A/N: Okay everyone... Here's some lime-scented Zukaang. It's a one-shot, but probably the first of a series of one-shots. I kinda liked how this came out... let me know what you think!
(btw, you should check out whirleeQ's stories... she is such an awesome writer, I just love her... uh... yeah ;) ).
Zuko regarded the merchant with a scowl.
"Fresh cabbages... would you like to buy a cabbage, sir?"
"No," Zuko answered gruffly. He picked up his pace slightly and kept walking.
"They were grown in the heart of the continent!"
Zuko subconsciously tugged on the hood that obscured his features as he turned to avoid the street vendor. The man easily caught up with him and roughly shoved a bright green cabbage right under his nose.
"C'mon, you have to try one... they are delicious!"
Zuko scowled and pushed the vendor's hand out of his way. He didn't have time for this.
The vendor's grin never faltered as he obstructed Zuko's path once again.
"How about I offer you a deal... just for you. I'll give you TWO cabbages for the price... of... uh..."
The vendor's face abruptly fell as he trailed off, his eyes focused on a point over Zuko's shoulder. He was so caught up in what he was looking at, that he didn't even bother to react when Zuko roughly pushed him out of the way, knocking the cabbage out of his hands in the process.
Behind him, Zuko heard a flurry of activity as the vendor attempted to pack up his stand. Curious. The man had been annoyingly persistent. What would cause him to close up shop in the middle of the day?
Despite the fact that he was in a hurry, Zuko stayed where he was, turning his head to see what was going on.
The merchant's face was frozen in an expression of horror as he rapidly covered the mound of cabbages with canvas; eyes never wavering from whatever it was that was causing him such alarm. Zuko casually followed the man's gaze with his own – and froze.
It looked like the 'meeting' he had been in such a hurry to get to was unnecessary. For right there in front of his eyes was proof of the assassin's failure.
He fell back into the shadows as the foursome passed. He'd know them anywhere, despite their dismal attempts at blending in.
The avatar was smiling cheerfully, incomprehensibly wearing an academy uniform, his telltale tattoo masked by a red headband and full head of hair. The waterbender was by his side, some of her dark hair gathered in a top knot, while the rest of it hung loose over her shoulders. The style was reminiscent of the one his mother used to favor, giving him a momentary start, but any resemblance was tempered by the clothes that the waterbender wore. The peasant girl's midriff and much of her left leg were left uncovered by the red two-piece outfit. His mother would have never worn anything so... indecent.
The peasant boy, in contrast, was dressed as a common foot soldier – complete with a sheathed sword strapped to his belt. He almost looked formidable, and Zuko had to repress the urge to snort.
Zuko's attention turned to the last member of their party. The blind earth bender was perhaps the most changed, and for a moment, he couldn't figure out why. Her hairstyle was the same, and even the clothes she wore were of a similar style, if not color, to her old ones. What about her was different?
Zuko glanced at her covered feet. He'd only seen her a few times before, and had thought her completely unremarkable. In fact, he probably wouldn't have remembered her at all, were it not for her consistent tendency to travel barefoot.
"Oh look, guys... cabbages!" The avatar shouted, pulling the waterbender by the hand over to the merchant's cart, despite his frantic attempts at closing down. Zuko pulled himself further into the shadows and watched as the Avatar gleefully pulled loose a cabbage that was left uncovered from the bottom of the pile, sending the rest of the cabbages and the canvas tarp rolling down over the side of the cart and onto the ground. The cabbage merchant covered his face with two hands and wailed while the water tribe peasant roughly grabbed the Avatar's tunic.
"Lets go, Kuzon..." He ordered in a loud voice, pulling the Avatar away. They passed not two feet away from where Zuko was leaning against the wall of an inn, hidden by its shadow.
"You're making a scene, Aang. I thought we were supposed to be inconspicuous. Inconspicuous!" The water peasant whispered roughly, just loud enough for Zuko to overhear.
"But... but I'm hungry, and all you ever buy is fish!"
