Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender, and at the rate my evil schemes pan out, I probably never will.
I am sorry, my nephew. I realize that you have grown to become a better man than I had once thought possible. I have long since known that you are superior to your father in every way that matters: your determination, your inner strength, and your loving heart. Yet there is still much that I cannot tell you. Now you sit on the throne of our forefathers, with the world being rebuilt before you. No- the world built by you. There are many things I should be able to tell you. There have been many times in the recent months I have told myself in the solitude of my teashop that you are ready to know. But when I face you, it all melts to a veil of impossibility. I could never willingly bring you more heartache, even if you deserve the truth. So I write you this now, that someday you may find it among my belongings when I am dead and gone. And then you will understand.
You can never know how much you mean to me, Zuko. I know I have mentioned it before, in passing. That is, how ever since I lost my son, you have become my world. The day Lu Ten died was the darkest in my life. I thought this life had nothing more for me. This is something I have never shared with anyone: I journeyed to the Spirit World, to give up life and be with my son. What I did not expect, however, was that the Spirits would show me when I arrived. The Spirits did not let me through at first, telling me there was something I needed to know before I could choose to leave. It was you they showed me, Zuko. A young boy weeping at the loss of his mother, while his father- his father who should have been the one to comfort him- stood by indifferently. That was when I knew I couldn't leave you to suffer alone. It was then I made the hardest decision I could ever have imagined. I chose to return to life, and to you. But never have I regretted this decision. I know now that Lu Ten will wait for me on the other side. It is my surrogate son who needs me now. I promised the day I returned to the palace that I would always be there for the child who so needed love and guidance.
Knowing this promise, Zuko, you can understand my pain and my regret in those times I could not help you. Whether during that fateful Agni Kai or waiting in prison, I felt I was not always there when I should have been. Those last few months before the comet I had to restrain myself from going to you, giving you advice, a warm embrace and telling you I trusted you to do the right thing. My mind understood that you needed to work it out yourself. But my heart never understood.
You know above all what shames me. You must. There is not a day goes by I do not curse having a hand in your scarring and banishment. I cannot count how many times I have wished I had never let you into that damned war council. In this way, I have always felt that I was at fault. Though there were some days that I realized you were a better person for all of your suffering. But that could not completely dissipate the guilt. I take refuge now only in the gratitude I feel that you have never once told me you blamed me. I must admit, as hard as it would have been to hear, I would have rather you had blamed me all those years rather than yourself. You are a good man, Zuko. I am sorry you had to live with undeserved shame for so long.
What I must say now…it may be the hardest part for you to know. There was once a real chance to heal your scar. In the first few days of your banishment, I charted a course myself. You may remember we traveled north for some time. Of course, you spent much of the trip in and out of fever. How could you have realized the air grew colder? We made port in a small town on the very edge of land, further out than the Northern Air Temple, as close as would be safe to the North Pole itself. I was counting on my connections through the White Lotus Society to earn me the help of the Northern Water Tribe's finest healer. Yugoda was renowned for her talents, and so, I contacted her without delay. If anyone could heal you it was she. Or so I thought. It was a miracle I got as far as to bring you to her. We met one night in that small town, Yugoda having sailed from the city in secrecy, to aid a man who would have surely been deemed the enemy. Now at last I can tell you. After she had examined you, she had me step apart with her to talk. She told me- and I will never forget the grief and failure in her face as she said this- if we had arrived perhaps three days sooner, she could have healed your face completely. Those past few days we spent trying to reach help were the deciding factor in your fate- a fate that I know gave you so much pain. Every time I saw you sigh as you caught your reflection, it tore into my heart. If we had just been faster…So often I spent thinking of the time that was wasted, and how close we were…
I wish these confessions could disappear and you would never have to read them. But you need to, for you deserve it. Please, please forgive me. Forgive me for all of my failures. I beg you to forgive me, my son.
If there was ever a time was more afraid for you then the Agni Kai or the days after…well, I cannot hide that there were many times I was afraid for you. But the day of the explosion will always be ingrained in my memory. I was so close to losing you that day. I heard the sound and ran back to find the ship sinking in the bay, the boat a fiery wreck. I knew at once it was no accident. But that did not matter at the time. All that mattered was that I could see no trace of you out in the water. And once I had seen your body, floating limply, all that mattered was that you were not moving and you were too far away from me. I remember nothing of that swim to get to you, except that it took too long. Far too long. You can not imagine my relief when you were breathing again. I never want to think of what could have happened. How much worse it could have been.
My dear boy. My Zuko. I hope it was right of me to admit these things to you. I hope you will not think worse of me for them.
All of my love,