“I still can’t believe it,” Katara marveled later after Zuko and Ren managed to convince Druk to give them a lift back down to camp.
“I wouldn’t have believed it either if I hadn’t seen it firsthand,” Zuko admitted.
“Does this mean… Druk’s a daddy?” Sien asked, excitement in her eyes.
“No, baby girl. He’s still too young. These are probably his younger brothers and sisters,” Ren corrected.
“Druk’s a lucky dragon to have you on his side, Ren,” Katara said. “Well, as long as he doesn’t try to snatch you up by the hair again.”
Ren ran her fingers through her shortened hair, chuckling. “It’s not the first time. And with six little ones on the way, I’m sure it won’t be the last.”
Zuko was quiet for a moment. He looked over to Druk who was resting nearby. Druk looked back and bobbed his head approvingly. He sucked in a breath.
“Ren?” Zuko said.
“Hm?” She looked up. Zuko stood, making his features go stern and professional. “Kneel.”
Ren raised an eyebrow and Zuko could see her natural suspicion clashing with her ingrained upbringing to obey the Firelord. “Your Firelord just gave you an order,” he reminded.
Ren knelt, dipping her head low. “As you command, milord.”
Zuko cleared his throat, trying to remember all the words. It had been a long while since he had witnessed this ceremony. Not since Uncle Iroh received his title as the Dragon of the West all those years ago. Granted this wasn’t quite the same. But after everything she had done for him, Ren deserved his honest effort.
“In the presence of these witnesses, and by the grace of a true firebending master,” he indicated Druk, who had taken the role usually given to the head Fire Sage. “I, Firelord Zuko, son of Ozai, hereby decree the Lady Ren be awarded the title of Dragon Keeper in honor of her heroic feat of saving the dragon Druk and his kin.” Zuko put emphasis on that last part, pleased with his own clever twist. Originally, the speech honored those who had slain the dragon, not saved it.
Ren was pleased too. She bowed lower, allowing Zuko to rest a palm on her head.
“I am honored.”
The reverie was broken when Sien squeaked with delight and asked in her adorable four-year-old voice. “Mr. Firelord, sir? Can I have a title too?”
Ren and Katara both chuckled, and Zuko smiled warmly. “Sure. What title would you like?”
Sien thought very hard for a moment. Then her little face bloomed into a grin. “Dragongirl!”
As with Ren, Zuko bid her to kneel and he touched her head with his hand.
“I decree that Lady Sien be awarded the title Dragongirl.” He stepped back. “You may both rise.”
Ren and Sien stood.
“Yay!” Sien cheered. “I’m a Dragongirl now!” She scampered off, throwing fire punches and mimicking a dragon’s roar.
Ren watched her go with warmth in her eyes. Then she looked back to Zuko.
“You will not regret this, milord.” Next she gave a respectable head-dip to Druk. “And I promise to take good care of the clutch while you’re helping Lord Zuko take back the palace.”
Druk made a soft noise, like he never had any doubt of this. Zuko, meanwhile, cocked his head. “Did you just say… you think Druk wants to come with me?”
Ren scratched her head giving him a look like, well, like he was completely clueless, actually. Though out of respect for her Firelord, she did not say as much.
“I assumed that was your plan. No one at the palace would dare argue your claim to the throne if a dragon gave you his blessing, now would they?”
“No,” Zuko agreed. The notion sounded so simple, and yet a splinter of doubt still lingered in the back of his mind. Druk’s support might very well get him back on the throne. But would it be enough to help him keep it? No matter how strong his inner fire was, technically he was still a waterbender. This wouldn’t go over well with his people. To them, he’d be just another dictator who seized the throne by force. How could he possibly promote peace with that reputation looming over him?
“Besides,” Ren went on, “your girlfriend said it might take a few sessions to heal Druk completely, didn’t she?”
Zuko blushed. “N-no. I mean, yes, she said that. But, no, she’s not my–”
“So how are you supposed to heal him more if you run off without him?”
“I, uh–” Zuko faltered. “I hadn’t really thought of that.”
A loud grumble sounded, breaking Zuko’s concentration. Katara blushed, rubbing a hand behind her head. “Sorry, that was me.”
