Chapter 1: I Might Regret This
Wu took a deep breath. He bit at the inside of his cheek and smoothed back his hair for the hundredth time, he was nervous. Oh god, he was actually going to do it. Wu exhaled and knocked on the door.
Here I go.
Mako opened his bedroom door on Wu fidgeting and holding this envelope. The top button of his collar was unbuttoned and there were beads of sweat at his hairline.
"Uh, hey Wu. Do you need anything?" Mako raised an eyebrow and Wu looked at the floor.
"Can I come in? We need to talk."
Mako held the door to let in Wu and closed it behind them. There was no casual remark about how he was such a gentleman or an exaggerated thank you. Wu sat on the edge of the bed, his feet tapping on the hardwood floor and his eyes flitting to every corner of the room.
Mako sat next to him and turned Wu's attention to him.
"Is everything okay?" Mako inquired.
"No? Yes? Um," Wu attempted to steady himself, "Yes everything is fine. You haven't done anything if that's what you were thinking. It's just, er..."
Wu leaned his head against Mako's shoulder, "You know how I abdicated, like three hours ago?"
Wu stood up and stuck the envelope out at Mako.
"I wrote this a couple days beforehand. Please just read it. Come to talk to me when you're finished."
And before Mako could ask any further questions, Wu turned heel and left without a word, leaving only a worried Mako, an envelope, and an empty room.
Chapter 2: Okay I'm Seriously Starting to Have Second Thoughts
The beginning of Wu's letter
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
If what I think will happen actually will happen then chances are you're really confused right now. I can't say I blame you, I really don't see any way that I give you this without you thinking something is seriously wrong or whatever. Before you read this I need to ask you not to discuss with other people. I know you won't, but still.
I haven't told anyone about this. I didn't think that I ever was, but I trust you and I want you to know.
I just ask that you don't make fun of me. Even if your reaction is "Oh that sucks," just don't make too much fun of me.
Get ready, hell knows I need it.
Royalty owns a ton of property. I easily have lived in at least fifteen different mansions each in their own district of the Earth Kingdom and at least ten places outside the Earth Kingdom. I loved it. I loved traveling and learning about different cultures and languages and customs. I'm well aware that I was stupidly lucky. And not just for a person in general. Most Earth Kingdom royalty before be never stepped foot outside the palace or the physical Upper Ring, but I get to spend my early years traveling the wealthy world for my schooling.
I never got to really see any of the important parts.
Remember when I told you that I had barely been outside the Upper Ring? I don't know if you know this, but the Upper Ring isn't just here in Ba Sing Se. The rings are a system that we use to talk about the social classes of the world. It doesn't just refer to the physical rings of Ba Sing Se (though that is the most common use). It refers to the people around the world and the class of them compared to us. Interesting right?
Yeah, despite the fact that I've been to nearly every rich district in the world I'd almost never been outside the "Upper Ring." And the Upper Ring included tons of trips in which I would have new learning environments and be more immersed in the language, culture, history, etc that I was studying with my tutors. Though I never stepped outside the rich mansions.
Most people don't live like that, so it doesn't really count as going there, but I digress.
The trips eventually stopped. I asked them personally to stop. Yeah, I enjoyed them a lot, but I started to dread them for a very specific reason. I began to hate leaving Ba Sing Se more and more. Don't get me wrong though if not for this one circumstance I would have never come back if given the chance.
I had a friend in Ba Sing Se. My first and only friend for the first nineteen years of my life. I was so excited. I actually had someone to talk to and get into trouble with and be a kid with.
Of course, eventually, you came along and were my second friend of all time.
Both of you changed my life in ways that I can't even begin to think about. Both of you made me different without you. Both of you I love in different ways.
You are two different eras of my life. I wish I could have both of you in the same era, but I can't, and it's awful and makes me stupidly cry if I think about it for too long.
I haven't told anyone in the second era about the first one.
I'm sure you have a lot of questions. I'll answer one now.
Her name was Fan.
REALLY short chapter again but I promise that there will be MUCH longer chapters once we get farther down the line.
Chapter 3: Yep This Was Most Definitely A Mistake
Fan was my best friend. I still believe she is, no matter what happens or who comes in or out of my life there is one thing that stays constant; Fan Tseng is my best friend. I remember our meeting so well. I was out with one of my nannies. I had the day off because it was my birthday and I was celebrating in every way that a young prince would.
She had somehow snuck in by jumping the walls the night before from the Lower Ring. Well, less jumping them and more using the best of her earthbending to go under them. To this day I'm shocked she wasn't caught, but I suppose with my aunt's demands and an outlying village that owed her taxes, people were less concerned about keeping little girls in their ring.
She was shuffling along trying not to be noticed but receiving lots of strange looks before a guard of mine walked over to her and began asking her all sorts of questions about where she was from and where she was supposed to be. Of course being a four-year-old, she stuttered and almost started to cry but I marched over to her and grabbed her hand.
"I'm five today and you're invited to my birthday party." I pumped our fists into the air like we had achieved something great. My nanny thought this was really cute and the guard who was with us thought this was really annoying because technically he would have to break policy to let this happen. Though of course, I was royalty and why would he bother the Queen about this right? So he just sighed and ushered us along.
"I'm Wu! Today's my birthday! Who are you?"
"I'm Fan, I'm four."
"Ha! I'm older than you so I can tell you what to do!"
We spent the whole day together. Every single thing we did the guard would ask, "Okay Fan, ready to go home now?" and every single time I would yell at him that no she was not ready to go home. When he told me to let Fan decide that I intelligently would inform him that I was older so I could tell Fan what to do. I don't think he wanted to deal with us that night. I didn't learn until later that Fan didn't really have a home. She was homeless and parentless. Not an orphan, but they had sold her. A common practice in the Lower Ring, unfortunately.
I had so much fun with Fan. I thought she was so funny and nice. When I was walking back to the palace and the guard was escorting Fan back to the Lower Ring, I had waved goodbye to her and asked my nanny, "Can I play with Fan tomorrow?" Bless her soul, she smiled sweetly at me and told me, "Maybe," thinking full well that I would never see Fan again. But the next day when I asked to go play with Fan, my nanny realized that I wouldn't forget. For a long time, I would "Maybe" get to play with Fan if I did all my schoolwork and was a good boy. That was until I had a fit and demanded that a Dai Li member go find her and invite her to an official playdate at the palace.
