The house was still dusty. As a result, Katara and Suki were still floating through the house with dusters and conversing over the decorative accents of the mansion to avoid the now delicate subject of Katara's field trip with Zuko to find Yan Ra. Zuko had imagined after an eventful day sneaking around with Katara through communication towers and Southern Raider flagships, he'd be tired.
He was once again inspecting the handprint in the clay plate. Other than paintings, it was the only thing that linked him to his mother in this house. Strange, he thought. He and his mother had always been so close, and it had been them who enjoyed the most on the Ember Island vacations. Somehow, all their shared memories and other childhood memorabilia were at the palace. He sat on the floor, his back against the bed his father and mother had shared. He had taken the room to avoid the awkwardness of Aang accidentally stumbling upon some old war plans to do with the extinction of his people, since the house had been in his family for generations, and to avoid having to see his own old bedroom.
The clay plate sat in his hand in the dark, and his now larger, more calloused fingers were tracing over the indent in it. He was pretty sure his old room was now Katara's. He thought that would bother him; the fact that she could unearth some deathly embarrassing baby pictures or toys of his would have unnerved him if he weren't already unsettled by other things. He set the plate down and dropped his head back on the soft bed, his eyes following the regal imprints on the ceiling. It didn't take long for him to fall asleep like that, his wild hair falling back out of his face and his hand still held on the imprinted clay on the floor.
Sometimes, Zuko woke up and wouldn't remember his scar until he caught his reflection in a mirror. This was one of those mornings. He was in his childhood 'happy-place' and everything, in every corner and on every wall, was familiar. He opened his eyes to see a ceiling similar to the one in his bedroom in the palace, and for a long ten seconds, he thought he was ten years old. A smile came to his face and at the crinkling feeling his scar gave off, he sighed and climbed out of the sheets, his feet hitting the cool marble floor with a soft slapping sound.
He got to the courtyard to see everyone in a circle around a fire on raised seats, most likely due to earthbending. It wasn't until he approached that he saw them all holding one thing or another of his family's history; paintings, writings and ornaments. A bowl of water sat next to Katara, and Aang had his shirt off, which meant she'd probably given him a healing session. Zuko took a step toward them and he heard a cracking sound. He winced at the realization of what his foot had just broken. He looked down and lifted his foot off the clay plate. There went his last link to his mother.
They gang went silent as he picked up the two half-circle pieces and examined them, turning them in his hands.
"Oh, no." Aang's eyebrows went up. "Sorry, Zuko, I knew I shouldn't have left it on the floor. Was it important?" he pulled a face in just a little bit of worry.
Zuko shook his head and sighed. "How did it get out here?" he asked, biting back his disappointment.
"I found it when I came to wake you up." Sokka had an expression of worry also painted on his face. Zuko usually blew up when things angered him, and this seemed like it would anger him. However, calmness was strange. Calmness was what he employed when he was deciding whether or not to betray them.
Zuko set the pieces on one of the earth seats. "Right." He crossed his arms in thought.
Suki and Katara were glaring at Sokka; he'd had no right to steal it from Zuko's bedroom, and now because of him it was broken. Suki suddenly glanced down to the picture in her hands and hoped it would cheer him up. "Look what I found." She turned it around to show him.
Zuko winced at it as if it were as unpleasant-looking as him, but what he was wincing at really was a picture of his thirteen-year-old self, unscarred and handsome looking. He growled low under his breath. He turned his head away and frowned hard. "Get that out of my sight." He held up a hand between his face and the picture.
Suki tilted her head in confusion. "Why? What's wrong with it?" she turned it around and looked at it herself. "I think you look cute." She added for good measure.
Zuko glared down, his eyes devoted to his reflection in the bowl of water. His own mother wouldn't recognize the scarred man in the water. With a small grumble, he lifted his head to look at Suki, and in a swift motion, grabbed the painting out of her hands. Everyone stared at him. He was silent and confused; which was never a good combination for him.
They stared in shock as he crumpled the painting in one hand. It suddenly flashed alight in his hand and he held it as it burnt into ashen dust, fluttering away on the cool breeze. He stared down at the fire, concentrating on it as they continued to stare. That was exactly the problem; he had been cute. Agni, it had been obvious how handsome he was going to be when he was older. It had looked like he wouldn't need an arranged marriage.
