Zuko knew, technically, that he had one father, two grandfathers, and four great-grandfathers.
He knew his line from his father’s side- Ozai, Azulon and Sozin.
He’d never really considered where the family all went from his mother’s side. There was Ursa and then- he didn’t know. Her family was a gap in his knowledge he’d never been able to fill.
And then he’d chased the Avatar all the way to Roku’s temple, and, at the last moment, managed to duck inside the sanctuary with the Avatar.
Which was when things got… weird.
Zuko had been all ready to attack when the Avatar looked at him- his eyes started glowing- and then it wasn’t a small airbender in front of him.
It was Roku.
The room around them seemed to shift as well, and they weren’t in the sanctuary anymore. There was so much green everywhere- they were in a forest of some sort.
Roku looked at him for half a moment before he moved forward and Zuko was flinching back- but Roku didn’t hurt him. Roku’s arms were around him. Roku was… hugging him.
Zuko stood stiff and still in Roku’s arms, hardly daring to breathe. What was happening?
“My grandson.” Roku said, and Zuko felt his throat closing up even more.
Roku was his grandfather? What? That couldn’t be right. Surely, someone would have told him…
And then Roku was stepping away, but his hands were still on Zuko’s shoulders.
Zuko was fairly certain this was all a very strange dream now. The actual Avatar had probably knocked him unconscious. He felt himself relax slightly. He was dreaming. Of course. It was a little odd- but actually rather pleasant as far as dreams went.
And then he noticed Roku’s frowning, furious gaze, intently staring at Zuko’s face. He stiffened again. Even if it was a dream- even if…
And then Roku was crying. His hands tightened slightly on Zuko’s shoulders. “I’m sorry,” he said, voice shaking. “I’m so sorry. If I’d defeated Sozin when I had the chance- this would never have happened.”
Zuko’s mouth opened to say… something- and then he closed it again. He tried several times before he was able to force something out. “Sozin didn’t do that.” Zuko said. “It was my- it wasn’t Sozin.”
Roku’s lips twitched in a parody of amusement. “And if I’d defeated Sozin,” he said, “Would this have been allowed to happen? If there had been no war and Iroh was Fire Lord, would this have ever happened to you?”
And… if Iroh had been Fire Lord- no. Zuko couldn’t see Iroh doing this to him- even if- “I deserved it.” He said.
And why was he saying this? Why was he talking to Roku?
It’s just a dream. That was a good point.
Roku looked like he didn’t know what to do with his face. There was fury and sorrow and so much pain-
Roku let out a broken little laugh. “Oh Zuko,” he said, “They really are the best of liars aren’t they? They know just what to say to justify their barbarity. “We are sharing our greatness with the world.” “I need to teach you a lesson.” “I can’t just let this go unpunished- but don’t worry. All you have to do is find the Avatar, and then you can come home.” And when they say it- it almost makes sense.”
Zuko usually didn’t have this many problems yelling at people. It was supposed to be easy. “That’s- that’s not-" that’s not how it works- Father was right. He’s always right.
Roku was smiling at him, but there was something so sad about it. “And now,” he said, “You want to go home. I do wonder if you’ve considered- you think your father loves you.” He paused.
“Of course he does.” Zuko voice rose. Shouting. That was easy- comfortable. Good.
“Then what will he do to Aang?” Roku asked.
Roku continued. “He burnt off half of your face- for cowardice- for disobedience- it’s hard to say why. What do you think he will do to a twelve-year-old boy- an Avatar- who he doesn’t love and who is the greatest threat to his rule?”
“He won’t kill the Avatar.” Zuko said, “That’d just make a Water Tribe Avatar. Father would keep him alive.”
“There are things worse than death.” Roku said softly.
And… yes. Zuko had thought he’d wanted to die- wanted to just be dead already when he couldn’t sleep for the pain and none of the medicine had been enough- he’d thought it was bad when he’d seen a mirror for the first time he saw his face after the Agni Kai-
Zuko wanted to protest. He wanted to say that his father wouldn’t torture an imprisoned child for no reason.
But… he remembered the Agni Kai. Begging. Tears. Fire. Banishment. Find the Avatar, and you can come home. But the Avatar was gone- had been gone for nearly a hundred years.
What would his father ask of the Avatar? Was there a way for him to avoid getting hurt? Azula always managed it and Aang was the Avatar- he’d be a prodigy like her.
But Aang was the Avatar. He wouldn’t just- go along with Ozai, would he? Aang wouldn’t know what he was supposed to say.
He wouldn’t know when he was supposed to kneel. Just like Zuko hadn’t. And he’d burn.
No. No. “It doesn’t matter.” Zuko said, making his voice louder as he went. Shouting was comfortable. “It doesn’t matter. I’m so close now.” And he wasn’t shouting anymore- he was begging. He didn’t know what he was begging for. “I can go home,” he said, “I just want to go home.”
Father would do what Father did. Father would be right, just like he always was. It didn’t matter.
“Ozai was wrong.” Roku said, fierce and gentle at the same time. “He was wrong to hurt you- to belittle you. He was wrong when he said that you were lucky to be born. He was wrong to ignore you. He was wrong to burn you. He was wrong to banish you. He was wrong when he gave you an impossible task and sent you off to fail. He was wrong. He is wrong.”
And Zuko almost wanted to believe it. He wanted to believe that he hadn’t deserved it. Everything that’d happened since Ursa had died.
He wanted it to be true. For defending the 41st division to have been the right choice.
But if that was true… then what he was doing now was wrong. Trying to capture the Avatar was wrong. Trying to get home was wrong. The war was wrong.
And if all that was wrong… Zuko felt as though a chasm was opening beneath his feet and he couldn’t see the bottom of it.
Zuko squeezed his eyes shut.
Roku gently gathered Zuko into another hug, and Zuko let him. It was, after all, only a dream.