Summary: Another AU oneshot. Zuko and somewhat Aang centric with quite a bit of Iroh and Mai. At 13 he was banished and set with an impossible task. At 14 he captured the 12 year old Avatar and handed him to his father. At 15, he finally stands.
AU how?: Instead of Katara finding Aang in the iceberg three years after his banishment, Zuko finds him himself after only a year.
Pairings? Some Maiko is implied, nothing blatent. So I hope even if you don't like Maiko- you can still read this. There is also a surprise joky poke at another Mai ship I am very slowly warming up to. :D. Also platonic!IrohZuko. (I think if I ever saw anything other than platonic IrohZuko, I would gorge out my eyes, and I am a woman of varied tastes when it comes to ships). D:. The only 'real' ships I hate are Jetara and Jetko. Because I hate Jet. Sorry.
A/N: Another plot bunny which won't go away. I apologise. I just love the Zuko and Aang dynamic. Sort of almost a drabble collection mainly of various lengths- ten in total. Some are really short, some not. Basically from this AU, Aang has also been revived 2 years earlier than in canon. I also assume Mai is a year younger than Zuko, though I am unsure if this is correct. Also I'm british- just incase you wonder why I spell 'honour' with a 'u'.
At 13, he was banished and set with an impossible task...
But a child. He is nothing but a child. West, East, South and North. He travels to each of them in turn. His determination at such a young age is both impressive and frightening, but most of all saddening.
But the temples yield no secrets, no clues of the Avatar.
His own words leave no impression.
As the bandage is finally removed, he tries not to wince at the red and raw gash upon the boy's face. He says nothing as he watches him touch and trace at it, gazing at his own reflection, for a moment his expression unreadable.
He touches his shoulder, but he knocks his hand away and drops the mirror, stalking out of the room.
He sighs and gazes at the shattered remains. He thinks of his nephew, and of his brother. The brother, who threw away his only son. Who discarded his own blood so happily and willingly but for a few spoken words.
Iroh lost a son. Zuko has also lost a father, whether he chooses to believe it or not.
The uncle will follow his nephew on his hopeless quest where ever he goes.
For they both need each other. Whether Zuko chooses to believe it or not.
At 14 he captured the 12 year old Avatar and handed him to his father...
To say it had been a shock had been an understatement. His nation, his father, his sister. None of them had expected him to succeed. None of them expected him to return home.
But even Zuko had not thought he could achieve his honour and throne back so quickly.
Just over a year had passed since he had started his journey, when he happened upon passing by the South Pole.
Such a small chance. So many other ways his fate could have been carried. If he hadn't been in a fit of rage, that iceberg may never have been hit by a wild fire shot and never been cracked. If his Uncle had not been so observant, he may not have noticed the small body which threatened to be consumed by the waves.
Airbending tattoos, he recognised them immediately from the statues of the temples he had frequently visited.
The last airbender. The Avatar.
He had been unconscious when they found him, locking him in the brig. Still, to be faced with a child not much younger than himself when he had been expecting an ancient man was nothing short of alarming.
What also confused Zuko was the cheerfulness the young monk had shown him when he first saw him. He clearly identified them as fire nation, and yet he showed no fear, even thanking, thanking the young Prince for saving him, standing, bowing and giving his name.
All the while his Uncle stood by his side, a slightly amused and charmed look upon his face as he observed his nephew.
They had both been laughing, engaging upon a game of Pai Sho when the Prince had entered, and he had at first wondered if he had been going mad, or had entered some other world that was not his own.
A brief flicker of jealousy had been felt upon first seeing them, and annoyance too. But no matter. He kept up the charade for the next few days. If the Avatar had no clue of the war, it simply made things easier for him. Let him think he was safe, that they would take him to see his friend 'Kuzon', whoever that really was.
He remembered the look the boy gave him, the look of shock and sadness when upon entering the Fire Nation palace the guards led him away. He had struggled and fought, the sheer numbers overwhelming him.
The last gaze he had given him before being finally taken away burned him. No harsh judgement within his expression. Just hurt and confusion.
He recalled his uncle's words of warning, his pleas to let the boy go, words that he had ignored.
Foolish, lazy old man. He was lucky that he had kept mute about such treacherous thoughts he had tried to instil. And such a silly, naive little boy.
He had his honour, his throne, his father's respect. He had it all back. That was worth any price.
But even now, as he gazed across the court yard filled with lanterns from his bedroom, he could not help but notice the slight twisting in his gut as he remembered the carefree smile slipping off the boy's face, the slump in his form as he had been dragged away.
He had not had the heart to face his uncle again for the rest of the day, for reasons he couldn't explain.
This was not his first sleepless night, nor would it be his last.
Five months had passed. Everything should be fine. And sometimes it was.