"Just let me and Katara handle the transactions, okay?"
Zuko waited until the water tribe peasant led the grumbling Avatar away before pulling himself away from the wall, his heart pounding rapidly in his chest.
His eyes narrowed as he watched the overly cheerful group make their way through the promenade, and despite the peasant's warning, they drew far more attention to themselves than Zuko would have liked. It would only be a matter of time before the fools gave themselves away.
Zuko swore under his breath; cursing the inept idiot he had hired to do away with the Avatar.
'If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.'
"Hey, pass me that spice that we bought today," Aang said, looking down at his rather dull meal of white rice and boiled leeks.
Sokka, happily tearing the meat off of the bone of some kind of bird they purchased at the market, tossed the canister of spice over to Aang with a shudder.
"Fhat truff isth nafty," Sokka said, mouth full of food. "Ithd tfoo hoft, and it coft too mufch."
"It's not nasty, and I like the hot." Aang replied, frowning. He didn't even bother arguing the cost.
He had only made a couple of requests while they were at market today; one had been for vegetables, and the other had been for the small canister of curry. Sokka, who for whatever reason was in charge of their purse strings, had grudgingly acquiesced to Aang's requests; and then complained about it for well over a half an hour. Eventually it was Katara who came to his defense, reminding Sokka that Aang had little variation in what he ate and anyway, the fish that they had purchased cost five times as much as the spice.
"Don't talk with your mouth full," Katara chastised quietly, placing another bundle of wood onto their campfire. She shot a threatening look towards Sokka, when he started to complain again.
Sokka closed his mouth with an audible snap.
Aang smiled at her gratefully. He turned to Sokka with a challenging look in his eyes as he proceeded to pour a liberal amount of curry onto his food.
"Don't make yourself sick, Aang," Katara said with a frown, watching Aang's dish of leeks and rice begin to take on a distinctly reddish tint.
"He likes the hot, remember?"
"The hotter the better," Aang said with a smile. Staring directly at Sokka, he spooned a great big mouthful of curried rice and leeks into his mouth and chewed.
Sokka folded his arms and leaned back, quietly pulling the canteen that they were sharing to him. He watched Aang carefully, his upper lip curled into a smirk.
Aang swallowed his mouthful and took another bite, all the while staring defiantly at Sokka.
Slowly, the Avatar's ears began to burn a bright red.
Aang stuck his tongue out at Sokka and took yet another bite.
A bead of sweat began rolling down the side of Aang's face.
He took another bite.
Aang's face was starting to roughly resemble a ripe tomato.
He took one more bite.
Sokka began to count down.
"Ten... nine... eight... seven... six --"
"GIVE ME THE CANTEEN!"
Aang frantically threw himself over the campfire; tackling Sokka to the ground in an attempt to wrench the canteen from his grasp. Sokka, a big grin on his face, used his long arms to keep the hand holding the canteen just out of Aang's reach. They tumbled on the ground for several moments; Aang having no success in wrenching the canteen away from Sokka.
Neither Toph nor Katara bothered to interfere. They were used to the boys acting like – well, boys, and didn't give much thought to their tussle – that is, until they rolled over the dish of freshly cooked mackerel; breaking the clay dish and grinding their dinner into the dirt.
Katara was so flustered that she bent the water from the canteen onto both of their heads, effectively breaking up their tussle.
Both Aang and Sokka turned around, saw the broken plate and the ruined fish, and then turned to Katara sheepishly; Sokka whistling quietly and Aang scratching the back of his head with a guilty grin.
"You --" She growled, pointing to Sokka "will clean up this mess and cook us more fish. And you --" She turned her ice blue gaze to Aang, eliciting a wince from the airbender. "will get us more water. Now."
Her tone brokered no room for argument. Aang shot Sokka a dirty look as he grabbed the now-empty canteen and took off into the woods in search of a source of fresh water.
Zuko followed the boy quietly, waiting until he was far enough away from his camp to make a move. He'd been dogging them all day, just waiting for the Avatar to break off on his own. It had been an awful experience, watching the easy banter back and forth between the Avatar and his friends. It just brought home once again that the Avatar was merely a boy, and far too cheerful for his own good.
