A/N: I hadn't really thought of giving fan fiction another try, but the show is so good that it gave me an idea. So here it is. Oh, and thanks to Rosey, my dear proof reader and the one who corrects my grammar and spelling mistakes.
Disclaimer: Avatar, The Last Airbender is property of Nickelodeon, so please don't sue.
In Plain Sight
Those born as royalty saw life in a very different waythan the rest of the people did. They were used to having everything they needed, everything they wanted, delivered to them on a silver plate.
It was not that they were lazy, or that they did not know or understand the value of things, but sometimes the lack of hardships on their lives prevented them from learning priceless abilities to adapt; or even to survive.
Former Crown Prince Zuko had not learned patience. It had been forced upon him as the scar that adorned his face. It had been branded into him as brutally as possible. While he'd had a very wealthy upbringing, he'd been used to having everything done his way ever since he had first uttered a word.
Spoiled by his mother and protected by every Fire Nation soldier, his words were law and his wishes took more time to be mentioned than being fulfilled.
Even in exile, he was still royalty. Even with his shame bare in his face for all to see, his words were still law in on his small ship. What he asked, he got; what he demanded, he attained.
Thus, Zuko didn't have patience. Worse, he didn't understand patience. It was not something built in his system. It was a practiced response to the problems he'd faced while in exile. He had stopped asking, because lately when he asked, he was rebutted and, frankly, most of the times it was violently.
Case in point, he was trying to teach the Avatar -the last airbender, the hope of the world- how to create a fire whip. It hadn't been easy when he'd tried to do it the first time, but he was forced to learn. He had to remind himself how strong his sister was and how she had humiliated him all her life. It wasn't fair, in a sense, that she was stronger than he. He had worked harder. He had gone through worse things in life. He had lost more than she could imagine.
He had feelings.
He watched as the Avatar tried. It seemed that the 12 year-old boy was really trying, but after the time he had spent with the little group of fugitives, he had gotten to know them.
The Avatar was more interested in having fun and impressing the water bender peasant than learning the basics of fire bending. And it was very frustrating to the former Crown Prince, because he'd had excellent teachers, merciless even, and the couple of years he spent on the sea, searching for the very same young boy he stared at now, had helped him focus in his training.
Yet, the Avatar, the planet's spirit in human form, didn't seem to be paying attention, and it was starting to get on the Firebender's nerves.
It wasn't the first time it had happened; and he was sure it wouldn't be the last. He had also silently watched how the avatar sparred with the other two benders in the group. The monk did try when he was with the blue eyed peasant, but it was due to the painfully obvious crush he had on the Waterbender. With the blind Earthbender, the Avatar merely followed the motions and practiced with the same fake smile the little monk was so good at showing. It was clear that the blind earth bender intimidated the Avatar, but the fear factor had worked wonders when improving the boy's earth bending.
Zuko had been tempted to do the same, but he wasn't sure he could fight against them all when they would surely try to protect their precious Avatar.
"That's enough for today." Zuko sighed, and a very happy Avatar bowed, muttered something that strangely sounded like 'sifu hotman', and went to play with his friends. The frustrated fire bender ran his hands through his hair and stared at the ground. That was the key word that rang through his head. The Avatar was playing. He was going through the motions, as he'd thought before. It still didn't seem real to the Avatar, the enormous responsibility placed upon his shoulders.
Then again, it was how the air nomads worked. It was plainly visible in their fighting style. Block the thrust, send a gush of air to the feet, jump over the enemy, and knock the opponent unconscious with their staff.
That was what the Avatar was doing, and it all began to take shape in his head. Sitting down on the edge of the fountain at the ledge of the temple, he stared at the group of people gathered around a small fire the Avatar had started. Everyone congratulated him and seemed proud because the young monk managed to start a fire without burning everything around him.
It gave him some sort of insight about the dynamics of the group before him. They all cuddled him, save for the blind Earthbender, and yet she still congratulated him when feeling the heat. The monk was the most powerful of them all, the one with the most weight placed upon his shoulder and there they were, cuddling him and praising him for something Zuko had known how to do after learning how to walk.
