow anyone to rip that away!"
"You want peace, but you refuse to work with us at all," the Earth King simply replied. "You need to understand, that if you continue to occupy our lands, the world remains out of balance!"
"You need to understand that there is harmony in the colonies! The people are living together and have built them up into quality towns! Now you want to take that all away," the Fire Lord gave a stern reply.
"Enough!" Aang declared to the two feuding sides. "All you both have done for the last eight hours is yell at each other! Is it any wonder why we are on the brink of war?"
"Aang, you aren't helping matters one bit!" Zuko snapped back. "All you do is support what he wants!" The Fire Lord pointed to the Earth King sternly. "Unless you have a solution, be quiet!"
"If you would let me talk right now," Aang replied, "I think I do have one." His eyes growing heavy, he pulled out a picture of the northwestern Earth Kingdom. There were markings of where all the colonies were concentrated; the last ones that needed moving out. "I want both of you to come over here and see this area I have outlined."
The Fire Lord and Earth King each rose from their seats, deciding to have a look at the Avatar's offering. They looked down to see that Aang had circled the area in question.
"This may be a bit of a crazy idea, but please listen," he urged them both. "I have been looking at this for the past several hours, and both sides should be satisfied. Have you considered the idea of a fifth nation?"
"Five nations?" Kuei mused. "Sure, but not seriously. It sounds like a bit of a stretch."
"Well, here's how it works," Aang began. "First, Earth King Kuei, you would have to cede this territory, but not to the Fire Nation. This area will not be under any one nation's control."
"That's crazy talk!" The Earth King protested. "An anarchist land? Avatar Aang, I know you want to end this, but proposing such an off-the-wall suggestion...what are you thinking?"
"Not anarchist," Aang replied. "This fifth nation will be under the control of a council. Every nation will seat a representative on its council - Fire Nation, Earth Kingdom, both Water Tribes, and the Air Nomads."
"Wait just a moment," Kuei again spoke. "You are the last of the Air Nomads, and there is no guarantee that you will be able to bring forth more airbenders."
"I promise you," the Avatar answered. "Whether it be with Katara or anyone else, there will be some form of repopulation of the airbenders. I will hold the Air Nomads' spot for however long is needed."
"Where exactly does this leave my people?" Zuko demanded.
"Zuko, your people will not have to leave the territories," Aang explained, turning his attention to the Fire Lord. "As a matter of fact, as this area is ruled by all nations, all people of any descent will be welcome to live here. Everything this has been made in the past hundred-plus years will be allowed to stay. You won't have to worry about a thing as all peoples live together in harmony. This fifth nation will allow for a little bit of what both of you want."
"You can promise that the people of the Fire Nation will not have their works destroyed?" Zuko asked.
"Exactly," Aang replied. "In essence, Zuko, your people will be allowed to stay and preserve that work. However, you must agree to pull any and all military influence out of the area immediately. Kuei, the Fire Nation will no longer control this territory nor your people on its own, but you must cede total control and allow the Fire Nation's people to stay. If you two agree, my friends and I will watch over the transition process. Any resistance from either of you two will be dealt with swiftly. Is that clear?"
Kuei looked towards Zuko, and vice versa. They each had solid eyes on one another, thinking about what Aang had just said. They knew what was clear, and it seemed like a reasonable solution to satisfy both sides.
"This agreement will also have to be shown to the Water Tribes," Kuei added. "They will have a role in this as well, since you desire this to be a land of all peoples."
"I can show this to Chief Hakoda at the South Pole," Aang replied.
"Then perhaps I could go north," Zuko suggested. "Chief Arnook can have a look there."
"All we need to know for tonight," Aang finally said. "Earth King Kuei, Fire Lord Zuko...do you agree to the terms of this fifth nation? I am also proposing the name 'United Republic of Nations' to represent the tie between all the nations, though I'm not sure what to call its capital."
