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Between Secrets

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“How is your waterbending training coming along?”

Kya shrugs and throws a piece of bread into the pond, where it’s eagerly gobbled up by the nearest turtleduck. “It’s fine,” she says.

“I spent too much time with that look on my face after training to not know what it means,” Zuko remarks. It’s just the two of them in the palace’s courtyard; Bumi and Tenzin had turned down Zuko’s offer to join her there, and Izumi is presumably off doing something important and Crown Princess-y. “What’s giving you trouble?”

“It’s hard,” Kya says. “And everyone wants me to get everything right away. I practice so much but when I finally get something right no one even notices because they all think I should already be a master!”

“People have high expectations for you, being the Avatar’s daughter,” Zuko says. “Not to mention Katara’s. But it’s impossible for anyone to live up to everything that’s expected of them – you need to decide for yourself what’s worth focusing on.”

“It’s not fair.” Kya rips off a piece of bread and throws it into the pond more viciously than she needs to. The turtleducks aren’t phased, and eat it just the same. “I’m not even really his daughter, anyway! It’s just some stupid game we all play for – for I don’t know what reason!” The words tumble out of her mouth with no real input from her, but the surge of anger in her throat is strong enough that she can’t bring herself to care about what she’s saying.

A hand grabs her wrist before she can rip off another piece of bread and she looks up, surprised. She’s not afraid – she doesn’t think she could ever be afraid of Zuko – but finding herself on the receiving end of one of those intense states she can start to understand why some people find the Fire Lord intimidating.

“Kya,” Zuko says, her voice low and serious, “has anyone ever said anything like that to you? Has anyone tried to convince you you’re not Aang’s daughter?”

“Tenzin’s his favorite,” Kya mutters.

Zuko grimaces but doesn’t argue the point. “That’s not what I asked,” is all she says.

“No,” Kya admits. She looks away, unwilling to continue meeting that gaze. “But it’s true, isn’t it? I’m not really the Avatar’s daughter. Not the way everyone thinks. Not where it counts.”

Her wrist is released, and Kya glances back as Zuko resettles herself where she’s kneeling in the grass. She tosses another piece of bread into the pond and Kya follows suit, wondering if that’s going to be the end of the conversation, but after a few moments Zuko says:

“Have you ever heard the story of how I got my scar?”

Kya’s sitting on Zuko’s right side, and with Zuko still facing the pond it’s as if the scar isn’t there at all. “You got it when you were banished,” Kya supplies.

“Yes. And do you know anything else about it?”

She doesn’t, Kya realizes. She’s never given the scar much thought; it’s always been a part of Zuko, no more to be questioned than her nose, and she knows that her parents and their friends had often been in the thick of the fighting during the war. They all have scars. “Nooooo,” Kya says, drawing her answer out into a question of its own.

“Hmm.” Zuko’s back straightens, her hands going from her lap to her knees to half-reaching for her face and back to her lap again, nervous and unsettled. “I was supposed to fight an Agni Kai against Fire Lord Ozai when I was just a year older than you. I refused to fight him and he told me he was teaching me respect when he…did this.” Zuko’s hand comes up to touch the scar Kya still can’t see. “I was still in bandages when I began my exile.”

The words are clearly meant to be factual, emotionless, but Zuko’s voice still quavers with something Kya’s not sure she wants to identify. “Your…father did that to you?” she asks uncertainly. Her mother and father have told her about Ozai, but she’s never spoken to Zuko about him. She knows, of course, that Ozai was an evil, cruel man, but somehow the thought of doing that to one’s own child seems beyond even him.

“No,” Zuko says quietly. She turns to face Kya, and the scar that previously had been of little interest now seems new and awful. Kya can’t keep her eyes off of it. “He wasn’t my father, Kya. Not where it counted. I may have called him that for years, but he lost the right to call himself that long before the Agni Kai. My father was, for all intents and purposes, my Uncle Iroh. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Kya does, but there’s too many thoughts getting jumbled up in her head and eventually what comes out of her mouth is, “I never call you mama anymore.”

Zuko’s good eye widens. “I…suppose you don’t,” she says.

Kya used to; in fact, one of her earliest memories is of calling Zuko mama in public and being quickly shushed, her father saying something to whoever’s listening about how funny kids are, not knowing the difference between a mother and an aunt. The older she gets the more details she invents to fill out the scene: her mother’s protective bristling, her mama’s frozen smile, the secret pain in her father’s eyes as he pretends. Kya later learned to only call Zuko that in private, and eventually remembering when it was safe to be honest became too much of a chore and she settled on always calling Zuko by her first name.

It’s all just a game, and Kya is sick of playing it.

“I’m proud to be the daughter of Fire Lord Zuko,” she says into the silence. “And I’m proud to be the daughter of Master Katara, and I…I’m proud to be the daughter of Avatar Aang.” She never truly doubted that she was, but sometimes it’s hard not to feel like she has to choose, to give in to the secrecy and amputate part of her family. “And I hate having to pretend that I’m not all of those things!” She’s curled in on herself by the time she finishes, her arms wrapped around her legs and her knees under her chin.

Zuko sighs and reaches out to rest a warm hand on Kya’s shoulder. “I know,” she says. “Believe me, we hate it too. And maybe if Bumi wasn’t older than Izumi…I know it’s not a fair place we’ve put you three in, but we didn’t think it would be right to keep you in the dark.”

“I’m proud to be your daughter,” Kya repeats. “But…but I never get to see you anymore, and Izumi gets to be your daughter in public, and…” She sniffles and buries her face in her knees. Part of her wishes she’d never started this conversation, but it feels surprisingly good to get all of it off of her chest, all of these confusing feelings that have been incubating inside her for what feels like her entire life.

Zuko’s fingers tighten on Kya’s shoulder. “I hope you know that I don’t love you three any less for the fact that I can’t officially claim you as my children,” she says. “And that Aang doesn’t love you any less for not having borne you, nor Katara your brothers. And…and perhaps we can arrange for you three to come here more frequently. I’d like to see you more than once every few months, myself.”

Kya props her chin back up on her knees, blinking away tears. “I’d like that,” she whispers.

“Good,” Zuko says. “That’s good.”

Kya abandons all pretense and shifts closer to Zuko, who is holding very still, so she can press into Zuko’s side and take comfort from her solid warmth. “Thanks, mama,” she says quietly, and she hears Zuko exhale shakily above her. They haven’t fixed the world, but Kya is the daughter of three of the people who brought the Hundred Year War to an end, so she figures if anyone can make this right, she can. For now, though, she’s content to feel her mama breathing next to her as she slowly begins to feed the turtleducks once more.