And Zuko had to kill him.
'Do you think we could have been friends?'
The question, posed by the Avatar so long ago, uncomfortably lodged itself in his mind.
He had to kill him. He had no choice. If the boy lived, he'd lose everything... again.
The silver dagger strapped to his belt felt inexplicably heavy.
Zuko swallowed, wondering just when he had become the villain.
Struggling to clear his mind, Zuko ground his teeth in anger and balled his hands into fists. He couldn't afford an attack of conscience. Not now, when he was so close to ensuring that his place in his father's good graces continued. All he had to do was kill the Avatar, and he'd keep his honor forever.
The Avatar whistled to himself; happily hopping from tree to tree like a lemur, Zuko struggling to keep up with him while remaining hidden.
After about ten minutes or so, Aang dropped down from the trees before a small fresh water creek. He bent down to fill his canteen with water.
Stealthily, Zuko approached, pulling a small dagger free from its sheath by his side.
The canteen filled, Aang considered the creek for a moment, before shrugging and pulling off his tunic.
Zuko stood frozen behind a tree not three feet away from the Avatar, his eyes locked onto the massive scar that covered the Avatar's back. Absently, the hand that was not holding the dagger rose to brush his own scar in sympathy. For a brief moment, Zuko felt a fierce tug at his heart along with an irrational hatred for his sister. Which was stupid, because wasn't he here to kill the Avatar himself?
The boy stripped down to his underwear and jumped into the creek, disappearing below the surface of the water.
Zuko slowly approached the creek with a frown. Several long seconds passed, and then several more. Slowly, the seconds turned into a minute, and then the minute turned into two, and yet, the Avatar had not resurfaced.
The rate of Zuko's breathing increased, and he was sure that he could hear the beating of his own heart as an unreasonable panic settled there. Absently letting go of the dagger, Zuko dropped to his knees, furiously scanning the surface of the water. A little voice in the back of his mind chastised him for worrying. This was what he wanted, right? If the Avatar drowned, it'd suit his purpose just fine. In fact, it'd be all the better, because he wouldn't have to kill the boy himself.
His sense of panic grew exponentially every second the Avatar remained submersed. Rapidly coming to a decision, Zuko quickly pulled his boots off one by one and then his shirt. He was about to dive in after the Avatar when he felt the blade of his own dagger against his neck. A small, yet unquestionably strong arm was wrapped around his chest, pulling him back against a slim body.
"Another assassin," the Avatar growled against his ear, sending a shiver down his spine. He felt a tightening in his chest that he really, really did not want to examine too closely. "Who sent you? Fire Lord Ozai? Azula?"
The Avatar didn't even consider him as a possibility, Zuko realized. Somehow, that only increased his own self-disgust.
"Who sent you?"
With a sigh, Zuko slowly turned his head so the Avatar could see him in profile.
Gray eyes widened in shock as a small, horrified frown appeared on the Avatar's face. The boy was so surprised that he released him, the dagger falling to the ground. He backed up several feet, continuing to give him such a look of betrayal that Zuko wholeheartedly wished that he was an earth bender in order to force the ground to swallow him whole.
"Did you send that other guy?" The airbender asked quietly.
Zuko nodded, not having the energy or inclination to lie.
The firebender turned away, not wanting the boy to see his face.
"You wouldn't understand."
"You're right. I don't understand... I don't understand why you keep trying to kill me, even though I've done nothing to you. And I really don't understand why you would send someone else to do the job for you. Seems cowardly, if you ask me."
Zuko winced slightly before turning around, giving the Avatar a dark look.
"I need to keep my honor," Zuko stated evenly, holding the Avatar's glare with his own. "The Fire Lord believes that you are dead and that I killed you... if he found out otherwise, I'd lose everything."
Aang's eyes flashed with some undefined emotion before he spoke again.
"So... go ahead and kill me, if its so important to you. I won't stop you."
