Thinking Out Loud @jacqstoned
The Future

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender.

CHAPTER 36: The Future

Zuko had been to rehearsal dinners before, but it had always been with Mai or his family— it was always ceremonious and dull, and he'd learned that parties with Mai meant standing off to the side, drinking in silence with the occasional snarky comment about the bride and groom and their families, while parties with his family meant showboating and projecting the most perfect image so his father could get business deals from anyone he talked to.

Sokka and Suki's rehearsal dinner, however, is less about the ceremony and more about the socialization, and Zuko could barely keep count of all the people who have talked to him in the past hour— Kanna seemed intent on feeding him every appetizer that had been put out for the guests, despite Pakku grumbling and scoffing over her shoulder; Suki's college friends were, much to his bewilderment, needling him for details about his love life, to which he replied, flustered, that he was taken, and a girl named Jia actually squealed in delight. Hakoda's friend, Bato, had rescued him from that conversation, clapping him hard on the back and handing him a tall frosty glass of moonshine with a large grin. It was after three tumblers of moonshine with Bato that he found himself talking about wedding planning to Sokka and Suki's captain and officiant, Piandao, and when he rightfully assumed the tasteful design of the venue was not Sokka's doing, Zuko tipsily blathered on without thinking, yes, my girlfriend, the maid of honor, she did all this, isn't it great, she's so amazing, isn't she? before Piandao smiled and handed him a bottle of water and told him to sit down at the nearest table.

And that's how Katara finds him, head in his hands and seriously contemplating all the decisions he made in his life that led him to this moment.

"Hey there, Mr. Broody-Two-Shoes," she greets, sitting beside him and nudging her shoulder against his. "Had a little too much fun with Bato, huh?"

"I know I said it before, but this time I mean it— I'm never drinking again," groans Zuko, slumping on the table. Katara laughs and cards her fingers through his hair.

"Oh, c'mon, it wasn't that bad. It was kinda embarrassing when Piandao told me what you said, but it was also very adorable."

"I don't wanna be adorable," mutters Zuko petulantly, his voice muffled by the tablecloth.

"A little too late for that," Katara teases, poking him on the cheek. He huffs and turns his head away with a whine, earning a giggle from her. "See? You're earning more adorable points right there."

He sits up then and buries his face on the crook of her neck.

"You smell like the ocean," he mumbles, the world outside the two of them still a blurry mess in his eyes, what with moonshine still running through his veins.

Katara snorts.

"Are you telling me I smell fishy?"

"No, no! That's not what I—"

"I'm just teasing. Sokka and I had a little heart-to-heart by the beach before the party started," she sighs wistfully. "He wishes Mom were here, too. He feels a little selfish for feeling so happy when Mom's not here to celebrate with us. I kinda feel the same way, to be perfectly honest."

Zuko frowns against her skin.

"It's not selfish," he says. "I think your mom would be happy to see you guys happy."

Katara hums in agreement.

"I think so, too. But we always feel this way during milestones, like graduations and stuff. It's always a little bit hard."

"I get that. I don't think it'll get easier. But at least you've got each other. And your dad and Kanna."

"I know." She plants a kiss on top of his head and leans against him. "Thanks, Zuko."

Zuko sighs and he feels her shiver.

"I missed you," he murmurs. "But you shouldn't be here, taking care of me."

"Don't tell me what I can or can't do," quips Katara lightly, entwining her fingers with his. "Besides, I missed you, too. I'd take getting drunk with you over wrangling guests anytime. Plus, Dad's girlfriend is being really pushy about bonding. It's so annoying."

"I should've helped you with that," replies Zuko, nuzzling the bare skin of her shoulder. "Beats having weird conversations with Suki's friends."

"Yeah, I saw that. I'm quite familiar with how Jia corners people," huffs Katara, patting his cheek with her free hand. "Add her to the list of people who already know about us."

Zuko grumbles at that and sneaks his arms around her waist. She doesn't put up a fight and she snuggles even closer.

"I think everyone knows about us at this point," observes Zuko, playing with the ends of her hair. He feels more than hears her chuckle.

"To be honest, I'm way beyond caring. Although," Katara pauses, adjusting his tie and smoothing out the wrinkles in his suit. Her hands linger on his chest, fingers tracing patterns lightly on the fabric. "Ty Lee called about ten minutes ago. They're running late, but they're on their way."

