Another Little Cultural Misunderstanding

"But you really can't blame Zuko for setting light to the dried seal jerky, Sokka," Aang objected. "I mean, I did the same thing myself once!"

"I'm not blaming him because I think he's an evil moron," Sokka snapped. "I'm blaming him because I think he's an evil moron who set fire to our supper!"

"Oh." Aang thought about that. "You know, Zuko, perhaps next time you should ask someone before you set fire to the supplies?"

Zuko glowered.

Katara and Toph came strolling into the cave. Toph was wringing water out of her hair; Katara had merely left a damp trail behind her, and was completely dry.

"We've finished the washing," Toph declared. "Supper!"

She paused at the silence. "Supper?" she said hopefully. "Nose still works, seal jerky cooking . . ."

Katara glared at the fire, then at Zuko. "I see we have another little cultural misunderstanding," she said coldly.

Annoyance connected Zuko's tongue to the part of his brain that dealt with Spite, Venting Of before he could stop himself. "Don't blame me," he snapped. "It's not as if they're only on my side, after all."

"What do you mean?" Aang asked, all happy incomprehension.

"That dress she's wearing." He jerked a thumb at Katara. "You were masquerading as Aang's mother earlier, weren't you?"

"Well, yes," Katara said defensively. "But Sokka wore a beard. It was a really impressive beard."

"I'm sure," Zuko said. "But didn't you wonder why everyone accepted you as his mother?"

Katara looked down at her silk dress in growing concern. "But nobody said anything!"

"Of course they wouldn't," Zuko said with heavy patience. "That sort of dress is an adult woman's outfit. Surely, even in that --" He cut himself off before he could say backwater howling wilderness of an ice floe you call home. "Even in the Water Tribe, adults and children wore different sorts of clothing?"

"Actually, we didn't that much," Sokka said. "Sorry, Zuko, you lose on that one. We all wore clothing. Because it was cold. So there."

"Oh." Zuko shrugged. "Well, in the Fire Nation, it does make a difference. And Katara's wearing an adult's clothing. And --" He looked at her for a moment: her loose dark hair, her delicate skin, the curve of her neck, the gentle swell of her breasts, the flash in her eyes . . . "And, um, it suits her," he said.

"Oh," Katara said. She put her hands on her hips. "Does it?"

"Oi!" Sokka objected. "You can't say that sort of thing about my sister!"

"He's only saying that . . ." Katara trailed off. "What are you saying, Zuko?"

Zuko pulled himself to his feet. "I'm saying that I'll find something to cook for supper."

"That sounds fair enough," Sokka said, sitting back down again and crossing his ankles comfortably.

"Zuko?" Katara said, moving closer to him. "What are you saying?"

"Does it matter?"

She put a hand on his bare shoulder. "Yes."

Zuko took a deep breath, and removed her hand. "I'm saying it's not surprising that they thought you were an adult woman," he said, and strode out as manfully as he could.

The memory of the sparkle in her eyes was oddly consoling during the next cold, windy, miserable hour spent hunting rabbits.