AN: Ok, so here is the next chapter...and I must say it is VERY LONG! But after this chapter, the newest segments will begin. Hope you enjoy and let me know what you think guys!
When Zuko woke, he felt more alive than he ever had before. He had risen when the sun had barely begun to peek over Mount Ida and had stretched his limbs with such ease. His body seemed more flexible, more fluid. He took his staff, as he always did in the morning and practiced several rounds of battle movements, strategic attacks and blows that would drop an opponent in less than a few seconds. But, after awhile, his curiosity got the better of him. He sat down on the stone wall that wrapped around his village, his staff leaning against it lightly and he began studying his hands. When touching his body, they felt, normal. But when touching other things, they seemed to be hotter than normal. Take a leaf for example. Shortly after his morning training, he plucked a pomegranate fruit from the tree, its leaves falling off into his hands. The fruit he pulled apart with ease, sucking its supple juices before biting into it fully. After he had finished the fruit, he noticed the leaves burning slightly in the palm of his hand. The outer edges curling up like a cat's tail, small embers eating away at it.
"I wonder," he thought slightly, increasing the temperature in his own body as if he knew how to do it all along, and then suddenly, flames engulfed the leaf, his palm igniting and a single flame levitated above his flesh. He starred amazed at his ability to control and command fire and he wondered if any other beings could possess such abilities. When the sun had fully risen to early morning, he leapt from the wall to find his father. He had games to attend to in the Palace city and a bull to win back.
When he approached his village, he could hear his father shouting his name in a frantic tone and Zuko suddenly remembered the last time his father had seen him, he was ill ridden and frightened. And now, finds him missing. Quickly he ran back into the village to see his father standing there worried sick and couldn't help but offer him an apologetic smile before sitting his worried father down.
"I'm fine," he explained, "I feel amazing! And look at this," he snapped his fingers and a small flame emitted from his finger tips, "how is this even possible?" he asked rhetorically.
Bato merely gazed upon his son, his eyes watching as the flame held strong and sturdy over Zuko's finger tips, wondering when the boy would suddenly realize that he never truly belong to Bato and his wife.
"I have to go," Zuko stated abruptly, pulling Bato from his thoughts.
Bato rose, "What? Go where?" he questioned as Zuko grabbed his staff.
"To Sozin father," Zuko explained, "they took something that belonged to us and I am going to fight for it," he could see the confusion and worry cross Bato's face and suddenly remembered the dream, that same look etched into the features of the man who ordered the babe's execution, but he shook such things from his mind, "I will bring back what is rightfully ours."
But Bato shook his head, "For what? They took the bull and there is no getting it back. You are not going to risk your life on livestock!" he ranted, following his son to the edge of the village.
"Father," Zuko turned to him, his hands grasping Bato's shoulders, "I will be fine, I promise. And I will bring back what is ours; they had no right to take our bull." And with that, Zuko set off for Sozin, leaving his worried father behind in the village of Mount Ida.
And so Zuko went to Sozin, the richest city in the world. Into it brought silks from the Air Nomads, spices from the Earth Kingdom, rare wood from the Water Nations. From its strategic harbor, to its massive walls, Sozin controlled all trade north and south of the Earth Kingdom and Zuko would control Sozin's fate, more than he could know.
Merchants literally littered along every walkway and pathway of the city. Customers gathered at various stalls, bartering and haggling over prices of goods, animals roamed freely whilst others were confined in pins. Noblemen with their several servants trailing behind them with goods stacked upon goods pushed their way rudely through the crowds. Merchant workers strode up to him, offering him goods from various items, "Would you like some fruit? How about some silks? Would you prefer this rare capuchin lemur?" But he would kindly reject them and continue onward.
Buildings, monuments that towered over any man stretched as far as the eye could see and Zuko found himself completely and utterly amazed. It was a place unlike anything he had ever seen before. Dancers from exotic lands stood on small platforms for wandering eyes to linger and Zuko caught himself glancing once or twice to see the girls shake their bodies in hypnotic ways, their beads and jewels clacking together, making and jingling noise. But soon, the announcer's voice of the games caught his attention and Zuko began to force himself through the crowd towards the arena where the games were being held.
As he approached, he saw his bull, decorated with flowers and adorning red shawl draped over its back. Slowly he knelt, watching as it turned to him, looking him in the eye. A smile crossed Zuko's lips to see that he had not been too late, that the games still continued and the bull had not been won over yet. Quietly, he slipped his hand through the pen, his hand beckoning the bull to come hither with a little, "Tks, tks," but a guard stepped in his way, brushing his hand from the pen. Zuko stood and with a forceful thrust, bashed his shoulder into the soldier as he pushed his way further towards the games.
Zuko watched in amazement as he walked towards the arena all the men training and combating one another before their rounds. The sound of weapons clashing, men grunting and moaning and the overall cheering of the crowd rang in his ears. He couldn't tell who was fighting at the moment, but knew that whoever was winning, certainly was a favorite with the crowd. As he continued to listen, he didn't notice the man sitting at a rather large table, covered by a rich tent and escorted by several guards.
Suddenly, a name was being shouted in unison by the crowd, "Lu Ten! Lu Ten! Lu Ten!" and as the gates to the arena parted, he was able to see a man clothed in fine armor toss his hands to the crowd, circling around the arena floor as he awaited his opponent that was now entering. Zuko wondered for a moment who he was, but then remembered that the crowned Prince of the Fire Nation was Lu Ten. He fought in the games as well?
"You hear to sign up?" a voice called to him.
Quickly Zuko looked to his left, finally noticing the man and simply nodded his head before turning his gaze back to the arena where thousands cheered for their prince.
"What's your name," the man drawled out, his eyes cast down at his papyrus scroll, his ink soaked utensil at the ready.
"Zuko," he stated as he turned towards the man and began approaching the table.
"Of," the man continued. When Zuko did not answer him, he looked up at the youth, his eyes narrowing slightly as he rolled them in annoyance, "as in where from?" he snapped slightly at Zuko's lack of knowledge.
Zuko grimaced slightly as he spoke, "Mount Ida."
After jotting down Zuko's name and location he dropped his writing utensil and began to ask Zuko various questions, beginning with, "Where's your cuirass?"
"My what?" Zuko retorted, obviously confused.
The man felt like smacking himself in the face, "Breast plate," Zuko shook his head, "no? What about a helmet," the man inquired and again Zuko shook his head. The man leaned forward, obviously concerned for the young man, his brow raised a little, "Any kind of armor?" When Zuko shook his head again the man sighed, then leaned slightly to the side, "Boy!" he called, a young boy around thirteen was organizing the weapons on the rack, "go fetch me some of that old armor," he ordered, watching as the young lad bolted off to see out his request. Turning his attention back to Zuko, he asked, "Now, how about your weapon?"
Zuko looked at the sturdy staff in his hand, clutching it tightly before brushing it before the man, "I could use this," he stated, thinking his staff would be enough.
The man leaned back in amazement, "Look, you can't win, but you can at least put on a good show," he declared, forcing Zuko's brow to furrow at his comment. With a deep sigh, he nudged his head to the side towards the rack of weapons, "Go ahead, choose one," and began to jot something down as Zuko began to make his selection. He grabbed one wooden staff like weapon with ropes wrapping around either end of it, and slammed it into the wooden support of the tent. The weapon shattered into pieces. Not even bothering to look up from his work, the man muttered, "You'll find some better than others," and Zuko slowly placed the broken weapon back, his eyes landing on a pair of duo swords, perfect condition. He knew how to handle those.
After choosing his weapons, he walked back to the table, taking the armor from the boy as he handed it to him, "Why can't I win?" he asked, not sure why the man would say such a thing.
He watched as the man drew his attention away from his work, his eyes slightly wider than before, but only out of confusion in itself, "No one ever beats Prince Lu Ten," Zuko noted how he emphasized the word 'never' greatly. For a moment Zuko stood there, then smirked as he walked away, putting his armor on, then tying the sword's holster to his backside.
After examining himself, he seemed rather pleased with his appearance and noted that the armor he was given was fit for a prince…quite literally. It was black, embedded with the Fire Nation emblem, gold trimming the outline of the armor. Parts were coated in red, like blood, but resembled blood, fire, passion. It was sturdy and plenty strong and he looked rather dashing in it, or so he thought.
As he made his way towards the entrance gate, someone called to him, "Sheppard boy! The hero of Mount Ida!" it was one of the soldiers who raided his village, the scum who he had almost killed had it not been for his father's teachings.
"Oh look," Zuko crossing his arms over his chest, his ragged hair invading his face, giving him a more mysterious look and the armor only adding to it, "the King's thief."
That seemed to piss him off. Zuko watched as the soldier stormed towards him, but was luckily stopped when the man from the table called out, "Hey! Shepherd boy, you're on," he pointed towards the soldier, "with your friend here."
Zuko nodded, watching as the soldier smirked, "I've been looking forward to a rematch," he sneered.
"Zuko of Mount Ida and Chen of Kui Long," the announcer roared, Zuko entered first, the soldier quickly on his heels.