Once again, the two national rulers turned to each other for a brief moment before Kuei broke the silence. "Fire Lord Zuko, the Avatar has offered a peaceful solution. He is guaranteeing the safety of your people while also ensuring that one nation does not control another. The four nations will rule a merger of themselves. You and I both know that the last thing we want is war. I accept the Avatar's compromise."
Zuko sighed heavily and thought about all the people he had hurt in trying to keep his people safe. He had hurt friendships, lost his girlfriend, destroyed the Fire Nation's reputation again, and had left himself teetering on the edge of being just like his father. "A lot has happened in the past several days. But thinking about it...perhaps this is the best way to go. I think we have the right idea accomplished. I agree to this compromise...when do we make it official?"
Kuei quickly thought up something. "I can have one of my scribes officially put it on paper tomorrow. We can sign it right here, out in the front of the palace."
"Very well," Zuko replied. "This deal is now done." He offered a handshake to the Earth King, which he returned warmly.
Aang smiled brightly through his tired eyes, glad to see that peace had finally been achieved between the two sides.
After the handshake, Zuko looked at Aang with somewhat of a regretful look towards his friend, hoping to address him. "Earth King Kuei," he then began. "Please...do you mind if I spoke with Aang privately?"
"I must be getting sleep anyway," the Earth King replied. "It is pretty late in the night. Take care, Fire Lord. I look forward to signing the deal tomorrow. Avatar, a good night to you as well." Kuei then gave a bow, which the other two returned, then showed himself towards his bedroom.
After Kuei left, Zuko walked over to a wall, a movement that Aang followed. The Fire Lord turned to face the Avatar and collapsed to the floor, this movement followed by burying his face in his hands. "I've been a fool, Aang..." he finally said, shaking his head.
Aang took a seat to Zuko's left, hunching his knees up to just under his face. He then placed one of his hands on the Fire Lord's shoulder and looked at him. "Zuko," the Avatar began. "Look...you have certainly been under a lot of stress this entire time. Between assassination attempts and everyone criticizing you at every turn, I can understand how hard it's been for you. It's over, now, though. You know I forgive you, as well."
Zuko looked back at his friend. "I don't get it. How can you be so quick to forgive? I stomped all over the Harmony Restoration Movement and threatened a war. Not to mention all that I did to you, Katara, and everyone else."
"Because," Aang replied. "We have come more than a long way since the days you chased me halfway around the world. When you came to us and wanted to join us in bringing peace and balance to the world, you were sincere about it. You worked with us for so long, but then you saw that maybe things would have to be changed a bit. So we had an argument...it happens."
"It went so much further than that," Zuko reminded him. "It almost turned into another war."
"Zuko," the Avatar resumed. "The fact is, it didn't. You proved yourself willing to talk and open to other ideas instead of just jumping in. For how many hours tonight, you kept talking with us even though the Earth King seemed to be frustrating you. The old Zuko would have gone to war in the first hour. Then, you heard my ideas out and accepted a compromise. You've still shown yourself changed despite moments of weakness the entire week." Aang gave a warmer smile to him. "You're still not your old man at all. You've now ushered in a new, unprecedented era of peace and balance by agreeing to this United Republic. I knew you had it in you, it was just a matter of getting it out. You're still the friend I got to know last summer, and you haven't changed a bit."
The Fire Lord finally managed a weak smile to the Avatar, but as soon as he let his mind wander again, it was gone. "That's all fine and good, Aang...but none of this will bring Mai back to me." Zuko thought of how coldly he had treated his girlfriend in the past week, and turned away from Aang.
"Do you honestly think Mai has left you for good?" Aang replied.
"Probably," Zuko shot back. "I kept too much away from her, and that caused her to not trust me. This isn't like last summer when I just wanted her to be safe. I left her completely in the dark. She won't come back to me now."
