Chapter 21: Borrowed Time
Zuko had noticed over the course of the next few days that Katara had taken a sudden interest in being, well, exceptionally concerned about what he was doing and who he was doing it with. She seemed somewhat satisfied that he wasn't going off and having an affair with her sister-in-law, but she was up to something else in particular.
Plus, she had been slightly all over the place with her moods, getting angry for no reason at others and even being so upset to the point she would start crying. He hadn't seen his wife cry much up until this point, so he had wondered what was wrong. The other night after their disagreement over Suki, he had chalked it up to simple frustration and exhaustion coupled with a bad day, but it seemed to keep repeating itself. When discussing it with Sokka, his brother-in-law had suggested something about "women's problems," but the mere mentioned earned a collective whack from his own wife, who called his logic sexist, by saying her being upset could only be the result of something physiological in her body, and utterly unsympathetic to whatever was actually troubling Katara. The aforementioned "women's problems" were no longer mentioned in front of the Kyoshi warrior.
On an altogether different note, Zuko also decided he was glad that Sokka had given him a forewarning about the upcoming Celebration of Love. Decorations were being scattered amongst the ice palace and entire South Pole, with ice sculptures displaying a spirit of love, marriage, and fertility called "Atahensic." He was not familiar with this spirit, but he supposed she was rather similar to Hathor, the spirit that was honored in the Fire Nation.
Actually, the entire festival was pretty similar to Fire Nation tradition, but theirs was held in the spring and was known as "Lady Hathor's Day." On this day, men and women would give each other both tokens of affection. In fact, many betrothals happened on this day. Zuko wondered if he would have ever proposed to Mai on Lady Hathor's Day, but decided that thinking on it was useless and pushed it out of his mind quite rapidly.
"Hi, Zuko," Suki's gentle voice called out from behind him as he was examining the intricacy of Atahensic. "Are you busy?"
"Uh, no. I was just... looking at this," he jerked his head in the direction of the sculpture after looking back at her. "Do they do this all with bending?"
"Yep," she confirmed. "It's incredible, I think. Ice sculptures are decorative in the Earth Kingdom also, but for us, we have to carve it by hand and do it in a freezer." Suki shuddered as she walked up, and he noticed her hands were behind her back. "But of course, it's worth mentioning not every waterbender can do this. People train in artistic waterbending for years to be specialized in making these kinds of decorations. Especially for this. They definitely commissioned the best for this one."
"I'll say. It's the same for carving in the Fire Nation, but firebenders are never carvers."
"It's pretty uncomfortable to be in a freezer if you're a firebender. It has to do with our internal fire," he explained.
"There's a fire inside of you?" Suki asked, her eyes wide.
"Uh, no..." he muttered sheepishly.
"Just kidding!" she giggled. Wow, she and Sokka seemed to have the exact same sense of cheesy humor.
Suki then procured something she had been hiding behind her back. "So I've been thinking a lot, and I got this book when I got betrothed to Sokka a few years ago; this cultural anthropologist from Omashu went to the Southern Water Tribe and lived here for years, studying their culture, habits, and even learned the oral tradition and ancient language. He sort of organized his entire experience and put it into these different volumes and I thought I'd give them to you since they helped me a lot. I mean, of course, everything's not in here, and the material's a little dated, but when it comes to some of the traditions like this festival or learning about Atahensic and the other spirits and things, it's super helpful. Plus, you can pick up on some of the ancient language words."
He took the parcel from her and felt his hands fall forward a bit with the weight. "Oof," he grunted as he took it from her.
"Oh, sorry, I should have mentioned it's a bit heavy. There's like three volumes in there."
"It's fine, but um, well, thanks," he replied. "I, uh, I appreciate the thought. It's really nice of you."
She shrugged and gave another smile. "Don't even mention it. We're family now. We look out for each other," she clapped him on the shoulder in typical Water Tribe fashion. "Takuss!"
"See you later," she translated as she walked back towards Sokka, who gave him a wave.
Family, huh? The thought was slightly comforting in the frigid air.
Zuko was in the middle of writing a letter to his uncle (despite having sent one two days before), asking him to purchase and send a book about Fire Nation traditions for Katara. In their last correspondence, Iroh had indicated that a late-spring wedding was in order for the couple, since it was the most beautiful time of the year and it rained the least without the sometimes unbearable monsoon and destructive typhoon seasons. Suki's act of kindness had inspired him to give a similar gift to his own wife, because while it seemed the Water Tribe found his blunders entertaining and a good joke to laugh over at dinner, the Fire Nation court was not so welcoming of anything they found not up to nobility standards - which very much included the "barbarian" image they had of the Water Tribe.
