A/N: I don't own Avatar: The Legend of Korra. I just wanted to post this long overdue take on the ending, from a different perspective.
Come Marching Home
The old man stands at the edge of the crater.
He has seen many things in his ninety years. The old man has known pain and suffering.
"You will learn respect… and suffering will be your TEACHER."
The old man has known forgiveness.
"I was never angry with you. I was sad because I thought you'd lost your way."
He has brought a century-long war to an end and managed to rule his nation with peace and kindness for the most part.
The old man has also known loss.
And now, he has a chance to have what he lost back- if only for a little while.
The old man- Zuko- smiles.
Yes. Only for a little while.
If Zuko is honest with himself, the thought of just walking into the Spirit World scares him. He remembers how Aang had to sit still for quite a long time to do it, and even then, he couldn't just do it on a whim. He had to be let in.
A memory of a much younger and stronger Zuko carrying a much younger Aang across the frozen wastes of the North Pole drifts across Zuko's memory, and he chuckles a little as he descends into the crater, approaching the column of light that separates the physical world from the spirit world. That was so long ago, now…
Uncle had been there, too. Uncle had been by Zuko's side for far longer than he had any right to. Zuko was right when he told Ozai that Iroh was more of a father to him than the Fire Lord had ever been.
"Your uncle has gotten to you, hasn't he?"
"Yes- he has."
Zuko stands before this new portal now, gathering his courage before going in. Laughter interrupts his musings, and Zuko turns. The new Avatar, a bold young woman named Korra (who has so many of Aang's little mannerisms that it hurts sometimes) and her… friend? Girlfriend? Traveling Buddy?... eh, pal- Asami Sato, are running up, looking at the portal with wonder on their faces. Zuko smiles. Ah, the joys of youth…
They don't really notice Zuko standing there until he politely clears his throat.
"Lord Zuko!" Korra jumps in surprise. "Sorry, we didn't see you there."
"It's alright," Zuko smiles reassuringly. "I'm just gathering my courage, here. I've never been to the spirit world before."
"Neither have I," Asami says. "Korra and I- we're-"
Zuko doesn't press for clarification- the way they're holding hands tells him all he needs to know. Ty Lee would have adored these two. She was always making couples of her friends.
"What brings you out here?" Korra asks.
"Well…" Zuko answers, "you told me once that you had spoken to my uncle. I was on my way to find him."
"Aww," Asami croons, "that's so sweet. I'm sure Korra can help you!"
"I might be able to," the young Avatar says thoughtfully, "I was planning on swinging by there, actually. I want to see how Asami would fare against him in Pai Sho."
"She'd lose," Zuko says immediately. "There was no one alive that could beat my uncle at the game. Although…" Zuko winks, "I could be wrong."
"Well then," Asami says simply, squeezing Korra's hand in hers, "let's go."
The first thing they see in the spirit world is a field full of sentient flowers.
"Hey, look!" one calls out. "It's the Avatar! And her friends!"
Zuko blinks in utter surprise. This was not what he was expecting. At all.
Korra, however, feels right at home, high-fiving some, laughing with others. It's all actually very Aang-esque, Zuko thinks. He'd have loved this.
Eventually, though, the trio has to move on. This suits Zuko just fine; his joints are old, and quite sore.
Not too much later, the three come around a bend, and see a little white cottage off in the distance.
"That's the place," Korra says.
"How can you tell?" Asami asks.
"The teapot on the table, for one," Korra says. "Also, the sound of a happy old man humming a tune."
Four seasons, four loo-overs
Zuko recognizes that tune. "Yeah, that's Uncle."
"You want to go first?" Asami asks.
"I… I think so," Zuko says. And slowly, he walks ahead.
An old man walks out of the cottage to set some snacks on the table- and Zuko freezes.
He hasn't aged a day.
The old man stops, look up- and Zuko knows those eyes.
Uncle Iroh freezes, now, setting down the plate of whatever pastry is on it and rushing over to embrace Zuko in a crushing hug.
"Zuko, my boy! It's you!"
"Yeah, Uncle," Zuko sniffs. He will not cry, dangit! "It's me."
"You're older than me now!" Iroh laughs.
Zuko nods. "Yeah. It's been a good life, though."
"Good, good." Iroh looks past Zuko to where Korra and Asami watch. They both are trying not to cry at such a scene.
"You brought guests! Delightful!"
Zuko smiles. "Of course." Then, he leans over and smiles mischievously. "The Avatar's girlfriend thinks she can beat you at Pai Sho."
Iroh laughs, a deep, hearty one that comes from his belly. I missed that, Zuko thinks. "Well, now!" Iroh declares, "We shall just have to see about that!"
As it turns out, no, Asami doesn't beat Iroh at Pai Sho. The first two rounds, anyway. On the third, Asami tries a new tactic. After very careful consideration, Asami reaches out a finger- and slides a tile with a familiar white flower on it.
Iroh gawks in surprise and studies the board carefully. "I see you favor the White Lotus Gambit," he observes. "Not many still cling to the ancient ways."
"Those who do," Asami smirks, "can usually find a friend."
Iroh looks at Asami with surprise, before laughing heartily again. The laughter is contagious, and Zuko swears that the area seems to get just a little bit brighter.
Yes, Zuko thinks. I needed to come here.
It is much, much later when Zuko exits the portal back into the physical world, having parted ways with Korra and Asami and bid them farewell.
Iroh had one last thing to say.
"I'm so proud of you, my son."
"Thank you, Uncle," Zuko says, simply. "I'll see you soon."
Iroh smiles, that same old, mysterious smile from a lifetime ago, and Zuko knows.
It won't be too much longer.
And somehow, Zuko can't wait.
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