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Zuko watched from his office balcony as Katara walked around the private garden, bouncing their son gently as he screamed at the top of his lungs.
His heart gave a painful lurch as he studied his wife. She looked tired and frazzled. Her night attire rumbled as Kai moved restlessly in her arms.
They hadn't spoken to each other since the fight, which was over two weeks ago. Every time he thought about it, he would cringe and wish the spirits would strike him down. How could he say that to his wife?
He felt guilty, guiltier than he has ever felt before. He should have never said that about his children. They were the light of his life. He loved them more than he loved himself and his country. It was just that the wall that blocked his stress had suddenly collapsed after that last war meeting, making him feel vicious and itching for a fight. And when he was in that type of mental state, he never thought before speaking.
At least, that's what he had been telling himself to make him feel better. Which it didn't. It made him feel worse because it was a poor excuse for his behavior.
He heard Katara heave a loud sigh as Kai screamed louder. "Kai," he heard her say over the screaming. "You're going to wake the whole nation at this rate. Please, calm down."
The Fire Lord wanted to go to his wife. She was in no condition to be up all night with a screaming baby. But she had holed herself up into a different part of the palace with Kai, barely seeing Zuko unless it was a mealtime or at court. It had even gotten to a point where he barely saw Kai.
'But it's nothing knew, right Zuko?' his mind taunted and it oddly sounded like Azula. 'You pushed them away in favor of your war meetings, so seeing your son only once in a while is nothing new, you should be used to it by now.'
Zuko bit his lip, the urge to yell becoming increasingly overwhelming.
"Are you alright, nephew?"
The Fire Lord nearly jumped out of his skin as he turned around and faced his uncle.
"Uncle," he gasped. "You scared me half to death."
The cheerful old man just smiled at him as he came and stood beside him, watching as Kyung and Lady Song approached Katara with a bottle, saying how maybe warm goat-sheep's milk might make the squalling prince tired.
"Poor Katara has been dealing with him screaming for the past three hours," Iroh said. "I hope he didn't inherit your surly attitude."
Zuko gave his uncle a look and rolled his eyes before turning his attention back to Katara. She had abandoned the bottle after the many attempts to get it into Kai's mouth were thwarted by the prince and gave a desperate look to Song, who snapped her fingers and walked with Kyung back into the palace.
Iroh chuckled. "The reason for his tantrum is that the Crown Prince is cutting new teeth. Your wife and Kyung have tried everything to calm him. They had to call upon Lady Song for suggestions."
Song and Kyung had walked back out towards Katara, handing her what looked like a large ring that Zuko recognized from one of Kai's toys.
Shifting Kai into her other arm, Katara took the large ring from Kyung and froze a part of it before giving it to Kai.
The Fire Lord chuckled as he saw his son make an astounded face when Katara all but shoved the cold toy into his mouth.
Kai whined for a few moments before realizing that the cold toy was helping his pain and quieted down.
The three women heaved a sigh before Katara laughed. "It was that easy," she said. "Why didn't we think of that earlier?"
The other two women gently giggled at their lack of thought as Katara hugged Song, thanking her for coming to the palace at such short notice and at night, no less.
Song just laughed and hugged her back, telling the Fire Lady that it was no problem and that she would see them in their private meeting tomorrow.
"It seems that your wife and Lady Song want to play matchmaker," Iroh said cheerfully as they women retreated back into the palace.
"Oh?" Zuko questioned as he turned to his uncle and offered him the tea that was sitting on the table. "With who?"
"Your son and Lady Song's youngest granddaughter."
"What?!" Zuko said as he almost dropped his tea pot. "They want to do what?"
Iroh chuckled again. "Relax Fire Lord Zuko; they merely want to arrange a play date. Kai needs to get used to seeing other children around him and sharing his things. There's only five more months until his sibling arrives, Katara wants to make that transition as easy as possible for the prince so he doesn't get jealous. It's not like they're arranging a marriage between the two."
"They better not be," Zuko mumbled under his breath. He knew Katara would never do that to their children. At least, not without consulting him first, no matter how angry she was at him. But even then, he knew his headstrong wife would never agree to an arranged marriage. She did and look how happy she was.
Zuko's mood instantly dropped at that thought. Sighing he ran a hand over his face in frustration.
"Something the matter, Zuko?" Iroh asked, sensing his nephews despair.
Zuko peeked at him through his fingers. Something Iroh noted, he had always done when he was ashamed of himself or knew he was going to be in a lot of trouble. "I might have said something terrible to Katara when we were in the Southern Water Tribe. About our children. And it made her mad. Very mad."
