Throughout the first half of the story, Zuko's wearing what he wore during the 3rd book, and after the first chapter Jet's wearing something similar to the Fire nation soldier uniform, minus the helmet and it looks a bit more decked out in poshness.
His day had started out akin to every other day, the norm never differing. He'd been awoken by his chamberman, an extravagant breakfast handled with extra care following directly after he'd taken his time in proceeding with his morning toiletries. After eating, he'd gone to the pond to feed the turtleducks, ignoring his tormenting sister and her smugness of being superior. Following that, he'd trained, and trained, and trained… And Trained.
Every day after having returned with the Avatar, Zuko had spent his days in the same likeness to the day before, devoid of the usual feeling and effort, the slight feeling of achievement that had come with getting closer to the boy to capture him, getting stronger and more independent after having lost his way with his uncle and after having cut their ties and trying to live without the privileges of being the banished Prince and General.
It'd been sheer luck that the Avatar had fallen into his hands and he regretted ever considering his position at that moment. He hadn't needed to send word that he had the Airbender, that a ship would be required and the Firelord's word that he wouldn't be harmed. Not that he trusted anyone within the court at this point. Though that then begged the question as to why he was even there still or why he bothered in the first place.
He sighed heavily, a puff of fire and smoke spitting between the gap in his lips as he eased himself out of his finishing stance, heat burning beneath his skin and sweat glistening gently on the skin above every overused muscle. He didn't flinch at the slightly cold breeze that brushed his bare upper-half, only rolling his shoulders to cool the hot tension.
"Ready a bath," the reclaimed Prince requested with far less heat than he used to force upon his servants, to which surprised many of them that had clearly been fearful upon hearing of their fate to return to being his slaves.
To his request, the man bowed and swiftly left him in his place, the young man glancing across his own private training grounds. A gift, his father had claimed along with his returned title. A gift that had almost been given to Azula he'd bet. What with how bristled she'd been upon the grounds being given to him.
He'd let another heated breath pass his lips before heading towards his discarded shirt, reaching out and nabbing it on his way back towards his quarters. Zuko avoided many of the men and women working within the building, not bothering to make eye contact as he knew exactly what they thought of him. He hadn't needed to ask or wonder, well aware of the curses and spite from both sides of a coin. One half cursing him for returning from banishment, another overprivileged mouth to feed with a silver spoon, and the other for their future freedom having been taken from them and trod on like a dying flame under boot.
It wasn't just them though. The Prince was cursing himself. His life had been returned to him, but it was so… so...
He wasn't happy. There was no relief or happiness. He felt nothing he had expected to feel upon having his title and heritage returned to him. He felt more like an outsider than he had when being an actual outsider. He was so far out of the loop and his father and sister kept him at a farther distance than they claimed, only calling on him when they wanted a target for snide remarks and self-boasting.
He missed his uncle… He missed the terrible humour, the terrible odour, the silly music and wise words that he rarely ever let seep through his stubborn and ignorant thickheadedness… And the travelling… He missed the travelling that had come after he and his uncle had removed their ties and cut their topknots. Though as stubborn and reluctant he had been, it was some of the best moments he'd had, the most enlightening. He'd just needed to accept it.
And yet… he hadn't welcomed it, not a fraction.
He'd messed up again, not only ruining his own life this time, but the Avatar's as well.
An hour later, Zuko left his steaming bath with a towel being wrapped neatly around his waist upon feeling the breeze from an open window. He'd stopped short of passing one of his large bathroom windows, eyes landing on his pale skin and strong body. It wasn't his figure he stared at though. His gaze had landed on the short hair, brushed forward without it actually having been brushed. He hadn't bothered scalping himself or letting it grow out further, simply choosing to leave it at its length. To his father and sisters' dismay.
It wasn't as if he'd claim the crown after all the events that had occurred. He'd been promised to be the Advisor to the Princess, but as if she'd listen to anything he had to say. Another thing that made him feel as though he shouldn't have returned.
