I know this is weird, coming from me, but what can I say? I had a little idea pop into my head and not leave me alone. Anyways, I hope you like this! And I'm not going to say 'please be nice', because in all honesty I want you to critique the hell out of it xD
Disclaimer: Everything you see her belongs to people that aren't me. Sad, huh?
How I wish I did Nice.
He lay on the futon with his arms crossed behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. It was late, he knew, and he should get some sleep, and quick, but Zuko's mind was wide awake, racing.
What a strange word. He mouthed it aloud, felt his tongue touch the roof of his mouth, his teeth lightly click, and bottom lip stretch. It had never been associated with him before. But... a night stroll, a pleasant (if awkward) dinner, and the fountain...
It was Nice.
Zuko rolled over, staring at the wall of his tiny bedroom. True, his own room at the Fire Nation Palace was twenty times the size of this, monstrously larger than the apartment, but there was a sort of humble pleasure in knowing they lived here with money they earned, not money that was excessively taxed from the labour of a nation.
Zuko sighed. He closed his eyes, trying to summon sleep within himself, but failed. A few minutes later, he opened them again, and returned to lying on his back, staring up at the ceiling.
But where, really was the harm? It was just a simple date. She's a nice girl.
Argh, that word again!
Zuko sat up, raking his fingers through the short locks of his hair. He remembered how his Uncle had dragged a wet comb through it, forcing the unruly tresses to flatten, and how easily Jin had ruffled it up again. She liked it that way, apparently...
Agni, why can't I get her out of my head? Zuko groaned, leaning his head against a clenched fist. What's wrong with me? I've never been like... This, before!
But then again, I've never met anyone like her before. Never been... Kissed. His cheeks flushed hotly in the dark at the memory of their kiss. Their chaste, closed-lipped kiss. And then he left, with barely a word of explanation. He had heard her sigh, saw her shoulders slump. He could picture clearly how her face would have sunken in disappointment.
I... Hurt her. He closed his eyes, letting out a long breath. I made her happy, yes, and then I hurt her.
Like Song. He shook his head. That was a bad memory. Eating her food, listening to her speak, being shown her scar... And then taking their ostrich-horse.
Maybe it's just girls. Zuko mused. He had only had close contact with very few in his lifetime. Azula, the water tribe girl, Jun, Song, and now Jin.
But I like her. She was interesting to talk to. And she's so... Pretty. Again, his cheeks flushed hotly in the dark.
What's wrong with me? Zuko moaned, and flopped back down, returning his amber gaze to the ceiling. How can these words even be in my vocabulary! I'm Prince Zuko! Heir to the throne of the Fire Nation! Nice and Pretty are not to be associated with me!
But... not to her. Zuko sighed. Not to her. To her, I'm just Lee. Lee who was in the circus and has come, a refugee to Ba Sing Se, for a better life, like thousands and thousands of others.
Lee is a nobody.
Zuko closed his eyes.
And Prince Zuko is starting to disappear...
No! He buried his face in his pillow, biting back a scream. Although Iroh was trying, it was a doomed attempt. Lee was a momentary disguise. A facade. A mask for Prince Zuko, who was waiting, lurking in the wings.
Perhaps that is what is doomed. Zuko's good eye started to sting. My throne. My honour, my nation. My birthright.
No. It wasn't. Zuko breathed heavily into the pillow. It was Lu Ten. My cousin. And Uncle Iroh. Their birthright. It was stripped of them, and given to my father and I. Uncle Iroh is the rightful Firelord, not my father.
The banished prince, and the refugee.
Maybe they're not so different.
"Did you sleep well, nephew?"
"Not really." Zuko mumbled as he took a heavy seat next to the low wooden table. A steaming mug of tea was placed before him, as was a bowl of oatmeal. "I... Had a lot on my mind."
"Is this about Jin?" Iroh asked with a raised eyebrow over his porcelain mug. Zuko froze, his pallid cheeks turning the slightest bit pinker.
"You... Remember her name?" He shifted uncomfortably, finding the textured grey surface of his breakfast very interesting.
"Of course I did." Iroh smiled. "You said the date was nice, but no more, my nephew. What is it that plagues your mind?"
"She doesn't like me." Zuko muttered. "She only likes Lee."
"... Oh." Iroh sighed. "I understand your quandary."
"I like her Iroh." Zuko said plaintively. "She's nice. And pretty." There were those words again, jarring on his tongue. "But... It's too tense. I-I feel as though I can't be myself."