As he approached, he did little to notice the twin Princesses watching him wearily, their gazes flickering between one another, then to their mother and father, then back to him. Both feeling a sense of nostalgia wash over them as they watched the young man, who adorned the look of a prince bow to them. They looked towards their brother Lu Ten, who prepared himself to watch the fight, seeing who he may face next.
Suddenly a vision swarmed through Mai's head, she saw something far from what she and her sister had seen long ago and suddenly felt herself gradually become at ease as she gazed upon him, "There may be hope for him after all," she whispered softly to Azula who merely sneered.
"He will be the end of us all," Azula retorted, watching wearily as the two men stood there, waiting for their father's approval to begin.
Mai merely shrugged, there had been times where she had been granted visions and Azula had not and there had been times where Azula had been granted visions and she had not. But the one thing that made her feel certain was the fact that every vision she ever saw, even those that countered ones of great tragedy were always true. Instead of being the one who would bring the Fire Nation to its knees, he would unite a world divided. Blood would be shed, lives would be lost, but in the end, there would be peace. Baby Lee who now was known as Zuko would bring peace to the world, she could feel it.
"Fight!" the announcer yelled after both opponents bowed to one another, then vigorously they attacked one another.
After the first fight, Zuko had taken down the soldier with little to no effort at all. Afterwards he went back to the waiting area, seeing his father searching for him frantically.
"Father?" Zuko called out, Bato turned to him, his eyes smiling with gratitude, "what are you doing here?"
Bato sighed, "Zuko, my son," they embraced one another for a brief moment before hearing the announcing Zuko's name. Bato froze, he pulled away from his son, his eyes pleading, "You mustn't, it's not worth it," he argued softly, but Zuko merely offered him a smile before brushing past him.
"I'll be alright father," and with that, he disappeared behind the gate, leaving Bato to hear the raging battle, sword against sword, screams of pain and agony and he couldn't help but shrink in fear. But when the announcer declared Zuko as the winner, he felt his heart flutter in glee.
Zuko stumbled in, his hand clutching his side, "Zuko," Bato rasped as he bolted to his son's side, "you must stop this, I've seen these men crush a man's head!" he snapped as Zuko walked over, splashing water on his face, "Zuko, you must never mind what happened," Bato continued, walking Zuko over to a small bench, "it is just a bull my son," Bato reprimanded. His hand reached up, cupping Zuko's chin, "Zuko, you're my only son," he paused as Zuko gasped for air slightly, "come home, I beg of you," he finished, his tone softening greatly.
But Zuko merely shook his head, his father's fingers slowly falling from his face, "You taught me to be strong," he gulped down some fresh air, "to be loyal, to fight what I believe in," the announcer called his name, catching his attention for a moment, "I love you father," he stated before standing, pulling himself from Bato's grasp.
Again he fought and again he won, but still the blows tore away at his armor, causing them to inflict some pain. He staggered back into the waiting area, collapsing on all fours; his head bowed to the earth as he gasped for air once more, Bato came to his knees, trying to get Zuko's attention. He spit blood from his mouth as Bato reached for him, "I can't stand and watch my only son get killed!" he exclaimed, but was cut short when a woman approached them.
"He's not your son," she snared, her eyes narrowing as she looked over at the young man huffing on the ground, "be gone old shepherd," she ordered.
Zuko shook his head, "Wait, he's my father," he wheezed timidly.
But Bato silenced him, "No Zuko don't, it's Princess Azula," he slowly backed away as he watched the Princess fall to her knees.
"Zuko," she whispered, watching as he huffed and gasped, clutching his side in pain.
"What?" he questioned her and suddenly felt his face getting jerked up to where he was looking the Princess in the eye. Her golden pools boring into his own, confusion ridded his face as he noted hatred and anger consuming hers.
"You should be dead," she sneered, her grip on his face tightened, watching as his eyes locked with hers boldly before he spoke.
"Give me a minute," he whispered, not knowing whether to rip his face from her grasp or to just sit there still.
"Zuko of Mount Ida verses Prince Lu Ten of Sozin!" the announcer yelled, both youths still locking their gazes defiantly.
But it was when Azula heard Lu Ten's name; she looked back at Zuko before harshly whispering, "No!" and bolted for her elder brother before the game began.
The weight of the armor was too much for him, his wounds were screaming and his body was becoming rigid and less fluid in the armor, he had to get rid of it. In doing so, he tore away his shirt, his body felt as though it was on fire and he could hardly stand the heat. When he heard his name begin called once more, he staggered out onto the arena floor, noting that Prince Lu Ten was nowhere to be seen and so he bowed respectfully to the King and his Queen then stood there waiting timidly for his opponent to show. Little did he know that Azula had rushed to Lu Ten, telling him that he was their little baby brother who they prophesized that he would be the end of the Fire Nation and that the only way to save their beloved nation, was for Lu Ten to kill him. Lu Ten was well aware of his little sister's ability, along with Mai's and he knew the prophecy well.
When he emerged from his waiting area, he noted that Zuko had no weapons with him, no armor to shield his body, simply bare-chested and loose black pants with his herding staff and he couldn't help but wonder, "You aren't going to fight me shepherd?"
Zuko merely smirked, "I'll fight you the way I live," he retorted, watching as the Prince began to strip himself of his armor. Zuko wondered what in Agni's name he was doing as he shed down to the very outfit Zuko was wearing and watched as he pulled two sets of duo swords from the soldiers that escorted him out to the arena.
"You know how to use these, right?" Lu Ten remarked, forcing Zuko to scrunch his face is detest.
"You can't end wars with sticks," Zuko sneered, watching how Lu Ten merely smirked before tossing a pair of duo swords to him. He caught them with ease and quickly parted them as Lu Ten began to circle him.
Once the word, "Fight!" was yelled, Lu Ten attacked, jabbing his swords at Zuko with such force, such madness that Zuko wondered if he were deranged. These were only games for Agni's sake! But none the less, he fought back, blocking blow after blow, waiting for the right time to strike.
As they hammered their way at one another, the King and his Queen watched with grave interest, watching as their son fought for the first time with no armor and with serious weaponry against another man in the games. Hidden behind the thrones was Princess Azula, watching as the two men fought neck and neck, neither giving anything up. Softly she whispered, "Kill him," not noticing her father quickly starring down at her, then quickly darting over to the pair of men fighting, his eyes locking onto Zuko as he fought, "kill him," he heard her whisper again as she moved behind him, now between him and his queen.
Zuko made a fatal move; Lu Ten taking advantage kicked one sword from his hand as he tried to pry the other from Zuko's hand. But in his attempt, Zuko knocked one from Lu Ten's hand, leaving them with only one weapon left. They aimed their weapon's blades at each other's throats, and since Lu Ten had the high ground, he probably would have won if it had not been for Azula screaming, "KILL HIM!" catching Lu Ten off guard.
Zuko, noting this took advantage and swiftly kicked Lu Ten's legs from underneath him, kicking his sword from his hand before dropping down on him, pinning him to the ground. Suddenly in his rage, his anger, the sword he held close to Lu Ten's neck flared with flames, and the crowd suddenly silenced themselves, watching in shock as a mere shepherd boy was able to produce fire and use it on their prince.
"Do you surrender?" Zuko grunted out, pressing the blade further towards the prince, but not daring to let the flames lick his flesh.
"I am prepared to die," Lu Ten snapped back.
Zuko's eyes flared, "I don't want your life!" he yelled into Lu Ten's face.
"Does Prince Lu Ten surrender?" the announcer yelled, waiting for Lu Ten's response.
"Does Sozin surrender?" Zuko asked, pressing Lu Ten further into the ground. After what seemed like ages, Lu Ten finally agreed, nodding his head vigorously before feeling Zuko's weight being pushed off him.
"The winner, Zuko of Mount Ida!"
Bato heard the notion and forced his way onto the arena floor. Watching his son bow before the King and Queen. Prince Lu Ten still stretched along the arena floor, gasping for air before pulling himself up, glaring dangerously at Zuko's back. He felt proud of his son, but knew that eventually, this moment would come.
"Approach, Zuko of Mount Ida," when he heard those words, he bowed his head, watching for a single moment as his son began to walk towards the King as he began to descend the steps, "Are you, Zuko, Prince Zuko?" the King asked, causing Zuko's brow to furrow. What was with these people?
"My name is Zuko, just Zuko," he replied, confused more than ever. First the Princess, then the Prince…and now the King? Who was next?
With a bowed head, Bato approached solemnly, kneeling before the King and Queen as his hands clenched at Zuko's leg, "Father," Zuko began, kneeling down to pick his son up, "I won," he smiled, Bato watched his wearily with saddened eyes, "we can go home now," his son continued, only making Bato's heart ache even more.
"You are home, my son," Bato stated, "I'm sorry," he whispered, "I should have told you long ago," but instead he rose, pulling a small purple cloth from his bag, "Great King Ozai, it is I, Bato. Long ago you asked me to take your son to Mount Ida for the gods to decide his fate. When I came upon the mountain after doing as you instructed several days later, the babe was still alive. So, I took him, raised him as my own and hoped that one day I could reunite a son to his parents," he offered up the small purple cloth to the queen, her eyes tearing up as her fingers gripped gently at the cloth.
