Jingle. Jingle, jingle, jingle. JingleJingleJingleJingleJingleJingle. Clank.
The Avatar child slumped in defeat as he concluded there was no slipping from the chains this time. Zuko had been rather careless when he initially put the irons on him, but that was a mistake he was quick to learn from after another hour of running up, down and all around his ship. He tried to sit down but the chains didn't reach far enough for his butt to touch the ground so Aang just just let himself dangle and swung a little from side to side wondering when Zuko would be in to gloat about his capture, if he'd come at all that is. Zhao did that to him but Aang sensed that Zuko was different. Maybe he'd never see Zuko again.
The sound of approaching footsteps made Aang look up. He figured it would probably be better for him if he was seen standing on his own two feet rather then just hanging by his wrists, but when the boy tried to pull his feet back underneath him, they ended up slipping out from under him against the metal floor and he couldn't pull himself back up. As the footsteps came closer the Avatar tried to quickly right himself only to end up slipping and sliding about, the chains about his wrists that were attached to the wall being the only thing that kept him from falling at all.
"Tch," came a soft sound and Aang stopped in his crazy hokey-poky to look up and find Zuko before him. "What, may I ask, are you doing Avatar?"
"Hanging around," Aang replied as he moved a leg closer to himself. The cuffs around his wrist were starting to hurt from the weight of his body pulling down of them. Zuko gave a disapproving look then moved closer, grabbing the boy by the collar of the shirt and lifting him up to his feet so he wasn't so awkward. "So what are you doing?" Aang asked, just to try and sound friendly. Man, he hoped Zuko wasn't here to gloat all the way back to the fire nation. Zhao did that; it was annoying.
The older fire teenwas silent a moment, as if fuming about some event from the day and Aang found himself hoping it wasn't his earlier escape attempt; c'mon, Zuko had to understand that he had a job to do too, right? Jeeze, he'd stay on the ship and have tea with Zuko whenever if the teen would just stop trying to put him in a glass jar long enough for him to sit down and have a cup of tea.
"My Uncle wants me to make sure you're comfortable while you travel with us,"Zuko finally replied. He looked over at Aang in a dangerous way, as if daring him to say he wasn't and said, "So, how are you holding up?"
"My butt can't touch the ground,"Aang replied. Zuko glowered at him. "But other then that I think I'll be okay."
"Good. Now as for what's going to happen to you once we reach Fire Nation soil, you're to be locked away in the deepest darkest dungeon, never to see the light of day again as soon as we set foot on ground." Here Zuko paused and sighed as though he really didn't want to tell the boy what came next but knew better then to not to and continued all the same. "So my Uncle has also told me to fulfill any last requests you may have before you disappear from the world for another hundred years."
Aang started at him. Jeeze that was a depressing thought. All alone, for ever and eternity? Well, there would probably be guards, but it's not like they were gonna be anywhere near his age like Zuko was, Aang wouldn't stand a chance of getting them to feel bad for him. Then and idea him him and he smiled his I-Only-LOOK-this-sweet-and-innocent-when-it-suits-me-best smile.
"Any requests?" Aang asked, not even bothering to mask the scheming tone in his voice.
"Short of actually letting you go, yes," Zuko replied picking out the tone at once and taking the bait Aang wanted him to swallow.
"Will you say that you'll be my friend?"
Zuko stared at the boy. He had expected so much more. Like, some sort of ring-around-the-rosie way of asking to be let go or something. That requests was just...lame, even for the Avatar. "Uhh...sure. I'm your friend?"
"Will you really be my friend?"
Zuko figured that he'd play along. After all, he'd already established that he wasn't letting the kid go, what could he possibly make him do? With a sigh he replied, "yes Avatar, I will really be your friend."
"Really!" Aang said as that gigantic grin of his spread over his face. "And promise me you'll do anything I ask of you and keep all my secrets, like a real true friend! Like Kuzon?"
"Yes Avatar," Zuko said with just the slightest hint of annoyance in his voice. Hadn't he already established he'd fulfill any requests the boy had? Why was he wasting his time with that nonsense promise? None-the-less, it was probably better to just do it without question. "I promise to do any stupid little activity you assign to me and I will keep whatever dumb little secrets you care to share with me." Yes indeed, a waste of his time.