"Now just a second," Aang replied. "You can't think this is over so easily. We're talking about the same Mai who risked her life to save yours. The same Mai who has had a crush on you for several years. The same Mai who stood by your side and sought out your highest safety during those assassination attempts. She loves you Zuko, and would no doubt take you back if, when you returned home, you spoke with her and remained honest. Just tell her how much you still care about her, and how you meant her no hurt."
"How can you be so confident that she'll take me back?" Zuko asked worriedly.
"Because," the Avatar answered. "If your relationship with Mai is anything like mine and Katara's, she'll be just as willing to hear you out. Believe me, me and her can each see it. Mai cares for you a lot, and she won't let it end like this. But you have to be willing to talk and even hear her out."
The Fire Lord sighed, hoping for Aang to be right. "I'll try..."
"Not only will you try," Aang replied, "But you will be successful. Should you need it...Katara and I will back you up. Don't be afraid to invite someone like Ty Lee along too, after all, she's known Mai as long as you have."
Zuko idly nodded, then proceeded to turn his head off in the distance somewhere, thinking again about all of his wrongs in the past seven days, and shook his head again.
"Zuko? You okay?"
The Fire Lord snapped his head back towards the Avatar, the latter growing more concerned. "I'm sorry, Aang. I'm a bit of a mess right now. But...just to make it clear...we're still friends?"
Aang's frown turned into a smile as he nodded. "Of course, Zuko. You've cleared up your past misgivings, you proved yourself still capable of working for peace...and I can tell you're feeling guilty for everything you've done. Just like you said a year ago, I'm going to say it to you this time. We're building up a new era of peace and harmony. We're going to craft this United Republic...together. You, me, Katara, Sokka...all of us. But this time, you need to promise me something."
"Just what could that be?" Zuko wondered.
"You need to promise never to turn against us," Aang answered, his look more serious. "We can't have you going rogue like that again. Please...stay with this. Try to work out any reservations you have with us before acting."
"Then I'll do just that," Zuko assured him. "I promise."
"Thank you," Aang said.
The two then smiled, and rose to their feet. They followed these movements with a warm embrace, just like they did at the Fire Lord's coronation a year ago. A moment later, they separated.
"Well, I had better get back out to Katara," Aang spoke up.
"May I come with you?" Zuko asked. "I owe an apology to her as well...for what I did in Yu Dao."
"Of course," Aang replied. "Come on."
The two left the Earth King's throne room and made their way down the elegant hall, the open night becoming their destination.
Outside, the Earth King had ordered the guards to disperse the crowd after the deal was agreed to, however, news was still being withheld due to the unreasonable hour.
Katara was absentmindedly tracing the ground, worried about the entire situation. She couldn't seek out anyone at that moment - her boyfriend still holed up in the meetings, her best friend on the other side of the country, and her brother still with Toph at her academy. The seconds seemed to pass like hours as tears would occasionally fill her eyes.
Suddenly, she heard the opening of the palace door, and her attention was quickly grabbed as she turned and got up. Slowly down the steps came her boyfriend, alongside the ruler of the Fire Nation. Their idle conversation seemed to have turned friendly, giving the waterbender hope that maybe, just maybe, something had been accomplished. She turned out to place herself in front of the bottom of the stairs, anxious for whatever news she was about to get.
"There she is," Aang said happily, seeing his girlfriend emerge. He began to walk down the stairs a little faster, leaving Zuko to catch up.
The Avatar seemingly ran towards Katara at that point. "Will you take it easy?" Zuko said. "It's late and I can't move that fast!"
When Aang reached the bottom of the stairs, he stopped at Katara's mixed look. She appeared to be forcing a smile, but still held a worried look in her eyes. "Aang..." she began quietly. "Please...tell me...is it all okay?"
Aang wasn't sure just how to tell her without him breaking into tears in the light of his love and care for Katara. All he did was smile brightly, his look signaling the joy in his eyes.
That was enough for Katara.
