Sometimes Fire Lord Zuko disappears; leaves, without a word of goodbye to anyone or a whisper of where he may be going. He simply takes an airship and departs for a couple of days.
The first couple of times this happens, the council and the sages are in a tizzy. They insist that Zuko is being an irresponsible leader, that he is shirking his duty by disappearing. By the third time it happens, they have accepted it as one of their young leader's eccentric habits, but they demand to know in advance when he will take his little vacations, so that they may schedule around it and arrange for a guard to accompany him wherever he is going. By the fifth time, they simply ask that he allow his council to know where exactly it is that he visits, so that he may be reached in an emergency.
Zuko, of course, refuses all of these requests.
This does not bother Fire Lady Mai. She, too, does not know where her husband visits, though she has her suspicions. Occasionally Zuko's timing is awful – the way he chooses to disappear a short three days after their wedding, or two days after the birth of their first child. But if there is one thing that Mai has learned, it's that Zuko is hers, and he will always return to her.
Zuko knows that it would be the work of a moment to inform his court that he is departing, but pride holds him back. He does not want his advisors to know that he is frequenting the Western Air Temple, of all places. Besides, Zuko thinks, every little thing is an emergency to his council. If he told them where he was, he might never find solitude there again.
And solitude is only one of the many things he treasures about the Western Air Temple. Certainly, it is architecturally unique – its inverted buildings are awe-inspiring and one-of-a-kind. And yes, the solitude is nice, and for the ever-busy Fire Lord, it is precious. But really, Zuko values this place because it reminds him of who he is.
He is the great-grandson of the man responsible for the genocide that has left this place with its desolate and abandoned air. And, reflecting upon this, Zuko knows that he must try very, very hard to shirk his family's violent legacy. It will be difficult, and it will take time. Zuko knows this, and he draws strength from the gentle spirits of the nomadic people who once inhabited this place.
But, more than anything, the Western Air Temple is where Zuko became good. In many ways, it bookends an important part of his life. It was the first place he visited with his uncle after his banishment, with a fresh scar, a bitter outlook, and a feverish determination to capture the avatar and restore his honor. It was the first stop on his travels, and his travels with Iroh were, as he once told his father, the best thing that could have happened to him. They were what led him to see the error of his ways, and of the ways of his nation. And when he had finally realized these errors and determined to set them right, fate had led him back here, to this temple, to officially join the young airbending monk and his companions in their attempt to defeat his tyrannical father.
This temple has seen both the beginning and the end of his transformation into the person he is today – and whenever Zuko needs to be reminded of exactly who that person is, this is where he comes, a short journey from the palace for a day or two of meditation and focus. Zuko can breathe here.
And when he returns to the palace, back to his duties and advisors, back to his family and his wife's waiting arms – Mai can tell, with simply a look and a kiss on the cheek, that her husband is once again at peace.
Author's Notes: This is my first official fanfic ever! Not much of a plot, I know. Please review, I welcome criticism – especially the constructive kind!