Kuebiko

BY : Death_Rattle
Category: Avatar - The Last Airbender > AU/AR - Alternate Universe/Alternate Reality
Dragon prints: 5257
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to Avatar: the Last Airbender or any of the characters. I do not profit from my writing.

Even in his delirium, his battle-scarred body half-starved and wracked with fever, the sound was unmistakable.

Fireworks.

A celebration. They were celebrating.

What exactly his people were celebrating, however, remained a mystery to the (former) Fire Prince. It could be any number of things, he supposed, his mind conjuring the possibilities, each one darker than the last.

Zuko was no fool. The fact that his father had come to gloat not long (how long?) after Sozin's comet had passed could only mean one thing. Aang had failed to defeat him. And that, of course, begged the question: what happened to Aang? Was he..?

Was the Caldera celebrating not only the end of the war and their nation's triumph over the Earth Kingdoms and other 'dissenters'... but the death of the Avatar, their war-torn world's last hope for peace and balance? However painful it may be, the possibility simply could not be ignored. Was he... dead? Was the Avatar – his friend – gone forever?

Hot, stinging tears hit cold, unforgiving stone.

"I'm sorry... I'm sorry..." he whispered, resigned to the fact that whatever fate Aang (and what of the others? Oh, Agni... Katara... where was she, what did they do to her?!) may have suffered was indeed his burden to bear. He'd had the chance to put an end to his father's miserable life. He could have ended it all, right then and there, on the day of black sun... but he didn't.

All there was left to do now was hold out hope – a fool's hope, in all likelihood – that Azula would move against their Agni-forsaken father, that she didn't want to be his queen... that she wouldn't bow, break, bend to his will-

A sharp pain in his chest stopped Zuko's train of thought dead in its tracks. Azula was already lost to him, the hooks in her so deep that she'd bleed out if you tried to save her now. As for himself? All he could do was wait... wait to die. With any luck, the fever would take him. Perhaps, just this once, the universe would grant him pittance. It wouldn't be quick by any means, it would hurt more than death needed to hurt... but that was alright, Ozai doesn't deserve the satisfaction of carrying out his execution, personally removing the stain on his oh-so-perfect existence that was his only son, watching the light leave his eyes...

Darkness.

Everything went dark for the Fire Lord that-almost-was, who was now at least partially resigned to the thought that he may never wake up. The last Fire Lord, meanwhile, felt more alive than ever as the night sky danced alight with bursts of glittering gold and her new husband carried her over the threshold of his (now their) suite...

 ⁂⁂⁂

How long?

Having become lucid enough (finally) to be able to ask such a question, Zuko quickly realized he had no answer. How long indeed: hours, days, weeks? Just how long had he been lying here, both literally and figuratively, in the dark, barely cognizant of his own existence in a fever-induced haze? Agni, he almost wanted his father to come down to the palace dungeons and taunt him again. At least, then, he would know something. It was maddening, knowing nothing of the outside world nor how much time had passed in it. No news of Aang, Katara, any of his friends... Uncle and the White Lotus... Azula...

Azula!

The former Fire Prince shuddered at the thought of his sister, and whatever horrors she may have been subjected to as of late, perhaps even that very moment. They'd always had their differences (and that was putting it mildly), it was true. Still, no one deserved that. No one deserved Ozai, not even the girl who'd shot him full of lightning and usurped his birth rite.

I promise not to do anything that I haven't done before

His father's words were ringing in his ears - right under his nose! His so-called father had been forcing himself on his sister right under his nose for Agni-only-knows how many years-

You failed her like you fail everyone. Just stop thinking about it, there's nothing you can do anyways, his mind scolded. Zuko conceded. He was powerless, stuck here in this cell with no hope of making an escape. And truly, he had failed everyone he'd ever loved. Azula, his uncle, his friends- Aang was dead, the others had been captured if not killed. If there was anyone left alive and in once piece to help, it didn't matter. He wasn't going anywhere, and no one was coming for him.

Defeated, he curled up and closed his eyes, somehow still hopeful that it was all a dream... a nightmare... that he would wake up in a different world where Aang had won, where the Fire Sages placed a golden diadem atop his head and people in all four corners of the world rejoiced, where Ozai was rotting in earth, unable to hurt anyone ever again.

Some time - how much exactly, Zuko was unsure - passed before he awoke. The clouds had parted, revealing a sliver of pale moonlight.

...and a shadowy silhouette, standing straight as an arrow, eerily silent and still.

"Wh-Who are you?"

Nothing.

