Title: Trembling at the Edge of the World (or the Fire Nation) Fandom: Avatar: The Last Airbender Author: devilinthedetails Genre: Family; General Characters: Zuko; Iroh Summary: Zuko and Iroh at the edge of the Fire Nation. Author's Note: Written for the Springtime Meadow Event using the prompt "Trembling on the Brink." Thanks to @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha for the excellent inspiration Trembling at the Edge of the World (or the Fire Nation) Zuko stood on the rocky escarpment of a windswept bluff overlooking the teeming, tumultuous ocean. The breeze slapped at his cheeks and whacked his hair about in circles, making him shiver despite his uncle’s warm hand draped over his shoulder, and the sound of the frothing, white-capped waves crashing against the stony alcoves and inlets below, wearing down the very rocks they fell and broke against, echoed in his ears. All the beaches and bluffs of Ember Island were breathtakingly beautiful. That was why the royal family and any other Fire Nation that wanted to be deemed as having stature and significance in civilized society had a vacation home or retreat here. Yet, even amidst the tropical paradise that Ember Island was purported to be by anyone of any rank, with the radiant sun shining golden on his skin, Zuko felt uneasy. He wasn’t an Earthbender to take comfort from the solid rock beneath his feet. Certainly, he wasn’t one of the Airbenders like the last Avatar had been who were now lost to the world like the air bison they had ridden and the proud dragons hunted to extinction in the Fire Nation, the final one being gloriously slain by his uncle. An Airbender who could unfold a glider and sail along the wind currents as a kite floated and fanned in the breeze at a festival. Nor was he a Waterbender who could see himself reflected in the roiling, ever-changing water below. Water that might have seemed adaptable, malleable, and able to be shaped by its environment, but water that was in reality molding and sculpting the shore by centuries of unabating assault, a rhythm of unending waves that brought destruction and reform. The ocean, he thought, wasn’t the element of Firebenders like himself. It was the element and domain of their natural opposite and enemy: the Waterbenders. The Waterbenders who rose with the shifting, inconstant moon, instead of the strong sun with its blinding bright rays. Trembling on the brink--on the cusp of falling into a seething ocean that could swallow him forever, never spitting him back up except perhaps as a drowned corpse with a smashed scalp--Zuko could feel the wind shifting directions around him as it so often did at high elevations and by churning water. With the shift in the wind, he could smell salt and brine. The rich, umami flavor of the seaweed that could be woven around the fresh, delectable sushi for which Ember Island had long ago earned renown was also carried to his tongue on the ebullient breeze. Despite the taste of seaweed and sushi in his mouth and on his tongue, Zuko still felt adrift and unmoored--like an unanchored ship that could never find safe harbor--as he stared out at the seemingly endless ocean that stretched past the horizon, far beyond the limits of his keen, young eyes. “I feel like I’m standing at the edge of the world and might fall off,” Zuko muttered, shame-faced and scowling because of his fear to the uncle he often wished in the dark, secret shadows of his heart was his father. “I won’t let you fall, my prince.” Uncle Iroh patted Zuko’s shoulder and gave a laugh that sounded like sunbeams. “And we aren’t at the edge of the world. We are only at the edge of the Fire Nation. There is a difference.” “Father says there isn’t.” Zuko’s forehead furrowed as he watched the waves smash against the stony shore below him. “He says the Fire Nation is the world, and beyond the borders of the Fire Nation, there is only barbarism and savagery. Barbarism and savagery to which we must bring enlightenment through colonization.” “Each of the nations has their own version of enlightenment.” Uncle Iroh’s words were almost swept away by the wind, but that didn’t matter because they were crazy like so many of his attempts at wisdom were. “And I’m sure the other nations would see the Fire Nation as barbaric and savage.” This perspective sounded so backwards and wrong--so contradictory to everything he had ever been taught was true--that Zuko couldn’t help but laugh. The laughter, involuntary and unexpected as it was, loosened something tense and heavy inside him. It now felt invigorating and exciting to stand on the edge of the world--the sharp border carved from sea and stone--of the Fire Nation. To find the brink of the map and stand on the last outcropping of land before it vanished into engulfing, all-encompassing ocean. The wind and the water were music in his ears, and the sun was as warm as his uncle’s palm on his shoulder. If Zuko could bottle this moment and preserve it forever not just in memory but in life, he would. Even though he was still trembling, he never wanted to move from this forgotten spot on Ember Island, this hidden haunt Uncle Iroh had shared with him. He wanted to soak in the sea, breathe in the scent of salt, and feel the sun and wind dancing on his skin forever, but instead he savored this moment with his uncle because he might be a child but he was old enough to understand that it couldn’t be frozen in time any more than he could.