"I just can't believe his gone." Sokka said, polishing his new sword absentmindedly. Katara, Aang, Toph, Suki, and Zuko all glanced at Sokka.
"Ozai, I mean. We've spent so many years trying to kill him, and now that we did, I don't really know what to do." Sokka said, not looking up from his sword.
"I know what you mean." Suki said, pulling her legs up and rested her chin on them. Katara nodded.
"It's always been; we need to do this to defeat him, we need to do that, but now it's all done." Katara said. "It leaves me feeling sort of lost."
"It's the exact opposite for me." Aang said, straightening up slightly, and all eyes turned towards him. "I felt like I was lost when we were wandering about, not knowing what to do. But this….this feels right." Aang motioned towards where they were sitting. It was a cozy room filled with green and beige couches, on which they were all lounging. A crystal chandelier hung precariously from the ceiling, swaying slightly from the breeze that was drifting in from the open windows. They were in the Earth kingdom; they had all came with Toph to go and talk to her parents, who were still slightly disgruntled from her running away and trapping her pursuers in a large metal box. (They were discovered a day later by a cabbage merchant that was traveling upon that road. Experts had to be called in to try and get them out of the box. Unfortunately, in one attempt to get them out the merchant's cabbages were tipped and tumbled down a hill; the merchant then had a mental breakdown and ran away screaming, "MY CABBAGES!" He was not seen or heard from since) But everyone knew that Aang wasn't referring to the room itself, he was referring to the people in it.
"I'm glad he's gone." Zuko said quietly, stirring his tea with a small spoon. Everyone turned towards him. Katara bit her lip, thinking.
"Do you miss him at all? Even just a little bit?" Katara asked. She was trying to imagine being glad her father was dead, but she couldn't manage it. She knew that Zuko's father was a bad person, but he was still his father.
"No. He wasn't exactly the nicest father." Zuko said, eyes set determinedly on his tea.
There was a small pause.
"But he didn't physically hurt you, right?" Suki asked nervously.
"Once." Zuko said, voice barely audible, still refusing to make eye contact. Katara and Suki gasped softly, and everyone looked sad.
"How?" Sokka couldn't help but ask. Zuko gestured vaguely to the left side of his face, amber eyes defiantly staring into the murky brown depths of his tea. Katara put her hand to her mouth in shock. Aang and Sokka glanced at each other, and Toph shifted uncomfortably from her position on the floor.
"Your dad gave you that scar?" asked Aang, and finally Zuko looked up, meeting Aang's eyes.
"Yeah. I thought you knew." Everyone shook their head no.
"That's horrible," whispered Katara softly, once again thinking of her own father.
"Do you mind telling us the story?" Suki asked.
"No, not really. I guess I owe it to you." Zuko said and then looked out into space. There was a small pause as Zuko struggled to find a place to begin.
"It all started because I really, really wanted to go into a war council, and Iroh finally relented. I was so excited, as it was my first one. But it didn't go as I thought it would. One general wanted to sacrifice an entire division of new recruits to create a diversion. I spoke out against it, and doing so I disrespected my father. I had to participate in an agni kai."
"Just for speaking out of turn? That seems a little harsh, doesn't it?" Asked Toph, and by the look on everyone else's faces it seemed they agreed. Zuko considered this.
"Maybe in the water tribes or the earth kingdom it was, but not in the fire nation. Anyway, I agreed to the agni kai, thinking that I would be facing the general whose plan I thought was wrong. But instead it was my father. I….didn't want to fight him. I refused to fight him. If I had the chance to go back in time I would've done something. But I just knelt there and asked forgiveness."
Katara and Sokka looked at each other nervously, and Aang tensed. The image of a young Zuko, kneeling and asking for forgiveness, contrasted sharply with the proud, brave man they knew today.
"But there is no forgiveness in the fire nation, and my father saw me wanting it as a weakness." Zuko's volume dropped dramatically, his voice barely a whisper. "He told me that I would learn respect and suffering would be my teacher. And then all I felt was pain." Zuko closed his eyes and there was a small pause. Zuko cleared his throat and started talking again, normal volume again.
"Then I was banished for not fighting him. For not trying to earn my respect back. He said that the only way I could come back home was to find and capture the avatar." Zuko smirked slightly and looked at Aang. "And you know what happened next."
Aang nodded, eyes shining. "I always sort of assumed that you were just hunting us because you were….well, evil. And that you just got that scar in a training accident or something." Zuko smiled bitterly and shook his head.
"How old were you? " Suki asked.
"Thirteen." Zuko said. Katara's eyes glistened, and Sokka and Toph shifted uncomfortably. Aang took a step towards him, then hesitated, and sat back down.
"I can't believe a father would do that to his own son," Suki said softly, and Zuko shrugged.
"As I said before, he wasn't exactly the nicest father. But what's done, and I'm sort of glad it happened." Everyone looked shocked. Before anyone could comment, Zuko continued.
"If I wasn't banished I would've never realized that what was happening was wrong. I might've grown up to be like my father. So in a way, the nicest thing my father has done was to make sure I would be nothing like him. It just didn't seem like that at the time" Zuko finished his tea in one gulp. "But we're not here to talk about that, are we? We're here to talk to Toph's parents."
And so the day went on as usual, with only strained smiles and tense conversations to prove that something heavy was on their mind.