Aang had a hard time not laughing as he made his next request. "Will you be my -snirk- special friend?" The fire teen began to look at him like he suspected the kid to be a bit loopy in the head, but ignorantly promised the child he would be.
"What's your problem anyway?" the fire teen inquired along the side.
Instantly Aang composed himself. "Sorry," he said. "I guess it's just a little funny to hear you actually say those words to me."
"Are we done then?" Zuko asked and Aang shook his head.
"Oh no Zuko, far from it. I've got a lot more requests to ask of you!" The teenager sighed and rubbed the side of his face, but gestured for the Avatar to continue all the same. What's the most the child would ask for? A teddy bear?
"Will you kiss me?"
Aang smiled rather innocently and for a single split second Zuko was sure he'd heard that last request wrong. "Will you kiss me?" Damn, he'd been so fricken' sure...
Zuko tried to comprehend this particular request, really tried, but it was like his brain couldn't even process that those particular words had been spoken to him by a little 12 year old boy. He closed his eyes and shook his head but when he opened them and saw Aang innocently smiling up at him he still found the ordeal to weird to fathom. "...what?" he asked again and Aang rolled his eyes.
"Zuko," the Avatar said, "I said I wwwaaannnttt yyyooouuu toooo kiiissssss meeee. Now c'mon, I'm not getting any younger just standing here. Kiss me."
"No," Zuko instantly replied. "That's insanity, I'm not going to kiss you!"
"Why not!" Aang whined the way a small child might when their parent denys them the right to some candy before supper.
"You're a boy!" Zuko said.
"You said you wouldn't tell!"
Zuko tried to retort to that, but nothing good came to mind. "Yeah well," he staggered over another excuse. "You're only 12 years old and I'm 17! So there! You're too young!"
"I'm 112 years old," Aang said blantly. "I think I'm overdue for a kiss."
"Fine! Then I'll get you your water woman-"
It was a nice try for Zuko, we all must admit, but Aang was two steps ahead and didn't miss a beat. "But I want a kiss NOW! And besides! Katara didn't promise she'd fulfill all my requests! You did Zuko! You Promised! You Have Too!" Heh, okay so it was a little disappointing to give up a kiss from Katara but if it was any consolation Aang assured himself that he could always try his hand at talking Katara into cleansing him once he'd finished working his magical mind tricks on Zuko. And besides, this would be good practice provided Zuko didn't freak out and set fire to him on the spot. "I guess if you really don't want you, you should just let me go."
"I am NOT letting you go, Avatar."
"Yeah but, if I wasn't your hostage you wouldn't have to be doing these requests at all now would you?"
"I don't have to take orders from you," Zuko said as he got real close to Aang's face. "I could just walk away right now and leave you down here to wallow in self pity and loneliness for the rest of the trip back to the Fire Nation-"
"And I'll scream for your uncle and when he shows up I'll tell him of the promise you made to me and then broke," Aang interrupted as he held Zuko's fierce steady gaze. There was no way that he was going to beat Aang, the child was a game master and Bumi had taught him well mind tricks to play on people just like Zuko.
The teen stared into the kid's eyes for a few more minutes, eventually it dropped from an intimidating look to a sulking one as he finally concluded that the boy was right. "I have so much hate for you right now, Avatar..."
"Shut up and kiss me," Aang retorted. He closed his eyes and puckered up his lips in anticipation of the contact. Zuko was much slower to respond. He titled his head and leaned in a little closer, dreading what he was about to do. After positioning his mouth exactly where he was going to place it, he braced himself as he closed his own eyes then swiftly kissed the Avatar child on the cheek and pulled away faster then the child could run and tried not to make a big scene about it. Aang opened his eyes just as soon as he realized that Zuko considered the task completed and put on a displeased face. "What, that's it! That wasn't a kiss! That was poking my cheek with your lips!"
"Believe me Avatar, that was a kiss. And that's as good as you're gonna get from me. I'm leaving before you can give me anymore-"
"But I Want You To Kiss Me Zuko! Really Kiss Me! On the mouth, with tongue!"
"NO!" the older boy cried. "NoNoNO! Never! There is nothing you could--"
"ZUKO'S UNCLE! MISTER IROH!"
