We realized we're both to blame, but what could we do?


"You're too moody to be the Fire Lord. You do realize that, right?"

"Just be a man for once in your pathetic life and admit that my plan is, in all actuality, better than yours," Zuko muttered heatedly as he unsheathed his swords, drawing them out into the dappling sun, the glint reflecting off the metal prideful.

"And your hair," Sokka droned on, blatantly ignoring him as he feebly waved his hand in the air, "what's that about? It's long enough to be a girl's and—" He stopped himself as a Cheshire grin, slow and venomous, spread through his face like a disease. "Oh, sorry Princess, I forgot. You are one."

Zuko, desperately attempting to keep his cool, looked at him exasperatedly from the corner of his good eye. "We already voted, peasant," he informed him through gritted teeth, grip a ghostly white on the hilts of his twin weapons. "And mine won. Deal with it."

"I am dealing, princey—" Zuko's eyebrow raised questioningly, Princey? "—I have absolutely no problem that the idea guy," Sokka gestured to himself proudly, "had the so-called 'inferior' idea, while Princess Pony over here somehow bribed my teammates to feign oblivious manipulation into—"

"Oblivious…manipulation?"

"Uh-huh," he defended. "I see through your plan. You can't fool me."

"…of course not," he replied, disinterested, as he gazed pensively into the blanket of gray. "That would, after all, have to require a brain to fool."

"Exactly, and I just—hey, shut up—and I just know, you wait and see, I just know that as soon as our backs are turned…" He drifted off, suspenseful, slicing his throat with his index finger as a strange noise gurgled out of his slanted mouth. He then bowed his head to his boomerang, continuing to sharpen it silently as a ghost of smirk teased his solemn appearance.

Zuko studied him coldly. He had tried to be pleasant and kind and grateful to the hardheaded buffoon; he had even tried to ignite a spark of friendship—a satisfying truce on both ends of the stick. But it was to no avail. "Keep it up peasant," the banished prince didactically ordered. "Keep it up and I'll be sure that you're the first to go."

And immediately, he wished he had swallowed his words back down.

Sokka, positively glowing with victory, whipped his head up, beaming at him eagerly. "Ah-ha!" he exclaimed. "You admit it, you lying scoundrel, you." He happily sighed, tilting his head back as his eyes blissfully closed shut. "Meat and sarcasm guy: one. Whiney spoiled Princess: zero."

"Oh, good one," he mockingly agreed. "Where'd you get that insult from? Battle for Toddlers? Oh—wait. My bad, you were too poor to go to training, weren't you?"

"You're…you're just jealous, that's all."

"Of the chunky meat and pathetic sarcasm guy? Darn. You figured it out."

"Yeah, well…you're too moody to be the Fire Lord," Sokka reiterated angrily, his voice in a dark grumble. "Like a woman or something."

"And you scream like a girl," Zuko shrugged uncaringly, "but you don't see me questioning your masculinity, do you?"


"We wear masks. We get in there. We get discovered. We escape." He nodded reassuringly. "We've done it a thousand times."

He asked skeptically, "Really?" Zuko arched an eyebrow, idly fingering a golden mask with intricate crimson designs eternally engraved into it. Preferably, he would've chosen a different one that would've suited his taste more. Something like, maybe, a deep sea blue that he could drown in, a swirl of white that could wash away all past blemishes. He cringed at the pounding picture emblazoning itself into his head. The disguise, his forever scarred façade, was now buried beneath the layers of sand and mud and rocks, part of the Earth he walked on. Meant to be forgotten.

It saddened him, strangely, to know that the Blue Spirit was no more.

"Must you doubt?" the warrior taunted, unlatching the mask from his waist and tying it around his skull. He then flipped the hood of his navy cloak upon his head, grinning mischievously.

"With you?" he said, half-rhetorical. "Yes." He walked further ahead in the forest, vainly peering for the opening as he came upon the arching trees, a clear void straight ahead. He paused, soundlessly dismissing the nuisance from his presence, expecting him to go harrumphing before him. He was Sokka, after all, and harrumphing was a specialty in his expertise.

"Too bad," he answered instead as his reluctant comrade's implied actions finally dawned on him. "I'm supposed to baby-sit you, kiddie."

"I'm older than you," he pointed out, flat. He took the mask-but-not-a-mask and strung it around his solemn face, tugging on it viciously as he rearranged his eyes to create a narrowed glare.

"So?"

"If anything, I should baby-sit you," Zuko replied. He walked forward with a long-legged stride, boot clad feet crunching the fallen leaves with every brisk step. Sokka, calculating his every move as he frantically tried to mimic his pace, noticed that the boy refused to look at him. The prince held himself up straight as if a board was roped around his waist, and he carried himself with the utmost superiority. Subconsciously, the water tribe peasant corrected his posture as well, not to be outdone.

