I walked along the path of the complex, carrying my bundle of joy who was soundly sleeping, while holding a bouquet of pink roses. Those were her favorite flowers. Of my wife's, I meant.
It was a cool Spring morning. Thank God the weather was very nice today, since it has been rainy for the past week. The sun was shining brightly, small clouds hung in the sky and a calm fresh wind was blowing from the south. It was as if she had asked the La to be especially nice today, since it was a special day for her, and I would be visiting.
I chuckled at my own ridicule. Frequently hanging around a year-old toddler did increase my imagination. I have been reading too many picture books for Kya, my daughter. Not that I minded though, after all Kya was the picture of her.
The Royal Cemetery was quiet. 'I guess nobody comes at this early hour.' I thought.
I continued rolling the stroller until I arrived at her grave. It still looked like the last time I paid a visit.
Fire Lady Katara, it says on the gravestone. Yes, this was her final resting place, and today was her death anniversary.
She passed away exactly a year ago, after giving birth to our first child. The physicians had said that she had a weak womb. And if she insisted in giving birth, it could cause complications, and her life would be risked. But she insisted in keeping the baby, knowing the consequences, and despite my attempts to change her mind.
"This baby is the gift God has given us, Zuko. It is a blessing in itself that I'm allowed to carry it," she said with a determined tone as we just arrived home from the check-up.
"But Tara, it will endanger your life!" I debated.
"I don't care," she insisted. "I still want to carry it!"
"But I do care!" I practically shouted at her.
I saw her shocked reaction and felt guilty for having raised my voice. I reached my hands out and pulled her into a tight embrace.
"Sorry, Tara," I said softly. "It's just that... It's just that, I don't want to lose you. I can't lose you."
By then I felt miserable and helpless, noticing that tears were slowly starting to roll down my cheeks. Katara noticed it too. She looked up, then raised her hands to cup my cheeks, rubbing the tears away.
"You know I love you more than anyone in this world, right, Zuko?" she asked with a smile.
Her question brought a smile to my face. I grabbed her hand and kissed its knuckles.
"Of course I know. You wouldn't have married me if you didn't," I answered.
She laughed softly, then pulled my hand to the living room. She sat on the sofa and motioned me to sit beside her. I obliged. I wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and she leaned her head on my shoulder.
"I'm happy, Zuko," she said softly, while looking downwards.
I followed her gaze and saw her caressing her tummy gently. I felt my heart swelling with so much love and pride that I was afraid it would burst. It is my child growing inside her, I thought proudly.
But I was also afraid of losing her. When the doctors announced the check-up result, I thought I heard a thunder resounding in my head and my knees went instantly weak.
"We're afraid keeping the baby wouldn't be good for your health, Fire Lady Katara. We'd suggest you to abort it soon, now that it's still young," the head physician had said.
But upon hearing the doctor's words, she let go of my hand and stood up, only to answer with a determined tone.
"No. I will have it," she had answered.
Meanwhile, I was still having a hard time to digest the whole situation and only sat there watching and listening in awe.
"Zuko, what you are thinking about?" Katara asked, snapping my thoughts away.
I encircled my arm around her petite body and leaned my cheek on her head. She was the love of my life. She was like the sun to me, giving me warmth and always shining to guide me through my life.
"I'm confused," I confessed. "I'm obviously very happy and proud that I'm going to be a father but..." I paused. "Thinking that I might lose you in exchange is scaring me like hell."
"I really don't want to imagine living the rest of my life without you, Tara. Please don't make me..." I added in a desperate tone. I was really getting desperate and scared.
It seemed to me it had not been that long that Katara had taken the courage to confess to me. I had always been chasing her away, convinced it was the Avatar she was in love with, but she came back to me each and every time. And when I heard her confession that day, I simply stood there dumbly, so awestruck that I didn't know what to do nor say. I only realized it was real when she grabbed me for a passionate kiss. I realized it had been me all along.
We were together for almost five years until I decided to ask her hand in marriage, which she happily and excitedly accepted.
We got married a year after the engagement, and now it has been almost two years since that happy day.
"Actually... I'm scared too," Katara answered my worries in a low tone. She still had her hands on her tummy.
Katara looked up to meet my gaze. I saw a mixture of emotions in her eyes. Affection, confusion, pride, fear, but most of all, happiness. Despite her fear, she was actually glowing with so much happiness of being a soon-to-be mother.
"But, Zuko," she continued, smiling now. "I've made up my mind. I'll deliver a beautiful and healthy baby for our sakes. For your sake. I'll do my best to fulfill this duty, Zuko"
I swallowed hard. How could she be so sure? It was her dear life she was risking.
"But the physicians said-" I tried to debate her, but before I could finish my sentence her index finger was already on my lips.
"What the physicians said might be true, but the labor itself is a battle of life and death. Everything can happen," she tried to assure me.
I saw unmovable determination in her eyes and gave in to her persistence. She really was the Katara I fell in love with, and the Fire Lady Katara that I vowed to love for the rest of my life.