He was a firebender, so he rose with the sun. She helped him sometimes forget the things which plagued him at night when he was alone. Overtime she became a friend, and something told him that perhaps he wished for more.
They duelled and practised with weapons, they even laughed and discussed less serious matters. He could forget what he was and rather remember who he was instead.
He trusted her. Trusted her more than anyone besides his uncle. What he told her were the things he was too ashamed to let his uncle hear.
At first, Mai had been shocked and insulted as his words, warning him that they would get him into trouble. She kept her silence for his own benefit, knowing no good would come from revealing them to Azula or Ty Lee.
Instead, as he continued over the months, relentlessly telling her what he felt despite her protests, something within her also began to stir. His words were affecting her, and something seemed to be changing. Scared, one day she bit back from yelling her piece of advice:
"If you're so obsessed with the kid, then why don't you pay him a visit! You sound like a whiny ex-girlfriend!"
He had been angry, abandoning her at the pond that day.
She had not been serious, but he had grown to trust her judgement over certain matters. He decided to take up her suggestion. He would visit the Avatar.
His first visit had certainly been memorable, considering the boy had not even been awake at the time. His appearance, how much he had changed in only a few months, was what had disturbed him the most. Now nearly 13, he supposed the first stages of puberty should be beginning to take hold, but you could not see that.
Oh he had grown a little taller, he guessed, but there was little else positive he could say. He was shirtless, chained to the wall of the dank and musty cell. Red marks, dirt and bruises littered across his thin frame. His ribs stuck painfully out, as if they threatened to burst out of his skin with each breath he took. He now had dark hair, which looked as if it had not been washed once since it had been grown.
"What...what is the meaning of this?! What did you do to him?!" The Prince suddenly exclaimed, spluttering. The guard, who had been previously proudly smiling as a member of royalty took in his handiwork felt his mouth fall open in shock, nervously eyeing the flamed hand.
"I was following orders your highness" his wheezes coming from years of smoking and chewing tobacco. "We are to keep him alive- but just barely. They don't want him to either escape or be reborn in the water-"
His sentence was abruptly cut short.
"Now you listen to me." For only fourteen, the Prince seemed dangerously heavy to the man as he was pinned to the wall, the flame he held in his left hand also closer to his face than he was comfortable with, "These are your new orders. And if you do not follow them, then Aang will look like nothing compared to what will happen to you, understand?"
The man nodded, swallowing.
"This is an utter disgrace. You are not to treat a being such as the Avatar like this. Instead you shall feed him properly. Give him three balanced meals a day. Standard prison clothes. You will not touch him. Never again. Do you understand me? Never. You will let him get some exercise..."
"But that's too danger-"
"I will see he doesn't escape" he snapped, cutting him off. "The palace is not far, I should be able to come any time I so wish, and I'll take him around the prison court yard at night, when there is no-one else to see. He is the only prisoner here."
"You are not to tell anyone of this. Ever. I'm the Crown Prince and I can make your life difficult."
The man whimpered. Disgusted, the teenager released him into a heap on the floor.
"Now, release his bonds. He is in a prison cell, he cannot escape" he instructed, the man doing so, as the Prince supported the boys weight.
For a moment, he closed his eyes, breathing in the scent as the boy limply fell into his arms. A small breath escaped the younger boy into his chest as he supported his neck. Suddenly remembering he was not alone, he leaned him against the cool metal wall, stood up and spat at the man.
"I will return in a few days to see you have done as I have told."
He only got a mute nod as he strode out of the cell.
"Oh and tell someone to give him a bath. He stinks." he growled, quickly making his way out of the prison, only a half mile from the Palace, giving no indication of the tears that threatened to spill.
It was only when he collapsed onto his bed and gave a chocked sob into his pillow that he realised he had called the Avatar by name.
He did not have to say anything. He did not tell her what he was doing but she knew.
It had taken a few weeks before she realised what was really going on, but Zuko was hardly such an utter master of deception that he could hide his actions from his best friend.
She sighed, and glanced across to the dragon of the west over her tea cup as he pushed the lotus tile forward.
He could tell them when he was ready.
When Aang had first laid eyes on him, months ago, they had not been angry or fearful, merely curious. He wouldn't let him touch him at first, and the look that he gave the Fire Prince when he tried to help him up pained him. It was all too reminiscent of the gaze he had given him upon his capture.
He had had to look away. Still the airbender had continued to stare at him intensely. Unable to take it, ashamed, the firebender had run away without a word.
It had taken many visits before Zuko had felt able to speak and many after that before he received any answers from him.
So different it was now. Smiling lightly he watched the boy by his side as he took in his appearance, the flame in his younger companion's hand flickering in the wind.
Puberty was finally catching up with the thirteen year old, as he now had access to good food and exercise. He was becoming more toned and was much healthier.