He frowned deeply at his reflection, angry with the face he saw. He turned away before another second was spent and headed out of the bathroom, ignoring his chamber servants' stares as he exasperatedly made his way towards the bed.
"Leave," he requested drily, the few people in the room bowing lowly before swiftly doing just that and leaving him to his thoughts. Which wasn't the best idea as now he only had his thoughts for company.
With a large lack of motivation, Zuko changed into his bedwear minus the shirt. He adorned mid-shin length pants, the hems of both the base of them and the waist clinging to his form, the waist being an already tied sash.
He lowered himself to the sheets, slipping under them with only a little light of the setting sun streaming through his open window and warming the room in its orange glow. It was still early, but sleep came to him easily with how much training he'd done throughout the day and how much mental effort he'd needed to deal with his sorry excuse for living in his previous home.
At first, he'd assumed that a simple nightmare had woken him, one that he couldn't remember. And then, he assumed it'd been a breeze from his open window that must have shifted something. The latter assumption hadn't been entirely wrong. It'd been due to his open window and something being shifted, but not from the wind.
With closed eyes and a highly alert mind, Zuko let himself feel, his senses taking over with strained hearing and trained stillness. He remained in his bed, half covered by the sheets with his scarred side hidden within his overly fluffy pillow. He calmed his breathing fast, eased his heart rate and listened to the movements, barely audible.
Whoever had entered his room, they were adept in stealth. Had Zuko not been highly trained in it himself, he'd still be asleep while having not sensed the intruder at all. And he'd probably be dead as he'd been the target of assassination attempts many a time before.
The closer the person got, the more he could tell. Zuko could hear the weight behind the light steps, the shift in stride and from there, he could hazard a guess of their height and even gender, the Prince going with male and maybe a fraction taller and broader than himself if not the same size overall.
The light of the moon hitting his face was blackened, the darkness behind his working lid growing darker, telling him that the intruder was directly at his bedside. Subtly, Zuko shifted with a soft breath, turning onto his back with a hand groggily moving up to his pillow as if he were really in motion while unconscious.
He'd just managed to slip his fingers beneath the cushion when he felt the sharp coldness of a blade hooking his wrist, Zuko stopping there with no change to his feigned sleeping state. He listened instead, hearing the deep, trained breath and minor clink of weak and light metal. He wore armour then, as penetrable as it must have been to sound so thin. The blades though. They were old shaped to hook his arm-.
Again, the Prince stopped, thoughts pausing at the feel of warmth near his left eye, nearing the scar before a finger lightly brushed his brow, temple and then cheek as if feeling the scar itself for the texture. And automatically, he tilted his head away from the touch and skillfully refrained from frowning as he normally would.
"Even you Ashmakers aren't safe from your own flames, huh?" the voice asked rhetorically in a hushed voice, sarcastic and smug but quiet enough that someone wouldn't wake to the voice, "Typical that you monsters wouldn't stop at burning the other nations, you'd burn your own too," the man whispered, more sarcasm, but with far more pain lacing those words. A revenge assassination then. Avenging a loved one by killing one of the figureheads. The joke was on him, Zuko meant nothing to his father nor would his death impact anyone.
"A punishment for speaking out against a General during a war meeting," Zuko spoke softly, feeling the slight hesitation through the shift of the blade still hooking his wrist. He opened his eyes, blinking towards the ceiling before letting his gaze drift to his assassin, his very Earthly dressed assassin. A boy no older than himself, a mop of brunette hair, tanned and dressed in old Earth attire with armoire scattered across his form. Two swords extended from his hands, hooked at the end with one holding his arm in place, locked in its curve from the awkward position.
"He wanted a town to burn, you wanted a city to burn? Not enough people to kill?" the intruder assumed lividly, a dark scoff leaving him before he tilted the blade a few inches to force the Firebenders' wrist into a slightly more uncomfortable position, not that he reacted.