He crossed his arms, not knowing where to put them. "Puh-lease," he tutted. "Who was the one who chased Aang around the world for…how many years, exactly?" His eyebrows began to waggle.

"And who was the one," he spoke, every word, Sokka noticed, precise and uttered with perfect enunciation despite the mask muffling them, "who put underwear on his head and danced around in the street, almost getting us killed?"

"You dared me."

"You fell for it."

"Did not," he sneered.

"Did too."

"Liar."

"Moron."

"Evil fire-magical loser."

"Barbaric weak wannabe-warrior."

"I know you are, but what am I?"

Zuko's pale fingers itched to scrunch the bridge of his nose together. "…no comment."

Sokka's face screwed up in indignation as he sharply jerked his head to the other direction, eyes viciously narrowed, his disapproval weighing on his shoulders like the world around them. A tense silence, unpleasant, befell them, sneaking up and taking them captive as only nature and its beauty risked a peep. They sauntered, side-by-side, fully aware of the other's presence before the jostling and low hum of civilization reached their reddening ears.

They weaved their way through the coarse brush of wildlife, and Sokka scuffed the dirt beneath his feet. The summer sunshine beat down on their backs and dappled through the bending luscious trees, as if they were bowing respectfully to the children of war (1).

"Your plan," Sokka said abruptly, "will fail. We'll all die because of you."

"It'll work," he grunted in response. "If we're all killed it'll be because of your idiotic way of acting, uncivilized peasant."

"Uncivilized?" he inquired, shrill.

He mutely nodded his head. "You wouldn't last a day in the Fire Palace," he gloated, flashing him an inscrutable glance. "With all your unpleasant noises and impolite eating disorders."

Their feet shuffled in the plentiful landscape, plowing through leaf after green leaf. "And you think you could make it in the Southern Water Tribe?" Sokka returned, equally egotistic. "They'd skin your hide alive if you showed your face there."

A fleeting expression of guilt flickered through his obscured face before he ashamedly bowed his head. His bangs, long and raven black, hung over his eyes, strands spilling over his mask, shuttering his remorseful orbs. "They'd…skin my hide anywhere, I think," he murmured solemnly. Solemnly, and Sokka was surprised. He was expecting a snide comment back, one that would set him off on another rampage of hollered phrases too colorful for the ears of the young Avatar. Zuko, though his tone was normally serious, wasn't usually numb, engaging himself in spirited conversations with anyone and everyone.

Except Aang, because the Avatar was always right. And accepting.

If anything, the last Airbender was accepting.

He cautiously cleared his throat, rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably. "Yeah," he agreed lightly, pitch high and unsure, "probably." He chuckled humorlessly, and inwardly grimaced at the fakeness of it all.

"Thanks," he breathed, sarcastic. "Really, thank you, you certainly made me feel better."

He snorted. "Touchy."

"I have reason to be," Zuko told him, angry, hateful, fiery.

"Sure you do," he agreed with an irritated frown. He brought his arms to his side, swinging them uncivilly like the impolite boy he supposedly was with every step he took. The murmur of meshed voices grew louder with every padding of feet, every crook in the trodden path.

Zuko unappreciatively scoffed. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well." He scratched his stomach, furrowing his eyebrows before flipping his calloused hand in the air. "It's not your fault, is it? I mean, you didn't—it's not like—I mean—ah, forget it. Just…pretend I never said anything. It sounded better in my mind."

An opening for a scathing scorn.

Left on purpose.

By the enemy.

"You…have a mind?" he blinked, startled.

"Yes, Mr. Angsty-Pants, I have a mind. And I know I use it more than you." He tapped his temple to further his point, side of his mouth tilted upward in the smallest of smirks.

He fell for it.

"Really?" he probed, disbelievingly.

"Oh ye of little faith." He shook his head, wolftail bobbing from side to side, making the hood fall neatly onto his shoulders. He swiftly shoved it back on. "I know you're just masking your admiration for me. No need to hide."

"Please," he sniffed derisively. "Don't make me laugh. Anyone who admires your—"

"—charming, appealing, dashing—?"

"—butthead," he cut him off, "must be deranged."

He spluttered, shocked, before formulating a hopefully coherent response. "Butthead?"

"Yes. Have you ever looked at the shape of your big head?"

"Butthead?" he repeated, feeling his face apprehensively as his cheeks heated up. He whipped his rear ended head around, looking for any being walking by who would notice his oddly shaped face. Only to realize that he was wearing a mask, he seethed, realizing no one could possibly see through it. "You're joking," he then decided, firm.

He shook his head. "Sorry," he replied, tone betraying his words, "but Toph and I discussed it one night while gathering firewood and—"

"—wait," he broke him off, a glare forming in the process, "You were with Toph? At night?" His voice grew a few octaves higher, and he instinctively reached for his boomerang. "Was there any fire invol—"

"Aang was there," he said simply, rolling his eyes. A fleeting silence and then: "Along with Momo, Appa, Teo, Haru, The Duke, and a…" he sighed, tiredly, "…very reluctant Katara."