He had decided to keep his hair, strangely liking it, and Aang teased that he now had more hair than him with his single ponytail.
Aang chatted with him, almost as if he was not a prisoner. He laughed and joked with the Fire Prince during their nightly walks. He told him stories of life before the war. He no longer needed to tie his hands behind his back when he took him around the courtyard, having given his word of honour that he would not try to escape. Zuko believed him, even letting him practice his airbending. He was just happy it seemed, to be in the air, in his element. And he liked to see him laugh and smile, because it made him want to smile too.
During the day, Mai made him laugh. At night, Aang did the same. The pair were so different he realised, but he cared for both of them deeply.
Zuko had even taken to showing the airbender some firebending forms, much to Aang's surprise when he offered to show him how. Deep down, Zuko thought this was probably a bad idea. If he got caught treating the Avatar this way he would be in trouble, but teaching him firebending? Practically high treason. He could end up banished again or even worse. He wasn't even sure why he was doing it, but he rationalised that it was more to help himself. As he taught, it seemed he began to learn for himself, incorporating some of Aang's airbending moves with his own.
He had even beaten Azula in their last dual much to everyone's shock and her horror. Airbending was not just about avoiding and evading, but also surprising your opponent with the unexpected.
It seemed like Aang held no malice towards Zuko, and in a way that sometimes bothered him. Shouldn't the young monk be angry at him? Yet he treated him like a friend, like Mai did. Along with Iroh, they held no judgement or hate in their eyes. Zuko wondered at this thought.
Three months had passed since his first visit before he eventually asked Aang why he wasn't angry at him:
"I forgave you and now we're friends." he said with a small smile. Zuko looked at him expectedly, waiting for more.
Nothing came and the boy only blinked up at him.
"You mean that's it?!" he had exclaimed, angrily "I deceived you and captured you. You were locked away, starved and beaten for months before I even came to see what happened, and you're still a prisoner. And that's your only reason?!"
The monk tilted his head.
"Do I really need another reason?" he asked simply.
Zuko was speechless.
"I want to see him"
At these words, he chocked on the slice of plum tart.
"Um- You'll have to be more specific Mai- who do you-"
"Don't give me that." she said sternly, as she twisted and crushed a small daisy within her hands "I've waited long enough. I want to meet him."
He blinked, knowing it would be no wise thing to refuse her. His uncle, currently brewing tea was pretending not to listen, but Zuko could tell he was, his shoulders shaking as he tried to contain his laughter.
"So you're Mai." he said setting the cup down before him, the corners of his mouth twitching as he raised himself from his cross-legged position.
Zuko suddenly had the urge to strangle him. He wouldn't dare. He'd promised.
"So you've heard of me then?" she asked, her full expression unknown from his angle, but the light from the torches showing her smile too.
Aang bowed. "Indeed. Of course..." he paused putting a hand under his chin as he looked her up and down.
He took her hand to his lips. "His descriptions of you do not do justice to the real thing."
Zuko, horrified, suddenly felt like breaking something. Mai pulled her hand from the Avatar as the pair laughed, the sound echoing throughout the stone walls.
"Oh Zuko." Aang said shaking his head, the tears of mirth still running down his face " Could you be any more obvious?"
"Are you sure?"
"It'll be dangerous. You shouldn't come."
"Where you go, I go. Besides, the monk is kind of cute too."
".... not funny"
At 15, he finally stands...
The plan is simple. They'd been discussing it for two months now. His birthday is but a week passed, and he is technically still a child, but then so is the Avatar. Only thirteen, and he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. He does not envy his position.
His Uncle and Mai are currently in the process of releasing the air bison from his prison many miles away. Its his job to get both himself and Aang to Chameleon bay, where they have decided to reunite.
Aang's past life has spoken to him, he calls him to that place for reasons unknown. The summer solstice approaches and there they must go.
From there, they will travel to the North Pole- so that he may finally learn waterbending.
The world waited 98 years for the Avatar's return. Now currently only armed in the knowledge of air and the basics of fire, the other elements must be learnt. They can only hope that the watertribe will be willing to accept three members of the Fire Nation.
He sits against the stone wall as Aang spies over it, the firebender closing his eyes, knowing two years ago he would never have believed he would be helping the Avatar, that both he and his Uncle would be teaching him firebending and that he would pledge himself to fight against his father.
He does it partly for honour. Something he thought he had regained by capturing him.
But if he is honest, his larger drive is his friendship with the young monk. Agni be damned if it is not the strangest friendship that may ever have been forged in the history of the world.
"Only three guards on the ground... two on the roof... think we can handle that?" Aang smirked down at him his hand outstretched.
He took it.
"What do you think?"
A/N: There you go!Another oneshot I had to write. XD. And its actually a happy one! Amazing!