"Answer me!" Zuko roared, scrambling (with some difficulty) to his feet as characteristic wild flames flared up, dancing alight without restraint in either hand.

And still, nothing. The shadowy figure which fire now told to be a man in dark green robes approached-

But wait, he recognized those robes! Ba Sing Se... Azula..! What was it she called those strange, sullen men who followed her in single-file lines?

Dai Ling?

No. No, that wasn't it.

"The Phoenix Queen sends her regards."

With some reluctance, Zuko took the small slip of paper which appeared to have been folded just once. As well, it bore a strange mark he did not recognize - a bird of some kind.

I won't let him hurt you

"Wait!" he called after the green-robed man, only to be met with the sound of a solid, metal door slamming shut.

⁂⁂⁂

The night had long since passed. The sun crept through the small, barred window (which barely qualified as such), slowly illuminating his cell with bright, almost blinding morning light. Zuko stared, perplexed, at that slip of paper for what had to be the one hundredth time.

She'd written it herself, the former Fire Nation Prince recognized his own sister's script anywhere. At the very least, that was probably a good sign, an indication she was in no immediate danger. His wild imagination had conjured up something quite the opposite. All of the sudden, he felt foolish. If Azula knew anything, it was how to not only survive but thrive in their family, how to avoid Ozai's anger and ensure she was always in his good graces. Still, it begged the question: why would Azula want to help him?

He was nothing but a liability to her, helping him would make her appear weak and spineless (at least in Ozai's eyes). Once more, was she even in a position to be able to help him? Slipping messages past their father through her agents was one thing but Azula ultimately had no control over whether he lived or died... did she? Was it at all possible she held sway over Ozai, enough so to make him reconsider his son's apparent death sentence? True, she'd always been able to manipulate him to some degree (he'd believed her lies about his supposed slaying of the Avatar, after all). As well, there was something to be said for the fact that he'd chosen to marry her, despite the indubitable disapproval of the Fire Sages. But this? His father hated him, with all his black little heart. There was simply no way-

Startled, Zuko tucked Azula's message away, hiding it safely in his sleeve, out of sight.

He was not alone.

"What do you want?"

Back again. One of those creepy, quiet guys with funny hats and flowing robes - the same man from before, perhaps? Truthfully, they all looked the same to him, and so he knew not.

Does Azula even know the difference?

Weary, golden eyes fell upon a tin cup filled with...

...water!

In an instant, Zuko forgot all about his question as the man presented him with the cup (and its contents which he greedily gulped down in a second, two at most). He then set to work in silence, the deposed Fire Prince offering no argument as his wound was cleaned and dressed with a strange sense of familiarity.

As though this had happened more than once before...

"Wait!" Zuko called out, as the man turned to leave, the task at hand finished. "Please!" And to the former prince's surprise, he actually stopped. "The Avatar?"

"Dead."

Despite the news of his friend's untimely death, he couldn't allow himself to grieve. Not now. He had questions, so many questions. "Katara, the waterbender?"

"Alive. Relatively unharmed."

Finally, some good news! It was almost too good to be true! "I want to see my sister" he said, doubtful anyone would acquiesce his request. Still, he had to try.

"I am afraid that will not be possible at the moment. The Phoenix Queen is... away."

Phoenix Queen

Zuko grimaced. "Away? Where? Where did he take her?!" he demanded. "What did he do to her?!"

"Nothing that cannot be remedied," the man answered, cryptically.

"What are you talking about? Where's my sister?"

"Ember Island."

What in Agni's name are they doing on Ember Island, taking a vacation?!

"Wait, please don't go!" This time, however, Zuko was left alone to his thoughts.

Left alone to sob, mourn the friend he should have saved. If only... if only he'd taken his chance. None of this had to happen. He didn't deserve to live, he was not worth whatever bargain Azula planned on making. He was not worth Katara's inevitable rescue attempt. If she was alive and he was alive, the waterbender would find a way to get to him, he just knew it. Agni, he wished she would just run as far away from the Fire Nation (and his family) as possible. He wished she would forget all about him, find Sokka, Toph, and Suki (assuming they were alright) and get to safety. He would only put them all in danger, for Ozai would never stop hunting him. Ozai never gave up; in that sense they were alike. No, he'd track them all down and-

Azula always lies

How was he to know anything his sister's agent had just said was the truth?! Was Aang truly dead? Was Katara truly alive- for that matter, did they even know who Katara was? And that message... had Azula merely been toying with him before the end? Once more, for old time sake. The last laugh.

Azula always lies

Agni, he'd go mad as her down here before long...



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