"Can't deal with Toph right now," complains Zuko.

"Well, I don't want to deal with her alone, so you better come with me or I'll drag you kicking and screaming."

He huffs amusedly and tightens his hold on her.

"I'll always come with you."

"Don't make promises you can't keep, Zuko," laughs Katara, shoving him lightly before reaching across the table and grabbing a tall glass of water. "Now, let's get you sobered up before they get here and Toph gets everyone drunk."

"If she and Bato work together, I'd have no chance of coming out of this party alive."

"Oh, they're drinking buddies, alright," says Katara as he disentangles himself from her and gulps down the water. "And you better watch out for her and Gran-Gran, too. Those two gossip like pig-hens."

Zuko groans into his glass just as the restaurant's doors swing open and Toph and Ty Lee walk in hand in hand.

"Ya girls are here! Bring on the moonshine and Kyoshi Island iced tea!" Toph roars over the music and conversation, and the reactions are instant— Aang gasps in delight from the dancefloor and almost flies over to the entrance to tackle the two girls in a hug; Sokka and Suki race each other to add themselves into the group hug; Hakoda's laugh booms as he and his mother stride over, both of them ruffling the blind girl's hair as they ask after her family visit; and Katara grins at Zuko and drags him up and away from the table to greet their friends.

They come up to them just as the group hug is ending. Aang is yammering away about his visit to the local museum earlier in the day, and Ty Lee is listening with wide eyes filled with fascination, but her girlfriend just rolls her eyes and punches Aang on the hip to shut him up.

Ty Lee must have dressed Toph again— or, at least, compromised with her, considering how she was wearing a blazer over an uncharacteristically snug silk tube top tucked into a slightly upgraded version of what she considers her 'formal' high-waisted, floor-grazing loose trousers. Katara suspects she is barefoot underneath.

Her girlfriend, meanwhile, is sporting a lacey, embroidered, flouncy pink cocktail dress. It oddly reminds Katara of cotton candy.

"Hey, you guys!" greets Aang, his animosity with her and Zuko the night before seemingly already gone, "Toph says Aunt Poppy was okay with her and Ty Lee!"

"I can speak for myself, Twinkletoes, sheesh," gripes Toph, before grinning in Katara and Zuko's general direction. Katara senses a hint of pride in her voice when she announces, "I'm officially out! Gay and proud!"

"I'm so happy for you," she says sincerely, just as Zuko says, "That's wonderful, Toph."

Toph's grin slides into something more sinister, and there is a glint in her eye that Katara doesn't like at all. Her heart freezes in her throat— she doesn't want Tooh to gloat about her and Zuko getting together, not now, especially when her father and grandmother are standing at the fringes of their little group—

"Is Sparky already drunk?"

Katara lets out a breath she didn't know she was holding.

Sokka snickers.

"Buddy couldn't handle his moonshine," he laughs, and Zuko sputters, his face flushed from both embarrassment and inebriation.

"It snuck up on me!" He exclaims, and the rest of the group tries to hide their laughter, even Hakoda and Kanna. Zuko crosses his arms and scowls at Sokka. "Whatever. You still cried when you got drunk on Cactus Juice."

"Snoozles cries all the time, even when he's not drunk," comments Toph with a shrug. "But you barely get drunk. What the hell did we miss?"

"Bato really wanted to get to know him," Hakoda answers with a snigger that sounds remarkably like Sokka's. Katara's jaw drops and she swings around to scold her father, but Toph's cackling interrupts her.

"Gettin' to know the family, huh, Sparky?"

Zuko blushes even more as Hakoda claps his back good-naturedly.

"He's been a real good sport about it," Hakoda says. "About time you added a new person to your gang. Your Gran-Gran's really pleased she's got another skinny kid to spoil."

"Well, you cannot drink on an empty stomach," tsks Kanna. "Besides, seal jerky goes wonderfully with moonshine."

"Right you are, Gran-Gran!" exclaims Sokka. "What're we all standing around for? Let's go get seal jerky and moonshine!"