He tilted his head to the side, bemused as he swiftly picked up a lone, slender tree branch, poking every tree he passed. "Where was I?" he pondered, chancing a glance in his direction.

Whack.

"Probably stuffing your face somewhere."

Whack, whack.

"I resent that," he fumed. "I don't eat all the time."

"Right. And I'm Kyoshi," he retorted, flickering his eyes to the branch banging against random trunks. He clenched his teeth, gulping back a bothered growl as he squinted at the coppered face teammate beside him through the small holes cut within the material. Sokka, upon noticing his glare, found it to be an impressive scowl and gleefully—spiteful—wondered if he practiced it in a mirror.

It would be a rather helpful insult later on, he knew.

"I don't," he told him, turning his attention to a solitary tree twisting heavenwards, burnt to a crisp, leafless. He smelled Death's presence, sensed it in the tense air, and grimaced.

Whack.

"Sure."

"It's true," he growled. "Like, not even half of my life is spent eating."

Zuko chose to stay silent, a smug smile convoluting itself onto his face as he walked onward, forward, marching like a true soldier. It felt strange, not fighting back like he usually would, but his throat was sore and his patience for the younger boy was thinning quickly. His strides lengthened and Sokka pumped his legs to match his outstripping walk, maybe even beating his.

An unspoken competition—there was always a contest between them.

Whack.

Upon the last bend in the woods and carnival coming into full view, Sokka considerably perked up. "Remember," he reminded his companion, glancing askance at the bystanders, "when Aang coos from the tree we—h-hey! Hey, Zu—Lee! Stop! Not yet!"

Whack.

And that was familiar, the abandonment.

Thud.

The broken limb was left to rot in the washed out grass as he jogged over to the fleeing Zuko.

Crunch.

Sokka hated to be left behind, after all.


"I don't like you," Sokka decided one day.

The sky was a blanket of gray, looming over him as his shadow fled for relaxation. He hated days like these, when the sky would taunt him with hopes of rain in the barren nation, bringing the smell of moist grass and dampened leaves, among other things. He stomped on the weeds folding beneath him, finding release in the smallest of triumphs. The wind whistled through his tightened hair, and the grip on his new favorite weapon slackened.

Zuko lifted his shoulders and brought them down, a gesture commonly used around the certain boy. "The feeling is mutual." He swept his hair to the side before it swung back into its original place. Zuko didn't like change and he found it humorlessly amusing that every part of his body didn't like it either.

"Good," he sighed, stretching as his handmade sword flew above his head before bringing it back down. "I'm glad."

"I'm glad you're glad," he muttered without a second thought to his words and then—a flinch. He was glad? Surely the teasing rain, his opposing element, had something to do with it.

How he detested days like these.

"You're…" a furrow of eyebrows, "glad?"

He sought an escape. (Think, think, think, think, thi—) "Sarcasm," he coolly recovered, resting his chin on the heel of his hand. He expanded out on the grass, feeling it squirm beneath him as he gazed placidly into the colorless atmosphere. His eyes fluttered shut and he let out a sigh, tranquil.

Sokka examined him, almost out of disgust, before dropping to the ground, leaning against the trunk of a tree. He tossed his sword gently off to the side. "Thought so," he muttered. He placed his hands behind his head, looking toward the same sky, same cloud, same invisible rain drop that would never fall. "Wish it would rain," he commentated and then he cleared his throat because—this could be an actual conversation. A civil one.

How…unusual.

"Wish it won't," Zuko opposed.

And there the civility flies away.

Wave goodbye. Watch it go.

So long.

"You're…pessimistic."

"And you're annoying," he replied, blood beginning to boil. "Now, do me a favor and shut up for once in your life. Or," he said, "better yet, leave me alone. That would be even better."

"You? A favor?" He snickered. "You don't deserve it."

"That's an opinion."

"Nope. It's a fact."

"Irritating."

"Depressing."

"Hopeless under-achiever who'll never amount to anything in life."

"…yeah, well…yeah."

With an exasperated groan, Zuko stitched his eyebrows together, already regretting his decision to leave camp where welcomed people were stationed at. It was damp, miserable, humid, and his company certainly made it no better. In fact, he couldn't help but wonder why he followed him. He craved for a moment of isolation, away from those who loved him and accepted him. Away from the warmth (except for Katara, that is, he still had a long ways to go with her). Didn't the water peasant notice that?

Zuko was a pessimist, after all, wasn't he?

Not like that was anything new.

(Then again, he thinks, inwardly content, I was never pessimistic here to begin with. Ignorant fool.)

