disclaimer: I claim no ownership over any of the characters contained within. This story is written for fun, not profit.
request: (From biztheinsane at livejournal.) Zuko, having just defected to our Happy Trio, is being forced to play I Spy. Madness ensues.
notes: This story contains slash (male/male) content. Please be aware before (and when) reading.

he spies

On the fourth day it occured to Zuko that he should never have left his ship in the harbor; that this journey required travel across mountainous terrain, through deserts, and in what generally amounted to a great deal of unpleasant lands, was inconsequential. He would, he reflected grimly, have found a way.

Now there was nothing to be done for it or more importantly, him. Zuko was, in a word, doomed.

"Okay," Aang said, grinning and leaning back across the saddle. "It's my turn now!" The twice-and-then-some damned lemur chirped supportively.

Zuko imagined choking it.

Aang coughed, importantly, and straightened, making a show of gazing around the countryside beneath them, Appa's great tail rising and falling with windy swoops. "I spy," he started, and Zuko imagined choking him. "Something dark and blue."

"I have a guess," Zuko said, trying, again, to figure out why in hell he'd joined them in the first place. "Sokka."

"Go to hell," Sokka said, from the front, as a matter of course.

"No," Aang said, affronted. "Katara."

Katara - Zuko tried not to stare, incredulous - actually giggled a bit at that.

Sokka made several obnoxious gagging noises from the front and Zuko felt his dignity die a little inside.

There were exactly no (0) good or even remotely plausible reasons for why Zuko should have the company of The Idiot (known peripherally as Sokka) on a hunting excursion. At the first chance available, he left the loud-mouthed brat behind and thought, absently, of ways the he might be attacked by the local wildlife. Zuko hoped it was a snake, let the brat writhe a while in agony.

He found the thought of writhing harder to dismiss than usual. Damn it, Zuko thought. The idiocy's contagious.

"Hey," the Idiot said, crashing through the undergrowth and swearing for good measure. He caught his balance and straightened his shoulders, checking the fall of his jerkin. "You want to pretend we're on the same side here?"

"Forgive me," Zuko said. "I forgot I'm supposed to care."

"I don't like you either," the Idiot snipped, picking twigs out of his dark hair and tossing them between the trees. "The only reason I stand you is because Katara'd hit me if I didn't."

"Ah," Zuko said, making sure to study a flame in his palm, as if disinterested. "Of course."

For a moment, blessed silence, the Idiot choosing to tense his shoulders and stomp through the undergrowth ahead of them. Zuko swung into the branches and followed, overtaking him and pressing up into the foliage.

"What the hell did that mean?" Sokka snapped, finally, glaring up at Zuko crouching in the tree.

"Nothing," Zuko said. "Just surprised at how willing you are to go along with a woman."

Sokka's face spasmed, a tic in his cheek that twitched violently. He hissed breath out between his teeth.

"She's my sister," he explained, after a moment of alternating between expressions suggesting an overpowering desire to beat something and an overpowering desire to beat Zuko.

"Of course," Zuko said again, with great satisfaction, and went his own way as Sokka turned purple.

It was not his honour that took a brutal beating between the legs when Sokka wound up bringing a larger amount of dead animal back to camp; it was his pride. Zuko stared into the fire and radiated moody indignity.

Sokka, for his part, had taken to gloating.

"How's your rabbit," he asked.

"Delicious," Zuko gritted. His fingers twitched.

"Oh, good. Because my deer is fantastic."

The fire spiked and Katara shrieked, tripping back over a log as she barely missed being singed. Aang, in his instinctive need to play hero, knocked Sokka over when leaping to Katara's side. Sokka's makeshift plate of venison was promptly launched into the fire.

"I hate you," Sokka said, after a moment. His long dark face pulled into a surly glower as he stared into the fire with the sort of intensity usually associated with pouting children (he even pursed his mouth, just so, crossing his arms over his chest and scowling).

The rabbit, Zuko found, was more than merely delicious. It was fantastic.

Zuko thought if he ever heard the words 'I' and 'spy' in conjunction with one another again, he'd flay the speaker, alive, with ropes consisting wholly of flames. He hoped, very much so, that it would be Sokka.

Stretched out under the stars in the thin, cold air of the mountain, Katara said, "I spy with my little eye"

"What are you looking at?" Sokka snapped at Zuko, suspicious.

"Mother Bear?" Aang suggested happily to Katara, pointing to the constellation.

"Would you all kindly shut up," Zuko snapped in reply.

"Ignore him," Sokka said. "His highness is just upset he doesn't know how to play."

Zuko told Sokka exactly what he could go do.

"I do declare, your highness," Sokka said, fluttering his eyelashes, black over dark blue eyes. He pinned a hand over his heart. "I'm shocked by your language, your highness. Devastated, your highness."

