Sokka, Katara, Toph, Aang, Haru, The Duke, Teo, Hakoda, and Suki had gathered in a group. The listened with a mix of emotions as Zuko explained his plan to search for his mother, having heard rumours about a woman who fit her description living in a village not too far from the temple.
"It'll only take a few days," he promised. "Aang's almost mastered Firebending already, so it's not like I'd be wasting time."
Aang shrugged, glancing at the others as he said, "I don't see a problem with it."
The others murmured in agreement, nodding their heads and shrugging their shoulders. Katara crossed her arms.
"I don't think it's a good idea," she said, eyes locked on Zuko's, daring him to argue.
"Why not?" he asked, fists clenching. She was always the one to speak against him, no matter what the subject was.
"How do we know you're not gonna run off to the Fire Lord and lead him straight to us?"
Everyone groaned. Despite the ex-prince's acts of heroism and displays of comradery, Katara was determined not to trust him.
"Oh, come on," Sokka whined. "Give it up already! Even you can't deny he's been nothing but good to us since he joined."
"He and his family have a history with manipulation."
The subject of the siblings' short spat growled with annoyance. "Alright. If you don't think you could trust me enough to let me go search for my mother"- the emphasis on the word did not go unnoticed by the waterbender, bringing back memories of an old conversation –"then you can come with me."
Katara laughed humourlessly. "Yeah, and let you torch me while we're away from the others."
He smirked. "What, you don't think you can defend yourself?"
Oblivious to his trap, she took the bait. "Oh, I'm perfectly capable of not only defending myself, but kicking your ass in the process."
"So, what's the issue of going with me? And don't say you just don't wanna deal with me, because you're stuck with me whether I stay or leave."
Balling her fists at her side, the waterbender tilted her chin up, jaw muscles clenching. "Fine. We leave tomorrow after lunch." Then she turned and stomped off to her room.
Sokka stared in the direction his sister had gone, then turned to Zuko. He shrugged. "Your problem, not mine."
Toph sidled up beside him, smirking with pride. "I gotta hand it to you, Sparky. That was pretty sneaky." As a reward, she punched him in the arm. Without another word, she disappeared to a different part of the temple.
By then the group had split up, drifting off to their own tasks. Nursing his sore arm (it would probably bruise in the morning), Zuko looked at the only person left: Aang.
"Want one last lesson before I go?"
"Sure," the airbender said, shrugging.
The pair practiced their bending in silence.
The next afternoon's lunch was tense and quiet. Katara had spent the majority of the day trading glares with Zuko and leaving instructions for the group – how to do laundry, what food they had, how much they should spend on groceries, etc. It was reminiscent of a mother getting her family prepared to take care of themselves before she left on a long business trip; fretful and stressed and angry at the person making her leave.
Zuko's portion of the meal was lumpy and cold, the last scrapings of the leftovers from the previous day's dinner. He ate without complaint, however, used to such treatment and knowing Katara's was probably worse. She always served herself last.
Besides, he was too busy thinking about the journey ahead to worry about less-than-appetizing food. What if he actually found his mother? What would he say, how should he act? Would she accept him?
What if she wasn't there?
Silently, he shook his head, turning his attention to things he could control – time, disguises, and rationing.
"Are you okay?" Aang asked, apparently noticing the ex-prince's odd behaviour.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he said. "Just thinking."
The others eyed him curiously (except Katara. She glared), but said nothing.
"You must be excited," Hakoda commented after a moment. "You're very lucky to have a chance to see your mother again."
"Yeah," Zuko agreed, acutely aware of the way the faces of the water Tribe family fell sadly. His stomach filled with guilt and pity - they deserved to be reunited with their mother more than he did.
The rest of the meal was eaten silently; everyone's minds on their missing loved ones.
Once all the bowls were emptied and the group had gotten passed its solemn moment, they all gathered to wish Zuko and Katara luck on their journey.
"Try not to be gone too long," Aang said as Katara hugged him.
"We will," she said, pulling back and smiling.
"Don't kill Sparky while you're gone, either," Toph added.
"That I can't promise."
Zuko frowned, but said nothing.
After another moment of good-byes, the pair left, riding Appa across the canyon, then making the rest of the journey on foot.
Twenty minutes later, Katara was already lagging behind and moody. "Remind me why we aren't flying, again?"
"Because we don't want to attract attention," Zuko grumbled.
"Well, that's stupid."
Rolling his eyes, he mentally questioned why he had gotten himself stuck with the waterbender.
Author's Notes: Zomg, another chapter fic! o Yeah. I'm gonna have a lot of stuff to keep up with. xD
Anywho, this was just a little plot bunny that popped into my head a few weeks ago. Not entirely happy with how this chapter turned out, but I guess it's okay.
Tell me what you think!
Disclaimer: 'Avatar' and all its characters are property of Mike and Bryan.