It took a lot of convincing on my nanny's part, but she managed that we'd get to play together once a month. Of course, when Fan and I played together, we planned to play a lot more than we were supposed to.
I still can't believe we got that lucky. But we kept up our friendship the best we could. There would be weeks where I slept during the day and spent the entire night out by the gardens or in the library with Fan. To be fair, there was about a two-year gap where we didn't play at all. I taught her reading and writing and different languages that I had learned myself. I snuck her books so she could read or teach herself between our "lessons" I'm pretty sure my nanny knew about it, but she wasn't eager to stop it.
I had a friend.
As we grew older, we began to demand more and more time together on top of our monthly meetings and every birthday of mine spent together. There was one point where Fan and I had a discussion on how to spend the maximum time together.
"Okay so how about both of us enroll in university? We can go to classes together, do homework together, and study! It's perfect!"
"That's going to be a no." I scoffed
"Excuse me? What, you can't step outside the Upper Ring without your highness getting tarnished?" Fan joked.
"It's a no because I already have had sixteen hours a day of tutoring every day for years. I have no desire to go back to school."
"Fair enough, but what other way am I going to move up rings?"
That was a question that both of us wondered about for a long time. Luckily as we wondered, Fan was becoming a better earthbender by the day. Being in the Lower Ring, she had to learn how to defend herself, both bending and nonbending. She was learning both by herself and from books I would sneak for her. Eventually, it dawned on us.
I was old enough to have a bodyguard. There were no rules saying your bodyguard had to be the same gender as the royalty they were guarding. There were no rules on a minimum age for bodyguarding.
We had a plan.
Fan was eleven when she became my bodyguard. It's really funny to say it like that but at the time it didn't dawn on us that was really young. All we knew was now she was my bodyguard and we were together every day.
Of course, she still took her job seriously. She actually had a two month leave at one point to learn metalbending. Trust me when I say, that girl is more than determined.
For a long time, things were pretty normal. We continued our normal routine with an event now and then, but those are stories for another day. Now that I think about it harder, from age five to sixteen I was with Fan for most of my day. Days without her seemed weird and unnatural. Almost as if something was missing or there was somewhere I had to be that I had forgotten about. I think I relied on her too much, just like I relied on you too much, but in a different way. Of course, I was still the annoying, loud, cocky Wu with her that I was with you, but Fan knew me. And I knew her. Not the normal way of knowing someone. The knowing someone where you can take a look at them and know exactly what that person is thinking. With Fan I could be the exaggerated Wu that I was. I just sort of fell in of habit of having someone who I knew why I acted so vain and extravagant.
I don't want to say that makes up at all for being the most annoying person I know and acting like a kid, because it doesn't. That's just how I feel about it.
But then my aunt died.
And everything changed.
I remember exactly what I was doing when Fan charged into my room. She had gone to go investigate yells from my aunt that were more angry than usual and I was drawing mandalas (Fan can't draw one to save her life and it's really funny). Less than a minute later, she bangs open the door and starts spouting orders.
"We need to get you out of here." Fan grabbed the sturdiest bag I had and stuffed a bunch of clothes inside.
"Woah, Fan, what's going on?" I stood up but didn't dare to try and stop her.
"Your aunt was just killed. We have to go."
I, being a highly functioning idiot, chuckled.
"You think this is funny?!" She slammed the bag down onto the couch.
"You know I hate my aunt. If they were trying to kill the Earth Queen I don't blame them she's a pretty sucky queen on top on aunt."
"You idiot!" Fan chucked another bag packed with clothes at my chest, "This isn't about killing the Queen, this is about killing the Earth Kingdom! They'll be coming after you next! So we need to get you out of here before they find you!"
I was suddenly a lot more concerned about my aunt's death.
"Wait a minute where are we supposed to go? What if they have people at other of our properties and safe hou-
Of course, that's when we hear a man's voice over the emergency broadcasting radio. Though Dai Li agents rush in and are quick to drive our attention away from said man's voice.
"Your Highness! Her Majest-"
"Has been killed, I'm up to speed," I shouted, but I don't think my shaking voice and body was making me sound very authoritative. I paced around my room just wondering when an assassin was going to jump through that door and kill me while Fan chatted up the Dai Li agents.
"We are entrusting you, Ms. Tseng, to bring his highness to an absolutely safe place until threat levels have died down and to bring him to the United Republic in no less than five weeks time."
"Consider it done."
Fan and I acted like criminals in my own house to get to a Satomobile she could drive us to safety. Where safety was, I had no idea at the time. Only that it wasn't here. Not for me or Fan, or anyone associated with the government at the time.
By the time she was driving the closest route out of Ba Sing Se, the walls were already down. I always thought that I'd be happy to see the walls of Ba Sing Se go, but it was quite the opposite. When I saw those walls I saw walls that had been up for thousands of years destroyed in one fell swoop. I looked behind me to see the place where I had grown up ravaged by people gathering all the gold and jewels they could find. I saw Fan, someone who I had always trusted to keep cool, afraid.
To me, it looked like the apocalypse.
We drove for days. Anytime we ran out of gas, Fan would stop the Satomobile and walk to the back and fill it up. Then she would just get back in the car and keep driving. For three days we didn't stop. Fan was struggling to keep awake, I could tell. She was blinking too much and moving around and her eyes were bloodshot.
"We should stop to sleep," I broke the three-day silence.
"We can keep going."
"Let me rephrase, you need to stop for sleep."
"I'm okay Wu. Really, I am. All that we need to do is get you to a safe place."
"You are going to fall asleep." I waved my hand in front of her face to illustrate my point. She slapped it away. Surrender.
I don't know how long I bothered her about that. I don't know how long she denied it, but it doesn't matter because I got her to pull over.
She bent a huge slab of rock to cover the car so we'd just look like a big rock and put down our seats as makeshift beds. I tried not to complain too much about not having a blanket or a feather pillow, but I didn't think I'd be able to sleep very well.
I remember laying in silence for a long time, the past few days had been so hectic and so impossible. I still have a hard time believing they had actually happened. But the silence was eventually broken.
"Do you think everything's going to be okay?" Part of me didn't like that question, because I had the exact same one. I, of course, know now that yes, it was going to be okay, but at that moment I had no idea.
