Zuko, as usual, woke up early in the morning. Katara recalled kissing him before he went on his run, but didn’t properly wake up until a few hours later. Normally, Zuko woke her up when he returned, so Katara was confused when her aide came knocking.
After getting dressed, Katara walked into the dining room where Sokka, Suki, and the children were firmly entrenched in their breakfast.
“Where’s Zuko?” She asked.
“He’s not with you?” Sokka asked, glancing up briefly before looking back down to continue feeding Lu Ten small pieces of bacon.
“Clearly.” Katara said dryly, taking her seat.
“Mommy, you are being mean to Uncle Sokka. You should say sorry.” Izumi said.
“It’s okay.” Sokka said quickly.
“It’s not.” Katara said and sighed. “I have been mean. I’m stressed out and taking it out on you, which isn’t fair. I’m sorry Sokka.”
“I understand Kat. I forgive you.” Sokka replied.
“And I’m sorry Mimi. I shouldn’t have yelled at you yesterday.” Katara said, putting her hand on the top of Izumi’s head.
“I forgive you mommy.” Izumi said primly. “Now Kya.”
“I’m sorry Kya. I shouldn’t have yelled at you either.” Katara said, looking at her niece while stroking Izumi’s hair.
“Thank you Auntie.” Kya murmured, looking down at her plate.
“And Lu Ten!” Izumi chirped.
“What did I do to Lu Ten?” Katara asked, tilting her head down to look at Izumi.
“You left him out.” She stated.
“You’re right. I’m sorry Lu Ten.” Katara said.
Sokka picked up Lu Ten, thrusting the toddler over the table. Katara chuckled as she leaned across the corner to kiss Lu Ten. He, with his hands covered in greasy egg, grabbed onto her face as he kissed her back.
“Ew!” Kya and Izumi shrieked together.
Katara leaned back, wiping her face off as the others started chattering once again.
“What did I miss?” Zuko asked as he walked in. Katara turned and was surprised to see him still in his running clothes.
Then Hakoda, Malina, and Bato stepped in after him.
“Lu Ten got mommy messy.” Izumi answered.
“He seems especially skilled at that.” Zuko agreed. He walked to Katara and kissed her cheek.
“Good morning beloved.” He murmured.
“Kisses!” Lu Ten yelled. Zuko smiled and made his way down the table and around, going so far as to kiss Suki and Sokka’s cheeks. As he got to Sokka, he took Lu Ten from his lap and walked back to take his seat next to Katara.
“That’s very cute.” Malina remarked.
“Thank you. It was very weird at first; physical affection wasn’t something I was used to as a kid.” Zuko said, speaking easily enough to keep things from growing awkward.
“I can understand that! South Pole custom seems to be very touchy.” Malina said, playfully nudging Hakoda with her shoulder.
“The first time I hugged Zuko, he thanked me and then shook my hand.” Sokka said. Bato sputtered out a laugh and Hakoda broke a smile.
“Was he always like that?” Zuko asked, looking side to side for verification from the other South Pole members.
“As children, they were handled a lot. It’s nearly impossible to get toddlers through the snow when left on their own two feet.” Hakoda said.
“Katara wore one of those wrap things when the kids were babies. Genius. I think I carried both of them all day sometimes.” Zuko said.
Katara snorted and everyone looked at her.
“One time, Zuko had Lu Ten in a sling during a financial meet and, in his sleep, decided to use his diaper.” She explained.
“Nothing is worse than potty training a child during the dark season in the South Pole when your bathroom is outside.” Hakoda interjected as the others were laughing.
“Paw-Paw, what was mommy like when she was my age?” Izumi asked.
The table quieted and Katara stared at her father.
“Well, I wasn’t around when your mother was five. I was fighting in the Earth Kingdom.” Hakoda said.
“You didn’t see her at all?” Izumi questioned with clear shock.
“Not for many years.” Hakoda said with a shake of his head.
