AN: My first fic! I'm sooo happy. And it didn't take that long to write at all. Fantastic, eh? This takes place after Blue Spirit and in it Aang has mastered all the elements but fire. Good for him! I don't really have a whole story planned but I do have ideas for some scenes I wanna put in, including the climax- it's a big one! Updates will be erratic at best, basically whenever an idea strikes me. Or, rather, when I feel like writing it down. (I'm lazy, yeah :P) So here it is, hope you likey!

Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender, obviously. If I did do you honestly think I would be wasting my time here?


Learning to Play with Fire

Chapter 1: The Grouchy Theory

A bead of sweat rolled down his shaved temple and he blinked it out of his eye. His tongue stuck out of the side of his mouth between his teeth. His large dark grey eyes peered intensely from under his furrowed brow at a flame that was balanced somewhat precariously over his open palm.

SLAM!

The loud noise rebounded off the metal walls of his prison cell and he was startled out of his meditation. No longer restrained by the will of its creator, the flame flared up briefly before beginning to simmer out. The young boy snapped his attention back to the rapidly dying flame and struggled to maintain it but to his dismay it sputtered out with an arguably spiteful crackle. His eyes blazing, the twelve year old monk whirled around while simultaneously jumping to his feet to lock the intruder under what he deemed to be an intimidating gaze. Sadly, his glare did not have the desired effect on the older boy in Fire Nation armor who stood in the doorway to the prison room; so he tried a different approach.

"Nice one, Zuko," yelled the Airbender. "I was so close that time, you have no idea! Didn't the guard you assigned to watch us tell you that I was not to be disturbed?"

Zuko, however, was unperturbed by the Avatar's tirade, no, what really bothered him was the quiet mocking laughter coming from the cell besides the Avatar's. Throwing a glare at the giggling Water Tribe siblings he addressed the child monk standing before him. "Last time I checked, Avatar, I was the master of this ship and you, the prisoner. I doubt anything's changed," he said with a sneer.

Aang regained his self-control with difficulty.

"That doesn't mean you can just barge in here uninvited," mumbled the twelve year old sourly.

Zuko opened his mouth to deliver a nasty comeback when his and Aang's argument was interrupted by a whiny voice.

"I'm hungrryy..." Zuko turned to stare incredulously at the oldest of the Water Tribe siblings.

Katara was sitting near the bars that separated her and her brother's cell from that of the Avatar. She rolled her eyes and shrugged casually at Zuko in a hopeless sort of way at her brother's comment. Sokka, however, was unrepentant and sat in the far corner sulking. Zuko saw him wince as his stomach gave a loud growl. Momo, who was curled around Katara's shoulders stared at Sokka's gut with something akin to reverent awe. It can be said that the only thing that kept Zuko from attempting to kill them all then with his bare hands were the bars.

The Prince could not see the humor in this situation, no, to him it was frankly mortifying. Before he caught the Avatar and his companions only his uncle had thrown the occasional jab at him. Only Iroh had dared challenge the dignity of the heir to the Fire Nation (Zhao excepted) in such a way. Just him, and now there were four, six if you counted the bison and the lemur. Yes, the lemur for sure; he could tell that it was mocking him somehow. And if he knew his uncle as well as he thought he did, he would even say that Iroh enjoyed having accomplices in his ongoing mission to lighten Zuko's mood. Honestly, how did that man earn the name of The Dragon of the West? Surely he wasn't the same person as that infamous general?

The hunt for the Avatar had been sufficiently more mellow after the incident involving Zhao's fortress, a blue mask, and a restoration of hope. If Zuko was to exaggerate a bit, he would have to say that it was quite enjoyable, actually. Music nights, training with Iroh's guidance, and little conflict along the way. The Avatar had led them up to the Northern Water Tribe settlements then back within the Earth Kingdom. (It was only after capturing the Airbender that Zuko discovered that the Avatar had now mastered water and earth. It surprised him that after 112 years of existence he was just getting around to it now.)