"Yes. I think when everything is over and done, it's all going to be okay. When all of this is over, you and I are going to go on the biggest shopping trip you've ever been on and then we'll throw a party and dance until our feet fall off."
"That sounds... just like you."
She rested her head on my chest like a pillow. I felt protected and peaceful and relied on. Eventually, we fell asleep.
I expected that when I woke up she'd already to up and back on the road, but she was still asleep. I was in no rush to wake her, she probably needed it, but I also didn't want to stay in one place for too long. I checked the time and both of us had easily been out for almost a day. That sounds like it's time to move on.
"Hey Fan, wake up."
She groaned and shifted back in her seat.
"I'm up I'm up."
And we kept going.
We found this Oasis place. I forget exactly what it was called, but Fan got out of the car to get some more water and food for us. We had run out.
Apparently, they had a wanted poster of me in there (I didn't go in, Fan said so) which made me extremely anxious to get out of there.
Anyway, the rest of the way to Republic City was rather boring. Well, not really. We went to other places and had other conversations, but I hope you'll forgive me for not telling you. I feel as if those times were just between her and me. I want to keep it that way. Thank you for understanding.
Those weeks felt like years and were the only times with her that I didn't like. Fan was in her element (pun intended). She always told me how she wanted to see more of the world, how she wanted to explore. I'm actually kind of sorry now. I think I weighed her down in Ba Sing Se, though she'd never admitted it.
We reached the United Republic, in Republic City. We were starving and ready to crash, but we had made it.
Chapter 5: Maybe It's For the Best
Wu's letter continues
I was overjoyed when we made it to Republic City. Mostly because we had made it there in one piece and that one piece is alive. Not to complain or anything though, but that one piece after making it to the police station had to stay up the entire night answering questions that we mostly knew nothing about. It was not a pleasant night, and Chief Beifong had absolutely no sympathy for neither Fan nor me.
When they were done interrogating us, we found the swankiest hotel and rented the Presidential suite. We stumbled in, took off our shoes and crashed without even bothering to eat. Heaven knows we were much too exhausted for any of that.
When I woke up, Fan was already showered and dressed. She had ordered some breakfast for the both of us and made some tea. I was honestly just ready to get a haircut, find a royal-owned property closest to me and recover from the past few weeks, but Fan had something to discuss with me.
"You're getting a new bodyguard," she quickly said in between bites of breakfast.
"I'm getting a new what?" I just stopped eating altogether.
"A new bodyguard. His name is Feng. He's more than capable and a very talented waterbender native to Republic City."
I was dumbfounded.
"What about you? Fan, you're my bodyguard. What's going on?"
She sighed and pushed aside her plate.
"You're not technically King yet. While we were gone, a lot happened. Did you know the Avatar was captured while we were gone? She almost died in the Avatar State. There's a dowager who is beginning to knit together the Earth Kingdom until your coronation. But I have doubts about her methods. She's supposed to be a diplomat purely, but I think she's taking the role of militant. I doubt her ability to know how to be a proper militant."
"So you mean that you..."
"Yeah, I'm stepping up to Commander."
I really didn't know how to feel about that. I knew that she was probably meant for greater things, but this meant that we'd be apart. Maybe for a while. You could say that I wasn't too excited about that. I haven't gone more than two days without seeing her since I was seven.
But I wasn't going to stop my friend from doing her part or from doing what makes her happy. No matter how much I hated the concept of her leaving. I'd have another bodyguard! Surely that would be just the same. WRONG. WRONG. MY GOD. My new bodyguard was definitely not used to any of my antics. He quit after only a week. I had other bodyguards. Some of which would be fired by me and others would just quit because I was a handful.
Fan thought it was hilarious. She and I exchanged letters back and forth. After you had become my bodyguard, I wrote to her about you and how you didn't seem like you were going to quit or how I wasn't going to fire you (amongst other details). Here is her letter following mine.
You have a new bodyguard? What a surprise. I'm glad you actually like this one, he seems interesting. As always, there's a lot going on down here. I'm becoming increasingly more irritated with Kuvira. She keeps acting as if the troops are her troops. I suppose she does technically outrank me (don't ever make me say that again), but I am the Commander! she can't just add and drop soldiers in her jurisdiction and send me a letter notifying me of the changes.
Kuvira and I met again yesterday to discuss this issue. I was trying to explain to her that this simple process of adding soldiers to her troops is not how we do things and that we must perform physicals and written tests and get reasons why they decided to join the army. I shouldn't technically be telling you this, but a whopping 60% of troops gathered by Kuvira joined her unwillingly. That's unheard of and unstable. Not only is that well outside the percentage that is usual (2.8% to be exact), but it is also a violation of Zaheer Rights (I hate the name too) that says prisioners cannot be forced to be soldiers or human weapons.
Anyway, I heard that the Avatar was recovering? I also heard that your bodyguard was friends with her. Please give him my best regards. Speaking of your new bodyguard, you talked a lot about him in your letter to me.
Does Wu already have a crush? That's adorable. His name was Officer Mako right? If so, I'm glad they finally got someone like him to be your bodyguard. I did a quick background check for curiosity's sake.
Did you know he has a brother who is a lavabender with Kuvira? After checking up on this I realized that I've actually met him in my interactions with Kuvira. His name is Bolin and he is very good at handling situations where one party gets a bit too passionate or out of hand. He's calmed both me and Kuvira down during our arguments plenty of times.
I actually had lunch with him the other day after a rather heated discussion with Baatar Jr., Eska, Desna, and Kuvira. We were discussing the islands which are technically Earth Kingdom land that have declared themselves loyal to the Water Tribes (some Northern and some Southern). Being a Beifong, I expected Baatar Jr. to stay cool and collected during our altercation. That was certainly not the case. He was yelling and screaming in Eska and Desna's faces (who most comically had no readable expression on their faces). Anyway, I mentioned to Bolin that you were a friend of mine and that you were changing bodyguards like I changed clothes (you really have been). Bolin actually said that his brother, Mako, was your new bodyguard. I asked him if he was Bolin and he said yes. Bolin asked me to tell you to tell Mako that he says hi. Why he couldn't send his own letter is beyond me.