I tightened my embrace on her, and she hugged me back.
"Promise me you'll be alright" I whispered.
She nodded. "I promise."
The first two trimesters of her pregnancy passed by normally. She still helped with my work and remained a good and healthy wife to me.
As she entered her third trimester, her health gradually dropped. She started having fever, nausea, and her blood pressure constantly dropped.
"The complications are starting to show," the physician told me. I had brought Katara to the emergency station that day after she fainted in the bathroom. She was already in her eighth month of pregnancy at the time.
"Is there any way to prevent, Doctor?" I desperately asked. I already feared for the worst.
The physician shook his head. "I'm afraid there isn't, My Lord. This is the risk your wife decided to take and there's nothing else we can do now. I'll only encourage her to continue taking the vitamins I prescribed. And please, she should stay away from any kind of stress."
"Yes. She has started taking her maternity leave a week ago. And her sister-in-law is staying with us now to keep her company" I explained, exhausted.
I was really exhausted. And scared. I haven't been able to sleep well the last weeks. I was constantly awakened when she stirred in her sleep, worrying something might happen. Sometimes I even spent hours, watching her in her sleep, caressing her hair and face, rubbing her bulging tummy, listening to the little one kick inside her. I was afraid she might not wake up the next morning.
I didn't know if I was just too scared or being paranoid. I felt it had drained most of my energy, but I didn't care. I just didn't want to lose my Katara.
"Zuko, you don't look well," said my Suki when she saw me coming back.
"I'm alright, Suki. It's Tara we have to keep an eye on," I answered.
And then, the feared happened. One morning, her water broke and she fainted. I brought her to the hospital as fast as I could, and stayed at her bedside the whole time holding her hand. She didn't wake up at all until she was sent to the labor room.
I had insisted in coming inside to stay by her side, but the doctors said it'd be better for me to stay outside and wait. And so I waited impatiently outside the room with my parents and in-laws. My brother and sister joined us later. And so did our friends.
I trembled the whole time I was waiting. I'd never been so scared in my whole life. My mind was a mess. I prayed non-stop for my wife to recover. Her smiling face popped constantly inside my head, and the thought that I might not see that smile again was driving me crazy.
I was pacing ceaselessly when the light above the door went off and the doctor came out. I instantly stormed to him to inquire any news he might have.
"Congratulations, My Lord. We delivered a healthy baby girl," he said patting my shoulder.
I was overjoyed for a moment. So were the others, who were hugging each other and patting my shoulders. "I'm a father!" I screamed in my mind.
"As for your wife..." the doctor continued, but hung his words.
The room went suddenly still. My heart almost stopped at the change of tone.
"What about my wife, doctor?" I inquired, grabbing his arms. "How is Katara doing? I need to know!"
The doctor shook his head, to everybody's dismay.
"Is... she..." I asked in my shock. My vision was slowly blurring and my head began to spin.
"She still lives, My Lord. However, she's in coma and very weak. We've done everything we could, but don't know if she'll ever wake up. We need you to prepare for the worst..." he explained cautiously.
I slumped into the chair behind me. She might not wake up anymore. "Tara! My Katara!" I screamed her name over and over again in my head while covering my face with my trembling hands. My life was shattered. What would everything mean to me if she wasn't by my side?
I let tears fall freely to my face. I was in despair.
I felt someone sat beside me and squeezed my shoulder to give me courage. "Whoever you are, thank you for your attention. But I can't think now," I said in my mind. I didn't care that the person didn't hear. I was only thinking of Katara.
"Think about your newborn child, Zuko. You have to live for her," said the voice beside me. It was a male one.
I slowly turned my head to the direction of the voice, and saw it was Avatar Aang. My good friend and my ex-rival. Although still composed, worry was clearly written on his face. He was still squeezing my shoulder in encouragement.
And a sudden hit of realization hit me. "He was right! I'm a father now. I have my child I need to take care of," I thought.
I forced a smile of gratitude to him, and he nodded in response.
Later, I visited Katara in her room. My heart ached at the sight of her. She looked so... weak. She was hanging her life on all the cables, and machines slowly beeping around her.
I sat beside her bed and grabbed her hand with both of mine. It felt so small, so cold, so lifeless. I fought back the tears that were starting to form in my eyes again. I had to be strong for our child's sake.
"Hey, Tara," I greeted her with cracking voice. "Congratulation in becoming a mother. You did well."
"I just saw the baby. She's beautiful, and looks just like you," I continued with a chuckle. "You know, I was wondering. When she grows up to be a teenager, I might have to fight the boys off who come for her. I don't know what I'll have to do if she becomes so popular just like you were. I bet she'll have a hard time in picking the right man. Like you did. And before we know it, a man will be asking her hand in marriage."
"But Tara," my voice dropped. "I'd like to witness all that together with you. Won't you want that too?"
I kissed her knuckles softly, then held her hand to my face.
Suddenly I felt her hand move faintly. I almost jumped in surprise.
"Tara?" I called her name.
