You’d known him to be many things. A waiter in a tea shop. A teacher to the Avatar. A banned prince. But since Zuko became the Fire Lord of the Nation, everything had turned upside down.
A few years back when the both of you traveled with the Avatar, you’d seen the positive changes he went through and the passion that grew inside him. He truly wanted to be good. And he was. The differences he had made in himself and in those around him were astounding. And he kept detecting more and more sides of him, that he never knew he had. Around the same time he also discovered another passion. You. The one person apart from his uncle that kept him going then, and kept him going still. Although now that you’d reached adulthood and reigned over thousands of citizens, there was still something missing... time.
Two weeks had gone by in Ba Sing Se until political issues had been settled with the Earth Kingdom. A relieved sigh left your mouth, as you settled into the carriage that would bring you back home. Back to Zuko. It was rare that you left the Nation without him, but this time he’d needed to stay because of negotiations with the Southern Water Tribe. It had been important, but so was the Earth King, so he sent the person that was most capable. Unfortunately that also meant spending a lot of time apart. Of course there was still the possibility to converse through the lovely letters you’d send each other. But in all honesty, they couldn’t compete with the quiet moments you shared in person. Needless to say that it hadn’t taken long for the distance to tug at your heartstrings. You yearned to hear his voice in the mornings, still raspy from the sleep. The touch of his calloused hands on the small of your back, when he guided you through the halls and the warmth of his hugs. But most of all? You missed his kisses. Even the smallest of pecks still managed to make your heart flutter and you felt yourself grow more desperate with each day to feel it again. So when the carriage finally arrived at the palace, you were ecstatic.
Usually Zuko would wait for you in front of the two large double doors that lead inside, but now the place was empty apart from a few guards who greeted you on your way. Still, the giddy feeling in your chest didn’t subside. He must be waiting in our chambers, you thought. Your pace grew faster and faster as you neared your bedroom until you burst through the door with a large grin on your face. What greeted you were the the closed curtains hiding the sunlight, the smell of jasmine tea and the untouched satin sheets. Just like the entrance before, they were empty. You registered footsteps coming up behind you, but they did’t match up with those you were hoping for. The guards proceeded to bring your luggage. “Can you tell me where my husband is?” The man pointed over his shoulder towards the door. “The Fire Lord is still in the middle of negotiations with the Water Tribe, my Lady,” your shoulders dropped slightly, but not all of your good spirits were broken. As you nodded the guard left with a traditional bow, before you sighed and sat onto the sheets.
Once again the Nation overruled it all. The days were filled with countless appointments, paperwork and concepts, while the nights were met with insomnia and bad dreams. You’d tried your best to help, but love and affection couldn’t keep the paranoid thoughts at bay. They came with the attempts to take your lives, and they were here to stay. The amount of guards in the halls had been doubled and the kyoshi warriors now resided in your home. At first you’d tried not to let it get to you. Focusing all your attention on Zuko’s comfort and the social matters of the Nation had been your way of dealing with things. But slowly... it crept up on you. The doubts and the fears that clouded your mind had always been relieved by Zuko’s presence. But lately the time spend together shrunk to a minimum.
You shook your head, banning the dark thoughts from your mind. Instead you decided to spend the time unpacking your luggage, until your spouse would be out of his meeting. While you sorted your clothes back where they belonged, slowly but surely the sun went down, leaving a reddish sky in its wake, until it disappeared. Just like Zuko, it had left you standing alone in the dark. You decided to dress down into your nightgown. The air was chilly, making goosebumps rise on your skin, so you quickly slid under the warm sheets. The plan was to stay awake until Zuko finally arrived, but sometime in the midnight hours, you must’ve succumbed to your sleep.
