A.N. : The whole setting comes from a dream I had recently. I will probably write some more from this idea, but I'm not really sure how it will turn out.
The desert sun burns.
Zuko is used to heat, but even then, he's glad for the hat and the way it shades the sensitive skin of his left eye.
The desert sun burns and Zuko is hungry and tired and his body aches everywhere and the guilt he's felt ever since he stole Song's ostrich-horse diminishes with every step the beast takes and he doesn't.
And then he remembers the girl's scars and it all comes back.
He shakes his head and the world spins, so he makes his – Song's – mount stop before he can fall. He wouldn't be able to get back on it.
Once he can focus, he looks at the place he's stopped at, hoping to see something – anything – other than more rocks, more sand, and more dust.
He shouldn't have wished for that.
There are bodies on the ground, a man and a woman. Signs of a fight and blood – dry, with this heat it isn't really a surprise – and neither of the corpses seem to have belongings other than their clothes, which doesn't make sense if they were travelling.
Bandits, Zuko decides.
And somehow he's glad that there are no signs of fire, because he's not sure he'd have been able to deal with seeing more of his people's crimes, not right now, not after Song, not after Li and the fear and the hate there had been once they knew-
He would pray for them, but he doesn't know how, and a Fire Nation prayer would feel so wrong-
He hears a noise and blinks. He's pretty sure there's nothing else around here.
And then he sees it, hidden among the rocks. A cloth, wrapping something.
The thing moves and it's probably and angry viper-lizard and he should just go away before it comes out and bite the ostrich-horse – with his luck, that's just bound to happen.
He dismounts, get closer to the cloth.
A sane person would stop and back off, but then again, he's pretty sure he lost his common sense years ago in fire and pain and a quest bound to fail before it even started.
So he tugs at the cloth, gently, because there's no point in angering the viper-lizard more than it already is.
The baby looks at him with all the curiosity of a young born.
And he fucking hates spirits and if it had to lose its parents, at least give it someone who can take care of it, not an angry and lost teenager, who is fire, who is exiled, who is danger-
The kid starts making small baby noises as Zuko takes it off the ground and tries to use the cloth to settle the young and fragile – fuck it's so fragile – human in a way that will allow the prince to use his hands.
He doesn't know what he's going to do. Hopes he'll find food and water soon.
The desert sun burns and he takes off the hat, using it to provide some shade to the little one against his chest.
When he leaves, he has forgotten about the crimes of his nation and the burns on Song's legs and the fear and hate in Li's eyes.
He goes and somehow he's not as lost as before. He has a goal.
The desert sun burns a little less.