Disclaimer: I don't own avatar or the characters...unfortunately. And I'm not making any money off this…obviously.
Fire Lord Zuko sat on his favorite bench near the turtleduck pond, in his favorite garden, contemplating, as dusk began to settle throughout the land. Though his golden eyes intensely watched his three children play in the water and the flowers, his thoughts were a thousand miles elsewhere and many years in the past. The casual observer would never have known that though his posture reflected awareness in reality his clever mind was replaying memories of an adventure he'd never forget.
As the gentle breeze ruffled the topknot of his hair and finery of his clothes, Zuko portrayed the picture of royalty from the golden fire emblem nestled on his black hair to the shine of his leather boots. Yet, he found himself missing the days of sleeping in the dirt, bathing in wild streams, foraging for food and living the life of a peasant.
Normally, he did not feel this way. After all, he had achieved all he had ever dreamed. He was Fire Lord. He had a finely bred noblewoman as a wife and three beautiful prodigies that called him Father. There was peace in the world that he had helped create. Life was stable.
But on days when the breeze was willful, and at the time when Agni and Yue shared the sky, he wished his life different and he replaced, in his mind's eye, his pale fire nation wife with a beautiful blue-eyed water tribe girl. His thoughts drifted from memory to memory, character to character, and he couldn't help but let a small smile play on his lips as he remembered them each as their own and as their place in the tight knit group.
It'd been so long since he had thought of them as labels - the beautiful waterbender, the powerful airbender, the blind earth girl, the brave warrior – instead of the people he knew them as; Katara, Aang, Toph and Sokka.
A sharp pain raced through him as he thought of that last individual and it was so powerful, he closed his eyes against it.
Despite their initial differences, Sokka had become his friend, his brother in everything but birth. They had stood side by side on the day of the black sun and he remembered the feeling of camaraderie they had shared. Sokka had slapped his shoulder and given him a wide goofy grin before the battle commenced, boomerang in hand, bounce in his step.
Zuko would never forget that day, that moment. He would never forget the vision of Sokka on the ground, covered in his own blood, taking his dying breaths. He'd never forget trying to keep the sticky substance inside Sokka's body with his own two hands while it oozed between his fingers despite his efforts. He'd never forget the picture of Toph barreling across the battle field, destroying everything in her path in her attempt to get to the fallen water tribe warrior.
"Take care of them," were Sokka's last words, his fading eyes staring into Zuko's as his life blood left him. Zuko could only nod, the sadness constricting his throat, as Sokka departed the living world.
To this day, he could feel the blood on his hands, could hear Toph's anguished wail, and could see Katara's shattered look when he had delivered the news.
Sokka was buried in the North Pole, next to the pond that held his beloved Yue.
Zuko finally opened his eyes to look toward the moon spirit but stopped short when he found his oldest child watching him.
"Father, what has made you sad?" he asked his voice full of concern.
Another time, Zuko had been asked this question. He had awoken from a vivid dream, shaking. The memory of Sokka's death so thick it was a second skin. His dutiful wife had asked the same question as he hid his watering eyes from her.
He had never answered. That was his pain to bear. Instead, he'd left the room and stalked the hallways of his palace until the dawn.
But this time, it was asked with the grace and innocence of a child. His child.
"I was thinking of your namesake."
His son settled himself at Zuko's feet, his golden eyes wide. His father never spoke of this man before. His father hardly spoke of anything concerning his time before becoming the Fire Lord, ever.
"Who was he?" he asked, tentatively. By now his sister and brother were also seated at their father's feet.
"A friend," Zuko replied simply.
Friend did not do justice to the bond he had formed with any of them. But it would have to do. He would never be able to explain to his children, or his wife, the deep connection they all had for each other. That the people he had once hunted became more of a family to him than his own father.
"What happened to him, Father?"
"He died in the Battle of Sozin."
His son's head drooped and he whispered a quiet, 'oh.' Zuko reached out and patted the boy's head fondly; something his father had never done for him. It buoyed the boy's spirit and inquisitiveness.
"Were you there, Father?"
Zuko had never spoken to his children about that battle. That fateful day when Aang defeated Azula and Ozai, the day Iroh became Fire Lord, the day a cry of joy was heard throughout the nations, the day their grand adventure was over.
The day the remnants of their family scattered to the four winds.
Toph went back to the Earth Kingdom and became a master earthbending teacher. Her techniques becoming legend. Of them all, she was the one that Zuko kept the most in touch with. She wrote to him often of events in her area and had made many trips to the Palace.
She had never married and Zuko wondered if that part of her life had died with Sokka on the battlefield.
Aang traveled constantly disappearing for years on end only to resurface in an obscure part of the world later. The fight with Ozai had aged him beyond his years and the fun-loving boy had become a weary, withdrawn man. He was the last airbender, his people decimated. He was the last Avatar, the cycle broken.
Then there was Katara. Zuko felt another pang course through him but it was much different than the pain Sokka's death caused. His heart ached as he thought of the lovely waterbender.
Despite his pleadings for her to stay in the Fire Nation, to be his wife, his friend forever, she went back to the South Pole. The war had taken her mother, her brother and had almost taken her father and he would've been an ever present reminder.
The necklace she rejected still sat in a pristine wooden box, hidden away in his room. He longed for the day she'd write to him or visit him, but he hadn't heard a word from her since the morning she boarded a boat, broken and drained, and left his shores.
She didn't know that his heart had gone with her.
Somehow, he had pressed on. After Iroh had become feeble, Zuko ascended the throne. He followed his Uncle's example and promoted peace over war, understanding over conflict and tea over everything else.
For all the sadness, for all the pain, the time he had spent with them, with his true family was the happiest he'd ever known. Maybe it was time to let the aftermath go and only remember them as they were and not who they became.
"Could you tell us about the battle, Father?" his son, Sokka, asked, curiousness outweighing the fear of his father's possible reply.
By that time, Agni had retired and only Yue lit the sky. The firebugs danced around them in the night. He lit the torches around the lake with his fingers, the flames dancing on the water, pulled his daughter into his lap and leaned forward to his sons as if imparting some great secret.
"Actually, the beginnings of that battle start two years before. I was on a boat in the middle of the South Pole and I saw a light…"
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