"I didn't want anyone to die," he admitted tiredly, reminding himself of the burning he'd gotten for his efforts, "I was a kid," which didn't stop his father from scolding him and marring his skin. His own sons' skin.
"A Fire nation kid," the other man countered prickly, his glare evident in the darkness from the simple feel of heat radiating from his shadowed face. And Zuko, he casually sighed shortly through his nose, easily but slowly twisting his wrist out of the hooked end of the sword as if to show that he wouldn't fight him.
"If you're gonna kill me, do it," he huffed, the Prince agitatedly and tiredly turning directly towards the man while still lying there. He couldn't completely see his eyes, but he could look him in the face when he gave his final breath.
"Given up on life? Feelin' guilty about all the pain you caused?" the smugness had returned, a somewhat victorious twang to his tone as if he'd bested his opponent. As impressively stealthy and trained as the man may be, he was nothing but a spiteful, gloating child at heart. A sore winner as much as a sore loser, he'd bet-, "Too bad for you, I'm not making your death fast or easy," Zuko frowned deeply.
"See, I was planning some really nasty things for your sister, but then I found out how much more of a monster she was compared to her big brother ," the boy smirked, he could see that, something dark lacing the atmosphere around the boy. He could also see him gesture towards his groin and his eyes widened some at that, well aware of what he was talking about when he said nasty and gestured 'there'. He swiftly steeled himself and returned to his frowning.
"She'd sooner bite it off," he stated darkly and guardedly as he gradually forced himself to sit up and shift away from the other, his instinct telling him that he really wasn't ready to die to a man like this. He hated his sister, but even that was going too far for his liking.
"But you wouldn't," … He didn't like where this was going. Zuko glared, his eyes boring into the intruder while he continued shifting farther away on the mattress. He could feel that darkness grow in the stranger, the Prince really not liking the unspoken suggestion.
"What makes you think that," he asked rhetorically, noticing the grim amusement that seemed to follow that darkness. And by the time Zuko found himself near the other end of the bed, he was out from under the sheets and about ready to call the guards, not ready to die by a sick and twisted mans' hands. Unlucky for him, the other had followed him 'around' the bed and wasn't any farther from him than before.
"From what I hear, you're a disappointment 'cause you're weaker than your sister, emotionally and physically," there was that smugness again, Zuko feeling the simmering heat beneath his skin growing from the anxiety that built up, "I'd be able to kill you before you could kill me," his words and the meaning behind it were very clear, the air the words were drenched in sending a shiver up his spine. They were dark, really dark.
"I'm not weaker," he growled under his breath, seething at the words upon registering them and trying to refrain from letting that aura get to him. The other man was definitely twisted, the Prince not needing to take the effort into figuring out that the Fire nation drove him to it by killing someone he loved or de-homing him.
"Oh yeah?" the assassin smirked, the expression completely void of anything positive. There was so much darkness there, merciless and cruel that if he'd been wearing something from their nation, that he could have passed for one of the twisted tyrants leading the war.
"I'm just not as psychotic or reckless," as either Azula or this intruder. Zuko took a few steps back, wanting the distance between them, but the other man had other plans, keeping the space between them at a minimum. He advanced on him, swords directed his way.
"Sounds like weakness to me," the assassin continued, still taking a step towards him with every step he took backwards. It wasn't weakness, it was common sense, human decency, asking questions before deciding their fate. He'd been reckless, he still could be, but his sister was far more monstrous than he'd ever be.
"Sabercat got your tongue?" the dark amusement seeped through his words, Zuko finding himself walking back into a wall, his spine straightening out against the surface and leaving the space to shrink further. The tip of the curved blade tinked against the wall beside his neck, the cold sting warming against his skin and being tilted as the intruder narrowed the gap.
The Prince stared at him, glared at him, scowled even. He wanted to use his flames, he would the moment he saw the telltale signs of an attack, but as of yet, the other man was only playing with him, like a cruel sabercat with a cornered mouselette.
