Well, here's a little one-shot I felt like writing. I needed a break from my chaptered stories and decided to whip this up.
Zuko wandered through the tapestry covered walls of the palace after he was done with his walk out by the pond. It had been two years since his mother vanished, but he was thirteen now; he needed to act like a man. He gazed up at the ornate draperies of the past Fire Lords. One day, he would be up there, too, forever immortalized in colored thread.
He knew someday soon, we would be permitted to go into a war meeting and voice his opinions like the young adult he was. He was going to be the best Fire Lord there ever was! Zuko's smile vanished when he heard whistling in the hallway.
"Hello, Zuzu. Roaming the halls again?" The cold words made Zuko shudder.
"Don't call me that! What do you want?" For one day, couldn't his little sister leave him alone?
"I want to show you something." Zuko sighed. The last time Azula drug him away to 'show him something' was when they eavesdropped on their father and grandfather. Fire Lord Azulon died later that night and their mom was never seen again. Whatever Azula was up to this time couldn't be good, but Zuko followed her anyway.
She took him to an underground prison that was in between the palace and the city jail. This prison was small and used for mainly dangerous or condemned prisoners until they were moved to the Boiling Rock prison. Zuko didn't have a clue what his sister wanted to show him in the dingy and moldy prison.
"Look." Azula pointed into a cell, and Zuko had to squint his eyes to see the inhabitant. Inside, there was a person. His hands were restrained with metal block cuffs, so he couldn't move them freely. The hair was like nothing Zuko had ever seen before; it was like gold. The prisoner's strange hair was flowing around his shoulders, and it didn't look like it had been properly washed in a long time. The prisoner was wearing black clothes, and something seemed wrong with his right arm.
When Zuko's eyes adjusted to the poor light, he realized the arm was made of metal. Why did Azula drag him all the way down here to see a dirty, sleeping prisoner?
"This was Colonel Ling." Azula grinned madly.
"He's been stripped of his rank now, because of what he did." Zuko wondered what terrible thing the former soldier did. Maybe he was a murderer…
"What did he do?" Zuko tried to sound uninterested, but he was now genuinely curious.
"Disobeyed orders. His battalion was full of new recruits, and they were going to attack the Wall." Zuko knew Azula meant the enormous wall that protected the great earth city of Ba Sing Se. "They had orders from dad to keep fighting, no matter what, and do you know what he did?" Zuko shook his head, and wondered why he was still here listening to Azula. "He retreated and they all ran away like cowards." So the reason the prisoner was here because he went against orders and deserted the army. Zuko took a breath; so this ex-colonel wasn't a killer, after all.
"Look how pathetic he is." Zuko sent his sister a harsh side glance. "I can't wait until he's punished." Azula zipped around and left the building. Zuko almost did the same, but stopped when he heard a small voice.
"…Mom…" Zuko looked in the cell and confirmed it had been the prisoner talking in his sleep. The prisoner shuffled uneasily, and his golden eyes slowly opened. "What are you doing here, kid?" The voice was not anything Zuko was expecting. It seemed kind, not deep or rough like Zuko thought it would be. The way he questioned Zuko was odd, it seemed like he was annoyed and curious.
"I'm not a kid!" Zuko said proudly, and the prisoner gave him a sly smile.
"Of course you're not, little man."
"I'm not little!" The prisoner now seemed to be giving Zuko a look of respect, and chuckled lightly as if he were recalling an old memory.
"How would you like to know a secret?" The prisoner asked after a minute of silence. Zuko shrugged his shoulders, not sure if he should be in the prison any longer by himself. "My name isn't Ling. It's Ed. Edward Elric." Zuko raised both his eyebrows curiously at the prisoner.
Zuko was sitting down inches away from the bars, as was Ed. Both of their legs were crossed, and they were deep in conversation. Ed was telling the shocked boy about all of his adventures back home in Amestris, and about how he tragically was torn away from it all.
"But how are you going to get home?" Zuko asked. Ed was talking about astonishing things like alchemy, and a mysterious gate, which according to him, was how he got here.
"I don't know." For some reason, Zuko could tell he was lying. "But I know by tomorrow, I'll be back where I belong." He seemed confident, and a spark burned through his eyes. Zuko knew Ed wasn't lying when he told him about his travels, and he certainly didn't look insane enough to be making the stories up. Zuko yawned; it was getting late.
"Hey, you've been here for a while, you should get some sleep."
"Yeah. Why did you join the military here?" Ed said he joined his own country's military when he was young (a year younger than Zuko was now). So why did he immediately sign up after being whisked away to foreign land?
"I did it for my brother. I wanted to see if I could find a way to return to him." Zuko smiled. Ed seemed like a very kind person, despite his seemingly rough exterior.
