Title: Into the Shadows
Pairings: Still undecided
Summary: "Don't be afraid of standing in the shadows Zuko." His mother had said. Follow Zuko as he grows up to do just that by discovering that there is more to Agni's gift than blasting fire. Will he through his eyes as the Blue Spirit be able to see the world as it really is and accept the truth about the Fire Nation? Will he eventually join the Avatar and his friends on their mission? Au.
Beta: Beloved Daughter (thank you!)
Music influence: Into the Shadow by the Rasmus
Disclaimer: Sadly, I do not own Avatar the Last Airbender...
Chapter 1: A Mother's Wisdom
I've been watching
I've been waiting
In the shadows all my time
I've been searching
I've been living
For tomorrows all my life
- Into the Shadows, The Rasmus
~ Fire Nation Palace ~
"Huh? What's tha?"
A pair of eyes widened as the owner looked in the wonder towards the little black figure that was moving on the sunlit ground next to him. The black spot on the ground changed from shape ever so slightly, as if it was moving. Seeing movement in the corner of his eye, the boy quickly swiped his head around to look at his mother in amazement.
"You do that!" He blurted, seeing her having her hands raised in front of her while holding them in a folding position of some kind.
He studied them curiously as he turned around, moving to sit up on his knees and his chubby hands grabbed her larger ones to inspect them a little closer.
His mother let out a soft chuckle at the observation of the young boy. "Yes, I did that." She corrected the four-year-old boy automatically as she moved her hands again as to prove that she spoke the truth. The boy followed the movement with a small frown as he compared it to the movement of the shadow that was cast on the ground.
The sun was shining above them, high in the sky. It was at this hour of the day that the sun seemed to shine the brightest and without any clouds to block its view from its two admirers, said pair liked to spend a few hours in the grand garden.
"What is it?" The young voice of the young boy spoke up, looking at the shape in puzzlement, thinking that it looked familiar.
"What does it look like?" His mother questioned him in return.
The young boy pouted. His mother did that often, returning his question with another question instead of answering it. To make him think really hard and figure it out on his own, she had said once. Knowing that he had to do just that, he flopped down again, his little ponytail swished with the movement.
He leaned back against his mother's legs, which she had folded in front of to her while she leaned ever so slightly against the tree situated next to the large pond. Once again looking at the shape, the young boy drew his knees up to his chest and rested his chin on them. Reaching over to touch the shadow, he tried to figure out what the black shape reminded him of.
The image that sprung up in his mind made him look up at the sky and he smiled brightly.
"Bird!" He said proudly as she once again moved 'it's' wings. He clapped his small hands together in his excitement.
"Very good, honey."
"How you do it?" He asked trying to copy her hand positions, palms facing upwards and letting one rest on the other.
"It is 'how do you do it'." She automatically corrected him – he repeated the phrase absently - as she watched his attempt with an amused twinkle in her eyes.
He frowned when his little blob didn't look like his mother's shadow at all.
He was about give up when his mother stopped him. "Don't give up." She chided him and he blushed in response but tried again, moving his hands a little more away from the shadow of the tree.
"Asking for help isn't wrong." He tried again. "Better, but it goes like this." She slung her arm around her son so that her hand was in front of them both, the palm of facing upwards. Then making sure her hands were creating a shadow with the help of the sun, she took his smaller hand and laid it half in hers, his arm resting on hers and their thumbs crossed.
He let out a slight giggle as she moved her thumb to grasp his, before straightening it and showing him the shadow they had formed.
"Like that." She explained resting her chin on his head just a little bit.
"But one wing is small!" He protested, watching the shadow move as he wiggled his hand.
"But you will grow and, in a few years, it will have two pair of large and strong wings." She said smiling.
"Really?" He asked, comparing his small chubby hands with his mothers and then continued to think back to the hands of his uncle and father.
They were large too.
His mother smiled as they both wiggled their fingers.
"Yes, ready to fly away as far as he wants, as high as he wants." She confirmed and she folded her hand around his.
"Just have a little patience, Zuko."
"Patience is boring." The young prince pouted and clenched his hand into a fist around her thumb.
His mother chuckled as she let go and rose, straightening her dress so that she was presentable again. Zuko also stood up and spread out his arms as they walked back towards one of the many back doors that the palace had.
