The swamp was foggy. The air was thick and the trees wrapped around everything around him, even each other. He'd expect it to be humid, but he couldn't feel a thing. Quiet, empty but most definitely alive. Wild, that would be one word to describe it.
He was lost.
But even though he was lost, alone, confused, slightly panicked and glowing- he was enjoying these circumstances much more than the ones he had been in just moments before.
What is happening? Was this some sort of pain induced hallucination?
No. For that to be true, he'd have to acknowledge that what he'd just been through was more than just a nightmare.
Maybe that was what all this was – a nightmare. A painfully real nightmare that would eventually end. That's all this was. It had to be.
But he still had to fight the urge to cry; the horrible lump in his throat he had to swallow because he was scared and alone and he could still remember the pain that was eating through him just moments ago. But he was a prince and this was a dream, so he fought it off.
Change your focus – move, maybe he'd wake up. So he walked. If he'd been paying any attention, instead of trying to numb everything away, he might have noticed the faint, blue lights in the distance, or how he couldn't feel the earth underneath him as he moved or how his head passed right through a branch in his path.
Something caught his eye. A faint blue column of light was flickering to his right. The boy ran towards it. As he came closer he realized the light was a person, glowing and lost like him.
Hey, he called out, hello, excuse me sir. I'd like to talk to you.
The man did not respond. He scanned around himself, looking slightly confused, before he fixed his gaze on some point in the distance.
Hey, come back! The boy exclaimed as the man began walking towards whatever it was he was looking at. The boy walked swiftly behind him, not wanting to seem desperate by running, calling out every now and then. This continued for an amount of time; the man never answered, didn't acknowledge the boy's presence at all in fact.
The man eventually made a harsh turn to the right, behind a layer of undergrowth, out of his sight. When the boy looked behind the brush, he was gone.
Time was odd here. He didn't know how long had passed since the first encounter. Enough time for him to meet eleven other ghosts. If you could call following people who couldn't sense you, then watching said people vanish meeting them. He wasn't sure whether they couldn't hear or whether he couldn't speak, not that it made a difference.
He was a ghost. It had taken him a while to stop believing this was a dream or some sort of coma-induced fantasy but eventually he realized it couldn't be anything else.
He heard the trees shift.
I guess ghosts can hear. So I just can't talk.
Currently he was sitting among the roots of one of the many trees, staring out at the latest arrival in the swamp. He decided it wasn't worth chasing him down. He'd disappear just like all the others.
Anyone else in his situation would likely be having a spiritual meltdown. What kind of afterlife is this?! Have the spirits punished me? I can't be dead!
The 13-year old wasn't taking it all in stride of course. He was merely refusing to acknowledge what being a lost ghost implied. But when you have an eternity to ponder about it, he couldn't avoid it forever.
He broke when he saw a little boy, even younger than him, appear then vanish just as quickly. He couldn't feel the wind blowing the branches, or the ground under his feet, or the his head in his hands; but he could feel the pain rising in his chest, filling his throat as all the thoughts in his head tumbled out.
My father…I'm an idiot…he couldn't have…I shouldn't have gone in… why didn't he stop him…shouldn't have said anything…why am I here…I'm dead…he killed me… he killed me…
Zuko eventually calmed down. But calming down came with its own problems. Now that he'd accepted his past, he began to question his future. That led to a bit of an existential crisis. He wondered if this was a punishment, forced to watch other souls pass into some sort of afterlife he couldn't reach.
He tried following them again, tried looking for some sort of sign to lead him. Nothing. To be honest though he wasn't trying his best. He didn't want to be dead.
He'd gotten bitter. His father had killed him. The afterlife didn't want him. He was stuck in some sort of in-between swamp for the rest of eternity.
The swamp got tiring quickly. He couldn't escape, no matter how far he moved. Each tree looked like the one before it. Nothing lived here. Unless you counted ghosts which weren't really alive. He spent his days moving steadily in one direction, chasing down souls when they appeared and sitting down to contemplate.
I don't want to be dead. I want to go back and be with uncle and…and live. I don't want to be dead. I want to go back.
With that he stood up. That bush… He'd gotten a feeling there was something behind it. He fixed his gaze on the plant. Zuko walked towards it.
Yup. Ghost!Zuko. Why? Because that Agni Kai could've gone either way and I enjoy delving into possibilities.
Hi. I guess I should thank you for reading this, but to be honest I don't really care. I write fanfics because I've scoured the archives and just couldn't find what I was looking for; so I wrote something. Details on this story: I'll be updating every week or so, I have a few chapters in stock so I'm not being chased by deadlines. This story will probably end up as seven chapters, it won't be an epic saga, just short and sweet with plenty of room to create your own headcanons.
Review are welcome. I don't take criticism very well so feel free to send flames and harsh evaluation. Does that sentence not add up for you? Well, think about it like this; if you've got weaknesses or imperfections, don't try to handicap other people, do what you can to improve. Besides, I'd rather build up a tough skin now than end up an easily overwhelmed person in the future.
Peace out, time for me to switch my writer's hat for my functioning human being hat.