It angered him. How could such a small unit of misfits managed to evade him and the full might of the Fire Nation for so long? How had they managed to not get fried by Azula?
What a mystery. He wished he had Uncle Iroh by his side so he could ask the questions he was dying to ask. Deep shame ran through his back and a cold feeling settled in his stomach. He forced the memories of the only family he had left and focused back. He wasn't a good judge of character, and he'd messed up badly in the past; but he was good at predicting what would happen. After all, he had managed to survive the years of exile and growing up next to Azula.
He fixed his eyes on the people gathered around the fire, clowning around and pretending to be a family. The last air bender, the water peasant, the peasant brother of the water bender, the father of the siblings, the blind Earthbender, the Kyoshi warrior; a bunch of kids he had never seen and couldn't remember their names, even if his life depended on it, and an escapee of the Boiling Rock.
What was wrong with the picture?
Two seconds later it clicked. There were two adults in the picture. Two adults: one of them was the leader of a small water tribe. He remembered said village as not being larger than the private garden where Azula liked to torture turtle ducks and the other was a criminal.
The rest of them were children. The fate of the world depended on children. He wasn't that far from being a child, but he was certain they had not seen what he had seen. That they had not done what he had done. His years in the sea had made him see things in himself and in those around him that had surprised him. There were things he and his crew had done that didn't make him proud, but that was when he thought he was on a very important mission and that he could end the war by giving his father the Avatar dead or alive.
Shaking his head and trying not to dwell too much on his past and his own traumatized inner self, he tried to come up with an idea of what would happen next. Endless questions arose on his mind but there were some that weighed more on the large scale.
Had they been in a real war? He'd seen them fight the Northern water tribe, and on the day of the eclipse, and he wasn't sure what they thought of the battles. The Northern tribe had been saved but only because the Avatar became possessed or had used what they sometimes referred to as the 'avatar state', something that they all spoke of in hushed whispers when they thought he wasn't listening.
The day of the eclipse, they had been all but obliterated.
His hands, still clasped around his hair, closed hard and he pulled at it. He'd been alone with the Fire Lord in his chambers. He had managed to finally redirect lightning against his father, no less, relieving himself of the burdens and the traumas he associated with his father and what had he done?
He had run. He'd escaped and avoided his responsibilities once again. He had two swords and he could have ended Fire Lord Ozai's reign. It would have been one less enemy to fight against. Now what did he have? Children and two adults that weren't entirely reliable.
Zuko closed his eyes. It seemed opportunities were always presenting themselves to him and he always made the wrong choices.
Too many wrong choices. Too damn many.
Not that he craved the blood of his father on his hands, but he had decided he would do anything to help the Avatar end the war. He'd had his chance and what had he done? He had delivered a boring speech, revealed the hidden ace under his sleeve, and placed as much distance between the enemy and himself.
But not all seemed to be lost, as a crazy idea ran through his head. Maybe there was still hope. Maybe he could still fix all the mistakes of his life. Maybe he could do it right for once.
The laughter of children made its way to his ears; children who he fully realized would not be able to match the cruelty or the power of the entire Fire Nation against them. And with Sozin's comet drawing closer, he was sure such a small unit could never stop the Fire Lord.
The idea began to take more shape in his head, as the laughter began to get carried away by the wind. He would have to be stronger than before: manage to recover the anger and passion and try to mix it with the lessons of the two last dragons.
Standing up from his lonely spot, Zuko dared one long look at the group in the distance. As usual, Katara's blue eyes met his, and he saw the fire in them he had lost. Feeling suicidal, he grinned at her. It had the desired effect, as she frowned. A genuine smile appeared on his face as he turned around, wondering what was wrong between the two of them.
He went to sleep still with the smile on his lips. He wanted to be fully rested in the morning.
It would be a long day.
End of Chapter.