Hee hee! I'm EXCITED for this one! Yay! Plus I got Division One in band UIL (For those of you who don't know, division one is the very best score you can get).
Anyway, this story will hopefully be a circle sort of story, where you introduce something from the middle first, then go back to the beginning and relay the events, eventually repeating the middle part in the actual middle and going on to the end. Did that make any sense at all whatsoever? Meh… Oh well. Here we go! And by the way, I couldn't resist putting the "where is my mother" scene in here. It's so freakin' intense! So, the first chapter is a snippet from the middle, and this chapter is starting over at the beginning. Hope you likey!
The cold, metal door screeched open slowly. The new Fire Lord pushed the block of metal aside, staring with confidence and slight anger into the room's depths. A pathetic figure huddled against the wall, his black, stringy hair covering his face.
"I should count myself lucky," the prison's occupant growled. "The new Fire Lord had graced me with his presence in my lowly prison cell."
"You should count yourself lucky that the Avatar spared your life," Zuko replied. Ozai grunted. He stared at his emaciated father with a sort of angry intensity. He was determined to influence his father enough to worm an answer out of him. "Banishing me was the best thing you could have done for my life. It helped put me on the right path. Perhaps your time in here could do the same for you."
"Why are you really here?" Ozai growled, still speaking to the floor.
"Because you're going to tell me something," said Zuko. Ozai eyes flickered over to Zuko as the new Fire Lord kneeled and stared directly into the prisoner's eyes.
"Where is my mother?"
Zuko let his slow, clear question hang in the air; he let it sink into Ozai, to remind him of the reason why Zuko was even still alive. Ozai did not reply.
"Where is my mother?" Zuko asked again.
Ozai still did not speak.
Anger bubbled up inside of Zuko, and he very nearly yelled in frustration. He breathed heavily, trying to keep himself from blowing up at his father.
"Where is she?" Zuko demanded. "Answer me!"
A single one of his fists ignited with flame as he clenched his fists around the bars of the cell. As he bristled with anger, images flashed through his mind- his mother laughing and hugging him to her...his mother's final look as she left him forever… a demand slipping from his mouth as he stared intensely at his father… "Zuko, help me!" a cry echoed, piercing his heart, his soul, his very being-
"STOP!" Zuko commanded. It took him several seconds to realize he had spoken out loud. He extinguished the flames in his hands and pressed his fingers to his temples, standing up as he did so.
His father stared at him, one eyebrow raised quizzically. Then, he did something Zuko hadn't expected- because Zuko had never heard his father laugh with real humor. At the invasion, his laugh had been out of pure spite, not humor. Although now, his father seemed tickled by the very thought that Zuko was hearing voices of the past. He laughed on and on, and Zuko fumed.
"WHERE IS SHE?" he demanded for the last time, banging his fists against the bars of the cell.
His father was immediately silenced. He stared at Zuko, still shaking with mirth. Finally he stopped.
"Oh, she's alive, if that's what you want to know." He stared at the floor, as if it were the most amazing thing in the world.
Relief flooded through the young Fire Lord, but he had to keep this serious. "But where is she?" Zuko persisted angrily.
"In the Earth Kingdom- were else would she be?" Ozai said something else, but Zuko did not hear him- he was already out the door and running back to the palace. That was an action that would come with a great penalty.
Zuko rushed along the hallways of the Royal Palace, desperate to find any of the members of Team Avatar. He finally ran in to Katara (not literally) and said, "Katara, I need your help."
Katara did a little double-take; Zuko had never asked her for her help before. "What do you need?" she replied quickly. She figured that whatever it was he needed, she would help him. She still owed him for the whole deal of finding the man who killed her mother.
"Alright," said Zuko. He breathed in, and slowed himself down. "I've just been to see my father. Have I ever told you why my mother isn't... around?" he asked her carefully.
'I have been wondering that. Where is his mother? Surely she's somewhere in the palace- I didn't see her at Zuko's coronation... maybe they don't get along very well...' Katara thought. "No, I don't think you have."
Zuko sighed and explained. "It's a long story I can't afford to tell you now, but in short, my mother was banished for killing my grandfather and keeping me alive."
"Wait- what?" Katara asked again, shocked. Both of Zuko's parents were murderers?
Zuko sighed again. "We'd better find the rest of the gang so I can explain. I don't want to relive this more than I have to."
