Title: The Way it Was Meant to Be

Rating: M

Status: WIP

Characters: Zuko, Hakoda

Pairings: None planned, except keeping with cannon.

Genre: Angst and some drama/action

Summery: AU based on the premise that Zuko and Iroh go back to the Fire Nation with Azula in the beginning of Season 2 and Zuko gets sent to the Boiling Rock Prison.

Warnings: I love Avatar, but at times the story gets silly. That's what happens when you love a children's story. Personally, I love raw emotion and brutal reality, so there is going to be some adult stuff. These characters are in prison and I plan to portray a prison in more realistic ways. Harsh language and violence will be prevalent in this fic as well as an attempted non-con scene.

Spoilers: Eh...the whole show. Despite deviating from Season 2 early on I still incorporate some details from season 2 and 3.

A/N: Based on a premise I once posed to Avatar_fans LJ community but never planned to actually explore. Then I had trouble sleeping the other night and an idea took root. So now I'm just going to get it out and see what happens. I haven't written a fanfic in a really long time so I really do encourage any constructive criticism.

Disclaimer: I wish I owned cool things like Avatar, but I don't. Maybe in the future.

Chapter 1

oOoOo

You know Father blames Uncle for the loss at the North Pole. And he considers you a miserable failure for not finding the Avatar. Why would he want you back home, except to lock you up where you can no longer embarrass him? - Azula "The Avatar State" Season 2, Episode 1.

oOoOo

The room was only eight feet by eight feet and the walls were a dull, red brick. His bed was a slab of splintery wood hanging from the walls by rusty chains with only a thin, rotting blanket for comfort. Considering the location of the prison in the crater of a volcano, the blanket was more comforting than warming and even then it was not very comforting. There were no windows, only a metal door with a small rectangular hole closed shut by a sliding door. Nothing he could reach anyway, as his foot was chained to the back wall only allowing him four feet of movement.

Despite the size and emptiness of the cell, it was relatively clean with only a faint smell of urine coming from the waste bucket across from the cot. Only rarely did he see a mouse come from the small crack on the wall. The prisoner wore the usual dark red prison rags, frayed at the ends but otherwise intact. His ankle was motley collection of bruises from the heavy manacle he wore. Other bruises and wounds decorated his porcelain white skin, although nothing stood out as much as the angry red scar across his left eye. These days it was covered up by the mop of hair that had grown freely on his head.

Zuko wasn't sure how long he had been locked away. Months maybe? He was sure it hadn't been a year, but then again the days all blended together especially since he was not allowed outside with the other prisoners. He received two meals a day, most likely in keeping with breakfast and dinner, but since he couldn't see the sun and the meal was always the same tasteless slop it didn't make much of a difference.

With a severe lack of anything to do, he slept a lot. The lack of food and physical activity showed on the thin frame that sat huddled in the corner with his knees hugged against his chest. When he first arrived the lack of food made his stomach churn with a gut wrenching pain, and the guards would abuse him so badly he couldn't sleep from the agony of the beatings. Now he barely felt his hunger anymore and even sometimes neglected to eat what little food he received. He was numb to the physical agony that he constantly felt. His world was so full of hunger and pain that it was almost as if it had always been there. The only thing he really felt anymore with any intensity was an all encompassing despair.

He was left alone most of the time, his special status earning him solitary confinement. However, the guards still took enjoyment in making their encounters as unpleasant as possible. Whenever they would deliver food it was often accompanied by a few kicks to the gut. Every week he was dragged out for a bath which involved nearly drowning in a tub of steaming hot water. They took perverse pleasure in seeing how long he would thrash under the water before passing out and would cackle with laughter when he sputtered for breath. Sometimes Zuko wished they would just drown him and end the misery, but they never did.

Most of the prisoners were allowed recess time, communal dinner time, and were required to do menial prison tasks such as laundry and cleaning. Zuko was kept away from all that. The only interaction he had with other prisoners was when someone would come in to clean his cell. Even then they never spoke. In fact most of them pretended Zuko didn't exist. It didn't surprise him. Most of the prisoners were Fire Nation criminals and Zuko was the prince who had been exiled and was now locked away from the rest of the world. He was such a failure that his father branded him a traitor deserving of incarceration for the rest of his life.

Zuko could never forget that moment, it replayed constantly in his mind. His sister had come to the Earth Kingdom spewing lies about an assassination attempt and family suddenly becoming important. And Zuko bought it. His Uncle tried to warn him, but Zuko would have none of it. His father wanted him back. The one thing he had dreamed about in the three years of his banishment was finally real. It was over, he could return home and cease his frustrating pursuit of the Avatar. The whole trip back on the ship he felt there was something wrong but he refused to give those feelings any credence. He was going home and he wasn't about to let any nagging doubts prevent him from realizing his dream.

And then everything came crashing down around him once they arrived. His father demanded Zuko's presence immediately, which wasn't surprising but his uncle was not permitted to attend. He was escorted to the audience chamber by his father's guard and when they reached the chamber he was suddenly grabbed roughly and thrown to the floor. Before Zuko could even respond to the disrespectful treatment he heard the deep scratchy voice of his father.