"Toph and Aang," Sokka finally fumbled out, intentionally skipping his sister, and this alerted Zuko's attention, "they…they like you, though. They…" he searched for the word and spat it out like a poisonous slab of meat, "accept you, for some reason."

He deliberately ignored him and gnawed furiously on his lip. "Why did you follow me here?" he seethed, staring angrily at the sky as if it did him wrong, cutting straight to the point that he finally began to wonder about.

"Looking for you," Sokka returned, shrugging. "Toph and Aang may trust and like you but I…I don't. You still have a long ways to go with me. And Katara. Probably a longer ways to go with my sister, actually."

He ignored the latter part of his scattered explanation. His rambles mightily confused him. Somewhat like his uncle. "Well, you found me," he murmured and then, icily: "And to be honest, I don't care about what you think of me."

Sokka rolled his eyes. "No kidding."

"So. Go away."

"No. I leave you and the forest will catch on fire and we'll all die." He observed the mop of raven hair fathomlessly before drawing his knees to his chest, wrapping his arms around them. He sighed, resting his head on the crook of his arm as he closed his eyes. The boy obviously wanted to be alone, but Toph, his pesky little friend, had practically forced him to follow the prince, grumbling things about friendship and immaturity and stupid male pride and Sweetness better not be as hard as this.

But telling Zuko the truth, about being beaten by a girl, was almost as bad as forfeiting against Fire Nation scum.

Almost.

Shuddering, Sokka rolled his head and peered curiously at the immobile Zuko. The boy's eyes were shut, he realized, a blank expression pasted on as heavy breathing filled the silent air. He dismissed the thoughts of sleep, however, because Zuko, as of late, had sprees of insomnia, night and day. He searched for the bags underneath his eyes and—

—ah, there they were. Layer upon layer. Sokka suppressed a sigh, but opted to let his eyes roll out of annoyance. The jerk was afraid of sleep.

Or nightmares.

And he couldn't help but choose the latter over the former.

"Oi," he finally said, "aren't you tired?"

No response.

"You should go to sleep, I know you haven't been getting any and—"

"—go back to camp."

There was an awkward silence and Sokka cocked an eyebrow. "You…really want to be alone, eh?" he pressed curiously.

"Go back to camp."

"Not until you go." It was a free country, he liked to think on many occasions when thoughts of the war were far away, weighing on another victim's mind.

"Then," he informed him curtly, "we'll be here forever."

And so, they sat.

And they sat and they sat and they sat, hushed voices whispering faults amidst the soundless afternoon, and between each snide comment and low blow, they both wondered, fuming, irritated, exhausted, how long is forever?


Sokka, groggy and bedraggled, wasn't quite sure how his eyes had snapped open. It was dark, he realized as he gazed lazily at the stars overhead. Surely the wee hours of the morning. And, due to the fact that he was the meat and sarcasm guy, he should've been dead to the world for at least six more hours. Sokka, the fierce warrior, deserved that much.

Or, at least, he thought.

Yet, despite the hour and the light and everything in between, here he was, very much not asleep.

He groaned, flinging his arms over his head as he rolled over. He squinted at the extinguished fire. He couldn't possibly go to sleep now, he knew, for as soon as he woke up, he got up. It was the circle of life in his broadened world, the natural order of things, and he couldn't just stop it for the sake of sleep.

No matter how precious it was to him.

A wave of wistfulness washed over him; he missed the Western Air Temple, to be honest. It was private, secure, sheltering, and, with all due respect, had beds instead of bags. And to make it all the more better, he had his own room with his own things separated from the rest of his team's possessions. With a pout, he shifted again in his sleeping bag, grumbling incoherently as he peered over next to him, at the squirming mat erupting strange noises.

He sighed, continuing to watch the bag move and tilt until realization settled upon him. The reason he woke up was not one of unnatural phenomenon, no, it was a motive much more explainable.

With a sadistic grin, he sat up and watched Zuko attempt to conquer a nightmare.

He leaned forward, scooting his sleeping bag closer as quietly as possible and narrowed his eyes for a better look in the dark, just to make sure it was true.

A smirk quirked onto his lips. Yes, Zuko, his arch-enemy, was battling a ghost of sorts. And, from the sound of it and the look of his struggling movements, it seemed as if he was horrendously failing.

"…I'm…," he choked out in a harsh whisper, "…sorry…so sorry…I…"

Sokka perked up his ears and swallowed the laughter down his throat. Oh, how he would taunt him come morning! For weeks their verbal wars consisted of Zuko abusing him ferociously, taking him down by tooth and nail. But now, now when he was obviously wallowing in his misery, drowning in what might be past mistakes, victory would be his at last.

Melodramatic, he complimented himself.

"…mom, I…come back…" Sokka abruptly frowned at this. "…please…"

Mom?