Her eyes slowly opened, but she was still staring blankly.
"Zuko?" I heard her call. It was weak, almost inaudible.
"Hang in there, Tara. I'll call the physicians." I said, then pushed the button on the wall to call them.
Some seconds later, the physicians and some nurses rushed in. They immediately started checking her, while I stood in the corner. A weird mixture of sensation between relief and worry rushed through me.
"... Baby..." I heard her whisper.
I immediately thought of the newborn, and asked the physician if we could bring her in. The physician nodded and asked one of the nurses to do so.
Few minutes later, the nurse came in rolling a baby-cart with my child in it. But before I could reach for it, the doctor grabbed my arm and pulled me outside, causing our family and friends to gather around us in surprise.
"What's wrong, doctor?" I asked perplexed.
He took a deep breath before talking. "Your wife doesn't have much time. She's suddenly too excited and won't hold it any longer," he said with a grim face.
I was taken aback. "But... but, she just woke up!"
"I know, My Lord. But it will only last a couple of minutes. She's already too weak. Her pulse and heartbeat have dropped tremendously,"
I felt all my hopes vanishing and my knees went weak. I heard my father-in-law howl and screamed Katara's name. Suki was crying, and so was Sokka. Our friends either bit their lips to contain the tears, or let them freely fall.
"I'm terribly sorry, My Lord. There is really nothing I can do anymore," the doctor continued sadly, then bowed in front of me.
I walked slowly to Katara's room, and saw her eyes closed again. My mind was blank. I couldn't believe I only had some minutes left with her.
I rolled the cart to her bedside. The baby was sleeping soundly. So tiny, so innocent.
"Tara?" I called out.
Katara opened her eyes slowly and smiled weakly as she saw me. I smiled back, although I felt chocked.
I lifted our baby gently, then sat beside her on her bed. "Wanna see her?" I asked.
She nodded slowly. So I carefully positioned the baby in her arms and helped holding her.
"Pretty," she said smiling, touching the baby's tiny features. And I saw a tear falling to her cheek. I so wanted to cry too. I wanted to tell her everything will be alright, but I just couldn't. I only watched her.
"Like a waterfall," she continued weakly. "Kya. After my mother. Please..."
"Kya? I like that name. Princess Kya then," I said proudly with a grin.
Katara raised a hand to touch my cheek. I looked at her. She was looking back at me with loving eyes.
"I love you, Zuko," she whispered weakly.
I couldn't take it anymore. I let my tear fall freely, then leaned forward to hold her. If maybe for the last time.
"I love you too, Tara. I always will," I choked.
I kissed her forehead, her cheeks, her eyes, her lips. And she weakly kissed me back. I wanted to memorize her features in my mind.
I saw her smile weakly for the last time and whispered an almost inaudible "I love you.", before finally closing her eyes for eternity. A nurse secured the baby from our arms and the doctor took her wrist to check her pulse, and he shook his head afterward. Katara was gone. Forever.
I didn't realize that everybody have entered the room and gathered around the bed. Suki passed out, out of shock and despair. The rest were clearly crying around us.
I grabbed Katara's body and held her close to me, not wanting to let her go, while calling her name over and over again between sobs.
I wiped my tears away. The memory of the last moments with my wife came rolling to my head. Everything could be seen so clearly, as if it had happened just yesterday.
I cleaned Katara's grave, put the flowers on it and knelt, praying.
Not a second had Katara left me. She's always inside my heart, in every step I made. And looking at Kya reminded me a lot of Katara. For me, she's definitely not gone.
I opened my eyes as I heard baby voice. I reached to the stroller, and saw that my child has woken up. I smiled at her.
"Kya. We're here at mama's" I said to her, then lifted her out. She laughed.
I held Kya in my arms and knelt before the gravestone again.
"Look, Tara. Kya is growing strong. She turned one today. You know, she learned to walk last month. She's practically running around the house now." I said laughing.
Suddenly a gust of wind blew against my face. It felt... weird. It was like Katara was standing there in front of me and caressing my face.
"Mama..." I heard Kya say. She was watching the gravestone attentively.
"Mama?" I thought. I've never heard her say it before. Could it be that she felt Katara's presence just now too?
I looked at the gravestone and smiled. "Did you hear that, Tara? She's happy to see you. I am, too"
After a while, I stood and sat Kya on the stroller again. Then I went to rub Katara's gravestone.
"I love you, Tara," I whispered.
As I went to the stroller, ready to go back, I turned my head toward Katara's grave again.
The wind played with my hair and then died down. "See you soon." I whispered.
Misa: How was it? If there are any wrong names, My apologies... I'm writing a lot of stories at once. So if you see Kahoko in there... I'm sorry.
Katara: I must admit that it is good...
Toph: Yeah, Feather Feet. It was good.
Misa: Geez... Toph... I gotta go...
Misa: School. If you haven't forgotten, I am 12!
Misa: We already know, Toph. Thanks
Toph: You're welcome. Review, or I'll shove an Earth Spike up your pants. (or skirts...)