"My son," she whispered, brushing past Bato, "my darling child," she took the purple shawl they had wrapped him in when he was born around his shoulders once more before embracing him with such sunder, Zuko felt himself lacking oxygen.
Zuko could hear the King's voice as he slowly wrapped his arms around the queen, his mother, "Bato, you've done well. You've brought home our son." But shortly after his gaze locked with Bato's, his mind was reeling. He shook his head slightly; he didn't want his father leaving him, not with these people. The princess wanted him dead, the prince already tried to kill him, who knew what the other sister was bound to do! And, he didn't want to stay. He wanted to take his bull and go back to the village where he belonged. He didn't want this, never this.
Ozai took Zuko's hand, Ursa taking the other and in a loud bellow, Ozai declared, "Welcome home! Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation!"
At first the crowd seemed to scream in whispers, but quickly it erupted into frantic cheering and delirious chanting and Zuko couldn't help but feel nervous. He looked around for his father, wonder where he had gone off to as Ozai continued announcing, "Welcome home! Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation!" and suddenly caught sight of him trudging towards the gate.
"Noble King," Zuko addressed Ozai, not yet sure about calling him father, he broke away from their grasp, quickly making his way over to Bato, his hands wrapping round his shoulders, "allow my him to stay, he was my father, is my father and I cannot imagine my life without him," he looked over at Ozai and Ursa with pleading eyes, begging them to allow Bato to stay.
Ursa smiled tenderly, "He will always be your father," she cooed gently, "and we would be honored for him to join us in the palace city of Sozin."
Zuko could feel his father sigh in relief, and wrapped his arms around Bato happily. At least in this entire weird, delirious new world that he would call home, he would at least have Bato at his side at all times.
As he pulled away from his father, he looked between the King and Queen, giving them a faint smile but quickly dropped it to a frown as Prince Lu Ten approached, "The prophecy has been fulfilled," he snarled, his eyes narrowed dangerously at his father.
Zuko couldn't help but be curious, "What prophecy?" he asked innocently.
But it was Lu Ten's narrowed gaze that made his heart stop beating for a moment, "Because you live, the Fire Nation shall fall."
The Water Nation
After several hours of wedding festivity, Katara and her family bid Yue goodbye. Their final whispers were shared amongst one another, atop the palace steps in the final embraces. She would leave with her newly founded husband, along with her father and brother-in-law. Yue was never one to succumb to nerves, she forced a placid smile, one too fool even the gods and bid her family farewell. And, just like that, she had left the Water Nations for the Earth Kingdom City of Ba Sing Se.
From her place, sitting amongst the stair steps, Katara watched as the massive caravan traveled east, winding down the massive hill top that the palace city was perched upon. With a heavy sigh, she dropped her head into her hands, her heart wrenching in sheer pain. She was going to miss her sister greatly. As she sat there, she could feel the presence of her brothers upon her. Both brothers took their places amongst the steps, their hands gripping either shoulder as if to comfort her. With a wistful smile, she patted their hands, assuring them that she would be fine.
"You'll be next," Sokka muttered softly, hoping she hadn't heard him, but when he felt her tense beneath his hand, he knew she had.
They watched as her back expanded then deflated, "When my time comes," she shrugged, "neither you nor the gods can stop it," her chin moved up and down in her palm, "I will be married one day, hopefully to a good man who will love and honor me…" she trailed off, her eyes gazing up at the clouds that stretched as far as the eye could see. They billowed and soared like fluffy goose feathered pillows, and for the briefest moment, Katara wondered what they would actually feel like. But soon her eyes slowly dragged downward towards the earth to see the dust from the road rising upward, where her sister and her new husband had been only moments ago.
"Come on," she demanded, pushing herself up abruptly, "let's not mope! It's not as if our sister has died! She simply has gotten married!" and with that, she bolted down the steps, Sokka and Hahn hot on her heels.
"Katara!" they shouted after her, trying to stop her from running past the gate…too late!
The Fire Nation
The palace was more than he could ever have imagined for himself. Its walls were decorated in vibrant reds and golds, soft hues of oranges and whites littered about, and the billowing silk curtains that hung between the opened hall columns were glorious. The way they billowed in the wind, dancing freely without a care. It gave an exotic feel, a touch that he much enjoyed. The walls were made of warm alabaster stone, cool in the summer, hot in the winter. They were amazing and rare to find in this part of the world, but still manageable to obtain.
"This is your room," Queen Ursa cooed to him gently, leading him to a grand chamber filled with antiquities and furnishings fit for a king, or prince for that matter. His eyes widened at the sheer size of his bed and how amazingly comfortable it looked. It amazed him slightly that the first thing he should find himself gawking at would be the bed. Slowly he entered the room, his eyes fixed on the massive structure at the center of his chamber, his hand slowly gliding over it, feeling its tenderness and the way if bended at his fingertips.
A smile protruded his features, "Feathered mattress," he whispered, loving everything more and more with each minute. All his life he had slept on a stiff cot, only something affordable for farmers and he was never one to complain. But this, this was a change he was willing to bend to, seeing how it looked so inviting. If it hadn't been for the fact that the Queen was standing in the doorway watching his every step, he would have flopped face down onto it, reveling in its softness. But he kept his composure, his hand winding up the spiraling frame of the bed posts, running along the back side before reaching a golden gilded wooden desk. Scrolls stacked nicely in one corner, ink and quill awaited to be used and Zuko couldn't help but run his hand along the desk, his eyes taking everything in. This all seemed, so…surreal, like a dream. One that he wished he would wake up from, but then again, one that he wished would continue forever.
Adjacent to the desk was a doorway, the pathway through it lead to an elegant and ornate washroom. The bathing area, submerged into the floor, cut into the marble and the water, seemed to pour from three spouts that protruded from the walls in a downward angle towards the massive cutout tub. Above was an opening in the ceiling, to see the stars or the midday sky, red silk tapestries canvassed above.
Ursa watched as he moved about his new room, gazing and gawking at the brilliant magnificence it held. She couldn't help but chuckle when she saw his eyes widen, then gloss over with admit joy when he examined the bed, "Does this meet your satisfaction?" she asked softly, wondering if perhaps he needed bigger rooms or more furnishings.
But he simply shook his head, "No," he turned to her, a bewildered, amazed look compelling his features, "no this far exceeds my satisfaction," he glanced back at the room before looking back over at her, "thank you, my Queen," Zuko bowed slightly.
When he rose, he noted the furrowed brow and distressed facial features of the Queen and knew that he had hurt her greatly by calling her by her title. But what more could he call her? Mother? No, he had one, a loving, hard working, doting mother who had raised him since birth. This woman, this Queen was merely the tool in which the gods chose to task in his birth, nothing more, nothing less. He could never see himself calling her mother.
Slowly, Ursa inched further into the room, lowering herself gently on the bed for a moment, starring off in space. Zuko, wondering if she was alright, took a seat next to her, turned slightly, his eyes focused on her, "I know that you will never see me as your mother, Zuko," her voice startled him, it was soft, pain ridden, "but I hope you will come to see me as your friend," she turned her gaze to him, a soft, timid smile stretching across her lips, "someday?"
Zuko nodded, "I know that you are the woman who gave birth to me, and by blood rights it makes you my mother, but," he paused, trying to figure out what to say that would seem…harsh, "my mother, the one who raised me, I will always see as my mother and I hope that by being your friend, I can help fill some void that is left in your heart," he sighed, "but I can never see you as my mother."
Slowly she sighed, "Thank you," she whispered, her hand reaching out to encompass his, "to be your friend is far more valuable to me than you will ever realize."
Zuko smiled, "Friends?" he asked softly, his smile turning into a smirk as he stuck out one hand.
"Friends," Ursa replied, shaking his extended hand.
From that moment, laughter had filled the once vacant chamber for quite some time. Stories were exchanged, memories were shared, and laughter was contagious. But it was a moment that neither of them regretted; it was a moment where a small relationship began to form between a mother and son who for now agreed to be friends only. But in time, Zuko would come to see Ursa as the mother she was always meant to be to him.
After several hours of conversing, Ursa rose from the bed, straightening out her dress before walking to the door, "It has been a pleasant afternoon, Zuko," she said, "I look forward to this again. There is still so much I wish to learn about you."
Zuko smiled as he walked her to the door, "And I you, Ursa."
"Well," she bowed her head, not wanting to cross the boundaries of friendship, "goodnight, Zuko."
"Goodnight, Ursa," and with that, Zuko shut the door behind her fleeing form, only to walk to the bed and plant himself face first against the soft mattress. All the while cooing, "Oooh yeah," his voice muffled by the mattress.
The Water Nation
Katara ran as fast as she could, picking her dress up to where it swayed slightly above her knees. She wanted to see her sister off, she wanted to watch the ships sail away to never return, she wanted to feel the wind in her hair, to taste the salt in the air and to look at the glorious canvass of ocean and sky meeting together with ships sailing in its vast distance. But most importantly, she wanted to feel a slight form of freedom before being confined to the palace once again.
