“Although somewhat remiss to give historical figures an armchair diagnosis, some Reconstruction Period experts have come to believe that Fire Lord Zuko may have been autistic. According to the personal writings of his friends and family, Fire Lord Zuko often took statements literally, was a stickler for routine, and extremely knowledgeable in niche topics that did not pertain to his role as sovereign. For example, the Fire Nation folktale of Fire Lord Zuko knowing more about past avatars than Avatar Aang is actually true by all verifiable accounts. Furthermore, the monarch’s own journals suggest that he participated in self-stimulating behaviors. Fire Lord Zuko wrote frequently about tracing, rubbing and fiddling with the bracelets his wife, Fire Lady Katara, gifted to him because the action was soothing and could help him focus.”
-an excerpt from ‘A Reexamination of Beloved Historical Figures’
It was all Suki’s fault. If she hadn’t informed Katara all those years ago that he had become “huffy like a little dragon” over the safekeeping of her necklace, then he wouldn’t be in this situation. The situation being: overflowing chests of jewelry organized by material and country of origin.
Zuko knew that was a bit simplistic though, blaming Suki. If he was being honest with himself, this situation was years in the making. Maybe it had all started when he used her necklace to track down Aang. Maybe it had all started when Katara showed him some of the more simple Southern Water Tribe braiding patterns. The truth was, however, that it had really started when Katara sent him his first bracelet by hawk; a braided and beaded piece that was burgundy in color.
It was love at first sight.
Made by Katara’s very own hands with him specifically in mind, Zuko couldn’t bear to take it off. During council meetings, meals, training sessions, and long hours in his private study, the bracelet was always there on his right wrist. It was a constant reassurance. Even if she couldn’t physically be there with him, he would always have this small piece of her. When the days would drag on and the ministers would blather endlessly, rubbing the beads between his fingers would give him the energy to carry on.
From Uncle to Azula, from Suki to Advisor Jakao, everyone seemed to notice his fondness of the bracelet, so it was no surprise to Zuko when Katara also did. What was surprising, however, is when she started to give him a new bracelet every time she returned to the Fire Nation.
At first, she liked to give him bracelets from the Southern Water Tribe. One made of whale ivory similar to the necklaces her father and brother wore, one made of shiny black baleen from the latest whale hunt, and bracelets ranging from vermillion to indigo that she braided herself.
When they proposed to each other —funnily enough, simultaneously— she presented him with a bracelet similar in design to her own necklace, but crafted from the crystals found within the cavern where they shared their first kiss. This one quickly found a home next to the burgundy bracelet on his right wrist.
After their wedding, Katara began to bring home jewelry from the local artisans she came across during her diplomacy trips. A jade bracelet from the Earth Kingdom, a dentalium one from the Northern Water Tribe, an eighteen bead mala from the Foggy Swamp, and a multicolor braided bracelet from the Air Acolytes at the Northern Temple.
Eventually, even their tours of the Fire Nation together resulted in more bracelets for his rapidly growing collection. A trip to the outer islands in their third year of marriage produced an obsidian bracelet, as well as one made up of iridescent blown glass beads. Although they didn’t know it at the time, Izumi was another souvenir of that tour.
As one might expect, word began to get out that Fire Lord Zuko was a bracelet enthusiast. During his birthday celebrations, foreign dignitaries and friends alike would bestow upon him a variety of jewelry over the years. King Kuei gave him a jade bracelet that looked like a winding dragon, the representatives from the Southern Earth Kingdom offered a set of golden bangles, Toph once presented a cuff that had a bright green gemstone embedded into it, and even Sokka followed the trend by making Zuko a carved ivory bracelet depicting the members of their family.
It got to the point that Zuko had to carefully choose his jewelry before attending any important diplomatic meetings. In order to protect global peace, Zuko would sometimes have to wear up to eight bracelets on his left wrist, or risk offending foreign delegates. The bracelets adorning his left may change like the wind, but the ones on his right always remained the same. That was Katara’s spot. Only that very first bracelet and the engagement one would be displayed there.
Looking at the various overflowing chests of bracelets he had in his closet, Zuko felt like it was a bit much at times. Surely one person did not need this many bracelets, Fire Lord or not. However, whenever one of his children busted into his office to proudly display one of the bracelets they had braided for him, he would drop everything to hug them tight and praise their craftsmanship. Paperwork be damned. A Fire Lord may not need a limitless supply of jewelry, but there was no such thing as excess when it came to accepting presents from your children.
Besides, without the bracelets, he would have never been able to witness Kya and Izumi putting as many of them as possible on their tiny arms before declaring themselves to be Fire Lord. Katara got a good chuckle out of that one.
Sometimes after watching Zuko meticulously reorganize his collection, Katara would ask him, “Which one is your favorite?”
“You already know that,” he would respond with a grin.
She would smirk, tapping her chin. “How about out of the ones I gave you, but didn’t make then?”
“Now that’s simply impossible to answer.”
“Oh? And why is that, Zuko?”
“Because you gave them to me,” he would say while looking into her eyes, “And I like them so much because it’s from you.”