Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Author's Note: This takes place during 'The Ember Island Players'.
"Doesn't it seem kind of weird that we're hiding from the Fire Lord in his own house?" Katara inquired just after Zuko and Aang completed another training session.
"I told you," Zuko said wiping the sweat off his face with a rag, "my family hasn't come here since it was actually happy, and that was a long time ago. It is the last place anyone would think to look for us."
"You guys are not going to believe this!" Sokka said excitedly as he entered with Suki carrying a scroll, "There's a play about us!"
"We were just in town and we found this poster," Suki said and Sokka unrolled and held it up for them.
"What? How is that possible?" Katara asked as she, Toph and Aang came closer.
"Listen to this," Sokka said turning the poster around so he could read, "'The Boy in the Iceberg' is a new production from the proclaimed playwright Lu Wan Tin. Who scoured the globe to gather information on the Avatar, from the icy south pole to the heart of Ba Sing Se. His sources include: singing nomads, pirates, prisoners of war, and a surprisingly knowledgeable merchant of cabbage." His eyes scanned over the poster once more, "Also tells the story of connecting events that happened before he was unfrozen."
"Brought to you by the critically acclaimed Ember Island Players," Suki chimed in.
Zuko groaned from where he sat, "My mother used to take us every summer to see them," he said remembering the bitter memory, "they butchered 'Love Amongst the Dragons' every year.
"Sokka," Katara said, "do you really think it is a good idea to see a play about ourselves?"
"Come on a day at theater!" Sokka pleaded, "This is exactly the wacky time wasting nonsense I've been missing!"
Katara pursed her lips, then a smile spread across them, "Alright," Katara gave in, "it would be nice for a break."
"Yes!" Sokka said excitedly throwing his hands up in the air. He grabbed Suki's wrist and pulled her out with him, Aang and Katara following.
Toph didn't move, for she did not feel him move, "You coming?"
"Do I have to?" Zuko whined, not getting up.
"Hey, if I have to suffer, so do you," Toph said, "Come on, I want to get a good seat for my feet." she added before following after everyone.
Sighing, Zuko got up and slowly trudged back into the house.
The theater was packed with people, all excited to see the hilarious and juvenile play that was to mock their eminies.
They did not get a good seat as Toph had hoped, but Katara said she would tell the blind girl's feet what was happening. Aang had made a fuss about a seat, which did not really matter at all. The last airbender gave up and just sat next to Zuko.
The curtain drew up and the first thing that was shown brought horror to the Avatar's eyes.
"Being the Avatar sucks!" The female girl playing Aang said, "Appa let's get out of here! Yip yip!" The girl got on a cardboard bison and was carried away by wires.
Fire Nation troops trudged on stage, "No! Help us Avatar! We are doomed! Help! HELP!" called out someone from the fake temple as it was lit in cloth flames.
Next showed the Avatar being frozen, followed by the Southern Raiders attacking the Southern Water tribe. Katara and Sokka were so angry that Zuko could feel the temperature increase.
It showed the first loss against Ba Sing Se, Azulon's funeral, and Ozai's coronation...
Then, his own horror began.
On the stage, stood the actor who played him, scar less and sitting down at the war meeting.
His blood ran cold, the the rest of them unconsciously, edged closer in their seats, eager to learn this unknown event.
"The Earth Kingdom defenses are concentrated here," an old grumpy general said pointing with a stick to a map, "Their strongest Earthbenders, and most fierce warriors. So I am recommending the forty first division."
"You can't do that!" The actor playing Zuko said, "That's stupid!"
Oh no, oh no, oh no… Couldn't they at least get it accurate?
The entire theater went silent with tension, as all eyes turned to the actor playing the Fire Lord, who was concealed by cloth flames.
"ZUKO!" The Fire Lord yelled, causing his friends to do a double take and look at him, they had just realized who that boy on stage was supposed to be. "For your complete disrespect you will have to duel in an Agni-Kai."
The actor playing Zuko smirked like an idiot and pointed to the general, "You're going down!"
As the scene shifted for the battle, Zuko could still feel the eyes flickering from him to the stage. Zuko looked down at his lap; he did not want to see this.
The scene was ready for the Agni-Kai. The actor-Zuko was at one corner, jumping from foot to foot like he was at a boxing match, the opponent in the shadows on the other end. The actor turned around and saw his opponent, and both the actor and his friends gasped.
The actor immediately fell to his knees and began to grovel at the actor playing the Fire Lord's feet.
"Father," the actor said with a scared little boy voice, "I was joking!"
"Get up and fight for your honor," the other actor said, advancing on the boy.
"Rise and fight, Prince Zuko."
"No, I won't fight you!"
By now, the Actor playing the Fire Lord towered over the boy, who was now in fetal position, "You will learn respect, and suffering will be your teacher."
With a terrible scream a little cloth fire whipped the actor-Zuko across the face. A little trap door opened and the actor-Zuko pulled out a helmet with the scar on it and placed it on his head.
"Your weak and spineless," the actor-lord said, "you are here by banished."
The rest of the actors left the Zuko-actor alone on stage for some more whimpering before the lights went dark, and the scene changed.