He laughed as he watched his shadow copy him and realized that he never really paid attention to his shadow before.
The young prince was determined to make up for that from now on. A sudden inspiration struck him and he moved his arms in enthusiasm.
"I will become a really strong dragon!" The young boy bragged ever so slightly trying to twist his limbs so he could create one with his shadow – or at least he tried.
Ursa chuckled as she watched her son over her shoulder. She smiled in amusement when she saw him give up and, as if secretly, make another attempt at the bird shadow.
The small bird moved his wings, but it didn't look like he was flying yet.
Still she knew that in the end, he would be able to travel the world, like she sometimes saw him do in her dreams.
As far as he wanted, as high as he wanted.
~ Five years later ~ Fire Nation Palace~
"Are you proud of me, Mother?"
Ursa turned to her son, her eyebrow raised in surprise at the sudden and unexpected question. She carefully studied her now ten-year-old son who was sitting cross-legged on the ground next to her underneath the shadow their favorite tree. He was staring at the turtle-ducks in the pond; his shoulders slightly slumped over as he quickly turned his eyes away from her.
She let out a sad mental sigh; having noticed that her oldest son had slowly become despondent the older he grew.
Before he could react, her manicured hand grasped the back of his collar and he found himself sprawled back, half on the ground and half leaning against her side. The way they had sat many times, but occurred less often the older he got.
He blinked as she playfully tugged on his ponytail that had grown over the years.
"Of course I'm proud of you, Zuko." She said, trying to be as firm and gentle as possible.
Still leaning against her, he tilted his head to look up to her, maybe even searching for the kind of approval that she had said she felt. The smile he got from her made him smile in return and blush in embarrassment ever so slightly. He really loved his mother.
His father was always busy and didn't hug him like his mother did. Not that he expected that from him, he was the Prince after all and he had an image to maintain. Zuko couldn't help but feel a little ignored with the way his father dismissed him sometimes, as if he had let his father down in some way. That thought nearly made him pout in disappointment – but he of course he didn't, after all, he was ten-year-old and of royalty and boys like that didn't pout.
Ever since his little sister Azula had showed her first sign of being able to bend fire about two and a half years ago, Father had become even colder towards his first born. She had only just turned five, which usually was the sign that she would be a firebender prodigy in the future.
He had shown his ability at about the same time, but being two years older than her and only being able to summon the same small blasts of fire was very discouraging. Sure it still placed him above the average firebender, but being compared to his younger sister made him feel he wasn't good enough.
Even his trainers agreed that his little sister showed much more promise. They never said so outright but Zuko could see it through their actions. He was often forced to keep practicing the basic katas which he knew by heart by now, in contrast to his sister who they tried to progress at a much faster rate. Sure, he too was trained as hard as any other bender, but with his father's attention on his sister, he sometimes felt as if he was standing in her shadow.
Even so, because he was the eldest child and her big brother, he had more responsibilities than he wanted to bear.
"I do not love you any less because you are not a firebender prodigy."
It sometimes scared Zuko how his mother seemed to be able to read his mind and the look he gave her in reply actually made her chuckle at him. "Firebending is not everything Zuko."
Zuko looked at her in shock, feeling like protesting. It was a reaction that had been nearly brainwashed into him. After all, everyone looked at firebending like a gift from Agni and thus prodigies were seen as more powerful and important. Every one of his teachers had taught him that.
"But…" He tried, but couldn't find the right words.
Ursa sighed and rose to her feet. Then she walked away from the shadow they were resting under and waved him to stand next to her. It was a beautiful warm day and the sun was shining proudly high in the sky. Her son followed and blinked slightly as the sun shone brightly in his eyes.
The woman looked at the sun for a moment trying to figure out how to get her message across to her bright – though he didn't really fully realize it – son.
Glancing at the ground she was standing on, a sudden inspiration struck her. Turning to her son, who was for once patiently waiting for her to speak, she held out one of her hands. The palm of her hand was facing up towards the sun and shadow formed on the ground. His expression showed that he recognized her intention, and he pulled a face in hesitation.
"Mother, aren't I a little too old for that?" He mused.