As she ran towards the Cliffside, she could hear her brothers behind her, calling her name, "Katara! Katara get back here!" But she didn't care. They would catch up with her soon enough and when they did, they could all watch the ships sail away, taking their beloved sister with them. Her sea shell necklace swayed across her chest as she ran, jingling as the shells clashed together. Her dress billowed as the wind ruffled it, and her dark, curled locks fell from the confined bun, dancing with the wind as she ran. Finally, she had made it to the Cliffside. Her brothers were hot on her tail and came up only moments after. They were doubled over, huffing and wheezing for a few moments, trying to catch their breaths. Katara smiled, her chest was heaving, her heart was pounding but she didn't care. The wind was in her hair, when she inhaled the air through her mouth, salt licked her tongue and before her, the brilliance of the gods was evident. The sea and sky met together, the setting sun splitting the two worlds for only a moment and Katara felt her breath being taken away at the magnificence.
"And the heavens and the earth shall meet in a sea of fire," Hahn muttered, watching as the ocean lit into a vibrant orange and red hue as the sun continued to fall towards the earth.
"And the gods shall dance with the mortals in the night," Sokka continued, his chest slightly heaving.
"To birth the brilliance of life," Katara finished, her eyes watching as the sun suddenly disappeared beneath the earth's far western border, a burst of energy surging across the ocean before the sun surrendered to the moon.
"Beautiful," Katara whispered, leaning her head against Hahn's soldier, Sokka wrapping his arm around her waist and Hahn wrapping his arm around her shoulder. They watched as the boats sailed away on the still waters, canvassing the starry sky until they were no longer in sight. But by then, sleep had consumed them and they slept atop the Cliffside.
She was the first to rise, her body curled up around her brother, Hahn, while his arm wrapped protectively around her and her brother, and Sokka's arm wrapped round her waist. She slowly pried herself from their holds, rising up to run her fingers through her tangled locks. With a deep sigh she pulled herself forward, towards the cliff side, watching as the sun began to peak over the eastern boarder of the earth, its rays gracing her face with a gentle warmth.
She inhaled deeply, her eyes smoldering with the sun's reflection. But, she couldn't help but feel a need to approach the water below; it was calling to her, as it always did. She sighed as she turned away, startled slightly at seeing Hahn standing directly behind her.
"Hahn!" she gasped, her hand instinctively crossing over her heart, "Don't do that!" she smacked him playfully, only to have him mumble his good morning and wrap his arms around her.
She loved moments like this, how they could be the only two people in the world and everything seemed to calm around them. She loved his embrace, the way he made her feel protected always and she hoped and wished that never changed, ever. She hugged him tighter, pulling him into her as she felt his breath on her cheek, his lips teasing her ear as he spoke, "We've been out here all night?" there was a sense of humor in his voice as he quoted his question in disbelief, he couldn't help but chuckle.
"Yes," she whispered back, her eyes lingering over his shoulder to see Sokka still consumed by slumber. She noted him tossing and turning sometime throughout the night and wondered what kept him awake, but she already knew.
Since they were children, Katara and Hahn had always been very close, same went for Sokka and Yue. They were inseparable and seeing her get married off to some war crazed foreigner must have been hard. She knew that when the time came for Hahn to take a wife, she and he would be separated, and he would have to be at his wife's side at all times and there would be little time for any form of interaction between the two. Her heart would break and she would have no one there to comfort her...except of course for Sokka. That didn't really comfort her too much. But she couldn't help but giggle slightly at the thought.
"What?" Hahn inquired, turning around to see his sad excuse of a brother sit upright, rubbing his eyes from sleep. His hair was disgruntled; drool that dried on his face over night hung off the right side of his mouth...it was a beautiful picture. Hahn merely sighed, before he pulled away from Katara, "Come on, father's probably furious with worry."
Sokka yawned, stretching out his stiff limbs and taming his hair, "He shouldn't fuss too much," he sighed, standing up slowly, "it's not like we did any harm by sleeping out under the stars."
Katara nodded, "He has a point," she stated watching as Sokka leaned backwards, popping his back before hearing him his out of delight.
"We consider what we did harmless, remember father thinks...differently," he warned them.
Both younger siblings sighed as they nodded their heads, "Now come on, I'm sure he's waiting for us even now."
The Fire Nation
When the sun rose, so did Zuko. It was his first real morning as a Prince of the Fire Nation and he couldn't help but take in his surroundings. It all seemed to happen too fast, like it were a dream and yet, here he was in the same large bed, silk sheets clinging to his body, pillows filled with exotic ostrich horse feathers and mahogany wood furnishings. He sighed deeply as he pushed himself off the bed, gathering up one of the various robes brought to him by the servants. He pulled loosely over his form, allowing his bare chest to show and made his way out towards the balcony.
The view stole his breath away, from where the palace was perched, he could see the vast ocean, ships sailing in and out of Fire Nation waters and could hear the bustling of the city as it awoke. He could smell the herbs and spices from exotic lands, taste the salty sea air on his tongue and feel the cool breeze weave through his locks. The sun had just peaked over the eastern boarder of the earth, waking every firebender and early riser with its pull and its warmth. Zuko sighed as he stood there for a moment or two, just taking in the legendary view and couldn't help but smile. Granted, he would miss his old life, the simplicities it came with and knew that being a Prince wasn't going to be an easy task. But if it was his right by birth, his right by the gods, then he would play his part, he would be the Prince the Fire Nation would never soon forget. Only he didn't realize how true of a statement that would become just yet.
There was a knock at his door, causing him to turn casually around, "Enter," he beckoned whoever knocked.
A female servant entered his chamber; her head bowed respectfully, "My lord, Fire Lord Ozai has requested your presence at the morning breakfast."
Zuko slowly approached, his eyes grazing over her features in curiosity, "Tell the Fire Lord that I wound be honored to join him and his family for breakfast," Zuko ordered genuinely and noted the surprised look that crossed her features when he called Ozai, Fire Lord Ozai and not father. But he didn't care. It was as he told Ursa last night, he already had a mother and father, and he would not trade them for anyone, not even his own biological parents. His siblings on the other hand, he didn't have any growing up, so he didn't mind taking in his siblings as his own, though he feared they would not have the same opinion. With that note, he dismissed the servant, but noted that she still stayed and wondered what she was doing.
"I'm also here to help the Prince prepare for breakfast," she bowed her head once more, Zuko seeing the soft tint of rose on her cheeks. His brow raised slightly as he looked at her then at what he was wearing and thought of what he would wear.
"Why?" he asked, not truly understanding where his parents went wrong in teaching him how to dress himself.
She kept her head bowed slightly as she spoke, "It is the duty of the servant to help his majesty in any and all ways," her eyes slowly grazed his body as they trailed up to meet his eyes, "any and all," he felt violated at her piercing eyes and the ways she roamed his body, making hi close his robe only a little bit more, "and one duty is to see that you are properly dressed to dine with his majesty the Fire Lord and the royal family." she finished promptly, leaving Zuko slightly speechless.
So, he nodded dumbly before she rushed to his side, disposing of his robes quickly. The cool air smacked against his exposed flesh and he would have once before felt goose bumps grazing his arms, but now that he was a firebender, he noted in the little time that he had played with it, that he could regulate his body temperature. It was astounding at what a little ability could do. But he suddenly felt the cold, rigid and shaken hands of the servant on his shoulders, sitting him down on the bed's edge. She approached him with a flannel undershirt, and gently slid it over his head, allowing him to push his arms through his sleeves and his head through the top portion. Then she gestured him to rise and her eyes lowered slowly to his pants.
"Turn please," Zuko motioned with his finger swirling; he didn't want her to get any further eye of him...ever. He waited for her to turn around, her back to him and quickly changed from one pair of pants to the next before allowing her to turn back, "alright," he muttered, watching as she slowly turned, before walking across the room and to a closet type contraption. She began pulling out several different layers of clothing, some in which were plates of armor and he wondered if she was seriously going to try and stick him that...they were only having breakfast for Tui's sake!
After she had fully dressed him, he was refined in a sharp edged armor, black with gold trimming and some red to flare out the royal insignia status. He looked like a true Prince with his light armor on and his fire insignia crown wrapped around his topknot.
His hand slowly reached up, his fingers gliding over the three tips of the flame, remembering what Ursa had said.
She pulled a small linen wrapped object from her robes, placing it gingerly on her lap. Slowly she began to unravel the cloth, revealing a small flamed crown, smaller than the Fire Lord's, but big enough in its own right, "It's a royal artifact, to be worn by the Prince of the Fire Nation," she said, handing it over to his hesitant hands, "it's been passed down through generations, given to every Prince the Fire Nation has birthed." she sighed, watching as he examined the small object, "Take good care of it, my Prince."
End of Flashback
He took a deep sigh before clearing his throat, "Will you escort me to the dining hall?" he asked the servant, watching as she stood near his doorway.
