in vain

@kdinthecity | closed starter

Things were going well.

At least, that’s what he told everyone whenever they asked. That’s what he wrote in the letters that the old Team Avatar exchanged with him.

If he were being honest, things were not going well probably most of the time.

That wasn’t to say that there weren’t things that did go well… but, there were a lot of things that didn’t.

Not for the first time since he’d shouldered the mantle of Fire Lord, Zuko wished he’d been able to stay in exile. Sure, saving the world was great and all, but being a tea server was so much more simple. The worst he’d had to deal with then were rowdy customers, and if he’d known how self-serving aging counsel members and vying noble patriarch and matriarchs were, he would have stayed in that tea shop forever.

A hundred years of war wreaked havoc on everyone–including, he was surprised to find, his own people. With a century devoted to the machine of warmongering, the rest of the economy had been allowed to falter. Now, with the war over, Zuko suddenly found himself in charge of a nation with virtually no exports, and a lot of imported staples that now they couldn’t pay for. The value of Fire Nation money dropped, and even simple vegetables and fruits were becoming unreasonably high for many of his poorest people to afford. He was scrambling to try and rebuild a viable economic structure, but it was difficult and slow work. On top of that, Zuko had to draw up reparation agreement drafts to present to all the other nations for the long-term damage that had been done to them in the name of previous Fire Lords. On top of that, he had soldiers with no soldiering to do, and not much else in the way of skills; he had report upon report of various difficulties with former army and navy officers and soldiers reintegrating back into non-wartime life. They were causing commotions and, in some cases, falling in with dissenting groups who would see Zuko deposed.

What made things worse–his uncle had stayed in Ba Sing Se. Two years had gone by and Zuko felt more adrift than he’d ever felt during his banishment and exile. On the one hand, he couldn’t blame Iroh for wanting to properly retire and focus on the tea shop that made him so happy. But, on the other, Zuko couldn’t quite completely stamp out the resentment that he’d left Zuko to face this all alone. It felt too close to abandonment for comfort, even if he could empirically tell himself that his uncle deserved every moment he spent in that shop; he’d done his time and duty for the Fire Nation and then some. Now it was Zuko’s turn. That did nothing to stop how alone and foundering he felt.

Zuko sighed and leaned his head back against the frame of the window he sat at. His private quarters boasted wide openings that were technically windows, but were also larger than many doors he’d seen. Arms folded across his chest, he stretched out one leg along the wide sill, with the other tucked beneath him. Dusk settled over the city sprawled beneath him, the purpling sky slowly yielding to familiar scatterings of stars.

On his desk lay the most recent letter from Katara, and the one that had dredged up all his unpleasant thoughts tonight. Well, it’s not like they were far from his mind to begin with, but the way she managed to read between the lines–literally–of his letters to her and slyly call him out on his worries brought everything to the forefront of his mind.

His eyes slid over to the half-rolled parchment on his desk. The midsummer festival is starting there soon isn’t it? she’d wrote, and he could just hear her voice precisely in his head. I bet you’re up to your nose in paperwork, so somebody should be there to help make sure you actually enjoy yourself. You can show me how to properly launch a dragon boat.

So, she was coming to the Fire Nation for the festival. Zuko snorted into the warm night air, gaze rolling up to the curve of the ceiling. Her letter had arrived yesterday, which meant she was probably about a week and some change out. The midsummer festival would start in just under three weeks, and lasted for another. Of course, being the time of year of the longest and hottest days, it was one of the bigger celebrations in the Fire Nation. He hadn’t had the chance to enjoy one since he was a kid.

Something stirred a little in the bottom of his chest, and his mouth twitched up in a smile. It would be good to see Katara again, outside an official diplomatic or peace summit capacity, he decided. If anyone could make him being dragged to a festival fun, it would be her. And, knowing her, she might be the one to cow his advisors enough to let him have a day off to enjoy it.

He’d alert the palace tomorrow to start preparing a room for her.

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