"Maybe no more moonshine for Zuko, though," adds Suki with a smirk as she leads everyone to the small space cleared out in the middle of the restaurant as a makeshift dance floor.

Katara turns around when she realizes Zuko is hanging back.

"I don't dance," he immediately declares before she could say anything. "Not even when I'm drunk."

"Oh, come on, Zuko," Katara pouts and reaches for his hands, tugging him forward. "I bet I can get you to dance."

"I'm sure you can," agrees Zuko, before smirking. "But I bet you can't do it without anyone getting suspicious."

Katara returns his smirk.

"Is that a challenge?"

Zuko's smirk widens.

"It's more of a warning, really."

"Oh, really?" answers Katara. "We'll see about that."

She laughs and drags him into the circle that their friends have formed, jumping and swinging him around until the mortified look on his face finally melts into a wide smile. Sokka starts up a chant— "Zuko! Zuko! Zuko!"— and he laughs and twirls Katara round and round until her delighted giggles are all he could hear.

"Will ya look at that, tough guy's dancing!"

Sokka's cheers die out and the entire group looks around to see Chan and Ruon Jian snickering and ambling by, clearly drunk yet still on their way to the bar.

"Looks like he already got a piece of that bossy girl you were eyeing," Ruon Jian tells Chan with a snort, his voice carrying. "Must be that ugly scar, man."

Both Sokka and Zuko take a step forward, their fists clenched. Suki immediately stands in front of Sokka and Katara sets a restraining hand on Zuko's arm.

"What the fuck," mutters Toph. "And they're also harassing Ty Lee at work. That's it. We gotta show them what's what."

"I agree," Aang says, "But maybe we shouldn't cause a scene by beating them up or anything. I mean, they're still your wedding guests, right, Sokka? Suki? And you'd have to see them everyday at work."

Suki exhales sharply and looks at Sokka with a raised eyebrow and a pointed look. He sighs and shakes his head before looking at Katara, then at Ty Lee.

"They've crossed so many lines and I kept making excuses for them because they were my friends," Sokka says, eyes tight. "I won't take any more of their crap. They're disgusting and it's about time I stopped going along with all the shit they say."

"Thank you. But I think it's best if I handle it. As disgusting as they are, they won't get into a fist fight with me because I'm a girl," Suki scoffs disapprovingly and rolls her eyes. "You talk to Captain Piandao, explain the situation. Maybe he'll give them desk duty and we won't have to deal with them on the field."

Sokka nods and strides off. Suki sighs and looks sadly at Ty Lee.

"Sorry it took us so long to stand up to them. I know how they talk about you, and I still let it happen for years just because Sokka considered them as his friends."

"Don't worry about me. I've been called plenty of things my whole life, but those words don't matter to me," Ty Lee responds, flashing an impish grin. "I'm pretty strong, you know. In fact—"

She grabs two glasses of Kyoshi Island iced tea from a nearby table and flounces to where Chan and Ruon Jian are talking and leaning heavily against the bar. She nods at Suki to follow her, which the other girl does after exchanging concerned looks with the others.

"Can't believe Ty Lee's into girls," they hear Chan whine as they approach. "Dunno if that makes her hotter or not."

"You see two lesbos, I see a threesome," laughs Ruon Jian.

Ty Lee clears her throat behind them.

"Hey boys," she says, smiling sweetly and holding up the Kyoshi Island iced teas, "Toph and I wanted you guys to have these."

Chan's eyes gleam and Ruon Jian reaches for one of the glasses, but Ty Lee pulls back.

"Hold on a sec, grabby-grabby," she says, still smiling. "We have a very specific idea on how I would give them to you."

Chan and Ruon Jian exchange a look before Chan speaks.

"What do—"

Ty Lee swiftly pours the drinks over their heads.

"What the fuck—"

"This suit costs a month's worth of salary!"

She just smirks at them and sets down the glasses on their table, dusting her hands off.

"Well, this was one of the best wedding gifts ever," comments Suki in a mixture of awe and amusement.

She turns to Chan and Ruon Jian, who are both still complaining about how sticky the cocktail is.

"Thank you for participating," she says dryly. "Feel free to pack up and leave— we'd rather have only two guys on Sokka's side tomorrow than have you turn our wedding into a meat market. Good night!"