Iroh put his tea cup down patiently. "And that was?"
Zuko squeezed his eyes closed tightly as he grimaced again. "I may have more or less implied that having the children was all her idea and that I didn't want them. And that the reason I kept pushing her and Kai to the back of my life was because my country was more important than my family. Which is all a lie!" He added quickly as his uncle's face dropped all the cheerfulness.
"Well no wonder she's angry," Iroh said, his voice rising with each word. "How could you say that, Zuko!?"
Zuko dropped his hand and looked at his uncle with exasperation. "I wasn't thinking at the time and my mouth ran away before my brain could catch up. I know I've screwed up pretty bad."
"I would say," Iroh interjected.
"But I don't know how to fix it! Every time I try to talk to her, she walks into another room or walks away from me. When we are in the same room for a measured amount of time, there are always other people there making it almost impossible to just get a second of alone time with her. Sending her gifts would be useless. In fact, I'm pretty sure she'd be more offended at that. I don't know what to do. I know I've been pushing her away and I know that I've put my country first and I'm sorry. I want to tell her I'm sorry for everything. But she won't listen. I-I'm at my wits end. Uncle," he said as his voice cracked, his emotions catching up with him suddenly. "I don't want to lose my wife and children because of something I've said. They are all I have left in this world besides you and just the thought of losing them makes me sick."
Iroh gave him a pitied look. "I honestly don't know what to say," he said. "I'm not going to lie, that was a horrible, horrible thing to say to your wife. You should never ever put your country before your family. Your father did and look how that ended up. I know you're afraid and stressed, Zuko. All rulers are when there is a war coming. But taking it out on your wife and pushing your family away doesn't solve anything, as it is obvious from your current situation. There is nothing more important than family, even with the threat of war on the horizon. As for Katara, you're going to have to wait until she cools down or let her approach you."
"What if she doesn't?" Zuko asked quietly. "This is the third time I've done something wrong with her. What if she doesn't forgive me?"
Iroh didn't say anything, but the look he was giving Zuko told him everything.
If Katara didn't forgive him, than it was his own fault. If Katara left him, than he would have to live with the knowledge and the shame that he was the reason why his marriage failed.
The Fire Lord heaved a long sigh as he tried to get his emotions back under control. "I'll think of something," he said after a few moments of silence. He stood and placed a hand on his uncle's shoulder. "Get some rest Uncle; we have court in the morning."
Katara tried not to roll her eyes as the court meeting dragged on. Really, all of these people were grown adults squabbling over land like children.
It didn't help that her mood was on edge because she was up half the night with Kai and her hormones were all over the place.
Sighing, she rubbed a hand on her stomach, smiling slightly when she felt a gently nudge against it.
"Is the baby kicking?" She heard Zuko ask softly from her left.
The smile from her face dropped as she looked at him from the corner of her eye. She saw his hand twitch, like it wanted to reach out and feel for himself. She knew that Zuko always loved to feel when the baby kicked or moved and that brought a smiled to her face. But then she thought back to the fight and her mood soured all over again. "Yes," was all she said before looking forward. She didn't want to talk to him. At this point, she didn't want anything to do with him.
But the dejected sigh she heard from him melted her heart a little. Over the past two weeks she had thought about their fight constantly. At first she was angry. She was so angry she had packed her bags and was ready to walk out. But something stopped her; a memory.
Her father had done the same thing to her and Sokka during the Hundred Years War that Zuko was doing to her now. He had pushed his family to the background as he put his nation first, making it seem like he didn't want his children. He left them all alone with their elderly grandmother and little chance of survival in their then run-down nation.
At the age of eight she didn't understand. Her mother had just died and all of a sudden her father was ignoring her and her brother, telling them vaguely that he had to leave to go fight in the war. She was angry then too, she remembered. She felt as if her father had died right along with her mother.
But one night, when she was looking out her window crying, hoping to see the lanterns of her father's boat on the horizon, her grandmother approached her. After reassuring her grandmother that she was fine, she felt her sit down next to her.
"Your father loves you and Sokka very much," Kanna said, seeing right through her granddaughters lie and wrapping her arms around her. "But sometimes, love forces someone to make great sacrifices. And thinking of those sacrifices takes a lot of time and effort, especially if the person thinking of them is the ruler of a nation. Even one as small as ours."
Kanna took a breath as she stared at the horizon. "Being a member of the Water Tribe, we value family and community above all other things in this world, but sometimes safety has to come first."
"Why?" Katara asked as she sniffled.
