Ever since their encounter a few nights before, Zuko noticed that the avatar had become withdrawn, avoiding him at all costs. The firebender, in turn, had grown frustrated as a result, for Aang distancing himself meant that Zuko felt utterly unwelcome in their group. The waterbender hated him – she made that clear ever since he first joined, and her brother only talked to him to make jabs at his heritage. The earthbender was civil, at least, although Zuko knew that they both had very little to talk about, and thus rarely conversed at all.
The other three – the male earthbender with a hideous moustache, the small boy and the guy in a wheelchair – only talked amongst themselves, and although they never openly antagonized Zuko, he could often feel their wary gazes on his back. They were cautious of him, and the banished prince figured that Katara most likely told them about the things he had done in the past.
Aang used to vouch for him, Zuko thought sadly, and he found himself missing all the times that the younger boy would actually make conversation in order to keep him from feeling lonely. Those cherished moments were now long gone, and Zuko had to get used to this new, reclusive avatar who wouldn't even look him in the eye. Aang's sulking was really beginning to aggravate him, because there was now no more reason for him to stay with the group; Aang had stopped talking to him altogether, so their firebending practice had been put on an indefinite hiatus.
It was during one afternoon, two days after their catastrophic discussion that Zuko finally decided to put his foot down. When the group had dispersed to do various chores, he cautiously approached Aang, who was in the now deserted main temple.
"Aang," he said loudly, and the other boy, who had been playing with Momo, immediately froze at the sound of his voice. "Can we talk?" Zuko stared at the boy sitting down in front of him. His back was turned, but the firebender noticed how his shoulders tensed. He was cringing.
"Can't we talk later?" The boy said in an uncharacteristically hoarse voice. "I'm kind of busy with Momo at the moment." His seemingly aloof nature made Zuko's temper flare. Stay calm, the ex-prince told himself. He knew what would happen if he started to feel strong emotions – Ping.
Zuko groaned inwardly, and began a silent battle to constrict the excess energy swirling around in his body.
"Look," he snapped. He knew that there was no more point in trying to control his emotions, for the urge had already been activated. "I'm... Sorry I couldn't give you what you wanted that night," That was a sentence he never thought he would say, especially to Aang, of all people.
"But we can't let this – this thing – affect your firebending training. You haven't practiced in days, and Sozin's comet is drawing closer and closer. If you slack off now, you'll never be able to defeat my father!"
Aang let out a loud laugh that did not sound happy at all; it chilled Zuko to the bone. Shoulders shaking, the airbender seemed to be trying to stifle his chuckles. The older boy could only stare at Aang's back, feeling a mixture of confusion and fear.
"Trust me, Zuko," Aang said. "Me not knowing firebending is the least of our problems. Besides, we've already learned everything from those dragons, haven't we?" He let out another unsettling laugh. "That's what got us in this situation in the first place." The boy's tone suddenly became bitter. "Life? Energy? Fire has always been about destroying things and creating disorder. We're living proof of that."
Zuko had had enough. With a growl, the scarred teenager grabbed Aang's shoulder and hoisted him up roughly, spinning him around so they were face-to-face. The airbender kept his head bowed, preventing Zuko from reading his expression.
"What is wrong with you?!" The firebender snarled. "One little accident and you're acting like a wounded boar-Q-pine, snapping at anyone who comes close, especially me!" He shook Aang's shoulders for emphasis. Ping.
"It's not even my fault this happened, and you're just making everything worse by being so selfish, and not wanting to learn firebending anymore. If an incident like that is all it takes to get you to give up, then you're even weaker than I thought." Another shove. Ping. Zuko allowed his uninhibited anger to take full control.
"You are probably the weakest avatar known to man," he shot, livid to the point that he no longer cared about what he said. The excess energy churned inside him, satisfied with the raw emotion being expressed.
A pair of hands grabbed Zuko's forearms and shoved him back painfully. The fire nation prince stumbled backwards, and caught Aang's gaze. The airbender had finally looked up, and Zuko was shocked to see tears forming in Aang's stormy gray eyes. His hardened expression made it clear that Zuko had touched a nerve.