"Zuko, you have greatly disappointed me." The flames that created a barrier between him and his father flickered furiously in an overwhelmingly hot wall. "Three years it has been since your banishment. Three years you have had to find the Avatar and not only do you fail miserably, but you fail against a child!" The last word was spoken with a venom he had never heard from his father before.

Zuko's breath caught in his throat, searching for any appropriate response but nothing seemed good enough. He felt like his heart had been ripped out. His father didn't want him back at all. His father hated him; saw him as a failure. He could feel a cold sweat on his skin. He didn't try to stand back up, shamed into cowering before his father. Eventually he found his voice, though it quivered with fear. "Father, I am sorry. I-"

"I'll have none of your pathetic excuses," Firelord Ozai snarled, "I didn't bring you here to hear your sniveling. You are a failure and an embarrassment, your punishment has already been decided." As soon as those words where spoken he felt the guards grab him once more and pulled him up into a standing position. Zuko was too stunned to fight them off as one of them grabbed his topknot and sliced it off with one quick stroke. "You are an embarrassment, unworthy of being a citizen of the Fire Nation, never mind my son and heir to throne! You will never regain your honor and you will not be permitted to continue your treasonous failures! You will spend the rest of your life locked up where you cannot embarrass me anymore! Get out of my sight!"

Without further prompting the guards dragged Zuko out of the chamber, holding his arms tightly behind his back. The shock of the encounter with his father left him immobile. He didn't even pay attention to where the guards where taking him. All he could think was how horribly he had failed. All those times he had almost captured the Avatar and failed; if he had only done it differently. If only he had tried harder, or been more decisive. Too many times he had been weak willed and let the Avatar slip through his grasp. If only he had tried harder he would be coming home with his honor intact. If only Zhao hadn't gotten in the way of Zuko's mission. If only he had never spoken out that day. If only, If only, If only.

All these alternate scenarios raced through his mind as he was brought back to the ship he had sailed in on. His sister was still there out by the dock sitting on the banister, a satisfied smirk on her face. "Did you really think Father would welcome you back with open arms, Zuzu?"

The comment was like a slap in the face. "You lied to me!" he burst out in response.

"As if I haven't done that before," She replied as she hopped off the banister and walked over to him, "Banishment was too good for you, there was always a chance you could come back. Now you'll be where you truly belong, out of the way." Hey smirk widened.

Zuko stared at her with wide eyes. Despite everything Azula had ever done it never occurred to him that she wanted him out of the way so she would be the sole heir. It was suddenly so obvious, how could he never have seen it before? He was so consumed with regaining his honor it never crossed his mind that Azula would make sure he could never get it back. The moment he realized this he also noticed something else, and it shamed him that he had not considered it until now. "Where is Uncle?"

"That doddering old fool? Don't worry, he's visiting with Father now. Father blames Uncle with the failure in the North Pole. But not that it makes a difference, you won't ever see him again." She then looked to the men holding onto Zuko. "Take him away."

"NO!" Zuko screamed and lunged at Azula with all the fury he had in him. It was just too much. He could almost tolerate this happening to him, but his uncle didn't deserve to be punished for his mistakes! All the hurt, all the anger, all the frustration let itself loose. He wrenched himself from the hold of the guards and released a large fireball in her direction. She, however, expected as much and easily deflected the blast as well as countered with her own blue flame. Zuko tried to block her flame but it was too strong for him and he fell backwards, crashing to the ground unceremoniously. The guards wasted no time in descending on him and with a sharp blow to the head the last thing he saw was Azula smirking as his vision faded into darkness.

Zuko woke up in the ship's brig with his hands chained to the wall. His head throbbed painfully from the blow it had received. He recognized the subtle rocking back and forth as that of a Fire Nation vessel at sea. He had no idea where he was being taken but he knew it wasn't good. Here he was, a prince of the Fire Nation and he was chained to the wall in a cell like a common criminal. It was that moment when he realized he had truly lost everything that the tears finally came. He sat there alone in his cell weeping till he felt his heart would burst. And then just when he thought he thought he might drown in his own tears they finally ceased. All that remained in his heart was hole where he had once had hope. Despair crept in slowly but surely.

When he arrived at the Boiling Rock prison he wasn't even introduced to the prison population and instead was thrown into the cell he currently occupied. He was forced to adorn the prison garments before the warden came to visit him in his cell flanked by two particularly brutish prison guards.

"I have to admit, I never thought I'd have a prince in my prison," the warden said teasingly, "but don't think that means you get off easy. In fact we have special instructions from your father to keep you locked in this cell at all times."

Zuko had nothing to say to that and simply stared at the floor, although he visibly flinched at the mention of his father. This caused the warden to smirk.

"You're my special prisoner, Prince Zuko, and you best behave. You step out of line and you'll pay the price, I promise you that."

That sparked am indignant jolt of outrage and his fists clenched angrily. His father punishing him was one thing, but accepting authority of this low life was just too much! "Fuck you!" Zuko spat without thinking. This earned him a hard slap across his cheek that jerked his face to the side. Stunned, Zuko simply kept his head down and silently cursed himself for himself for being so foolish. He was a prisoner, he didn't deserve respect anymore. His father made sure of that.

