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Zuko couldn't sleep. How could he? Afterall, three years ago today, his father had marked him for life. Zuko lay there idle wondering what the mark meant to his father. The meaning of the scar had been shifting and changing for him since he had found the Avatar. Right now, at this moment, the scar for him represented the physical manifestation of his capacity for evil. Maybe he was always meant to have that scar. Maybe he wouldn't have been complete without if. Not that he would ever know now, he was never going to be free of the scar afterall.
Giving-up on sleep, Zuko reached for his swords and headed outside. Most of the others slept together, around a shared camp fire. Zuko was not trusted enough to be allowed to sleep that close to the others. He didn't mind. What could he expect. Afterall, he had betrayed the one man who had loved him unconditionally for a man who would, who could, never love him. He deserved far worse. He made his way to large room, far from the others and unsheathed his swords, started to go through a routine with the blades that was almost like a dance. He had no goal besides tiring himself out and to practice a skill that had served him well, especially when he could not use his firebending for one reason or another.
Zuko was consumed with his routine that he didn't notice that he had acquired a spectator until he got to the end of his movement and his audience clapped. The surprised Zuko turned to come face to face with, "Toph," he called, "Did I wake you up when I was making my way here?" he guessed, "Sorry, didn't mean to disturb you."
Toph shrugged, "I don't mind. I got a nice show," she said with a grin, "You really are pretty good with those."
"Thanks," replied Zuko.
"But what I don't understand is why," said Toph, "Why bother with swords when you are a master bender?" she asked.
"I am not a master," replied Zuko quietly, "Besides, there are earthbenders who combine bending with weapons. I fought one like that during my travels through the Earth Kingdom. Individually, he was a mediocre bender and a mediocre weapon master but combined, combined he was able to force me to use my firebending. That doesn't happen often, I assure you."
"That's interesting," said Toph, "You rate your skills with the sword much higher then you do your skills with firebending. But I bet that you are actually better with firebending then you are with swords. What's the deal?"
Zuko sheathed his swords and went to where Toph sat on a rock. Guessing she wouldn't mind, he sat down next to her and replied, "I started training in Firebending when I was four. I had couple of weeks to myself before my sister joined me. She was three. She's a prodigy and advanced much more quickly then me. The master assigned to us started concentrating more and more on her. He did assign an assistant to look after me but..." Zuko shrugged, "Anyway, when I was about seven, Master Piandao came to visit my uncle at the palace. One thing led to another and during that visit he agreed to train me. He didn't live in the capital but I journeyed to his house almost every weekend to train. I also took week long trips to his place for more intensive training. I loved training with him. I loved the way of the sword and my progress was great," said Zuko, smiling at the memory, "But even as I was well on my way to mastering the way of the sword, my progress in firebending was woeful. More importantly, I didn't enjoy it."
"But you enjoy it now," pointed out Toph.
"I do," admitted Zuko, "And like almost everything else that's good in my life, it's thanks to my uncle," he replied, "After I was banished and my uncle came with me, he started training me. First he forced me to forget everything I had learnt and then started rebuilding my firebending from the ground-up. I was resentful for a long time. But," he sighed regretfully, "Since meeting the dragons, I understand. Uncle Iroh met the dragons too. He knew the true meaning of firebending. More importantly, he knew I had, had an uneven foundation in firebending. So he tore me down and built me up again. So I could one day bend fire the way it was meant to be bent."
"Maybe he also realised that even at your angriest, you probably didn't have rage enough to fuel your fire to match those of Azula," offered Toph.
"Maybe," replied Zuko noncommittally.
They sat in silence for some time before Toph asked, "Why the dual dao?"
"What do you mean?" asked Zuko.
"Sokka also got some lessons from Piandao. Just a few days though but it resulted in him getting his 'space sword', as he likes to call it. Sokka said that Piandao said his sword had to be an extension of himself and really, the space sword is very Sokka," replied Toph, "Sokka is all about ideas and plans and not just that, his ideas are often random and he's not afraid to take risks. He couldn't know if the metal from space would be any good but he took a chance and that sword can cut anything," Toph pointed out. "So, if the space sword is an extension of Sokka," reasoned Toph, "Just wondering if the dual dao are an extension of you."
"I have always been attracted to the dual dao," replied Zuko, "They are two swords but you can't treat them as separate entities. They have to be treated as two halves of the same whole and wielded as if they are one. The concept intrigued me," Zuko grinned, "Not that I could have told you even that when I first started. I mean, I was eight. I probably would have said something like "they are cool" or "they are interesting". These," he took out his swords, "Are the swords I made for myself under Master Piandao's guidance. So many things were happening around the time I was banished that I had left these behind. I didn't think I would ever see them again," admitted Zuko, "Shortly after my banishment, after my bandages came-off, I was at a port picking-up supplies. I came across a trader selling weapons and saw a dual dao. As I looked into them, I saw one dao reflect my unmarred features and the other show only my scar. I knew then and there that the dao would forever be my weapons because they reflected my past and my present. I bought those dao and them with me all the time I wandered at sea. I lost them when I lost my ship, another piece of my life gone-up in smoke."
"There more isn't there," said Toph.
"Yes but that I didn't realise until recently," said Zuko, "Good and evil are always in battle within me, that is my nature. That's what my uncle said, when he told me..." suddenly he stopped.
"What's wrong?" wondered Toph.
"Nothing," said Zuko, "I was just thinking about how to explain things to you."
"Liar," accused Toph.
"It's true!" protested Zuko.
"Still lying," replied Toph.
"I feel sorry for whatever unlucky man ends-up being married to you," said Zuko, defeated. Toph just grinned. Zuko sighed, "Can you keep a secret?"
"I spent years keeping my life secret from my parents," said Toph, "So, yeah!"
"Recently, I found out that my mother's grandfather was Avatar Roku," said Zuko.
"What!" cried Toph.
"That was my reaction too," admitted Zuko, "When my uncle told me. I didn't want to believe it but it made sense. Good and evil are always in battle within me, my uncle said. In other words, Sozin and Roku are still waging their battle within me. My looks mostly came from my mother, Roku's granddaughter," explained Zuko, "So by burning me, my father, Souzin's grandson, effectively manifested the struggle inside me, on my face."
"Wait, your FATHER was the one who burnt you!" repeated a horrified Toph.
Silence, "Can you keep that a secret too?" asked Zuko. Toph said nothing. Zuko got-up, "The dual dao is an extension of myself. They represent the duality of my heritage, my two faces. It took me a long time to fully understand why the dual dao have always appealed to me but now, now I know and I know they are me," with that he turned to leave, "Goodnight Toph, we should both get some sleep."
Zuko was almost out of hearing range when Toph said, "I can't 'see' it."
"See what?" wondered Zuko.
"Your scar," replied Toph, "My earthbending picks-up a lot but it can't pick-up things that are skin deep. This," she bent the earth to create a bust of Zuko, "Is all I see."
Zuko looked at the bust, his likeness in every detail but for the scar. He turned away, "One day I will let you feel my face," he replied, "So you can create a proper likeness of me."
"And one day I'll wear make-up," countered Toph, "And show you how pretty I can be."
"It's not the same," Zuko said sadly.
"It is to me," insisted Toph.
Zuko gave-up, "Goodnight, Toph," he wished again and started to leave.
Toph sighed, "Goodnight," she wished back, accepting the conversation was at an end. Even if she wasn't entirely happy with how it ended. Still, she thought she understood Zuko a little better and that meant a lot..
Author's note: Well this ended-up longer then I expected and covered more things then I was intending too. Meh! Hope you guys enjoy it and reviews are always welcome.