He growled softly, baring his teeth with his hefty scowl the closer the intruder got and as he'd thought he couldn't get much closer, he did, barely any space between them. He could feel his body heat where his clothes brushed Zuko's bare skin, the warm breath against his face; he could see the detail in his eyes, each shade but dimmer due to the early morning hours.
Neither wavered, neither moved. The two stood their ground, one slightly taller than the other with the slightly smaller one cornered against the wall, a sword at his throat. He didn't react or let his eyes follow the hand that sheathed one of the hooked blades before it was splayed against the flat surface beside the scarred side of his face, his thumb brushing skin on the way passed.
After a few long and lingering minutes, Zuko swore that he saw something in the other's expression, something akin to consideration or thought. The way that he was looking at him, a glint that turned him and made him feel self-conscious. He almost felt like he was being objectified with that little spark of interest that caused a brow to flick upwards on that tanned face.
"Instead of killing you, I think I might kidnap you… make you my bride," at those words, his brain malfunctioned for a few short seconds, his expression turning blank and flat as he really tried to process that one sentence, finding it much harder than he thought.
"What the hell is wrong with you…?" the Prince deadpanned, his own brow quirking while he blinked emptily at the stranger. ' Because what the hell kind of sentence was that to say to another man and one you were planning to kill not even ten minutes ago? '
And there was that smirk, growing wide across his lips and tugging further on the one side and making it crooked. He eyed him over, Zuko feeling far more like a piece of meat the longer those firm eyes roamed him, the Prince feeling far too underdressed in nothing but his pants. He actually felt his arms automatically shift, crossing loosely over his chest in a defensive motion.
"I had you defenceless and I was ready to kill you, but you didn't give a shit. So I'll have to ruin your life another way," the man chuckled softly, under his breath and he honestly looked a little demented and mischievous, in a bad sense, a sense that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand.
"Already done that myself," he countered, deflecting and avoiding while trying to hide his own discomfort in the thought of actually having to deal with this man more than he already was at that moment. He was too far out of his comfort zone as is, and if he had to deal with him longer than this, then he'd surely never be able to sleep soundly. Or as soundly as he cold after everything that had happened.
"Pretty sure I can make it worse," if, at all possible, that smirk grew more devious. Zuko refrained from saying anything against his words, afraid that declining or denying his sentence would only drive him to do just that and agreeing or accepting might have had the same effect. Only… not saying anything did just that too.
Zuko all but flinched as a loud gong sounded in the yard not far from his chambers, the loud banging thrumming through the bones of the buildings and vibrating the floors beneath them. His eyes darted to his window, but just as he did, the shadowed figure of his assassin suddenly took up his sight.
Heat washed through his mouth as the strangers' lips were pressed against his, forcing him flush against the wall with his wrists being caught just as he tried to force the other away. A few soft sounds tried to break the liplock, but the other had him at a disadvantage, the warm wetness of a tongue briefly swiping between his lips before the one-sided kiss was broken.
Zuko barely had a chance to regain his sense to realize that he'd almost followed the other's lips, cursing himself while just catching sight of the intruders back as he skipped back out through the window with a lazy, two-fingered salute and smirk, a 'see you later' being mouthed and just barely heard before he disappeared.
He stood there fuming, heat burning beneath his skin and growing the longer he repeated the night in his own head. He growled, raking a hand through his short hair as he reluctantly headed towards the window and closed it with more force than necessary. He'd rather sweat in his sleep than let himself be toyed with like that again.
"Prince Zuko?" he heard from the door, heading back towards the bed as the door was opened timidly by one of the women caretakers, a curious and cautious air about her as if she were worried he'd turn on her.
"I'm fine. Leave," he grumbled, climbing back into his bed and wrapping the blanket tighter around himself as the door did close upon hearing the firm request. He needed sleep, he wanted his sleep. He'd surely vent tonight's events through training again after breakfast.
If only he knew just how much he'd be venting after his father called on him a few days later.