Summary: Agni knew I loved my nephew more than life. But Zuko just had a way of disappointing me sometimes. A character piece focusing on the relationship between uncle and nephew.
The day started off ordinary enough. We were sailing in the Southern Sea, in some of the most beautiful waters I had ever seen. While I took all this in over a nice card game and cup of tea, Zuko steadily scanned the skies for sight of the Avatar. But after so much time scouring, things were becoming hopeless. I didn't know that this would be the day that Zuko would finally see the Avatar, his only way to his father's "love." Zuko may have wasted over two years of his life hunting this prize, but he never gave up hope that he would capture the Avatar and restore his honor. It was obvious to everyone that the "quest" was nothing more than a way for Ozai to keep Zuko out of his hair. Obvious to everyone but Zuko, that is. I admired his determination and desire to succeed, but I was disappointed in how he channeled his energy. When would he realize that this is not his path?
Sometimes my love of relaxation got the best of me, such as the time I fell asleep in a hot bath and awoke to earthbender soldiers. They captured me, and no one would know where I was. So, I had to leave traces behind. I made the clues so obvious that I expected Zuko to come fairly quickly. I was very proud of myself for that "Falling asleep to lose a sandal" trick. But as the hours lengthened, I began to despair. Finally, I thought I had an idea why he hadn't saved me yet. I caught a glimpse of the Avatar sans friends, and knew that his friends would be looking for him. Maybe Zuko saw his bison and went for him instead of me. I really can't blame him- the Avatar is his ticket home, the only thing he cares about. I hated to admit it, but there were times when I wondered if Zuko noticed how much everyone around him, including myself, sacrificed for him. Whatever the reason, Zuko apparently wasn't coming to save me, much to my disappointment. I tried to escape on my own, but it obviously wasn't meant to happen. While the earthbenders prepared to "deal with me," I nearly lost all hope. Much to my happiness, Zuko came and helped me defeat the soldiers. I was so proud of him that day. How could I have ever doubted him?
It was the three year anniversary of the day my younger brother tried to force his only son into an Agni Kai, and Zuko was well aware of the date. I tried to cheer him up a few times, but nothing worked. Then disaster struck- Azula joined us. From the moment her mouth opened I knew she was up to no good. Honestly, who did she think she could fool? Ozai never regretted anything, and, although it broke my heart, he didn't want Zuko back home. But she obviously fooled Zuko, just like she always had when they were children. He ate the story up, and for the first time that day, he smiled. He smiled at the idea of going back to the very man who had given him his scar and his pointless quest. I tried to reason with Zuko, help him see this was most likely a trap. He refused to believe me. He would have left me if I hadn't come after him. I was disappointed Zuko would so easily abandon me for his sister, who had made life miserable for him ever since she could say 'Zuzu'. It scares me to think what would have happened had that soldier not slipped up and let Zuko explicitly know that Azula, as always, was lying.
I knew it wasn't going to be easy for Zuko to adjust to life as a peasant. He had enjoyed many of life's greatest luxuries growing up in the royal palace and even to a degree on his ship for the past three years. But I did not think he would stoop so low as thievery. From strangers who had just shown us immense kindness, no less! I thought he might have connected with the young girl. Her mother told me about the girl's scar on her leg and how she got it. A raid, years ago, the same raid that stole the child's father, gave her the mark. In a way, it was the same for Zuko. The Fire Nation was the source of pain both times, as it seemed to be so often these days. I thought Zuko connected to her, but I was wrong. Though I tried to convince him that it was not right to take that family's ostrich-horse, his mind was made up. I had no choice. I had to get on with him and help steal that family's only means of transportation because I had to stay with Zuko. But it disappointed me to think of what my nephew was becoming.
I was able to adjust quite easily to a humble life, but Zuko just couldn't get the hang of it. Theft became a way of life with him, something he could not live without. He thought I didn't know where he got the money, food, or teapot, but I knew. He had taken them from their rightful owners without a second thought. I confronted him about it, and I realized that stealing was only the outer problem- something much deeper was going on inside. Finding the Avatar was the only thing that gave him hope, and without that, he seemed ready to do the unthinkable. I did my best to show him that he was strong enough to best all hopelessness, and to a degree it worked. He did not leave this earth like I feared he might, but he did leave me. I was disappointed when Zuko left me, but I prayed that he would find his own way, and I knew that, should he stumble, I would be right behind him, ready to help him even if he didn't want me to.