Some people are getting eager to get their Earth King. Do you have a plan for when your coronation is going to be? I understand that you want to make sure the Earth Kingdom is united and it's safe for you to go back to the throne, but if I have to call Kuvira the "Great Uniter" again, I'm going to "unite" with 60% of her troops and cut her down. I know I complain a lot about Kuvira, but she is using my power to her advantage and that is not something I'm okay with. I'm sick of having to pick up the military messes she's made.
Some diplomat huh.
I wanted to thank you for sending me those oils which are supposed to help you sleep, but I hate to tell you they aren't working so far. At least they smell good.
I'm sorry I couldn't be there for your sixteenth birthday. I broke our streak of being together for your birthday, but so much has been going on. The Earth Kingdom is in military crisis. There are so many anarchist uprisings and revolutions between city states I can't even keep track of them anymore.
I visited Kyoshi Island recently. I found some warriors that will help me keep order within city states and outlying villages. They are all capable warriors and their teamwork is impeccable, I'm hoping some of my Sergeants could learn from them.
I've been thinking, and I might keep my job after you become King. I know our plan was for me to go back to being your bodyguard, but if we do that, Kuvira is going to come into my position and I won't have any power over her. I have no problem aking her my Liutenant, she truly is skilled and wonderful at inspiring people through her words, but her becoming Commander? No way.
If there is one power I have over Kuvira, it's that she respects me and wants to earn my respect.
I'm not giving her anything until I see some change though.
Have fun at your play, A Lion Dance is a great production (or so I've heard). Bolin says hi to his brother.
Anyway, I forgot to tell you about Bolin saying hi.
Bolin says hi.
I tried to keep this under wraps from you. I kind of just wanted this to stay between her and me. I'm sorry about that. But anyway, we saw each other before my coronation. I was so excited to see her. It had been such a long time since we met in person. Letters really aren't the same.
"Wu! It's so nice to see you again!" I hugged her for the first time in almost three years.
"Fan I'm so happy that you're here! You have no idea how long these past few years have been."
"I'm just glad you're finally becoming King. Then you and I can resume working together."
Needless to say, she was probably just as furious as I was after my disaster of a coronation. After I managed to annoy you enough to get you to leave me alone, I met up with Fan later. She wasn't pleased.
"I'm going to kill her," she said while staring into her tea. For once I couldn't tell if she said that jokingly.
"How could she do that? She didn't even give you the chance to be King! She waltzed right up and claimed the spot of the ruler for herself!"
"Fan," I turned her towards me, "It was my coronation. She can pretend all she likes, but the Earth Kingdom is a kingdom. I was already crowned King. I'm sure all of this will just die down soon."
I honestly didn't. I read the letters that she sent to me and she talked a lot about Kuvira. If there's something I know about Kuvira, it's that she's determined. Fan knew this too. But neither of us were willing to consider that conversation
More than once around this time, her question from years ago popped up in my head, Do you think it's going to be okay? The more I thought it, the more I hated it because I was becoming less certain that it would all be okay.
The moment I questioned that the most?
During the evacuation.
Chapter 6: It's Better He Knows
Wu's letter ends.
I don't know if you know this, but when Kuvira claimed power, entire factions split from the Earth Kingdom. Once it became apparent that she didn't have a choice, Fan and most of her armies split as well. Some stayed as spies, but Fan would get soldiers that joined Kuvira unwillingly to willingly join her. They would travel and do whatever they could to slow Kuvira down. She and I didn't write as much during this period of time. If we did exchange letters, they were always in the secret code we made when were younger and I always addressed them to a hotel where she'd pick them up. But this didn't happen often. Fan and her troops didn't stay in one place for too long. She didn't even know about the kidnapping.
Sidenote, be happy she never found out about that. You would have no chance.
Anyway, She was there just before the evacuation though. She was going to go inside the Mecha and find the plans to the Spirit Energy Gun and steal and destroy all plans. She was going to take our Kuvira if she could. I knew that wasn't going to turn out well. I didn't think that she'd fail, but I knew that she wouldn't exit the Mecha alive. I begged her not to fight Kuvira. I asked her to get the blueprints and get out of there.
"You can't do that," I remember my breath getting caught in my throat.
"Yes, I can. And I will. Kuvira's reign needs to end, Wu. Your reign has been put off enough."
Fan glared at me, "I'm more competent than you think!"
"That's not it, don't make it that," I tried saying this very slowly, I hated when she got like this. Sometimes Fan acted like she had something to prove. She became reckless and tried to be a hero. And then when someone tells her that something is dangerous or that she shouldn't do it or that it's risky, she acts as if someone challenged her. Well, sorry for not wanting you to die, don't mind me.
"What would you rather have me do? Go on a shopping trip? Perhaps a day at the spa! If you don't want to become King, you should just say so!"
"Hey! I'm trying to be a leader! Did you know that I suggested the evacuation?"
Fan scoffed at me, "Did you now? To impress the Avatar?"
I shut up.
"You can get everyone out of the city. I'll be doing my job."
I'm not going to say that conversation was a success. I really was just worried and I wished she saw that, but I suppose she wished I saw how she felt she had to do this. Not like it was made any better knowing that I did see how she felt, I just was concerned. And being concerned is not my forte. Whenever we got the chance, we'd usually talk all we could, but those days we hardly said two words to each other; even when passing in the hallways.
I decided to take the initiative. I stepped inside her room and waited for her to get back.
I didn't say anything.
"Listen, I'm sorry. I went off on you the other day. You are doing your job to the best of your ability, and so am I. I just felt frustrated about you criticizing my plan to go inside Kuvira's mecha. It wouldn't even matter. My troops need to be focused on stopping more of these weapons being made. There'd be no point on taking the prints inside the mecha. The blueprints are there, the weapon is built. The best we can do is stop it."
"I'm sorry too."
"Don't be, you said nothing wrong."
"No, just let me finish," I took a breath, "I don't regret calling the mecha a suicide mission. It was and I'm glad you saw that it's best not to do that. But I was brash and aggressive. That I'm sorry for."
She stuck out her pinky. Our old pinky promise. Call it childish, but it was a tradition. And no one breaks a pinky promise.
"Promise to be alive?"
I wrapped it with my own pinky.
"Cross my heart."
She ended up going to Zaofou. There were multiple copies of blueprints and most of them were in Zaofou. I still would rather her man the evacuation with me, but it was clear that was a losing battle for me.