Katara just nodded.
Five faces were spread out in front of him, silently waiting, staring at Zuko, waiting for him so speak. Team Avatar sat on the red cushions inside one of the many parlors in the Fire Nation Royal Palace. Zuko had switched to his traveling clothes, as had everyone else.
Zuko cleared his throat. "So, you all must be wondering why I brought you here," he said, with some of his old embarrassment. "Well... anyway, have I ever told any of you why I never mentioned my mother?"
They all thought for a moment. "Well, no," Aang replied, shrugging. "I always assumed either you two didn't get along, or she was dead."
A twinge of loss leaped inside Zuko, but he forced it down. He frowned. "Aang!" Katara hissed, elbowing him in the side.
"Well, anyway... erm, we got along really well, actually. Like a mother and child should. But when I was about... nine, I guess, she... disappeared."
As he had guessed, everyone's (besides Katara's) eyes had widened in interest and shock. Zuko plowed on, knowing he was taking a great risk in opening up a chapter of the past. "Azula was always jealous of me, maybe because my mother loved me more than her... but I knew she was wrong to be jealous. Mom always loved us both." Zuko's cheeks burned in embarrassment. He didn't go into specifics, because that was very near and dear to him, and very private. In short, he loved his mother more than he had ever loved anyone.
"Seven years ago, my uncle Iroh tried for six hundred days to break down the walls of Ba Sing Se. But when his son Lu Ten died, he gave up and came home. I remember him being so down and unresponsive for so long. I guess after losing his wife, and then his son, he finally lost it. My father knew about Lu Ten, because my mother had spoken to him. So after Azula out-performed me in front of my grandfather, and when he told my mother, Azula and I to leave, Azula dragged me behind a curtain to eavesdrop on my father and grandfather.
"My father asked for my grandfather to revoke my uncle's birthright, because my uncle had abandoned the siege on Ba Sing Se. It was true, my grandfather Azulon was disappointed in my uncle. But he got very angry at my father. He was appalled that my father suggest that he should remove his firstborn's birthright. I got scared we would be discovered, so I left, while Azula stayed.
"She came into my room half of an hour later, and explained what she had heard. She said that our father had to know the pain of losing a firstborn son, so she said that Azulon had ordered my father to kill me."
As expected, gasps rippled through the circle. Zuko did not look up. He stared at his hands, frowning, refusing to meet anyone's gaze. He continued on softly.
"My mother came in, and she was very curious and concerned as to what Azula was talking about. She wanted to talk to Azula, so she took Azula by the arm.
"Azula always lies, I repeated to myself. Not once in her life had she told me the truth," Zuko continued softly. He swallowed, yet the tiny lump in his throat did not disappear.
"Later that night, when I was asleep, my mother came into my room. It looked like she was running away. She had a hood and a bag and everything. She woke me up and-" Zuko stopped. He wasn't sure if he wanted to reveal the last bit of privacy he had. He swallowed again and continued to speak. "She said goodbye," he said simply. "That next morning, we found out that our grandfather had passed away.
"And then, back at the invasion, Father told me that she was alive. Then, when I walked to the prison tower to see him, he told me she was in the Earth Kingdom." Everyone's eyes widened. Then he took a deep breath.
"I need some of you to help me find her."
The effect was instantaneous. Looks of shock and guilt spread across the team's faces. "I know how much I'm asking," said Zuko, "but this could be my one and only chance of finding her."
There was a very long silence.
Finally, after what seems like an eternity, Aang speaks up. "Listen, Zuko. I know that this could be your only chance to find her but... let's face it. I can't help you. I have a whole world reconstruct."
Zuko nodded solemnly, then turned to Sokka and Suki. Sokka looked away pointedly, then spoke. "I would help you, but I promised Suki I'd take her to the South Pole and that we would go to Kyoshi Island. I don't really want to break that promise."
Zuko frowned and nodded. He looked to Toph, not surprised when she declined his offer gently. He hadn't expected her to help either, because of her blindness (not that he underestimated her, he'd seen her in action), but he still wasn't surprised.
His last option was Katara. He didn't expect her to help him, seeing as she and the Avatar were 'together', but he was overly surprised when she said "I've got nothing I need to do. I'll help you, Zuko." At this, Aang made a noise of indignation, but she ignored it.
Zuko took a deep breath. Already he could feel his mother's warm embrace.