Unfortunately, the letter writing was interrupted when the shouts of a young woman caused him to jump and spill ink all over the parchment. He sighed a bit in frustration and moved back while wiping the black, staining liquid from his hands onto a cloth so he wouldn't ruin his parka. He went to see if there was anything to clean up his mess when he noticed several people - no, healers - rush by, including Katara.
Curiosity finally overwhelmed him and he went to discover what the source of the commotion was.
At the end of the hall was Katara, muttering something unintelligible and hovered over a figure. As he moved around to get a better view, he realized that someone sitting on the ground in a small slump was Kanna. Her bronze skin was uncharacteristically pale and her eyes were half open as she clutched her chest. His wife remained close to her grandmother, running her hands over her grandmother's body.
"Katara, what happ-"
"Shh!" Katara snapped, focusing her concentration her grandmother. "Someone get Master Pakku, my father, and my brother immediately, and I'll get her to the sick bay downstairs. Go, now!"
Zuko went around and went to lift Kanna into his arms but Katara grabbed his hand, "Don't-"
"Let me help," he said as calmly as possible. In a room full of panicked and emotional people, the last thing anyone needed was one more panicked soul.
She looked down, and then nodded in reservation. "Okay."
It had turned out that Kanna had some sort of sickness with her heart. Katara had done her best to remove a build up of fluid through some of the strangest waterbending he had witnessed in his life, and while the elderly woman seemed to be faring better than in the hallway, she seemed quite ill still.
"Gran Gran is asking for you," Sokka informed Zuko in the study. Sokka's eyes were rimmed with red and he looked like he was trying to maintain his composure to not cry.
Zuko gave a nod and stood up to place a reassuring hand on his shoulder, "I'm... we can talk later if you want."
"Thanks, buddy," Sokka patted Zuko on the shoulder. "Hop to it, Gran Gran hates to wait."
As he walked down the hallway and down the stairs, he wondered if Katara would be there with him. He had not really spoken to Kanna many times during his stay there, and he distinctly remembered being cross with her last time she had talked to him due to the mention of his sister.
When he arrived outside the infirmary, Katara stormed out of the room just before he was about to enter it. He noticed she was trying to keep her composure but her eyes were betraying her. She looked at him, then covered her face with her hand and walked away quickly without a word. When he entered the room, Kanna was not in a bed as he expected, but sitting at a table with a pai sho board.
"Don't mind her. She's rather upset with me for a number of things."
"I beg your pardon?"
The elderly woman looked up towards Zuko. "I've kept my illness a bit of a secret for a while now, up until two or so weeks ago when I finally told Katara. Before that, I've seen all the healers from here to Ba Sing Se. I even sent for my old friend Yugoda from the Northern Water Tribe. Do you know they apparently call this heart failure in the Earth Kingdom? Anyway, herbs and waterbending can only get you so far. Happens when you get to be old as the glaciers themselves," she joked.
"Please take a seat," she motioned at the open stool.
Zuko obliged her and then looked for her to continue her story.
"At first, I did okay and responded pretty well. But probably about two or three weeks ago, things started getting worse again. So that's why I've been pressuring her about fully accepting her duties as the spiritual leader more and more, and told her the truth. I don't have a lot of time, I sense, and Katara needs to be ready for whatever might happen. She wants to be optimistic, believe that I have a chance, but," Kanna paused, taking a deep breath, "I'm not naïve either; I'm no spring chicken and it's getting close to my time. She's just mad as a grizzly hornet's nest at me because I've been trying to get her to understand and let go."
"Losing someone you love is... difficult," he said, unsure of how to process all the information. Is that why Katara's emotions had been erratic?
"It is. It's also part of life, and I want her to understand that all energy and life is temporarily borrowed, so one day, it must be given back to the earth. The same applies to me; she doesn't honestly expect me to live forever - that I know, but Katara fears abandonment with her mother's passing, and her father and brother leaving to go to war. Now the thought of losing me seems to just make her all out of sorts," she said. "She really takes it to heart if she feels like someone dying is her fault. Care for a game?"
"I'm not very good," he replied. He truthfully despised the game, but since she was ill, he decided to entertain her wish.
"That's because you lack patience," she wagged a finger at him. "But most youth are not very good at such a game. Katara is a monstrosity at it; I have more patience here," she held up her smallest finger, "than she has in her entire body. But perhaps you'll both acquire a better taste for it with age."
