Title: On the Wheel
Characters: Zuko, Katara, Aang, Toph, Sokka
Notes: This was the first fandom I wrote fic for. All men are tied to fortune’s wheel and as it turns, some rise while others are crushed beneath it. Having dragged himself from beneath the wheel, Zuko must decide how to recover the wreckage of his life. ((Later chapters were never written. When Season 2 continued, after The Desert, this story became pointless.))
[Ported from FFN in 12/2009]
The prince of the Fire Nation sat quietly on the rail of an Earth Nation ship, headed for some other place. He couldn’t remember the name of the island and he supposed it didn’t really matter – one place was just as good as another, these days. The end of the war was near; Fire Lord Ozai – Zuko couldn’t think of him as "father" anymore – had declared that the final battles would take place at the end of the summer and Zuko was more certain with every passing day that he would not make it back with the Avatar in time.
And what about the Avatar? His feelings toward the mythic saviour had changed after he met the boy a few times. The Avatar was a child, forced into fighting in a war by the social pressure from people he’d never met. Zuko shook his head. He hadn’t exactly helped with that.
But what if the Avatar was correct? What if the Fire Lord was wrong? Certainly no man who could duel his own teenage son and then banish him – That’s no way to speak of your father, Zuko. You were wrong. Far more wrong than he. Is he not the Fire Lord? Is he not the beloved and victorious ruler of a nation? But Zuko doubted the voices.
The time he’d spent with his uncle had made him oddly jealous of his deceased cousin. He truly wished that his own father had been more like Iroh – despite the Pai Sho, the incessant tea drinking, and that awful habit of remaining calmly amused in the face of everything. What an irritating old man General Iroh was! But, he was not a cruel man. Iroh believed in helping anyone who needed it, provided you weren’t right in the middle of a battle against them. He remembered Zhao’s attack on the moon and rethought that statement: "even if you were right in the middle of a battle with them." Even his enemies were welcome at his tea table. To Zuko, this seemed like foolishness, but at the same time, Iroh had many friends in strange places who were useful in times of trouble. Zuko couldn’t be sure these two things were entirely unrelated.
But, the Avatar – The Avatar was like Iroh, in some ways. He was foolish and naïve, willing to believe the best of people, even as he fought them. And as much as Zuko hated to admit it, the Avatar was like him, too. Exiled with no hope of return to his home or his family, the Avatar fought in a war he hadn’t chosen to be part of. Exiled with little hope of returning to his home or family – except for Iroh, of course – the prince fought in a war he’d chosen accidentally, the day he spoke without thinking. We are lost, we are freaks. He shook his head and looked out across the water at the setting sun. If only…
He jerked upright, with a look of disgust that was aimed at no one but himself. If only what? If only you could go home? If only you hadn’t disappointed your father with your damned big mouth?If only… He rubbed his good eye absently. The sea air was making it tear up. If only I had what he has. If only I could make my own family and forget the one I left behind. Mother is dead, Azula is trying to kill me, and the Fire Lord is encouraging her. Some happy family I have. At least Uncle Iroh is here. At least Uncle Iroh believes in me, even though I disappointed him by not following his directions.
He contemplated his reflection in the water …I never should have cut my hair off. I look like a fool. His eyebrows shot up at the thought – well, eyebrow, technically. What do you even care if you look like a fool! What girl would look twice at you? You’re an exile, Prince I’m-Not-Paying-Attention! Besides, if you’re going to catch the Avatar, you haven’t the time for that sort of nonsense.
Well, maybe after I catch the Avatar –
You’ll be home, then, and either you’ll still look like a dumbass or your father will kill you for shaving your head. He may well have disowned you, but now you’ve agreed to it. You can never go back, you know.
I know. And in that moment, he did know. He suspected he’d known when he cut his hair at the river. Perhaps even before that, when Azula first showed up and lied, like she always did, saying that their father wanted him home. He decided that he would tell people that Iroh was his father, instead. He was sure the old man wouldn’t mind.
Katara awoke to the sound of Toph taking some violent revenge on Sokka for some imagined slight or other. The ground rumbled ominously, inspiring Sokka to shriek and run back the way he’d come from. Unfortunately, his sister had begun to rise since the last time he leapt over her sleeping form.
She decided that she was going to kill him slowly. Very slowly. Possibly by bludgeoning him to death with his own boomerang.
Katara stared at the sky for a few long moments while Sokka failed to get off her because he was caught in her sleeping bag. He was still shrieking like a little girl who couldn’t ride the carousel when he finally untangled himself from her. So, Katara did the only sensible thing that one could do in that situation — she grabbed her brother’s ankle and tripped him before he could trample Aang.
She sat up angrily. "Stay down, Sokka," she grumbled before turning to Toph. "What did my brother do this time?"
The blind girl flicked her wrist and several small stones pelted Sokka.
"Without doing any more damage." Katara sounded like a rather restrained teacher, resisting the ever-present urge to slap the truth out of a student.
"He was sneaking around the river while I was washing! He’s a –"
Sokka cut her off. "I was not sneaking! I was trying to get breakfast! Has anyone noticed that there’s no food over that fire?"
Katara sighed. Now that she looked at them, it was fairly obvious – Toph was still wet and looked like she’d dressed in a hurry. "Go get us some breakfast, Sokka. And you," she pointed at Toph before realising it was pointless, "go get dressed."
Sokka and Toph stormed off in opposite directions. As Katara turned to pack up her now-trampled sleeping bag, she heard applause from behind her. Turning around, she expected to see Toph being sarcastic, but it was Aang and he looked impressed.
"How do you do that?" He asked. "I can get entire tribes to stop their wars, but I can’t get a hand between those two." He shook his head and got up to help her pack what they could of the camp.
They joked between themselves that her skills were some sort of ancient waterbending secret until Sokka came back with a basket of fish. Toph couldn’t be bothered to join them for breakfast, the cooking of breakfast, the cleaning up after breakfast, or anything that might put her in proximity to "that pervert, Sokka". In the end, she was loaded onto Appa’s back wrapped in a sleeping bag.
"So what are we doing, today?" Sokka asked, lazily resting against a pile of stuff that didn’t have Toph in it.
Aang was quick to answer. "I heard in the last town we were in that there is an island near here with a wonderful marketplace. I could do with something other than fish for breakfast, tomorrow. Maybe we can do some work or put on a show to get enough money for some good food."
"Mmm, fooood." Sokka drooled as he considered a breakfast other than fried fish.
"So, that’s settled, then," said Katara, with a smile, "We’ll go to this island and see what we can do to get some food. Maybe we can even stay in an inn, if they have one. A real bed has begun to sound awfully good."
Toph finally spoke. "And maybe I can get a shower without that pervert staring at me."
"I wasn’t staring! I was hunting!"
Katara looked at Aang and shrugged.
[Story never finished. Probably never will be.]