Zuko's daughter has golden eyes that are exactly like his. He looks into them now and they shine back at him, filled with tears.
He grasps her shoulder and gives it a reassuring squeeze.
He had never wanted to see her in white.
Today they are at her friend's funeral. The boy had been sick for a long time, and eventually there was nothing that any healer could do to make him better.
Zuko's daughter had been crying all night.
Soon the sages set fire to the boy's body, and the slim shoulder under his hand starts to shake as his daughter begins to sob. He gently steers her back into the palace, his face grim.
He'd hoped to never attend a funeral with his daughter, but he is only a father. Father's cannot stop death, despite how much they may want to.
He leads her to her bedroom, only a few doors down from his own. In this moment he wishes that her mother was here, but the Fire Lady has been called to the Earth Kingdom on business, and will not return for another week.
Zuko takes in a deep breath. He's never been good with counseling. "Look—"
"Don't," he daughter snaps. "Don't."
Zuko fidgets between his two feet, already growing frustrated with himself. "I've lost friends as well."
Tears streak down his daughter's face and he kicks himself. He shouldn't have said anything.
Her bottom lip trembles. "Not like Mi Yin. He was special. He was…he was my best friend."
And in that moment Zuko understands. His daughter is fourteen, almost a woman. Her feelings for her lost boy went beyond friendship. He wishes he had picked up that sooner.
Before he can open his mouth to say anything, his daughter disappears into her room.
Zuko makes a decision right then and there.
He finds the tattered box in the back of his closet. He hasn't looked inside in a very long time; it makes him sad to do so.
He finds the sketch that he'd drawn years ago. The paper is yellowing from age. He looks at it for a long moment, traces his fingertips across the drawing.
He can't feel the paper. The four fingertips on his right hand were burned away many years ago.
The person in the drawing is still beautiful.
He stands up and makes his way back to his daughter's room. He knocks and after a few seconds the door slowly opens.
His daughter's golden eyes are lined with red. Her gaze flicks to the sketch in his hand and she casts him a curious look.
A curious look that's still layered with sadness. Zuko wants to reassure her that the sadness will go away eventually, but he knows from experience that it won't. It'll always be there, the pain, but that life teaches you to live with it.
But Zuko knows that she'll have to learn that on her own.
"Can I come in?" he asks quietly.
She frowns, but nods, stepping back and allowing her father to come inside. He walks to her bed and sits down on the edge of it. His daughter follows, and when she is settled he hands her the sketch.
She stares at it for a long time. "Did you draw this?"
"She's pretty. Who is she?"
His daughter looks confused. She's not used to him saying sweet things about women who aren't her mother. "Oh. Was she your best friend?"
Zuko smiles a little bit at the memories that suddenly engulf his mind. "No."
"We were more like…kindred spirits," Zuko says thoughtfully.
Her voice goes soft. "Were?"
Zuko nods slowly. The images in his head, they're aching now. He glances down at his burnt fingertips.
"I told you before, I've lost friends too."
He can't breathe. Can't think.
He just knows that his sister has that look in her face, and that she's sending that look to the waterbender.
Azula moves into her lightning form, but does not point her fingers at him.
He might have screamed; he's not sure. He just knows that some desperate sound has ripped out of his throat. His feet move on their own accord, and he's going to do this. He's going to take this bolt, and he knows that he won't have time to redirect it properly.
He's going to die. He's going to die for her.
It'll be worth it.
But maybe his feet aren't fast enough, or maybe his sister's lightning isn't slow enough, but he doesn't quite reach the bolt in time. It skims past his fingertips, burning them away, but he doesn't cry out in pain. Not yet.
His body hits the ground and he can hear his sister laughing.
And then he is up on his feet. His sister is too distracted with her own triumph to try and attack him.
The girl in blue is on the ground and she is not moving.
Zuko sprints to her and crouches down beside her. He grasps her hand; it's like ice. The right side of her body is blackened.
She turns her blue eyes onto him and for a moment they're full of life, full of all the things that he wants, and then she smiles and those eyes dim and Zuko knows that she is gone.
He stands up and lets all of his fury roll out of his body. Soon his sister is dead. Burned.
He picks up the waterbender's body and carries her inside. It takes him until nightfall to work up the nerve to close her eyes. He'll never see those eyes again and it hurts. It hurts.
A slim hand closes over his right one, blocking his burnt fingertips from view.
His daughter does not speak, only leans her head against his shoulder as he cries.
She understands that he understands now. They've always communicated their best through unspoken words.
After Zuko manages to compose himself, he reaches for his sketch, but his daughter holds it to her chest.
"Can I keep this?" she asks, eyes bright and wide. Her hair is black as night, and even though she is beautiful, sometimes it pains Zuko that she doesn't look like the girl in his sketch.
"I'll take good care of it," she continues. "And maybe…and maybe someday you can tell me more about her?"
Zuko swallows thickly, his throat feeling tight. But he nods anyway. "Yeah. Yeah, okay."
His daughter holds the sketch back out and looks quizzically down at it. "I always wondered why you gave me a Water Tribe name. It couldn't have just been because it was pretty." She gives her father a tight, knowing smile.
Sometimes Zuko thinks that his daughter is too smart for her own good. He makes his way to the door before looking back over his shoulder. She's still staring down at the sketch, and Zuko hopes that it will distract her from her own loss, even if just for a little while.
"Good night, Katara."
I've been feeling sad lately, so this happened.
I know. I'm mean.