He gave a small laugh at her description. "Perhaps."
They played for a few moments in silence, and Zuko began wondering why she had invited him down in the first place.
"So, I bet you're wondering," Kanna continued, moving a piece on the board. "'Just why has that old bat summoned me down here?'"
"Without the 'old bat' part, perhaps."
"Oh, who do you think you're kidding? I wasn't born yesterday, boy," she said playfully while giving him a look. "Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about a few things that I think you should know."
"Like how to stew sea prunes?"
Kanna gave a hearty laugh, and Zuko swore he heard a bit of Sokka in the laugh. "Perhaps, but also I wanted you to know that I'm sorry." She reached forward and took his hand, pressing it to her forehead. "I hope you can forgive an old woman and her mistakes."
He looked at her, frozen in his seat and unsure of how to respond to her. Just what was she apologizing for? Asking him to play pai sho? It was a frustrating and time consuming game, but it wasn't that bad...
"Oh, you know," he began awkwardly. "Pai sho isn't that bad."
"This is not for asking you to play a wonderful game."
"Then sorry for what?" Zuko asked lamely.
She inhaled sharply then said, "For forcing you to marry Katara."
He blushed a bit, "Oh, she's uh, not that bad either."
"Is that the only way you describe things? Regardless, I don't mean it like that," Kanna said, going to sit up right again. "In my day, it was so common for political marriages to happen on a whim. Back then you popped out of your mother, and you were barely past the blessing ceremonies when you had a future spouse. Of course, it was pretty common to change betrothals with the high death rate with babies and small children, but you get my point."
"I do, but, it happens in the Fire Nation, too," he replied. "I don't blame you personally."
"Well, you should. See," Kanna took a sip of water then returned her attention to the firebender, "it's my generation's fault this whole war turned into what it did. We were arrogant, and cocky, and saw the Fire Nation as a blight on the world. I suppose you viewed us similarly. But instead of rising to the occasion, instead of finding a peaceful resolution, we fought because we were convinced war was the solution to the world's problems. We sent our sons, husbands, fathers, and brothers out to war, and it was't long before our daughters, wives, mothers, and sisters were right behind them. And to clean it all up we decided the best thing was to tell two children who've been victims their entire lives, who have known nothing but the hatred that their grandparents and great-grandparents created, the only solution is for them to get married and start a family.
"And it's just sad. We're not supposed to burden our children with our problems. Parents are supposed to raise their children to not make the same mistakes they did, to not have the same flaws, but to be better. To be wiser, kinder, more compassionate and generous, and to pursue peace and hope and love, even when the easiest option is to resort to violence, hatred, and anger. And I failed my son, and I let him fail my grandchildren, and because of this, you are now having to shoulder the burden and consequences of my generations' failures. For that, I'm sorry."
Zuko sat speechless in front of Kanna; she spoke with distinction and conviction, and there was an air of regality about her that distinctly reminded him of his own grandmother, the former Fire Lady Ilah. It was no wonder so many people had looked to Kanna for leadership and wisdom.
"Katara and I both love our countries; it is our honor to do this for the betterment of the world," he said thoughtfully. If there was anything he and Katara had in common, it was definitely patriotism.
"And I thank you for your sacrifice. I am merely commenting on the fact I wish you could have come together out of love, not out of politics."
Zuko gave an uncomfortable smile. "Ah, I don't know if Katara and I would have ever come together out of love. Fire and water do not mix much, as I'm sure you've noticed."
"Oh, my dear boy, whatever makes you think you're not compatible?"
"Have you been absent the past three and a half months?" he scoffed.
"Those are disagreements, child. Let me put it this way; you and Katara are the product of almost 100 years of hatred, war, and disagreement. Of course she's going to be ill with you - and vice versa - because of prejudices you have against one another. I guarantee you thought we were a lot of barbarians not four or so months ago, a completely uncultured, unmannered rabble and lacking any kind of practicality. On the other hand, Katara thought you were a bunch of modern-day pirates, filled with arrogance and lacking any true sense of honor and respect who were all to keen to take advantage of the weak and defenseless. These are prejudices, though, not truths. I'm sure both of you have learned a lot about the other. But do tell me, and be specific - what really is so incompatible about you and Katara?"
"Our view on the world, I guess," he shrugged.
