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With the Sun [Story for sugarland31] [Story by] 
15th-Jan-2007 11:38 pm
A_ficathon
Ficathon Story for sugarland31.

Title: With the Sun
Author:
Prompt: a secret, a decision, and really bad timing
Genre Preferred: drama, romance, or angst or action
Ships Preferred: Zuko/Jin (first choice), Zuko/the Gaang (technically not a ship, but w/e,), Zuko/anyone in his family (your choice)
Rating Preferred: anything from PG to R
Author's Notes: None
Appearing theme:

With the Sun


Zuko remembered little in that dark prison cell, the brig aboard his sister's ship. He'd played the scene of his capture so many times in his own head it had all started to blur together: Ty Lee's smirk as his limbs fell motionless, Mai's hands as he was bound, Azula's laughter when finally locked away; next stop, the Fire Nation capitol.


It was seven days later that he stopped trying to escape (with one

almost-successful attempt) and settled deep within prison hold, unwilling and, quite honestly, a little unable to move. Seven days with hardly any food and even less water will do that to a person; Zuko knew that the loss of a few memories could be the least of problems. Nevertheless, he closed his eyes, and tried to remember life before his capture... before his fateful Agni Kai... before his mother's final words... He tried to remember what mattered...

*


Father was away, dealing with “war matters”--or, at least, that's what

Mother said. It seemed to Zuko that the only thing Fire Nation princes (his father, his uncle, his cousin) were ever meant to do was deal with the war; he couldn't wait until he was old enough to join them.


But he was still nine (almost ten, he kept insisting, because age ten meant that he could have his crown) and he still had classes to take. His mother, it seemed, had chosen the most boring man alive to tutor Zuko for three hours a day, a time slot which, thankfully, was almost up

.

“So you can see,” the tutor droned on, turning the page of a rather large periodical, “even with greatly smaller numbers, Fire Lord Souzen was able to achieve victory at Han Tui. This was a vital position to hold at the time-”


Zuko wasn't listening. History was his least favourite of all his tutor's lessons; it wasn't as if he was ever going to need it.


“...wouldn't you agree, Prince Zuko? ...Prince Zuko?”


“Hm? Oh, yeah, definitely.” Anything to end this session.


The tutor squinted his eyes. “I would know my facts if I were you, little prince. Your father is expecting a full report on your progress upon his return-”


“My father?” Zuko's attention suddenly became rapt. “My father is coming home?”


The tutor shuffled. “That is what I heard.”


“When?”


“I don't know, but if we could return to the matter at hand...” He paused, and though expecting a customary groan from his pupil, but received only a blank stare. The groan that followed came from himself. “Oh, just get out of here already. I lost your attention hours ago.”


Springing out the door, Zuko was elated. Father was coming home! The only question was when. He had to find Mother, she would know. Glancing at the position of the sun, he could tell it was well past noon; Ursa would be feeding the turtleducks right about now.


He hastily rounded a corner-


and ran straight into Azula. The siblings crashed headlong, falling as mirror images to the ground. Azula's two friends immediately helped her up—no one helped Zuko.


“Stay out of my way, Zuzu,” snapped Azula. Zuko coloured and told her to go play with her dolls.


“Azula doesn't play with dolls,” said Ty Lee in a matter-of-fact tone, though there was a hint of remorse in her voice. “She never has time for fun.”


The young princess sneered at her brother. “See, unlike you, Zuzu, we can fight. We have actual training to do.”


“I can fight!” Zuko couldn't help but argue; sisters are talented that way. “You guys just do your cartwheels and silly dances. I train with knives.” He had the cuts on his hands to prove it.


“Silly dances?” Azula's words suddenly became cordial, and she dipped smoothly into a fighting stance. “Girls, I think we she should him how much damage a 'cartwheel' can do. What do you think?”


Ty Lee giggled, while Mai said nothing and shrugged, as usual. Zuko stepped backwards and tried to stutter some sort of warning, but it was already too late.

*


Mother found him first.


Zuko had more or less planned it that way; after the girls had finished with him, he went to the only place he knew they follow: his mother's garden. They wouldn't dare hurt him right under Ursa's nose. The princess found him in the shadow of the largest tree, wedged between two giant roots.


“Zuko?”


He looked up at her and tried to smile. Faintly, he managed, “Hi Mom.”


Ursa's eyes widened. “Zuko! What happened to your shirt? What happened to your face?! Who-?”


Zuko shrugged. Yes, his lip was bleeding and, yes, the shirt had a new hole thanks to Azula's nails, but it could have been a lot worse. They could have blackened an eye or broken an arm, but nothing they did would leave a scar.


“... was it Azula and her friends again?”