After following Zuko for days, I finally caught up with him in a small abandoned town. He was simultaneously battling his sister and the Avatar, and I couldn't tell you which one he wanted to best more. One of them, however, had knocked him out briefly. I rushed to his side when I saw him lying on the ground and helped get him up. Then we went to take care of Azula. We nearly had her- it was six against one. She threw up her hands and claimed she wanted to surrender. I knew she was lying, but at that same moment, I noticed something. The little girl I had had tea with earlier was here, fighting with the Avatar. I knew she was an earthbender, and that the Avatar probably needed an earthbending teacher, but my thoughts didn't travel farther. At that moment, my one moment of weakness when I had let my thoughts wander, Azula took advantage of the situation and fired a shot of her poisonous lightening at me. It hit me square in the chest; I had no time to redirect it. I heard Zuko yell, and a huge explosion, and then Zuko again, screaming at the waterbender girl who offered to help. I was disappointed that Zuko didn't even listen to her. Before I blacked out, I remember thinking, "Let go of your pride, Zuko. She's only trying to help."
Down in the caverns of Old Ba Sing Se, I thought Zuko was going to choose good, I really did. He had been so different ever since he pulled through his illness. He was a happier, more peaceful person. For the first time in so many years he seemed to genuinely care about the things I cared about. He even wanted to face Azula. So I thought I had nothing to worry about when my niece offered Ozai's "love" a second time. Then Zuko hesitated. And I knew. I knew he still wanted his throne, I knew he would join his sister…and I knew that I couldn't join him. I freed myself from my rocky prison just in time to help the Avatar and his waterbender friend escape. The guards trapped me again, and Zuko looked at me like I had disappointed him instead of the other way around. I couldn't look at him anymore, and I couldn't shelter my emotions from him. He was on his own.
It was hard when Zuko abandoned me. But for a while I at least hoped that Zuko would be able to realize what he had done before he returned home. In retrospect, it reminded me of my hopes that I would somehow get Lu Ten back after he died at Ba Sing Se: all in vain. Zuko came to me that awful night, and told me that I was the reason I was in prison, and that he had nothing to do with it. The worst part was that he sounded like he believed it. He actually thought that he was right, that his father was right, and that I was wrong. I knew the beautiful prince was in there somewhere, hiding behind this monster that could not be my nephew. I just didn't know when my Zuko would come out. I felt like a failure- first I had let Lu Ten die in the Siege of Ba Sing Se, and now I had let Zuko die to good in Old Ba Sing Se. Disappointment and grief mixed together, and for the first time since that horrific night underground, I wept.
I tried my best to put Zuko on the right path while I was in prison, but there was only so much I could do. I forced him to see his actions have consequences. I gave him his history. I begged him to absolve the sins of our family. And yet, he still hesitated. I remember wishing I could have more time to help him, but the eclipse was not going to wait around for Zuko to see the light. I had no choice but to leave.
Freed from my prison, I began to do the job assigned to me. Contacting members of the Order of the White Lotus was luckily rather easy for someone of my rank. In a few short weeks, we had nearly half of our members set up at our base camp in Ba Sing Se's outer wall. It was almost easy to forget Zuko in the daily bustle of formulating plans, organizing supplies, and gathering more troops. Almost. Under the pretense of buying more supplies, I traveled into the city to try and hear something, anything about Zuko. The shopkeepers, of course, knew nothing; their loyalties were still with the rebels, and the affairs of the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation did not concern them. It was the soldiers who did all the talking.
"It was the strangest feeling, not having my fire within me."
"Now you know how the rest of us feel all the time."
"I don't see how you do it."
"Swords are actually really effective in battle- a lot more than you might think."
"Really? Mind if I look at your sword?"
I stayed well hidden in a shadowy alleyway, but for the longest time the conversation did not get much deeper than that. I was about to leave when my ears picked up something interesting:
"Well what about those royal family issues?"
"What, Iroh breaking out of prison? It's not favorable, but if Ozai really thought he could hold his brother like that, he deserved to have Iroh escape right under his nose."
"No, not that! I mean Zuko and all the messes he's made."
Finally, what I came for.
"What are you talking about? Do you mean Zuko nearly killing the Fire Lord? If you're just now hearing about that, you're slow on the talk, my friend."
Zuko had nearly killed Ozai? How? Why?
"No, I am not talking about the eclipse! I mean at the Boiling Rock!"
My heart fell into his stomach. Even in my height as a general, I never sent prisoners to the Boiling Rock. What in the name of Agni was my nephew doing there?
"Did they catch the kid running away from the palace and send him there or something?"
"I don't exactly know how he ended up there, but somehow Zuko did become a prisoner there. It would have been bad enough with that warden's temper, but then the Princess showed up."
"She's a piece of work, she is."
"Tell me about it. Well here's the real kicker- somehow Zuko managed to escape, and he brought rebels with him!"
"He's in with the rebels? What is this world coming to?"
"Yeah, he's completely turned his back on the Fire Nation. He might as well pick up airbending, that's more where his loyalties lie."
"Don't know who he thinks will take him in- now all the nations hate him."
"What a disgrace."
"A real loser."
As the soldiers moved onto a new conversation, I headed back to camp, a smile slowly spreading to all corners of my face. Oh yes, my nephew was definitely a disappointment.
I've had this idea for quite some time, but actually getting all the pieces together took some time. Each "disappointment" is based off an episode from the series: see if you can guess which is which! And as always, R&R ;)