She bowed her head solemnly before answering, "Follow me, your majesty," and with that, turned away and began to escort him through the palace.
The Water Nation
They arrived in a heap, their breaths staggering and all were doubled over, trying to steady themselves. Their father wasn't about yet, so for that, they were fortunate. But, they noted that there were several servants scurrying around preparing for some sort of...banquet?
"What's going on?" Hahn asked to himself as the three entered through the palace court yards. They saw servants bustling about with fine linens, vases filled with their most prized flowers and fine dinner ware. Something was going on, something that just occurred recently.
Sokka plucked a few apples from one of the servant's trays, tossing one over to Hahn, then rolling one down from his shoulder, round his arm and pushed it with his elbow, to Katara, "Don't know," he said, taking a bite out of his apple. Its supple juices flowing from the freshly absorbed wound. It crunched in his mouth before he swallowed, then wiped the remaining juices from his face, "Let's find father and ask him."
Katara nodded, "It looks like we're expecting company?" she suggested as the three continued their way deeper into the palace courtyard.
The Fire Nation
"If you go through those doors, your majesty, you will find the Fire Lord and the royal family awaiting you," the servant said, bowing her head as she directed him to the doors.
Zuko nodded, thanking her diligently before proceeding. He was becoming anxious. His palms felt hot and sticky, a nodule lodged itself in his throat, making it hard to swallow. He didn't know if he was truly ready to meet the rest of his family, after such a joyful reunion yesterday. And just thinking of yesterday, a chill ran down his spine.
Her hands gripped his face with something fierce, her golden gaze pierced his own with confusion and anger, "You should be dead!" she hissed, causing his heart to jolt for a sudden moment.
"Give me a minute," he whispered back to her, spitting blood from his mouth.
"The prophecy has been fulfilled," Prince Lu Ten sneered as Lord Ozai raised Zuko's hand into the air.
"What prophecy?" Zuko asked curiously.
"Because you live, the Fire Nation shall fall."
End of flashback
'Quite the welcoming party,' he mused to himself as he began to make his way forward. Servants stood on either side of the double doors, bowing their heads to him as they pushed the massive wooden planks forward, allowing him entrance. As he entered, heads turned his direction, everyone at the table save for Queen Ursa, Fire Lord Ozai and another girl...his sister perhaps, glared dangerously at him.
"Ah, Prince Zuko," the Fire Lord rose, "thank you for joining us," he gestured to a seat between the crowned Prince Lu Ten and the mysterious girl. Zuko nodded respectfully before taking his place between the two.
"Thank you, my lord for the invitation," it was like oil to his tongue, being prim and proper, Prince like. But, that's what he was, a Prince.
For a moment he sat there, completely debungled and unknowing of what he should say, if he should say anything at all. But, as it was, the atmosphere seemed...hostile. He glanced around, to his right, his brother, Lu Ten was gripping his knife tightly as he cut into his food, his teeth gritting fiercely. To his left, his sister...at least, he thinks she's his sister was delicately placing her food into her mouth, offering him a few friendly glances and simple smiles. He liked her, she didn't seem dangerous...or at least he didn't think so. And then there was his sister, Azula, who he was defiantly on murky waters with, glared devilishly at him. He looked away, reaching out to grab a small portion of fruit from the center of the table.
This was going to be a long, awkward day.
"So, Zuko," the Fire Lord began, "tell us, about your life. What it was like growing up a shepherd's son."
Zuko looked across the table at every individual, surly they wouldn't be interested in such things. But, by the look Ursa, Ozai and the girl to his left were giving him, he was told quite the opposite. With a shrug of his shoulders, he merely stated, "There isn't much to tell my lord," he began to peel away at his orange, "I was raised by my mother and father, taught to honor the gods, love my woman and defend my country." Like he said, there truly wasn't much to tell, but there was something, something his father had said to him long ago that he would forever remember, "But the one thing my father taught me that will forever remain with me is this," Zuko began, taking a bite of his orange, "was to be strong, be loyal and to fight for what I believe in," he glanced over at Lu Ten, his eyes narrowing, "and it was by those teachings that brought down the path I find myself on at this moment."
Ozai nodded, humming a response, "Your father is a good man, Zuko," he took a sip of his wine before continuing, "my father had taught me the very same lessons in life and just as he did to me, I have done with my children."
Zuko smiled, mumbling to himself what Ozai had said. 'Your father is a good man,' he couldn't help but notice how Ozai directed Bato as his father…perhaps he sees the situation just like Zuko had. Perhaps he understands that Zuko will never see him as his father, but more as a mentor or friend. Hopefully that's all Ozai hoped Zuko would be, for trying to replace Bato…that was impossible. And just thinking about his father, Zuko sighed outwardly, making mental note to go and visit his father and mother before long.
While they sat there in their silence, a servant entered the room as quietly as the wind, pressing his lips near Prince Lu Ten's ear, whispering words in secrecy. The Prince nodded, Zuko watched for the corner of his eye as he dismissed the servant before clearing his throat, "Father," Lu Ten began, "I've just been informed that the ship is ready for our departure. We can begin our sail towards the Water Nation within the hour, if you shall permit."
'The Water Nations? What could they possibly want there?' Zuko mused to himself as he began to take another bite out of his orange.
He heard Ozai make the faintest of sounds before talking aloud, as if thinking aloud, "Lu Ten, perhaps, in my stead, you should take your brother, Prince Zuko," both Lu Ten and Zuko choked on the supplements that had entered their mouths, Lu Ten spitting wine across the table and Zuko choking softly on his orange. Both glanced over at Ozai, but Lu Ten was the only one to speak.
"What?" he demanded, "Father, you cannot be serious," Lu Ten began, "he has only just arrived, perhaps taking him on such an important matter, is unwise," it seemed he was trying to evade taking Zuko with him, not that Zuko minded, he didn't really want to go to the Water Nations, he wanted to explore the palace city and find his parents. But the determined look on Ozai's face told him that that would have to wait.
Ozai took another swig of his wine before proceeding, "On the contrary my son, your brother needs to learn what it means to be a Prince. He needs to learn the ins and outs of our nation, the trade and politics. He needs to be taught said things, should he help rule this nation with an iron fist when I'm gone."
The tension in the room only intensified and Zuko could feel the hatred that had already been stacked upon him, grow even more, "You will take your brother, Prince Zuko with you to ensure negotiations with King Hakoda and Prince Sokka run smoothly. You will teach him the importance of such political affairs and help him. It is your duty as my son, as a prince and above all, as his brother."
For a moment there was silence, but that was before Ozai continued, "Mai, as planned you will still accompany your brother. I am also counting on you to teach your brother proper Fire Nation etiquette and mannerisms," Ozai nodded at the girl on Zuko's left and finally, Zuko knew who she was. This girl, this woman, was his sister.
He watched as her pale hand reached out, grazing his forearm as it rested against the table, "It would be my pleasure father," she nodded before offering Zuko a comforting smile and a tender squeeze to his arm.
"Very good, Prince Zuko," Ozai called out to him, "what do you say?"
Zuko glanced around the room, seeing Ursa's gentle eyes on him, Azula's sardonic glare, Lu Ten's locked jaw and Mai gentle eyes, he nodded, "It would be an honor to accompany my brother, Prince Lu Ten and my sister, Princess Mai on their journey to the Water Nations. I promise I will retain whatever they teach me, my lord."
Ozai seemed pleased with this; he smiled before standing, "Very good. Now, before you leave Prince Zuko, there are two people who would very much like to see you," he clapped his hands abruptly, the double doors opening swiftly and as Zuko turned to see who was entering, he found himself bolting from his seat, wrapping his arms around the two individuals and burying his face into their embrace.
"Mother," he kissed his mother on the cheek, "father," he embraced him even tighter. It was a blissful, beautiful reunion.
Fire Lord Ozai, Queen Ursa, Prince Lu Ten, Princess Azula and Princess Mai watched the reunion with mixed emotions, but one thing was clear, each had their own ambitions for the Prince and they would become ever clear soon enough. But for now, peace within the young man was all they cared for…well at least Ozai, Ursa and Mai did. For they saw the good in the boy, they knew that he would prove the prophecy wrong or at least, they hoped.
The Water Nation
"Father?" Hahn called out to Hakoda who was seemingly ordering servants about.
Hakoda turned to see his three children and could only smile wildly at them, "Ah, children, so good to see you up this early! The gods must be in a festive mood," he commented. Normally they were never out of bed till half past noon. It was far earlier than that.
"Father, what's happening?" Sokka asked curiously.
"We're expecting visitors. Apparently, negotiations with the Fire Nation have been moved up, due to an unexpected turn of events."
"Such as?" Hahn inquired.
They watched their father grab a goblet from a tray and nodded for them to follow him, "Apparently, Fire Lord Ozai's long lost son, Prince Zuko was found and his reappearance made public. I've been notified that his is to be expected during the negotiations with Prince Lu Ten and Princess Mai and that due to his…untimely appearance, things need to be moved along."
This confused Katara, "Why?"