"I am not weak!" He yelled, blasting the older teen backwards with a gust of airbending.
"Then don't let it control you! Stop acting like a child!" Zuko argued, landing nimbly on his feet. He retaliated with a powerful wave of fire, sending it towards Aang. The other boy cancelled it out with a fireball of his own, and proceeded to leap into the air, emitting a stream of fire from his right palm.
"I wasn't acting like a child!" He roared. "I was just doing what the sun warrior said!"
Blocking the attacks with his own fireblasts, Zuko exhaled.
"And I was ignoring it for our own sakes!" He aimed a kick at Aang's chest, and the airbender blocked it with his fists. The two went down in a tangle of limbs, still wrestling on the ground and forgetting about their bending completely. They had stopped arguing, instead resorting to grunts and other animalistic noises, no longer thinking rationally.
Each punch delivered brought a certain amount of pain, but in a way, it also brought relief, for the energies inside them revelled in the uninhibited contact between the two, seizing whatever chance they could to escape bit by bit from the confines of their human cages. The brief sparks of unity ignited them and made them want more. Zuko and Aang continued to grapple, neither aiming for victory at that point. They simply wanted to fight until they had no strength left. Pure instinct dominated their thoughts, affected by the excess powers that had finally managed to gain control over them, at least for the time-being.
Zuko had managed to pin Aang beneath him, and raised his fist, determined to bring it down on Aang's face. The avatar merely glared, trying to push Zuko off with as much force as he could muster.
Before Zuko could deliver the final blow, a torrent of water came out of nowhere and struck him, sending him crashing to the ground. The firebender groaned and was about to get up when solid rock encased his wrists and ankles tightly, pinning him to the stone floor of the air temple. Craning his neck, he saw the waterbender and the earthbender running towards Aang. He groaned a second time. This had been the worst possible time for those two to walk in on them.
"Aang! Are you okay?" Came Katara's distressed voice as she pulled the bald boy up and gave him a once-over. "I knew he was trying to get you all along. Did he hurt you, Aang?"
"I've trapped him, don't worry," Toph said as she approached the two. "Want me to finally inflict my payback for when he burned my feet?" She grinned and cracked her knucles menacingly.
"In a second, Toph," Katara said in encouragement, and Zuko emitted a strangled squeak from his spot on the ground.
Aang blinked. What were Zuko and he doing earlier again? He could barely remember. All he recalled was that they had been talking, and all of a sudden they began fighting. The whole time, his body had tingled, finally having touched Zuko's again. Closing his eyes for a few seconds, Aang rubbed his forehead with one hand. Had the energy really taken complete control of him...?
"I'm fine, guys," he said, opening his eyes and smiling. The itch was still there, stirring deep inside of him, and he ignored it. "Zuko and I were just sparring," he explained with as much cheer as he could muster.
"If you were, then how come your heart's beating uncontrollably fast?" Toph pointed out. Aang cursed her ability to tell if someone was lying.
"Wouldn't you be afraid too if someone almost punched you in the face a few seconds ago?"
"It certainly didn't look like sparring to me, Aang." Katara said, looking suspicious and ignoring Toph's quiet "Not really." She cast another glare in Zuko's direction. "He looked like he was really about to hurt you."
"We got a bit carried away. It's just roughhousing... A guy thing."
"You and Sokka don't look that serious when you do your 'roughhousing'."
"That's because I can never take Sokka seriously when he starts yelling out fake attack names," Aang said. He then turned to Toph. "So will you let him go now, please?"
"If you say so." Although she sounded unconvinced, the blind girl curled her fists and made a downwards motion with her hands. A loud rumbling noise alerted Aang that Zuko had been freed from his restraints.
Slowly getting up, the firebender walked towards them, rubbing his sore wrists. He faced Aang, his expression stoic.
