A/N: This is set in The Avatar and the Firelord universe. You may want to read that first, otherwise this story will be like, "Um...what?"

Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar. I'm merely borrowing Mike and Bryan's phenomenal characters and bending them to my will.

Thanks: To my longsuffering beta, who can never seem to get any rest because I keep pestering her with fic. You know I love you.


Zuko was jealous.

He didn't arrive at that conclusion immediately. The realization came upon him in very gradual stages. In the beginning, he had deluded himself with the fact that he had no real reason to be jealous. He was the Firelord, after all. Diplomats and political leaders the world over coveted an audience with him. He was respected and revered. He had very close ties with high-ranking officials in all corners of the globe, including the Avatar. Moreover, Zuko was almost singlehandedly responsible for pulling his nation from the pits of shame and degradation and restoring the Fire Nation's honor and good name. He was essentially a god in his people's eyes and yet…the fact he wasn't at the center of his mother's attention was beginning to really bug him.

She had been home in the Fire Nation for a little over six months now. Since then, Zuko had been afforded very little time with her. Granted, Ursa had very good reason to be preoccupied. Between her only daughter's nearly complete psychotic break, the murder of her husband, and the stress of maintaining a new relationship, it was understandable that she might miss some bonding opportunities with her son, especially when that son was also leading quite a busy life himself. Zuko knew all of this. He understood all of this and yet, he still found himself resentful. He found himself jealous and angry and frustrated and he didn't know how to make the feelings stop.

On top of all that, something deeper was troubling Zuko. It had been a matter he lacked the courage to confront his mother about…something he wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer to…his father's death. He wanted to know what really happened that day. He needed to know.

Shortly after the fire in the palace had been brought under control, Zuko had received the news that his father had been found stabbed to death in his cell. He had received the announcement with a mixture of grief, relief, anger and sorrow. Zuko had immediately gone to the prison hold to see the evidence for himself because, even while he heard the words, his brain could not fully process their validity. Upon his arrival, he had found that the dagger was still lodged in Ozai's chest. Zuko had recognized the jeweled hilt immediately and knew, without a doubt, it belonged to his mother.

Afterwards he'd bid his weary guards to keep quiet on the matter and sent them away. Once he was alone, Zuko removed the weapon from his father's cooling form and quietly and dispassionately disposed of it. He then put out an official word that Ozai had been killed by an unknown assassin. He never once spoke to his mother about how he had found her dagger driven into Ozai's heart. However, the questions about that day continued to plague him. There was so much that had been left unspoken between him and his mother and the fact that she was preoccupied with a number of things that seemingly didn't include him only exacerbated that fact.

Currently, Zuko sat at the royal table in the great banquet hall, brooding about it and watching with narrowed eyes as Komo bent low to whisper something in his mother's ear. Though the young Firelord couldn't be certain what the firebender had said, if his mother's answering blush was any indication, it had been something Zuko probably wouldn't approve of at all. He growled under his breath.

Seated beside him, Mai noted Zuko's sour expression in her peripheral vision and administered a sharp poke to his side with her elbow. "I heard that," she muttered in playful aside. "Stop it. You're scaring the servants, Zuko."

As if to emphasize her point, Zuko belatedly became aware of the servant knelt before him with a jug of wine in hand, literally quaking in terror over the glower of displeasure on Zuko's face. He had meant to refill his lord's goblet, but the Firelord's growl had halted him in mid-pour. It was evident the servant believed he had done something to incur Zuko's ire and the rapid draining of color from the poor man's face said so.

Zuko expelled an exasperated sigh and waved his hand in dismissal. "You may go," he commanded the servant.

"He's not displeased with you," Mai reassured the man as he scurried away, "just with life in general." When they had some modicum of privacy she regarded Zuko with an outright smirk. "You really need to do a better job at masking your emotions, Zuko."

"Spoken from the queen," Zuko muttered sullenly.

"Because I know you're in one of your moods, I'm going to take that as a compliment," Mai replied dryly. However, Zuko barely acknowledged her reply because he was, once again, absorbed in glowering daggers at his mother and Komo. "Would you stop glaring at them?" Mai hissed. "Can you be any more obvious?"

