It was hours before Zuko woke up. The sun had set and the moon was high. Only Katara and Asamiya were still awake, one sitting on either side of the bed. Kana and Roh had fallen asleep two hours ago, on the window seat, a thick blanket drapped around them.
Katara sighed, gently brushing the hair back from Zuko's face. She was worried. Though she had brought him back, Quang had told her and Asamiya that his heart had been beyond complete healing. That scared the Fire Lady. Quang had said it shouldn't kill him, but in the back of her mind, there was still that nagging 'what if?'
Zuko groaned softly, his eyes fluttering open. When he saw his wife and oldest daughter, he smiled, but it quickly turned into a grimace, accompanied by a pained hiss. He moved to raise his right arm to his chest, to find the source of the pain, and almost screamed when he felt a pulsing stab in his arm. Kana and Roh snapped awake, yelping in shock.
"Easy, Daddy," Asamiya whispered with a gentle smile as she carefully repositioned his broken arm. "You need to stay still. You're hurt. But you're going to be fine, right Mom?"
Katara nodded, and softly stroked Zuko's scar, the delicate touch like a butterfly, the Fire Lord realized.
"Oh, Zuko," the Fire Lady sighed as her two youngest children climbed onto the bed, and peered at their father.
"Daddy?" Kana asked softly, her eyes wide and worried. "Are you gonna die?"
There was silence for a moment, in which Katara, Asamiya, and Zuko shared a smile.
"Not yet, dear," he assured her quietly. "Not for many, many years."
"Yeah," Asamiya added. "He already promised."
The five of them slept together that night, the kids and Katara curled tight around Zuko, Asamiya and Katara right up against his sides. It took a while, though, for Zuko to get to sleep; the pain he'd felt when he'd woken up was gone, but his arm! Agni, it felt like it had been sat on by a komodo-rhino. And he was thinking. He'd seen what could have been the death of his son, and his oldest daughter. And for all he knew - though he highly doubted it; there were some in his family that wouldn't mind spilling her blood - Azula was still around. Maybe even Mai. If either of them so much as looked at his family, he'd fill them with lightning himself.
His heart beat picked up just a notch, but with it came a dull pain, and he winced, trying to calm down. He looked at his wife; his beautiful Katara. She had brought him back from death. She had returned him to the ones he loved. And Asamiya. She had saved him, too. If it hadn't been for her, Roh, Shia, and Kyoshi, he'd be dead right now. Gently, he reached out with his left hand, and tucked the strand of hair that had fallen against her nose and was making her frown and twitch slightly behind her ear, watching with a loving, satisfied smile as she shifted her head closer to his chest, the usual tiny sleep-smile crossing her face. Zuko suddenly felt tired, and his eyes slid closed, thoughts of his family, and how much he cared for them bringing him peace.
A week and two days later, the Fire Lord was storming down the halls, eyes blazing, and anger following him as closely as the worried crown princess. Zuko all but ran for the prison cells beneath the palace, fury in his flashing eyes, and a feral snarl sounding low in his throat. This morning, Katara had gotten sick; violently sick. The nausea had come at breakfast (ironically, while the Fire Lady was drinking her tea). At first, Zuko had been concerned and worried. Once she was safe, his concern had turned to a burning wrath and hatred, and he'd stormed out of the room, the temperature around his body a few degrees warmer. Mai, he thought, growling in the back of his throat. You poisoned her. If she dies, you will.
Behind the Fire Lord, princess Asamiya trailed worriedly, clutching the dragon cane her father had left behind. She'd already tried several times to get him to calm down, but that had only made him angrier, and he'd shouted, his golden eyes - so gentle and kind, usually - flaming in wrath. So Asamiya followed Zuko, silent, and worried. Just before she'd left her parents' room, the Fire Lady had begged her not to mention her pregnancy. She was afraid that in his mood, it might do more harm than good. Asamiya didn't necessarily agree, but she didn't want to hurt her dad.
The prison guards jumped well out of the way when their ruler burst through the doors, furious. He charged the bars to Mai's cell, palms slamming against the metal, the sound echoing and ringing off the stone walls. Mai's head snapped up, her eyes wide.
"What did you give her?!" the Fire Lord demanded in a hiss. "What did you DO?!"
Mai looked at Zuko with a blank expression. She had no idea what he was talking about. Maybe he'd gone crazy.
"You poisoned her, didn't you? DIDN'T YOU?!" Zuko's fists clenched tight around the bars, his knuckles white, the slowly growing pain in his chest not yet enough to catch his attention. "WHAT DID YOU DO TO KATARA - AHHHHRRR!"
"DAAD!" Asamiya cried as Zuko fell against the bars. But the Fire Lord snarled again.
"What...did...you do...t-to... MY WIFE?!"
"Dad, Mai didn't do anything!" Asamiya said in a rush. "She didn't poison Mom, she's pregnant!"
Zuko froze, then looked at his daughter.
That was when the princess realized what she said. But it didn't matter. Her father was hurting.
"Here, Dad," she breathed, kneeling beside him, and helping him stand up. She grabbed the dragon cane from the wall, his left arm pulled over her shoulders to help bear his weight, and headed back for the main part of the palace, and the family wing. "You need to rest. Come on."
