A/N: Not going to say anything except, I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender. Enjoy!
~Moon White Rose
Eventually, the darkness that held Zuko in its grasp began to disappear. The pitch black started to give way to something lighter and, even though the action hurt like he had no words to describe, he was able to slowly open his eyes. Everything was too bright at first, but after a minute he was able to make out the sunlight spilling in through the leafy canopy above, even though everything was hazy and there was an annoying ringing in his ears.
His body felt like lead, but he was able to move his head without the pain getting much worse. Vision still blurry, he could make out an orange and yellow shape sitting on what looked like a tree root. He focused on the shape and soon he was able to see clearly, and then he realized that it was… the Avatar. Zuko wanted to move; to do something, but he felt paralyzed. The Avatar had his arms wrapped around his legs, his chin resting on his knees, and a mournful expression on his face. He glanced for a split second at Zuko, and much to Zuko's surprise he started to speak.
"You know what the worse part about being born over a hundred years ago is?" Zuko didn't answer; the question was the last thing he had expected to hear; he had been expecting mocking and ridicule at his weakened state to leave the twelve year olds mouth. Besides, it was most likely a rhetorical question anyway. "I miss all the friends I used to hang out with. Before the war started, I used to always visit my friend, Kuzon. The two of us," the Avatar continued a look of mischievousness now on his face, "we'd get in and out of so much trouble together. He was one of the best friends I ever had, and he was from the Fire Nation, just like you."
Each word was catching Zuko off guard; why the heck was this kid telling him all this? Did he expect him to care? Maybe it's because he can see you're lonely too. The thought popped into Zuko's head without warning, but he brushed it aside, as the Avatar had continued speaking.
"If we knew each other back then, do you think we could have been friends too?" This was the drawing point for Zuko; he didn't understand what kind of game the Avatar was playing, but he wasn't going to have any part of it. He pretended to ponder the question as he built up enough strength for the one attack he could make, even though the ringing in his head was driving him insane.
In surprising speed he jumped up and a stream of fire erupted from his fist. Easily the Avatar dodged and jumped from treetop to treetop, until, in a matter of seconds, he was gone from sight. Slowly, Zuko stood, glaring in the direction the boy had gone, until his gaze softened on its own accord as the Avatar's words sank in. It's seems you two aren't really all that different after all. Shaking his head at the thought, Zuko picked up his mask and for a moment stared into the black, emotionless eye holes.
"No," he finally whispered. "We're nothing alike, and no Avatar, I will never be your friend." He couldn't convince himself of the first part of this statement though because he knew, deep in his mind and in the depths of his heart, that it was, quite simply, a lie.
Try as he could, sleep was an elusive phantom that was dangling just out of reach. For the countless time Zuko tossed and turned, trying, and failing, to find a comfortable position. Once again, he stared at the tapestry that bore his Nation's symbol on it before turning away.
He squeezed his eyes shut, begging mentally for the darkness he had escaped hours ago to once again return and shut him off from the rest of the world; even if it was only for a few hours. It didn't work though; every time he closed his eyes he was back with the Avatar, hearing his words. "'I miss all the friends I used to hang out with.'" Zuko opened his eyes and turned onto his back. The kid had sounded so sad; hollow.
He sounded how you feel. Fingers curled into fists at the thought. No, he was not going through this again. He was not like the Avatar; he had no one he missed, and there was no way in this life he was going to admit his weaknesses to anyone. He was not going to be spineless; he was going to be strong.
"After all, I am Crown Prince Zuko, son of Fire Lord Ozai and…." He voice, so strong at first, quickly faded into a choked whisper. He felt the tears prick his eyes and he viciously brushed them away. Go on, his mind taunted. Finish what you were about to say- oh, that's right, you can't. You have someone you miss too. Visions of his mother filled his mind and Zuko clutched his head, wanting them to all go away. His mother was gone, he shouldn't miss her; she was making him weak.
Oh really? Since when has love ever been weak? You know, even though you won't admit it, that you were never as strong as when you were with her. She taught you a lot. "But I was weak; father and grandfather hated me," he muttered back to the thought. He couldn't hold back the thoughts of all the times his father and grandfather had pitted him against his prodigious sister, Azula. She had out shined him each time, though she had been two years younger than him.