“Sometimes I don’t get to see mommy for a few weeks when I live with daddy in the Fire Nation.” Izumi said softly. “It makes me sad.”
“I was very sad when I couldn’t see my mom or my dad.” Katara said, putting her arms around Izumi and kissing her hair.
“When I’m queen, I’m going to live here and I’ll be able to see Izumi every day.” Kya announced.
“What about me and mama?” Sokka asked.
“You can live here too if you want.” She conceded and Sokka scoffed in amusement.
“Oh, why thank you.” He said and smiled over Kya’s head at Suki.
“I had hoped after the war, I’d be able to live with my entire family in one place.” Hakoda grumbled and Malina patted his hand.
“Tell me about it.” Katara sighed.
“Excuse me, your majesty?” A woman called from the doorway. Katara turned and waved the aide in.
“The Matriarch is waiting for you. And we just got confirmation that the ambassador has entered the city.” She said, angling a tablet down so Katara could see the verification.
“Delightful.” Katara muttered. Then, speaking up, she tried to sound more cheerful. “Time to get dressed!”
More voices than she expected groaned in disappointment.
The first meeting would be a quick, but formal, welcome. In the throne room, Katara had Hakoda and Dong-Lee take their seats first. Then, holding up the thick fabric of her skirt, she stepped up to the platform where her own carved monstrosity awaited her. Kya knelt on a cushion at her side, still on the platform above Hakoda and Dong-Lee. Politics were in everything.
The Ambassador was escorted in and he bowed in greeting.
“Ambassador Yi, welcome to our little oasis in Republic City.” Katara said.
Yi was a stout man, but younger than she expected. He was middle aged with a receding hairline, yet his face was fairly youthful. From his file, Katara knew he was married with three children, all a few years older than Izumi.
“Thank you, Queen Katara.” He said.
“You are here at the pleasure of Chief Hakoda, leader of the Southern Water Tribes, and Matriarch Dong-Lee of the Swamp Tribe.” Katara went on, gesturing with both hands to the other leaders.
Yi bowed again.
“Thank you, Chief Hakoda and Matriarch Dong-Lee.” He said.
“And I would like to introduce you to my heir, Princess Kya.” Katara finished.
A third bow and Kya shifted uneasily.
“It is a pleasure to meet the princess.” Yi said.
“I know you have meetings with us separately, but did you have anything you would like to bring before the triumvirate?” Katara questioned.
“No, your majesty.” Yi answered.
“Then I give you your leave. I will see you at our appointed time.” Katara said. She stood and Yi bowed again, keeping his gaze lowered. The others stood and left, exiting behind the platform before Yi made his way back the way he entered.
Such rituals made Katara feel stiff and irritated; she’d be taking her lunch with the man in a few hours while wearing pants. All of the preceding pageantry struck her as unnecessary.
“He seems agreeable.” Dong-Lee said.
“Well, be careful, he’s from the Upper Ring. There’s been a lot of chatter about pruning the swamp.” Katara said.
Dong-Lee scoffed. “As if the swamp would let anyone do such a thing.”
“Are all the meetings going to be like that Auntie?” Kya asked, tugging hard at the neckline of her dress.
“Not all of them, no. But enough of them to make you grumpy.” Katara said and Kya groaned loudly.
“How does Izumi do it?” Kya whined.
“She’s a lot like her father I suppose. They were born into it.” Katara remarked lightly. Kya groaned again and Katara laughed.
“I wish Thuy was here.” She muttered.
Katara only nodded.
Ambassador Yi met with Hakoda and Dong-Lee prior to lunch, talking about his goals for his appointment and the technical aspects of the placement. The lunch was far more casual, and Yi brought his family. Dong-Lee was attended by her brother and two children, while Malina came along with Hakoda. The rest of Katara’s royal family bustled in and the large table on the veranda was bursting with activity.