"I'm sorry I let things get out of hand." He spoke loudly, wanting both Katara and Toph to hear is apology. "I guess I got a little too competitive. There was a point wherein I sort of... Couldn't control my drive. Forgive me." He bowed.
Aang's eyes widened. So the energies really were responsible for both of their actions. It became apparent that they both had not been acting themselves. Despite the chilling revelation, Aang smiled genuinely for the first time in days; he was touched by Zuko's heartfelt apology and attempt to rekindle the brief friendship they had shared.
"It's okay. It happened to the both of us," he replied, and Zuko stared at him before nodding in understanding. Katara and Toph were most likely still sceptical, but at that point, Aang didn't care. He hated fighting with Zuko, but he hated not talking to the firebender a million times more.
"If it's alright with you, I'd like to continue our firebending training sometime later in the afternoon. I think I've been getting pretty sloppy because of my break. Don't you think so, sifu hotman?"
"Sure thing." Zuko smiled back, and Aang wanted to leap into the air from happiness, feeling as if they had just conquered a major obstacle.
At dusk, Zuko and Aang met at their usual training spot in one of the smaller temples, making sure that no one would disturb them. They weren't too worried, having both bowed out of dinner duty for that night. Katara was washing the dishes in a nearby lake, and Sokka was doing the hunting, which meant it would take hours before they were finally called to dinner.
It seemed as if their previous awkwardness had vanished, although not completely. Despite the fact that they could look at each other again and speak in complete sentences, there were random pings occurring every now and then. Fortunately, the sudden urges were more spread out, and not as strong as they used to be. The two boys figured that even the energies inside them needed time to rest, and relished the moments that they actually felt free from the forces' spell.
"We're finally done with the basic routines. Good job, Aang," Zuko congratulated, after they had both launched one final fireball and assumed defensive stances. Aang grinned – he had sorely missed Zuko calling him by his name.
"So , what now?" He asked, stretching his arms and popping several joints in the process. Zuko paused for a moment, thinking.
"I guess I should finally teach you firebreath."
"Cool!" The ex-prince smiled at the younger boy's enthusiasm and looked straight at him, then adopted a serious expression for their lesson.
"Firebreath is one of the more useful firebending moves," he began, recalling Iroh's lessons from years ago. His uncle had been known for that move, after all, and Zuko was proud to have learned it straight from him. He briefly wondered if Aang felt honoured to be learning under him, as well. Disregarding such foolish thoughts, he continued.
"It's also one of the most complicated moves, because the proper form isn't some routine you follow using your hands and feet. It's much different, and you have to learn to produce fire from your mouth." Exhaling sharply, Zuko demonstrated. A cloud of flame burst from his parted lips and extinguished almost as quickly. Aang applauded, looking amazed.
"It requires a lot of control. Exhale too much and you might end up burning your face off. Exhale for too long and you could suffocate from lack of air. You need to find the right balance... And once you've let out your firebreath, continue exhaling for a few more moments. If you don't," Zuko's expression hardened. "You'll inhale smoke, and, well, that's never good." The avatar nodded, still reeling from the long-winded explanation. Zuko had made it sound like one little error could result in his own death.
"Now you try." Aang gulped and stiffened his posture. Zuko slowly approached him, studying his jaw. "Just stand straight, and lift your head a bit... Some more... A little more. Yeah, that's it. You can take a few breaths first to calm yourself down." Aang did as he was told, breathing more heavily than one usually did. Zuko couldn't help but chuckle, as he strode back to his original spot, directly in front of the other boy.
"Umm... Are you sure you should be standing there?" Aang asked worriedly. "I might hit you by accident."
"Then think of this as an extra incentive to get it right." Zuko didn't budge, and Aang gulped once more. You can do this, he told himself. Just concentrate...
Aang inhaled slowly, and then let the air back out bit by bit, breathing out softly in order for the heat to escape his mouth in small doses. Almost immediately, he felt his breath grow much hotter, and happily realized that he was firebreathing. However, He could not see the flame, for it was tiny and swirling in front of his lips. Ecstatic, Aang exerted more effort. The fire grew and soon it became evident in his line of sight. In front of him, Zuko was nodding, looking impressed.