"I guess I'll have to have my men teach you some respect," The warden whispered into Zuko's ear. The warden then abruptly turned and walked out. "Have fun, boys." The door slid shut leaving Zuko alone with the two brutes.

The beating he received that night was the worst of his life. They rained blows on him and kicked him till he was bloody and bruised. This was only the first of many beatings to follow. Zuko fought back at first but it was only a matter of time before the pain was too much. He eventually stopped fighting back. But even though Zuko was behaving they continued to antagonize him whenever they had the chance. Not only did the guards beat him but they tortured him in any way they could. They would make him beg for his food only to find they had pissed in it when they finally gave it to him. They would make him beg for a chamber pot only to dump the contents on him afterward. They would then give him a bath in water that was too hot or too cold and hold his head under the water till Zuko's lungs almost burst. They had even once left him in the cooler for three days so that Zuko had developed hypothermia.

Zuko could barely remember the last time he felt anything besides pain and despair. He would have killed himself if he had the means, but they kept him closely guarded. All those years in exile were nothing compared to the suffering he experienced in those few months in captivity. And for all he knew he would live for years in this hell, a forgotten prince cast aside failing the impossibly high standards of his selfish, power hungry, and abusive father. He couldn't possibly sink any lower.

The times that he was not sleeping or being maltreated where spent in a guilty haze. The time aboard his ship searching for the avatar almost seemed like a dream in comparison to the living nightmare he now endured. His thoughts always returned to his uncle. He missed his uncle with a terrible force that when focused on to deeply would leaving him gasping desperately for breath. How many times had Zuko ignored his uncle? How many times had he shrugged off his advice and acted foolishly? And now his disrespect had brought about the worst possible outcome. Zuko missed his uncle fiercely, but at the same time he was afraid of facing him. He almost took comfort in the fact that his uncle could not see him like this. Battered and useless, a true disgrace to the Fire Nation. He didn't even want to face the other prisoners, and thanks to the solitary confinement, he didn't have to.

It was in this hopeless state that Azula found her brother when she finally came to visit months later. Zuko thought it was time for another beating when he heard the metal door slide open. Instead he heard his sister "tsk" in disapproval. "Zuzu, how far you have fallen."

Zuko looked up at his sister, who was beaming in brand new battle armor while he was huddled miserably in the corner of his tiny cell. She looked as impeccable as always, and sure enough that taunting smirk was ever present on her face. "I hope the guards are treating you well, dear brother. I'd hate for your stay to be unpleasant."

Zuko frowned in disbelief. Was she really here? After all these months of confinement he had to wonder if he was seeing one of the various faces that haunted his dreams nearly every night, yet he found himself responding in spite of himself, "you know exactly how they're treating me, Azula." His voice came out as a weak croak. He hadn't realized that it had been a long time since he actually talked to someone. His voice was rough for want of use.

"True," she said nonchalantly, "I really came here to give you some news I thought you might appreciate." When Zuko said nothing she continued, "The Fire Nation has accomplished a great victory. The city of Ba Sing Se has finally fallen and is now under Fire Nation rule, all thanks to your dear sister. Father is pleased, of course. I achieved what our foolish uncle could not without an army."

"You're lying," Zuko rasped, as he tried to ignore the pang he felt in his heart from her reference to his uncle. In truth he believed her. It would be just like her to do exactly this and then come here to gloat about her victory. He shouldn't be so surprised.

"This time," Azula said, smirking with an air of amusement, "I'm actually not. Ba Sing Se has fallen and today there will be a celebration in my honor. I almost wish you could be there to see it." Azula walked over to the cot and sat down. She looked at Zuko curled up next to the cot in the corner and wrinkled her nose. "Of course that's not the best part. You want to know what the best part is?"

Zuko glared at his sister. As much as he hate playing her games, he knew there had to be a bigger reason for why she had visited him all these months after she had watched him get dragged off to this prison. "What?"

"The Avatar is dead. I killed him."

Zuko eyes widened. Impossible! There was no way this could be true! He had searched for the Avatar for years and now his sister had achieved what he could not. He wanted to scream at the injustice of it all, however instead he only stared at the floor, utterly speechless. So this was why she had come-to make sure that he knew that not only was he a complete failure, but that where he failed she succeeded. Just like always. My father says she was born lucky. He says I was lucky to be born. He closed his eyes, letting a single tear fall down his cheek.

Satisfied with the reaction, Azula rose from the cot and leaned over Zuko's huddled form, whispering softly. "Everything is just as it should be. I'm the one who deserves to be firelord when father dies, everyone knows it." She kissed him gently on the forehead. "This is the way it was meant be." Azula stood back up and walked out of the cell leaving Zuko alone with nothing but his never-ending misery.

oOoOo

A/N – Based on some suggestions, specifically that Iroh wasn't mentioned enough I've gone back and made some edits and adjustments. This chapter itself is specifically designed to set up the situation that Zuko is in, so if it feels lacking in detail that may be why. Suggestions are welcome, but I thought I'd note Chapter 2 will take place directly after the eclipse and go forward from there at a steady pace.