Inspiration always strikes at the kitchen table. Usually over macaroni.
I had a moment this morning, and suddenly a story was swirling in my bwains, so here I am! My SECOND EVER FIC on Fanfiction. (God I'm lazy, I should work on the first one more -_-')
Here it goes. Hope you like it.
Aang sighed in resignation, dragging his feet along the muddy, swamp-like ground. Why did he have to fetch food? And alone with Zuko? They had been trudging through the endless forest for what seemed like hours, the only sound between them being Zuko's twin blades sliding across and through the thick tangled brush. The Avatar swallowed, tugging at his sweaty, clingy collar. What better way to spend a humid, stuffy day than wandering through the swamp with stoic, intimidating Zuko?
Zuko. He felt like a good guy, but past experience betrayed him-- The south pole invasion, the crystal cavern, the constant, ENDLESS chasing... All evidence pointed to another stab in the back for the Avatar and his friends.
But still, here he was, hacking through the grotesque overhanging foliage and muck, searching for tonight's dinner and maybe tomorrow's stock. Aang couldn't help but feel a bit nervous, but what kind of Avatar would he be if he didn't give second chances?
How many times had Zuko stabbed them in the back?...
...Maybe he'd just be a smart Avatar. Trust and faith was good and all, but too much still bordered on stupidity.
Aang yelped and stumbled at the gravelly voice. The ex-fire prince leaned back and caught him by the arm, saving him from filling his senses with the sloshing pit of filth and nature. Zuko loomed over him unintentionally, raising what he hoped to be a less-threatening, more-questioning eyebrow.
"Y-yes?" The voice caught and skipped- he sounded like a child. Great. How could a twelve year-old with a speech impediment fight the entire fire nation? The moment dropped his spirits, but he managed to look back up at Zuko without staring straight into the scarred eye.
That little skip in the voice always scared Zuko-- it made him feel like his father, gripping a small child with fear. He immediately released Aang's arm, letting him stand on his own, but did not turn away. If he wanted to make this work-- if he wanted to change his destiny-- he had to work harder than ever before.
With the effort of a thousand men, he tugged the muscles in his face into a small, hopefully friendly smile. "There's a clearing up ahead if you want to stop and rest there."
"But we haven't gotten any food yet," Aang protested. Really, he had no problem stopping, but it was true that they had yet to really even look for food. Anything found in this poisonous glop would surely kill the lot of them. Stopping just when they reached a cleaner searching area seemed... incredibly unproductive.
"Even if the next clearing is dry, we're still covered in this... stuff." Zuko pulled up one of his arms, flinging some of the muck gripping his sleeve at nearby tree. "We'll need to stop and wash off a little anyway, so we may as well get back our wind while we're at it."
Stopping with Zuko for a moments reprieve, while sounding like a very educational detour, also seemed a bit intimidating. Aang tugged at his bound sleeves, scrapping mud from the bright fabric in an attempt to hide his nerves.
"Sure." He said with certainty. Zuko wasn't the only one who had to put forth effort. He wanted to accept Zuko. The last thing he wanted was another reason for Zuko to switch sides. His fascination with the traitor-turned-teacher surpassed his fear as the firebender nodded and continued chopping through the obstructing vines.
Sure enough, a clearing began peaking through the gaps in the trees, shining like the light at the end of the tunnel. Aang smiled and laughed, his heart lifting at the thought of being in the sunlight again. The wind carried him over Zuko and he pushed his way through the dense foliage, pulling water from the swamp and cutting down a path like gliding through mist. Zuko chuckled to himself, watching the Avatar go from detached and down to giddy just with a change of shade. The mood swings were more often then not warm and welcome to his usual monotone. Even the savior of the world had to act his age sometime. If he didn't, Zuko thought with a sigh, he would end up just the same as a certain exiled prince.
When Zuko found his way to the edge of the clearing, Aang was already laying flat on his back in the fresh green grass, smiling in a daze at the warm sunlight. The opening was clean and beautiful, just as Zuko had thought. He smirked at the monk in contentment-- he definitely liked this better than chasing him. Much less work, and the hours were more reasonable.
A small pond a few feet away promised to make for an easy job cleaning their clothes. Zuko slipped off his cloth-sole shoes and walked deeper into the grass. It was surprisingly warm between his toes. After a secret experimental wiggle, he continued toward a tree on the edge of the meadow and produced a rope from his bag.
"C'mon Aang," he called. Pulling him from such a happy state was not something Zuko particularly wanted to, but getting him out of those clothes was priority.
THE MUD. Yes. He might get sick from something in the muck... Zuko shook his head at the poor placement of words in his mind, clearing his throat and trying his hardest not to flush at the misstep.
Aang pushed up off the ground and padded over to his teacher. "What?" He asked, not quite understanding the summons.
"We need to get cleaned up before we search for food. God knows what was in that swamp that might still be clinging to our clothes."
"Ahh, it's fine! I'm the avatar!" He grinned wide, untying his sleeves despite his brushing off the request. "I have an immune system of steel," He beamed proudly- still a child, even after everything he'd been through.