"Maybe you should be asking Komo that," Zuko replied crossly. "He's all over her."

With a heavy sigh, Mai massaged her suddenly throbbing temples. "He's just sitting beside her, Zuko," she sighed. "I would hardly describe that as being 'all over her.'"

Despite the reasoning, her fiancé muttered, quite predictably in fact, "I don't like him."

"No? Really?" Mai patronized him dryly. "You hide it so well."

He fixed her with a sour look. "Are you mocking me?"

Rather than rise to the bait of the fight she knew he was deliberately trying to provoke, Mai took a more diplomatic approach. "I'm going to make a suggestion to you," she replied brusquely. "You can choose to listen or not. Talk to your mother. This can't go on. You're miserable. I'm sure she's miserable and, most importantly, I'm miserable. Whatever is bothering you is not going to get resolved by you sulking continually."

"You're right," Zuko sighed, slumping forward. "I need to say something to her."

"Besides," Mai tacked on in aggravation, "you're starting to get on my nerves."

"I'm sorry," Zuko uttered contritely. "I'm being an idiot. I know I've been taking my bad mood out on you and that's not fair. I'll make it up to you. I promise."

"Yes, you will," Mai determined with a glimmering smile. "After you fix things with your mother. Go!" she prodded when he continued to linger.

"You want me to go right now?" he balked in surprise.

"Right now," she insisted, nudging at him. "Go make it right and then come back to me and grovel properly."

Zuko leaned over and pressed a fervent kiss to her lips, oblivious and unconcerned with the crowd of people surrounding them. "You know…one of the smartest things I ever did was asking you to marry me, Mai."

She cupped his cheek, a besotted smile pulling at the corners of her lips even while she tried valiantly to hold it back. "You'll get no arguments from me there," she said softly. "But then again…one of the smartest things I ever did was saying yes."

As a result of her words, Zuko was in an infinitely better mood when he approached his mother. In fact, he was in so good of a mood that he actually asked Komo if he could borrow her for a moment. With a gracious and surprised smile at her son, Ursa inclined her head and followed Zuko into the throne room. It was only when he went through the pains of dismissing the servants and guardsmen altogether that she realized he didn't have casual conversation in mind.

"Why so serious?" she asked her son lightly.

"We haven't had very many opportunities to talk lately," Zuko began casually.

"You've been busy," Ursa pointed out to him.

"So have you," Zuko countered meaningfully.

His slightly accusatory edge in his tone put Ursa on instant alert. She regarded him with a mixture of curiosity, wariness and concern. "Is that what's been troubling you lately?" she wondered. "You don't like that I've been so preoccupied lately?"

He didn't answer, but the way he averted his face in reaction to her question was answer enough. While her son had proven himself to be a capable and reasonable leader and though he held the most powerful office in the Fire Nation, he remained, in many ways, a typical teenage boy and there were times Ursa had to forcibly remind herself of that fact. "Zuko," she said in a soothing tone, "you know very well the turmoil your sister is in right now. I can't simply abandon her or ignore her, no matter how much you might like me to do so."

Zuko glared at her in disbelief. "She tried to kill me!" he emphasized sharply. "She tried to kill you! I don't understand how you can just act as if that doesn't matter at all!"

"I'm not acting as if it doesn't matter," Ursa whispered. "But, I love her. She is still my daughter."

"You mean like Father was still your husband," Zuko bit out in an embittered breath.

Ursa narrowed her eyes at the reply. "What is that supposed to mean?"

The retort was poised on the edge of his lips, but fear that he would come off as nothing more than a petulant child had Zuko biting his tongue. "Nothing," he said instead. "It just seems to me that Father's death was a little convenient for you, that's all."

"Convenient for me?" Ursa gasped in surprised hurt. "Is that really what you think of me, Zuko?"

"No," he answered quickly, inundated with regret for his calculating words. "That's not what I think of you. Not at all." In spite of the insecurity and confusion he felt, Zuko absolutely knew that, if his mother had murdered his father, she had not done so with selfish intentions. His jealousy and general possessiveness where she was concerned was beginning to seriously cloud his judgment and he admitted as much to her.

