What's In A Nickname?

Twinkle-toes.

Sweetness.

Snoozles.

The names bounced around in Zuko's head as he juggled a single flame on his fingers. He could hear the rest of them laughing and talking nearby, sitting around a larger fire, but he'd made excuses about being tired and wanting to go to bed early. That was why he was sitting on his sleeping bag, within an earshot of the little group but not close enough to join in their revelry. Even his uncle had become one of them, his hearty laughter louder than the others...though the Earthbender was a close second.

At the thought of her, Zuko couldn't prevent the words from forming in his head: I'm the only one without a nickname.

He knew how foolish it was to worry about such a small thing. After all, were they not traveling to the Fire Nation to topple his father from the throne and put the rightful heir in place? They had bigger things to worry about and he had a destiny to fulfill but here he was, obsessing about how he didn't have a nickname when everyone else did. His uncle managed to get one the second day they joined the merry band.

Old Man River.

Zuko scowled and the fire in his hand expanded. Muttering under his breath about being an outcast no matter where he went, he extinguished it and slid into his sleeping bag. Brows knitted furiously, he squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself to get some rest. He would accomplish nothing by staying up all night wondering why the Earthbender didn't call him some stupid name.

Sometime during the night, he woke with a start and he scrambled half out of his sleeping bag, one hand out to bend, until he realized that the figure he sensed sitting near him was Toph.

"Did you know that when you mumble, I can hear you?" she informed him matter-of-factly. "Your voice vibrates through the ground. I didn't want to tell you before because I had a lot of fun hearing what you had to say about Katara's bathing suit, but I thought maybe we should set some things straight."

Zuko stayed silent, unsure of what to say and slightly disturbed about this new development about Toph's abilities.

"It's not that we haven't accepted you or anything," she went on. "We're just being careful around you. You're pretty sensitive for someone so snappy and arrogant, and the last thing we want is for you to take off because you're pissed about something or worse, burn the ponytail right off Sokka's head."

"So you're telling me you're not at all angry about what I did to you before all this?" he asked, arching an eyebrow at her.

"Not anymore," Toph said confidently. "And I think I can speak for the others when I say that they're not angry anymore either."

"Then why doesn't Sokka shut up about..."

"When does he ever shut up? Don't you think that inviting you to come along on this crazy quest and being Aang's Firebending teacher was enough of a hint that you've been forgiven? The tragic, brooding prince thing is overdone so stop skulking off to be alone with your thoughts. See, you're so sensitive." She suddenly grinned. "Get some rest, Snuggles. Tomorrow's another day."

Zuko gaped at her. "Snuggles?"

She chuckled. "Take it or...well you'll have to take it. Goodnight! And don't worry...I won't tell Katara how you feel about her bathing suit. Your secret is safe with me."

More out of reflex than anything else, Zuko shot a spurt of fire at her, which she blocked easily with a short pillar. With a huff, he got back into his sleeping bag.

"Snuggles," he mumbled and immediately pressed his lips tightly shut when he remembered that he had to stop that particular habit.

Then...he grinned.

-fin-