"Never." She said as he finally laid his hand into hers. She smiled at him, a truly happy smile that he had seen appear less regularly as months passed. "You are still growing aren't you? The little bird from five years ago, when you were little, has grown up."
"Mother…" Zuko grumbled, his face flushing in embarrassment. He always felt embarrassed when she said things like that, though he couldn't deny that he disliked it. Sure he had been a little child at the time, but he didn't need to be reminded of the things he had questioned at the time.
"Now look at the shadow." Zuko stared at their hand puppet, automatically moving his part of 'the wings' when she moved her hand to make it fly. "…and listen carefully."
"Agni has given us also another gift." She stated.
"Another? But Sens-"
"This is not something everyone realizes Zuko. Just like they tell you that anger makes your fire stronger. Tell me, what is another form of fire?"
He paused, unsure whether the answer that sprung to his mind was the right one. "Light?"
"Yes." She nodded. "Now, what would the world look like without fire and this light?"
"It would be dark and cold." He said without missing a beat.
"Indeed." Zuko looked at her in puzzlement, actually questioning what she was trying to say this time. She smiled knowingly at him and continued. "So what would show the difference between the darkness and the shadows?"
Zuko blinked. "There would be no difference."
"Indeed." She smiled again and Zuko actually began to wonder where she was heading with all these questions.
"Now what would happen if there was too much light?" She squeezed his hand ever so lightly to indicate that he had to pay attention.
"It would be very hot and bright?" It sounded more like a question than an answer but Ursa decided to let that pass. She sometimes cursed the way that the way of firebending was taught in the Fire Nation.
"Then what would be the difference between a little flame and something as bright as the sun?"
Zuko blinked, feeling like he was getting the message but still not totally getting it. "The darkn…" She interrupted him. "When everything looks as bright as the sun shining down upon us."
The boy glanced at the sun and had to squint his eyes at the brightness. "There would be none."
"Indeed." She said once again. "Including the fact that we would be burned if it were so bright. So what gift has Agni given us so we can live and keep the balance?"
Zuko stared at the ground, finally getting what she was saying but not really understanding why she was telling him this. "The shadows. The lack of light?"
She smiled at him brightly.
"Yes, he has allowed us to exist in just the right amount of his power. So we can live in the balance that he has given us."
She tapped his forehead to make him look at her.
"Zuko, you are a firebender, but it isn't restricted to only that. You are a bender of Agni's gift. You can pull fire from your inner fire that has been given to you and control it to make the shadows around you disappear. But you can also use this to create shadows to keep the balance. Don't be afraid of standing in the shadow, because it is this gift, the fire within you..." She moved her other hand to rest on his chest near his heart. "…that will keep the darkness away from you and allow you to wander through them. That is Agni's gift.
He stared at her, seemingly lost in her explanation.
She sighed softly, having let herself go too far in her own thoughts while she was talking. "Just don't be afraid of standing in the shadow Zuko. It is all about the balance. As long as your inner fire shines brightly you can use this darkness to make the difference."
There was a pause between them and as Ursa looked into her son's eyes filled with slight wonder, she remembered the little boy that she had spend nearly all her days with when he was younger. He was growing up.
"You speak in riddles sometimes Mother." The boy managed, but slowly nodded, thinking that he at least got the idea of what she was trying to say.
She let out a soft laugh. "You will figure it out Zuko."
With that she patted his arm and walked away, leaving as the boy stared in wonder at the shadow puppet on the ground that was slowly getting brighter.
Was it a trick of the light, or had her part of the shadow puppet been there a couple of seconds longer than her hand had been?
Shaking his head, Zuko followed his mother towards the building, determined to practice his kata's once more.
~ End Chapter ~
First chapter folks! I'm not sure how much I will be able to update this summer, but I'm actually pretty excited with the idea that is now spooking through my head so I just had to try and write it. I love Zuko as the (complicated) character he is, so I hope I won't go too OC with him. Please warn me if I do!
As you might have noticed, the song 'Into the shadows' by Rasmus will be a little focus point of mine. I found that it matches the idea of my story and Zuko very well, so you will come across certain excerpts of the lyrics once in a while. Just a little extra.
Anyway, I hope you like it as much as I do. Please let me know and review!
Till next time!