"I'll be fine, we promised didn't we?"
"Hey, before you go," I slid my ring off my finger and slipped it on her thumb. She looked at me surprised. I don't blame her. That ring belonged to a powerful Earthbending King of Omashu. I gave her my look of approval before she could ask me if I was sure I wanted to give her this.
We hugged again.
"Come home, would you?" she told me.
The rest is history, but after I told you and Korra about the abdication, I realized that I hadn't told Fan yet. I was almost guilty, Fan was my best friend and I hadn't told her first about something like this. Though that did make me wonder, where was Fan? Last I had talked to her, she was going off to break into Zaofou. I suppose it made sense, once she was back at Republic City, we could talk.
Varrick and Zhu Li's wedding was probably wonderful for most people, but it was the worst wedding I've ever been to. I hate thinking about it. Do you know why?
After the wedding was over, I went back to the hotel. Only a couple of minutes in my hotel room, I get a knock on my door.
"Your Highness! I have urgent news to deliver concerning Commander-in-Chief Fan!"
My stomach dropped. Fan was in a hospital in Republic City, she was in bad shape. Really bad. A metalbender shot some shards at her. Most of them she was able to defect, but one hit her square in the chest. The damage on the outside wasn't a big deal, but the damage on the inside was. She was bleeding from the inside out, and the wound was badly infected. I didn't even get a taxi. I ran. A taxi probably would have been faster, but I didn't care. Nothing mattered at the moment. I could have suddenly become an airbender and I probably wouldn't have cared. I marched into the hospital, disheveled and panting.
"I'm here to see Fan Tseng. Where is she?" As you can gather, politeness wasn't a priority at the moment.
When I walked into her room, Fan was in a bed with the covers stretched over her and tubes and wires connecting her to every outlet in the room, even the lamp was unplugged. There were stitches across her forehead and eyebrow. deep ugly bruises were on her neck and jaw. Her eyes were closed and her head tilted away from me. I pulled up a chair and listened to her heartbeat. It was fast like she had just run. Not a good sign.
I pulled aside the blankets. They were tucked so tight against the mattress, you'd think they were meant to be restraints. Fan radiated heat like a furnace and was hot to the touch. Every inch below her neck and above her waist was tightly bandaged, excluding her hands. Blood seeped through in some parts of her chest and shoulders, but most of the wrappings were white. Around the blood, there was this gross yellowish pus that made me wrinkle my nose.
I don't I'd cried like that in a long time. I wished that I would wake up and we'd be kids again, or I'd be in a rather boring play or in a mud bath. Obviously, I was wishing for the impossible. I don't know how long I waited for Fan to wake up, but if I were to guess, I'd say maybe a million years.
Visiting hours were going to be over soon, but I asked if I could stay for the night. The original answer was no, but I was able to convince the staff otherwise. The wonders a couple thousand yuan can do.
She woke up the following night. Most of the day I drank coffee to try and keep myself awake, it mostly made me just jittery and did nothing for my tiredness, but when Fan's eyes opened, I was completely awake. Her eyes were bloodshot and despite sleeping for more than a day, she seemed to be drifting in and out of sleep.
"Wu?" Fan set her hand over the covers. It was red and shaky and hot, but nevertheless, it felt like Fan when I grabbed it. On her thumb was King Bumi's ring. I ran my finger over it as I cried. I felt so helpless at the moment, sitting with my friend. I was feeling so weak and small, I hated feeling out of power.
"Yeah, it's me. It's me. I'm here. Spirits Fan, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."
"Don't be." She shifted over in her bed. "You didn't metalbend at me."
I couldn't help it, I started to cry again I tried to hide it, but I get very ugly and it gets very obvious when I cry. When I did, Fan squeezed my hand.
"Oh no, Wu. Don't cry. It's such a happy time. You're going to be King any day now!"
I gave less than no shits about being King at the moment. How could I?
"About that," I sniffled, "I think I'm going to get rid of the monarchy. Turn the Earth Kingdom into the Earth Republic and make a democracy."
Fan smiled a little bit at that, "That's great Wu. You're doing such a good thing for the people."
Fan coughed and her heart monitor jumped. Fan started to cry silently, which made me cry even more.
Mako, I really tried to keep ahold of myself, honestly. But when I looked at the tubes and wires or Fan in a hospital gown, I couldn't hold back the tears. And I could tell, she was hurting too.
I felt so close to a conclusion. I thought that it would all wrap up all pretty in a nice little box with a bow. The past four years had been so chaotic. Never did anyone has a moment to breathe. And once we're at the finish line, I have to trip.
"Fan," I looked up from the floor, "Is it all going to be okay?"
Fan grinned at me, a real one, despite her waterworks. She clasped my other hand with her own. I felt her shaking more intensely now. She was stiff and bleeding, her eyes lightened and she wiped her eyes on her bandages.
"Yes, Wu. It's going to be okay."She stopped. "And I want you to know-"
"I want you to know that I'm so proud of who you've become. You've grown so much and you'll continue to grow. Being your friend has been the biggest honor I could have hoped for."
"And whatever you decide to do with your life, I know you're going to be great. You're the best friend I could ever have."
"Fan," I swallowed, I didn't want to talk like this was the last time we'd see each other, but I needed her to know my feelings. "You've made more of a difference in me than anyone else I know. We've been through it all and we've always stuck together. No matter what." We hugged and tried to forget the wires.
"No matter what happens, will we stick together?"
She laid her head on my shoulder, I felt her breath on my neck.
Fan died later that night. It was her infection that killed her in the end. I was in the room, sobbing. The flatline alerted a nurse who escorted me out of her room into the waiting room. The doctor came and told me he was sorry.
After the Kuvira incident, we had many funerals to perform, but there only one that truly I cared about, but I also didn't want to be there. It took Yumi, the Kyoshi Warrior, to push me out to her funeral. Fan was buried in full military honors and tens of thousands attended. I was among the six who carried her casket to her final resting place. She is under a tree. When we were kids sometimes we'd sneak out to that tree. It was under that tree that Fan was able to read her first book. It was under that tree we came up with the bodyguard plan, and it's under that tree Fan now rests.
I sometimes forget she isn't here anymore. I still find it strange that someone who was such a constant in my life could disappear so suddenly. I still find her passing hard to talk about. She is my best friend. Always has been, and always will be.