When you blinked your eyes open the next morning, something had changed. A yawn passed your lips, as you moved to stretch your arms, bumping against something that hadn’t been there before. Or rather, someone. Your eyes, still barely open, travelled up a defined chest and finally landed on a beautiful face, marked with a red burn. “Good morning, (Y/N),” Zuko said, his lips curling into a lovely smile. “Did you sleep well?” You hummed, snuggling into him. “I did,” he was warm. He always was. The man had fire woven into his skin and ashes in his veins. “Just sad i couldn’t get to see you yesterday,” you confessed, lowering your gaze. “I’m sorry,” he said. “The negotiations took longer than we thought. I couldn’t leave. But... I’m here now,” You lifted your head to look at him once again. This was it. This was what you’d missed the past few weeks. And now that you had it, you couldn’t get enough. Not enough of his warmth, not enough of words, not enough of the pure sight of him. “You are,” you confirmed, a smile spreading out on your face. You felt him leaning closer, so you craned your neck, desperate for his lips and then- knock, knock,
You drifted apart, a bitter taste left in your mouth. “Yes?” Zuko answered, pulling the blanket up to cover you both. You didn’t need to turn your head, the rattle of armour exposing the intruder as a guard. “You have visitors, My Lord,” the woman stated. You could hear your lover grumble under his breath. “Showing up unannounced,” then he sighed. “Who?” You didn’t care who it was. You didn’t want to know. All you wanted was to have Zuko to yourself. You knew this was not the way a Fire Lady should think. It was selfish. But right now the need to spend some time with him was so great, that his next answer knocked the air out of your lungs. “Entertain them for me?” He rubbed his forehead. “I’ll be right out,” A sense of defeat came over you. One of you would need to leave. Again. “Do you really have to?” you asked, your tone sounding awfully thin. His eyes expressed genuine regret, even more so with the dark circles under his eyes. But still he gently lifted you off of him. “I’m sorry, love. I have to go, it’s important,” Then what am i? you thought, lips twitching into a frown. Though one second later the sentiment was gone. You couldn’t expect him to put your needs above of the whole Fire Nation, could you? It wouldn’t be fair. You were the Fire Lasy. You had to be ready to give everything and more for your homeland. So you gave him a small nod. “Of course,” you managed a slight grin, but you couldn’t quite hide the sadness in your voice. Zuko planted a quick peck on your forehead, before he got dressed and put the traditional Fire Lord headpiece into his bun. “I promise i’ll make it up to you. How about dinner? tonight? by the turtleduck pond?” he proposed and tilted his head, which eared him a true smile. Sometimes he was still so adorably awkward. Just like when you’d first met. “Yes, i’ll be there,” You agreed and gave a small wave as he left you with a smirk in the large bedroom, all on your own.
It was clear that you wouldn’t get so much as a glimpse of your husband until the promised dinner was in order. So you tried to spend the time getting pampered by the staff of the palace. A bath that lasted for hours, a carefully selected dress and a traditional Fire Nation hairstyle. Luckily you got to have a lot of fun with the maids at the same time. The good connections to the common people had come in handy in and out of the palace. It was needless to say that you treated especially the girls under your wing with special care. They rewarded you by trying to cheer you up with pointless gossip they’d heard in the halls. And for some time, it certainly worked. Before you knew it, the time for your date had come. And by now you were as excited as your maids. “You look beautiful, My Lady,” Lizzy said as she fixed the last strand of hair into place. “Thank you,” you breathed as the rest of them nodded eagerly. They granted you a few minutes to yourself, before it was time to go to the gardens. You looked at yourself one last time. The girls had truly done a formidable job. The dress was out of this world. The perfekt shade of red, decorated with beads of gold and emboidered dragons. A perfect fit for a Fire Lady. With a deep breath, your marched through the halls, two of the guards following you discreetly until you saw the pond.