Yi and his family were patient through the introductions, though Katara promptly forgot the names of everyone with him. Zuko had a better mind for names and she would have to ask him about it later.
“Ambassador, I’d like to introduce my consort, Fire Lord Zuko.” Katara said, gesturing to Zuko. Yi and his family all gave a hasty Fire Nation salute while Zuko only smiled, holding Lu Ten at his hip.
“Forgive me,” Yi’s wife said, sounding nervous. “But how should we refer to your Highness?”
“Zuko is fine.” He replied and the blood drained from her face.
Katara made a tsk sound and swatted his arm lightly.
“Titles are very loosely held and wielded around here. We both prefer to be on a first name basis, but since we don’t have a family name, I understand it can be awkward.” She explained.
“I do think consort is rather fun.” Zuko said, smiling at Katara, who glowered back at him.
“I was told the Earth Empire custom was a bit formal compared to the rest of the world.” Yi admitted.
“It was the same in the Fire Nation until very recently.” Zuko said.
“I’d like us to be friends.” Katara said. “So I’d love it if you’d use our given names.”
“That would make it easier to know when I’m in trouble.” Yi joked and Katara laughed. His wife looked mortified.
Lu Ten started to fuss and Zuko started bouncing him.
“I think it’s nap time.” He said.
“Thank you.” Katara replied, offering her cheek as Zuko leaned in to kiss her.
“Can we go eat mom?” Yi’s eldest son asked, tugging lightly on his mother’s sleeve.
“Please! This was meant to welcome you after all!” Katara said, shooing them away. Yi’s wife and children walked off, heading over to the serving tables.
“You have a lovely family.” Katara said.
“Thank you. Your’s is charming as well.” Yi said and rubbed his chin. “I hadn’t expected the Fire Lord to be so approachable.”
“He’s a lot like his uncle.” Katara replied.
“Your son looks just like him.”
“Oh yes.” Katara said with a laugh. “He’s a Firebender too.”
“But how lucky your daughter is just like you!” Yi said.
“Hmm?” Katara turned and faced Yi more purposefully.
“I was glad you introduced her first, because my packet was incorrect. I thought her name was Izumi.” He said.
“Izumi is my daughter.” Katara said.
“My apologies. Is that her Fire Nation name?” Yi questioned.
“Yes.” Katara said slowly. “You misunderstand, Kya is my niece.”
Yi’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Then Izumi is not the Waterbender?” He asked.
“No, Izumi is a…” Katara frowned. “She’s not a Waterbender. Kya is my brother’s daughter. She recently came into her bending and now she’s my heir.”
“So Izumi is…” Yi sounded panicked and confused.
“Fire Nation. Completely.” Katara said tersely. “She is her father’s heir.”
“I’m sorry. I am completely embarrassed.” Yi said in a hurry, bowing in apology.
“I can understand the confusion. The inheritance law changed when I was crowned.” Katara said.
“Thank you for your understanding, your Majesty.” Yi said.
“Of course. You should join your family, they seem to be waiting for you.” Katara said. Yi bowed again and walked to the table. Katara watched him for a moment before turning back toward the palace.
She saw Izumi’s face peeking from behind a wooden beam that supported the pergola. As their eyes met, Izumi darted back inside the palace. Katara sighed, a weight settling on her shoulders.
Katara’s meeting with the new ambassador was awkward, but she merely questioned him about his goals. The Earth Empire was still gunning for drilling rights in the arctic, which simply wasn’t going to happen. They also wanted to expand their fishing and research waters, which also wasn’t going to happen. Those two points came up time and again, becoming chronic sores in Katara’s life. In the Poles at least, her people had learned how to live in harmony with the seas. They were also intimately aware of what happened when they tried to tip the balance in their favor. Seas could rise, ice could crack, and hungry things could see better than they in the night.
After the business was concluded, Katara cancelled the debrief with Hakoda and Dong-Lee, pushing it back a day.
