"Oh, you think darkness is your ally. But you merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn't see the light until I was already a man. By then it was nothing to me but blinding."
—Bane, "The Dark Knight Rises"
Huzzah! This is the sequel to I Was Not Magnificent. If you haven't read that then, well, you probably won't understand what the hell is happening in this story.
Warning: This story will contain violence, sex, language, alcohol/drug use, and character death.
I hope you guys are as excited about this as I am. :D
His little sister is annoying him. Again.
"Father said that I could play with the sword!" she hollers, whine evident in her voice. This is how she always gets her way with Ozai—by using him as her crutch.
Zuko tucks the wooden sword behind his back and shakes his head. "Girls aren't allowed to play with swords," he states practically. "Only boys, like me."
Azula's eyes narrow into slits and Zuko knows in the back of his mind that he's awakened something that he should have left slumbering.
Azula turns on her heel and walks off, and fifteen minutes later the wooden sword is pried from his hands by Ozai, whose fingers are a little hotter than they should be. Azula quietly watches the whole scene with a certain satisfaction.
Zuko thinks to himself that he'll wipe the satisfaction off her face one day. And when he finally does, when father finally cares more about him then he does her, he'll smile, and his smile will be earnest.
He watches as his father hands Azula the wooden sword and walks off without a word. And Zuko expects his sister to say something, something that will cement her victory over him. Instead he watches with horror as bruises begin to form along the pale skin of her small neck, as if someone is squeezing very, very tightly.
Or, perhaps, as if someone has snapped it.
And then she falls and the wooden sword clatters to the floor.
Zuko wakes up with a pounding headache. This has become routine.
He rolls out of bed, wood creaking underneath his bare feet. He prepares for the day. He pulls on a shirt, a pair of pants that isn't stained with either blood or liquor, his boots, a pack for the journey ahead, and his two sharp, nasty looking daggers.
He can't really go around bending anymore, so he has taken up duel weapons. It's alarming how much he enjoys fighting with them. They don't burn; they don't bring heat. But they cut, they cut deep. And right now that's what Zuko wants to do. He doesn't want to burn, or to scar. He wants to cut open bleeding wounds.
He touches his head. His hair has grown out to his chin, but it's dirty from lack of washing. Apparently commoners don't bathe as much as royalty. Zuko never thought that fine soups and hot water at the simple turning of a latch would be things that he would miss.
He trots down the stairs and into the teashop. It's a front for the White Lotus, but that doesn't mean that customers don't show up at ungodly hours for his Uncle's famous tea. Random, strange faces watch him curiously as he walks over to the young man clad in blue and flings his backpack onto the table.
The kid—Zuko has yet to bother remembering his name—has a hood over his head in order to hide his tattoos. "How are you feeling this morning?" he asks, voice way too annoying and perky.
Zuko grunts in response and sits down in an empty chair, waving away a cup of tea when it is offered to him.
"Aang, we've discussed this before." Sokka, the man dressed in blue, treats the kid like he's his little brother. They're not related, though. Zuko doesn't understand this. "He's hungover. It means he's going to be an asshole to you for rest of the day."
"But he's always hungover."
"I know. That's why he's always an asshole."
"I know several ways to kill you with my bare hands." Zuko eyes Sokka with irritation and then plucks a teacake off a plate. "Don't forget that."
"I don't plan to." Sokka looks prepared for their journey. His boomerang is strapped to his hip, as it always is, and he's pulled his hair off his face. "I'm ready when you are."
Still chewing, Zuko waves a hand and stands up. "Let me speak to Uncle before we leave."
Sokka sighs. "Well, hurry up."
It doesn't take long for Zuko to find Iroh. He's in the back, making tea.
"We're about to leave."
Uncle Iroh stops whatever he's doing with the tealeaves and gives his nephew a weary smile. "You don't have to do this to yourself, Prince Zuko. It will only bring you more heartache."
"We've already talked about this," Zuko reminds him, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
"I know. And I still don't want to see you go on this wild goose chase. She's gone—"
"Don't," Zuko snaps, eyes narrowing. "Don't."
Iroh sighs and steps forward. Zuko allows his uncle to embrace him. "You will only hurt yourself further."
"That's my decision, then."
Iroh pats his shoulder, eyes sad. "Where will you start your search?"
"At the southernmost tip of the Earth Kingdom. Sokka thinks that that's where…that that's where she would have landed first."
Iroh frowns. "Can you still not say her name?"
Zuko swallows thickly and then looks away, eyes scanning the already memorized room. "Goodbye Uncle. I don't know when I'll see you next."
It doesn't take the two of them too long to reach the ocean by ostrich horse. About a week.
But by the end of it Zuko already hates Sokka. And the feeling is mutual, by the way that Sokka sends him scathing looks over their nightly campfire.
The young man from the Water Tribe is rude, and loud, and arrogant, and he always thinks that he's right when he's mostly wrong. He snores, eats with his mouth open, and then complains when he gets a stomachache. He hits on women who are clearly out of his league, cannot hold his liquor worth a damn, and enjoys lecturing people on topics he's barely versed in.
But those aren't the reasons why Zuko hates Sokka. In fact, there's only one reason why Zuko hates Sokka.
And that reason is, despite how much Sokka isn't like his sister, he still manages to remind Zuko of Katara.
The waves crash down against the shore. Zuko stands a little ways back, shivering a bit in the relentless sea breeze. Sokka is knee deep in the chilly water, shouting and jumping around like a child.
Zuko finally slouches down in the tall grass, keeping an eye on their surroundings. Sokka wants to start questioning locals tomorrow, although Zuko doesn't think that they'll remember a scarred girl who flitted through their lives nearly a decade ago.
But he wants to hope as much as Sokka does, so he keeps his mouth shut.
When Zuko glances back up Sokka is walking over to him, sand sticking to his wet legs and feet. He seems at home in this atmosphere, unlike Zuko.
"This view is amazing," he breathes happily, as if momentarily forgetting who he's addressing. "I bet that Katara wouldn't have left his town. This place seems like something that would've made her happy."
Sokka sits down next to Zuko and pulls his legs up to his chest. "But then, she always preferred the warmth. I'd have to yell at her for getting too close to the fire, back before she left home. Did you know that one time she signed the end of her braid? I mean, I laughed at her, but that didn't mean that I wasn't worried!"
Zuko watches Sokka with a quirked eyebrow, and he almost prompts him to talk more about his sister. But he doesn't.
Sokka lets out a breath and tilts his head back to look at the cloudy night sky. "No, I guess this place would've been too cold for her. She would have gone further inland."
Zuko remains silent, choosing to pick at a loose thread in his pants.
"Why are you here, anyway?"
"I've already told you," Zuko grumbles, "I wanted to get away from the White Lotus. Don't make me explain myself again."
Sokka rolls his eyes and sits up, purposely brushing sand onto Zuko's lap. "Yeah, well, thanks. Or whatever."
He waits until Sokka is out of sight, probably back at their makeshift camp, before lying back into the grass. No stars are out tonight, but that's okay.
"I'm going to find out what happened to you." Dead or alive.
He still can't bring himself to say her name.
Thanks for everyone who politely asked, demanded, and/or threatened for a sequel. Here it is! I'm pretty pumped for this story, and I hope the feeling is mutual!
Let me know what you think! And don't forget that you guys are awesome. 'Cause you are.