The day I awarded Korra the Medal of Honor, I was also going to give one to Commander-in-Chief Fan Tseng. I would still like to give her one, but I would like some company.
Fan Tseng rests closely outside Ba Sing Se. A few days should give me enough time to have a medal made.
Chapter 7: That Probably Was A Lot To Put On You I'm Sorry
Mako goes to find Wu after he finishes his letter
Mako held his head in his hands. He sat on the edge of his bed with Wu's letter sitting beside him. Spirits, Wu. Mako wanted to be mad for Wu not telling him about Fan, for sneaking out when he could have been hurt! Exchanging letters with a Commander on Kuvira's hit list. But, exchanging letters with his friend. With Fan. Who was dead. Mako went to go take a shower before talking to Wu about...this.
Mako didn't bother to smooth down his hair after his shower, he just needed to talk to Wu. He pocketed the letter and made his way to Wu's room.
Didn't Fan die a few days after Zhu Li and Varrick's wedding? Mako remembered seeing Wu a few days later. Mako also remembered Wu looking horrible. He was pale with bags under his eyes and barely ate until his bodyguard, Yumi, had forced him to. Mako had chocked it up to stress over the abdication. I guess it was a bit more than that.
"Hey, Mako!" Crap it's Korra! Mako tried to put on a happy; or at least neutral expression and forced himself to turn around.
"Hey, Korra. What's up?" Mako put his hand in his pocket to hide Wu's letter and walked toward Korra trying to look the least like he's hiding something as he could.
"I was going to duck in for tonight. It's been a long day." Korra raised an eyebrow at Mako. "Speaking of, weren't you going to go to bed a couple hours ago? What are you doing?"
Mako fumbled and tried to find an excuse, "Well, I was, er, going to go to Wu's room and uh, we were going to...talk."
Korra got a smirk on her face, "You're going to talk, are you?" Korra continued down the hallway.
"Wait, Korra! I really am going to talk to Wu!"
"Have fun!" Korra waved, completely ignoring Mako, "Be safe!"
She disregarded his calls and continued down the hall, no doubt to go into Bolin's or Asami's room and tell them about her assumptions about activities between Mako and Wu.
When Mako reached Wu's room, Yumi was stationed outside, in full uniform and makeup, leaning against the doorframe. She smiled slyly when she saw Mako.
"Flameo Hotman. Dumpling over here told me you were coming over." Yumi winked, "Don't worry, I'll be sure to give you guys your privacy." Just as she was about to reach for the doornob, Mako interrupted her.
"Uh, before that. Can I ask you a question?"
Yumi looked confused at Mako, but she let go of the doornob and assumed her place against the doorframe.
Mako cleared his throat, "Did you, uh, know Commander Fan Tseng?" Mako supposed he had caught her off guard. Her eyes were wide and she looked at Mako for a couple seconds, as if waiting for him to correct himself.
"Oh, well. I, uh. I did. Dumpling knew her better than I did, but she and I met on Kyoshi Island and I guess you could say we," Yumi chuckled, "had a rough start. But after that we really hit it off. She was actually why I decided to come to Ba Sing Se as a bodyguard. She and I, along with her armies and other Kyoshi warriors of course, traveled around during Kuvira's reign and did as much as we could. When she passed, I was really," Yumi paused, "upset. Not as much as Dumpling though."
They stood in an awkward silence for a minute.
"Is that what you came to talk to Wu about?"
"Yeah he wrote me a letter about it."
"Well be careful. Fan is a bit of a touchy subject for him. If he told you," Yumi smirked, "he must really like you."
Mako did his best to suppress a blush before stepping into Wu's room.
Not surprisingly, it was huge. Every single inch of that room did its best to be as expensive as possible. Wu being Wu, had his own collection of movers and records along with high-tech projectors and record players.
But the bed was something else.
There were at least ten fluffy pillows and silk comforters and a mattress that probably costed more than Mako's apartment.
Mako could hear the shower going, so he sat at the edge of Wu's bed and waited for him. Mako could hear Wu singing a duet from a band he didn't know. It didn't seem like the song Wu normally listened to. Mako found himself wondering if was a typical song that Fan would listen to.
There was a pile of papers on Wu's nightstand connected by several paperclips, which were having trouble with such a large stack. Mako read the top line of the first paper.
Mako stopped. He thumbed through the pile of papers. He saw the same handwriting throughout. These weren't just random papers strewn about on Wu's nightstand; they were letters from Fan.
Letters that weren't Mako's to read. He set the letters back down and laid back onto Wu's bed. If he was being honest, Mako felt kind of stupid. If Wu was exchanging letters with someone who would hurt him, Mako wouldn't have even noticed. He wouldn't have even found out unless Wu told him or he found the letters himself before anything happened.
When Wu walked out of his bathroom, Mako hadn't even noticed the water turning off.
"Uh, hey Mako, Yumi didn't uh, tell me you were, coming in."
Mako looked up and Wu was standing with boxers and a tank (Wu called it a singlet, but Mako thought that sounded weird) with his hair left curly.
Wu suddenly seemed self-conscious of his hair and tried to smooth it down. It didn't work, but he acted as if it did and joined Mako at the bed, stretching himself out beside Mako.
When Wu turned his head to look at Mako, he was already frowning back, in a sad sort of manner.
"Uh, hey," Wu chuckled.
Mako's expression didn't change.
"Why didn't you say?"
Wu was taken aback, "About what part?"
Mako shifted so he was laying on his side and facing Wu, "When your friend had...left, you just stayed silent. Before you even handed me that letter, I didn't even know she existed. But I remember after the wedding. You were miserable, but no matter what neither I nor Korra nor your secretary said, you refused to say anything was wrong."Mako turned Wu's face toward him. "That scares me Wu."
Wu looked at the ceiling.
"I'm just, couldn't talk. When something like this happened, I would go to Fan about it. Then she wasn't here... I felt like no one would get it."
"Wu, I would have listened to you."
"I know," Wu whispered.
They were quiet again. Wu spun a familiar ring. He caught Mako looking and took off the ring and held it in his palm.
"I don't think this counts as Indian giving does it?"
"No. Was that ring Fan's?"
"Yeah, this is the one."
"Was it really King Bumi's?"