Surely the boy's mind was playing a cruel trick on him. Zuko's mother couldn't have possibly abandoned him from the sound of it. No, a man from royalty must have been well-off for a bit of his life. And a mother to accomplish his every whim would've fit the picture perfectly, flawless in his made-up façade. It didn't mean he didn't care about Zuko's welfare, though. Simply because two men don't get along doesn't mean that their concern for the other is a meaningless void weighing in their hearts. Au contraire, that was what had woken him up, he was positively certain of it.

He clamped his hands on the edge of his sleeping bag, drawing it closer to his chin. But just because he "cared" didn't mean he had to "act" on it, right? It couldn't possibly make him a bad person for not doing anything—such a thing was unheard of.

…wasn't it?

(He dismissed the thoughts of sleep, however, because Zuko, as of late, had sprees of insomnia, night and day. He searched for the bags underneath his eyes and—

ah, there they were. Layer upon layer. Sokka suppressed a sigh, but let his eyes roll out of annoyance. The jerk was afraid of sleep.

Or nightmares.

And he couldn't help but choose the latter over the former.)

He uncomfortably shifted his eyes to his suddenly twitching fingers.

Then again, it wasn't too hard to believe.

A broken home results in a broken boy.

A scarred boy.

And that's the thing about scars. They may fade after all said and done, but the pain is still there, awaiting their victims with open arms. Mental, physical, spiritual, it's still there. Haunting you, watching you, never letting you go.

He shuddered at the thought.

Sokka stared at the face drenched in sweat and clenched his teeth together, evading the soothing words elevating up his neck and impatiently waited. The dream would end soon, he knew, he hoped, and in its place would be a comforting warmth of light and music, the perfection beyond reach. A moment passed him and he furrowed his eyebrows. It was a rather long moment, or, at least, it seemed to be extensive. He resorted to ticking the seconds off of his hand, counting each one with a measurable slowness equivalent to that of a melting candle.

Two minutes.

Four.

The war raged on.

Five minutes.

That did it.

He rolled his eyes and gingerly stepped out of his sleeping container, shaking it off each bare foot, shivering. It grew cold at night, surprisingly. The biting winds would show no mercy to any soul who would mistakenly cross its path and the air itself dropped to degrees unimaginable. He trudged the few steps over to the Fire Nation scum and, quivering, dully reached out to whack him. His fingers formed over his muscles and with an irritated grumble, he roughly shook him awake.

The result was immediate.

Zuko, eyes wide open in fear and shock, shot out of his sleeping bag, stumbling away from Sokka's harmless hand and widened his feet into a familiar fighting stance. He set his mouth into a determined line, holding his calloused hands out in front of him.

Sokka, amused, laughed. "You're an idiot."

Shaken, Zuko backed down, folding his hands over his chest and pacing back to his sleeping bag. He furrowed his eyebrows in confusion though his eyes themselves did not move. They focused into a distant fabrication of the cool air and Sokka's twinkling eyes extinguished. He was still dwelling in his past.

He had seen that look on his sister so many times before, after all.

"What're you doing up?" Zuko asked. He flashed his eyes to his, escaping the recurring scenes.

Sokka rolled back into his ordinary position and turned his back to him, laying his head on the crook of his arm. He heaved a sigh before inclining his head to face Zuko's. "You really want to know?" Sokka asked exhaustedly.

"That's why I asked you, moron," he muttered, irrational, slipping back into his sleeping bag.

"You had a nightmare," Sokka explained, "which somehow woke me up. And as much as I reveled in seeing your pain, as much as I loved seeing you squirm…" His eyes softened. "…I'm not totally heartless. So, I woke you up. And now that you're fine and dandy, Sokka," he pointed to himself, "is goin' beddie-bye. G'night, sleep tight, don't let the blood-sucking, nightmare creating bed bat-bugs bite. Again."

He abruptly switched positions, away from the boy he had intentionally saved, and fluttered his eyes shut. He soundlessly clapped his hands together as they found their way under his pillow, burying his head into it. A contented smile curved onto his face and a sigh, one not of annoyance or exasperation, uttered from his loosely closed lips.

Peace at last.

He floated off into a world unknown to day-walkers but, before he was completely stolen away, a whispered thank you met his ears with a flash of a half-smile pounding itself into his mind.

He thought determinedly that it was a hallucination, a warped sentence stringing itself across his mind.

On the other side, Zuko determinedly thought that it was not.


Yesterday, you just smiled at me.


"Look," Zuko urgently reasoned, palms up and facing the girl shaking with raw rage. He bit down on his drooping lip and inwardly reprimanded himself for being so stupid. Again. Why oh why, he unfortunately wondered, am I so terrible at being good? His eyes focused on hers, watching the blue toss and turn like a furious storm. "I said I'm sorry and—"

"—sorry?" she snottily inquired. "You're sorry?" Katara resolutely folded her arms across her chest and huffed, refusing to look him in the eye. Her oceanic eyes contorted into slits. She pouted. "Please, don't make me laugh. If everyone was sorry there'd be no war, now, would there?" Her daggered eyes flashed to his and then, without another word, she stomped away, picking up the broken pot laying in pieces beside her.