The Avatar stood, wet and clad only in his underwear, and held his arms out in challenge.
Zuko had to fight the brief impulse to laugh at the absurdity of it. After a moment, he broke his stare and turned away.
"I can't," He admitted softly, realizing the truth of it even as the words fell from his lips. He was a failure, even in this.
He heard a shuffling as the Avatar gathered his clothes and realized that the boy was preparing to leave. That was fine with Zuko; he really didn't want to face him at the moment. Eventually, it grew very quiet. Zuko, assuming the Avatar had left, allowed himself a shuddering breath as he fought back the torrent of emotions that assaulted him. Grief, self-pity, anger, frustration, desire – it was all too much.
He reached for his shirt and was about to shrug it on when he felt a soft hand land on his back. Startled, he turned around and saw the Avatar staring at him; his cheeks flushed with color and a strange expression on his face.
"Why couldn't you?" The Avatar asked in a soft voice, his lips pursed and his eyes questioning.
Zuko groaned. Of its own accord, his hand reached out and grabbed the front of the Avatar's tunic. Fingering the fabric nervously, Zuko pulled the Avatar flush against him, drawing a startled 'yelp' from the younger boy.
Aang's gray eyes were as wide as saucers as Zuko stared at him intensely for several long moments. And then, like a hawk, the firebender struck; mashing their faces together in a fierce and hungry kiss. Aang's lips were soft and malleable, as opposed to his; hot and taut.
Zuko nipped on the younger boy's bottom lip, forcing his mouth open. He slipped his tongue inside the younger boy's mouth and was immediately assaulted with the strong taste of curry. Absently, he groaned, the small sound echoing into Aang's mouth. Was this what he wanted from the Avatar for so long? It couldn't be... shouldn't be... and yet, Zuko couldn't pull his lips away.
Aang was initially frozen in shock as Zuko kissed him. Slowly, he began to respond, timidly meeting the firebenders tongue with his own. He didn't know why he was going along with it; the firebender had tried to kill him after all. But there was something in the way that Zuko kissed him that gave him pause. Desperation, maybe. Whatever it was, it was intoxicating, and he voiced no protest when the firebender backed him up against a tree and began sucking on his neck with his hot mouth.
Under his ministrations, the airbender groaned, the small sound fueling Zuko's fervor. Just kissing the boy brought the firebender to a level of passion that he had never felt, not even with Mai. It was confusing and perverse and intoxicating.
Fiercely, Zuko drew his lips down the Avatar's neck, eliciting a whimper from the boy. He grabbed the edge of Aang's tunic and reluctantly pulled his lips away just long enough to pull the garment over his head.
"Zuko... what --"
Zuko cut off Aang's breathy voice with a kiss. This time, the kiss was slow and languid, full of pent up emotions and when he broke away, Aang whimpered; almost leaning forward to follow Zuko's retreating mouth.
Gray eyes blinked at him owlishly as Zuko fell to his knees and began to place soft kisses on the soft planes of Aang's stomach, absently enjoying the way the soft flesh seemed to jump under his touch. He was going on impulse now; afraid to stop and think about what he was actually doing.
"Zuko, what are you --"
Zuko slid one hand down the front of the Avatar's pants and fondled the younger boy's erection through the thin cotton of his underwear; effectively cutting off his words as he gasped in surprise. He continued to pepper kisses against Aang's soft skin while his free hand worked on undoing the knot that held Aang's pants in place.
"Shh," Zuko hissed against the boy's pelvis. He succeeded in untying the Avatar's pants and watched with heavy lidded eyes as they fell to the boys ankles. "Just let me..."
Aang groaned as he felt Zuko nudge his erection through his underwear. This... this was all confusing and going so fast... and it was wrong, wasn't it? He couldn't think straight...
Zuko pulled Aang's underwear down to his knees, freeing him. He chanced a look up at the Avatar, and found him staring at him, his cheeks flushed and his gray eyes clouded in passion. He was breathing heavy and shivering slightly. Zuko kissed the bone of Aang's pelvis as dragged his fingers through the sparse, downy curls that framed his erection. Gently, he took the younger boy in his hand, drawing a small, incomprehensible sound from Aang's lips.
