Chapter 1 - Family Reunion
They walked throughout Hira'a and sat at the restaurant where Ikem and Ursa had their fateful reunion breakfast five years ago. Ursa and Zuko talked for hours over tea about her lifetime love for Ikem, and the terrible hiatus it took during the cruel marriage she had with Ozai.
Ursa admitted to her son, "My secret collection of actors' masks alowed me to mentally escape - at least for a moment - the prison that was the palace. That was the only thing that sustained my sanity at times, when Ozai was at his worst, dear. I am so sorry I could not have been stronger."
"It's not your fault Mother. Father is who he is. Even now rotting in prison and powerless he is unrepentant."
She concluded with a smile and a tender touch to her son's hand, "The only thing that was good about my marriage to Ozai was you and Azula. I am so pleased that you are now the Fire Lord, and a kind one, putting an end to the horrible war with your kind friends. It seems you have made a powerful friend with Avatar Aang. You do realize your connection with him through your Great Grandfather Roku, right?"
"Yes Mom, and I am grateful for that connection. It has made us better friends. Aang considers us sort of relatives," he smiled.
"A wise young man, that new Avatar," she grinned.
Zuko sat back, and sighed, "He and Uncle Iroh actually saved me from myself, and Katara saved my life from Azula's attacks. But Mom. Your story. It's incredible. Especially about Dad and Grandfather. You saved me with that potion Mom. Thank you. I am not sorry Grandfather is gone and Father is in prison."
"It was worth being banished, Zuko to see you as you are. You are more like your other Great Grandfather Roku."
"Thank you Mom. That is kind. I do want to be more like him."
She placed her hand on his shoulder, "I did it because of my love for you, son. You can't love someone if they aren't there anymore. Your father was capable of anything to achieve his dream of absolute world power."
"Don't I know that," he rolled his eyes, "It was probably good that you didn't know what he did the past five years."
"A chat for another time, dear."
Zuko paused and looked at the ground, "Mom? I'm happy for you the way things turned out. Ikem is good for you. Kiyi is such a sweet little girl."
"Thank you Zuko. He's the best. And she is so much like you at that age. No wonder you connected instantly. The moment I knew who Ikem was, and that he was alive because of his changed face, it was like we had never been separated for those twenty years. That time in the woods together for months... And then my time only as Noriko, not worrying about anything but him and me and Kiyi. It was heavenly, except for not knowing about you and Azula for five years. I have fixed that selfish error now, dear."
"I told you before that was all right. You needed that time to get away from Dad. Even though Ikem isn't really my dad, I am glad he is my step father. I want to get to know him better."
Ursa smiled, "I know he would like that. With everything I told him for months, he feels like he knows you like a son, and wishes you had been his."
"I'd like that Mom. He… he never left you in mind and spirit even though you were separated. He was always in love with you."
"Yes, dear. He never stopped loving me since he was six."
"His undying love for you is something I need to learn from," Zuko said sadly.
"Why, honey?" Ursa worried.
"Because it turns out I am not really good at love. There's a… a girl."
"Mai…" she smiled.
"How did you know?" he looked at her with surprise.
"You two were smitten with each other since you were eight. You never knew how to show it and she wasn't ever allowed to. Where is she dear? Back home waiting for you? Are you… um… engaged or married?"
Zuko wearily shook his head, "No Mom. We were nearly at that point, but she left me about a month ago. When there was almost a war between the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation over what to do with the Colonies. I did some stupid things. Like I always have without help."
"Why? What happened?" Ursa fretted.
"I got too consumed with my Fire Lord duties. Too many… complications," he noted, not wanting to talk about the five assassination attempts, "She said I… I didn't trust her. That I kept too many things from her."
She took both his hands in hers, "Zuko you need to go to her. Right away, honey. Show her how much you care."
"Do you think she'll take me back? Showing emotion has been so hard for me, and it got me punished continually."
She smiled, "Just apologize to her. Don't make excuses. And the rest will take care of itself. Do you know where she is?"
"I think she's at her aunt's flower shop. That's a place she won't be happy for very long."
"I know that, dear. She never liked anything 'girly'. Walk in by surprise. Go buy her flowers. Watch her jaw drop."
"Yes Mother. Let's get back to the others," Zuko suggested, but just then a sweet little girl's face came running up to them both. It was Kiyi.
"Hi Zuko!" she beamed.
"Hi Kiyi," he smiled kindly.
Kiyi gave Ursa a long hard look, wearing the clothing of her mother Noriko, "Daddy says that you are still my Mommy. Are you? You look different now."
"Yes sweetheart. I will always be your Mommy," she reached out and gathered Kiyi in her arms. Their warm embrace was just like always, with Ursa tweaking her cute little nose after the hug.
"Yes, you are my Mommy! Daddy says that the kind spirit gave you your memories back but had to change your face to the way it was when you were just Mommy to Zuko and Azula."
"Yes dear, I'm sorry but I had to change back. I had to know about Zuko and Azula. They are as much my children as you are. I love them too, dear."
"You're even prettier than you were before, Mommy."
"Thank you dear, but it's not what we look like honey, it's what we feel inside."