Wu nodded, "When I was young l, it was given to me as the ring of a powerful earthbending King, then it was the ring of a powerful earthbending Commander. I like to use it to remind me of the people in my past, whether it's my family I was born with," Wu put the ring back on, "or the family I found along the way."
Mako cracked a smile at Wu.
"Did she live in the palace with you?"
Wu rolled on his side facing Mako.
"She did." Wu looked down, "When I got back to the palace, I spent most of my time there. Reading her books or looking through her clothes. Is that weird?"
"No. I mean, I had my scarf for a long time-"
Wu chuckled at him, "You wore a scarf?"
Mako scoffed in mock disgust, "In case you're interested, I looked fantastic."
"I'm sure," Wu hesitated for a second, "Mako? I really want to tell you more about this okay? There's still so much that Fan and I went through together. Please don't think I don't trust you, but some things I'm just not ready to talk about. It's only been a year since she left. I still need to figure a lot of this out on my own."
Mako put a hand to the back of Wu's neck, "I know Wu. When I talk to you, you don't demand immediate answers from me, why would I do that to you now? It's okay if you're not ready, but you're not going through this alone. There's me and Huan and Yumi and Korra and Asami. Okay?"
Wu leaned his forehead against Mako's chest. Fan once told him that if she were really close to someone, her earthbending could feel their heartbeat. She said that everyone's heartbeat sounds different, some light and steady, some hard and severe, and some warm and inviting. Mako's heartbeat was more like claps of thunder, strict and serious, but somehow comforting.
Mako had decided just to sleep in Wu's room that night. Wu tried to act casual like nothing was happening (he was dying inside). So he just climbed into the bed and waited for Mako to be ready, praying he would just sleep on the other side of the bed. Mako climbed in and laid down right behind Wu, his chest pressed against Wu's back with his hand laid over Wu.
Dear god, I'm absolutely dead what a good life I've lived.
Wu exhaled to make sure his voice wasn't raised four octaves.
"Are you okay? Your heart is going really fast."
Oh really I wonder why.
"Don't worry I'm fine." I most certainly am not fine my brain will explode.
Mako shifted a bit, putting his chin on Wu's shoulder, "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I've just never done this before."
Mako quietly laughed, "We're not even doing anything."
"Okay, but this is still new to me."
Wu felt Mako grin behind him. Mako slid his hand into Wu's. Somehow, they managed to fall asleep.
Chapter 8: How Do You Feel About Awards?
Wu wanted to stay in for a few minutes before going to breakfast. Mako promised to check on him later and snuck out to his room to get ready for the day.
He was caught by Nuo on the way, already prim and pressed (because of course she was), who looked him up and down and only asked if Wu was up.
"Is His Majesty roused?"
Mako looked quizzically, "He's still asleep."
Nuo nodded slightly, "Very well. I'll inform Warrior Yumi to wake him when her day begins."
And Nuo left, her heels clicking down the hall as she went, but besides her, no surprise encounters.
When Mako had reached his room, he sighed leaning his back on the door. He walked over to the dresser and picked up a pair of black trousers and a dark red button-up. Not a uniform, but not overly casual. Mako fished around the pockets of his sweatpants from the previous night for Wu's letter.
He skimmed over it again, but reading some parts more intently, like Wu and Fan's meeting and their conversation on the road to Republic City. He only skipped the last page, her death. Mako placed Wu's letter in the book on his nightstand, straightened his collar, and left for breakfast.
When he got there, Korra, Bolin, Asami, Opal, and Huan were all eating. Asami greeted him with a friendly hello, Opal also sure to say good morning, and Huan waved, seemingly satisfied. Korra and Bolin though, they said nothing and just grinned ear to ear while staring at Mako as he came into the room and sat down. Mako pretended that he didn't notice.
"Gooooood mooooorning Mako," Korra drawled out.
"Morning Korra. How was your sleep?"
"Ohhhh, well I had a great night's sleep. How about you Mako? I expect you had a wonderful night's sleep."
Mako had no desire to humor her.
"Yes, I did. And how about you Bolin?"
"Welllllll, I had quite a quiet night. no excitement for me. What about you Mako?" Bolin rested his chin of his hand.
"A mostly quiet night for me as well. Wu will be coming down in a few minutes. He has something he'd like to discuss with all of us." Mako took a bite of his egg.
Huan tucked some hair behind his ear, "What exactly does Wu want to talk about? Because if he spends an hour telling me about how much the city-states suck again, I'm going to scream.
Mako stared lifelessly into his coffee, "It's nothing like that."
When Wu did finally join them, Wu wore a black jacket and pants instead of the usual suit and his eyes were red and swollen. Yumi was following closer behind than normal and sat next to him when Wu put himself next to Mako. Mako shoved a plate of food toward Wu, who barely picked at it until a rather severe glare on Yumi's behalf. The rest of the table was quiet, wondering what had happened to upset Wu.
"So, um," Korra was the first to speak, "Wu. There was something you wanted to talk to us about?"
"Oh, uh, yeah," Wu spun Fan's ring around on his knuckle, "I told Mako last night, but I think it's only fair of all of you know."
Asami frowned sadly, "You don't have to say anything if you don't want to."
"But I do want to. I just don't like what I have to say." Asami sat back in her seat.
"So this might sound strange, but Bolin, do you remember a young Commander during your time with Kuvira. I know she and Kuvira clashed heads a lot.
Bolin raised an eyebrow but searched his memory. "I think so. Her name was Commander Fan Tsang I think? I never really thought about her all that much. She and Kuvira would start a conversation sitting down with coffee, but I'd come back fifteen minutes later and had to stop them from stopping the train to fight."
Wu chuckled sadly. "It's actually Tseng, not Tsang. I don't know if she mentioned it all that once, but she and I knew each other."
Bolin tapped his fingers on the table, "Uh, I think she mentioned it once or twice, but I don't really remember."
"Well," Wu took a sip of coffee and straightened in his chair, "She and I were actually very good friends. We met when we were kids. We plotted every chance we got how we could see each other more. She became my bodyguard actually. That was our plan. It worked out well for a couple years, but when my aunt died, I fled to Republic City with her, and she went to be the Commander. That's when I got a new bodyguard. Enter Mako."