"What did I say?" Suki asked in a tiny voice, glancing to Sokka for help.
Everything was wrong. He wasn't supposed to be a scarred, hideous monster, his mother wasn't supposed to be lost and he wasn't supposed to be known as a traitor by his own people. It was his fault. All of it was his father's fault and he couldn't do anything about it. He clenched his hands into fists and dropped his hands to his sides, his frown hard as he concentrated on Aang. "No training today." He turned on his heel and headed back inside with his anger painted on his face.
"Come on guys; he's really angry." Toph got up and headed after him. The others soon got up and followed the blind earthbender. Toph paused in the hall when she 'saw' Zuko standing in front of the mirror in the hallway, glaring at his with his fists clenched. The gang stopped short behind her.
Zuko stared at the beast in the mirror. He wasn't supposed to be like this. He wasn't supposed to wonder if his own mother would know who he was if he ever found him. He was terrified of seeing her again, Agni forbid she was disappointed, but for her not to recognize him would be a nightmare. The handsome boy in the paintings was a proud, famously beautiful boy, with confidence and notoriety despite the lack of his fathers favor. That boy was gone, and in his place was a victim that stared back at him in the mirror with a furious glare and a hatred of the unjust and unfair.
That's what it was; unfair. The scar on his face was unfair. It had taken him a long time to realize that, and it had been the first thing he'd realized on his journey to helping the Avatar. The scarred, quiet, compliant and obedient prince had broken out of his shell and decided enough was enough. He had decided that long before he'd realized the evils done to the Air Nomads, Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes. He had realized that his father, and his people were unjust and unfair.
But now, even after all his growth and epiphany, he was still scarred forever, doomed to always be the boy who got his face immolated. This house was messing up all his defense mechanisms. All his little thoughts that kept him in safe little denial from the truth, and that kept him apathetic over his scar, like he didn't care. The last time he'd felt happy, felt anything positive, before he was scarred, had been in this house. In this house, he was supposed to be beautiful and free and happy. He wasn't any of those things. It was all wrong.
He didn't know how long he stared into the mirror for, but he guessed it had been a long time, because when his arm blasted out and his fist smashed into the reflective glass and he growled out as if he were punching Ozai himself, everyone, even Toph, jumped. He drew his hand back and groaned ferociously; shards of glass stuck to his cut and bloody knuckles. The shattered mirror fell from the wall with loud clatter onto the marble floors. He glanced to the others; all of them were wide-eyed and shocked.
They wouldn't understand. All of them were extremely pretty types; Aang was adorable, Toph, whether or not she knew it, was very pretty, Sokka was a pretty-boy, Suki was a beauty to behold, and Katara … well, nothing much needed saying with Katara. Zuko turned his back to them and stalked away toward the balcony. He took the rail of the balcony in one hand and flung his legs over. His feet hit the ground and he crouched low to avoid the impact of his landing, before standing and walking away with his injured hand held carefully in the other, making his way through the brush and backwoods to the beach. His eyes scanned the view; light midday sun was beating down on the clear water, with dry sand under Zuko's boots and his mind racing.
And Aang was still undecided on how to defeat the Firelord without killing him. He was weak. The boy would meet his fate at the hands of the Firelord and it would be because he doubted the velocity of the evil in him. Aang was hoping Ozai could be converted by simple logic or a lecture of some sort. He was a fool. He had every idea how evil Ozai was, and all the injustices Ozai had done to the world, and how cruel he was in battle, and yet he refused to give him what he deserved. If killing Ozai had been his own destiny, Zuko would have scarred him before killing him, to show him a taste of his own medicine, before immolating him and listening to him scream the way he had.
Anger raced through his veins, hatred carried on its demon-like wings. Hatred didn't come lightly to Zuko; his Uncle had always said it was best to let anger go before it became hatred, because hate could swallow you whole and chew you up like a legendary sea-dragon, but hatred was exactly what he felt right now. He'd never thought it possible to hate a person who had contributed to half of his own being, but he did. The feeling was like having half of him torn away, and to not know where the other half was … he couldn't take it.