"Are you sure it is really so different? You both love your country - that you already admitted. From what I can see, you're both determined to do what is right, to honor your people, and to instill hope in two nations of broken people. That's not incompatibility. What you are is different - but you have the ability to balance one another out." she said. "Let me tell you something about my granddaughter: she's the most stubborn, determined, headstrong girl I've ever known, but she has got a heart of gold and she is one of the most loving people I've ever known and I think when you get past your issues with one another, you will understand this unconditional love Katara has to offer. But what I see in you in someone who's strong and resolved, who can offer the stability I think Katara really desires, you can make her feel secure and help her to work through her fear of abandonment, and you can challenge her. She needs to be challenged, she needs someone just as tough as she is, and can truly and honestly empathize with the pain and heartache she's been through. I think you can offer that, Zuko. Your uncle does, as well."
Zuko shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "I guess it's a... possibility."
"Life's a balancing act; I hope you'll learn that soon. Now, I think I've tortured you with enough advice for one lifetime," she smiled. "Go. Make sure my grandchildren are alright; they seem to be in an awful tizzy about this."
He opened his mouth to interject a thought, but Kanna had already waved him off in dismissal and began reorganizing the pai sho board to play alone.
He stood up and walked towards the entry way, watching Kanna smile to herself and move the pieces across the board. It was in this moment Zuko realized he respected the Water Tribe as much as the Fire Nation.
The next few days passed without much ruckus (in comparison to Kanna's collapse), and Katara had finally taken some time off from healing huts to focus on training and preparing with Kanna. Zuko even found himself going to visit her in between her visits with Pakku, Sokka, Katara, and Hakoda; he wasn't sure why he felt drawn to see her, as he had never had much interest in talking to her before, but he eventually decided it was because she had reminded him so much of Iroh. She was full of just as many stories and wisdom as Iroh was, and even though he had complained when his uncle felt obligated to impart his bouts of wisdom sporadically, he was beginning to miss it the longer he lived away from home.
Before Zuko could blink, it was the Celebration of Love festival and Zuko noticed Katara had been missing since morning (or night - it was always freaking night in the South Pole). Sokka made a likewise comment about his own wife at breakfast and shrugged.
"They're probably out buying the first thing they see," he joked. "Bah, since it's a holiday we get the day off anyway, so just enjoy and relax. Go read or work on your necklace carving."
Oh, yeah. The necklace. Zuko had forgotten about it since he had been so sidetracked those past weeks. He supposed it was as good an idea as any, and perhaps he could do it with Sokka's company to get extra pointers since it had to get done eventually.
With that, the firebender finished his breakfast and followed Sokka into the study after collecting the moonstone, carving knife, charcoal stick, and a few other practice stones. He had felt confident shaving the stone down to the appropriate thickness and shape last time he practiced, but it had been quite a while, so he wanted to make sure he wasn't being overconfident. He still loathed the tradition (due to it's consumption of time), but if Katara was supposed to prance around with it on and show it to everyone - especially when he went back to the Fire Nation - he wanted it to be perfect.
The hours went by and every once in a while he would ask Sokka for his opinion and some tips for carving. Unfortunately for him, Pakku ended up being the better teacher in these regards (go figure) because Sokka was some sort of freehanded, moonstone betrothal necklace carving prodigy and had a hard time explaining how to do anything for beginners.
Sometime around lunch (he guesstimated), Suki appeared with a blindfold for Sokka and summoned her husband off for his surprise. They were both quirky, and yet so endearing it was almost charming. He wondered if he would ever have a marriage like that for a moment, then shook his head to banish the thoughts. With someone like Katara, he doubted they would ever be so... mushy.
Then again, perhaps he was wrong. A bit later, Katara appeared and procured a bandana with similar intentions and he looked at her pointedly.
"Is this Suki's idea?"
"No!" Katara said defensively. "Maybe she copied me."
He sighed. "I don't like not seeing where I'm going. What if you're going to go push me off the glacier or something?"
"Oh, don't insult me, Zuko. If I wanted to do that, I would have done it by now," she scowled. "Just... humor me. It's actually a tradition, believe it or not. A woman always blindfolds her husband to surprise him."
"Uh huh," he replied, taking it and going to tie it around his eyes after standing up. "Satisfied?"
"Completely," she said, and he could hear the smile in her voice. He was almost relieved Katara was in a good mood; it seemed like it had been a while. She was always prettier when she smiled...
He felt her warm hands grab his shoulders and start to push him towards the door, guiding him right until he walked into a thick wall of ice.
"Ow, watch it!" he sputtered, groaning in pain.