"Zuko," she soothed with a loving smile, watching the self-doubt that chased across her son's scowling features and feeling herself softened by it. "You have absolutely no reason to be jealous. I'm still your mother, no matter how busy I am and no matter what is happening in my personal life. You must believe that."

"It's just…I've waited so long for you to come back and now that you're here, it feels like I barely spend any time with you at all."

She briefly cupped his cheek, her smile widening. "Then we'll make an effort to spend more time together." When he looked only moderately cheered by that suggestion, Ursa heaved a concerned sigh. "Zuko, tell me what's truly bothering you," she urged.

Her motherly instincts were tingling. Beyond Zuko's rivalry with his sister and even his marked dislike of Komo, there was something deeper that was troubling him and she knew it. His disquietude was evident whenever he looked at her, as if he feared she would splinter into a million pieces as Azula had. Perhaps, that was the reason he had such difficulty accepting her relationship with Komo, Ursa considered.

Perhaps, he wrongly believed she was making a mistake and that mistake would finish off the job his father had started. If that was the case, Ursa wanted to disabuse him of the notion. She was stronger than ever and she needed him, needed everyone to know that. "Whatever is troubling you, you can tell me," she invited him resolutely. "I won't fall apart."

Zuko had been waiting for that overture from her for months now. He had planned out, in the minutest detail, what he would say to her and how he would say it. He had mentally outlined his points in a calm, reasonable and thoughtful manner. Yet, when he was finally given the opportunity to convey all that careful consideration, Zuko blurted without preamble, "Did you kill Dad?"

Once the question was voiced aloud, Zuko felt an infinite amount of relief. In fact, he literally slumped with it, as if divested of a massive and backbreaking burden. His mother, on the other hand, was more anxious than ever. She stumbled over to the sprawling table in the center of the room and collapsed onto the nearest floor pallet in unspoken shock. For a moment, she sat there working her mouth ineffectually, bidding the words to come forth only to find she had no reply.

Finally, when she did speak, her words were almost too garbled with emotion to even be understood. "You actually think…" She drifted off into astonished silence, surveying Zuko with incredulous eyes. "You actually think I murdered your father?" she uttered in disbelief.

"Well, didn't you?" Zuko asked, his question free from accusation and recrimination. Still, his tone wasn't enough to soften the incredible blow for Ursa, especially when he followed up with the statement, "It's not like it was the first time…"

Though he left the remainder of that sentence unspoken, the implication was painfully clear. Ursa closed her eyes and swallowed deeply, a disconcerted and ashamed groan rumbling in her chest. "So you know about that, do you?" she whispered in thick regret. "Did…did your uncle tell you?"

"No, Uncle didn't tell me," Zuko replied softly. "He seemed to think I needed to hear the truth from you. Is that the truth?" he wondered softly, his gaze darting across her ashen features with intense scrutiny. "Did you do it? Did you…did you kill grandfather?"

"Yes," Ursa confessed in a strangled whisper. "Yes, I killed your grandfather." The shuddering gasp Zuko expelled in reaction caused her heart to constrict painfully. She could barely find the courage to look at him, so frightened that she would find disgust and disappointment in his eyes. "I did it to protect you, Zuko," she wept. "I did it to protect your father and, at the time, I believed I was doing the right thing for all of us."

"You wanted to protect Dad?" Zuko balked dubiously. "But I don't understand! He said he was going to kill me! He wanted me dead! Why would you want to protect him?"

"Your father led me to believe that he never had any intention of doing that!" his mother explained quickly, vehemently. "It was all supposed to be a ruse. He convinced me that the only way to protect you was to end Azulon's life. He…he said that it wouldn't only be for your benefit, but for the good of the Fire Nation as well. Your father had such political aspirations and so much vision… I believed in him. I trusted him.

"Lu Ten was dead," Ursa went on to explain in a dispassionate tone, self-hatred and remorse evident in her words, "Iroh was missing and no one could find him. The people were in chaos following our crushing defeat at Ba Sing Se and Ozai was concerned for our Nation's future. Your grandfather stipulated that the only way Ozai would ever succeed him as Firelord would be if he agreed to kill you. So your father agreed."

"And you backed him?" Zuko mumbled in horrified revulsion.