In the Earth Kingdom they were able to apprehend the Avatar with what Iroh called dumb luck but Zuko claimed that it was military genius on his part. How else could he have led his men into that forest where they found the Avatar's own encampment? How else could he have stumbled upon- no, sneaked up on them as they slept? How else could he have purchased the sedatives (to shut Iroh up) on that same day and have carried them along? Through careful planning on his part, that's how. Luck had nothing to do with it. He recalled how proud he was as he and his men arrived back at the dock with the Avatar and the water brats hanging drugged over his men's Komodo rhinos, the lemur squealing in a bag, and the bison in tow.

He remembered contemplating how the Avatar had made this all so easy, almost as if he wanted to be captured. Strange how quickly his pride evaporated when the Avatar and his friends woke up in a cell and began jabbering while the flying bison was being well cared for amongst his rhinos in the hull.

Pulling himself out of his reverie and back to the present, Zuko snapped at Sokka. "I'll order you fed, even though you just ate. Now will you just shut up?" The young Water Tribe warrior obediently snapped his mouth shut.

"Sokka's always hungry. You'll get used to it after awhile," said Aang cheerfully.

Zuko turned back to survey the Avatar, noting a sweaty brow and slightly singed clothes.

"What, exactly, did I disturb?" he asked suspiciously, leaving the usual threats unsaid.

Aang, to his credit, kept his I-am-more-innocent-than-thou-art mask firmly in place. It was Katara who answered for him, "he was Firebending." Zuko detected a hint of pride in her voice.

Zuko blinked. So the boy was trying to learn Firebending?

"Why?"

Aang gave him a weird look. "Because I'm the Avatar and I need to..."

Zuko's golden eyes narrowed. There's something else he's not saying. "And?" he prompted. The Airbender mumbled something unintelligable. Zuko's voice became stern. "Pardon?"

"Well...," the Avatar paused then rushed through the rest of his reply. "I've- always- wondered- why- all- the- Firebenders- I've- met- lately- are- really- grouchy- and- then- I- realized- you- don't- have- any- games- to- play- with- your- element- sooo- I- figured- I- could- make- one- up- for- you- I guess...?"

It took Zuko several seconds for his brain to make sense of that statement, then...

"..."

A minute to come up with an adequate reply. To Zuko's credit, even Sokka and Katara were suprised at Aang's suggestion and were watching for his reaction to the Avatar's words with bated breath. And they had known Aang for several months now, Zuko wasn't used to the Airbender's distinct character. Poor, poor fool thought Sokka sadly.

Finally, he answered. "We have the Agni Kai."

"Well, that's not really a game is it, it's more serious, right?"

Zuko experienced a rather strange sensation at this. He could've sworn his brain had momentarily shut down. It took nearly all of his willpower to resist the instinctual desire to whimper. And it took what was left of his formidable mettle not to cry in relief as he felt his brain slowly kicking in again after shifting its position slightly to the left.

The four comrades watched nervously as the Prince of the most feared nation in the world, nay- the Prince who was so bad that he got himself thrown out of the most feared nation in the world, continued to stare at them with his mouth slightly open and his brilliant amber eyes glazed.

All his life he had been trained. Learning Firebending to near perfection, making him a worthy opponent for many masters. He had underwent further education in history, geography, military strategy, weapons, and had had an extra comprehensional study of the techniques of Waterbenders and Earthbenders for defensive purposes. To prepare for his quest to restore his honor he had tracked down old forgotten texts on Airbenders and had studied the scripts on the legendary Avatar. He was the Prince of the Fire Nation for Sozen's sake! He wasn't supposed to deal with things like this, banished or no.

Zuko could feel a major migraine coming on and suspected that it would mostly be the fault of the children before him. He didn't like the way the lemur was regarding him with its cunning green eyes. Perhaps he was being paranoid.


AN: Remember to tell me in a review what you think of it. Cause I love to hear from you, oh readers of mine. And reviews are the only payment I receive for this, not that I'm complaining of course! -shifty eyes- I could just use the money...