Disclaimer: The Avatar series is not my property. It is owned by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The only thing that I claim to be mine is the story.
A single tear dropped to the dry parchment that was held limply in his hand. A tear that betrayed a stiff posture and stoic face of a man. His golden eyes reflecting the shadow of a boy who had grown too fast.
Crouched and obscured behind bushes and thistles was a Fire Lord sitting cross legged. His back was hunched, a little more than what his court or his people might be used to see. He abandoned his attempts at appearing strong, for aside from the family of turtleducks that swam in the pond, indifferent to his presence, he had no other spectators. No one to judge him. No expectations. He diverted his gaze back to the parchment he was still holding carefully, re-reading scribbles that was too familiar despite of time. Has it really been six years?
Five years ago, I gave birth to my son. Our son. He was the most beautiful creature I have ever laid eyes on.
He took one deep ragged breath. A son. He let the words sink in. If only anyone was to sneak up on him, they would see their Fire Lord tremble in anguish at the hurt he was forced to suppress. For all his life he never knew what it meant to give in to his pain. His father scarred him for being weak, and now he must hold on to his sanity still, for the sake of his people. Always for the sake of his people.
He is the subject of talk right after his first wails penetrated the birthing chambers. I hope I could say that he is more like me, but I couldn’t. He is the spitting image of you, Zuko, and for that, he would never truly find a place he can call home. Not here, not there.
His face was devoid of all emotions as he recalled the day when he told his court he was going to marry her. A Water Tribe peasant. How all of them showed an expression of utter horror and disbelief, for once forgetting that they might disrespect their Fire Lord by doing so, by questioning his motives. He could only imagine now their reactions if they knew he had a bastard of a son living at the South Pole. He grimaced at the thought.
His skin isn’t as pale as yours, but his eyes are of a gold shade and his hair is inky black. From the start, he weighed a lot less compared to other Water Tribe babies, and has grown to be a skinnier toddler than his chubby cousin. Even from now, I knew he inherited your agility. He will pick a stick and pretend that it’s a sword. If that’s not enough, he started fire bending a month ago. His emotions are also just as complex as yours… there are times when I don’t understand him at all. It was as if he is more your child than mine.
A fire bender, he mused. Just what will the people of the Water Tribe think? A memory flashed in his mind of the day that he had watched a ship went farther and farther into the horizon, of the crystal blue eyes that held his gaze as they slowly disappear–of the day where he stayed on the docks until twilight, realization finally hitting him that he had just let go of the only woman he was capable of loving with all of his heart. And all of that was because she has insisted that she wanted a different life for the child that she was carrying in her womb. For a baby that will always be a child of both worlds. Zuko found humor in the fact that Katara had brought with her a fire bender to the South Poles.
When he started asking for you, I didn’t know what to say. He asked why you weren’t here and tucking him into bed like Uncle Sokka did to his cousin. La knows how many lies I have told that boy. Because of that, he grew to be more mature than other boys his age, and that saddens me. But I’ve always told him that you love him, because even when you forget, Zuko, I’ve always known and remembered that you’re capable of love. Always.
He valiantly swallowed the lump that formed in his throat like tumor. A second tear rolled down his cheek and settled on his chin, not quite ready to drop to the ground.
I know I promised to write to you, and I’m sorry that it took me so long to do so. I simply wasn’t ready, and I didn’t want to make it harder on you to fulfill your promise that I know you will uphold.
The promise. How can he ever forget? He loved selfishly, and will always do so until the day he blew his last breath. It was as if it wasn’t hard enough for him to let her go, she had made him swore to her that he would try to love another as much as he had loved her. He chuckled bitterly. She was reminding him to uphold his part of the promise, the little wench.
And in return, I will also fulfill my promise. You will never be a stranger to him. The child will grow to always know his father even though he would never see him.
Take care. Send my love to Mai.
Katara and Akko.
Akko. The name of his son reverberated in the hollows of his brain that refused to digest all of the information despite having read it twice. He was beginning to accept the fact that he would never get accustomed to any of this. He stared at the still pond that was not disturbed by even a single ripple. It reflected the full moon that was emanating a soft glow, bright enough to dimly illuminate his surroundings. The people of his nation acknowledged the fact that the moon borrowed its light from the sun. That without the sun, the moon will be unbeknownst to mankind in the first place… But what he have learnt, and learnt the hard way, was that without the moon, the sun will know no beauty. And life without beauty, is hardly a life at all.
