Current time: 2 months and 4 days since capture
The next time skip is going to be a lot larger, since this is one of my last few planned chapters before the actual series, and I still have a whole ‘nother year to fill.
Kurami and Zuko had not spoken to each other once in the weeks following their disagreement. Kurami had even stopped coming to meals, prompting Iroh to bring her a plate of food so she didn’t starve to death.
Sometimes, late at night, the shadowbender would go to the deck of the ship and go through her bending forms, her shadows slicing nothing but air. It occurred to her, once or twice, to try and escape in the night, but she had made a promise. Even if she was reluctant about it, she took oaths seriously.
Tonight was another one of those nights.
Her eyes seemed to turn deep violet as midnight approached. She was beginning to tire, so she finished with a somersault before dropping her stance and walking over to the side of the ship.
She looked up at the moon, which was starting to wane. It was one of the only ways she kept track of passing time.
Spirits, give me strength, she pleaded mentally. I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.
The Fire Prince found himself losing sleep over the past few weeks, the same words echoing over and over in his head. He had tried to meditate before going to bed, but most of the time it didn’t work.
He had taken to pacing the halls of the ship while everyone else slept soundly. If he stopped at Kurami’s door every now and then, hand poised to knock but never actually doing so, no one was the wiser.
Zuko stepped onto the balcony leading from the bridge and spotted a figure on the deck. He recognized Kurami by the way the shadows danced–literally–around her. He couldn’t help but be hypnotized as she gracefully wove in and out of each position. Soon, she stopped and walked over to the side of the ship.
From where he stood, Zuko watched her deflate, closing in on herself. The shadowbender looked so vulnerable and tired and the sight made him feel a sharp pang of guilt.
He had to find a way to fix things between them.
Before it was too late.
It was her birthday.
When that thought registered in her brain, she jerked awake so quickly she nearly fell off the side of the bed.
The position of the moon usually helped her keep track of time on the ship, but she never knew the exact dates–time tended to blur if you were on a ship most of the time. General Iroh had confirmed her guess when he brought her breakfast that morning.
She was officially fifteen years old. Part of her wondered how she ended up celebrating her birthday as a prisoner, while another was saddened at the fact that no one was going to celebrate it with her.
Birthdays were small affairs with the Black Spirits. Not many knew each other’s birthdays, nor did they care. However, with Kai (and later, the twins), birthdays didn’t just mean a break from training–it meant family time.
Kurami and her adoptive mother would sometimes leave the hideout for a few hours, never straying far, but it was still something she looked forward to every year, even if Kai came back a little late because of a mission.
When Kurami turned eleven, Kai had deemed her old enough to know the truth. The earthbender had sat her down and told her about that cold winter’s night, all those years ago.
“But remember this, my little shadow,” Kai had said afterwards. “It does not matter if you are my blood or not. You are still my little girl, understand?”
Kurami had nodded and hugged her mother tightly, before asking to see the old hollow tree, jumping up and down excitedly. The shadowbender wanted to know if she would remember anything, but she was disappointed when she did not. Kai had hugged her comfortingly, reminding her that all things came with time. If Kurami was meant to remember anything, then she would, eventually.
Back in the present, Kurami made her decision. It wasn’t the first time she’d had a birthday without Kai or the twins, and it wouldn’t be the last.
She would just have to bear with it.
Later that afternoon, her daily ritual of staring blankly at a wall was interrupted by a knock on the door. Kurami figured it would be Iroh bringing her lunch, but when she opened the door, she was unprepared to see Zuko balancing a steaming plate of food in one hand and holding chopsticks in the other.
Her shields immediately went up as she glared at the Fire Prince.
“What do you want?” she asked. Vaguely, she remembered him saying the exact same thing to her, but she pushed the thought out of the way.
“I brought you lunch,” he replied, offering the plate to her. “Also…I wanted to talk. Can I come in?”
She scrutinized him for a moment before snatching the plate and the chopsticks from him.
She made her way back to the bed and sat down, inspecting the food for any poison before eating. Even though there was none, her habits were hard to break. The prince shut the door before leaning on it.
“So, what is it you want, Your Highness?” She knew she was being bitter and cynical, but she figured she had a right to.
She tilted her head at him, the slight twitch of her eyebrows betraying her surprise.
“Look, I’m…I’m sorry about what I did a few weeks ago. I hurt you a lot, in more ways than one, and I didn’t even realize it.” He wasn’t sure what else to do, and he wasn’t going to sacrifice his pride by begging. He was a prince, for Agni’s sake! He shouldn’t have been apologizing in the first place.
There was a pause, then…
“That was the worst apology I have ever heard.”
Zuko stared at the assassin, who was poking at something on her plate.
“Well, what else was I supposed to say?” he demanded.
“Hm, let me think,” she said sarcastically, looking up at him. “What about ‘I’m sorry I was a horrible ass to you, Kurami,’ or ‘I’ll make it up to you somehow.’ Does that give you any ideas?”
“How am I supposed to make it up to you?” he countered, pointedly ignoring the first part.
“For starters, you can come over here and keep me company on my birthday.”
She met his gaze with an expectant look and patted the empty spot next to her.
“If I’m going to spend the rest of my birthday on this ship with you,” she continued. “I might as well tell you. It’s my fifteenth birthday, and I’d rather not spend it alone.”
Zuko straightened up and joined her, keeping at a cautious distance. Kurami rolled her eyes and offered the half-eaten food to him.
“Here. I’m full and you look like you haven’t eaten yet.”
It was true–after he had gotten the food, he had gone straight to her ‘room’, getting strange looks in the process. He’d explain it to Uncle later, but right now, he had other things to do.
“Happy Birthday,” he said, after he had taken the plate from her.
Kurami’s face softened, and Zuko felt himself relax for the first time in days.
“Thank you,” she replied, giving him the tiniest of smiles.
It was a start.