Season 2 has really affected my attempts at Zuko characterization. Some things I'd guessed have turned out to be right (for example, he's not so much whiny or foolish as he is simply in a near constant state of aggravation and that makes him irritable in most of the scenes in season 1, and well, at least until the more recent episodes) and others had turned out wrong (he's a lot less snarky than I'd expected now he'd be once off the ship, and has a directness and dryness that I'm rapidly becoming attached to. Season 2 Zuko is very very dry, probably due in part to his broodyness.) As we get more episodes like "The Cave of the Two Lovers" and "Zuko Alone", I've been playing around with his characterization in my drabbles, trying to figure out what sounds right. This little bit is another approach along those lines.
In person, Zuko was quieter than she ever imagined he'd be. Whether it was his nature or his grief was a question Katara couldn't answer, but she found herself believing that whichever it had once been was irrelevent; silence had become his nature.
It was not that Zuko refused to speak or that he was any more able to rise above Sokka's jabs than the rest of them; it was simply the fact that he never started conversations. Left to his own, with no outside pressure demanding communication, any request that couldn't be given in gesture was meted out in brief, functional statements that displayed as little personal inclination toward talking as could be displayed without being downright rude (also surprisingly, Zuko was rarely downright rude, although remembering how he'd behaved with his uncle, Katara suspected this was not a positive sign.) If battle was to be had or a problem in the group to be solved then Zuko was as vocal as herself or Toph, often more so, tossing instructions about as if Appa were his ship and they merely his soldiers. But when the threat was gone and all were back to being just people again instead of warriors and avatars, Zuko's will for interaction went out like a candle.
The boy was not, Katara had decided, a people person. But his heated opinions on tactics and bending contradicted so starkly with his mute-like behavior in everything else that she felt sure Zuko's silent nature was not something he was born to. So one night when it was just the two of them by the campfire Katara posed the question, because being direct was the only way to get anything useful out of Zuko.
"Back on your ship,"—even directness was not a guarantee, but she'd found him utterly oblivious to subtlety—"were you always this quiet when you weren't ordering everyone around?"
"Being around the same people for three years means you quickly lose things to talk about," he replied, "and my uncle talked enough for the both of us." Three weeks ago this would have sent Katara scurrying, but in the middle of Aang and Azula's last skirmish she'd decided friends fight together better than mutual travelers, and now that she'd decided to become Zuko's friend Katara was no longer willing to wait for him to open up first.
"Well, what about when you were younger? Were you a quiet kid too?"
The corners of Zuko's mouth creased downward. "I learned to speak, I learned when not to speak, I learned to fight with Azula every time I felt like speaking. That should explain enough."
"So you were a quiet kid," Katara murmered, guessing by his cryptic response and what she knew of Azula that the prince must've avoided a fight with his harpy sister whenever possible.
"No," Zuko said, standing up and walking away from the fire. "I wasn't."