"Because you can't have a family and community if there isn't a safe place for them. Look at what has happened to us. We are no longer a safe place, which means that sooner or later we no longer will be part of a community because we will all have to go our separate ways in order to survive. Your father knows that and wants to make sure he can prevent that from happening. So he had to make a sacrifice and that unfortunately was leaving to fight in the war."
Katara looked at her grandmother, her blue eyes filled with tears. "But I miss him," she said as the tears fell.
Kanna gave her a sympathetic look. "And he misses you too," she said as she wiped the tears. "And I know that it feels like he pushed you away, but remember that you and Sokka were always at the forefront of his mind. Your safety was what he was thinking about as he made the choice to go and fight. Never forget that your father loves you, and will always love you. And people will do anything to protect the ones they love."
Sighing again, she gently grabbed Zuko's wrist and placed his hand on her stomach where the kicking had moved to. "The baby keeps kicking my ribs," she said. "And bladder. I have to pee almost every twenty minutes. It's annoying."
Zuko huffed a little laugh as he gently pressed against the tiny foot pushing against her skin.
"Speaking of," she finally turned and looked at him. He looked sad. She immediately wanted to comfort him. But she pushed that thought away, just because she understood why he had the tendency to push her away in favor of his war meetings doesn't mean she forgave him for what her said about their children. "I have to pee. Can you do something about them so I can go? Otherwise I'm going to piss all over myself, and this is one of my favorite summer dresses. I don't want to ruin it."
Zuko laughed again as he faced forward, calling the attention of the two men arguing.
Katara watched over him as he dictated his final verdict on their petty matter. Besides looking sad, he also looked ill. Like he hadn't been sleeping and eating well. His nails were almost bitten down to the cuticle, his hair lacked its normal luster, and his skin looked awfully dry, like his lips. And his voice lacked its normal bravado, a tell-tale sign that he wasn't feeling well.
Once Zuko had dismissed court, Katara stood. Before she could get far she felt a gentle pull of her wrist.
"Katara," she heard Zuko call softy. "Will you have lunch with me? Please? I want to talk…about stuff."
Katara snorted and rolled her eyes. "Eloquent," she said before pulling her wrist away. They needed to talk about it. She had to put aside her stubbornness and anger to at least hear him out. "People will do anything to protect the ones they love." She remembered her grandmother saying as she thought about the things he said to her in the South Pole.
"Make sure you have spicy picken and rice, I'm in the mood for spicy food," she said before walking away.
Katara chowed away at the food on her plate. She didn't care if she looked like a cow-pig, she hadn't eaten in four hours, that's a long time in her opinion for someone who's pregnant. She was so hungry she could probably eat everything on the table. Besides, it was only Zuko that she was eating with; it wasn't like she had to use the certain measure of decorum that she had to have when eating in front of guests.
She was getting ready to reach for another piece of spicy picken when she looked at Zuko. He was silent as he pushed the food around his plate. The only noise being the rain that hit the window panels. He looked paler than he had this morning in court.
"Are you alright?" She asked quietly so not to startle him.
"Huh?" He asked as he looked at her, his eyes clearing from the obvious daze he was in. "Yeah, I'm fine."
Katara pursed her lips as she placed her eating utensils down and reached over to feel his forehead. She may be mad at him but she didn't want her husband to keel over and die. At least not anymore. Placing the back of her hand against his forehead, she gasped.
"Zuko, you're burning up!"
"More than normal?" He asked with a tired grin and Katara rolled her eyes.
"Funny," she said as she stood. "Come on, you need to get to bed and rest."
"But we need to talk," he said seriously as she pulled on his arm to get him to stand.
"We can talk when you're better," Katara said as she tugged his arm harder.
"No, Katara," he said as he pulled his arm away from her. "We need to talk. I'll go lie down and rest once we're done."
Counting to ten to control herself from snapping at him, she sat back down and looked at him. He was biting his lip and running his hand through his loose hair.
"I'm sorry," he said finally after a few moments of silence. "I'm sorry for everything I said. I didn't mean it, don't mean it. You and our children…are my everything. I know I keep saying this but I'm scared. I'm scared that if I don't do everything in my power to stop this war, then I'm going to lose you. And it seems like the only thing I'm doing is losing you in the process of trying not to lose you."
Zuko looked at her and grabbed one of her hands. "You and our children and uncle are the only things I have left in this world. And I just can't let anything happen to my family. I can't. And I don't mean to push you away in the process, honestly I don't. I just, I keep thinking of all these scenarios where something happens to you or Kai or uncle and then I have to go back to the drawing board to make sure that whatever crazy thing I came up with in my head doesn't actually happen and the result is me pushing everything else away."