She tucks her hand into the crook of Ty Lee's arm and they walk back to the rest of the gang, giggling.

"Damn!" comments Toph, who seems to have gotten the blow-by-blow details from Katara and Aang, "Babe, that was the hottest thing you ever did. Ever."

"Oh, I hope not," Ty Lee giggles and envelops Toph in a hug. "There was still that thing I did on Valentine's Day—"

"Let's go dance!" interjects Aang with a forced smile. The group laughs at his discomfort but obliges, dancing late into the night.

Zuko wakes up early the next morning to a mouthful of brown hair and his arms full of Katara. He blinks and wonders for a moment if his mind had conjured another dream of the two of them in bed together, but no— he huffs and blows Katara's hair from his face, and when he tries to move he realizes she had drooled slightly on him while they were sleeping.

Zuko couldn't help it— he laughs. It's a quiet, rough sound, choked with amusement and disbelief and a pure, unadulterated rush of affection. He's pretty sure he's never heard himself make the sound before.

He trails his fingers down the smooth slope of her back and up her sides, lightly skimming her arm that is draped across his chest, before making his way to her shoulder and up her neck. She groans and snuggles closer against him, slinging her leg over his.

He laughs again and kisses the top of her head.

"Hey," he murmurs, "We should probably get up. There's a lot to do today."

She doesn't respond, but a tiny wrinkle appears between her brows. Zuko smiles and tries again, this time nuzzling the crook of her neck and lightly nibbling the soft skin just below her ear.

Katara shivers and lets out a small moan before she finally opens her eyes blearily and pouts at him with clear reproach. Zuko chuckles.

"What, do you want me to wake you up a different way?" He asks, not bothering to hide the stupid grin on his face.

He knows his luck won't let him wake up like this with her every morning for the rest of his life, but he'll take every chance he can get.

Katara harrumphs and buries her face against his chest.

"I'd prefer not to be woken up altogether," she mumbles, burrowing even closer. "Ugh. Morning people are the worst."

"Are you always this cranky in the morning?"

"Shut up," grumbles Katara. "Go to sleep."

"I can't. I'm already wide awake."

"Then let me sleep."

"You're awake enough to be bossy," comments Zuko amusedly, lightly tugging the ends of her hair.

"Five more minutes," whines Katara, smacking him blindly on the bicep.

"We could use those five minutes to do something better," teases Zuko, but she is not swayed— she just mumbles something almost unintelligible about getting more satisfaction from sleeping before her breathing evens out.

"You know I'm stuck here until you actually wake up, right?" he tells her uselessly. "Suki will probably drop by in a few minutes. Who knows what would happen if she finds us like this."

It takes a couple of seconds before she replies.

"Issokay. You... take care of it," she mumbles. "Y'know martial arts. You could... take her."

"Uh huh." He smooths his hand over her hair. "And what if Toph and Ty Lee come along?"

"We run," she mutters, eyes still closed. "Live on Ember Island. Sleep in everyday."

"Hmmm. That does sound nice."

"I know." She yawns hugely and blinks owlishly up at him before pushing herself up on her elbow. "But you're right. Gotta face reality."

"Yeah," agrees Zuko, cradling her cheek in his hand and pulling her down for a kiss. He could feel her smile against his lips before she pulls away.

"Mm. You know, I'm really regretting not using those extra five minutes to do something else," she tells him, and he chuckles as his hands find her hips.

"I think there's still enough time to pretend we're in Ember Island where no one could interrupt us."

Katara giggles and runs her hands down his torso.

"Oh, I would love that very much."

The wedding venue is golden.

The sun is nearing the horizon as music swells, awashing the guests as they stand up and turn to watch Suki walk down the aisle, looking positively radiant in her high-necked, elaborately embroidered long-sleeved ivory dress, flanked by her mother and father.

Beside Aang and Zuko, Sokka is openly weeping with a tremulous smile on his face. He had long since abandoned any pretext of wiping away his tears, and when Suki reaches the wooden arch under which they would get married, she smiles and thumbs away some of his tears, which makes him laugh.

The sun sets as the ceremony begins, the paper lanterns swinging above them flickering to life as Sokka and Suki say their vows.

Suki starts with a wry smile on her face.

