Disclaimer – I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender.
When Hakoda had heard the words that Zuko was with his son in the prison, the first reaction to this was the fact that Zuko was the Fire Nation prince and thus was an enemy to all other tribes. What piece of Fire Nation filth wasn't… and he had heard things about the boy that made him shudder, rumors that he didn't like.
It was then that Sokka told him that Zuko was on their side and Hakoda had to backtrack a bit. Why would the Fire Nation prince have changed sides? More of, why would a Fire Nation solider, whom if Hakoda had heard right about, was extremely loyal to his father suddenly, be here helping them escape this whole mess?
But from the sounds of Sokka's voice, the boy actually trusted the other boy not to do something stupid, like throw fire balls at his back. There was even a small hint of friendship with the boy that surprised Hakoda. This meant that something possibly drastic had happened to the Fire Nation prince to cause him to have joined the side apposing his father.
Later on, he found that Zuko was indeed fighting along side them to escape. Thus as they were flying off in the war balloon, he decided to watch the boy closely. It wasn't because he didn't feel that he could trust the boy, but he was wondering what had happened to make the boy change sides all of a sudden.
That night at dinner, the first thing Hakoda noticed while he was enjoying the loving affection of his two children that Zuko was comfortable with the group, but not completely comfortable. He also noticed that the boy's gaze kept falling onto the reunited family.
Of course, when Zuko realized that Hakoda's gaze was on him, he excused himself from the group and went off on his own. Hakoda decided to follow and see what was wrong with the boy, because something was actually bothering the child… for that was what the Fire Nation prince was.
As he walked, he realized that the only gander he could get about Zuko was the few words that the others had said. It seemed that the others were being polite and trying to let Zuko tell his own story, but what he did get out of it was that Zuko was an exile and that he also had come to have a bitter taste for the war.
He found the boy sitting upon a rock outside the temple, staring up at the stars, a far away look on his face. He thought that the boy hadn't noticed him, but then he spoke up. "I am not going to betray the group, if that's what you're thinking. Your distrust in me seems nearly as big as Katara's was when I first joined."
Hakoda laughed, causing the boy to turn and look at him in shock. "My daughter is not me child… we may be similar, but we have our differences. I apologize for making you feel that I don't trust you, but fact is… that wasn't why I followed you out here tonight."
"Then why watch me as you have been?" Obviously the teenager was more astute than Hakoda gave him credit for.
"Because… I'm interested in what would drive a child away from all that he was loyal to. You also had a sad look in your eyes whenever you glanced over towards my children and myself… and Suki,"
Zuko then turned his body towards the old man and brought his knees up to his chest and leaned into them. "Sokka and Katara are so lucky to have you back… even though they don't have their mother. I don't have either… and I haven't a clue whether or not my mother is alive or not…"
Hakoda worded what he said carefully. "Your father is living, isn't he?"
"My father has wished me dead since the day I was born. Compared to my sister, he sees a worm crawling through the dirt compared to a golden apple that can't lose it's luster… ever," the boy commented metaphorically.
"What father would wish to see his child dead?" Hakoda sighed, sympathy going out to the exiled prince.
Zuko didn't realize that there was pity there and thought it was more of a question. "One who when his older brother lost his only son in the war decided that because uncle's line ended that he should be the next heir apparent. For doing so, he was ordered to in fact kill me by his own father, for suggesting he bring more hurt upon my uncle."
"Wouldn't have killing you have brought on more hurt for your uncle… unless your uncle is as twisted as the rest of your family," the man sighed.
"No… Uncle Iroh is different… he actually treated me like family when all I wanted was to regain my honor from my father. But it wasn't honor that I wanted, but for him to love me. Uncle Iroh realized that father would never love me for who I really am, but for something that was a twisted version of myself,"
"Seems that he's a nice father figure to you," Hakoda commented.
"Was… Uncle Iroh was very mad at me… for something I did and would rather not talk about. I don't think he will ever forgive me," the boy had a sad look returning to his eyes.
"You won't know until you ask him,"
"I guess not…"
"Anyways… my point was… couldn't your grandfather see that killing you would have brought more hurt to his eldest? If your Uncle has the kid of heart that he had, wouldn't it mean that he loved your entire family?"
"Except Azula and my father… but he may love them too… I love them both… but…"
"Your father wants you dead… how did he get around not killing you?" the man asked.
"It was my mother. She found out from Azula that he was going to kill me when Azula came in and told me that father was going to kill me… she overheard it. I think but I am not sure that my mother assassinated my grandfather so that my father could take the throne and she was banished for treason. That's why I don't know if she's alive or not… she just stopped in that night and said goodbye,"
"I know that any real parent who was put into that situation would have done the same thing," the man smiled. "It has to do with mother's and father's loving their children."
"And to think… the parent I tried to get to love me was the one who didn't understand what it means," Zuko sighed. "I mean, I should have known as soon as he burned my face that he didn't love me at all… I mean, even if it was punishment…"
Hakoda blinked a couple of times. "That scar on your face is because of that man?"
"Yes… my own father decided I needed to be punished and used the word honor… because he made me come to believe that it was the same thing as love and told me I was banished until I could bring back the Avatar," Zuko commented.
"Nothing you did deserved that kind of punishment," Hakoda commented. "I also can't think of what you did to lose your honor, as you seem very honorable."
"Uncle Iroh took me into a war meeting because I told him I wanted to learn so I could be a good Fire Lord some day. That's when I found out that they were going to use a bunch of the new recruits and sacrifice them so that another group could attack. I told them that this was throwing the new recruits loyalties in their face and that it was wrong,"
"That was an honorable thing to say," Hakoda commented.
"Apparently not… I was challenged to Angi Kai. I thought that it was to be against the general that I had apparently offended, but it was my own father. I refused to then and there fight him because… why does one fight their own father? The next thing I knew I was on a ship with Uncle heading to this Air Temple in search of the Avatar…" Zuko commented.
"Did this whole mess teach you anything about honor?"
"That even though I lost my honor, my father has none," Zuko suddenly buried his head into his legs.
"You never lost your honor child… the things you did should not have been called dishonorable. Those who have no honor and call true an honor a bluff can not ever take it away,"
"That's easy for you to say… in trying to regain my so called honor with my father, I ended up doing things that did not match my personality and were extremely dishonorable," Zuko stated.
"So… how old exactly were you when your father banished you?" Hakoda asked suddenly.
"I was only thirteen… why?" Zuko asked.
"Did your Uncle ever take you through your nation's coming of age ritual?" the man asked.
"No… now that I think about it. He tried to, but a lot of our old traditions from around a hundred years ago have been thrown out…" Zuko muttered. "I remember distinctly telling him too that it had to be father who did it…"
"Then when this is all over, Sokka and I will take you ice dodging… even if you do straighten things up with your uncle," Hakoda smiled.
"What exactly is ice dodging?" Zuko asked.
"Why don't you just wait and see? I think it would make for a great deal of fun once the war has ended and I think Sokka will agree. In fact, I'll go talk to him right now," Zuko watched the back of Hakoda and waited until he disappeared. When he got back he saw Sokka give him a thumbs up and a very mischievous, not to mention evil grin on his face.