Zuko's arched shoulders abruptly slumped as he skulked over to the logs surrounding the lifeless campfire. He plopped down, setting his chin on the heel of his hand as he simultaneously blew upward. It was a strange sort of sigh that, inevitably, signaled Sokka's attention.

To be honest, he wasn't trying to eavesdrop. No, he was just there when his little sister came storming into the campsite, horrified and livid as she carried her broken bowl, a rueful Zuko in tow. In all truth, he didn't even know what happened; he was just the boomerang guy at the right place, at the right time.

Sort of.

He cast his friend-but-not-a-friend a sympathetic look and intellectually pointed his finger to the high entity, mouth widening to utter a few words of encouragement. "Your lady skills suck."

Or, maybe not encouragement. Insults worked too.

He kind of liked those better, anyways.

Zuko, without missing a beat, buried his forehead into his hands, digging his skull into them until they screeched for release. He paused then, still, silent, deterred and straightened, folding his hands together. "Your sister," he griped, sober, "is stubborn." He kicked at the ground in anger, clenching his hands together.

"And you're relentless," he told him rhythmically. "You two would make a lovely couple."

Zuko cringed at the unspeakable mental image embedding itself into his mind, emblazoning itself with every passing second. No. Him and Katara? Together? As a couple?

The thought made his stomach churn.

Impossible.

He wagged his head vigorously, and Sokka smiled in approval. "I already have a…"

Ah.

But he didn't.

A sacrifice of many, he knew, when he made one of the most important decisions of his life.

"…never mind," he muttered.

Sokka peered at him curiously, mischievous. "What?" he probed, jabbing the boy in the side. "Trouble in paradise?"

"You could say that," he growled brusquely. He didn't like talking about love. Or girls.

The water tribe warrior nodded wisely, rubbing his chin, meditative. "Been there," he assured him, a flicker of vacancy swimming in his eyes. "Done that. Too many times to count, actually."

An eyebrow rose. "Really?" he doubted. Zuko was a firm believer in doubting, after all.

"Yup." He nodded.

On topic, he couldn't help but ask as the words slipped out of his mouth and stumbled into the humidity. "How do you," he pondered, embarrassed, "how do you…deal with it? I mean, I…" His stuttering quieted, and Zuko, publicly humiliated, fell silent. "Sorry," he breathlessly whispered. "It's doesn't matter."

Sokka blinked. "No," he countered. "It's…alright? Uh…" He cleared his throat, rubbing the rear of his neck uncertainly as he looked at his knees. "I mean, you…you get by. It's hard," he decided, planting his hands onto his bouncing leg. He swallowed, clamping his eyes shut. "It's so freaking hard and difficult and a butt to handle with, really, and the pain…it's there. It's always there. But, after all said and done and you finally look up…there's someone else." He nodded—to himself, to Zuko, he wasn't really sure. This conversation wasn't exactly what he had in mind when he teased the boy mercilessly. His eyes fluttered open and caught amber eyes boring into him pensively. "There's always someone else. Waiting. Hopefully with open arms or something. I dunno." He shrugged carelessly. "I'm not a poet."

"Obviously."

"…shut up. I'm trying to help, alright?" He then flashed him a haughty grin. "And by the looks of it, you need all the help you can get."

He flicked his stare to the dirt. "Do not."

"Do too."

Zuko impatiently rolled his eyes and brought them to meet the ones beside him. He breathed in. Exhaled. And inhaled once more. "But…what if…what if there is no one else? What if you royally screwed up—no pun intended—with this one great girl and…that's it?"

That's it?

The water warrior wanted to laugh. It couldn't be it. It couldn't just end like that.

Could it?

Sokka furrowed his eyebrows in deep thought before staring up at the blue sky smeared with white cotton scattered over the place. "Live on," he replied, simple. "Live on until you've got no more living left in you." He rolled his head to meet Zuko's inquisitive gaze once more. They pierced each other and Sokka, uncaring, shrugged. "Life isn't about love, it's…about something greater." He scratched his head. "What it is, I don't know. But…to be honest, Zuko—"

(Zuko.

Not Princess Pony. Not Mr. Angsty-Pants. Not kiddie.

Zuko.

A ghost of a smile teased said boy's sobered frown.

It felt…kind of nice, really.)

—he stood up, stretching before flinging his arms all over the place. Sokka half-smiled. "There's always someone else. You just have to look." His face then contorted to a smirk as he bent over and snatched up his handmade sword. "Now enough of this sissy talk. I'm a man. You're…" He looked him over jokingly. "…half-man-half-woman-half-creature. Or something. I can't tell. And…I need to train." A beam surfaced onto his copper face, and he took a leap of friendship (one he would've never taken before) as he held out his free hand. "Care to be my partner?"