Korra piped up, "I don't want to be rude, but if this Fan was your friend, and if she was that important to the Earth Kingdom, where has she been? Shouldn't she be on the board for the new Earth Republic?"
Wu's hand flinched and he set down his coffee, "Well, do you remember me telling you about that group and their trip to Zaofou to find the blueprints and plans to Kuvira's spirit gun?"
"Yeah..." Korra ~drawled.
Wu spun Fan's ring again, "Well Fan was in that group. She originally wanted to go inside Kuvira's mecha to get the plans, but I convinced her not to. Thank god I was able to, but Zaofou wasn't safe either. In Zaofou, their operation was noticed. Fan was metalbent at," Wu's voice started to falter, but he dug his nails into his palm to stop himself, "and she...wasn't in good condition. she was bleeding internally and her wounds were infected."
A hush fell over the room.
"A-And, after the wedding, I received word she was in the hospital. So I went to go see her and the next night..." Wu covered his face with his hand, the other one holding a now cold cup of coffee.
"What Wu is trying to say," Mako interjected, "is that he never got the chance to give her the Medal of Honor like he was hoping to do," Mako looked to Wu, "Is that it?"
He nodded, "Uh, yes. That's what I'm trying to say. I wanted to know if you all would accompany me," He labored a rehearsed goofy grin, "Especially you Mako," Wu forcefully winked. Yumi amusedly rolled her eyes.
Mako smirked at Wu, "Duh."
Yumi squeezed Wu's shoulder, "I may not have known her as well, but I think our friend deserves it."
Nuo had arranged for Wu to have the following day to himself without any interviews. Yumi told him that the first part of his day would be best spent packing. The palace was still technically Wu's property. He thought about converting it to a state's building with offices and courts and such. But he also wanted to keep his childhood home for a bit longer. But he knew that if he continued living there, eventually the Earth Kingdom would slip right back into a monarchy. So one could imagine how split he was on cleaning out Fan's room.
No one else is going to do it. He approached her door, Korra behind with boxes.
Maybe I can just ask them to leave her room alone. He put his hand on the doorknob.
Do you think Korra and Huan could just earthbend it up and we could put it on the airship? Then once we get to Republic City we can put it in whatever house I buy and I can watch over it. Wu opened the door.
The room by no means was bland. It had its own mini-library and office and record player with an absurd amount of records, some double copies. Wu thought to Fan's catchphrase in those situations, It's a special edition! He hated this room because he remembers this room. He almost expects Fan to be on an armchair reading a book.
"So," Korra interrupted, "Should we start with the records?"
Korra wasn't comfortable in this room. Sure it was the room of a dead girl that looked like it had been abandoned this morning, but it also just felt weird. Like there was someone else here besides Wu and Korra, but she distracted herself with asking Wu about every aspect of the room; each apparently with its own story of Wu and Fan wreaking havoc in the palace. Korra walked into the bedroom section of the room. Fan's dresser had a framed photo of her and Wu. Wu was seated in an ornate chair with royal robes, (unusually) unsmiling. Fan stood next to the said chair in an Earth Kingdom uniform and metal cables around her waist and metal cuffs around her forearms, which no doubt held blades of some sort. She had inky eyes and dark hair cut short, not even brushing the bottom of her neck.
Korra always found it strange to look at photos or belongings of those who are dead. Once that person is officially dead, the sight of them alive makes their death all the more infallible. Even if you never knew that person when they were alive.
"That was my fifteenth birthday." Wu strolled up to her dresser and took the photo.
"Look at us, having to pose like we're all important," He chuckled and traced the edge of the frame with his finger, "I suppose you've had to take some rather uncomfortable professional photos as the Avatar?"
"I actually haven't. Sure I always have to be ready for someone to creep up on me with a camera, but I don't think I've ever had to suffer through officially getting my picture taken."
"Your day will come soon Korra, and don't say I didn't warn you." Wu set the photo in a box in the other room and returned to Fan's records.
Korra opened the closet, there were about five more uniforms like the one Fan wore in the photo hung up. She also had extra cables and wrist cuffs on a shelf above her clothes. Korra smiled at a Probending shirt supporting the Badgermoles and another t-shirt with the name of a band Korra wasn't familiar with, but she took both shirts off their hangers and brought them over to the boxes. Korra marked a box as 'Clothes' and folded the shirts before setting them in the box. Wu looked inside the box and smiled.
"You know, we snuck out to see that concert when we were thirteen. We were in another province in the Earth Kingdom. I remember when we were walking back to the hotel, they had the police searching high and low for me," Wu laughed harder, "I wish you could have seen their faces when we showed up wearing those band shirts." He stood up straight and sighed happily, "Oh Spirits, that was an exciting day."
Korra wondered how many more stories were behind the items in this room.
Cleaning this out was going to take a while.
Nuo tapped her pen against her notebook for the hundredth time since sitting down. She was preoccupied with scheduling and rescheduling meetings for Wu to attend and answer questions that usually ranged from Is it true King Wu is going to abdicate? to, When is King Wu going to abdicate? A part of her wanted to leave the next week open for Wu, but she knew that he'd probably be preoccupied with his own interviews and questions. There was a question lingering that she had no desire to answer that day. Now that Wu wasn't King? Now that he'd be living in Republic City, what about her? Nuo is soon going to be out of a job.
Nuo, stop it. Your employer is Wu Hou-Ting. You have a job and a good one.
Nuo pushed away from the thought that the Jasmine Dragon might need a General Manager and made a note to go check on a medal Wu wanted to have made. Nuo was wondering what it was for. There was already an awards ceremony when Wu was King. He awarded Korra with a Medal of Honor and Tenzin, Mako, and Bolin with Medals of the Resolute. As Nuo walked to go pick it up, she wondered who on earth this was for.
The medal was placed in a small silver case no larger than a small book. The case was engraved with symbols of the Earth (now) Republic and the Earth Forces. Nuo held it in her hands for a moment, unable what to make of such an object, but gathered up enough sense to carry it to His Majesty, no, Wu's room and place it on the coffee table.
Nuo made a note to ask Wu if Nuo was to prepare a ceremony before he left and to ask who was receiving the honor.
Nuo took one last look at the case and medal and turned them over in her hand to look for any mistakes or clues to the identity of the future owner. Engraved very small on the edge was a name; Commander Fan Tseng.