"Stop being immature." Katara threw a clump of grass and dirt at Sokka; it splattered across his forehead.

Sokka scowled, a grimace in the dark, grumbled, "Oh no; can't throw dirt at Zuko, his highness," and brushed a hand through his hair, sulking.

Zuko waited until Aang and Katara were both silent before he turned on his side, looked Sokka square in the face, and said, pleasantly, "Of course."

Sokka told Zuko exactly what he could go do.

This was the tableau Zuko discovered the next morning, creeping in the half-dawn light to the creek they found with the thought of at least cleaning his face: Sokka, stripped down to the (obscene) shorts serving as undergarments; crouching, teeth chattering and muscles tensed in thigh, stomach, shoulder, in the creek; sweeping hand-cups of cold water up over his arms. His skin was tight and dark, and very calmly Zuko stepped back behind the trees.

"God," Sokka said, voice choked, just out of sight. "It's freezing."

Zuko thought of many things that did not in way, shape, form, or association involve the words 'fire,' 'hot,' 'Sokka,' or 'naked,' and hit on a little taunting voice somewhere in the back of his mind singing, 'I spy with my little eye something wet and'

Zuko made it back to camp before he started setting things on fire.

Shivering and damp, squeezing his ponytail dry, Sokka strode out of the trees and stopped on the edge of the clearing, hands still in his hair and eyes wide. "What happened?" he asked.

Zuko, briskly shaking ash from his hands and legs, shrugged a shoulder brusquely and turned away.

"Oh my God," Katara said, in an awed tone, staring at what, perhaps, had once been a meadow.

"It's okay," Aang soothed, brushing Momo's fur.

"Look," Sokka said, nudging at the charred remains of his sleeping bag and looking personally hurt. "I know I'm not the smartest guy around. But what happened here?"

"Try thinking," Zuko said. "I hear it does wonders."

The day was spent in blissful silence, with Katara avoiding him (though he's not surprised; Zuko can count on one hand the number of times he's seen Katara and Aang not within touching distance of one another, and on the other the number of times he's been alone with any one member of their group outside of Sokka) and Aang casting worried looks back. Sokka spent most of the day napping, sprawled in a long, loose line toward the back, with his fingers twitching in his sleep; when awake he took the time to comment crankily on how hungry he was ("I'm starving"), or stare at Zuko with an absent look on his angular brown face.

Zuko stretched his legs out, closed his eyes, breathed deep and focused on relishing the rare silence.

So of course he'd burnt the remnants of the deer from last night, which meant, of course, he had to gather food, again, with Sokka - again. It was nothing short of inevitable that some time after they'd left camp behind, maybe ten minutes, Sokka lunged for Zuko's throat.

"You son of a bitch," Sokka said, as sanely as any man occupied with throttling another could. Zuko struggled, then punched Sokka, hard, in the gut and rolled him over, jabbing him quickly with two fingers in the soft flesh between neck and shoulder. Sokka gasped, arced, and then twisted savagely to the side; he yanked his knee up to wedge space between them in that moment, and tore free, sliding on his back.

"Fool," Zuko spat, and Sokka was on his feet again, and they were struggling against each other, a mess of limbs and gouging fingers and tangling bodies; and finally that one startling moment when Zuko's thigh slid between Sokka's legs and the snarling, dark-skinned boy gasped, again, in a significantly different way.

Zuko went still, one hand pinning Sokka's wrist to the ground and the other fisted in the boy's shirt. Sokka made a small noise, blue eyes wide and face a mirror image of the shock Zuko felt echoing in his gut.

"Oh," Sokka said, voice strained, and cleared his throat. "Um."

Narrowing his unscarred eye, Zuko slid his thigh again. Sokka made a small, wheezing noise, the lean tense length of his body tightening under Zuko's weight.

"Well," Zuko said, and slid a hand in Sokka's pants, brushing his fingers out in a careful grip.

"Hell," Sokka said, when he could.

"So," Zuko said, as Sokka's leg shifted. "Do you know what I spy?"

"Shut up," Sokka said, and devolved into incoherency and a great deal of babbling.

Later, as Sokka mopped away the stickiness between them with a wad of leaves, Zuko drew his hair back up into the traditional tie in the back.

"I still hate you," Sokka said, tossing the leaves away into the undergrowth. He fumbled for the tie of his pants.

"You're still a fool," Zuko said, and that was that until somewhere around five steps later when Sokka pinned him to a tree.

At camp, Katara turned on Sokka, demanding, "Where's dinner?" with a large and deadly looking branch clutched in her hand.

"Momo found some fruit," Aang offered.

Sokka, meanwhile, looked as if he'd just realized what he and Zuko had not been doing.

"Your brother," Zuko said, in deference to Katara's outraged expression, "scared anything edible away with his noise."

Sokka punched him.