"Hi Izumi! How are things in the Fire Nation?" The women hugged each other, pulling back when a waiter approached to lead them to their table. Once they were seated and had placed their orders, Izumi grabbed Kya's hand, gold eyes sparkling.
"I brought a surprise! So, I was going through dad's belongings because we're cleaning out his room. Under his bed, in a faded sack, was this." Kya's eyes widened as the Fire Lord dropped dozens of carefully stacked and bound envelopes onto the table. With a glance at the other woman, she tenatively reached out for a stack of about five or ten scrolls, realizing they were letters. After a moment of going through each one in the stack, she discovered that all of them, at least in that bundle, were from her mother.
"I've looked through the others. All of them were Master Katara's letters to my father. What's weird is her letters were hidden away with a lot of care, but I had found many others from Master Sokka, Master Toph, and even the Avatar kept in his normal place. These were out of sight, so I instantly became suspicious. And since Katara was your mother, I figured we could look together." Kya sat back, setting the bundle down as the tea and snacks arrived, the waiter bowing before leaving to assist someone else.
"I don't know Izumi. I mean, these must have been hidden for a reason. Would it be right to go through them now?" The Fire Lord reached for some letters, untying the ribbon and sifting through them.
"The fact that they were hidden is enough reason to look. Besides, it's not like I would be dishonoring him. He's gone now." Kya shook her head, though she picked up a scroll, tracing her mom's sea; with her fingers. She felt it would probably be best to burn the letters, but her curiosity was getting the better of her. Her mom was such a wonderful person in her life, sticking by Aang's side no matter what and raising three kids while still tending to healing lessons. Kya missed her mother more in that moment than she had in a while.
"Come on, Kya. Don't you want to know? Don't you want to read your mom's words?" Hesitantly, she turned the scroll over and, with a deep breath, broke the seal. Izumi was at her side in a moment, waiting for Kya to unroll the scroll so they could both read.
"Well, that's kind of lame. This is just a letter about the Southern Water Tribe and how the reconstruction was going. Some stuff about Aang..." Kya blocked out her friend's words, pouring over her mother's beautiful script. Just seeing her words made her feel closer to her mother, and she could just barely hear her mother's voice speaking the sentences to her. Izumi was already opening another one, scanning the page with the practiced efficiency being Fire Lord brought her, but Kya was having a harder time moving on.
It was old, it was faded, and it was kind of boring, but it was her mother.
"Oo! Here's an interesting one! Here, Master Katara admits she misses the Fire Nation sun and gorgeous beaches. Then she goes on to say how she misses my father more than she thought she would. It ends with 'With Love, Katara'. I wonder when their letters changed from that one you have, to this one, and what caused it." Kya perked up at Izumi's find, quickly picking up another one and diving in, trying to place herself in her mother's shoes.
An hour later, and they had gone through nearly every letter Izumi had brought, the waiter growing impatient with them after a while. Kya wondered about the gradual change from cordial to friendly to something a bit more than that. Kya couldn't put a word on it, not without Zuko's side of the conversation, but she noticed the wording and length of the letters changing significantly as time wore on. One would think the opposite would happen, that as life drug on, Katara would have less time to write someone she hardly spoke to in real life, but apparently that was not true.
"I wonder if your mom kept any of his letters." Kya hadn't considered that, though it was a natural assumption. Then again, it could be that the letters just meant more to Zuko than they did Katara. Kya had no idea how the two benders had gotten along, having only seen him in the briefest moments during her life, and Katara never really talked about the war or anything dissociated with it; including the Fire Lord himself.
"I'll check when I go home. Thanks for sharing this with me, Izumi. I'll let you know if I find anything interesting!" The two women parted with a smile and a hug, Izumi letting Kya take one of the scrolls with her before heading back to the palace.
A week later, Kya was cleaning one of the rooms for an important visitor who was coming to look at something Kya had no idea about, but figured it wasn't any big deal. Nothing three children of the Avatar couldn't handle, anyway.
