Mai cupped her husband's cheek and then kissed him softly on the lips. His eyes, warm, molten gold, showed both gratitude and terror.
"You knew that she would ask about it one day, Zuko. You'll do fine. You're a great father and Miyako adores you. She hangs on every word you say. So you've got an advantage."
Those eyes, eyes Mai could lose herself in, grew even softer as the Fire Lord thought about his little girl. She was five years old and she and Mai were his world. His wife complained sometimes that he spoiled her, that she had to be the sole administrator of discipline, and perhaps that was true. Maybe he was overcompensating, desperately trying to be the opposite of his own father.
But he was letting go of that nightmare gradually, and was getting better at setting Miyako straight when she needed it. And that was often enough. The girl had a good heart. She loved fervently and she hated fervently too. She had a temper that regrettably reminded Zuko of his. Miyako was bright and funny and also prone to wild swing s in her mood. She was a challenge, one that both Mai and Zuko enjoyed dealing with…most of the time. By the end of almost every day, both mother and father were more than ready for bed, and collapsed onto the mattress, sinking swiftly and deep into sleep.
"You're right," he replied, trying his best to show confidence. "And she deserves an answer."
Zuko reached out and caressed Mai's protruding middle. She was six months pregnant with their second child and Mai shimmered with health and vibrancy. The unborn child moved beneath his touch and the Fire Lord grinned. He would never tire of that sensation. He wished that he could bottle the feeling somehow and take it out when he wished. But maybe then the experience would lose some of its profundity.
"Then go," Mai urged. "She's waiting in her room. I told her that Daddy would be in to see her soon."
"I'm going. One more kiss first!" he demanded with a smile, leaning in to brush his wife's lips with his own.
Miyako laid on the bed, flat on her stomach, legs moving up and down as she examined one of her favorite books. Her brown hair, a replica of Zuko's, hung loose down her back and narrow gold eyes, much like Mai's, flickered upward when she heard the door open and then close again.
"Hey, Daddy," she called cheerfully.
Her pet cat purred and purred beside her, drifting in and out of sleep.
"Hey, Miyako; I'm here to answer your question, the one about my scar." There was no point in being circuitous. The girl would see through that anyway, and bring her father back on point.
"Okay." She turned the book over before sitting up and pulling the cat onto her lap, stroking his head with gentle movements. The little girl stared at her father and waited. She was showing unusual patience.
Miyako had seen other scars on other people, much smaller ones, some from burns and some from cuts. But the one on her father's face wasn't a scar that you could forget about. It was there in front of you, huge and lurid, all shades of pink and red, whenever you looked at his face. She knew that it didn't hurt. A scar was a wound healed, after all. And it was old. She could tell that too. For only having lived five years, Miyako was observant.
"Who did it?" Her question was blunt and it shook Zuko to the core. His mouth hung open for a moment, giving him an air of stupidity. Miyako couldn't help but giggle. "You look silly, Daddy."
"Wouldn't be the first time," he grumbled under his breath. "Well," he sat beside her on the bed, placing a hand on her head, mimicking Miyako's petting of the cat. His strong hand moved up and down her hair, grabbing hold of it every so often, letting it run through his fingers, "A blunt question deserves a blunt answer. My father did it. Ozai burned me. I was thirteen years old."
He stopped, figuring Miyako would need time to process that horror. "Why? He's your Daddy."
"Sometimes daddies and mommies do things that they shouldn't do. Some daddies and mommies shouldn't be daddies and mommies. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Miyako thought hard. Her face twisted and contorted with the physical effort. Eventually she nodded. "Do you hate him?"
It was Zuko's turn to think now. "I did, for a long time. I loved him too, when I was very young. Now, now I don't feel much of anything."
"Good," the girl declared. "Did it hurt?" She shifted about on the mattress. Her cat leapt off the bed and dove underneath for some undisturbed sleep time. Miyako studied the scar for a minute before dragging her fingers across the width of it.
"Oh, yes, more than any pain I've experienced. It was bad, Miyako, really bad." He patted tiny fingers and brought them to his lips, playfully kissing each one. "But it doesn't hurt anymore. When I remember, then I hurt again."
"Then forget." The answer was simple and child like and yet, it was right.
The Fire Lord chuckled. "You are something else, my little princess. I love you."
"I wanna look at my book some more. You can go, Daddy." But she took the time to wrap her arms about his neck and place a wet kiss on his scar. "Bye."
"I've been dismissed," he joked, ruffling her hair one again. "It's almost dinner time. I'll come back to get you."
"Mkay." She was already lost in the colourful pictures and the simple words.
Miyako had no worries. And that was as it should be.
Author's note: Did all of you make it or did a few readers keel over from saccharine overload before the end? I need to write something with some bite now.
Joking aside, Alabaster loves her fluff and loves her Daddy Zuko (and her Plushie, but that's another story, right, PF?)