Chapter 1 A Gift
There was a knock at my bedroom door, and I couldn't help wonder who could possible want me this early in the morning. The sun had just begun to rise in the east and being a fire bender I was up right away. Climbing out of the satin sheets, I pulled on a red shirt that had been laying on my floor beside my bed. It took me all of two strides from the end of my bed to reach the door. When I pulled it open, there stood the one person I did not want to see, at least not first thing in the morning. "What do you want Azula?"
"Well good morning to you too, dear brother." Azula said sarcastically with a false smile on her face. She was wearing her black trimmed red sleeping robe; her hair was pulled into one slick black ponytail. Her feet were bare and you could tell she intended on spending the day relaxing at the palace spa. "Father wants to see you in his chambers... now."
"About What?" I asked turning away from her to throw on an outer robe, father requesting an audience with me, not Azula? Something important had to have happened for this to be true.
"How am I to know brother? He just said 'make sure Zuko comes to my chambers this morning I would like to discuss something with him.'" she said in a manly voice trying to sound like our father. I could only nod, and wonder what my father could possibly want. Before she could say another word I pushed past her and walked out the door. My father's room took up the entire upper west wing of the palace. Consisting of a sitting room, his private study, rooms for his concubines, as well as his own sleeping chamber; it was a vast grand space fit only for a king. As I retreated down the hall away from my room I could hear Azula hollering after me, "Oh careful Zuzu, father might still be breaking in his new gift from me. It's been almost two weeks and I think he still hasn't tired with it." she uttered 'it' with such disguised, only confusing me further.
The black doors leading to my father's chambers were massive in size, and were adorned with elaborate gold trim. The ornate doorknobs were solid fourteen karat gold, perfect for the leader of our nation. I was no longer accustomed to such extravagance having traveled as a peasant for the past couple of months. My father lived in lavished comfort while the rest of the world went hungry. When I pushed through the doors, I glanced around the room. The space was only lit by the light of the rising sun through the curtains. This room served as a sitting room to entertain guests, and left my father's actual sleeping quarters completely private. I had to cross through this sitting room to reach the doors to the bed chamber. Those doors stood wide open, and I could easily peak in. His room is much like mine only larger and the bed is much more grand. When you enter through the door to you right stood a grand fire place, with intricate gold carvings decorating and ivory roses set into the mantle. At the foot of the fire place sat an enormous leather chair. Hanging above the fire place was an intricate painting of my father in all his Fire Lord might, his face set in a gruesome smug sneer. On the left of the room stood a vanity and make up area that is only used to put my fathers hair into place, that space would customarily serve the fire lady. Next to the grand fire place were two additional ebony doors. One lead to the royal bathroom which is a spectacle in itself and the other leads to the massive closet. The bed is the size of two king size mattresses and very plush, only the finest blood red silk sheets are permitted for this bed. It is a canopy bed with four massive black marble posts that reach up towards the ceiling, ornate carvings swirling around the posts. I began to walk towards the bed when I noticed how the sheets rose and fell as if some one were still asleep in them.
When I peer down at the sleeping figure in the bed I expected to find my father, but noticed the person was female. The woman was not one of my fathers concubines, I had the pleasure of meeting all of them at some point in my life. I was pretty familiar with his favorite ones, having witnessed them departing from his chambers many times before. This woman is beaten and burned as if sleeping with my father was some form of torturous punishment. She is completely nude, her anatomy below her shoulders completely covered by a thin silk sheet. She has tan skin and thick wavy hair that is fanned out on the bed behind her. The sheet molds to the form of her hips and petite waist, her hips aren't developed enough for her to be older than a teenager. Her wrists were chained to the post of the bed so she could not leave; bruises and welts forming just under the golden chains binding her. Her face has high cheek bones, her lips are swollen from a bruise that is forming over them. One corner of her mouth hosts a thin trail of dried blood. Her petite nose has dried blood right below one of her nostrils. Her eyes are shut tight in slumber, but one is swollen and turning an awful dark shade. The sight of this pour girl wrenches my stomach, making me want to throw up right on my fathers polished marble floors. Looking closer, I realize that I recognize this girl from somewhere. Then as if in a dream Blues eyes fill in my head, the most amazing blues eyes pop up in my mind hosting many different emotions some angry, happy, sad, and concerned. Then it hits me right in the face and I find myself choking on her name, "Katara" my voice is laced with disbelief. I felt another wrench in my gut and start to dry heave. Putting my hands in my hair, I can only imagine the shock on my face as I peer down at her small form. This could not be her, but of course it was there was no doubting that fact.
She was the girl who had offered to heal my scar and I threw it right back in her face. She openly offered me kindness and trust. I had betrayed her and fought her at my sister's side. I had allowed my sister to shoot her best friend with lightning, in order to return to this place. Everyone in the fire nation presumed that he had died at my hand, but I knew better. This girl has healing abilities she probably saved him with her special water from the north, the water she offered to me. So why is she here and not with him? How could my father and sister bring her to this place and allow this to happen to her?
Then the door to the bath room swings open revealing my father's figure, I feel stomach bile raise up in my mouth. I want to yell, hit him, do something; sure she was the enemy, but what he did to her was just wrong. He stepped into the room with only a red towel tied around his waist. Three young servant girls no older than thirteen trail after him carrying away used towels and dirty clothes, blushes on their young faces. His hair is damp and water is running slowly down his chest. I grit my teeth, holding back every thought that has flooded my mind. How could he do this? "Hello son, I did not know you were coming to visit me" He finally says when he notices my presence obviously not expecting to see me in his chambers.
"Azula said you wanted to see me" I answered trying to hide the venom in my voice. Suppressing the look of disgust from my face.