"Sorry! You're just so tall and I couldn't see over your shoulder," she said apologetically. "I'll, uh, come around the front. You can put your hands on my shoulder and follow me that way."
"Remind me to commend Toph on her ability to navigate the next time I see her," Zuko muttered, mostly to himself.
"Oh, don't be a drama queen," Katara chided. "Now, c'mon."
When he arrived at what he assumed was the final destination - which was quite a journey - Katara snatched the blindfold off in a dramatic fashion. He was inside a room that he was not familiar with, and it was surprisingly warm.
"Where... are we?"
"The spiritual leader's inner chambers," Katara said. "Actually, the only person or persons allowed in here are the spiritual leader or leaders, depending on if it's in transition - but I thought if you're my husband, maybe you should see it because, well, we share stuff now, I guess."
"It's warm in here," he said.
"It's connected to a spring that's connected to the spirit portal. The water is fresh and warm and makes it about the temperature of the Earth Kingdom during late spring," she replied, removing her thick parka and going to sit down. "Is this place ok? We can go somewhere else."
"Uh, no, no," he answered, removing his own parka and gloves. "It's fine. Where is this place even at? I've never walked by anywhere that I think looks like this area."
"It's connected to the leader's igloo through a series of ice tunnels. It's underground, so actually, not many people even know it exists."
"Huh," he mused to himself. "Interesting."
"Yeah, I didn't think we had a special spot or anything like Sokka and Suki do, so, I don't know, I figured here was okay," she explained. "Anyway, here, yeah. I wrote you a letter and got you a gift."
Zuko took the box from her and went to open the letter when Katara quickly put her hand over his. "Can you, uh, read it later? It's kind of embarrassing."
He made a face then nodded. "Sure, fine."
His fingers went to undo the crimson wrapping of the package, smiling a bit to himself. How did she know to use red paper? Perhaps she asked his uncle or cousin; the use of red paper was fortuitous in the Fire Nation and represented great luck and happiness. But his smile melted away when he removed the lid of the wooden box and saw what was nestled inside the silk cushion.
"I got this hourglass from the Fire Nation actual-" Katara began to explain.
His eyes snapped up angrily. "Did Azula put you up to this, or do you just have a sick sense of humor?"
"I- what? I didn't mean to offend-"
"You know," he felt steam rising from his clenched fists, "I thought we were finally making progress at being... friends! But apparently we're not. I can't believe I even entertained the idea we had some kind of future. It's pretty clear you just can't wait to get rid of me. Well, thanks a lot, Katara. Message received loud and clear."
A/N: Dun dun dun. Looks like I'm not a very productive packer (literally 3/4 of my stuff is scattered on the floor EVERYWHERE) and I even came up with a much longer chapter than normal! An early Christmas present? Tumblr voted for an earlier release of a longer chapter, so this means you will get a slightly shorter chapter next go-round (because I can't make decisions). Special thanks to Kimberly T for her idea to have Katara give Zuko something insulting to him; so here's for a bit of background:
The hourglass is a bit of a modification on Chinese culture on my part, but otherwise clocks are considered especially rude gifts, as the word for clock in Chinese is close to the words dealing with funerals and death, and the presentation of a clock as a gift basically means you want that person to die. (Another FYI for the culturally curious; it is common in Chinese speaking countries to not find a fourth floor, as the number 4 is very close to the word for "death.") Look at that, I learned something in Taiwan after all!
Time for some rambling, of which I do apologize, but I want to address some issues. Your mileage may vary, but here goes:
For some reviews I got, but wasn't able to reply to (my internet has been dodgy): I hope this chapter cleared up a few things on why Katara was overly emotional in the last chapter; to be quite frank, I think Katara (and Zuko tbh) faces some intense abandonment issues. She's angry with her father in the beginning of season 3 because he up and left her and her brother (and in this AU, Sokka also leaves) - even if it was for a noble cause. Plus, we see in the series that whenever Aang finds a new group of friends to anchor to (as seen in Kyoshi with the young girls or at the school he attends in the Fire Nation), she also gets irritated with him again for abandoning her friendship in the pursuit of new friends. This is a reflection of anger at the idea of being abandoned - at least, that's what I think. So the idea of her grandmother dying is her facing another case of abandonment, as the woman who raised her somewhat before (I'm sure Gran Gran took a part in the upbringing of her grandchildren before Kya's passing) and [a more direct role] since her mother passed 10-ish years ago (in this AU since Katara's 17) is now about to leave. Coupled with seeing someone who is supposed to be her husband talking to another woman in a very casual/friendly way, it feels like just another person wanting to leave her for something or someone else. She cried because her grandmother is dying, but of course, the narrator is talking from Zuko's perspective in this story. You can essentially classify this narrator is unreliable because it is NOT conveying what Katara knows or how she feels or what she's thinking outside a) what she's telling us; b) what Zuko interprets from her (which can be wrong, as he can mistake sadness for anger, etc.); or c) what second-hand sources tell us (i.e. if Suki plays mediator) so please continue to bear that in mind.