"No, of course not!" Ursa cried. "I told you. It was supposed to be a trick! Ozai and I would convince Azulon that his terms were agreeable to us and then, after he made the decree to name your father as the next Firelord, Ozai would…take care of him for good."

"So how did you get involved at all?" Zuko wondered, moving finally to kneel down beside her. "If it was Father's plan to kill grandfather, why did you do it instead?"

"Your father changed his mind at the last minute," Ursa recalled bitterly. "He told me that as much as he despised Azulon, he couldn't bring himself to murder his own father. So…I decided to do it for him." She emitted a low, scornful laugh in remembrance of that night. "I prided myself so much on the idea that I was making a fool out of Azulon and beating him at his own, twisted game. Little did I realize that I was the fool that night and your father had learned from his father only too well."

"So, if it was a plan between you and Dad, why did you leave afterwards?" Zuko asked her anxiously. "Did he send you away? Did he betray you? Why did he allow you to come tell me goodbye that night? Why wouldn't you take us with you?" He asked the questions rapid-fire; a new one occurring to him before he'd even finished voicing the one before it.

"Zuko, listen to me," his mother quieted him gently. "When I went to your father later that night and told him what I'd done, he seemed surprised. He couldn't believe it when I told him that Azulon was dead. Later, when the palace was quiet, we used the secret tunnels to go to your grandfather's bedchamber and he was right where I left him. He looked as if he were sleeping. His body was already starting to grow cold."

As Ursa spoke it was evident that she had catapulted back to that night, that she was no longer seated beside Zuko in the throne room at all, but standing alongside her husband over the lifeless body of his father. "After we left, your father asked me if anyone had seen me leaving Azulon's chambers earlier that night," she recounted. "I told him there had been servants and that I sent them away when I went in to speak with his father. He told me that was a mistake…that I was the last one to have audience with Azulon and, therefore, some might find his death suspect, especially when he succeeded Azulon as Firelord right after.

"He said if I were found guilty of treason and conspiracy against the Firelord, he would have no choice but to have me executed," she explained, tears slipping down her cheeks in memory. At the time, she had believed Ozai's suggestion to be out of love and devotion for her. Now, she realized in hindsight, it had all been a part of a calculated plan and the knowledge of that still managed to break Ursa's heart anew, as if she had only just learned of the betrayal. "We made plans that night that I should go away…for my protection, your father said. He told me that I should say goodbye to you and Azula and that I should leave quickly before Azulon's body was discovered. The next morning, I was on my way to the Earth Kingdom and I stayed there until I learned of the war's end."

"Didn't you ever wonder why he wouldn't let us see you?" Zuko asked her. "Didn't you ever wonder why you couldn't see us?"

"He said if I returned to the Fire Nation I would face certain execution," Ursa replied. "Whenever I asked him if he would bring you both to me instead, he said it would be unnecessary cruelty. He said it would be too difficult for you and Azula to see me, only to be wrenched away from me again. In the end, I agreed with him. I didn't want to make the situation more difficult for you and your sister than it already was."

"So you never knew?" Zuko uttered. "Not about the Agni Kai or my banishment…none of it?"

"As far as I knew your father was keeping me hidden to protect me from charges of treason," Ursa said. "I never suspected that he was acting out of anything other than love."

"You saw him?" Zuko concluded, aghast.

"Often," his mother confirmed. "As recently as a month before he fell. In my mind, nothing had changed between us at all, though…everything had changed."

"All those times when he was away from the palace…" Zuko muttered to himself. "He said it was political business, but he was with you, wasn't he?"

"It's possible," Ursa conceded thickly.

"I can't believe this. You must have hated him when you learned the truth," Zuko uttered. However, he was really speaking for himself. The reality was that he hated Ozai. He hated that his mother had fallen into the same trap that he had, yearning for the love of a man who didn't deserved it at all. "Is that why you…why you…"

"I didn't kill him, Zuko," Ursa finished quietly. "I wanted to. I went to his prison cell that day with the express purpose of doing so, not for the crimes he had committed against me, but for you…" She reached out to lightly trace the puckered, pink skin surrounding his injured eye before letting her hand fall away. "For your sister…" she added with a shuddering sob. "I wanted to see him dead for what he did to my children."