She needed to talk to Zuko.
In their bedroom, Katara sat on the bed as Zuko undid his dress shirt. He never dressed down around politicians, despite his insistence on the given name thing.
“Am I ashamed of our children?” Katara blurted as Zuko hung the shirt on the valet rack. He paused, his hands still on the hanger and slowly turned his head around to look at her.
“Excuse me?” He asked.
“Yi thought Kya was our daughter and I couldn’t just come out and correct him. It was so awkward!” Katara said.
“I don’t think that means you’re ashamed of her.” Zuko stated firmly.
“Izumi heard me and she ran off.” Katara said.
“Did you talk to her?”
“We probably shouldn’t let that marinate.”
Katara groaned and bent over, holding her head in her hands.
“I am the worst parent.” She said.
“I think we can both agree that Ozai was the worst parent.” Zuko retorted.
Katara lifted her head, keeping her fingers splayed over her mouth.
“I’m serious.” She moaned and Zuko raised an eyebrow.
He brought both hands sharply up to his face, framing his scar.
“So am I.” He said.
“I don’t even consider him a parent.” Katara said, falling backward onto the bed. “He’s a monster.”
“Fair point, yet he still is legally my father.” Zuko said.
“I think biologically too.” Katara added.
“Did you know Toph takes Lin and Suyin to her matches?” Zuko asked.
“What?” Katara asked, shooting her confused look up to the ceiling.
“Lin caught a tooth before she even lost one of her own. It’s nuts.” Zuko said, sitting on the bed beside her.
“And she adopted Jae-hwan, seemingly on a whim. No one knows who fathered Lin or Suyin, but Toph doesn’t care because they’d be Beifongs regardless.”
“I repeat, and?”
“And Toph is an amazing mother. Lots of people give her so much crap for simply being blind and having kids, let alone all this other stuff. None of us are perfect, but we’re doing our best. Our kids are great.”
“I know that Zuko. But I don’t act like it.” Katara muttered, covering her face with her arms.
“You’ve been really protective of Izumi about this bending stuff, but have you talked to her about it?” Zuko asked.
“No.” Katara said, her voice muffled.
“I’m telling you, Izumi and Kya love each other. And Izumi is going to be Fire Lord, so it’s not like she’s getting shoved to the side.” Zuko said.
“So what about Lu Ten?” Katara asked.
“Who knows? The Fire Nation hasn’t had a good run with siblings, but Izumi and Lu Ten seem to be fine.”
“Has there ever been a woman Fire Lord? Or a non-Bender?”
“Well. No.” Zuko admitted. “But there’s never been a Prime Minister before either.”
“Obviously I don’t need to protect her, so why am I hiding her?”
“When Kya was born, you were so relieved. I thought it was because you were worried about Suki, but you were so anxious before Sokka texted. Then suddenly everything was easier and Izumi popped out two minutes later. I think Izumi was exactly what you wanted her to be.” Zuko explained.
“What do you mean?” Katara lowered her arms and looked up at him.
“She’s not named Kya, so you didn’t have to go through that. She looks like you when you haven’t been in the sun for awhile, and her hair is just like mine. I remember you talking about how much more manageable her hair was when it started to really grow in.
“And she’s not a Waterbender, so you didn’t have to put her through what you’re going through.” Zuko added softly.
“But Kya’s going to be fine.” Katara said.
“Kya is going to have to live away from her parents more than you think. Sokka has a job in the Fire Nation now, remember? And Suki is still holding onto the flower shop for him.”
“I.” Katara cut off, not knowing what to say.
“Sokka’s really anxious about this. He’s terrified of being away from Kya, because he hated being away from your parents.” Zuko said.
Tears welled in Katara’s eyes and she threw her arms over her face again.
“So not only am I a terrible mother, but I’m the worst sister and daughter too!” She wailed.
“Katara, you know it’s not like that.” Zuko said, rubbing one of her arms.