The boy turned away from his mother's gaze. “I don't want to talk about it. I just... I just came here for the quiet... and the turtleducks...” He gave a hollow laugh.


More than a few moments passed in silence. Zuko wondered vaguely what his mother was thinking. Then, still without a word, Ursa sat down and began to mop his face with the edge of a satin sleeve. When she was at last satisfied with his appearance, she scooped him into her arms and sighed. “Zuko, Zuko... how am I going to tell your father...?”


Zuko's heart skipped a beat. “It true, then? Dad's coming home?”


“Yes. He and Uncle Iroh both will return in about a week. How did you-”


“Don't tell Father.” The words burst from Zuko almost desperately. He could feel lump rising in his throat. “Please don't tell Dad. It'll be old news by the time he gets back and you don't have to write it in your next letter- please, Mom? Please?” He grasped her arm.


Again, Ursa was silent. Zuko repeated his plea and was on the verge of tears when she at last relented, “Alright, alright, I won't tell Father. It's okay.” Long, gentle arms squeezed the small boy. “But, you know... you really shouldn't let her frighten you like that.”


“She doesn't scare me,” Zuko murmured, and Ursa chuckled to herself. The sun began to close her eyes with earth-eyelash, turning the pond into liquid gold. A thought strayed across Zuko's mind, and he was young enough to think his mother would answer it. “Hey Mom?”


“Hm?”


“Who do you love more, me or Azula?”


“Oh, Zuko. My children are my world.”


“But even the sun has her favourites on Earth. Her favourite season is when she is warmest, her favourite time of day is when she shines the most. You have to like one of us better.”


Ursa laughed again. “No, I don't. It's hard to explain. In my world, the sun sets for Azula, and rises for you.” And she meant only, as all mothers do, that her love was divided equally, but Zuko took this to mean that in his mother's eyes, he came first. He lit her universe each day with sunrise, and Azula darkened it. There may have been a small ounce of truth here, but

what's important is that Zuko believed it, and locked it away deep inside him. Ursa lowered her head and kissed the top if Zuko's.


“Come on, I think I smell dinner.”


And they stood and took each other's hand, and for once the world seemed right.

*


The four nations, some say, are too different to ever really balance (“That's why the Avatar disappeared,” many would come to believe) as they could never all agree on what foods to eat, what politics to use, or even how to wear one's hair.


The Earth Kingdom favours livestock and food tilled by one's own hand, and many kings to watch over them like the great mountains. Their hair they decorate with tight knots, as though to boast stability.


The Water Tribe takes harvest from the ocean, and governs themselves as a family. They style their hair into tails, with many braids to show their wisdom.


The Air Nomads eat only what the earth will give them, and likewise look only to the spirits to guide them. In this manner did they free their hair, by either cutting it altogether, or never cutting it at all.


And the Fire Nation loves roasted meats and spices, and chose but one king to lord above his people. They wear their hair like crowns, proud and often elegant, with topknots given only to Firebending masters. In addition, it was an old ritual for royalty to adorn their topknot with gold when at last they ended childhood, and took their first steps towards adolescence.


Zuko had no such ornaments; he wore merely a ponytail done up in red silk.


But that was going to change. In seven days Ozai and Iroh returned, and Zuko neither spoke nor thought of the incident with Azula... and his tenth birthday drew nearer.


Zuko dropped hint after not-so-subtle hint on his mother, knowing that she could pass the message on to Ozai. “I'm almost ten, you know.”


“That's still a little way's off,” Ursa cautioned. Zuko wasn't deterred.


“Do you think Dad'll give me my crown before he leaves again? You know, just in case he misses my birthday.”


Ursa refused to give an opinion on this. “Your father never does anything before he is absolutely ready and certain, Prince Zuko. You should know this by now.”


But, miracle of miracles, the summons came. Zuko received notice that his father wished to meet with him alone; not even Azula could have crushed her brother's spirit that day.


Zuko met with Ozai in his chamber, the young boy bowed low and sat opposite him, legs folded in his most princely manner. Zuko couldn't help but notice a small, elegant wooden box resting on his father's knees. Ozai inclined his head.


“Well, my son, it seems you are almost ten years of age.” Prince Ozai's words were deliberate, smooth, like the oil used to light lamps. “As you well know, there is a tradition; customs that must be upheld...” Zuko was rewarded with a glimpse of gold within the wooden box: the crown was shaped like a small flame, almost identical to the one Zuko admired on his cousin, Lu Ten. “This piece is almost as old as you are; crafted hours after your birth. I'd hoped to present it on your tenth birthday.” Slender hands closed the little wooden box and folded themselves across the lid. Then, very slowly, their owner spoke, “However, this cannot be worn by a son who is easily bested and bullied by little girls.”