He chuckled darkly. Here he was surrounded by all her elements; the water, the moon… and she was there, in the South Pole, raising a fire bender toddler.
A snap of a twig alerted him once more to his surrounding. With a speed that only a seasoned warrior would possess, he went to a fighting stance. But he soon lowered his fist when he saw that it was only Iroh behind him.
“Uncle…” he said, bowing a little in respect towards him.
“Azula is no longer around, Zuko.” he said, a smile in his eyes.
“There’s nothing wrong with being cautious.” Zuko defended himself, sitting back down cross legged. Iroh joined him.
“But it seemed like you weren’t cautious enough. I have been standing there for the past fifteen minutes.”
Zuko couldn’t contain the scowl that flitted across his face, and Iroh chuckled. The scowl had been a habit that was established when they were still running around the world, chasing the Avatar. As they say, old habits die hard.
“It seems like your first born inherited more of the Blue Spirit than what was intended.”
His first born. Even Iroh acknowledged Akko as his true first born. He could do nothing but nod and stare back at the parchment he was still holding delicately in his hand, scared that the brittle piece would crumble into ash if he held it too tightly. That he would lose the only proof he had of their existence as he had once lost the love of his life.
“You miss her.” Iroh said, a touch of sadness in his wisdom voice.
“More than I dared hope.” Zuko said, tracing every line Katara had inked onto the parchment with the caress of a lover. The emotion that he displayed at that moment was so raw, so naked, that Iroh even had the decency to look away. It was the look of a sparrow who lost his mate.
“You know…” Zuko said slowly, still tracing the scribbles that Katara had penned down. “my father never did once told me that he loves me. I guess that’s because he didn’t, or maybe because he couldn’t. I was too weak to be his first born.”
“Zuko…” Iroh said, and his tone hinted Zuko to the words of console his uncle was about to give him.
“And I will never be able to say it to him either.” Zuko interrupted him, casting his eyes to the ground. “My true first born will never know that I love him.”
“Katara said she will tell the child.” Iroh reasoned with him.
“Katara can only do so much, uncle.” Zuko said, now looking at the full moon. “She will only be able to tell him, and for as long as he shall live, he will never hear the confirmation of it. I will never be there to really say it to my son… that I love him.”
For a moment there, all the air from his lungs were forced out by Iroh’s rib cracking hug. But he relished in the burnt feeling of his throat, and the way it thirsted for air.
“You should not deny your emotions.” Iroh said after a while, sitting back to his former position. “She, and now the baby, will always be a part of you. Your child is a child of fire, and your blood runs through him, no matter how far apart you both are. But you have done what you should, Zuko. For your people, for your nation, and I cannot be prouder with you than I already am.”
His people. His nation. Zuko swallowed the bile that is slowly rising up his esophagus. What hadn’t he sacrificed for his people? His father burnt him because he displayed weakness in front of his people. His people jeered at him when all he had was a scar and the title of a banished prince. And even after the war was over, his people were the ones that had separated him from… from water. And now he was left dehydrated, never really going to be able to quench his thirst. What hadn’t he sacrificed for this Agni forsaken nation?
“It is time. Let’s go back.” Iroh motioned towards the palace.
Zuko nodded and steeled himself. His eyes, which were his only features that betrayed him of his hurt were no longer a molten mass of golden liquid. They were stony, and cold, and powerful, like how a Fire Lord’s should be. Like pure gold. He stood up and was able to pull off his mask of indifference effortlessly through years of practice. He squared his shoulder and stride back to the palace, his secret parchment carefully folded and stashed in the pocket of his tunic. Iroh followed suit.
In silence, Zuko trudged up the palace grounds and back to his chambers where a Fire Lady will lay on his bed, a newborn babe in her arms. Little did he know, Mai understood the gravity of his situation. Underneath every shrug, every graceful curtsy, and every bored expression, was another set of pain unheard of by anyone but herself. As she retreated from the window and back to the bed, cradling her three day old son, she knew that nothing has changed. Whether it was five years ago, or today, she would still only be a Fire Lady by title. A tear slid down her eyes and into the crook of her nose, but it was immediately brushed away by slender, pale fingers. No one would ever know of her struggles. Zuko will not know that she understood more than anyone else… that she loved him with everything she has, but that she will never be the wife of his heart.
2012(c) Victoria Rahardjo please do not take without my consent.