Pairings: Gen, friendship.
Setting: The Western Air Temple, after 3x12 and 3x13, but BEFORE BOILING ROCK
Notes: This is a gen fic, focusing on Zuko's interactions with various members of the gaang. There is no shipping beyond a couple light references to Sokka/Suki, and Aang/Katara unresolved tension. I do have a couple scenes with Zuko and Katara, but they are meant to reflect the relationship as it is within the show: tense, with an undercurrent. I think trust and forgiveness is an important thing to explore between those two characters. However, the majority shipping in this is actually going to be Toph/Zuko friendship and Zuko/Aang friendship.
I wrote most of these months ago, but took a while to polish a lot of them up. I know some of this doesn't match what we saw in the episodes with regards to Aang's training, but I'm imagining this as a sort of between-the-scenes series.
This will be a series of shortfics, some as small drabbles others 2000 words, all having to do with the gang in the WAT and how Zuko copes with life-after-rebelling-against-Daddykins. I am writing it to fit around the WAT / FBM episodes, so there are no spoilers beyond that. And please don't spoil me in reviews.
- Zuko, Aang -
Aang began with breathing exercises.
After the dragons, after the fanfare and the dance of war, Zuko sat the boy down and told him that breathing was what really mattered, in the moment that decided victory or failure. Now that Zuko had his fire and Aang no longer feared his own, it was time to go back to basics. Back to breathing, and waiting, and meditating. Master yourself to master the fire within you. Aang was impatient, but that was nothing new, and he knuckled under Zuko's stern expression.
"We'll begin with these. " The dark-haired young man brought forward four candles, thick and heavy wax slabs retrieved from the inner temple storage rooms, melted slightly at the bottom so they sat affixed to earthenware dishes. He set three to the side, then set one in front of Aang. "It's not the traditional beginning for firebenders, but it's the method my Uncle used when he took over my training."
Zuko scooted back a ways and off to the side. "I want you to light these with your breath of fire. No hand or foot gestures. Rather than producing fire in punches or kicks, producing a small amount from your mouth will give the bender a clear grasp on the connection of breath and fire, a relationship fundamental and vital to the understanding of firebending."
"That's a great idea!" Aang said. "Ran and Sha didn't really mention anything about that, but I've seen you breathe fire before." He looked sideways in either direction, then leaned toward Zuko to confess: "It looks pretty fun."
Zuko tried to keep a serious decorum, but the corner of his mouth twitched a little at the boys enthusiasm. "You'll get there. Your experience with airbending should make the transition easier."
Aang was ordered to light the candle, then extinguish it. Multiple times. He was told to hold it in one constant size and temperature, then told to enlarge and shrink the flame according to the rhythm of his own breathing. At one point Aang had deliberately breathed in and out so often he felt light-headed, and Zuko allowed him to earthbend for a while and get it out of his system.
When he returned, fresh from a skirmish with Haru and Toph, he moaned about more breathing exercises. "It's just the same thing over and over again. And I burned my lip last time."
"Did you get Katara to heal it?" Zuko asked. Aang nodded. "And do you think that you've got the knack of the breathing down now?" Aang nodded again, confident. Zuko took a deep breath.
"Good, because you're not allowed to have Katara heal you next time."
"What?" Aang yelped, leaning back from Zuko and the unlit, half-melted candles. "But the fire burns my lips! And my tongue. I have to eat with those."
Zuko sat upright and stiff, across from the candles. His arms were folded. "Then you have two options: One, don't burn your mouth. You know what it feels like now, so you have some incentive not to. I believe in you."
"Two! Learn to heal your burns with your own waterbending abilities."
"But only Katara can do that," Aang protested. His voice recited the next phrase like a mantra: "She's special!"
"I thought Sokka said that all of the Northern Water Tribe women used their bending to heal?"
"Well, yes, but Katara's a master."
Zuko puffed a sigh. "So are you, Aang. Katara is strong, and skilled, but you're the Avatar. There's no waterbender on the planet who can match you, and no skill you can't be taught. Next time you burn your mouth, you can run off to Katara, but you're not allowed to let her heal it. Get her to show you how she does it instead."
A ripple of something disquieting passed over Aang's face at the words run off to Katara, but the reason for it wasn't Zuko's business. "Aang?" he asked after a short pause.
"I agree," Aang said. "You're right--I can't rely on Katara to always be available when someone gets hurt, and I should learn to take care of myself."
The prince raised his eyebrow, "Not exactly what I meant, but that's true too. Every skill you gain will help you in fighting off my father. Now, watch this. Until you can do what I do without burning yourself, you're not ready to move onto the flashier stuff."
Zuko told him that they would practice beginning fireballs when Aang could hold the flame from his breath in one shape and maintain a constant temperature for an hour. The Avatar was rushed for time, and he had all the impatience of a child, but Zuko felt that control was what Aang really needed first. Thanks to the dragons Aang knew how to access the fire, so power wasn't a problem, and the forms would come easily enough in time.
"But techniques and power are pointless and dangerous without a guiding breath," the firebender told him. "Control is the most valuable thing I can teach, and it will be the hardest lesson to learn. For both of us."