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Tarnished

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Zuko had always told himself that his father cared about him. That his status as an omega wasn’t big enough to cause a problem. That he would be safe. That the fact that he was his son was enough to keep him safe.

For a while, it seemed he was right. He was looked down on, called things like ‘whore’ and ‘slut’. He got hit occasionally, but never so badly that he feared for his life. Though still treated like he would be gotten rid of at the slightest inconvenience. He was never actually gotten rid of, which gave him a sense of safety.

Speaking up in the war chamber was the thing that broke that tentative peace that he had. Zuko was cowering on the floor; looking at him and trying not to scream in fear. His throat felt like it had closed up and he was gasping quietly. He was on his knees, staring up at his father who was screaming at him.

Screaming about how he was a disappointment and how he could never do anything right. How he was such a disappointment that no alpha would want him even if he was as pretty as his mother had been. He just cowered more as he screamed about everything that Zuko did wrong. How he was worthless and he was glad that he had Azula to put on the throne. That he was a mediocre firebender at best and worthless to try and do anything. That he wasn’t worth anything to him or anyone else.

Zuko knew his father was right, that he wasn’t worth the effort that he was expending on him. So he just took the words being hurled at him. He was shaking, but he didn’t move from his prone position. His knees were bruised, having been shoved to the ground.

Zuko wondered idly for a moment if he was going to die. If he was so worthless that he was going to just be burnt and thrown out. Was his life going to end so quickly?

“Get him out of my sight,” His father barked and he felt strong hands squeezing his shoulder as one of the guards pulled him to his feet.

He was dragged to his room and thrown in. He was told that he would know what his punishment was later. He just kneeled there, shaking and grabbing at his robes in an attempt to still his hands. He slowly got off the floor when he was sure he was alone, stumbling until he made it to his mirror and he glanced at it.

He could only see his disheveled hair and frightened gold eyes, swallowing hard. The door swung open and he stiffened, expecting to hear his punishment. Instead, light steps made their way towards him and he found Azula’s eyes meeting his in the mirror.

“Zuzu, what did you do now?” She asked.

Zuko remembered when she presented as an alpha, she had just turned thirteen and Zuko had been frozen by the news. He had congratulated her, however, telling her he was happy for her. She was going to get the crown. Even then Zuko knew that she would be the preferable one to take the throne. He couldn’t be mad though. She’d be a strong leader and he’d told her so. He gave up the crown without argument.

Azula had taken a shine to him since then. Visiting him and giving him gifts. Glad to have the crown and eventually the throne. Zuko did nothing but praise her. She was now the one light in his life. He remembered presenting himself at thirteen, gently trying to make up for their mother’s neglect of her. She had slowly grown to accept it despite not seeming to enjoy it when they were younger.

“I spoke up out of turn,” He said, voice dead and he knew what his expression was as well, “I’m waiting to find out my punishment.”

She paused, sighing as she approached him, gently turning him to look at his face. She was seventeen now, courting omegas herself while Zuko watched as alphas tried to get close and were quickly shut down by his sister.

Always with the loud claim that they weren’t worth being related to the throne. The only thing keeping him somewhat free was his sister’s right to decide who he got as a mate. Which she only had because his father had given her the right when she’d asked for it. She had decided that no alpha was good enough, no matter how good their family line was if it was looked at from the outside.

Though Zuko knew that it was because once he had a mate his freedom was gone and she’d promised him as much as she could give him and when he found one he liked she’d do everything in her power to make sure he could go with them. It was all she could do.

“It can’t be that bad,” She said, looking peaceful as she fixed his hair calmly, fingers smoothing and pulling it up.

“We both know he doesn’t treat us the same,” Zuko says softly.

Her hands hesitated, then she reached into her sleeve and pulled out a bag.

“More gifts?” He asked, joking softly.

“Always,” She said airily, “Close your eyes and give me your hand.”

Zuko listened; letting her take his hand and then after a moment he felt something being wrapped around his wrist. When she was done he let his eyes open and he looked down to find a delicate bracelet around his wrist. It was made of layers of gold wire, covered in tiny star shapes. Each of the stars had a small gem in the center and he smiled as he looked up at her.