To Zuko’s embarrassment, his stomach answered her with a growl of it’s own.
Ren tossed back her head and roared with laughter. “Tell you what, you think about it while I get us something to eat.”
Katara watched uneasily as Ren walked away. It was great that Zuko had his confidence back and everything, but Katara almost felt like he had gone from caring too much about his bending to caring too little. If the entire palace staff thought he had turned traitor, how was walking back in and waterbending supposed to help? Would having a dragon in tow really make that much of a difference? It felt like they needed a more realistic approach. Or, at the very least, a back up plan.
I wonder if Aang’s planning anything, she found herself thinking. Or Sokka. Or Toph. I hope they’re all okay. She wondered for a moment if there was someway they could get their friends out and then attack Azula together. Maybe if they could take her out quickly, the sages would have no choice but to let the crown stay with Zuko. Or maybe…
“I’ve been thinking,” Zuko said, startling her out of her thoughts. She glanced up from the fascinating piece of grass she’d been staring at to see that Ren and Sien weren’t actually sitting with them and eating anymore. Instead, they were off in the distance, bidding farewell to Druk. Ren hoisted up her little girl, allowing her to stroke the dragon’s nose. To be with her father for a moment, Katara realized.
Zuko coughed loudly and Katara turned her attention back to him. “Yes. Sorry. You were thinking…”
Zuko glanced back at Sien and Ren like he needed to confirm they’d still be a while. He flexed his fingers, bending his body down as he lowered his voice. “When we get back to the palace. It might not be enough to have Druk confirm me as Firelord. I know it’s my destiny. But the staff… the fire sages especially might expect some… other proof.”
“Other proof?” Katara asked, not at all liking the direction this conversation was taking.
“Yes. Whether I agree with it or not, if the law says I have to be a firebender, then I… I need to prepare myself to submit to that.”
“Prepare to submit to…” She wanted to punch him. Zuko always got all distant and formal when he was planning something really moronic. “Are you saying you’re going to tell Aang to switch our powers back?”
“If I need to, yes.”
Yes, Katara decided, this was a definitely punch-in-the-face worthy suggestion. Of course, Ren might notice if she started slapping Zuko around, so for the moment at least, she kept her hands still. “What good would that do? You said yourself you can’t make fire without the bloodbending to help you move.”
Zuko looked thoughtfully down at his hands. “The thing is, after dancing with Druk, I feel like I actually could. It still wouldn’t be a lot, but it would prove I can firebend.” He gave a small, forced laugh. “Who knows? Maybe with time, I might learn to do more. Iroh and Azula can use the breath of fire to create much bigger flames from their mouths than I can now. Maybe–”
Katara pounded her fists onto her knees. The smoldering embers from their breakfast cook fire flared up again. Ren looked over suspiciously, but let Sien continue playing with Druk and didn’t approach. It took all of Katara’s willpower to let her next words come out as mere hissed through her teeth and not as full-fledge screams.
“Don’t you get it? If you give up waterbending, you won’t be able to–”
“What, Katara? Won’t be able to feed myself? Won’t be able to go anywhere without someone moving me there? Please, list a few more things I won’t be able to do. I need some extra incentive to run off and leave the country in the hands of my psychotic sister.”
Katara gritted her teeth. In truth, she wanted him to doubt. Wanted him to search for another way… any other way to establish himself on the throne. She wanted to feel like she had helped him, not like she was the instrument Azula had used to bring him down.
Zuko’s expression softened, but only a small bit. “Trust me, I’ll work as hard as I can to turn public opinion in favor of changing the law. And when the majority of my citizens agree that one shouldn’t have to be a firebender to be Firelord, our laws will reflect that. But I can’t… I won’t force my will on my people. They had enough of that under my father. And I don’t want to hear anything else on the topic, all right?”
Katara stiffened. There was a boldness to Zuko’s voice that hadn’t been there for days. No, more than a boldness. A command. If he had ended his sentence with something more formal… an “Am I clear?” or a “Is that understood?”, he would have sounded exactly like a general scolding an officer.
He sounds like the Firelord again, Katara thought, her heart heavier than she ever could have imagined. “Whatever you think is best,” she whispered and left it at that.