"Uh, Zuko? What's this?"
Zuko felt his stomach drop as he turned to see Sokka holding a blue painted mask.
"Where did you get that?"
"Your room. What is it?"
Zuko tripped over himself, trying to grab the mask from Sokka's hands. Sokka moved a step back, smirking as Zuko fell down at his feet.
"It's a mask, give it back."
They were beginning to attract attention from the rest of the group and Zuko looked up as Katara took the mask from Sokka.
"Why do you have this Zuko?"
Zuko looked up at them from where he lay on the ground, now rolled onto his back, resigned.
"Because I like the theatre, can I have it back now?"
Toph and Aang had walked over by this point, wanting to know what was going on.
"What's the problem with Sparky now?"
"Zuko's got a crazy mask and won't tell us what it's for."
"I did tell you, it's for theatre, now give it back."
Aang was now holding the mask, running his hands over the intricately carved details, "You know, this looks like the mask of the Blue Spirit."
"Mhm, like the play, give it back."
"Zuko you said you hated plays."
"I lied. Give it back."
Suki was looking over Aang's shoulder now, studying the mask, "They used to talk of a masked spirit back in Ba Sing Se. He used to run around helping people in the dead of night. They called him the Blue Spirit."
The group all looked at Zuko, lying on ground, tired and annoyed, "No idea what you're talking about, must be a different guy."
"I am not. I had other things to worry about in Ba Sing Se."
"Like what? Your 'acting troup'?"
"Like uncle's tea shop."
"I don't know man, you are pretty good with a pair of swords."
Zuko sat up, "I'm better than pretty good."
"Why? Is it because you had a lot of practice, oh I don't know, running round Ba Sing Se?"
"No. Because," Zuko didn't have an excuse this time. It wasn't like actors trained with swords and being royal wasn't an excuse either. Sword training wasn't mandatory, especially if you could bend. He had no reason to be good with swords, he had just found a freedom with them at a young age, the one thing he could beat Azula at. He didn't want to tell them that either, though.
"I'm just good at using swords, give it back."
"Why do you want it back so bad? You aren't gonna be doing any acting any time soon."
"Because it's mine and I want it."
"So sparks, what other plays did you put on?"
"I- uh," she had him there, Zuko didn't know any other plays. He had never really payed attention when his mother took him to the theatre, all he knew was that they were bad. Oh Agni, were they bad.
"Just give me back my stupid mask."
"What kind of thing did you do as the Blue Spirit, Zuko?"
"I don't know, just give me my mask back, please."
Aang bent down and put the mask carefully on Zuko's face.
Before he knew what he was doing, Zuko reached up and placed his hands over the mask, heating them up slowly. Zuko could smell the wood beginning to burn, could feel the heat on his face.
"Dude, what the fuck are you doing?"
Zuko didn't move, the heat was almost unbearable at this point. Almost. He could feel his skin blistering beneath flames. His eyes closed and he let the flames burn the rest of his face, skin alive with the pain, screaming with the fire.
Well he was, until a jet of shockingly cold water hits him square in the face, knocking the burning mask off and cooling his face.
He looked up through bleary eyes to see concerned and almost disgusted faces staring down at him. He turned to the side, staring at the charred mask.
'Ruined' he thought.
He felt a pang of regret shoot through his heart. That mask had taken him ages to carve, he had put so much effort and time into the minute details, cut his fingers and hands and gotten an immeasurable amount of splinters. He wondered what it would take to make another one.
He wanted it back. He wasn't sure why. He didn't want to be the Blue Spirit. He wanted to be Zuko. Not the Blue Spirit, not Li, not the Disgraced Prince, not even the Fire Lord. Just Zuko.
His thoughts are broken by cold hands on his face. He jumped, moving away from them. He looked up to ser Katara. Her hands glowing blue, water wrapped around them, moving and flowing with her motions. He lowers his head again, allowing her to move her hands over his face, healing the worst of the burns, preventing any lasting scars. She moves away and Zuko is able to look up at the rest of the group. He's still lying on the ground. They look down at him, almost scared.
"What the fuck was that?"
Zuko just shrugged, as best as he could from where he was lying on the floor. He didn't really know himself actually. He thinks of the blistering pain on the right side of his face, the numbness of the left. He shuddered.
"Is that how you got your scar?"
Zuko almost laughs. Almost. He wondered what they must think of him, how fucked up he must appear to be. Did they think he's done that before? Did they think he did that for fun? That he enjoyed it? He almost wonders if he did.
Zuko's not sure if he's answering them or himself.
They don't ask anymore about it, it's clear he's not going to elaborate.
He stood up and dusted himself off.
Zuko turned around and looked Katara in the eye. She shrank back slightly.
"Because I'm not the Blue Spirit anymore. I'm Zuko. Just Zuko."