AN: Credit where credit is due: this is the brainstorm!child of many awesome folks on Tumblr, who saw my post of "dragon!Zuko is on my writing wishlist but I don't have any ideeeeeaaas" and went to town on my inbox. This AU takes nibbles from all their ideas and smooshes them together, and it absolutely would not have happened without their encouragement. My awesome brainstorm buddies: isamagicdragon (for dragon hoarding ideas, among other things), keeperofhounds (for Aang recognizing this warring spirit), fryemturtle (for turtleducks, I don't know where but I am /using that/), elf-kid2 (for dragon-slayer Zhao. That isn't a very reassuring credit, is it?), queenie-bear (for a Zuko that changes forms fairly regularly), cakeanon (for normalized dragons in the royal household but Zuko is a BIG HUGE FAILURE with conflicted dragon-self feelings), carolofthebell (for moral support and that message that came too late to influence the plot of this story, but I might just write that one next. Also: for Yue),

and johnconstantinesdick (I mean, who doesn't want to thank that username. But specifically for general brainstorming and That Thing I Didn't Post, You Know The One, I'll credit you when That Happens and feel free to kick me if I forget.) Also the many many anonymous commenters with their fantastic ideas.

Also, all due inspirational credit to Dragon at Heart by Identical Gemini, which was the first dragon!Zuko fic I ever read, and still my favorite, such good plot decisions were made there (warning: possibly dormant fic, but it /does/ have a complete Season One that's well worth reading). Also to Dragon Moon by Satirrian, a promising new fic which I read literally two days ago and it caused me to get excited about dragon!Zuko again which lead to the Tumblr post which lead to here-we-are.

1. Prologue: They Say

They say that the Earth King still displays the dead prince's pelt, framed on the wall of his banquet hall. A talking piece. There is some damage to it, of course—one does not crush a dragon to death without poking a few holes—but the fractured scales still shimmer red-gold in the torches that bracket it. Splayed out, its legs look comically short, its body wider than in life. It measures nearly seventeen yards from snout to tail-tip. Prince Lu Ten was twenty-five; very young, for a dragon. The beasts continue growing all their lives, they say.

There is no war in Ba Sing Se, of course. But new refugees quickly learn that dragon attacks are still fashionable to speak of.

The countryside is rife with dragons, they say.


They say a touch of fire is the quickest way to tell a true Earth Kingdom child from war spawn. Even those with the greenest of eyes and darkest of skin have changed at the touch, into stub-legged snakes writhing in cribs built for real children.

They say some mothers—some husbands, some fathers, some justifiably concerned neighbors—use more than a touch.

One can never be too sure, they say.


They say the Northern Water Tribe uses a different test: any golden-eyed infants that survive a night in the snow were fire-snakes all along. Babes that die of exposure are at peace with their gods; the family blameless, the daughter undefiled, her blood strong enough to turn even a monster's seed into a Water Tribe child. A woman still fit to be a wife.

It's safer not to check on the child until the third or fourth day. Everyone is made blameless, with enough time.


They say the Southern Water Tribe disagreed with this practice, that the last argument with their Sister Tribe before communications were broken involved the slinging of insults: child-murderers in exchange for monster-raisers.

Of course the Southern Tribe was decimated; they invited the monsters in.


They say nothing of how Fire Lord Ozai got his scars. Claw marks, raked across his left eye. They don't say whether he's as blind on that side as one would assume.

No one says much about the scar on his eldest son's face, either. Matching in location, but from fire instead of claws.

Some of the beasts will even attack their own kin, they say.

Fire Lord Ozai is not a dragon. The sentiment still holds.


The Banished Prince is given a wide berth at any port. He snarls and snaps even in his human skin, and the only reason the Fire Lord doesn't order a hunt on him as he would for any other dragon gone so feral is because of his mother, they say.

A Dragon Bride may not be the most attentive of parents, but things would not go well for Ozai if she were to find one of her cubs gone missing at her mate's hand. Better to send the boy off to foriegn lands, and make him some other kingdom's problem. Let her wrath be on them.

No one knows how old the Lady Ursa is. She measured thirty-three yards, the last she was seen. Still young.


There's more than a few nobles who envy the Earth King's pelt, they say.

The Dragon of the West has a sharp-toothed smile for any who say this too near his hearing, or too near his nephew.


They say the only way the Banished Prince can return home is to bow to his father, in both his forms.

Zuko has been at sea for two and a half years.


"Why are we going to the South Pole, again?" Helmsman Kyo of the Wani asks, already shivering, even though they're not even past Whaletail Island.

"Because the Prince hates us," Lieutenant Jee says. "And the General likes sight-seeing."

Some might say he listed those backwards. Lieutenant Jee stands by what he said.