The last time Zuko had been to this place, it was calm and serene; the fireflies were almost inviting to the scenery with their gentle dancing.
And now, the land was singed and broken. Much like the girl that stood in front of what once was her home.
Zuko grit his teeth and looked down, trying to quell the urge to break the silence with his anger and grief.
For you see, this small village may never have seen such carnage had it not been for his sister, who was hunting him down.
Iroh, wise man that he was, turned to his nephew with a mournful expression, gripping his shoulder bracingly. The gesture was so subtle, but it was enough to keep him steady. Zuko's shoulders slumped, and his face held the expression of a lost child. Iroh then withdrew his hand and began a slow walk towards the girl, who did not sob...though the trembling presence of tears could be felt in the air surrounding her.
The old general stole a glance at the girl's face as he passed her; suddenly her eyes seemed much older than the rest of her. He gently shook his head and then knelt before the ruins of her home, offering his respect.
"I prayed I would never have to go through this again...first father...and just a few short years after rebuilding our lives, I lose mother, too," she uttered quietly, her voice barely breaking.
It was enough to send a lance of pain and guilt through Zuko's heart. Iroh cast a look towards him, his eyes urging his nephew to come towards them.
The first step was the most difficult, his legs feeling weighted down as though made of lead. But soon he was just short of running to her side. She kept her face forward, as though not taking in anything else around her.
"Song...' Zuko swallowed apprehensively. He watched as a shudder traveled through her chest and shoulders. Her knees then gave way, and as Zuko caught her in mid-fall, the tears finally began to stream from her docile, brown eyes. He kept his arms around her limp, but shaking frame. Several minutes passed before Zuko founds the right words.
"Song, I know I'll never be able to earn your forgiveness, but--"
"Z-zuko...," Song's quiet interruption caused him to blanch; he had assumed she already knew his identity from the descriptions his sister most assuredly gave before destroying the village, but it was another thing to hear his assumptions validated.
"Zuko, you are not at fault...this I know. And at the very least, I now understand why you did what you did...it's just...father...and now mother," she trailed off as her attempt to hold in her sobbing wracked her body violently. Painful reminders of Ursa's disappearance pricked at Zuko's heart.
"There's no one left,' she cried, her eyes burning,'I'm alo-"
"No. Don't let me hear you say it,' Zuko said gravely, holding her slightly closer. His abrupt actions shocked Song into temporary silence, as their eyes met.
"You tried everything to let me know that I was not alone, so many nights ago. It took me long enough, but I finally understand that now. If someone like me is not alone, then there is no way that someone like you will be."
Not a word was said as Song tentatively brushed her hand across the once forbidden scar. After a few seconds hesitance, Zuko closed his eyes and leaned in to the touch.
Somewhere inbetween those next few moments, both of them felt a little less broken. It was then that the old man who had kept his silence thus far, laid a hand on each of them.
"Come, let us leave this mournful ground for a more welcoming atmosphere," Iroh said, encouraging the two children to stand.
After what could be salvaged from Song's home was collected, Zuko helped her mount the pet he had stolen from her and together, the three of them began to leave the smoldering ruins.
"Worry not, children--I know of a place where they serve the most soothing, delicious tea," Iroh said optimistically, adhering to his philosophy of tea solving all dilemmas. Amazingly enough, both Zuko and Song were able to give the old man faint, amused smiles.
"Lead the way, Uncle."
This is a oneshot, made for Catalyst of the DistantHorizons forums, who requested a somewhat angsty SoKo fic in honor of 9-11. I'm just slow in uploading stuff. As you can see, I fail at writing pure angst, and I'm sure I could have done better at this, but for a couple of hours time, it's not so bad.
You know--as opposed to my usual 1-2 weeks. Heh. Please enjoy, nonetheless.