"Zuko." Iroh was saddened. "Do you honestly think that you were being yourself when you were Prince Zuko? You often admitted to me how you had to censor your own words, try and hold back your outbursts, and watch every little movement you made around your father. Tell me nephew, is that being yourself?"
"No." Zuko's voice was very small as he stirred the oatmeal. "But..."
"I know you are confused. You have reached a fork in your life, and you are unsure of which way to turn. You want to do what is right, but at the same time, you do not want to further risk your honour."
"They're the same thing." Zuko argued, but he sounded unsure.
"Are they?" Iroh raised an eyebrow. Zuko continued to look away. "Jin will return to the tea shop, like she always does. It is up to you what you will say to her."
"I know, Uncle." Zuko took a tentative nibble of his spoonful of oatmeal. "... I don't know what I'm going to say to her."
"Do what makes you happy, my nephew." Iroh said gently. "Not what would make Prince Zuko happy, make your father or the Fire Nation happy. Do what makes you happy."
Zuko nodded wordlessly.
Sure enough, she was there. Her long dark hair in two braids down her torso, in the same green robe with the soft yellow trimming, drawn in tightly around her waist, almond-shaped eyes, a gentle leafy-green, focused intently on her steaming mug of tea.
He would approach her first, he decided. That way, he wouldn't be caught by surprise, as he was last time. He was sure that his uncle wouldn't have an issue with him shirking his duties for a few moments.
"Did you want a refill?" Jin looked up in surprise to see Zuko standing with a tray, bearing another mug and a steaming pot of tea.
"O-Oh!" She blinked, and ducked her head a little. "Yes please..." Wordlessly, Zuko took a seat with her, topping up her tea and pouring one for himself.
"I enjoyed last night." He said after a moment of silence, bringing the mug of tea to his lips.
"So did I." Jin said earnestly. "I've taken a couple of other boys' to the Fire Fountain before," Zuko's hand tightened on his cup, the tea steaming violently. "But they all laughed at me and say I was stupid..."
"You're not stupid." Zuko set down his cup. He reached across the table, taking her wrist. "You see the beauty in everyday things. That's a rare gift, Jin." She smiled.
"Why did you leave last night?" The question burst out of her impatiently, eyes raising slightly, settling around his shoulder. "I-I don't understand..."
"It's complicated." Zuko muttered, looking down. "Let's just say... I have a chequered past. I'm... It's hard, to let others in."
"I don't mind." Jin said, her voice soft. "Lee, I like you." Zuko flinched a little at the name, but thankfully, because her eyes weren't on his face, Jin didn't notice. "I... Want to see you again."
"... I want to see you again too." And Zuko was being honest. "But...I have a lot going on right now. In here." He let go of her arm, and tapped at his head. "I'm sorry..."
"... It's okay." But she was upset, Zuko could tell easily. She drained the final drops of her tea, and reached inside her robe. "By the way, I have something for you..."
"You do?" Guilt flooded Zuko's insides. "You didn't have to..."
"I know." She said. "But I wanted to." She set the object down on the table between them. It was a small jar, filled with a creamy-looking paste.
"... What is it?" Zuko picked up the jar, and unscrewed the top, cautiously sniffing its' contents.
"My aunt and uncle run an apothecary." Jin explained. "It's a medicine, made from herbs. It helps to soften and pale scarred skin." Zuko froze, and his hand tightened around the jar. "I-I'm sorry, I thought-"
"Thank you, Jin." His tone was as warm as melted butter. The Earth Kingdom girl lifted her head, finally looking Zuko full in the face. He was smiling. "I appreciate this gift. I wish I had one for you."
"Like a free tea coupon?" She giggled, earning a blush from the boy. "Lee, what you did last night was a gift in itself. You gave me a night of happiness. It's been so long..." She trailed off, and her eyes lowered again. Zuko set down the jar, and took one of her hands in both of his, gently squeezing the skin.
"I want you to keep coming here." Zuko said, sounding a little nervous, if nothing else.
"I wouldn't have it any other way." Jin breathed. "Your uncle makes heavenly tea." Another joke. Zuko smiled. "I... Have to go." She pushed her chair back, and stood up, head bowed. "I'll see you around, Lee." She smiled hopefully.
"See you around Jin." He gathered the used tea things on the tray. As he bent down, Jin, her heart pounding, darted in to kiss Zuko lightly on the cheek, her lips grazing his scar.
Zuko gasped and stood up, but by the time he straightened himself and turned around, she had disappeared into the bustling street.
The next chapter's going to take place a little ahead of time, so I guess you can think on this as a prologue of sorts.
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