So physically and when it came to bending, you weren't what your father wanted, but since when is that all that matters? Your mother taught you that strength lies in love and sacrifice. She taught you it was okay to not always be the best. She taught you to be better than what you are now! Zuko jumped up and hurled his pillow across the small room. He began to pace restlessly wishing that these thoughts would leave him alone. Why was he letting the Avatar's words get to him? They were just words, why were they tormenting him? Because he wanted a friend; so do you. Friends were his family; you said yourself he knew nothing of fathers, being raised by monks, and what were the odds of him knowing his mother- not very likely. Friends were his family. You didn't really have friends, but you did have people you cared about, and who cared about you.
"So what if my mother cared about me; she was the only one, and now she's gone. What else do I have left but to regain my honor?" The moment the words left his lips, Zuko swore the voice in his head laughed. Has your memory faded? Your mother was not the only one who loved you. Have you forgotten your uncle? He loves you as if you were his own, and your aunt loved you too. And let's not forget Lu Ten. Zuko's pacing ceased at the thought of his deceased cousin, whom he had idolized in his younger years. Lu Ten had hardly ever been someone Zuko had been cross with. To say he had been crushed when he heard Lu Ten was dead was an understatement.
So you do have people you miss, just like the Avatar. You miss your family; your real family which was your mother, aunt, Uncle Iroh, and Lu Ten. You don't really miss your father and you most certainly do not miss your sister. They couldn't accept you for who you are and that's what you really want. You want to be accepted, loved; you don't want honor, because you know now, just as you always have, that what your father deems as honor is something that is dead and revolting!
"No it's not! My father is strong, and I am his son! I will be strong like him, no, I will be even stronger!" Zuko yelled, gripping his head. You even told Zhao yourself that your father was a fool if he thought the rest of the world would follow him willingly! You were right, and that's because your father is cruel; look why he favors Azula. He favors her because she's heartless and he hates you because you still have what he lost long ago. You do have a heart, your mother's heart. You've just let all he's done to you cloud and shape you into something he can laugh at. Look at what he has you doing- you've wasted over two years of your life looking for a twelve year old boy that, even if you did capture and bring to him, wouldn't gain you back your honor, or your father's respect in a hundred more years.
The thought hit Zuko hard and he stopped his pacing, sinking to his knees seconds later. It hurt, but he realized it was the truth; he had always known it to be true. Yes, in those youngest years of his life, perhaps his father had loved him; before the lust for power, greed, and the obsession over having a prodigious child that was like him had consumed his heart and soul. The cruelty of his father and grandfather had frightened him to the points there were times he was too scared to even move around the palace on his own, for fear that he would turn a corner and meet his end.
That's not how homes should be. They should be full of love and fellowship. Members should care for the other; not literally be at each other's throats ready to kill. If you capture the Avatar, that's what you'll return to; fear, hate, sadness. Yes, your father will say to the Nation you've regained your honor, but he won't mean it. Sure he may talk civilly to you, but the fellowship you shared with your mother won't be there. Also… what about when you're ready to start a family of your own? There's no guarantee you'll have a say in who your wife will be, and would you want your son to be on his hands and knees, tears streaming from his eyes as he looks up at you, begging for your love? Zuko's hand went up to his scar and he was surprised at the moisture that met his fingertips. It was only then that he realized he was crying.
"No, I don't want that, but I don't know what I want either." It frustrated Zuko that he had come so far, had faced the hard truths he had long since tried to forget about, only to be left with… nothing? No, not nothing, he thought. A decision; a decision to make is what I have now.
Zuko could only hope he made the right choice.
A/N: So, I was watching the episode, The Blue Spirit, and when you see Zuko at the end, it seemed to me that he was having some inner struggles, and honestly, I never thought he really truly believed his father would restore his honor if he captured the Avatar. I also think he knew his father would never let him on the throne if he had his way. So anyway, let me know if I should continue this. Later.
~Moon White Rose