The staff should have known better. Rushing the princess in, knee scraped, a few drops of blood oozing from what was, overall, a superficial wound. If his wife were there, a few kisses and sweeps of her glowing water would have done the trick.
But she wasn't, and his office was apparently the only place they could bring the girl. What did they think he was, a healer?
"I want Mommy," the little girl wailed, blue eyes squeezed shut as the tears ran down her cheeks.
"I don't know where she is!!" Zuko yelled back. For a few short seconds the waterworks stopped - in shock - and then that face scrunched back up and another piercing scream signaled Lei's redoubled efforts to break his heart.
He'd sent the guards skittering in search of the conspicuously absent Fire Lady, but five minutes later they seemed to have had no luck. Zuko was desperate; was he supposed to cuddle the crying girl until she calmed down? Was he supposed to bandage her knee?
Uncle would have taken care of this when he was younger, and since then, Katara. Her healing hands always soothed any injury, and that feeling of cool relief - and life - washing through him in the aftermath of that fateful Agni Kai was a memory imprinted just beneath his skin.
But this was different. How could one child even cry that much? Yet she just kept on going, even as he clumsily tried to reassure her, and fumble with the supplies a maid had shoved his way.
This jar, it must be some kind of salve, but it smelled awful. He swallowed thickly and steeled his stomach as he globbed the offensive stuff on that tiny knee, hasty to wrap the joint with the bandage provided. The work was uneven, sloppy, haphazard--but it did make those sobs die down to sniffles.
Maybe he could do this after all.
Later, much later, he finally found her by the turtleduck pond. The creatures spun circles across the water chasing the crumbs she threw, every so often quacking their protest at having to swim for their supper. "There you are," he said, already summoning up all the things he'd say in recounting the horror of his experience--
Only to see that knowing little smile she turned to him. His throat went dry. So she... knew?
"I needed your help!" he was already sputtering, trying to ignore the heat in his face.
She silenced him with a laugh, and a pull of his hand to bring him to a seat beside her. "No, you didn't. You did just fine."
"You set this all up, didn't you?"
"Not all of it," she argued, with another laugh and a wrinkle across her nose. "But when I heard she needed her knee looked at, I told them to take her to you."
"You're awful," he sulked.
Luckily, she wasn't deterred. With her chin on her shoulder, she caught his cheek with her palm and turned him toward her to see that smile she wore, the soft, warm one reserved always only for him. "And you're a better father than you give yourself credit for. I just wanted you to realize that. Especially since..."
"I think it'll be a boy this time," she said as she cuddled closer, but he didn't say a word. His heart had burst--but it would still be awhile before he admitted it was with joy.