Listening intently to the continuous beating of the drums, Aang shifted his weight from side to side to match their rhythm. His mind completely blank, the avatar chose to focus on dancing and dancing alone. He didn't know why he had suddenly gotten the idea that a performance would somehow appease the dragons, but it seemed to be working. The airbender felt relieved, but knew that exhaustion was beginning to take over. Yet, something kept him going -- something other than the sharp glare the dragon was shooting at his general direction.
Aang's swift movements, which to him, consisted of wild, meaningless limb-flailing, were starting to slow down significantly. He didn't know how much longer he could keep up with the dragon's erratic curling strokes, and, based on Zuko's heavy pants behind him, the prince probably felt the same way. Aang swore that he was getting carpal tunnel in his right wrist, and felt that he was becoming a little flatfooted.
At last, they reached the final step and Aang hurriedly curved his body to one side, his knuckles clacking painfully against Zuko's as they formed a near-perfect arch. There they stood, two powerful forces practically merging as one. The dragons halted as well and watched the pair closely.
Aang didn't know how much longer he could hold that beatings of the drums had long stopped, and instead were replaced by the faint beating of the dragons' wings. His arms wouldn't stop shaking. His hands were mashing against Zuko's fists and annoying the other boy, no doubt—
"AAAAAH!" The boys simultaneously yelled, and that should have been their final words because they were engulfed in a variegated, but otherwise painless series of flames.
A sudden jolt reverberated in Aang's stomach, and the twelve-year-old jumped about a foot in the air. Luckily, no one noticed. Zuko in particular was too entranced by the swirling flames, and so was he, to a certain degree, but...
What had he just felt a second ago? It was like a brief, but powerful urge. For a moment, he wanted to jump off that tower, not as a crazed suicide attempt, but because he had experienced an odd sensation that assured him of his survival. It had been electrifying and nerve-wracking at the same time. Exhilarating, as well.
Aang tried to take his mind off the incident by concentrating on one lone purple ember that was circling at a slower rate than the others. The fire was beautiful, after all. How could he not be captivated by it? Daring to breathe, Aang decided to forget the event – for the moment.
He closed his eyes and allowed his inner avatar to absorb the power being bestowed upon him. "I understand," came Zuko's soft but distinguishable murmur. 'I don't,' Aang wanted to reply.
"Their fire was beautiful. I saw so many colors, colors I've never imagined," Zuko told the sun warrior chief when they arrived at the base of the tower. A glazed expression shone on his face.
"Like firebending harmony." Aang's voice was, in contrast, hollow and cracked slightly when he spoke. He was still a bit lightheaded from the entire experience. Something felt off. There was a strange tingling sensation in his hands and stomach. He couldn't feel the ground beneath his feet, or his own nails digging into his palms. Was this supposed to be the dragon's idea of power? Taking away his sense of touch? How come Zuko didn't seem to be affected by it?
"Yes. They judged you, and gave you visions of the meaning of firebending." Aang wanted to protest; all he had seen was a bunch of colors, and felt as if he had been force-fed a whole gallon of cactus juice instead of undergoing a life-changing epiphany.
"I can't believe there are still living dragons. My Uncle Iroh said he faced the last dragon and killed it."
"So, your Uncle lied." Aang spoke just to make it seem like he was paying attention. The strange feeling did not want to leave, it seemed.
"Actually, it wasn't a total lie. Iroh was the last outsider to face the masters. They deemed him worthy and passed the secret onto him as well."
"He must have lied to protect them, so no one else would hunt them."
"All this time, I thought firebending was destruction. Since I hurt Katara, I've been too afraid and hesitant. But now I know what it really is… It's energy, and life. " Energy – that's all it is, Aang tried to convince himself. So why did it feel so awkward? He felt more knowledgeable about firebending, yes, but none of the other elements had produced that kind of effect when he was able to get a hang of them.
"Yeah. It's like the Sun, but inside of you. Do you guys realize this?"
"Well, our civilization is called the Sun Warriors… so yeah."
Aang froze. There it was again. What he had been feeling earlier – the awkward sensation – suddenly multiplied tenfold, and he felt the urge to tear his own skin off. Everything felt hot and itchy. The twelve-year-old was beginning to see spots dancing in the corners of his vision.
Zuko seemed to be swaying where he stood, and Aang realized that the other teenager could feel it too.
"Uh... Sun warrior... Chief... Hotman... Guy?" The avatar mumbled, feebly grabbing at his pale arms and rubbing them vigorously. The chief looked slightly put out by the nickname, but turned to look at him.
"I don't feel too good... What's going... On?" He was staring straight at the spot Zuko was standing in a second earlier, but the exiled prince had been replaced by a large red blur. Aang blinked. The blur was glinting almost invitingly, silently pleading to be touched. Who was Aang to deny its whims...? The boy stumbled forward, stretching his arms... He wanted to hold it, too...
His hands scrabbled helplessly and found something soft in front of him. Hastily grabbing it, Aang used the fabric-like object as leverage and heaved himself forward, his eyes glassy as the red shape grew bigger... He was getting closer and closer to it...
Aang was not quite sure why his mouth met the object before any other part of his body, but the moment his lips touched something firm and wet, the itch, the uncomfortable aura, and everything else that had plagued him moments earlier, disappeared completely. It was as if the red mass absorbed it all. Things abruptly snapped back into place.
...He suddenly found himself staring straight into the confused, golden eyes of his former archenemy, their lips locked in a chaste kiss.
It was like the dragons roaring all over again, for the combined shouts coming from both Aang and Zuko most likely produced enough sound waves to knock down the wall of Ba Sing Se. They jumped backwards, away from each other, spitting profusely and grabbing at their mouths.