They were silent as they stared at each other. Katara licked her lips and looked down at Zuko's thumb as it rubbed against her own.
"I'm still pissed at you," she said. "How could you say that about our children? Children I wanted? From what I remember, we both agreed to have them Zuko, including the new one."
"Like I said, I didn't mean it."
"Bullshit you didn't mean it," she hissed, ripping her hand away from him. "People always tell the truth when they're angry. You feel like I forced you to have children? Well sorry Zuko, you can't just get rid of a life because you aren't ready for it or its coming at an inconvenient time. Do you regret having them?"
Zuko snapped at that. "No!" He said vehemently. "How could you even ask that? Don't ever ask me that again, Katara. I could not and will never, regret having our children. Did you not just hear me say that they are everything to me? I will give my life for them, and you. I know I said some fucked up things, I can admit that and I'm sorry. I'm so sorry that I'm willing to do anything to prove it. But whatever I may have said and whatever I may have felt, I will never regret having them. Ever. So don't ask me shit like that again." He stood from the table and threw his napkin on his plate. "That was crossing a line," he said before walking away.
Katara watched him in shock before following him. "Oh, and what you said to me wasn't crossing a line? You pretty much said you didn't want our children, Zuko. It doesn't matter what you feel, what matters was that you said it at all!"
"I know!" Zuko almost hollered at her as he spun around. "I know, and I said I'm sorry! What more do you want from me, Katara? I said some fucked up stuff, I'm sorry."
"No matter how many times you say you're sorry I'll never forgive you for saying that."
Zuko almost scoffed. "Then add it to list of other things you'll never forgive me for like Ba Sing Se and screwing around with Mai!"
Katara didn't know what came over her, but all of a sudden she felt her hand collide with his cheek as the loud slap resonated throughout the room.
He looked at her with such anger that she almost expected him to hit her back, which she knew he would never. The fire immediately softened once he saw the tears threatening to fall.
"You're unimaginable," she said before pushing past him and walking out of the room.
She wiped away the tears before they could fall. That was not how she wanted their lunch to go.
Zuko dreamt of fire. Fire and blood and earth. Screams of agony and mercy. Blood red skied covered him, his heart was pounding miles per minute as he took in his surroundings. Sokka lied to his right; his lifeless eyes still open as blood slowly poured from the wound in his chest. To his left was Aang, impaled on a large spike. The Fire Lord felt himself sob as he looked at his two best friends feeling absolutely powerless. Suddenly he was walking; along rows and rows of dead bodies that were strewn across the miles long battle field. There were people he recognized and others he didn't. He felt like retching at the stench and sight as he continued to walk through.
Where was the enemy? He thought as he ignored the dead body of Office Kahn. He heard noise in the distance, could they be there?
There was an odd glow in the distance, almost like fire. And when he walked up to it, his heart stopped. The entire capitol was on fire. Everything was burning, even more bodies were piled up, there was nothing left of the city. And suddenly his heart stopped. Katara. Where was Katara and Kai?
He heard cackling, more specifically he heard Azula cackling. Turning to the noise he saw her walking towards him dragging something behind her on a rope. But as he looked closer at her he realized that it wasn't Azula at all, it was Chea. And what she was dragging behind her was the body of his dead son. He felt himself sob again as he scream out a no. Chea just cackled as Zuko fell to his knees and crawled towards Kai.
Zuko cried as he cradled the mangled body of his son. Rocking himself back and forth with the only thing one his mind being 'How could I let this happen?' and 'I never spent enough time with him.'
Chea gave another laugh as she roughly grabbed Zuko's hair and tugged him back to face her. "I have another surprise for you," she said and suddenly Katara was there. Bleeding and crying and begging him to help her. To make everything stop.
It was like Zuko was rooted to the spot as Chea walked over to her. "I know what you cherish most, Zuko," she said and gave him a smirk. "And I'm going to have so much fun taking it away." She turned back towards Katara and plunged her hand right into his wife's stomach, ripping out his unborn child.
Zuko felt himself scream as they need to vomit rose higher. He watched Katara fall to the ground. Chea turned back towards him, holding his unborn child upside down by the ankle. "This is what you get, for letting things harm the ones you love," she said sweetly, before throwing his now dead child at him. Tauntingly calling his name.
And suddenly Zuko couldn't hold it anymore; he was going to be sick.
Zuko's eyes snapped open as he sat up in bed, the contents of his stomach quickly reemerging and spilling over into a basin that was suddenly placed in front of him.