Zuko batted the hand away, and the boy frowned in response. Too soon, maybe. Too fast. The scarred prince then stood up and kicked off his boots. "As long as you're prepared to lose," he retorted. It felt better, more comfortable, this witty banner that they shared.

"Yeah." He mockingly nodded, defending himself. "Keep telling yourself that."

"Good. It's nice to hear you falsely reassure yourself."

A smile met both of their faces and they walked toward an open meadow of some sorts.

And this place finally began to feel like home.


"You're peeling that orange all wrong."

"No one asked you."

"You peel it like—no, stop, you're doing it vertically with a—quit—would you just list—aw, man. Now look what you've done, you klutz. My favorite shirt is ruined."

"Suck it up and quit acting like a girl."

"I'm not acting like a girl!"

"And besides, all your other shirts look exactly like that one."

"No, they don't. This one has a distinct tiger-wolf stitched into the hem. See?"

"Yeah. Great."

"You didn't look."

"…fine."

A pause, a squint, and the jostling crowd in a bustling market.

"…see? Pretty cool right?"

"Are you talking about that duck-rabbit?"

"What? That is not a duck-rabbit; it's a tiger-wolf. A ferocious tiger-wolf that eats duck-rabbits! Look!"

"I did look. And all I saw was a duck-rabbit, you girl. Get over it."

"Then you need to get your eyes checked or something."

"It's what I saw, alright?"

"No. Not alright. You just said it—oi. Oi, you with face. Yeah, you! Quit checking out my sister!"

"Put your arms down. You're making a scene."

"But he's—and I—I can't just—"

"Yes. You can. Arms down. Now."

"…fine. But if your sister ever gets checked out and you get mad, don't expect me to let you get away with it."

A muffled snicker, a snort, and a bright, sunny day's afternoon.

"Yeah. Good one."

"Hey, I thought it was funny."

"My sister is a demonic, controlling, manipulative she-witch. The chances of her ever getting checked out by anyone—young or old—are slim to none. Trust me. Besides, she has zero social skills."

"Must run in the family."

"It does not, it…yeah. Okay, maybe a bit."

"Told you and—he's still looking at her! It's because of that skimpy two piece Fire Nation thing! She just needs to take it off."

"…"

"…uh, I mean, er, not like that, just, it's not what I meant and…"

"You're sick."

"No! My sister isn't even pretty! And—no. No, Katara, not you, I mean my other sister. What? Oh, uh, you know, Katar…ina. Katarina. She…died. No, don't come over here. I—you're gorgeous, sis!"

"You're sick."

"I mean average looking. No! Put the water magic away, I don't want to have to hurt you. Not that you're weak. Erm, what I mean is…Zuko's over here!"

"…"

"…wow. Didn't know her glare was that intense. Better watch out, Zuzu."

"Just shut up."

"Don't tell me what to do."

"Moron."

"Princess."

"Idiot."

"Am not."

"You put your underwear over your pants."

"That was one time!"

"That was six times and…oh."

"What are you—oh…Oh."

"She's, uh…"

"…pretty? Gorgeous? Lovely? Fiery hot?"

"…y-yeah."

"Mm-hmm. Hey, I call her."

"What? No, I—I saw her first."

"Yeah. And you were already tongue tied. There's no chance in Agni that she'd consider being your lady friend."

"Yes, well, what about Suki? And Toph?"

"Toph's blind."

"She can see with her feet, peasant."

"Pfft, not like it matters, anyways. Toph and I are just friends."

"…yeah. And you call her blind."

"What was that?"

"Nothing."

"No, I heard you say something and—Zuzu. Zuzu, check it out. She's looking at me."

"I think your confusing yourself for me."

"How could I? I'm the handsome, tough, charming, manly man with good social skills. You're…it."

"Look at her eyes. They're pointed in my direction."

"Nu-uh."

"Yes."

"You're lying."

"I'm going to go over there."

"What about…oh…what's-her-face?"

"…Mai?"

"Yeah! Her."

A slapping of the forehead, a proud smile, and the bubbling laughter of children.

"She probably hates me."

"Ouch. Harsh."

"I guess. I wouldn't be surprised though."

"Neither would I."

"You don't even know her."

"Do too! Is she that gothic Fire Nation girl with weapons on her body?"

"She's not gothic, first off. And yes, that's her."

"You left her…for us?"

"Feel special."

"You're deranged, you know that, right? That My—"

"—Mai—"

"—girl with the pointy weapons was rather attractive if I do say so myself."

"Shut up."

"Oh-ho. I see I've hit nerve. You still like her, don't ya?"

"No."

"Sure."

"I don't."

"Mm-hm."

"I'm serious. I…like someone else now."

"Whatever you say."

