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I'll Save You

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They put off the wedding until after the baby is born. If there are any legal snares to an heir born by an unwed mother, his court neglects to raise the issue, and he is grateful. Iroh appoints himself Katara’s round-the-clock assistant, fussing over her every move, and Zuko has to put his foot down when Iroh offers to sleep on a cot in their room. Lu and the other healers dote on her even more, if that could be possible, and they have set up what seems like an entire hospital in an unused room in his wing of the palace. They assure Zuko that Katara is in the best of hands—never mind that the best hands are her own—and Katara reassures him, too, but he is a nervous wreck for the duration.

When Katara goes into labor, he paces the length of her makeshift hospital room, and he is so worried he thinks he might be sick. But they tell him she’s doing beautifully, and he figures this is right, seeing as how she is good at everything, and before he knows it the gaggle of healers is calling him over excitedly.

He is not prepared for the sight of her, exhausted and shining, holding an impossibly small bundle. She beams up at him, because she is unfailingly like the light of the sun, and offers him the tiny swaddled body, and he takes the bundle with trembling hands. He is even less prepared to clutch the baby to his chest and look into the little scrunched-up face of his firstborn son. He is still nervous, but that is dwarfed by the immeasurable adoration he feels for this small soul, with his big golden eyes alight in his dark-skinned face, and he might not know how to be a father, but he knows how to whisper to his son, “I’m your dad. I love you.”

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They name him Lu Ten, and Uncle cries for days and fights them both over who gets to hold him longest. They get married soon after, and Katara refuses to part with baby Lu Ten for the duration of the ceremony, so he is there, wrapped in crimson and gold, when the Fire Sage slides a golden flame into her hair.

Zuko watches Lu Ten grow with unadulterated joy, and he works twice as hard to govern well, determined that his son will come of age in a world awash with peace and plenty. Katara won’t let him bring Lu Ten to his meetings every day, and he thinks this is hardly fair, because she takes him to her job, strapped to her front and awing the hospital with every new noise he learns to make.

Zuko is playing with him one night when he laughs for the first time, and Zuko thinks how silly it was that he had ever doubted the flourishing of hope and light and good in this world.

He thinks about how Katara insists there is good inside of him. He thinks about how the Fire Nation was like a desert for a hundred years, and she washed over them all like rain. They had spent a century of war sharpening their knives and their teeth, and they had forgotten that any good existed inside of them at all. Then Katara had set her terrifying power to healing instead of conquering, and what had flowed from her hands had revived some tiny seed in their hearts. With Zuko on the throne shining like the sun, and Katara with him to push and pull like the moon, and Lu Ten like their North Star, the seed had sprouted, and taken root, and bloomed.