He felt his back being rubbed, the gentle touch only being associated as Katara's. "You're okay," he heard her say as he kept retching. He was vaguely aware that his face was wet with tears. "It was just a nightmare."
"Katara," he said pitifully before heaving again.
She shushed him and rubbed his back a little harder. "I'm here."
"Katara," he said again after his stomach was settled. And he felt a wet cloth wipe his mouth as Katara shushed him again. But he kept saying her name over and over as she grabbed another wet cloth and dabbed his face with it.
"I'm here, Zuko," she said gently. "I'm right here."
"Kai! Where's Kai? He's alright?"
"He's fine, Zuko," Katara said as she looked at him with worried eyes. "We're all fine. It was only a nightmare."
He sobbed and grabbed onto her tightly, forcing her to fall into his lap. "I'm so sorry," he cried. "I'm so sorry. Please forgive me. Please, please, forgive me." He squeezed her a little tighter as she wrapped her arms around him. He cried harder when he placed a hand on her stomach, feeling the life in there move around. "I'm so sorry. I love you, I love you. And Kai, and Uncle, and Sokka, and Aang, and our unborn child. I love you all so much. I'm so sorry."
"Shh," Katara said as she began to smooth his hair back and gently rocked him. "Zuko, everything is okay. It was a nightmare."
"I'm not going to let any of you die, I promise. And I'm not going to push you away and I'm going to spend more time with Kai. I'm going to try and be a better husband. I'm sorry. So, so sorry."
Katara shushed him and kissed his forehead. "None of us are going anywhere, Zuko. None of us are going to die."
Zuko continued to cry in his wife's arms. The images of his dreams still fresh in his mind, making more tears fall.
"Why don't you try laying back down and going to sleep?" Katara said as she pulled away and smoothed some hair from his forehead.
"No!" He said quickly, squeezing her tighter. "No, I don't want to go to sleep."
"The healer said you've been complaining of insomnia. You're going to start having hallucinations if you don't sleep. Not to mention you're going to get sicker than you already are. Which by the way, do you remember almost fainting during a meeting? Office Kahn was worried sick, so he forced you to come lie down."
At the mention of Kahn's name, Zuko cried a little harder.
"I thought you were going to go lie down and rest after lunch?"
"Nightmares," was all he said and he felt Katara sigh as she wiped his tears away. He imagined that this was what it was like when she was comforting Kai.
"I don't think I need to tell you that nightmares aren't going to hurt you, Zuko," Katara said quietly after a letting him calm down. "They're just your imagination. Come on, lay back down."
Zuko reluctantly let her go. "Will you stay?" He asked as she moved away from him to sit on the chaise he just noticed was by his bedside. His heart warmed a little. No matter how mad she was at him, Katara was always there, taking care of him like the saint that she was. "Please," he begged softly, "lay down with me."
She smiled slightly at him and climbed into the bed. He immediately laid his head on her chest and placed a hand on her stomach.
"It was just a nightmare, Zuko. Nothing is going to happen," she said as she ran her fingers through his hair.
Zuko said nothing as he hugged her a little tighter, smiling when he felt a gentle nudge of a tiny foot against his hand.
He was sure that their fight was far from over and that he had much more groveling to do. But right now he wasn't concerned with that. He was tired and sick. His wife was here and their children were safe. The people he loved most were safe. That's all he was concerned about.
So he allowed the steady beating of Katara's heart and her cool fingers combing through his hair lure him into a peaceful sleep.
Yo, you yiggety yo! My break wasn't so long this time =D
Sorry that I took a break at all. I started writing this chapter back in the beginning of February, then all of a sudden I got the bright idea to watch Attack on Titan on Netflix and BOOM! I had the sudden urge to read ALL the AOT fanfiction my little heart could take. Not gonna lie though, still in that faze of need, but I felt bad that I all but abandoned my writing. So I finished this chapter.
I'm sorry if it doesn't make any sense and/or there are typos and junk. I'm a little rusty at writing seeing as I haven't written in so many months. Please let me know if I need to clarify something because it didn't make sense. As I've said before, I stay up waaaay too late writing, so sometimes what I think makes sense, really doesn't. And even when I reread it, it'll still make sense to me.
Thanks to everyone who reviewed, favored, etcetera. It makes my little writer heart thump with such love and happiness. Also, thank you to LockNesTom who was nice enough to PM me to make sure I was still alive, which along with the comments, made me want to finish this chapter.
So go and leave me some love! Tell me how much you loved, or hated, this chapter! And I promise I'll try not to lag with updates. Although warning, July is going to be a VERY busy month for me. But I'll try and get a chapter out before then.
But for now, go leave me love!
Until next time,