Probably not the best story for me to start with in this fandom. Still trying to get a grasp of the characters, seeing as how I've only seen the series through once. (Yes, fear my newness to the series! Fear it! Muahahaha!) However, I've fallen in love, and this story is the first idea that popped into my head. (Don't know why, really. It just did. And wouldn't go away. Hmph. Blame the Muse. That always works. That, and writer's block for everything else.)

I don't think that there are any spoilers past 2x07 "Zuko Alone," but then, I could be wrong...

Unbetaed, but I spell checked. Yay me!

Disclaimer: I don't own em. If I did, the series would have gone on longer.

Prince Zuko curled under his bed, playing with the wooden carvings of different animals that Uncle had made for him. There wasn't a spec of dust under there, and it wasn't until many years later that he would learn that this was because someone cleaned every day. In his young mind, this was how his secret fort should look, impeccable, with the blankets draping down on the floor, effectively hiding him from the world. It was his escape, the one place in the entire world where he could forget he was the son of the Fire Lord. Here, he was Zuko the Shepard, or Zuko the Sabertooth Moose Lion Tamer, or anything else his young mind could think of.

"Prince Zuko," someone called from the doorway, sounding nearly frantic in their search for him. He smirked to himself, proud that he had found such an effective hiding place. The same servant had been by before, but Zuko refused to come out. He knew what they wanted, and he had no desire to do as they wished. "Oh, darn that boy, anyway."

For a moment, he froze, certain that his father would come out from behind a tapestry, or around some unknown corner. His father heard everything, and the last servant that he'd heard speak that way had never been heard from again. One long, terrifying moment stretched out, breath held sharply in Zuko's chest, as he waited for his father's wrath to be unleashed. Then it passed with a sigh of relief as he continued to play with his wooden friends.

Not much time passed by before he heard more footsteps and muffled voices approaching his room. He recognized the same servant from earlier, frantically trying to apologize and explain that Zuko just couldn't be found. Then he heard the other voice, the one he'd been hiding from. The one that, for the first time in his few years of living, he was so angry with. Of course, this voice would find him, no matter if he scrunched so far back that he disappeared in the wall. The voice always found him.

The servant was dismissed before the door opened, and Zuko found himself glowering at the silken slippers that whispered across the cold stone floor. His eyes burned into the hem of the flowing robes when they came to a stop just inches from where he lay.

"Zuko," came the soft reproach, so soothing even in the reprimand, so unlike his father's. "Come on out from under there. Please?"

Zuko's eyes blurred and burned as he obeyed, unable to deny Mother when she said that word, and hated her for knowing that horrible weakness of his. Standing before her, he kept his eyes focused on the hem of her flowing robes, trying to make the blurring burn go away.

Mother knelt before him, slowly, removing his focal point from eyesight. He wanted to yell at her, demand she stand back up, but even as angry as he was with her, she was Mother, and even as much as he wished he could hate her, he knew he never could.

"Zuko," Mother said again, this time her voice as soothing as the smooth hand that brushed against his cheek. "What's wrong?"

The blurring burn became too great for his small eyes to hold as he cried. "Baby." That stupid baby, the one Mother had told him about before he ran out of her room to hide under his bed. He hated it already. It would come, take Mother away from him, make her love it more. She was his Mother, and the very thought of her being anyone else's made his heart hurt. Zuko looked up at Mother, forgetting to be ashamed of his tears, wishing he could speak more than the few words he could. Instead, he did all he could to express what he was feeling and placed a small hand on her cheek, barely able to cover it all even with his fingers spread. "Mine."

Mother's eyes softened as she wiped his damp cheeks with the end of her sleeve. It wasn't that she hated his tears. Unlike his father, who had little tolerance for crying, Mother never scolded him for it. They made her sad, she told him once, but she'd never deny him them. "My poor, confused boy. I am yours. Even when the baby comes, I'll always be yours."

Then she was hugging him, and Zuko was enveloped in the familiar warmth and scent of Mother. Even though he still hated the baby, never wanted it to come, he felt the truth of her statement. Still, though, he was unsure, and needed confirmation. "Promise?"

Mother held him close, soothing her hand over his hair. "Promise."


Months later, the baby came, and Zuko could hear it's screaming even from under his bed. When he was allowed to see Mother again, she looked so tired, yet so happy. When she saw him, she beamed brightly, holding out her hand to him as she cradled it in her other arm. "Zuko, come see."

He spared a glance at his father, who was frowning deeply. "Ursa, I don't think-"

"Ozai, he needs to meet his sister," Mother interrupted, one of the few times Zuko remembered then, or since, that she did so.

With a wary glance at his father, he went to Mother's outstretched hand and climbed up on the bed beside her. Once he was settled against her, Mother pressed a loud kiss against his temple, something that never failed to bring a goofy, toothy grin to his face.

"Her name is Azula," Mother spoke with a whisper in his ear.

"For her grandfather, Fire Lord Azulon," his father added, pride filling his voice as he came to stand on the other side of the bed. His father didn't reach for any of them, but a quick glance showed Zuko an unfamiliar expression on the older man's face, one he'd only ever seen when Mother watched him play or said a new word correctly.

A brief flare of hope filled Zuko's chest. Maybe now, with the new baby, his father would leave him alone, leaving him to spend more time with Mother. Maybe this new baby could even take his place as the heir to the throne, and he could spend his life with Mother.

As quickly as the hope came, it was gone. In Zuko's limited experience, babies need their mothers. He'd seen some of the villagers, mothers with their young babies, always on their hips even as they shopped for food or clothing.

For the first time, Zuko looked at this new addition to his family, scrutinizing this interloper. It was so tiny, couldn't even open its eyes yet. Surely, he'd never been so small, so defenseless!

The baby stirred in Mother's arms, a tiny fist clenched and waving in the air. Zuko raised his own hand to stop the fist, afraid the small punches would hurt Mother. Before he could get a grip on its hand and get it away from Mother, it had a grip on him. Small fingers, so very much more tiny than his own, clasped around his pinky. It wasn't just a baby, he realized then, but his sister, and she was so small, so defenseless!

I'll protect you, he thought in words he couldn't say. I'll show you which vegetables are icky, which berries taste the best. I'll show you where to play. I won't let bullies pick on you. "Promise."


Ha! Take that, writer's block.

So, really, this was just a weird exploration of the past. I think that, if read alone with no idea of what happens, this is a sweet story. Taken in context, however, it's more bittersweet. Hopefully, I've achieved that. If not, then um… erm… hey look, a hammerhead shark! *points to the sky and runs away*