“It’s beautiful Azula,” He said, smiling at her and seeing her expression tense with worry, “Lala, you know no matter what, I love you right?”

She had that same tense look for a moment longer as she leaned in to hug him tightly, “I know Zuzu. I love you too.”

Zuko knew that was unique to him. That she would never tell another that she loved them like that, “Good.”

She looked at him again, with that same tense look on her face. He could hear the unspoken words that they both knew. Zuko was truly in a lot of trouble.

----------

Zuko paled as the words were spoken. He was to be banished. It was spoken in private though, which meant that no one would know that he was gone. He would simply disappear. Just like his mother disappeared a decade before.

He was to leave immediately. His father had arranged a ship to take him out of Fire Nation waters. He was on his own beyond that.

Zuko was in his room, taking almost nothing. Hiding a knife that his uncle had given him years before on his person and looking at the bracelet he was still wearing. He picked up a small bag he’d hidden in a drawer.

He made his way to Azula’s room. He slipped in, walking with light steps to sit next to her on the bed and reach to stroke her hair out of her face. He leaned down and kissed her temple, hoping that she could still smell his scent in the morning. That she’d know that even if he was gone he’d come to say goodbye.

“I’ll always love you,” He told her softly, for what would be the last time as he placed the bag on her dresser, “I wish I could stay.”

He walked to the gates and froze, there were no guards he could see, just his father. He lowered his eyes as he walked forward quickly. He felt his arm being grabbed and he closed his eyes and held his tongue as his skin was burnt heavily on his arm.

“Never forget that you’re worthless ,” The cold voice stuck in his head.

“Of course my lord,” Zuko said, voice shaking from the pain as his father’s hand pulled away.

When Zuko stepped out of the castle gates he wished he had just been executed instead. Zhao was waiting for him. The admiral had attempted to be his alpha before, only to be shot down quickly by his sister the moment she realized that he made Zuko uncomfortable. The man hadn’t taken the rejection well.

Azula wasn’t here to save him now though and he could see in the Admiral’s eyes that he knew it too. Zuko was going to be on a ship commanded by that bastard for at least a couple of weeks and he knew that the other was going to do anything he wanted.

----------

Zuko hated being right. He hated when he knew something bad was going to happen and it did. He hated more that he never knew the extent of what would happen.

Zhao was just as handsy as he’d been during his short attempt at courting Zuko. Now no one would stop him though. No one who rescued him when he was dragged to the man’s cabin at night. Zuko just had to grin and bear it, but always ended up crying when he got a moment alone. Trying not to think about what was happening to him.

He should have known that Zhao would encourage his men to do whatever they wanted to Zuko as well. It wasn’t unusual now for one of the men on his ship - a surprising amount of alphas that were far too much like Zhao and Zuko had realized, the crew was made up of people who wanted nothing more than to take advantage of him - to drag Zuko off during their breaks and rape him.

They showed no restraint, striking him when they felt like it and burning him just for kicks. Though it seemed that they were avoiding his face because as Zhao had told him, ‘Someone will want you as their bitch and at least you’ll have a pretty face for them.’

Then there was where they were heading. Zuko had expected to be tossed out onto the shores of the Earth Kingdom. Instead, he found they were heading South, straight towards the tundra.

It was clear now he wasn’t supposed to survive, he was going to be dumped into the tundra near the Southern Water Tribe and left for dead.

If the cold and wildlife didn’t kill him, the people would. After everything that had been done to them by the Fire Nation, it wouldn’t matter who Zuko was or why he was there, it was a death sentence. He was as good as executed on the spot when he’d spoken up in that war meeting.

As the temperature dropped, Zhao just became more cruel and uncaring. Mocking him and doing whatever came to his mind. Zuko was internally looking forward to being dumped into the tundra if it meant he never had to go near Zhao again.

“Maybe one of the savages down there will need a warm bitch to entertain them,” Zhao suggested one night as the ice started to grow around them, “They’d probably have at least one of their own that would find you as good for breeding if nothing else.”

Zuko shivered, ashamed to realize that he’d never thought of that. Omegas were rare enough that they might just keep him around like that. As something like an amusing toy to play with. Zuko looked at the alpha near him and the way he was being stared at and wondered if that was worse.

