Disclaimer: c'mon, honestly? No way.
Teaser: spawn of the nothingness, child of dirt, son of the abyss… despair and therefore die
Author's Notes: I actually starting writing this about an hour after I watched the finale. The whole thing was just so heart wrenching that I couldn't stop myself from typing for hours on end this story. At first, it started out as an angry way to deal with Zuko's betrayal… and then I realized what an angsty Zutara tale this could be.
This is just a short, sweet drabble series I wiped up for post-finale writing. So, yes, they're all this short. On the bright side, short chapters mean really quick updates me. See? Not a totaly loss.
So enjoy the pure, Zuko-angsts-all-the-time-forever tale.
King of Naught
But they symbolize something. That's why he puts a new one down there every night, counting the days and the hours and the minutes.
He's waiting. He's caught in an in-between and he can't move. He isn't sure what he's waiting for.
"He's a traitor. He must be made an example of," Azula says because Azula is careless. She mocked Iroh when he mourned the death of his son and she mocks him now as he mourns the death of his nephew.
"I want to see him," Zuko says. Stubborn as Azula frowns and flicks sharp fingernails through her hair. Stubborn as she tries to stare him down. He's stubborn.
"Fine," she says and motions the Dai Li to let him pass.
If he had been in the wondering mood he would have wondered if Azula was feeding Iroh. Because he looks haggard and, finally, his age and he has lost countless pounds. And he sits across from Zuko looking disappointed. Not angry, not upset, disappointed.
It's worse that way.
"Why did you do it?" Iroh says and Zuko—in the very back of his mind, the part that had whispered to him at night: let's make a new life—can't answer because it doesn't sound like Iroh.
This is an old man, defeated and done and finished.
"I did it," he tells his uncle and in the same breath tells him goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. And Iroh knows it too and he's ready because he has nothing left to fight for. Zuko knows that, too. "Because this is what I wanted."
"I told you to look into your heart."
"I don't have a heart," Zuko says and tells the truth. His chest is hollow and empty and full of dirt and there is too many times where he cannot breathe.
"I wish…" And Iroh trails off because execution day isn't for wishes.
"I chose my own path," Zuko says, his veins suddenly on fire and it feels like he's fighting even though he isn't moving. He's fighting that slippery demon inside him. The one that has him counting days and hours and minutes. "I wanted my honor."
"You gave up your honor when you let your sister attack the Avatar," Iroh tells him and his face is taut and without sympathy. Zuko knows he does not deserve and he does not look for it.
There is too much to say, and then, all at once, there is nothing. Because Zuko lost the ability to say things long ago—two months, eleven hours, and twenty three minutes—and Iroh knows just how dead his nephew is.
"I hope it makes you happy," Iroh says and stands and walks out. And Zuko sits and stares and tries to remember how they had been before.
Azula calls him up not long after and Zuko follows her through the stone palace of the Earth Kingdom. She walks like a Queen, like a conqueror, and she snarls and hisses at servants in her way.
Mai and Ty Lee are at her side always. Mai sends Zuko funny looks but he is beyond the point of noticing them and she goes back to being Azula's bodyguard. Ty Lee bounces from side to side like the execution is a circus and she's performing.
"So it's going to be a professional one?" Ty Lee asks, springing from side to side to get Azula's attention. "Not like the one we gave the Kyoshi warriors?"
"Oh no," Azula answers with smirk and looks at Ty Lee like a mother with a spoiled child. "Iroh only gets the best. Fire Nation honor you know."
Honor. And Zuko draws closer into himself.
"Are we going to leave soon?" Mai wants to know. Bored, bored Mai.
"Why should I?" Azula demands haughtily, all feral grins and knowing eyes. "I'm queen."
"All hail Queen Azula!" Ty Lee chirps, giggling and bubble and everything a warrior shouldn't be. Zuko would have wondered what the hell was wrong with her, but he didn't care.
He says nothing. He is not a part of this group. These killing engines, these usurpers. He is a ghost and he walks silently behind them, each step less real than the other and each step seeming to stretch infinite distance.
They walk out into the courtyard sun and Zuko knows he will never feel warm again. It is just another sacrifice—my choice always my choice.
The sunlight is bright and burning and hints nothing at the Solar Eclipse that is only weeks away. Azula has sent word to their dread Lord—and has sent the news of Zuko's restoration of honor as well—and he thinks maybe he awaits that, but it's hard to tell now.
"Do you like it?" Azula asks, her question directed at Iroh as he is dragged out by the silent Dai Li. She motions to the scaffold before them. "I found this in an Earth Kingdom book. This is how they used to kill traitors."
Iroh says nothing and he walks up those wooden steps, toward the platform. Clup. Clup. Clup. His funeral march, his proud, unbending funeral march. He doesn't look at Azula. He doesn't look at Zuko. They are already dead to him.
"I thought," Azula teased lightly, circling the platform so she stands in front of Iroh as he looks out into the sky. "You'd enjoy dying this way, since you love the Earth Kingdom and everything."
"The Avatar will defeat you." Now Iroh looks over at Zuko and their eyes meet. "All wrongs will be corrected."
"Get on with it," Mai says, bored and dry, and Zuko realizes that he could hate her if he could feel anything.
"Pull!" Ty Lee cries.
Pull. And Iroh swings. He sucks in a breath and goes plunging through the trapdoor. And Azula smirks as the crack of bones breaks the peaceful, sunny courtyard of the Earth Kingdom palace.
Zuko watches his uncle's swinging feet for a second. Two. Three. Then he turns and walks away. He doesn't walk toward the palace. For a moment he thinks he will keep walking until he falls of the edge of the abyss.
But Ba Sing Se doesn't have abysses. It has walls. Only walls. Walls to keep you in. Walls to keep you out.
"Aren't you staying?" Azula calls and rolls her eyes when Zuko keeps walking. "It's not like he's suffocating, Zuzu. His neck's already snapped."
He keeps walking. Azula smirks at his back and he knows it. But he keeps on walking.
When he finally stops he doesn't know where he is and heads back to the palace.
notes: see? I told you tons of angst. And, yes, go ahead. Kill me. Guess I deserve after killing Iroh off. I didn't want to! It's what the story required! Honest!