Ed's battalion had been overrun by the enemy, and there was almost no hope of surviving. Ed commanded his men to retreat, and they ran, completely ignoring the Fire Lord's orders to stay and fight. The whole battalion was given a rare second chance to make atonement for their mistake, but Ed refused and walked away, immediately causing him and his soldiers to be deserters. They were all caught a week ago, and they were all scheduled to be punished. Ed made an agreement with the military if his men weren't punished, he would take all of the blame, and a worse punishment.
Zuko respected the brave man before him, even though he knew he was only eighteen. Age didn't matter; Ed should've been considered a hero, not a felon.
"Do you think you'll see your brother again?" Zuko asked, not realizing his innocent question might make Ed feel sad.
"Yes. Tomorrow. Now, you should get going and go to bed." Zuko stood up, yawned, and nodded his head. "You're the Fire Lord's son, aren't you?" Zuko looked unbelievingly at Ed.
"Good. Make sure you change this country for the better when you grow up." Zuko almost protested that he was grown up, but instead nodded his head.
"I will. I promise."
"One more thing. For my last, can you make sure I get stew and apple pie? And no milk." Zuko could feel his stomach churning.
"Meal." His heart dropped. Zuko looked at the sheet of paper, for the first time, that was attached to the cell's door.
Scheduled for tomorrow
Zuko thought he was going to be sick and ran all the way back home and into his room. There was no way that Ed, a kind and brave man, was condemned to death. It just wasn't fair. Zuko threw off his covers and left his room while slamming the door shut. He ran down the corridor until he found his uncle.
"Uncle! You have to stop them!" Zuko ran literally into his uncle, and Iroh wrapped his arms around his distraught nephew.
"Zuko? What's wrong?"
"They're gonna kill him! He didn't do anything wrong…" Zuko trailed off. Iroh knew immediately what his nephew was talking about, since he heard from a palace servant that they saw Azula and Zuko heading for the prison.
"I'm sorry. I can't help him." Iroh looked into the sad and watery eyes of Zuko. The condemned prisoner was brave and intelligent, but not in the eyes of anyone else in the military. "Did he talk to you?" Zuko nodded his head. Iroh smiled halfheartedly. Ed had only told two people about himself; Iroh and Zuko. "The only thing you can do is keep the promise you made with him."
"…H-he said he wanted stew and apple pie. He didn't want any milk…can't you do anything?"
"I can make sure he gets his last request." Zuko frowned. "You've had a long day. Go get some sleep." Iroh watched as Zuko trudged back to his room. Edward Elric sure was a strange person, but Iroh believed every word he said. That brave child didn't deserve a tragic end.
"Dad! Please don't do this!" The next morning and afternoon went by too slow. The sun was vanishing and the citizens of the capital were pouring into the arena, like they were about to watch a fascinating play. Azula was sitting next to her brother, smiling evilly. The archers were readying their bows, and shooting at targets. Ed was being tied to a post in the center of the arena.
"Be quiet." Ozai spoke forcefully. Ed didn't look frightened or angry. He looked rather calm. He turned his head, and his bright eyes found Zuko. He gave Zuko a quick smile, then did something unexpected; he stuck his tongue out at the Fire Lord.
"Ready!" Ed's head snapped back into attention, and he glared at the archers who were getting into formation and loading their bows.
"Aim!" Ed looked strong and confident. A small smirk was still on his face.
"Make them stop!" Zuko tugged on his father's robes.
"Be quiet, you insolent child!" Ozai pushed his son away.
"Fire!" Zuko closed his eyes, but he still heard the whir of the arrows flying by and thumping into their target. The crowd cheered, and Zuko buried his face into his uncle who had been sitting next to him the whole time.
The agni kai was miserable. Zuko bowed down and begged for forgiveness, and was forced to look at the puddle of blood that was near Ozai's feet from Ed's execution.
Zuko visited Ed's makeshift grave before leaving. The name on the grave wasn't even right, and dried spit marks encrusted the area.
"I'll keep my promise as soon as I find the Avatar. I'm sorry." Zuko left the palace with his uncle, not sure when he'd be coming back.
Five years later…
"I've kept my promise." Zuko was talking to Ed's grave. He had the tombstone fixed right after the end of the war, and Edward Elric had been promoted to Brigadier General.
Zuko walked down the halls and led his friends to an enormous tapestry he commissioned after the war was finished. After two long years, the magnificent piece if art was finished.
The tapestry had Ed's rank and named sown into it, and Ed was depicted with a kind look on his face. He was surrounded with his soldiers, but the thing Zuko was most happy about was the eyes. Gold thread had been used, so it actually made Ed's eyes sparkle with life, as if he would walk out of the wall decoration any minute.
"I hope you found your brother." Zuko said quietly, while making sure his friends didn't see the tears swelling in his eyes.
Edward Elric was immortalized in a beyond life tapestry, and would never be forgotten.