"WHAT DID YOU JUST DO?!" Zuko shrieked, his voice several octaves higher than usual.
"I JUST KISSED YOU!" Aang yelled back. "BUT WHY?!" He added, without thinking.
"I SHOULD BE ASKING YOU THAT, YOU IDIOT!" Aang was about to retort, but the itch was coming back and he cursed to himself. Why, oh why, was he feeling this way?
"QUIET!" The sun warrior chief hollered, and the boys were reminded of his presence.
"Is—Is this some kind of prank to you?" Zuko said icily, and Aang shuddered under the firebender's gaze. The scarred boy stiffened, his brow furrowed and Aang had a strong desire to ask if he was feeling it again, too... The sensation was getting stronger again, as if the kiss had only gotten rid of it for a moment.
"N-no. I had no idea why I did that. S-sorry."
"Well, you can't just go around and k... Kiss..." Zuko wrinkled his nose, and Aang knew that he had pictured what had just happened in his head. It wasn't a pretty image to either of them. At all.
"You can't..." Zuko repeated, but Aang was no longer paying attention. The tingling sensation was heightening at an alarming rate, and he was barely aware of what Zuko was saying. He simply starred at the rambling boy, willing his own body to shut down so his mind would as well, and he wouldn't have to feel that itch anymore...
"You can't just..." The raven-haired teen began a third time.
Without hesitation, Zuko grabbed Aang by the shoulders and briefly planted his lips on the other boy's.
"...Kiss someone?" The firebender finished, blinking.
"AUGH!" They were both spitting and making vomiting noises again, but the itch was gone. Aang didn't feel any relief, however, because he knew, that deep inside, it would come back like earlier.
"Oh, dear." The deep voice of the sun warrior chief alerted them once again to his presence.
"'Oh, dear?'" Zuko repeated harshly. "'Oh, dear'?! Is that all you have to say?! What did those dragons do to us?! They gave us power, but..." He shot out a large ball of fire from his palm to further illustrate his point. "...You never said something like this would happen!"
"As thankful as I am to have learned your secrets," Aang said, a bit more politely but with an equally distressed tone. "I have to agree with Zuko. This... Isn't what we signed up for, and frankly, it's scaring me. A lot!"
"Calm down, or else you'll trigger it once more." The two boys then stepped back, eyes wide. They chose not to speak, in fear of another repetition of events.
"I'm afraid the dragons gave you a bit too much power," The man explained, a grave expression on his face. "Yes, they have shared with you the knowledge of true firebending, but in doing so, they instilled some of their own energy in you... And right now, you are both carrying much more energy that any human should ever carry in their lifetime."
"Does this mean we're going to... Die?" Aang whispered.
The boys looked aghast.
"...Just kidding." Allowing himself to chuckle, the sun warrior chief rubbed his bare stomach with satisfaction.
"This – isn't – funny." Zuko growled with gritted teeth. "And you haven't explained why we end up... Kissing..." Both teenagers shuddered. "...Every five minutes."
"Tell us how we can fix this... Please," Aang all but begged.
"When too much energy becomes trapped in your body, it seeks an outlet. In your case, it has chosen your own strong emotions as a means of escape, but the only way you can expel excess energy is through physical, and sometimes sexual contact."
"That doesn't make any sense," Zuko looked visibly angrily and equally alarmed.
"It does," the sun warrior chief countered. "For two flames that join together produce even more smoke than before. You will only be able to release copious amounts of energy by touching each other. This will have to be done routinely until all of the excess power eventually runs out."
"Or," The former prince argued. "We could just ignore these urges and get on with our lives, right? At least I can." He shot a look at Aang, who returned the glare wholeheartedly.
"If you do not succumb to the urges, let's just say, things will get more... And more... Problematic, for the both of you."
Aang and Zuko gawked at each other, both of them too taken aback by the turn of events to even make a sound.
"I told you we shouldn't have come here." They were both walking side-by-side back to where Appa was waiting, making sure to keep a large distance between the two of them.
"Me?!" Zuko retorted. "It was your blind friend that suggested it! I just—" Ping!
Aang's feet moved of their own accord, and the airbender leapt a good ten feet towards Zuko, involuntarily tackling him and kissing him briefly. After that, neither boy spoke, Aang frozen on top of the older boy, staring down at the disgruntled face beneath him.
"Look," Zuko huffed, and, ignoring his reddening cheeks, shoved Aang off him. The firebender stood up and dusted off his clothes. "I don't have any... Feelings for you, okay? So don't get any ideas."
"Hey, I'm the one who has no choice here! I've never even kissed a guy before!" They were arguing again, Aang noticed, but he was too irate to hold back.
"And I have?!"
"You might have."
"What's that supposed to mean?! I don't—"
Ping. The boys paused.
"Let's just... Stop." Zuko finished, looking absolutely forlorn and defeated as he resumed walking more briskly than ever before. Aang got up from the ground and scurried after him.
"I don't care what that crazy chief says. We'll just ignore it, okay?"
Aang noticed that Zuko's pace was quickening, in an attempt to get away from him.
"Don't," the boy in front of him pleaded in a choked voice, and Aang decided to stop talking altogether. The two boys resumed walking, trying to appreciate the painful silence and ignore the growing restlessness that had taken a hold of the both of them. It was getting heavier by the second, and they could feel it growing...
Aang didn't want to say it out loud, horrified by the fact that he was even thinking of it, but at that precise moment, he would have traded a thousand encounters with the Fire Lord just to be able to touch Zuko one more time.
To be continued