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Where Thoughts Fear To Tread

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Their honor didn’t hinge on the Avatar’s capture. Mine does.

Restoring his honor. His father’s love. His rightful place on the throne. That’s all he tells himself he is striving for. The mysterious light fills him with thoughts of everything he hopes to regain, and holding her in his arms again is definitely not one of them. It has been too long for that. He would not be so foolish to dare to hope she would still be waiting for him after he never got to say good-bye, that she wouldn’t have found someone else in over two years. No, all he hopes for when he returns home with the Avatar is his honor back, and he will repeat that as many times as necessary to keep his mind focused on that goal… and not focused on another.

Keeping a level head is the sign of a great leader.

Every time he loses his temper, he wishes he hadn’t. But he does not wish she were there to lend him some of her peace and tranquility, and he does not envy the perpetual calm that seemed to always hang about her. That would only be further proof of his weakness.

I need to capture him to restore something I’ve lost – my honor. Perhaps in exchange, I can restore something you’ve lost.

He wishes he had never tried that desperate ploy with the necklace. Then he never would have had to listen to his uncle’s tiresome lecture about Water Tribe betrothal customs. It is only the boredom that makes him hate it so much, not fantasies about engagement and marriage in his own nation. He has no one in his mind to share the tradition with.

My honor, my throne, my country – I’m about to lose them all.

He is no longer despairing like he was earlier. He may not have the Avatar, but neither does Zhao, and because of that, all his dreams are back within his reach. Even after hearing a lonely young soul talk of friends and missed loved ones, these are the only things he dreams of. He stares at the symbol of his nation woven into the tapestry and tells himself there is no point in wondering where someone he should not miss is right now. He turns away from the image and forces his mind away from the thought. My honor, my throne, my country, my father…

So this is your girlfriend… no wonder she left. She’s way too pretty for you.

He ignores this joke like he has all the rest. They mean nothing to him; there is no truth to any part of it. Even if he had a girlfriend, he would never think about how someone so beautiful and special deserved the most handsome man in the Fire Nation, how she at least deserved someone without a face marred with shame and failure. He would never put himself through that unbearable pain.

You tried to have me killed!

The first thing he remembers when he regains consciousness is the explosion. His entire ship destroyed, now lying at the bottom of the harbor, unsalvageable. The second thing he realizes is that a certain locked box that he kept hidden in his room, left unopened and untouched since the day he packed it there, is down there with it. He does not understand why, but he suddenly regrets never opening the box to look at it just once, run his fingers over the smooth surface of the lava and its edges carved into a heart.

Three years ago today I was banished. I lost it all. I want it back.

The spa they’ve stumbled into turns out to be a hub for gossip. None of it interests him, especially not the news of the appointed governor of the new colony in Omashu. He feels like he has fallen farther than he ever has before but not because she has only risen higher in status and farther out of his reach than ever. His uncle blames his melancholy on the anniversary, and he does not correct him.

I want the Avatar, I want my honor, my throne. I want my father not to think I’m worthless.

Just like he has every day for the past three years, he reminds himself this is all he wants. He has told this lie to himself for so long, he almost believes it’s true. It’s why he makes himself believe his sister, because what she offers are the only things he has allowed to matter.

I know what you’ve been through. We’ve all been through it.

She sympathizes with his pain, and he’s grateful for that. She reaches out for him in a way only one girl has before, and he’s afraid of her for that. She makes him feel sorry for her, and he hates her for that. When he looks into her soft eyes that hold a warmth and simplicity he has never known before, he feels guilty and ashamed. That’s why he decides to steal from her. He has to hurt her to prove he has no feelings for her. But he refuses to think about why he must.

A man’s past is his business.

He has never been so alone, so tired, so hungry, so desperate. He doesn’t have the strength to fight the memories anymore. He strengthens himself with the happiest memories he can summon – of his mother, of feeding turtle-ducks in the courtyard, of his favorite gift from his uncle, of her… memories of pretending not to notice how she blushed every time she saw him, of the maddening fear that gripped him when his sister set her hair on fire, of the first time they ever were so close. They were too young to be anything but annoyed and embarrassed at the time, but years later, that fountain still held special meaning for them when they strolled past it in the moonlight and sat on its edge watching the sunset.

The next day only reminds him of how alone he is, and he resigns himself to the fact that the past is in the past.

This city is a prison. I don’t want to make a life here.

That’s all he says. He couldn’t care less about “lady-friends.” His uncle obviously doesn’t think he has anyone to remain loyal to, and neither should he.

I was wondering if you’d like to go out sometime.

The very thought feels wrong, and he finally tells his uncle that when his power of speech returns hours later. He refuses to go, but he has no choice because when Uncle asks him why not, he has nothing to say.

She is not my girlfriend!

He is glad she doesn’t ask why he felt the need to insist on that so strongly because even he himself does not want to know.

It’s complicated.

He refuses to allow his mind to tread around any more thoughts of her, even at the sight of a fountain that looked so familiar. So he lights the lamps for Jin as if all he wanted this night was to please her. So he lets her kiss him and kisses her back without pausing. So he pulls away only because he doesn’t want to hurt her. Because with such an unspeakable past behind him that he had to lie about and such an uncertain future ahead of him, he doesn’t want her to get attached to him. When he leaves her, he tells himself he is running from Jin, not from a vision of a face he refuses to name and who he refuses to believe he has betrayed. So he tells Uncle his night was nice because there was no reason why it shouldn’t be.

I want my destiny.

His uncle is sick of hearing him talk about his honor and destiny, but he has no other reason for why he cannot give up his life in the Fire Nation. Even if he still wanted her, he has put those hopes behind him.

You didn’t leave behind anyone you cared about?

He keeps up the game he used to play with himself. No. It wasn’t that hard. Not hard at all. He has no regrets. He doesn’t miss anything. He left behind nothing important to him. Nothing that mattered to him.

He fully realizes how much he has changed when he allows her name to slip from his lips, refreshing the taste of their last kiss on his tongue…

Mai…