Kiyi hugged her mother again, and kissed her cheek, "I feel like I love you even more, Mommy. I was so upset that Azula was going to hurt you."
"She didn't though, thanks to your friend Zuko."
Kiyi gave them both a curious look, "He's not my friend any more, Mommy. Daddy says Zuko is something even more special than a friend, aren't you, Zuko?"
"Yes Kiyi. That is right," he knelt on one knee before her and smiled.
"You're my big brother! Yiii!" she squealed happily and hugged him tight, "I've been talking to Daddy. He says we have the same Mommy but different daddies."
Zuko grinned, "That still makes us brother and sister, Kiyi."
"I know. That's even better than being best friends!"
He hugged her tightly and kissed her on the cheek.
"Daddy says you had a very mean Daddy. He hurt you. And Azula too. Daddy says that's what makes Azula so mean to us."
"That doesn't matter anymore. Your Daddy wouldn't ever do that to you."
"I know. I have such a nice Daddy."
"I get to have him my new Daddy too."
"Really? I like that. Do you get to live with us now, Zuko?"
"No Kiyi. I have another home now. I have to go back, but I will visit you and Mommy and our Daddy again soon."
"I love you Zuko. I always wanted a nice big brother just like you."
"I love you too, Kiyi," he choked up with the thought of something he never had until now, "I always wanted a… nice… little sister just like you."
Aang, Sokka, and Katara came up and Sokka suggested, "We better go, Zuko. Crisis over. Time to solve another problem!"
Ursa, Kiyi, and Zuko walked with them back to the pot simmering on the fire, the only thing workable with the broken home. Ikem stood, knowing this was goodbye. Aang, Sokka, and Katara kept a respectable distance for their privacy.
"Ikem… um, may I call you 'Dad'?"
"I would like that very much Zuko."
Ursa had a quiet sweet smile.
"Dad. Thank you for always loving my mother, and marrying her even after everything that happened. I have never seen her so happy. I know now that this is what she wants – you and the life she wanted since she was little."
"She still wants you and Azula in her life too. That is why she said 'yes' when the Mother of Faces asked the 'hard question'. That is why I encouraged her to come back from a lifetime of just playing 'Noriko'. That is why I had you confront her here with who you really are."
"Noriko will always be part of her. But being here, with you, and with Kiyi is ever so much better for her than the palace ever was even at its best moments. I am her son, but you have loved each other, mostly from afar for a lifetime. You both need each other in this life. As you and she both said, I will never forget who I am, but I will never forget what you gave to each other and now have together for as long as you have each other. And now I have to use that lesson in my own life."
"I wish you well… son," they gripped forearms.
With a tearful eye Ursa encouraged, "Take care of yourself Zuko," and they embraced.
"I will Mom. And when I get back I will make sure the Fire Sages annul any remaining marriage ties between you and Ozai, so that there is no challenge to you and Ikem. But I will also put you as my Protectorate so that all royal benefits - and protections - are yours should you ever have need them."
"You don't need to do that, Zuko. I have everything I need right here in my arms and standing right in front of me," she squeezed her husband Ikem and took Zuko's hand.
"I do. I want you to never suffer anything as long as both of you live. If I die before I have heirs, you will serve. Azula can never ascend to the throne. And what about Azula, Mom. Shall I post a guard?"
Ursa shook her head, "No. I looked into her eyes, honey. I saw a spark of kindness and forgiveness I never saw before even as a little girl. She's never going to bother me again. I think she knows the demon in her head is of her making, not me."
"I will return soon to visit. I promise."
"Don't be gone long, big brother. I will miss you." sniffled Kiyi.
"I can't read yet, Zuko," she giggled.
"We'll read his letters together dear," Ursa said softly to her daughter.
Ikem came up and put his arm around Ursa's waist, smiled and mentioned, "You have something else to say, dear?"
With some happy suspicion, Zuko inquired, "What, Mom? I thought we talked about everything today."
"There is just one more little thing, Zuko," she sighed happily, "Zuko,dear, Ikem and I are expecting another baby."
Kiyi jumped up and down with joy! "Baby! Baby!"
Zuko's eyes went completely wide and he grinned from ear to ear, "Mom! That's great! I won't want to miss that."
He started to give her a bear hug then worried he might hurt the new baby, and he backed off. She laughed, "You can't hurt your little brother or sister – he or she is pretty well protected in there right now."
"Baby brother?" Zuko's head spun, smiling while he considered the possibility.
With that happy final news, the Zuko departed and with his friends with purpose. He knew where he had to be next.
At a flower shop deep in the Fire Nation Capital, the door rang. Mai had her back to the counter.
Irritated that it was late in the day and a customer dared to come in at closing time, Mai sighed deeply, and asked, "How may I help you?"
She turned and gasped as she beheld Zuko, but pursed her lips, remembering her anger, despite how heartsick she was to be back in his arms again.
He could barely hold eye contact with her, "Hello Miss. I… I need to buy some flowers to tell someone special to me how sorry I am."
With a rare tear in her eye, Mai reached out her hands and pulled him into a kiss across the counter, "You've come to the right place, sir."