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|"I treat you differently than Kuzon because you are not Kuzon, all right? You will have power Kuzon will never have, but because of that, you have responsibilities he will never have. You have to be expected of things Kuzon doesn't."|
|— Izuma, to Sozin|
"Responsibilities" is the second proper chapter of the AU fanfiction story .
When Kuzon went home for the night, he had Aang drop him off on the roof of a building so he wouldn't be caught trying to enter the palace grounds after a day absent from lessons. Kuzon waved good-bye and then slid down the bird-wing roof, grabbed the ornate molding underneath it, and dropped to the ground in the courtyard.
"So where were you all day?" Sozin asked, not even looking in Kuzon's direction. He was out in the courtyard, practicing with his sword in his off-hand.
"Were you with that Air Nomad kid again?" Sozin turned toward his brother. "You know you've spent the last three days with him?" He turned away and swung his sword again.
"Aang's only in the Fire Nation for a few days." Kuzon started to make his way inside as Sozin made a frustrated "tsk" sound at him and went on practicing. "Are you coming to dinner or not?" Kuzon called back to his brother.
Sozin hesitated, then jogged up to Kuzon. They walked to the dining hall together. On the way, Sozin stopped to put his sword in his chambers. As he closed the door, Kuzon noticed the welts he had taken in practice. "Where'd you get that?" Kuzon asked him.
"The general," Sozin grunted. "Where else?"
Kuzon whistled low in amazement. "Wow. The bruise she gave you last week hasn't even healed yet."
"I know, I know! Okay!" Sozin snapped, rubbing his left eye. "You know, you are so irresponsible, Kuzon! All you do is run off and play and skip lessons! You hardly ever get disciplined!" They both knew what "disciplined" was a euphemism for. "And meanwhile I'm here, working hard, learning the skills to be a great leader for the future of this country."
"Hey, don't blame me just because you don't have any friends!" Kuzon shot back snidely.
"Shut up, Kuzon! You know, I don't even care about that. It's the fact that you never get blamed for anything, just because you're younger! I do all the work and I still get hit and scolded. But you! You miss three days worth of lessons and nobody even cares! If I tried the stuff you do mom would probably burn me herself!"
"I'll never be Fire Lord though."
"So? You obviously don't even want to be."
"Just shut up, Sozin! You're being a jerk!" They had just come to the door of the dining hall.
Sozin smacked the back of his brother's head. Kuzon's hair was a dirty mop, distinctly lacking the regal topknot and beginning to grow down, almost over his eyes. "You shut up!" Sozin snapped. "And don't argue at dinner! We'll get in trouble." Kuzon rubbed the back of his head and glared at Sozin as he took his seat.
The dining room of the palace was used for throwing banquets, with the table for the royal family situated at the head of the room on a dais, set perpendicular to all the other tables. It was decorated in crimson with gold trim, like all the palace rooms. The columns and crown molding were all designed to impress guests, but it seemed so empty and cold when no one but the royal family was there. They still ate there on evenings like this one, when there were no banquets. Those were the only nights Sozin's mother really talked to him. In a way though, he also didn't like it. He was always uncomfortable trying to talk to her. She always seemed more like the Great Lady of Fire than a mother, even to her son. Sozin couldn't help but feel intimidated, talking to her.
Izuma smiled at her sons as they came in. Their stepfather was too busy eating. "So what did my two princes do today?" she asked.
"Ask Kuzon," Sozin muttered, and dug into his food.
"That's right. Why weren't you at training today, Kuzon? And you neglected to fix your hair again" she chided him. Sozin sat up a little straighter, hoping his mother would notice his perfectly combed black hair with the symmetrical topknot right in the very center.
"Oh, I was just, uh, feeling sick. I took a nap."
"Liar." Sozin grumbled. "Kuzon was off playing with his friend and cutting lessons."
"Mom, it was Aang. It's not like I see him that much!" Kuzon countered.
"I see," Izuma said. "All right, Kuzon. But if you're going to leave all day, could you at least tell me where you're going?"
"He's not even going to get in trouble?" Sozin protested. "If I cut lessons I'd get in trouble. Why is he so special?"
"That's right, Izuma. I don't think we should be so lenient," Gizu put in, with a mouth full of food. "Kuzon broke the rules and--"
"I was the one who introduced Aang to Kuzon when they were younger. I wanted them to be friends. Aang is one of the most promising Airbender students and will probably be a leader of the Air Nomads one day. It's important that we have good diplomatic relations with the Air Nomads. That's why I host Earth Kingdom and Water Tribe nobles at my court. The Fire Nation depends more on foreign imports than ever, since the war ended. That's why it's all right for Kuzon to spend time with Aang. It's actually good for the Nation." She smiled at Kuzon. "Besides," she said, moving in towards her husband, and then she whispered something in his ear. Kuzon thought he heard her mention Aang's name. A look of profound surprise crossed the general's face.
"He is?" he asked of Izuma, unbelieving. She nodded. "Wow," he said, looking to Kuzon. "You play with the Airbender all you want," the general chuckled.
"But mom, that's not fair! This is such a double standard!" Sozin railed.
Izuma grasped both his shoulders and forced him to look at her. "I treat you differently than Kuzon because you are not Kuzon, all right? You will have power Kuzon will never have, but because of that, you have responsibilities he will never have. You have to be expected of things Kuzon doesn't. You've heard all the war stories, Sozin. The entire country was torn apart. Brother fought brother. That's the kind of disaster a weak Fire Lord can cause. As heir to the throne, it's up to you to make sure you don't repeat your grandfather's mistakes. I push you because I love this country." Sozin thought she was going to say "because I love you," but she didn't.
"Your strength is the Fire Nation's strength. That's the only way to prevent another war. The Fire Nation will be prosperous when it is strong and unified. You must have determination and strong will if you expect to lead millions of citizens, especially in hard times like these. And you have to work hard because you have to learn these things. Do you understand?"
"Yes ma'am," he said. She nodded, and they ate the rest of the meal without talking about much.
Sozin looked at the stars in bed that night. He had a skylight built into the roof of his chambers as a birthday present so he could look at them. He also asked his mother if he could have a tutor to teach him astronomy. She said it was impractical, but she got Sozin books on it and he studied them in his free time. The stars made his mind wander to things that were far away. Sozin wished he could be far away, and never have to deal with the general again, never have another training session, never have to be the Fire Lord. Stop thinking like that, Sozin, he told himself. What would mom think? You're a man now. You have a country to rule someday. He sighed up at the stars. Then he turned over roughly and went to sleep.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Enemies and Traitors chapters|
|Prologues - Brothers - Responsibilities - Necessities - Resources - The Avatar - Opportunities - Preparations - Betrayals - Changing Plans - Scars - Counting Losses - Exiles - Ghosts - Homecoming - The Traitor and the Firelord - Escapes - The Last Chance - Legacies|