"Because, Long Feng already sees the Fire Nation as a threat with only one Prince to lead their armies, now they have two, one who is a capable warrior and respected amongst his men, the other with the same potential. If the brother's don't see eye to eye, things could go severely wrong, not for Long Feng, no, but for the world. The Fire Nation houses one of the greatest armed forces the world has ever seen and to have an unsettling rivalry within it, could be disastrous. Long Feng wishes to seek peace with Prince Lu Ten, but say this brother, does not. It could cause trouble."
Katara shook her head, "Surly the brother does not want to go to war," she mused, "perhaps they have moved things up because of something else?"
Sokka shook his head, "I could only imagine why."
Somewhere along the vast ocean between the Fire Nation and Water Nation
Trendles of air wove through his loose, thick locks. The noon sun bore down on the waters, shimmering reflections of light as far as the eye could see. The air smelled of salt, pure and grotesque. Giant koi fish swam near the ship's structure, their cries were like soft melodies on the wind. Zuko leaned over the railing just enough to see the splendor below and was completely breathless. The way they moved so fluidly, the way they bowed at the ship, turned and danced with one another, breaking the surface in a vibrant motion. It was all so magical. His hands gripped the bars tightly as he leaned back, feeling the presence of another. Luckily for him, it wasn't the egotistical, emotionally depraved brother, but instead it was someone else.
"Beautiful aren't they?" her voice was soft, monotone with a slight pitch variation. He glanced over his shoulder, the wind blowing his locks at his face. It was Mai. He smiled slightly as he nodded, taking another glance down at the fish as they continued their swim about the boat, "I've never seen anything so magnificent in my life," his voice whispered out. Taking a deep sigh he watched as Mai pulled her red silk shawl around her frame, inching closer to the railing.
"They are magnificent creatures. They come in various shapes and sizes, their colors are diverse depending on where you are in the world..." she trailed off for a moment, tilting her head up to inhale the ocean breeze, "they are much like humans in a sense if you think about it." Zuko saw her smile, watched as her lids slowly opened revealing a gentle golden gaze. For the first time since he had met her, she had her hair down, it was curled and crimped, but only her bangs were straight and solid. Her hair was black with an auburn tent to it and in the sunlight the auburn seeped through vibrantly. She was quite a treasure.
For a few moments there was silence between them and Zuko could feel a sense of tension falling over them. Slowly, from the corner of his eye, he watched as Mai's tender hands gripped the railing and heard her take a deep sigh. Something was troubling her and he began to find himself wondering just what it was. He never thought he had heard a woman sigh so much in his life. It was still awkward for him to say the least. One day he was a peasant working the fields, now, he's the Prince who owns said fields. It was so surreal, let alone discovering a half of his family that he never knew he had was outrageous. But to be here, on this sip, with his brother and his sister, it was like a dream...or perhaps a nightmare. He couldn't determine which it was just yet.
So, with a lightened sigh, he leaned towards her slightly, trying to bring light to their conversation, "You know I've never seen the world outside the Fire Nation," he admitted.
Mai glanced at him, her expression slightly unreadable. He could tell that she was slightly amazed at this, "Never?" she pondered softly.
Zuko shook his head, "Never," his shoulders rose and fell in a simple shrug, "I never minded though. There was always too much work to be done to worry about travels, change in lifestyles," the last word escaped his lips in a soft whisper, "it's a whole new adventure for me."
A smile graced Mai's pale lips, "An adventure I am glad to share with you, brother," she cooed softly, allowing the silence to once more take over the atmosphere.
"Thank you," Zuko's hand came to lap over one of her own as they rested against the cool metal railing, "even if you are the only one, thank you for accepting this so...easily."
Mai nodded, "I never wanted you to go, in truth," she confessed, sighing softly as she looked down at their joined hands. She smiled as she saw how her small hand disappeared beneath his large, rough, calloused hand, "But I'm glad you're here now," she took her free hand and patted his own, "truly, I am."
Relief washed over him in an nostalgic way, "It means a lot for someone to say that to me, especially after the last few days..." he trailed off, pulling his hand from hers, "but one thing bothers me," he confessed softly, "why did the Fire Lord have me sent away? I was merely a babe when he did."
Mai's eyes slowly averted his gaze, longing out onto the ocean, "Did you know that Azula and I were born with the gift of sight?" she asked, seemingly ignoring his question.
"I heard stories of the Princesses of Fate, but never thought them to be true," he confessed, watching her reaction to his words. A smirk, that's all that coated her lips when he responded.
"Well allow me to put your mind at rest," Mai began, "when Azula and I were born, a prophet had come to our birth. He said the gods blessed us with a gift so rare that if in the wrong hands, the balance of the mortal world could crumble into dust," she glanced over at Zuko, noting the somber look that took over his facade.
"Our visions of the future were simplistic things," she shrugged her shoulders, "like we could see a servant breaking mother's vase filled with exotic flowers from the south, before it ever happened. We could see the horses from the royal stables getting loose, all because Lu Ten forgot to close the gate, far before it occurred. But, as we got older, the visions...matured," she offered, turning around slightly so her back leaned against the railing. She crossed her arms over her chest and sighed softly as the wind picked up, dancing her curled locks around her face. Zuko turned around as well, facing her slightly, watching her diligently for a moment.
Mai glanced over at the setting sun and smiled, "And the heavens and the earth shall meet in a sea of fire and the gods shall dance with the mortals in the night," she paused slightly, glancing over at Zuko to see if he could finish the old saying. She noted he too gazed at the setting sun and watched as his chest rose and fell in an even pace.
"To birth the brilliance of life," Zuko whispered softly, watching as the sun dipped beneath the western border of the ocean, watching as the ocean's blue hues ignited in vibrant oranges and reds before slowly cascading back to its normal state.
As the moon rose over head, the starry canvas blanketed the sky, their reflection shimmering brilliantly on the calm ocean surface, forcing Zuko to stifle a gasp. This place was so...unreal, so beautiful. He had never seen anything like it in his life. If anything good came from all this, it would be the opportunity to travel the world and see its wonders.
There was a state of calming that surrounded the vessel in that moment, "On the day of your birth, Azula had seen a future filled with death and decay. A man stood tall above the flames that consumed our nation with a woman by his side, one not of our people. She was beautiful, exotic compared to anything we had ever seen here and it was because of your love for this woman that the Fire Nation fell."
"I never saw the vision, only Azula. But she told me that if you lived, all of us would die," Mai shrugged her shoulders, "not that I cared one bit, but when she said the very balance of the world would be thrown into chaos, I decided that it was a sacrifice worth making. When Azula and I had been told of our gifts, we were commanded by the gods to use them to keep order and balance in the world."
Zuko nodded, he didn't really know what to say, so he let her continue, "But when I saw you enter the sparring ring, I knew right away that Azula's vision was only the beginning of it, it wasn't the whole truth," Mai continued. "She saw the downfall of a nation because of your undying love for a woman, but what I saw was so much clearer that it startled me slightly," she turned to face Zuko, her facade nothing but serious, "the Fire Nation shall struggle, it shall grieve, but through the shrouds of darkness a light shall pierce and peace shall sunder. You are the light Zuko, no matter what all others say, you are the one that shall lead the Fire Nation into a new Era, the world into a new Era," she paused slightly, "and the woman in which you so strongly love, shall be by side through it all. She will be your rock, your strength when everything else fades away she shall stand by you through it all."
Mai paused once more, watching Zuko take it all in, "do you understand what I've just told you?" she asked.
For a moment he was silent, but, shortly after he sank to the floor of the ship. His hands ran through his dark locks, forming grooves and alcoves, "It's so much to take in for only a few days," he muttered, looking up at his elder sister with wide eyes, "I just found out that I was a Prince, one who was the reason for a doomed nation and now you say that I shall be the cause of the problem and the solver of it as well?"
Slowly Mai knelt down to face him, her arms wrapping around him, "The Fire Nation has been down the path to its destruction long before you were created. The world has stirred with turmoil and strife for years and is ready to release such ties," her hand came up to cup his chin, "be strong little brother, we need you far more than you realize."
The Water Nation
After several weeks of preparation and planning, the three young royals of the Water Nation found themselves exhausted. They came together every day to meet in the gardens to lounge around and talk, while catching up on their much needed rest and relaxation. Katara lay along the fountain's edge, her head resting on one arm as the other extended into the fountain's mouth. Her delicate fingers danced gingerly across the surface, forming small ripples beneath her digits. Small koi fish chased after her fingers, their mouths opening and closing as they tried to snag hold of them. She smiled as she swirled the water around, listening to her brothers' converse casually.
News had arrived that not only were the Fire Nation diplomats arriving, but also representatives from the Earth Kingdom Territories and the Air Nations. Peace talks were to include all, if the world didn't want to find itself at war. So, not only were they hosting the palace as a form of comfort for the Fire Nation, but also the Earth Kingdom Territories and the Air Nations. It was quite the past few weeks.
"So, I've heard that King Bumi won't be making it to the peace summit as planned," Sokka stated to his brother as he reached for his wine glass.
