Elemental Stimuli

Chapter 2: Sight

He asked the crew what they saw and they (sitting up and toppling their tilted chairs forward) said they saw a great battle of gusting winds and noble flame (they were rooting for him the whole time. Really.) Oh, and a girl who would have been pretty if she weren't water bending scum. Her skin was a bit too dark and her hair in an odd style, but she had a nice body for one so young (Did you see those legs? They were peeking out from behind that skirt-thing like painted ladies before a live show) and why do you ask chief?

He asked Uncle what he saw and initially he thought his question went unheard because instead of an answer he received a cup of tea and a gentle chiding for not drinking enough of the soothing liquid (water flavored with grass clippings, he scoffed in reply.) But then Uncle went off on some proverb about saplings and their potential to grow and said he saw four great warriors (More tea?), and that water bender is certainly a spirited girl, isn't she? He spat out a carbon-tasting phrase about impudence over spirit and, no, he didn't want more tea.

His uncle parried the sharp reply with a sagely nod before (now squinting speculatively at him through the steam rising from his cup) calmly turning the question on him:

You have never been one for action-less observation, Prince Zuko. What did you see?

He glared down at the white porcelain of his now-empty teacup and didn't respond until he was staring up at the dim ceiling of his bedroom.

What did he see?

He (now lying on a narrow cot, hands tucked behind his head in a rare pose of vulnerability) said he saw an angry red scar with folds and ridges like the magma fields prisoners would be released into back home. He saw an emotionally bastardized adolescent chiseled by pain and fire and failure, constantly losing to a boy (a child!) with coltish limbs and natural talent heaped heavy upon his bald head. A dishonorable, disowned, disfigured son chasing after the impossible and catching only air.

And to the side—strategically placed at the very edge of his attention—he saw a girl with skin browned by the sun and hair tamed into a single braid that whipped violently around her when she fought.

She wasn't a very beautiful girl; at least, by fire nation's standards (though he never was partial to the pale skin, dark hair combo so reminiscent of Zula.) But he couldn't help imagining that her wrists reminded him of the delicate wishbones he had hoarded as a child, that the vivid blue pendant she wore looked rather pretty against the hollow of her neck. Sometimes he would even imagine that he noticed (eyes momentarily flicking from the big-eared fool) the pucker of her lips as they twisted in concentration or that the spot where her neck sloped into her jaw looked temptingly soft.

Her eyes ruined everything.

He didn't like her eyes. There was something maddening about the kindness and sheer determination they held, and he made a special effort to look through them rather than directly at them. Sure, he was aware that they were a pale blue against the dusty coco of her pretty little face, and he knew he should be spewing some saccharine crap about how he could lose himself forever in the their calming depths.

But that's not what he saw.

In her eyes he saw no paradise (no firefly wishes, unblemished cheek, father's love, sun-spun honor). Only his undoing.

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Zuko opened his eyes (the light momentarily blinded him) and wished his damnedest to be off this raft; he was starting to lose focus.


A/N: Thanks to all you excellent people who reviewed my first chapter. This one's slightly longer and in a slightly different style. Hope I didn't disappoint.

Standard disclaimers apply, please no flames and reviewing would be most appreciated.