Song of Stone

Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender. Sadly enough.

Warnings: AU, General Spoilers

AN: For AtLA Land's writing challenge. Prompt was "Alternate Universe".

"There's no shame in not being a bender," Iroh tells him time and again. "There are many great men who can't even throw a spark."

The scar on his chest burns even years later, and he swallows down the anger and bile. There were a hundred ways he could've deflected the blast. But each one would've damned him. And his very being is damning enough.

"You're pathetic, Zuzu," Azula hisses behind her smile. "What good is a prince if he can't use fire?"

He strides over the deck and tries to ignore the whispers that follow him. Tries to ignore the side-glances and the narrowed eyes of the crew. Fire might not heed his commands, but ultimately, these men do. And they all know that he can stomp them into the dirt any time and any place. He already has before.

"It doesn't matter," his mother says and brushes back his hair. "I love you all the same. My family…" Ursa shakes her head. "They weren't all firebenders either."

His sword practically sings in his hand as he cuts through the rocks. The dagger hidden next to his skin does, too. A descant of stone mixed with metal and blurring into its own opus as he slides through the shadows, a blue spirit on the prowl. The cobblestones under his feet make no sound, and if his boots have bits of rock embedded, it's too dark for anyone to see.

Ty Lee giggles behind her hand and toys with the gem of her necklace. "How do you do that? Always know that I'm coming? Not even Azula can!"

Wait and listen. Find the perfect moment then strike. He hears with more than ears, and the world beneath him hums with each step of his enemies. With each pebble skittering across the street. With every shift of weight, no matter how miniscule.

The guards are down before they even know he's there.

"I don't see the big deal." Mai puts in boredly, offering him another knife and still wondering how he always hits the clay targets. "It's not like you're really an airbender or anything."

He ghosts back to the ship with no one the wiser, not even Iroh. In the middle of the night, he's as strong as ever. Not half-asleep and half-powered like the sentries. The steel grates are silent as he moves to his quarters, and the iron lock of his door is soundless as it closes. The only witness to his return is the earth itself.

"There's no shame in not being a bender," his uncle tells him once again.

That's not exactly his problem.

The candle in front of him flickers, but that's not his doing and never will be. He doesn't even see the flames. The metal of the ship thrums around him, and if he concentrates. If he really listens, he can hear the imperfections with their own harmony. Can hear the melody of earth singing back to him.

Zuko reaches out with something more than flesh. Searching. Finding. And slowly, ever so slowly, the bronze of the candlestick twists and flows upward like molten lava. It eases over the fire and quietly snuffs it out.

AN: This was originally from another prompt I gave for help_japan, but it was never written, and I finally decided to do it myself.

Ever Hopeful,