I also wanted to address the issue that women are moody when they're on their period, so allow me to step on my soapbox for just a moment: part of the reason I had it brought up and promptly shut down by Suki (our second resident feminist alongside Katara) is that I really hate the idea that anytime a woman expresses any kind of extreme mood aside from happiness, it's immediately attributed to her menstrual cycle. It's not that it's untrue that women tend to experience intense bouts of emotion during that time of the month, as many do, but it almost takes away any kind of "right" that a woman has to be upset when people throw it around like that. If someone makes an offensive joke and a woman protests, "ugh she's on her period;" if someone says something outright hurtful and she starts crying, "ugh, must be that time of the month;" if someone does something rude and she gets angry, "ugh, wow, PMS much?" And women are guilty of this just as much as men are, but it's important to realize that it's not okay to just downplay a woman's emotions to her period because in many ways, it's like saying she's not being rational or justified in how she feels. Some women are empaths and can shift moods very easily because of their surroundings and the energy of other people they're with; I have empathic tendencies so I can walk in a room and if someone is in a negative mood, boom. I'm suddenly emulating their emotion. I'm not on my period, I'm not PMSing, I'm just projecting an energy I absorbed. This is not the reason for everyone, nor is it the case 100% of the time, but other things could be maybe she's just not in a good mood today (which happens), she's tired, or something happened to her that's upsetting (she broke up with a significant other, her pet died, she lost her job, or she's sensitive about something because of a valid reason). Let's make a better effort to be more respectful to the female sex and ask if something's troubling her, and give her the benefit of the doubt of a bad day just like we give anyone else! Ok, I'll climb down from the soapbox now. You may proceed. :)
Finally, with respect to a question raised about adultery in the Fire Nation versus a comment made earlier on about nobles taking lovers: nobility has always been held to different expectations than what's expected of the common people. Take any "God-fearing" king from Europe back in the day; they were for the majority all (up until Henry VIII had his temper tantrum) Roman Catholics, and as a practicing Catholic, I can tell you one of the biggest no-no's in the Bible is adultery. Yet a significant majority of them had extramarital affairs or romances throughout their marriage (male and female alike, though women were held to higher standards than men were tbh). This doesn't mean that infidelity is not wrong or not looked down upon in those societies, it's just that they didn't feel like following that particular tradition, especially if they believed could simply pay some sort of church official for their sins and say "my b" and go on about their way and business; the poor can't do that. (I do realize not all of you are religious and/or Christian, but you also hold fidelity in relationships to a high standard; I am just speaking from a historical context on the subject with regards to something I am familiar with in order to clarify a point.)
Nobility/royalty has always seems to play by different rules and I expect the Fire Nation to be the same. I would not be surprised if, in an older/more mature version of the original series, there were more dealings with nobles/royals taking on lovers outside their spouses and even quite possibly had to deal with the "issues" of illegitimate children. In fact, this issue does come up in slight, however, in canon in The Search comics believe it or not, with respect to Zuko's true parentage; Ursa, she was married around 81 years after Fire Lord Sozin began his campaign (according to the ATLA timeline) and Zuko was born 2-3 years later. Ozai suspected he was Ursa's child with another man, meaning that this kind of thing DID exist in the ATLA era and it was entirely plausible for her to rendezvous with a lover and/or have a sexual encounter with another man. However, that also does not mean everyone in those social circles took part in extramarital affairs, and I do not expect Zuko to be the philandering type myself. I think Zuko presented himself to be the kind of man that would remain faithful to his wife out of honor and respect to her (even in a political marriage) because how humiliating is it to be the wife with a wandering husband when EVERYONE knows it? Gossip is more contagious in the upper echelon of society than the T-virus in Raccoon City, if you ask me. No, no, I think Zuko would be the kind of man to have enough respect for his wife and the sanctity of the marriage they're in - no matter the circumstance - to keep it tucked in his shorts and not have mistress(es), concubine(s), or pay regular visits to the local brothel.