"Okay! Okay! Shut Up! Shut Up!" Zuko ran over and covered the boy's mouth with his hand. "Okay, I'll do it, just shut up and don't tell. And don't you dare tell ANYONE I ever did this to you, you got it?" Aang nodded and Zuko let go of his mouth. After taking a few breathes to prepare himself, the older boy leaned in again and this time he placed his lips over the slightly parted lips of the young Avatar before him. His stomach flipped as he slid his tongue into his captive's mouth to start a semi mock battle between them. Oh this was sooo low, even for him. When he was finished with this nonsense, and once he had sufficiently cleaned out his mouth, Zuko vowed he was going to give his uncle a real piece of his mind. Never, ever, EVER would he be talked into doing anything that crazy old man told him to do if it was going to set him down this road again. He'd do it this time around if it would keep his Avatar, he'd do it to make sure the boy was truly his captive...But Never Again, By The Spirits!
"Zuko," Aang panted as he broke the kiss. Zuko pulled away and covered his mouth, turning his back to the child so he wouldn't see the embarrassed flush on the face of the fire teen. "I'm uncomfortable standing up like this, and sooo tired. Do you think you could take me too a bed to lay down for a bit?"
Zuko growled a bit. Once more the thought of just running away crossed his mind, he could always walk away. Maybe he could gag Aang before he took off, then the boy couldn't tattle on him. But then Iroh would question him and Zuko never was really good with lying. Iroh might want to question the Avatar for himself and then Aang would blab. But maybe...maybe Iroh would take his side and scold Aang for going to far. Pah, yeah right, if it was within Zuko's reach Iroh would expect his nephew to do it. And he doubted a few kisses and a bed to sleep in was really something to extreme. It's not like Aang was trying to get Zuko to--
"Zuko?" called Aang's voice, breaking his thoughts. "Are you listening to me?"
"Alright already!" Zuko snapped as he whipped around. "But let's get one thing straight; I will beat you to within an inch of your life if you try any silly little stunt to get away, got it?"
"Oh Zuko," the boy replied with an underlying tone of false innocence. "Why would I want to go anywhere else when I have you to make me feel so...heh, wanted." Zuko wasn't sure he liked the tone but all the same began unlocking the chains that held his wrists and feet to the wall.
"This is my room," Zuko said as he let Aang's feet drop so the boy could stand on his own. The Avatar had suckered him into carrying the boy around the ship, bridal style, since Zuko had refused to take off the cuffs that tied the boy's wrist together and chained them to his ankles. "I figured I'd save you the trouble asking for it since you seem so infatuated with me as of late..."
"Awww," Aang said as he nuzzled Zuko's neck, a fake good natured smile in place. Zuko growled threateningly at him and he pulled away, still with a look of pure innocence in his features. "You're so sweet! Any bed would've been fine so long as I had you sleeping beside me!" A cute smile complete with the slight head tilt to the side for added effect. The only thing that was lacking at this point were the random floating bubbles, feathers and/or cherry blossom petals, though whenever Zuko looked down at his face he could envision these missing items with surprisingly clarity.
Zuko twitched at the words the boy was using on him. The door before him clicked open and he swung it open to reveal his plain, simple quarters. "Uh, no." he replied as he pushed Aang in before him. "I am not going to take a nap with you." The Avatar boy merely smiled innocently as he plopped down on the prince of fire's futon. Zuko closed and locked the door behind him so that Aang wouldn't be able to leave if he wiggled too free from Zuko's grasp.
"Yeah, I guess," Aang said nonchalantly, though by now Zuko was beginning to get the sinking feeling that a cloud of unrestrained doom was descending down around him. The Avatar was up to something, and it was only by means of vain stupidity on Zuko's behalf that he didn't reach down and pick it up as it continued to stare him in the face while nibbling at his toes. He was not screwed; he was not! The boy was only twelve after all, he wouldn't let it go so far...
"It's a little chilly in here Zuko; drafty or something,"Aang went on, not seeming to notice that Zuko had taken to inching along the wall and looking at him with the most distrusting glare he could muster. "You know what my friend Kuzon and I used to do when I spent the night over at his house and we were cold?" Zuko didn't respond. He figured if he didn't ask the Avatar wouldn't tell him. "We used to cuddle!" Aang finished in such a sickeningly cute bubbly way that the elder fire teen had to clutch at his jaw and wondered if his dental instance was going to cover this. Aang looked at him, blinking those gigantic grey puppy-cute eyes at him occasionally, his charismatic grin perfectly in place.