Zuko's heart plummeted to the floor, and all the heat the young Firebender possessed seemed to be caught in his face. His father continued to speak, but Zuko did not hear it; he was conscious only of two words: She told.


Before long Zuko found himself in the hallway, ushered towards his room by a servant. He felt completely numb from the neck down, and dully became aware of a single need.


He needed to find his mother. Yes, that was it; if he could get both his parents into the same room, Ursa could talk to him and make it all better. Ignoring the cries of his nurse, the young prince made a beeline for his mother's garden.


She was there, just as he knew she would be. Zuko ran right up to her, his ragged breath froming almost literal clouds of steam.


“Zuko!” his mother cried, “what-”


“You told!” he shouted, unable keep it in. In a rush everything flooded out,

“You told him and now he thinks I'm a failure, he thinks Azula is better than me and I'm not going to get my crown and all because you told him!”


Ursa did not speak—Zuko realized he was crying. His entire body began to shake, “Why? Why did you tell him? Why...?”


Ursa sank to her knees, bringing herself eye-level with Zuko. With gentle hands she wiped his tears away, trailing her thumb beneath his eyes. She cupped his chin and waited for his breathing to slow down, and when most of the sobs had stopped, the princess spoke very quietly. “I did tell him. I told him what happened because I had to.”


Zuko shook his head forcefully, wrenching himself from her grasp. “No, you didn't! It was a secret, you didn't have to tell, you didn't!”


“Yes, I did.” Ursa said a little firmer, but not much. “Zuko... even if, by some miracle, Ozai didn't find out from Azula or a servant, or anyone for that matter, he is still your father and I am still your mother. I had to tell him, just as he would have told me. Someday you'll understand the way of husbands and wives.”


But he didn't understand, nor would he understand for ages and ages. Tears threatened to well up again. “Azula will get her crown next year, I know it. And what if I don't have mine, then what? Dad will hate me and love Azula even more.”


“No, Zuko that could never happen. It's true that Father admires Azula's strength, but you are his first and only son. He was most displeased with his daughter when I told him of Azula's behaviour. She has been sent into seclusion, to meditate on her actions.” Ursa smiled and pulled Zuko into her arms. “See? Now I've told another secret. Uncle Iroh is going to have to sew my mouth shut.”


Despite himself, Zuko laughed. Spotting this weakness, Ursa pounced on him, tickling and taunting her son playfully, exposing his most ticklish spots without mercy. Zuko couldn't help the laughter as Ursa washed his sorrow away, if only for a moment.

*


In the shadow of a cold jail cell, Prince Zuko's memories were interrupted by the appearance of his sister, now much older and vicious than the little girl who bullied her older brother. She opened the brig door with a shattering bang, and did not hesitate to lord over her prisoner.


Zuzu,” she said, enjoying the old nickname, “I thought you'd like to know that we've reached the Fire Nation. Soon you'll be back in your homeland... though I'm not certain how much you'll be able to see of it from an execution cell. I- what are you smiling for?!” Azula's mockery quickly flew into rage, as only a sibling could solicit. “Don't smirk at me!”


Indeed, Zuko now wore the rueful grin passed down to him through his uncle (or was it his mother?), the same playful defiance of one with the upper hand, or at least a really good bluff. In either case, light was beginning to spill in through the door Azula had been so kind to open, and was making it's way across the metal floor.


The sun was rising.



If you would like to comment after reading, ALL COMMENTS MUST BE ANONYMOUS, except in the case of sugarland31.
Comments 
16th-Jan-2007 05:00 am (UTC)
Anonymous
Ohh, I really like the symbolism in this. ♥ And the way Zuko's smirking at the end, and the way Azula's just so pissed about that—I love it. :P

Although, I do have one little nitpick: and was making it's way across the metal floor.

"It's" should be "its". ^^;

Anywho, fantastic job! :D I'm sure sugarland31 will love it. ♥
16th-Jan-2007 02:11 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
Oh my, this was simply lovely..

I especially liked the imagery in this line: The sun began to close her eyes with earth-eyelash

As a wife and mom myself I can understand how Ursa would tell Ozai about the incident. That made perfect sense. Overall, I think this story was absolutely wonderful. Sugarland31 is very fortunate.
18th-Jan-2007 12:03 am (UTC)
Ooh! Very, very nice.

I loved the sort of historical/cultural significance you put into the flashbacks. I love those sorts of details in stories, and you wrote them in very nicely.

Also, everyone seemed pretty IC, which sometimes gives people problems. And like Anonymous said up there, Ursa would definitely tell Ozai. He's still Zuko's daddy, after all. ^_^

Overall, LOVED IT! Favorite line: definitely the last one.

The sun was rising...
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