The evening was chilly, but not cold enough to bother you. The smell of roses wafted through the air and the turtleducks quacked quietly. It was peaceful. Beautiful. You discovered a small table for two at your favorite spot. A single candle was lit atop of it and two plates of your favorite dish were in place. The only thing missing was your husband. “The Fire Lord will be here shortly,” you jumped, shameful that you hadn’t noticed the messenger earlier. “Of course, thank you,” you replied, sitting down. The delicious smell of the food dared you to take a bite, but despite your grumbling stomach you decided to wait. This was supposed to be a perfect night. After a while you propped an elbow on the desk and rested your chin in your hand. The turtleducks had completely settled down and the food begann to grow cold. You had lost count of how often your stomach had demanded to be filled. And eventually the sun denied you her light. The meal in front of you was cool and goosebumps graced your skin. You tried your best to ignore the pityfull looks of the guards, when you’d grown sick of waiting. Even the hunger had disappeared. Not long after the messenger reappeared. “I’m sorry, my Lady, the Fire Lord won’t make it to dinner tonight,”
Soon you found yourself in front of the mirror again. The one you’d laughed and twirled in front, with the maids. But now you saw something else. Someone who wasn’t enough.
At times you wondered it things would really be different of Zuko wasn’t the Fire Lord, or if that was only wishfull thinking. All this time you’d blamed your titles for the lack of quality time between you. But what if it was something more? Something you’d denied acknowledging. Could Zuko have fallen out of love with you? Weren’t you important to him anymore? Right now you didn’t know. Didn’t even care. All you wanted was to get rid of your loneliness.
The next month passed by in a flash. Almost unnoticed. Zuko was so caught up in his duties, that you often wondered if he even entered the bedroom at night. You hadn’t seen him in weeks. But you’d realised an important fact about yourself. You were worthy to be loved, worthy to be held and your feelings were valid. The Fire Lady would no longer be treated this way. Not even by the Fire Lord. And the descision was final. “I need to speak to the Fire Lord,” you stated repeadiately, as the guards stood in your way. “I’m afraid he’s handling negociations right now, i’m sorry, my Lady, we can’t let you through,”
With furrowed brows you pursed your lips. “Who am i?” you hissed. “Excuse me?” the guard said, rasing his brows. “Who am i?” you asked with more force, placing your hands on your hips. “...the Fire Lady,” he answered reluctantly. “Right. I am. So you will follow my command. Let. Me. Through,” you growled, which seemed to convince them. Zuko’s voice reached your ears as you burst through the doors. “Of course we’d have to- (Y/N) ?” Your gaze was glued to him, paying no mind to the generals and war heroes around him. “I need to talk to my husband. Alone. Immediately,” You declared, leading the assembly to turn and look at the Fire Lord. To your relief, he nodded, getting all the men to leave. When the two of you were alone for the first time in what felt like ages, he rounded the table until he reached you.
“What’s wrong, my love?” he asked softly. He looked tired. Exhausted. The rings under his eyes had grown larger and his appearance was more dishelved as usual. Hairstrands were tumbling out of his bun, his speech sounded empty and his clothes were wrinkled. The molten gold in his eyes almost made you reconsider. “I can’t-,” your voice broke before you could continue. Unshed tears clouded your vision and you bit your lip harshly before they had a chance to escape. You lowered you head. You couldn’t look at him. “I can’t do this anymore, Zuko,” It was silent for a few minutes. You didn’t dare to get a glimpse of his expression. “Look at me,” You couldn’t. “Look at me,” he repeated. And when you finally did, the tears flowed freely.
All you could see was a broken man, trying to put himself back into a whole piece anew every day. Broken vows, broken promises and broken hearts. The pain had gotten to strong to bear. To strong for one poor soul to hold alone. There once was a time were you had held it together, but those times were over. They wouldn’t come back. And you owed it to yourself to let them go. “What are you saying?” His eyes seemed clouded by fear, his hands shaking at his sides. Before you didn’t stand Fire Lord Zuko, adored and feared by many. Instead you recognized the teenage boy, he’d once been. Full of fear to make a loss and burdened with the curse to save the world. “I want to end our marrige, Zuko. It’s over.”