Quang checked on Zuko when the princess told him what had happened, and the healer had the Fire Lord spend the rest of that day, and the next, in bed, to rest, and recover from what had happened. Quang had assured Asamiya, who'd started sobbing by the time she'd gotten her father back to the room, that it wouldn't always be this bad; that some of the damage to the Fire Lord's heart would repair itself with time, but the murmur would always stay.
Katara stayed with Zuko, and told him quietly that yes, she was pregnant. Mai had done nothing to her. Zuko had smiled, and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, one hand on the small of her back, the other tangled in her beautiful brown hair. His hold was firm, but gentle, as he didn't want to hurt the new baby inside his wife, but he wanted her as close as possible; didn't want to let go of the safety, and love of the moment.
"This is incredible," the Fire Lord sighed, as he lay beside his sweet Katara that night, his hand on her stomach. It was still flat, but in a few months' time, it would obvious that she was with child.
The rest of the winter passed without incident. When spring came, almost no trace of the dark events that had recently happened remained. The only signs that anything had gone wrong at all were that sometimes, when the Fire Lord was too upset, or too aggravated, a look of pain would flash across his face and his hand would rest against his chest over his heart, and the wary light lingering in the back of the crown princess's eyes. But that faded, in time. Shortly after Mai's execution - Zuko had decided it was the most merciful thing; Mai was far more lost and insane than Azula had been (it still bothered him, though, that it had to end this way. He'd closed his eyes when the execution went through) - the Fire Lord had looked into his oldest daughter's eyes and seen only trust again. She knew that the only threats possible to her family were dead and gone. The only threats to the peace she loved had been dissolved. Of course, the loss of life had kept her up that night, and it was, as it had always been, Zuko who told her it would be okay.
Asamiya sat beside her father on the throne, one day. She could tell this case was bothering him, and she knew why; A young mother was going against her recently divorced husband in an attempt to get their son into her custody, and out of his. The boy was slight, and pale, but the mother said he was about sixteen. The mother, like the son, was smaller, almost fragile-looking, with hazel eyes, a bit more green than the typical gold. Perhaps Asamiya's first assumption that the family was all Fire Nation had been wrong. Maybe there was some Earth Kingdom in the mother and the kid.
"When did your husband begin to beat your s-son?" the Fire Lord was asking the woman in a strained voice.
"W-when he fell sick two winters ago," the woman replied quietly, head bowed. It was clear she was scared. And Asamiya could see why. Her anger, and the wirling emotions she could see in her father's eyes, were causing the Eternal Flames to jump high,almost scraping the ceiling. The boy coughed lightly, looking tired, and flushed in the light of the flames.
"What's your name?" Asamiya asked, looking into the light green eyes of the boy.
"K-kyro," the teen replied, "your highness."
"Asamiya," the princess corected with a gentle, though slightly tired smile. Everyone tried to put titles on her, and she really didn't like it. "Call me Asamiya, Kyro."
The boy bowed, his head low.
"Who is your husband?" Asamiya asked the mother, wondering if the person who'd beaten the gentle-seeming boy before her was someone she knew. If they were, they were going to get in trouble.
"C-corporal Li-shuang," the woman replied softly.
"The corporal found out two winters ago that I was not his son," Kyro muttered.
"I could not be sure," the young woman explained quickly. "Shortly before I met, and married Li-shuang, I had had... intimate... relations with another man. It did not work out, and then I met my husband. Please, Fire Lord," she kowtowed, her forehead pressed to the floor, her body shaking slightly. "If not for me, then I ask for least for my child."
"My lady," Zuko said in a mostly steady voice. There was a slight tremmor of triumph - the Fire Lord loved helping people, and for that, Asamiya looked up to him grately - in the undertone. "I cannot see why I should separate you from your son. What reason do I have not to grant you protection as well." Zuko smiled at the woman and her son. Beside him, Asamiya beamed, and she couldn't help but wonder if Kyro might like to explore the palace with her. She'd never been in Ozai's rooms, after all. And since the ex-Fire Lord's death, her father had lifted any forbiddence he'd had on her going near there.
"Kyro," she said gently. "You and your mother will be staying here, in the palace, until we can locate someplace safe for you from your father. In the meantime, wanna come explore the palace with me?"
Zuko looked at his daughter, and mentally groaned. It was clear she had something of a crush on this boy from the overly-hopeful look on her face. He'd have to be on the watch, now.
Kyro shrugged, and nodded, and Asamiya jumped down from the throne, and led Kyro off toward her grandfather's rooms. Zuko could honestly say he was happy. Things had gone from good, to horrible, and back to good so fast after the bad, that Zuko was very happy with the supportive attitude of his country. He could not believe how good things were, and as he watched his daughter lead the boy Kyro with child-like eagerness, he couldn't help but smile, and something told him things would be okay after all.
Yes, this is the end. Some of the dream scenes - Asamiya's on Appa - will be in a sequel that spans between this story, and 'Into the Fire'. I hope you liked this. Review, please!