"Mom…"

"But, in the end, I was a coward and I couldn't do it," she recalled tersely. "I hated him, so much it consumed me. I felt eaten alive with it, but I couldn't do it. He was still your father. He was still my husband and I couldn't kill him."

"Someone did…and with your dagger," Zuko provided softly.

"What?" Ursa breathed in surprise. "I…I thought you said it was an unknown assassin."

"That's what I told people," he said, "but it was a lie. Father was stabbed to death." He dropped his eyes briefly under his mother's penetrating stare. "I knew it was your knife and I got rid of it. I told everyone that he had been murdered by an assassin and I made sure that no one would ever learn the truth."

"You lied to protect me?" Ursa whispered, amazed by the depth of his devotion and shamed by it as well…that he should succeed in protecting her where she had failed in protecting him. The seven years she had left Zuko unprotected and vulnerable seemed to be all the more an unpardonable sin to Ursa. She would spend the rest of her life making that up to him.

"You're my mother," Zuko replied simply. "What else would I do?"

She briefly covered his hand with her own. "I didn't do it," she reiterated. "I did not kill him, Zuko."

"I wouldn't have blamed you if you had," he murmured.

"I've always suspected it was your sister," Ursa revealed softly, "though you know her. She would never admit it. I don't think, even if she did, her motives would make any sense to us."

Since her second breakdown, which was unfortunately more severe than the first, Azula had grown less and less responsive. Though Ursa continued to do her best to reach her recalcitrant daughter, it was evident that Azula had retreated to some place deep within herself where she felt safest and most in control…and no one was coaxing her out of it until she was ready. At present, her prognosis among the royal physicians was bleak. It was yet another regret suffered for Ursa in a long, successive string of regrets.

"Is that why you've been spending so much time with Azula lately," Zuko wondered. "Because you think she might have killed Father?"

"I spend time with your sister because I love her," Ursa replied in a soft, but definitive tone. "I haven't given up hope that I can somehow reach her and convince her that she means the world to me. Both my children do." She favored Zuko with a fond smile. "You don't have to feel threatened, Zuko. I can love your sister and love you too."

"And Komo…" Zuko interjected morosely. "What about him?"

Ursa fought back a smile at the unabashed grumpiness in her son's question. "Komo is very dear to me, Zuko," she replied. "He was a friend to me when I had no one."

"Are you…in love with him?" Zuko barely choked out, his features crumpled in a grimace of disgust.

Yet again, Ursa suppressed an amused smile, brushing away the clinging remnants of her earlier tears. "Yes," she confessed happily. "Yes, I'm in love with him."

Zuko's displeasure over that soft, but extremely emphatic revelation was palpable. "Are you going to marry him?"

"He hasn't asked me," Ursa replied vaguely.

"But if he did," Zuko pressed, "if he asked you…would you do it?"

"Yes," she answered honestly. "I believe I would." When his eyes flickered with disappointment, Ursa sighed. "That doesn't make you happy, does it?" she surmised glumly.

"No," came Zuko's very candid response, "but it makes you happy and that's what I want. I want you to be happy, Mom. You deserve that."

Ursa had been wrong. She had thought that all her tears had been cried out, but with Zuko's sweet, fervent words she felt them well anew. Framing her son's face in her hands, she brought him against her in a tight hug. "I am happy," she told him firmly. "You make me happy, Zuko. You always have." She leaned back to favor him with a teary smile. "You're a good son."

"You've never said that to me before," he mumbled emotionally. "How can you say that when I'm so selfish and self-centered and impulsive and—,"

"And brave and loyal and loving and sweet," his mother finished for him. "You have grown into an amazing and beautiful young man, Zuko. You're the best son a mother could ask for and you should never doubt that."

"Okay," he accepted with a whisper and a nod.

"Good."

"Then…I guess I can do it," Zuko decided with a heavy sigh, shaking off her hold and rolling to his feet.

Ursa followed his lead, regarding him with a curious frown. "You guess you can do what?" she asked.

"I guess I can learn to share my time with you with others," he clarified expansively, his lips curving in a small, contented smile. "I've been selfish and petulant and I'm going to work on that, Mom. I want to work on that. After all, I think that's just what a good son would do."