As she was cleaning one of the closets, she discovered a secret space in the wall. Curious, she carefully stuck her hand in the hole, eyebrows shooting up when her fingers brushed against what felt like scrolls. Excitement suddenly pulsed through her veins, and as she pulled out stack after stack of scrolls, all previously sealed with the Fire Nation emblem, she thought of Izumi and her father's stash of letters.
Would she find the same gradual shift like she had seen in Katara's? Or, was the former Fire Lord as careful as his daughter was about keeping things clean cut and void of extra detail, in the case that anyone should discover them? She opened the first scroll she touched, sitting with her back against the wall to read the scratchy handwriting. After puzzling through some phrases she didn't understand, she was finally able to understand what Zuko was saying.
It was a much later letter, and it was in response to Katara's letter about missing the Fire Nation, and more importantly, the Fire Nation leader himself. Kya was surprised to find Zuko to be much more candid and open than anyone else she'd met from the Fire Nation, expressing his distaste for the throne, how much he wished they were back in the simpler times of the war, and how much he wanted to visit the Southern Water Tribe. He event went into detail about a parka he was having specially made, and how all the tailors looked at him when he had requested it. Kya laughed when he wrote that his uncle was trying to teach him the tea joke he'd butchered before and that he was going to finally be able to tell her the whole joke when they saw each other. She had heard the infamous story from her Uncle Sokka, and she wondered if Zuko had ever gotten to tell her about it.
She gathered up the other scrolls, eyes widening at the amount, far more than Katara had sent in return, and tossed them on the bed. She needed to finish cleaning up, but as soon as she was done, she was sending a message to Izumi and then sitting down with a pot of tea and reading the rest.
A few hours passed, but she was finally sat down with the letters, anxious to get a peek into the apparently close friendship her and Izumi's parents had with each other. As she read them, however, it was apparent that Katara had stopped responding at some point, Zuko's letters becoming more confused as she went. He still shared stories of his days, of raising Izumi and dealing with Mai's betrayals, and always ended them with 'Love Always, Zuko'. Kya instantly found what was apparently the last letter sent, as it was the shortest of them all, and it simply stated that he was going to be too busy to send letters anymore. He had wished her well, and signed with the Fire Lord stamp.
Kya felt her heart break a little. What had happened? Why had Katara stopped responding to his letter, but still keep them hidden away? And judging by the worn paper and the looser rolls, she had read them often. Had something happened in her life that had kept her from being able to write Zuko back? Had she tired of writing him all the time? Did he do something, and she had grown angry with him?
She hoped to be able to talk to Izumi about it, and maybe they could puzzle through the letters, match them up with each other, and see if they could figure out what had exactly happened. It made her sad that such a bond was broken, and by her mother of all people, but perhaps it had been for the best.
Katara watched her daughter sort through the letters she'd hidden away, sighing at the rippling waters of the Looking Pond. She had hoped those letters would never be found, and seeing them again only forced memories on her she'd tried to keep at bay. She noted that her daughter seemed confused as she read Zuko's letters, and she wondered what it as that confused Kya.
As she continued to watch, shuffling from behind her alerted her to someone approaching.
"I see you've lost your ability to move silently." She turned to greet Zuko, who shrugged at her and smiled sheepishly.
"I've kind of been around here for a while, Katara. I just didn't want to scare you. What are you doing here?" They both turned to watch Katara's daughter sorting the scrolls, and hen Katara glanced at Zuko, she saw his eyes soften.
"You shouldn't spend so much time watching them. It will only make you downhearted. We are in the Spirit World, now. There's nothing we can do." Katara sighed, leaning into him as they both continued to watch. She wondered if he was thinking about the letters, about the times they'd met up in secret just to enjoy each other's company, and how she'd just cut him off so suddenly in the end. It still made her feel bad, but it was something she, at the time, had felt was the right thing to do.
"I'm sorry about that, Zuko." He only hugged her close, running a hand over her hair.
"I know. It's okay."