Hahn nodded, chewing mincly on a few grapes he had popped into his mouth, "So I've heard as well."
"Why will King Bumi not be joining us?" Katara pondered softly. King Bumi was her sister's father in law and he had written their father over a week ago expressing his gratitude and excitement concerning the peace talks. Besides, from Yue's letters, the old king was wonderful company, even if he was slightly odd.
"Apparently," Hahn began, still tossing grapes into his mouth, "the King has fallen ill," he paused, forcing Katara to sit up and turn around, "due to unusual circumstances that is."
Katara's brow cocked slightly as she slid off the fountain's edge, taking a seat amongst several plush pillows, "What are you insinuating brother," she reached forward, plucking an apple from one of the various trays and began to peel away the soft layer of skin.
Sokka chuckled softly, "It's obvious Katara," taking another swig of his wine, "King Bumi of Ba Sing Se won't be joining us to represent his kingdom, but instead, his son Long Feng will."
Katara still confused muttered, "I still don't see what's the matter with that."
"Long Feng dispises the Fire Nation. Peace talks with them will only come as a waste of time," Hahn concluded, "and they say that King Bumi won't make it to the next sunrise. So even if Long Feng is here on his father's behalf, should King Bumi die during the peace talks, Long Feng will be crowned King of Ba Sing Se and will refuse any form of negotiations with the Fire Nation."
Katara scowled slightly, "Well that sounds petty."
Hahn shook his head in agreement, "It is," he smirked as Sokka mumbled, "He's petty."
As they continued about their afternoon conversing back and forth, the bugle sounded, representatives were already arriving on their shores.
"My lords, my lady," a servant called as she barrelled into the gardens, "the young royals from the Fire Nation have arrived. His majesty has already ridden out to greet them and wish for you to do the same," she bowed respectfully as several other servants entered, cleaning up any and all mess.
Hahn slowly rose, extending his hand out to Katara, "Very well," he pulled her up with ease and instinctivly grabbed her hand, "Prepare the horses," he commanded and with that, they were off.
The Water Nation Harbor
The massive clad iron ship soared into the harbor, water rushing round its form as it made port. Crew members threw ropes down to the docks, allowing dock hands to tie the vessle in at bay.
Lu Ten and Mai stood out on deck, admiring the beauty of the Water Nation lands, the fresh air, clear skies, "Where is he?" Lu Ten snapped, noticing that Zuko still hadn't joined them on deck.
Mai smiled as she gazed at the docks, seeing several onlookers gazing up at them, "Give him a moment brother," she sighed slightly, "you are the most impatient person I know. Remember, this is all very new to him, so be patient with him."
Lu Ten scowled at her notion, but huffed in response.
Below deck, deep in the bowels of the ship, Zuko hid away in his room starring mindlessly at his reflection as he stood before a full length mirror. He took a deep breath, his eyes sweeping from top to bottom of his form and couldn't help but feel some form of nasuia wash over him slightly. In all his years, he never thought he would find himself standing here, in Prince's armor, on a royal flag ship...in the Water Nations. His eyes slowly scanned over his form, from his crowned topknot to his sleek, chisoled aromored body, to his face. He didn't even recognize himself, he was so in awe with how foreign he looked that he didn't even realize that they had docked.
A knock that sounded like a hollow moan rapped against his door, "My lord," a muffled voice called on the other side. Ripping him from his thoughts, Zuko approached the door, cracking it open just enough to peer out.
"Yes?" he asked, his voice cracking softly.
A masked soldier stood there, bowing quickly, "My lord we've just docked at the Water Nation port, Prince Lu Ten and Princess Mai await your presence on deck."
Zuko nodded, "Thank you," before dismissing the soldier quickly. With a deep breath, he gave himself the look over once more before leaving his room in silence.
"Ah, Zuko, so nice of you to join us," Lu Ten commented, seeing his younger brother emerging from the bowels of the ship, "finally," he finished darkly, his golden eyes narrowing dangerously. Mai, hearing his tone, jabbed Lu Ten in the side with her elbow, receiving a rather nasty glare from her elder brother, but she didn't care. Zuko was their brother, one who had been lost to them due to a misguided reading and now that he was here, she wasn't going to let anyone make him feel unwanted. Especially her jealous ridden elder brother.
Zuko bowed his head in a somber tone, "Forgive me, I was just finishing up some last minute things," he excused, catching a warm smile from Mai and a rather dark glower from Lu Ten. He swallowed the lump that formed in his throat, before facing the small platform that began to extend out towards the docks. He backed away slightly, giving Lu Ten and Mai the ride away, since they were older it only made since.
Lu Ten brushed past him without even a 'thank you' or 'pardon me' and Zuko knew he had struck a nerve by being late. When Mai passed him, he bowed his head slightly, whispering so only she could hear his words, "Sorry," but when she wove her arm around his, patting his hand tenderly, he knew all was forgiven.
"Come," was all she said as she lead him down the ramp, quickly following suit of Lu Ten.
Third Person Point of View; Katara
Katara stood between her brothers as they awaited the arrival of the Fire Nation royals. Their father stood a few feet ahead, wanting to be the first to greet them, since in truth, it was the only proper way. Princes and Princesses never greeted anyone before the Kings and Queens. They had been standing there for only a few short minutes when the massive ship pulled into the harbor, making dock fairly easily. As the ramp lowered slowly, Katara could make out three figures standing at the ramps mouth, eagerly awaiting to exit the ship and she quickly assumed that they were the Princes Lu Ten and Zuko and Princess Mai.
She could feel her chest tightening when they began to approach, why she hadn't the faintest idea. But all she knew was that as the three figures came closer, her heart beat faster, her eyes glued onto the male in the back with the woman at his side.
"Prince Lu Ten, Princess Mai," her father greet, embracing the young Prince and kissing the young Princess on the hand, "and you must be Prince Zuko," he interjected, the young man in question nodded his head solomly with a soft smile on his lips.
"Yes sir, and you must be King Hakoda. I've heard so much about you," Zuko conversed, trying to bring up light conversation.
"All good I hope," Hakoda laughed softly when Zuko nodded his head eagerly.
When Hakoda had been greeting the youths from the Fire Nation, Katara could barely see beyond her father's massive form. She knew what Prince Lu Ten and Princess Mai looked like, she remembered them from her childhood and previous peace talks. But it was Prince Zuko that she had never seen, the mysterious boy who had returned to claim his birthright and she was far more interested in seeing him than his siblings.
"Allow me to introduce to you my children," Hakoda began to move, revealing the young Prince's face.
At the same time, both Katara and Zuko's eyes widened in disbelief as they stared at one another, "You," Zuko muttered softly under his breath as he instantly recognized her face.
The most beautiful woman in the world, his gift from Durga, stood before him.
"The boy in the water," Katara mumbled mindlessly. He was real.
Everything seemed to stand still in that very moment. Katara found herself completely speechless, there wasn't a word she could utter, a syllable she could stutter as she stared at the handsome young man before her. Her eyes swept over his chiseled features carefully, from his head to his toes and she found herself blushing even more as she remembered him gasping, 'You,' before everyone standing around them. He knew who she was...or at least he saw her when she had seen him. It was quite the outlandish coincidence. She smiled as her eyes ran over his face, noting those eyes of ember, blazing like the sun itself. The dark, rich black hair, pulled neatly into a topknot, his flamed crown wrapping firmly around it. His high cheekbones, thin, yet enticing inviting lips and fine jaw line made her heart flutter wildly in her chest and she knew that she was reddening even more as she noted those narrowed eyes grazing over her body.
Mai watched her younger brother as he starred helplessly at the young Water Nation Princess and knew right away who this woman was. This woman would be the only one Zuko would dare cross the river stix for, the only one Zuko would dare endure the wrath of the underworld for. The only one he would willingly give his life for.
'So, this is what the epitome of hell looks like,' she mused to herself as she looked over Katara quickly, a smile forming in the crook of her mouth, 'a wise choice,' Mai's thoughts continued as she glanced back over at her brother.
This Princess, this Katara of the Water Nations would defiantly be the cause for the Fire Nation's downfall, her beauty alone would cause chaos to rip the very essence of men. She would be the reason for mans' undoing and it would be interesting enough to see how far any man shall go to win her over, once and for all. But, there was something that Mai was certain of, just by the way the young Princess looked at her brother, Katara had already chosen, even if she didn't know it herself per say, but she chose Zuko in that moment to be hers, forever. And vise versa.
With a smile, Mai bowed slightly, "It is an honor to meet King Hakoda's children," she greeted, trying to break the awkward silence that everyone had fallen prey too.
Zuko seemed to snap out of his trans, quickly mimicking his sister's movements, "It is an honor," he whispered softly, his eyes glancing up slightly to meet with Katara's. He couldn't help but smile to himself as he slowly lowered his head, bowing respectfully to the royal family before him. By the weary glances he was receiving from her brothers, let alone her father, he knew he was in for a rough few weeks.
Sensing the slight tension between the families, Hahn cleared his throat, stepping forward with his hand extended, "Come," he offered Mai his hand, "allow me the pleasure of escorting you to your rooms," his smile forced Mai to falter slightly as she nodded her head, wrapping her hand around his arm.