Zuko knew little of the Water Tribes, the Fire Nation called them savages, but he’d always found it strange that they were so wary of them if they were. He didn’t think it was impossible that some of the things that they were told about them were lies. What were lies and what was the truth… Zuko didn’t know.

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When Zuko was shoved off the ship near the ice he didn’t bother to look back. He just took a breath and tried to keep himself warm. He started to carefully use his firebending to warm himself. He could hear the ship leaving, but he was staring.

The ice stretched out in front of him and he didn’t know how far he was going to be able to make it.

Zuko had thought the rape would be the worst of what happened to him on that ship, but then he’d realized what was happening. He had gotten pregnant from one of those bastards.

So he was in the snow, far away from anyone he knew, pregnant, and probably going to die. Zuko reached up, fingers brushing his now shaggy hair. He remembered Zhao cutting off most of the length and laughing as he tossed it off the ship. Zuko had been horrified, unable to think clearly for a moment as he snapped at the man. He’d made sure that Zuko regretted that action.

Zuko realized he’d been kneeling in the snow for some time, slowly rising to his feet and starting to walk deeper into the cold.

----------

Even with the ability to use his breath of fire to keep his temperature more stable, walking through freezing temperatures with no food was taking its toll on Zuko’s body. He was growing weaker after just a couple of days. Little food and the beatings he’d taken on the ship had caused him to weaken before and now he was lost and growing colder as each hour passed. He wondered if lasting just these couple of days was even a feat. He collapsed into a snowbank, lifting his hands to gently breathe flames over them.

Zuko had considered just ending his life already, taking the knife and killing himself. Even just throwing himself into the water would be enough. He closed his eyes, lowering his head as he warmed his hands. He hesitantly wrapped his arm around himself, knowing that it wasn’t the child’s fault that anything had happened to him. It was the only thing keeping him alive. The fact that there was even the smallest chance that he could save his baby.

He curled up more, trying to hide from the cold for a little bit and felt his vision go blurry again. He shivered, slumping more into the snow and keeping his temperature as stable as he could. He couldn’t force himself to move.

Zuko froze as he heard something near him in the snow. He’d found no other living things so far and to be found by one now… 

Zuko guessed that he really was just lucky to be born since he never had luck in anything else.

~~~~~~~~~~

Sokka stared at the small red form curled up in the snow. He didn’t know how he’d gotten so far, carefully approaching the prone form. He could barely see a peek of yellow eyes behind barely open eyelids.

He really didn’t know what someone from the Fire Nation was doing alone in the tundra like this.

Looking over him, he didn’t look like a soldier. He wasn’t wearing armor or a soldier’s uniform that Sokka had seen far too many times. He was wearing fairly thin clothes that looked well made. He seemed to be almost completely out of it, his arms wrapped around himself as he passed out.

Sokka paused and looked towards where he knew the edge of the actual ice was. They wouldn’t have thrown someone off a ship, would they?

Sokka grimly realized that they absolutely would. The guy had no supplies, nothing to fight off the cold, he had nothing at all. Which meant he’d been left for dead and the Fire Nation had the audacity to call his people savage. They’d just abandoned someone to die for who knows what.

Sokka reached out, wondering if he’d frozen to death when he froze up completely. The other was passed out and Sokka was in too much shock to be polite. He quickly got close, carefully taking in the smaller’s scent.

As fucked up as the Fire Nation was, they couldn’t possibly be so horrible -

“Tui and La,” Sokka muttered, fingers meeting skin that was still barely warm.

They’d left an omega out on the ice, his pulse fluttering under Sokka’s hand and his scent cut through with a sweetness that couldn’t be anything other than proof that the omega was pregnant.

Sokka reached, pulling the other into his arms and standing up.

He knew that his Gran-Gran and Katara would have a fit if he brought someone from the Fire Nation into the village. Everyone would. He also knew that they’d never turn away an injured, pregnant omega that was left to die. He started back towards the village, wondering how the omega had lasted long enough on the ice to have gotten so far in that he completely missed the small sparks that flew from his mouth.