One of Aang's hands loosely fell onto the top of Zuko's head. Zuko felt the small fingers combing through his hair and shivered. He let his lips brush over the tip of Aang's erection, listening with satisfaction to the sharp intake of breath from above him.
The boy cut off with a half strangled sound when Zuko took him into his mouth, extending his tongue and giving a slow, wet sweep to Aang's cock. The hand in Zuko's hair trembled as Zuko moved his mouth slowly up and down, his hands cupping Aang's buttocks as his knees threatened to buckle underneath him. Aang's fingers were desperately tangled in his hair as he began to sob and whimper loudly, these sounds occasionally interspersed by Zuko's name.
Aang came with a cry, fisting his hand in Zuko's hair, throbbing in his mouth, his knees giving way, Zuko's strong hands the only thing holding him up. His breathing was haggard, uneven, as he whimpered through the aftershocks.
Slowly, without letting him fall, Zuko slid up his body and held his arms open as the boy collapsed against him. He pressed a soft, wet kiss against Aang's lips and forehead and held him tight.
Zuko's mind was a maelstrom. Had he really just done that? He met Aang's eyes with his own. The younger boys eyes were soft and heavily lidded as he smiled at him in that annoyingly goofy, adorable way.
"So..." Aang began breathlessly. "I take it this means you don't want to kill me anymore?"
Zuko snorted, burying his face into the crook of the Avatar's neck.
"I don't know what it means," he muttered honestly.
"Aang? Are you back there, buddy?"
The water tribe peasants voice broke them apart with a bolt of reality. Zuko brushed one last kiss on the Avatar's lips before seeking shelter amongst the trees.
Aang, his face flushed and his breathing fast, struggled with pulling his underwear and pants up. He just managed to get the string retied when Sokka came into view.
Sokka took one look at the breathless Avatar and flushed right down to his toes. Katara had sent him into the woods after Aang, worried that he was taking too long. Sokka had gone grudgingly, still a little aggravated with the boy, figuring the kid was off sulking.
An obviously post orgasmic Avatar had not been what he'd expected to find.
He hit his forehead with his palm and turned away as the kid finished with his tie and reached for his tunic. What to say, what to say... Sokka had been hoping that he'd have some time before this situation came up. The kid was young... but then again, he'd been young too when he started.
"Listen, Aang," Sokka began in a controlled voice, throwing one arm over the shoulder of the confused – and thankfully, fully dressed – air bender. "It's normal to... uh... tame the fleshy unagi. I... uh... do it all the time myself... er...well, maybe not all the time... but... anyway, the point is that it is perfectly healthy and normal and you have nothing to be embarassed about and weneedtohaveatalkaboutsomeotherthings," Sokka completed, loudly clearing his throat.
Aang gave him a look that was akin to horror.
"We have to talk... now?"
"What? No... no! No, we need to get back to camp, or Katara will kill us. Oh, and incidentally, from now on, no sleeping next to the girls. Got it?"
Sokka glared at the air bender, only turning away when Aang swallowed and nodded.
"Good. Let's get back to camp."
Aang allowed Sokka to lead him away, his mind a wash of conflict and confusion. He turned his head once and for a moment, he thought he caught a glimpse of Zuko's golden eyes, but he blinked and then they were gone.
Zuko watched the fool lead the airbender away with mixed emotions. He would have liked more time with the boy, but it was probably for the best. He shouldn't have done what he did, anyway. He was very confused himself, knowing only that he couldn't kill the boy, not after what passed between them – not after taking him into his mouth – and yet, not killing the boy meant that at some point, his father would know...
And that absolutely could not happen.
Zuko's fist burst into flame as he clenched it. Maybe he just wasn't strong enough... cold enough. There would be other opportunities to do the job, he was sure of it. And the next time, he wouldn't mess it up.