“I hate that this happened. I hate how everyone makes these stupid choices without me and then I end up doing something terrible!”
“So it’s not your fault?”
“How is this my fault?”
“How is it anyone’s?”
Frustrated, Zuko stood up and walked back to their closet.
“We talked about kids for years because we knew this was going to be hard. And Sokka and Suki could never have expected that their kid was going to be a Bender. And your dad didn’t go off thinking he’d never see his wife again, or that his children would grow up without him.” He said.
Katara sat up, glaring at his back as Zuko picked out a new outfit.
“So it’s me then? I’m the one making everything difficult?” She shot back.
“I didn’t say that.” Zuko replied.
“Then what are you saying?”
“I’m saying this sucks!” Zuko turned around sharply, holding tight onto a t-shirt. “I hate being in Caldera without you for so long. And it’s pure misery when you have the children.”
He yanked on the shirt and rubbed his nose furiously.
“Honestly, sometimes I can’t wait for the children to be grown. Because then I can toss Izumi onto the throne and Kya can move in here and then you and I can finally be together, properly.” He laughed darkly and ran a hand through his hair. “But then I feel terrible because these are my children and I’m already missing out on so much.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t have gotten married.” Katara muttered.
Zuko advanced on her quickly and grabbed her arms, squeezing her hard enough to scare her.
“Don’t you ever say that.” He said, his voice low. “I would rather have died in the Agni Kai than even think you mean that for a second.”
“Zuko…” Katara protested and he shook her once, softly but with urgency.
“Tell me to step down. Ask me. Order me and I would crawl from the port to your throne to become your proper consort.” Zuko said. “But don’t you ever think things would be better had I not made you mine.”
“Stop.” Katara said brusquely, using her forearms to break his hold. Zuko grabbed her wrists, holding them up.
“You gave me your bed, you gave me children. And they are forever a part of me. But you are mine. Just as I am yours.” Zuko kissed her, loosening his grip on her wrists. Katara grabbed his shirt, pulling him onto the bed.
“Do you suppose that was a healthy and loving way to handle our fight?” Katara asked, shaking her hands off in the sink. It was easy enough to heal the minor marks and Zuko examined his chest in the mirror.
“I would definitely say it was loving.” He said and then nodded at his reflection. “But we should probably leave out some details if we bring this up at therapy.”
“What are you so angry about anyway?” Katara asked.
“I am angry, dear wife, that you are in the throes of your righteous fury while I’m also struggling but I feel like I have to hold everything together.” Zuko said.
He had an easy way of talking that made Katara relax. Had it been anyone else, she would have launched right into a fight.
“I’m sorry I’m not being more supportive.” Katara said and moved behind him, wrapping her arms around his middle and pressing her cheek into his shoulder blade.
“Like I said last night, I do understand that this is difficult for you. But I think you need to have a little faith and try letting go. Not everything has to be a battle that you win or lose.” Zuko held onto her arms and tilted his head back to bump hers.
“Fine. So, as a wife first, what can I do?” Katara asked.
“Not much. Summer will be in a few weeks and you get to be Fire Lady again. I’ll be able to breathe once you and the children are in Caldera.” Zuko answered.
“Mom time then?” Katara said meekly.
“Mom and dad time. We’re a team.” Zuko replied.
They dressed and went to Izumi’s bedroom. Apparently, she had run there during lunch and refused to come out.
Zuko knocked on the door and called gently. “Mimi?”
“Come in.” Izumi said, sounding despondent.
Opening the door, Zuko and Katara hesitated before entering. Izumi was on the floor, moving her dolls around limply.
“Izumi, it is time. For.” Zuko paused with performative austerity. “The feelings wheel.”
Izumi heaved a long sigh as she got up and shuffled to her small desk. Pulling open the center drawer, she pulled out a laminated piece of paper and went back to her spot on the floor. Zuko and Katara joined her, shutting the door behind them.