He fell to his knees and braced himself on his hands.
"What's going on with you?" came a concerned voice behind him. It was Katara. The gang had followed him.
He sighed, his face still lowered and his eyes on the sand. "Nothing."
"I may not see as well on sand as I do on earth, but I can tell you're lying." He sensed Toph crossing her arms.
Zuko got up and turned to face them. Katara was approaching, an orb of water already held in one hand.
"Let me see your hand." She sighed, lifting it and enveloping it in the water. Zuko let her heal him, loosening his tense fist and letting the healing do its magic.
"You can tell us what's bothering you, Zuko. Was it the picture?" Suki asked carefully.
"Is it the house?" Aang inquired with a tilt of his head.
Zuko thought about this a moment. The house was fine; in fact, it brought back good memories. "No." he snapped, turning his hand in Katara's gentle healing.
"Was it that handy-thingy?" Sokka pulled a worried face.
Zuko brought his eyebrows down and frowned at Sokka. "No. It isn't … It's … the whole place just reminds me of … the days … before I got my scar." He exhaled, awkwardly pausing between sentence pieces.
"Oh." Aang raised both eyebrows. "Well, once we defeat the Firelord, we'll all be able to leave."
Zuko snatched his hand unexpectedly out of Katara's healing and stared at Aang. "Stop saying 'defeat'. We all know what you mean, just say it for Agni's sake!" he snapped at Aang. "You're going to kill him." He seethed, brows down.
Trying to decipher the situation, Toph interjected, her hands behind her back. "So what, you're nervous about Aang offing your dad?"
Zuko threw his arms up in frustration. "I'm nervous that he won't!"
There was a long, awkward silence between them. Aang looked down, calculating his reply. "He can't be all evil, Zuko. There has to be some good in him."
"Trust me. There isn't." Zuko gave his hand back to Katara, who immediately started working on it again. "He's ruthless and he'll do anything to get what he wants."
"He has a point, Aang; he lived with the man for ten years." Katara frowned, her eyes concentrating on her healing work.
"If I don't have to kill him, I won't. If he can be stopped without it, that's what I'll do." Aang's fingers twitched on the ends of his arms at his sides.
"Don't expect him to show you the same decency. Even if you were a child with close to no bending experience, on your knees, he would still deliver you a fatal blow." Zuko cast his gaze to the sand. "You want to know how I got my scar?" he frowned, not meeting any gazes. Katara froze and her bending fell to the ground with a dull splash. "My father challenged me to an Agni Kai, for speaking out of turn."
Eyes widened, even blind ones. Silence was inevitable between them as Zuko continued.
"I didn't even fight back. I begged for forgiveness and you know what that got me?" he paused with a grunt of indignity. "It got me a banishing to go with the scar." He ground his teeth bitterly. "So if you don't kill him, I'm going to kill him, and I will make him suffer." He took his good hand and poked the air viciously. "Got it?" he snapped.
"Got it!" Aang jumped and nodded quickly, still in horror from the story of Zuko's scarring.
There was a long pause as Katara began working at his hand again and everyone stared into the middle-distance, pondering this new knowledge. Toph still had her hands behind her back and she brought one out with the plate in it. She'd used her bending to merge the pieces back together seamlessly. She sighed softly.
She smiled sadly as Zuko took the plate and stared at it.
He let a tiny smile onto his face. "Thanks." He replied warmly.
"You have a scar?" Toph suddenly asked. "Can I touch it?"
A chorus of laughter rolled over them all, even Zuko to a degree. Maybe, after all the injustices that had been done to him were over, and he had found his way, the hatred and the anger could one day be gone. But for now, he meant what he had said. If Ozai didn't suffer for his actions at the hands of the Avatar, he would suffer at the hands of his own son.
A/N: I enjoyed writing this. I don't know if it's mentally unhealthy, but I enjoy writing angst. Just to let you people know, I've decided that I like doing requests.
So now I'm doing requests.
Reviews are loved! Even if you just say 'hi', it's something! Thank you for reading! And thanks to t-rex989 for the request!