"I do and she's even prettier than…that girl's walking our way."

"For real?"

"Just look."

"Hey, hey. Look at that. She noticed my dashing good looks. Finally."

"Or your butthead."

"That…that was so ten weeks ago."

"Whatever."

"I'm going to go talk to her…what should I say?"

"Hello, my name's Sokka. I snore like an elephant, make revolting noises when I eat, lack a sense of humor, and have a head in the shape of a butt. My hobbies include eating, sleeping, and hunting like a wimp. As an added bonus, I also make up lies about my nonexistent sister, Katarina."

"Hah-hah. Good one."

"Look, you asked me. I just gave you an honest answer."

"More like an opinion and, anyways, she—"

A broken off sentence, a widening of eyes, and two heads turning simultaneously.

"Hey! Ponytail and Scarface! Quit checking out my sister!"

An exasperated sigh, an incoherent grumble, and a furious adult stampeding towards them.

"Run?"

"Run."

Between the laughter caught in their throats, the unpeeled fruit dropped on the dusty ground, the beautiful woman nodding gratefully to her over-protective brother, and the stomp-stomp-stomping of their boot clad feet digging into the earth—

"This is your fault, you know."

"Hey, you were the one who looked at the girl."

—Zuko and Sokka couldn't help but decide that, yes.

Today was the definition of perfection.


Zuko doesn't let people get close.

Not often, anyways.

It's not a matter of personal space or whether he trusts them or not, whether he can rely on them with his life. It's not a matter of status in his socially corrupt standards or strength in his secret evaluations or even whether he likes the person or not. It's not a or b or c or d—no, it's not any of the above. It's not even a test (but Zuko has never been good with metaphors; that's his uncle's forte, so why bother?). To be perfectly honest, he doesn't even know why.

All he knows is that he was broken. Shattered. Lost. Forgotten. Scarred.

And that's the thing about scars. They may fade after all said and done, but the pain is still there, awaiting their victims with open arms. Mental, physical, spiritual, it's still there. Haunting you, watching you, never letting you go.

But…that's a lie.

Because scars may leave a mark, a horrible painful mark, but friendship and love—it helps it heal over time. It helps it recuperate, rejuvenate, and before you know it, it's just a scab of the past and you forget.

Eventually, you won't even remember.

"Hey," Zuko blurted out over a dimming fire. It was their watch night—his and Sokka's—and as of late it had been abnormally quiet between the two of them. Now, usually Zuko would've been quite pleased with this arrangement, because when it wasn't quiet, it was ear-splittingly loud. In fact, he was shocked that he was attempting to change it. But it didn't feel right. This soundless air. "Sokka, we're…" And through gritted teeth he spat out, grudgingly admitted, "friends, aren't we?"

No reply.

He looked up and caught the eyes of a hardened ocean.

Sokka blinked, perplexed, "Unfortunately, yes." A pause and then, "Why? Worried that I hated you, you fire nation scum?"

Zuko doesn't let people get close.

"Please," he scoffed, changing tactics, "I know you think we're best friends. For some reason you've twisted that idea in your mind and—"

Not often, anyways.

"But…we are," Sokka stated firmly, breaking him off. The fire prince listened to the heavy swallow slide down the warrior's throat achingly slow. The boy was unsure. A fact, a statement, Zuko could feel it. He arched an eyebrow uncertainly. "Aren't we?"

But he'll let them try.

"…yeah." He hesitantly nodded once, twice, thrice, four times. He flicked his eyes to the sky before gazing fathomlessly at the boy with dancing shadows across from him. "Yeah…I suppose…we are."

And if they succeed, well, there's really nothing he can do about it, is there?


Cause it'll still be two days 'til we say we're sorry.


"…cheesiest conversation ever. We…we never ever speak of this again. Ever. Agreed?"

"Agreed."


(1) belongs to ohsoxalive-it's from her flying prunes of awesomeness of a oneshot: Children of War.

edited 2/25/08

1) Fixed a bunch of 'dudes' in there, figured it to be very un-Avatar-ish, no?
2) Spell checked myself-AND WOAH BABY-there were a ton plus two. I'm so glad I reread it.
3) Me gramur iz beturr n0w.
4) Um. Kind of returned. Kind of. More like a slow, turtle-paced entrance back into this fandom. (fictionpress pwns, yo)
5) Dedicated to the loverly ohsoxalive who rocks my world. Ferr realz.
6) Disclaimer: Don't own. Nope. Not even a bit. And the song lyrics are by Barenaked Ladies (who rock). The song is One Week (which is great). CHECK IT OUT. I DEMAND YOU (and I think I'll love you).
7) Every review has been splendid and wonderful and lovely and cool and awesome and superb and made me smile so wide that I was afraid of my face breaking. Yuppers. You guys rock. Out loud. BOOM BOOM, BAYBAY.
8) Thanks for reading!

Out.