“Okay Mimi, you know the drill. How are you feeling?” Zuko asked as he and Katara sat down.
On the paper was a large circle cut into tiered segments. The wider wedges at the center of the circle were labelled with general emotions like “happy” and “scared.” Things got more specific in the thinner wedges radiating outward.
Izumi pointed with a heavy finger to “sad.”
Zuko worked with Izumi through the process, getting her to be more specific about how she was feeling. Katara stayed quiet, watching her daughter’s face. She was surprised that Izumi identified “guilty” before ending on “ashamed.”
It wasn’t what Katara expected at all.
But she knew exactly how Izumi was feeling.
“Why do you feel ashamed sweetie?” Katara asked.
“Because I’m not Water Tribe.” Izumi said quietly.
“Why do you think you’re not?” Zuko asked.
“Because mommy always says that I’m only Fire Nation. That I’m your heir and that’s it.” Izumi explained.
“Okay, that’s a valid reason.” Zuko said and Katara sighed.
“I say that because I know you’re part Tribal. I want everyone to know that you deserve to be your father’s heir regardless.” She said.
“Why would being Tribal be bad?” Izumi asked.
“Well…” Katara drifted, sharing a look with Zuko.
“During the war, the Fire Nation and the Water Tribe were enemies.” Zuko said honestly. “And a lot of people in the Fire Nation still feel angry about that.”
“So they hate me?” Izumi asked, her voice quivering.
“Oh no sweetie! No one hates you!” Katara said in a rush. “It’s just, they may think being from the Water Tribe will make you a bad Fire Lord.”
“Do you think I’ll be a bad Fire Lord?” Izumi asked Zuko.
“I think you’ll be the first good one.” He said. Izumi crawled onto Zuko, hugging him.
“You’re good, daddy.” She said.
Zuko hugged her back and kissed her hair. “I’m glad you think so, Mimi.”
“Your father is a great Fire Lord, and you’ll be even better.” Katara added, patting Izumi’s back.
Izumi still clung to Zuko but looked over at Katara.
“So it’s okay that I don’t look like you or Paw-Paw?” She asked.
“Of course sweetie! And not all Water Tribals look like me. Some of them.” Katara stopped and took in a breath. “Some of them look like your Gran-Gran remember?”
“And it’s okay that I’m not a Waterbender?” Izumi continued.
“Absolutely. Is it okay that Kya is?” Katara asked.
Izumi thought about it seriously for a moment and then nodded.
“Kya is going to rule the tribes and I’m going to be Fire Lord and then we’re going to take over the world.” She said and Katara sputtered.
“What was that?” She asked.
“Well Lu Ten has to have something and there are Waterbenders and Firebenders in the Earth Empire, so Kya and I are going to take it.” Izumi stated.
“You very much are not, young lady.” Zuko said, holding Izumi up to look at her.
“But daddy, you said I could do anything.” Izumi replied simply. “And grandfather Ozai took over Omashu, my teacher told me so.”
“Okay, we’re firing your teacher for one thing.” Zuko said and Katara gently pried their daughter from his hold.
“Izumi, we’ll have to have a chat about why world domination is not a good thing, but do you feel better now?” She asked.
“Yes mommy. Can I have lunch?” Izumi asked.
“Let’s go see what’s in the kitchen.” Katara stood up and held Izumi’s hand, pausing while Zuko stared off.
“Coming?” She prompted. Zuko shook himself and stood, looking curiously down at Izumi.
“Maybe we should hold off on introducing her to Azula.” He said.
Izumi lifted her head, her hazel eyes shifting in the overhead light.
“I already know all about her. Auntie Ty Lee told me about her when we were on Avatar Island.” She said and then looked toward the door. Zuko, bewildered, caught Katara’s eye.
Auntie Ty Lee? He mouthed over Izumi’s head. Katara only shrugged.
She had her own family problems to deal with.