"Oh yes I wanted to show you who Azula captured and gave me as a gift." He said nodding towards Katara's sleeping form, as if she was a toy. "It appears she was the Avatar's water bending teacher as well as his girlfriend, but I am sure you are more acquainted with her than I am."
"Yes I know, her name is Katara. She is only 15 years old and already she is a master, having studied under the finest water bending master in the Northern Water tribe. She also travels with her brother and a blind earth bending master who is younger then even she." I said stating all the things I knew about her, finding it much easier to suppress my emotions if I stuck to facts. My father just nodded his head, seeming to absorb each new piece of information.
"Yes well, as you can see I have had my fill with her, she has been of great use for the past few evenings. Now I've grown tired of her, and since you know her so well what do you suppose we do with her?" He said removing the towel from his waist and grabbing his pants out of the closet. He slipped them on quickly and turns to me for a response.
"You want my opinion?" I asked turning his words over in my head looking for a catch. For once he wanted me to speak my mind, unless he was using this as a means to test me after all my time away.
"Yes my son, Azula told me how you had slain the avatar in Ba Sing Sei. Seeing how easy it was for you to choose his fate, why not choose the girl's?" I just stared at him and thought of the right thing to do. One part of me said to just kill her and spare myself a head ache later, turning my back on her in Ba Sing Sei was easy enough why not do it now? The other part of me said that she showed me kindness and forgiveness, and I was wrong not to return the favor. Then my uncles voice came in my head, 'save her, Zuko! destiny is a funny thing you don't know what could become of this.'
"Since you had your fill of the water peasant father," I began hesitantly, watching the curiosity in his face, "May I have an opportunity to have my fill with her?" I blurted out quickly before I lost my courage, wondering if maybe I should have though this one through a little more. The first part of my mind grumbled just imagining the headache this would be.
"I did not know you were into that sort of thing son" He said with a confused look on his face, testing my words. He pulled on his fire lord robes and adjusted them so they look proper. Turning to me he waited for my explanation.
"I am not, I am just curious is all, and why let something so beautiful go to waste?" I blurted out hoping it would be enough to get him off of my back, "If you no longer need her I would love to take up her off of your hands" I said plainly as if it didn't bother me either way.
"But What about Mai?" He asked confused, running his hand down his long beard.
"Oh...I am not interested in her. She has shown her affection for me, but I simply do not return the feeling ." I answered plainly and it was true, when Mai kissed me on the boat ride home I felt no spark, my body did not respond to her affections. I simply do not have feelings for her, she was always just one of Azula's friends in my eyes.
"I see" He said sitting at the vanity and as one of the servant girls stepped forward to pull his hair into a top knot and insert his golden flame of authority into place. "Well thank you for your assistance son, now I have a meeting to attend. Take her and do as you please, call her a gift; but if she is still here when I return I will simply have Azula kill her."
"Yes father, thank you" I said bowing to him as he closed the door behind him, leaving me alone in the dark with the girl he raped and abused. When I heard his retreating foot steps fade away, I went up to the bed again and look down at Katara. A single tear had escaped her eyes, but still she remained unconscious. Looking beside the bed, I found the key to her chains as well as a cup with powdered residue on the lip. My father was smart and covered his tracks with pregnancy prevention drugs, not wanting a bastard child on his hands. His public image would be tainted if word got out about the fire lord fathering a bastard child as a result of rape. When she was unshackled, I could see more burns, bruises, and cuts decorating her arms. I pulled off my outer robe and spread it out on the bed beside her. I pulled away the sheets and had to take in several calming breaths at the sight of her body that was hidden by the sheet. She was incredibly skinny; her ribs poking out, and several a harsh shade of purple. Her legs were covered in finger sized bruises where my father had wrenched her legs apart. Blood was smeared from the upper part of her thighs all the way down to her ankles. Laying out my outer robe on the bed beside her, I tried to slide her body into it without startling her or causing her any further harm. I put her arms through the short sleeves that hung low on her arms and tied the sash securely around her tiny waist. When she was fully clothed I easily lifted her up into my arms bridal style and carried her to the door.
I walked through the halls quickly and quietly trying avoided places I knew that would be crowded with people. I did not need someone seeing me carrying a half nude, beaten, and burned girl. I would not be blamed for what my father did to Katara. When I pushed through my bedroom doors finally, I laid her on the center of my bed and made sure not to jostle her too much. I went into the bathroom attached to my room and grabbed a wash towel and a big bowl of water. She did not move from where I had laid her, still locked away in slumber. I crossed the room back to her side and dipped the towel into the water. I began to clean her head, arms, and legs; wanting to clean her wounds before any infection could set it. I would not touch any where on her that was covered with my robe, not wanting to put her through any further trauma. I cleaned her wounds carefully and made sure not to hurt her any more than she already was. I started at her feet and worked my way up until I came to her face. I wiped the blood from under her nose and from the corner of her mouth. She had a gash on her forehead which I cleaned carefully, not wanting to harm her. When I turned away to get more water, I felt a hand on my arm and I turned around meeting her ocean gaze with my own. Her eyes were open, but instead of the anger and hostility I expected she just starred at me. Holding my gaze for several moments, blood began to drip from the cut on her forehead and I began to reach up to wipe it. In that instant she grabbed my wrist in a vice grip, her eyes hardening; and I waited for her to start yelling, or demanding I let her go. Instead her gaze softened and she launched her body against mine, her arms curling around my neck. Unsure, I slowly folded mine around her as her shoulders began to shudder. I allowed myself in that instant to be her comfort, even as her salty tears stained my shirt.