"Sokka, when I first met you, you were playing video games on the library's computer and you challenged me to a game, thinking I couldn't beat you. I thought to myself, 'This idiot isn't gonna last in the academy,'" The crowd titters and Sokka chuckles good-naturedly. Suki bites her lip and smiles. "I didn't know back then that that very same idiot I used to complain about would end up being my partner in more ways than one.

"With every case we worked on together I saw more and more how intelligent, creative, and funny you were, and before I realized it I was looking forward to going to the precinct, even just to do paperwork, if it meant I got to see you everyday. You make each day an adventure, and I can't wait to spend every adventure with you, whether it's catching bad guys, or cooking dinner, or playing video games, just like the old times.

"I promise to always laugh at your jokes, even if they're not that good. I promise I'll always pretend that I don't see you stealing half my snacks, even if you whisper 'sneak attack' every time you do it. I promise to always have your back, no matter what life throws at us, for better or for worse. I promise to always love you, even when we're old and wrinkly and surrounded by a horde of grandkids who are as smart and funny and wonderful as you are. But most of all, I promise you'll always be my partner, my best friend, and the love of my life."

Suki's eyes shine as she smiles tenderly and hands the microphone to Sokka, who exhales shakily.

"I wrote something, but it's a big mess, like me," starts Sokka sheepishly, hiccupping slightly and wiping at his eyes. The guests laugh. "It's long and repetitive, but ultimately, all I wanna say is that I promise I'll be there for you in good times and in bad, to celebrate you and with you when you get good news, to comfort you and let you rant when you get bad news.

"I promise to give you half my seal jerky if you really want them, and let you hog the blankets 'cause you get really cold, and cook you dinner every other day for the rest of our lives. I promise to be the very best version of myself for you, because you are the very best girl in the world, and you deserve nothing less.

"Being your partner is the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I will love you forever and ever, and maybe even a little bit after that."

Aang sniffles beside Zuko, and he also clears his throat and tries to blink away the tears smarting the corners of his eyes. He glances at Katara across him and catches her bright eyes and even brighter smile.

I love you, she mouths, and just as he mouths the words back...

Someday, he finds himself thinking. Someday we'll have this, too.

A/N: Hey, y'all. It's been a bad couple of months for me and my family. I lost my favorite aunt, my own version of Uncle Iroh, three months back, after she fell into a coma for two weeks. And just a month ago, my father received his cancer diagnosis and the doctors say he has a life expectancy of three years. The treatment is harsh on his body because of his advanced age. Sometimes writing and making fanart is an escape for me, but sometimes it just can't drown out reality. Anyway, just a life update. Hope you guys are well.

Anonymous reviews have been disabled. Login to review. 1. First Impressions 600 0 0 2. Second Impressions 568 0 0 3. Scarface 714 0 0 4. Toph Luck 1255 0 0 5. Tough Love 1418 0 0 6. Tea Time 1093 0 0 7. Spa Day 1389 0 0 8. Date Night 1885 0 0 9. Game Night 2680 0 0 10. Casual Dating 2327 0 0 11. Casual Friendship 1099 0 0 12. Pride 1848 0 0 13. Prejudice 1525 0 0 14. Breaks 1819 0 0 15. Beach Bums, Part 1 1962 0 0 16. Beach Bums, Part 2 3173 0 0 17. Beach Bums, Part 3 1970 0 0 18. Ex and Whys 2706 0 0 19. Open Book 3403 0 0 20. Open Eyes 1901 0 0 21. Open Bar 5281 0 0 22. Closed Mind 2536 0 0 23. Closed Doors 3661 0 0 24. Bitter Work 5530 0 0 25. Save the Date 4694 0 0 26. Color Schemes 3621 0 0 27. Cake Tasting 4097 0 0 28. Fittings 6798 0 0 29. Party Planning 4527 0 0 30. Flu Season, Part 1 5379 0 0 31. Flu Season, Part 2 6825 0 0 32. Flu Season, Part 3 5352 0 0 33. Cactus Juice 6109 0 0 34. I Do 8191 0 0 35. I Don't 3356 0 0 36. The Future 3798 0 0 37. The Past 8838 0 0 38. A New Chapter 3284 0 0 39. EPILOGUE: Lasting Impressions 324 0 0