Through that entire thing Zuko had relived that painful memory, felt the tears and the fire on his face. He still felt eyes on him, but they also wanted to pay attention to the show, which was currently Katara and Sokka in a boat rambling about food and hope.
He barely paid attention to the show, not wanting to see how else he was portrayed as. He still felt eyes flicker towards him every now and then.
When the first intermission finally came, he practically ran out of the theater. He headed straight to the balcony and leaned against the pole, staring out into open sea.
"At least your actor looks like you!" Aang whined as the rest of them exited.
"Relax, they're not accurate portrayals," Katara said, "It's not like I whine about hope all the time. What?" She added when everyone went silent.
"Hey," Toph said, "The guy obviously did his research. What you see is the truth."
No, not the truth, not the whole truth.
It got the events, and their order, but not necessarily the circumstances.
The Agni-Kai with his father flashed in his head again, and he remembered the chilling laughter of Azula as she washed.
"Zuko!" Suki said grabbing his shoulder and making him jump, "that's the fifth time I've said your name. Are you deaf or something?"
Zuko tried not to meet their gazes, but eventually he did. They seemed to get he wasn't in the mood, they seemed to get that some things in that performance had bothered him.
"Zuko…" Katara said setting closer, "Is this about…" she stopped herself, trying her best not to ask it directly, "…about the first scene with you in it?"
Zuko's eyes narrowed his face cold with anger.
Drop it, drop it, drop it…
Aang stepped forward next, "was that true?"
Zuko wanted to let all his anger out through fire right then and there, he wanted to run from the theatre, go back to that house and burn it to the ground. He didn't want to answer, but something made him.
"Yes," he said coldly and harshly, "but not exactly."
Everyone went silent, but Sokka kind of pointed to where Zuko's scar would be on his face, with a questioning look on his face.
"Yes," Zuko growled even harsher.
They waited for him to continue, for they knew that what they said onstage was not exactly what happened.
Zuko sighed, he knew this would come out eventually, "I wanted to sit in on a war meeting, so that I could learn about ruling the nation like I was supposed to," He said averting his eyes from them, "my uncle let me in, but told me not to speak."
They waited patiently as he gathered his story. He glanced around, no one else was near them, the rest of the audience had gone back inside or went to the snack bar.
"The general, like you saw in there," Zuko said with distaste, "was discussing sending in squad forty-three to take out those Earthbenders."
Now he did not want to go any further, why would they believe him after everything he has done? Then again, he was here with them now…
"Squad forty-three was made up entirely of new recruits," Zuko said grimly, "they would use them as a distraction while they attacked from the rear. The general openly said he expected the new recruits to die."
Zuko took another breath, his fists clenching, "that's when I spoke out. Those soldiers were giving everything to their nation and in return it would lead them to slaughter. I couldn't let that happen…"
No one interrupted, but he responded like he was, "Then my father said for my disrespect I would have to fight in an Agni-Kai," Zuko laughed darkly, "I thought I would be facing the general, but no, no I was not."
"Your father…" Suki muttered.
"He said because it happened in his war chamber, I had disrespected him," Zuko's voice raised, his anger flooding out, "when I saw it was him I begged for forgiveness, I refused to fight him. To fight the ruler of my nation, to fight my father."
Zuko was panting now, Katara reached a hand out for his shoulder but Zuko jerked away.
"He didn't stop, he didn't care. He never did!" Zuko yelled, not caring if anyone else could hear, "He gave me this scar, and banished me for showing weakness. He gave me this-" Zuko pointed to his scar under his hood "- for talking out of turn, and a banishment for refusing to fight. You happy now?" Zuko added in his rage.
He was backed up against the railing now, facing them with the look he always wore when he was hunting them done.
Were they happy? Or did they hope he was just going to say 'No I realy just tripped into a pit of fire and was banished for staining a rug!'? It's not that simple, it never has been, and it never will be.
"Save it!" Zuko snapped, his blood pumping. He did not want to discuss this any further. They knew now, that should be enough for them.
Toph however, spoke up, "What happened to the new recruits?"
Zuko's faced went rigid, "the plan proceeded, they were all killed," he told them, and their eyes widened, "and so were the Earthbenders." He added directly at Toph, who clenched her tiny but powerful fist.
"That was why I was hunting you so much, it was the only way to return home," He said to Aang, then laughed grimly, "How stupid was I? To want to return home to a merciless father, and to a sister who laughed at my pain!"
Katara reached out to him again, only to get the same result, "Zuko, your not stupid-"
"Don't even try," Zuko said bitterly, "I was stupid for going into the meeting, I was stupid for talking out of turn, resfusing to fight, for wanting to return, for hunting all of you. And for coming here."
Even though he desperately wanted to get out of there, Zuko made no effort to move. He panted heavily, glaring in the direction of his friends, but not at them. They just stared back at him, with wide worry eyes.
A sound came from inside the theatre, signaling all that the show was about to resume.
Suki was the first to move, slowly creeping away, towing Sokka along with her. Aang followed, and so did Katara after she worriedly looked back.
Toph didn't move, for she did not feel him move, "You coming?"
"Do I have to?" Zuko grumbled, not moving.
"Hey, It can't get any worse," Toph said, "And anyway, we already pained for your ticket." she added before following after everyone.
Sighing, Zuko slowly and gravely trudged back into the theatre.
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