More confident than ever, the avatar decided to see if he could imitate the blasts the dragons had done. Exhaling once more, his firebreath grew in size, and he exerted more force... Ping.
To his own horror, Aang realized that he had lost control and blew out too much air. His airbending instincts took over and the flames were extinguished by the powerful gust that left Aang's mouth. Unfortunately, Zuko had no time to get out of the way, and was promptly pushed backwards by the wind.
"Oof!" The firebender landed on his rump on the ground, and upon seeing his shell-shocked expression, Aang couldn't help it. He laughed.
That proved to be a bad idea. Snorting loudly unexpectedly caused the avatar to exhale flames from his nose, and before he knew it, he had repeatedly burned the top of his utter lip.
"Ow, ow, ow!" Aang cried out, clutching his mouth and inhaling sharply. Catching smoke in his lungs, the avatar's eyes popped open and he began coughing. He lost control of his firebending completely. "Zu-ko!" He struggled to say in between coughs – each one caused a breath of fire to emit from his mouth. "He-lp!"
The firebender immediately got up and ran towards Aang, who, through his coughs, had managed to light his monk robes on fire. Cursing loudly, Zuko patted the other boy down, and extinguished the flames with help from his own firebending. He began hitting Aang on the back, too, as the boy continued to cough uncontrollably. Fire was still exiting through his mouth. Zuko was dismayed, realizing that the younger boy had lapsed into a coughing fit. To quell the situation, he brought his palm close to Aang's mouth while he gripped the boy's shoulder with his other arm.
"Shhh, just breathe out. Don't worry," he whispered comfortingly, and through his own expert use of firebending, absorbed the flames escaping Aang's mouth. The boy was still jerking and coughing involuntarily, but the intensity of his actions died down. Soon, the breaths of fire he released got smaller and smaller.
With one final jerk, Aang coughed out one last flame which Zuko caught and extinguished skilfully. Unexpectedly, the movement caused Aang's head to bob, and he consequently found his lips touching Zuko's palm lightly.
"Ugh," the two boys groaned. They had been doing so well.
Aang jumped back, looking aghast. "I'm sorry!" he practically yelled, as he covered his mouth with one hand. "I didn't mean to!"
Zuko frowned and stared at his palm. It had gone absolutely numb from the momentary pleasure, and he could feel the fire burning up within him once again. It seems as if they had inadvertently awakened the energies once again.
"I know you didn't," he said reassuringly. "It's alright, Aang. Was an accident."
Aang let out a loud sigh of exasperation as he grabbed his own stomach. "It's coming back again," he said worriedly.
"Yeah. I feel it too." Staring at the firebender for a few seconds, the avatar's expression grew serious as he closed the distance between him and Zuko.
"Can I talk to you about something?" The scarred boy raised an eyebrow.
"Well, I just wanted to say that I s-still don't have feelings for you or anything," Aang stuttered, rubbing the back of his head out of nervousness.
"That's good to know. Likewise for me."
"I know this 'c-cause when we, well... 'Do stuff'," Both boys flushed darkly at his connotation. "I feel relief in my stomach. Butterflies, yeah, but I know those are the energies talking." Zuko nodded. "B-but when it's someone else, my heart beats faster, too, and I feel really happy, you know? Do you feel the same way too?"
"Yes," came Zuko's short reply.
just because we don't have feelings for each other, doesn't mean
we shouldn't satisfy the whims of these energies," Aang gestured
wildly. "You know what happened when we ignored them last
"Aang," Zuko interrupted. He looked almost angry. "We can't." The avatar thought that was the last straw. Zuko had been resistant (and not to mention vague) for a long time, and he had grown sick of it.
"Why not?!" He yelled. "Do you really want them to take control of us again like earlier?!" Zuko twitched, recalling the events and replaying them in his mind.