Her smile grew greatly on its own as tears began to stream down her cheeks. It was apparent to her that, whatever had happened, Aang had just helped keep everything away from war. Without any further word, she ran up to her boyfriend as he opened his arms to her. Katara took a leap and slammed her body into Aang, knocking them both to the ground. They then rolled towards the base of the steps, nearly tripping Zuko, whom had just reached the last step. The Fire Lord backed off a step as Aang and Katara stopped their roll.
Laying on top of her boyfriend, Katara crashed her lips down to Aang in a big kiss. "Thank you!" She said in tear-filled ecstasy, providing another kiss. "Oh, thank you, Aang!" She then buried her head into his shoulder as she gripped him as tightly as what was allowed to her.
Aang caught his breath after Katara's kisses, and closed his eyes as he embraced her as well. Tears gleamed in his eyes as well as he thought of the immense happiness and peace that settled. "You're welcome," was all he could utter, as he pressed Katara closer to him.
After embracing for a few moments, the couple each rose to their feet, Katara still showing utter relief. "So, what's the plan?" She then asked.
"We're making a new nation," Aang replied. "What's going to happen is that the Fire Nation colonies are going to merge into one territory. Zuko will pull the soldiers out, but the citizens will stay. All citizens of all nations will be welcome as we string the land into a fifth nation called the United Republic of Nations. It will be ruled not by any one nation, but by a council. Representatives of the Fire Nation, Earth Kingdom, both Water Tribes, and the Air Nomads will sit on it."
Katara quickly grew worried. "But Aang...you're the only Air Nomad left."
"I'll have to hold the seat for now..." Aang mused, trying to avoid an awkward hinting at his and Katara's potential future.
"Still, a fifth nation..." Katara said. "Wow...I never thought of anything like that. Not controlled by anyone, you said?"
Aang nodded. "Both sides are satisfied...no one nation will rule another, but the Fire Nation peoples get to stay, as will all their work."
Katara smiled as he nodded back. "Well, that sounds like a really good idea, and it's great that you got Kuei and Zuko to agree to it. I was really scared about there being another war."
"Speaking of Zuko," the Avatar then said. "He has something he would like to say to you." Aang stepped away and allowed Zuko to step forward.
Katara's look turned somewhat angry as she crossed her arms. "Okay...I'm listening." She thought about how, even after what lengths he had gone to to get her forgiveness, how he unjustly grabbed hold of her in Yu Dao.
"Katara," the Fire Lord began. "I'm sorry for what I did to you and Aang when you both were in Yu Dao. I was under stress and had been caring about my people, at a loss about what to do with the colonies. I completely lost sight of what our goal was, and set my focus against you. I should have tried to temper the situation between you both and my guards, instead of attacking you. I was wrong, and I hope, just like Aang forgave me...you can too, and we can remain friends. We need to be in this together...because setting up for the United Republic is no easy task. I know I've wronged you in the past, and doing what I did probably didn't help things. I'm sorry."
The waterbender eased her angry look and turned back towards the Fire Lord. She then gave a slight nod and forced a smile. "All right...I can tell you're honest, Zuko. We have certainly all been under stress the past week with all that has occurred. You are right...hey, we've all stuck together through worse times. We'll do that through these as well. Apology accepted." She then walked up to Zuko and hugged him warmly, much like she did after their journey to find her mother's killer.
After a short moment, they separated. "Thank you, Katara," Zuko then said. "Now then...if you guys will excuse me, I'm going to rest up. I also have to think of a way to reproach Mai."
"Well, I think everything will go fine with her, as long as you're honest," Katara told him. "I know Aang probably thinks the same way, and would tell you as such.
"Already did," the Avatar pointed out with a chuckle.
"I thank you guys for your confidence in this," Zuko said. "Enjoy the rest of your night...I'll see you both tomorrow for the signing of the compromise. Take care...sleep well."
"Thank you," Aang and Katara each said. They then bowed to their friend, and soon, they made their way to their respective homes. Zuko was staying at a Fire Nation embassy, while Katara and Aang were in their old apartment from their previous visits to the capital.