When her arm graced his own, he felt a surge of energy passing through his body, it was unlike anything he had ever felt before. For a moment, it startled him but he quickly recovered, "I'm sure you're all tired from your travels."
Lu Ten piped in quickly, "Yes, traveling has made us weary," he responded, casting a warning glare at Zuko, "if not delusional," he muttered darkly under his breath, but Zuko still heard him and quietly wondered what he had meant by that. But, he decided to leave his brother's comment be and glanced back towards the young woman in which he so admirably remembered.
'The most beautiful woman in the world,' he couldn't help but smile as she extended her hand out to him, speaking as smooth as the eastern wind, "Please, come with me," and with a gentle nod, he took her hand gently and allowed her to lead him into the palace.
Katara's heart fluttered as she felt his hand grace her own, she felt a chill run down her spine as goose bumps began to rise on her arms. With a deep breath, she followed slowly behind the rest of the royals, wanting to talk with him, if only for a moment. He recognized her as did she him. The only explanation for her was that when she saw him, he had seen her. As they walked in silence through the palace, Katara tried slowing down their pace only ever so slightly, unnoticeable by the others. Her father spoke on and on about his daughter's marriage to Long Feng, how her presence was truly missed and gave a historical lesson on the palace as they walked through it. Katara found herself lulling her head slightly as he spoke, not wanting to hear his monotone voice carry much further. Who this man beside her was, was the only thing she was truly focused on and she wanted answers. Slowly she came to a soft and sudden halt, watching as the others continued to follow her father down the hall. As their voices began to fade, their forms completely out of sight, Katara sighed, feeling the young man next to her tense in confusion. She heard footsteps approaching, and quickly pulled the prince down the hall in a furious motion. The way her father reacted to their meet only solidified her thoughts if he found them alone.
"Follow me," she whispered hurriedly, "quickly," she pulled him along down the hall by his wrist in a jerking motion. They crossed beneath massive corridors, turned down several halls before coming to a halt before her chambers. With a forceful throw, she threw him into her chambers quickly slamming and locking the doors behind them. For a moment, she pinned herself against the massive wooden board, her chest heaving slightly as she kept her hears pressed against the wood, listening as the footsteps quickly faded down the hall. With a relieving sigh, she pushed herself off the support and approached him slowly.
Zuko stared at her bewildered for a moment, wondering what in Agni's name was she doing. Granted, he didn't mind being jostled around by a beautiful woman, but he didn't expect it so suddenly. His mind was still wrapped around the idea of her true existence.
"Who are you?" she asked softly, if his ears hadn't been tuned, he may not have heard her.
For a moment he cocked his head to the side, wondering why she would ask him such an obvious question, "I'm Prince Zuko," he responded, the response in it of itself was still like soap to his tongue. He didn't think he could ever get used to saying that.
She shook her head, "I know who you are, but my question was who are you."
He seemed stumped by her question at first, but then quickly hinted on what she was asking, "You saw my face, didn't you?" he asked and his response was a simple nod.
He sighed, his hand running over his face as he tried to hide his red tinted cheekbones, "I am..." he didn't know what to tell her, how could he say, 'I am your lover because a goddess gave you to me,' without it sounding so...weird? Simple answer is, you can't.
"Perhaps I should start from the beginning," he muttered, gesturing towards the bed, "may I?" he asked.
Katara nodded, approaching him quickly to sit beside him and listen tentivly as he spoke, "Well, it all began one day while I was tending to my herd," he spoke, watching as her brow knitted. Perhaps she hadn't heard of his glorious past before he became a Prince...well, that was a story for another day. "As I was saying..."
Zuko sighed heavily as he finished his recollection of what happened that day and noted that Katara stared at him intently, "So," he cleared his throat, "that's what happened..." his voice trailed off as he cast his glance opposite of her, not wanting to look her in the eye. He couldn't believe he had just told her what had happened! Now she'll probably think he's crazy or something!
But, she spoke, her voice startling him as it cut through the deafening silence, "I saw you, or at least a reflection of you in the water," she pointed to a small basin, that at the moment was dry, "it startled me, but, if I were to be honest," her eyes raised up to meet his gaze, "I was completely captivated by you."
A smile crept across his lips as he kept his gaze on her, "And I you," he whispered softly, not knowing what else to say, let alone to do.
They sat there, starring into one another's eyes, captivated by one another. It was all so surreal and magical, yet it was terrifying and foreign to them. Here, two complete strangers found themselves undeniably drawn to one another, all because of a choice made by a single man. Zuko found himself starring at her lips, they looked so inviting and slowly, he eased himself forward, watching as she remained still, not daring to move away from him. He could feel his heart racing, his mind swimming and he didn't understand why, but the sudden urge to kiss her had overcome him.
His breath lapped against her cheek, softly teasing the trendles of hair that swayed around her face, it was ragged and heavy and she could feel her cheeks burning as he inched closer. She stilled in her spot, not wishing to move, wishing to feel the way his lips would move against hers, in that moment she wanted to get lost in his kiss, and it hadn't even begun yet. Was this the power of a god, stilling these feelings within her or were these her own thoughts? But, again, why would it matter? Suddenly she found his lips meeting hers in an explosive manner, they were soft and tasted of spiced fig and smoke. For a moment he seemed to hesitate, he started to pull back as if he had done something wrong, but in her mind the only thing he was doing wrong was pulling away from her when she desperately found herself wanting more. In a fluid motion, she leaned forward, opening her mouth up to him, allowing him access and the confidence in his action to continue. She felt him somehow become stronger by her provoking invitation, felt his hands rest on either side of her face, pulling her closer to him, deepening their kiss. And before they could even tear apart to breath, a knock came to Katara's door.
"Katara?" It was Hahn! Both quickly pulled away, adjusting themselves accordingly as the door slowly swung open to reveal Katara's elder brother. From their position on Katara's bed, they could see the confessed look he wore, mask over with a somber, angrier facade.
"Father is looking for you," he whispered out, "and Prince Zuko, your brother, Prince Lu Ten has inquired your whereabouts."
Zuko nodded, standing up as he cleared his throat, "Thank you, Prince Hahn," he glanced Katara's way, "and thank you for listening to my problems," he covered quickly, hoping her brother wouldn't discover what they had truly been doing.
Katara nodded, "We all have our share of problems," she bowed her head, "sometimes it is nice to have others just listen, even if they cannot always help solve them."
Hahn glanced between the two, wondering slightly what had occurred, "Words have never been said more truthfully," he cut in, grasping hold of Katara's hand, "come, we must meet with father," and with that, he pulled her out of her chambers with Zuko hot on their heels, "my Prince." They bowed before quickly disappearing down the hallway, leaving Zuko there for a moment to collect his thoughts and catch his breath. There was a slight tingling tinge on his lips as he propped himself up against the wall, his fingers callously running over them. He couldn't believe he just kissed her. They only met today for the first time for Agni's sake! Groaning, Zuko pushed himself away from the wall, making his way down the hall to find his brother and sister. If Lu Ten was looking for him, it wasn't going to be a pleasant conversation.
Third Person Point of View; Zuko
Pacing back and forth in his room, Lu Ten ignited his fists, "Where is he?" he demanded.
Mai sat calmly on the edge of his bed, watching him with her narrowed eyes as he roamed back and forth, back and forth, "Does he not understand how suspicious it looks for him to just suddenly disappear like that?" Lu Ten continued, "Especially with King Hakoda's daughter for Agni's sake!"
Sighing, Mai began to inspect the cuticles of her nails as if the problem disinterested her, "I don't know why you're making such a fuss over a problem that has not yet arose."
Lu Ten snapped around to face her, "You don't think it looks odd that our little brother has disappeared along with the Princess Katara?"
Mai shook her head, "All I'm saying is that you are reading into this far more than you should," she rose slowly, "Zuko isn't incompetent and deserves some respect. He is our little brother and for once you should treat him as such," she defended, "he isn't going anywhere, Lu Ten. He's here to stay and I advise you to heed my warning when I say you should try to get to know him. Becoming his enemy will not be in your favor," walking towards the doorway, she slowly reached out for the handle, "I've seen the outcome and trust me, it is not something you'd want."
With that, she disappeared behind the doorway, leaving a fuming Lu Ten behind, spewing fire up at the ceiling.
Zuko caught sight of Mai leaving his brother's room, her head instinctively rounded on him, her gaze stern. But she said not a single word to him and he suddenly wondered if they knew what had occurred between him and the Princess. Slowly he lowered his head, making his way towards his brother's doorway, knocking soundly on the wooden object.
"Lu Ten," he called, easing the door open, "you wish to speak with me?"
His response was a disgruntled roar erupting from his brother's throat and from the corner of his eye he caught sight of a large vase came flying towards him, with only a minute to spare, Zuko slammed the door shut behind him, hearing the object clash with the door, "What in Agni's name is your problem?"
And thus we begin the newest, latest chapters of this story from this point on. I wonder what is going to happen next?
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