"It is taking control of us, even right now. It messes with our emotions," he glared at the airbender. "It's already doing Agni-knows-what to us, and the last thing we should do is submit completely. Besides," he turned away. "This... This is just messed. We're screwing around with your feelings here, Aang. The last thing I want to do is destroy your relationship with the watertribe girl," Aang gaped upon hearing those words and blushed. He hadn't expected Zuko to figure out his feelings for Katara so quickly.
"I'm much older than you," Zuko muttered. "It's wrong to do these things to you. You're just a kid," Facing away from the younger boy, Zuko did not see Aang's brief smile.
"And you're just a teenager." Walking forward, Aang drew closer to him and allowed a smirk to grace his features. "Don't worry about me, Zuko..." He whispered, causing Zuko to whip around and stare at him with wide eyes.
"Aang..." He warned, looking slightly afraid as he backed away from the young monk. The avatar simply continued closing the distance between them, grinning almost maniacally.
"Was that really the only reason, Zuko?" He asked. The energies encouraged him, cheering as he took the initiative.
"N-no... There was..." But the rest of Zuko's sentence was cut short as he found himself bumping back first into a column. He inwardly cursed, realizing how much he hated air nomad architecture. "Don't do this, Aang," he pleaded almost desperately, knowing he was trapped. "I don't want to screw with your mind."
"My mind was already screwed up in the first place," Aang shrugged, and waved an arm slightly. Zuko began to sweat, and a low rumbling sound alerted him to the fact that Aang had pinned him against the column, trapping his wrists against the stone using earthbending. He noted with chagrin that this was the second time that day that an earthbending attack had left him defenseless. Struggling, he grunted and tried to pull himself free, but to no avail.
Another rumbling sound reached his ears, and the banished prince observed Aang earthbend himself a mound of rock beneath his feet, thus making him slightly taller than Zuko. The firebender paled – Aang's face was merely inches away from his own.
"What are you—" His protest was interrupted when Aang's lips practically smashed against his, without a single ounce of control or grace. Zuko's insides exploded with ecstasy, the energies swirling excitedly and leaving his body in large amounts. He almost swore that there was actual steam rising from the both of them. The kiss felt hot and part of Zuko wondered if it was from their firebreathing, the energies, or the heat of the moment. Probably all of the above, he decided, his mind hazy from all the pleasure.
Why did he ever even try to fight back in the first place? Gazing up at Aang's face with glassy eyes, the firebender realized how wrong he was to try and resist the avatar, of all people. What had he been thinking? The kiss felt perfect and he found himself not wanting Aang's lips to ever leave his own. They could have stayed like that forever and he wouldn't have minded at all...
The airbender parted his lips slightly, and Zuko shuddered when he felt a soft tongue caress his own. He had only done that before with Mai, but as far as Aang was concerned, it was a wholly new experience. Both boys couldn't help but moan as their tongues battled for dominance, Aang having leaned forward against Zuko for support and was now running his hands over the older boy's waist and arms. The friction between their bodies was both heavenly and agonizing, for both of them felt rapturous sensations and yet yearned for more.
It seemed as if they had been kissing for hours, and neither boy minded. Both had resigned themselves happily to this fate and thought that it wouldn't be so bad... They'd willingly do this for all eterni—
"AAAAAAAAH!" Two screams, a sudden thump and the sound of something shattering jolted them back to reality and Aang promptly fell off his makeshift footstool, both boys' heads snapping up and turning towards the direction from which the noises had come from. Their eyes widened as they saw Sokka, standing over an animal carcass (he must have dropped it out of surprise) and pointing at them, hollering unintelligibly. Toph was blinking, most likely trying to make sense of what was going on based on the tremors she had felt, and Katara stood frozen. A broken pot lay at her feet, its liquid contents seeping in all directions, but the waterbender did not seem to care. She merely gaped at them, mouth opening and closing, as if imitating a goatfish.
"Were they doing what I felt they were doing?!" Toph queried, still blinking rapidly.
No one answered her.