Zuko didn't move. Nope, as long as the magical words weren't said, he didn't have to. Maybe the Avatar was slipping up and he could just wait for the boy to roll over and go to sleep before he slipped out the door and ran like a bat outta hell--
"Zuzu,"Aang gave a little whine and the youngfire prince jolted involuntarily at the mention of his baby name and the fact that the child before him had just used it on him. And in a rather suggestive tone too! "Come here and cuddle with me! Pwease?"
'Do it for honor,' he told himself as he buried his face in his hands. 'Yes, yes it's embarrassing and humiliating and if anyone ever finds out I will become the laughing stock of the entire world...but if you do it, you keep the Avatar child and will bring him home to your father who will restore your honor and your right to the throne. Just think of that, just that...Honor Zuko, Honor!'
"Awww..." the boy cooed at him. "Is Zuzu a wittle shy? Oh don't be shy Zuko, it's not like I'm going to take your clothes off..."
'Thank the Spirits' the elder boy muttered in his head.
"Yet, that is," the Airbender finished with a sadistic grin that hardly anyone ever sees. "Of course, if you really find this just to awkward Zuko, I guess the only logical thing to do is let me go. Or let me talk with your uncle, I'm sure he'll understand . But just know that I'm sure he'll want to know about what I asked of you and if you are disinclined to tell him I will--"
"You said what happens between us stays between us!"
"Uhhhh...No," Aang smoothly countered. "You promised me you wouldn't tell. I made no such promise to you and therefore I am free to tell whom I please, when I please. Trust me Zuko, I have a loud mouth and I will talk. However, I will make you this promise: if you let me go I won't tell a soul about what transpired here or in the prison hold."
There was a sound that escaped Zuko's slightly parted lips, something along the lines of a squeak though so light in volume that Aang had to wonder if he didn't just imagine it to console himself that the fire teen was still alive as he sat like a frozen statue across the room from the Airbending Avatar. As the child cocked his head to the side and wondered if his captor was going to react anytime soon or if he'd somehow managed to break Zuko's mind, there was one word that just rebounded through the elder boy's head; How?
How had the child outwitted him? How had he painted himself into this magnificent corner? How was he going to back out? How could the child be so calm? How far was the boy really willing to take this? How much was he willing to stand? How was he going to sleep at night? How was this going to help his pride? How? How, How How?
Zuko shut down all thinking processes. It wasn't doing him any good anyway, and if there was one thing he'd learned from chasing after the Avatar for the past six months it's that no matter how hard he tried it would always come to this and there would always be another chance. Void of any actual thinking matter, Zuko reached for the ring of keys at his belt and pulled it free. He flipped through the little pieces of metal until he came to the one he wanted and quickly strode over to Aang before his brain rebooted and tried to "help" the situation with it's skewed logic. With shaky hands he unlocked the cuffs that bound the boy, removed the chains altogether and threw them aside with the keys. Aang blinked a bit perplexed at him; maybe he did break Zuko's mind after all...
The teen muttered something Aang didn't catch. "I'm sorry Zuko," he said as he leaned a little closer. "Could you repeat that?" Not a single soul can shed a tear for Aang as we all must realized he really had it coming.
"OFF MY SHIP!"
With a panic-stricken "YIPE!" the Avatar scrambled to his feet and skittered to the door, stopping only to pick up the keys and unlock the passage way before bolting outta there as though the fire teen were right behind him with a large ball of hot fiery doom aimed right at his behind. It is said that when Zuko later recounted these events into his personal diary that evening, that consideration wasn't too far from crossing his mind and had it come but one minute earlier he would've acted upon it.
"Prince Zuko?" Iroh said as he poked his head into his nephew's bedroom. "I just saw the Avatar run by and thought it peculiar you weren't right on his trail as usual. Is something the matter? Prince Zuko?" There were only three things that really saved Iroh that day: 1) the fact that he was Zuko's uncle, 2) the fact that he was the only one who really tolerated the boy because he loved him and Zuko knew this, even if he didn't really want to admit it, and 3) the fact that Iroh was a skilled Firebender himself, had taught Zuko all that the boy had learned and was able to defuse any attack Zuko tried to throw at him. After that was settled, Iroh led his nephew to his personal quarters for a cup of tea and because Zuko's mind was still rather confused as to what had transpired that day, he followed without complaint.