Mark Of A Good Man

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The pre-wedding party was in full swing but the guest of honour was no where to be seen.

"Do you think he snuck upstairs to see Mai?" wondered Katara.

"But he shouldn't!" cried Ty Lee, "It's against tradition!"

"Maybe Mai snuck down to steal Zuko," suggested Toph, "I bet she's bored having to stay in her room, covered in turmeric, while we are partying."

"Mai's always bored," said Ty Lee, "Wouldn't make her break tradition. Besides, her mother is with her."

"Then no chance of Zuko being with her," Toph pointed out, "Unless Mai gave her mother the slip and the two of them are off somewhere having a private party!" she added with a mischievous smile.

Ty Lee looked scandalised, not that Toph could see, and started to protest but Katara interrupted her by saying thoughtfully, "I'll assume he's not with Mai," she said, "But I think I'll go look for him, just to make sure everything is alright."

"He's in the garden," Toph informed them, "And he's alone."

"Wait! If you knew he was in the garden all along, then why didn't you say so before?" demanded Ty Lee, "And why did you think he and Mai would be flaunting tradition by seeing each other on their wedding eve when they are not supposed to?"

Toph just grinned, "Not my fault you forgot that my feet can see better then your eyes! Besides, its amusing seeing you get all worked-up about petty wedding traditions when you, the daughter of a noblemen, ran away to join the circus and..."

"I had good reasons for joining the circus!" yelled Ty Lee, interrupting Toph mid-sentence, "And you are one to talk! Blind Bandit!"

Katara left the two girls, who had far too much in common, to argue among themselves as she went into the garden to look for Zuko. It didn't take her long to find him sitting besides the turtle-duck pond, starring intently at his reflections, at his scar.

"Getting cold feet?" joked Katara, as she came to sit next to him.

Zuko was silent long enough that Katara started to wonder if he really was getting cold feet and having second thoughts about his impending nuptials. However, "I love Mai," said Zuko simply, "I want to marry her. But..." he focused back on his reflection.

Katara chanced a guess, "I never got the impression that scar bothered Mai."

"I asked her about it once, she said the customary top knot bothered her more because I looked better with my hair down," replied Zuko.

"Well she's right about that!" agreed Katara playfully, "Although that bald but for a ponytail look you were sporting when we first met still takes the cake for being the ugliest thing ever!" she laughed, Zuko didn't join her. Katara sighed, "Why is it bothering you?"

"I am afraid," acknowledged Zuko, "I am afraid that Mai can't really see my scar. I am afraid that when she looks at me, all she sees is the prince she used to know. The one with the unmarked face. I am afraid one day she's going to wake-up on the wrong side of the bed, turn to me and realise she married a monster because all she will see is my scar."

"I have not a clue what the scar represents to Mai," replied Katara, "Only Mai can answer that. But I know what that scar represents to me. That scar, that mark, is the mark of a good man."

Zuko was surprised, no, he was shocked and he finally turned to face Katara, taking his eyes off his reflections for the first time since the conversation began, "What?"

"I heard the full story of how you got the scar from your uncle," said Katara, "We all did. I don't know how much Mai knew before but she was certainly present when Sokka rather insensitively asked how you had gotten the scar. Iroh told us the full story. Zuko, you got that mark because you spoke-up against the unnecessary and cold-hearted sacrifice of your countrymen. You got that mark because you loved your father more then he ever deserved, more then he could ever comprehend! You got that mark, Zuko, because you are you! A good man who loves and cares not only for those he knows but also unnamed soldiers whom he will most likely never meet. I am convinced, Zuko, that Ozai marked your face because he realised he could never mark your soul! He wanted to taint you and leave his mark on you the only way he could. But not only is it skin deep, Zuko, it doesn't mean what he wants it to mean. At least not to me and I suspect, not to Mai either."

Zuko didn't say anything but he didn't flinch or turn away when Katara lightly touched his scar, "There is no wrong side of the bed, Zuko," she whispered, "You don't have a good side and a bad side. They are both good sides because you were marked for being good. If you were bad, if you were the son your father wanted, you would have no scar but you would have a rotten soul."

"That's right, Zuko!" cried Ty Lee, jumping out from behind the tree and hugging him from behind.

"Where did you come from?" demanded Zuko, a little flustered at suddenly having Ty Lee hug him.

She ignored him and continued, "You wouldn't have such a beautiful aura if you weren't you! Besides, I think you look more handsome with the scar! It gives you such a bad boy feel!"

"He is a bad boy," said Toph, also stepping out from behind the tree, making both Katara and Zuko wonder how long they had been eavesdropping, "I mean, he's the blue spirit! Can't be more of a bad boy then the blue spirit!" she declared, "Besides, unless you marry me, you'll just have to learn to live with the fact that once in a while, your beloved wife will see something hideous first thing in the morning."

"Toph!" cried Katara as Zuko turned beet-red while Ty Lee gasped.

"I didn't know you had a crush on Zuko!" declared Ty Lee.

"Everybody has a crush on Zuko," declared Toph, "Even Appa!"

"I suppose that's true," agreed Ty Lee innocently, "I mean, not like I never thought of Zuko. But he was always Mai's and so I could never have him!"

"I am right here!" Zuko tried to remind them as he turned even redder.

"Don't forget Jin, Jet and apparently there was a healer named Song who also had a crush on Zuko," said Toph.

"Jet!" cried a horrified Zuko, "What has my uncle been telling you?"

"And Sokka!" added Katara, giving-up and joining-in, "He has a man-crush on Zuko too!"

"Argh!" cried Zuko, "Girls are crazy!" he declared, "I am glad I am marrying Mai!" he added as he walked away, "She is the least craziest of you all!"

He's friends just grinned behind his back, happy to have distracted him from excessive brooding and fretting over that scar, that mark. A mark that only made those who knew him and knew his story, love him even more.

Author's Note: For some reason I really wanted to write this fic. The turmeric thing is a Indian wedding thing where the bride (and the groom but I decided to spare Zuko) gets covered in turmeric that bathes off on the day of the wedding. As for the wedding eve party, I didn't have a particular tradition in mind but I figured, why not!