Zuko snorted as he tied one end of the rope around the skinny tree. "Immune system or no, the water-peasant would never let me hear the end of it. Go wash up." He gestured back toward the pond and began pulling the rope tight across the sunny opening.
Aang pouted and huffed, but quickly fell back into his sunny disposition as he approached the pond. When Zuko had tied off the rope as a clothes line, he turned to the pond too, pulling off his shirt as he walked.
The sun felt warm on his tight back. As the cloth fell to his hand, the split skin on Aang's back came clear into view. Zuko winced at the sight of it-- It wasn't exactly like his own scar, but he could still feel it. He could feel the tight, raw skin when Aang flexed his arms free of the sleeves and rolled his shoulders back. Azula's laugh rang in his head. It mocked him, almost every day. His own sister.
He snorted. The whole family was nuts. Blood bound him to the pain he hated most. And to the pain of all his friends.
Zuko was pulled from his thoughts and his eyes from the scar as Aang turned to face him with a big, toothy grin. His eyes were bright and warm as the sun on his face. "C'mon, hurry up!" He didn't jump for joy, but you could see that every ounce of him wanted to. Zuko chuckled, his heart lifting at the sight.
The pond shimmered equal to the smile- almost. It's brilliance dimmed slightly by the curious young face peering into it. Zuko knelt down and dipped his hand just beneath the surface. It was freezing. He glanced back over at Aang and then back to the water. With a small intake of breath, he clenched his fist and relaxed, pushing a wave of heat through the water. It steamed only for a second before settling into a warm haze.
Aang looked over at Zuko in confusion, his head cocked to the side as the older boy slipped into the water. "Why'd you warm it up?"
Zuko slid in with a soft, loose sigh, but looked up at the comment. He dipped his own shirt in the water and lifted it to ring it out by the water's edge as he replied.
"Hot water soothes your scar, doesn't it?"
Water splashed as Aang almost fell forward into the pond. Surprise was a good word for it, but the look Aang gave him was more like a bewildered child looking at something they couldn't comprehend. "That's..." The airbender took a moment to slip in comfortably to the water before he continued. "That's right... How'd you know?"
Zuko flinched and looked down into the water. "Ah. It's... just something I picked up." He slowly became more comfortable with the answer as he leaned back into the warmth. "I spent a lot of time watching you, you know."
"Oh..." For some reason, this answer comforted Aang. The fact that it comforted him made him uncomfortable, and he quickly became confused about the whole situation. Both of them became quiet and enjoyed the soak while Aang worked through his own brain. The thought of someone other than Katara knowing many things about him... The birds sang and squealed at the two of them in their silence until Aang found his words again.
"So... What else do you know?"
"Y'know. What other things do you know about me?" The water tingled against his tender scarred flesh. He eased down into it, watching Zuko intently for an answer.
The firebender flushed. This was information he had used to hunt the avatar. Tried to use to capture him. It was not something to be excited and curious about.
Still, those big, round, mystified eyes begged him to go on. So he did.
"Well.... like what?" He didn't want to give too much information. Nothing scares a person like letting them know you know what order they dress in.
Aang took a moment to think about it. He really didn't have any questions prepared. It took him a second to find something about himself, but he found a pretty easy place to start.
With another big grin, he leaned forward, his eyes narrowing slyly. "What's my favorite food?"
"Custard tarts. Something about an old friend in the fire nation who used to make them," Zuko knew specifics, like how Kuzon had learned from his mother and tried for weeks to teach Aang, but he decided to keep the deeper details hidden.
Aang's eyes widened in shock again. This time his voice had a much more enthusiastic undertone. "W-what about my favorite color?"
"White." A symbol of peace and purity. Just like you. Zuko kept the little extra sentiment to himself yet again, but couldn't help but smile when the kid flushed.
"Fire Foley or anything with sprig shoots."
The game excited Aang to no end, and it soon became his goal to find something that Zuko didn't know. Everything he asked was answered almost immediately, even the nit-picky stuff. They played back and forth until Aang had lost count of how many questions he asked. Zuko's smirk widened with every question and every darker shade of red the boy turned.
"How many times do I shave my head a week?"
"You shave your head four times a week and one extra time on the first day of every month."
The little extra details that Zuko gave made Aang's stomach flop in his gut. Did Zuko know all of this just from hunting him? Why would he need to know things like favorite tea? Or his favorite animal in each nation? Was the fact that he strictly bought a hat in every big city they visited really necessary for his capture?
Would other bounty hunters know things like this? Or was Zuko just the type who paid close attention to detail?
Tired from all the questions and head spinning from all the answers, Aang leaned back against edge of the pond again, letting out a long breath.
"Wow..." He took a moment to himself to take in all the questions, trying to hold back the flush in his cheeks. "That's crazy."
"Anything else?" Zuko's confidence soared. He had never thought he would be proud of something like his ability to stalk, but the amazement displayed all across Aang's features just puffed him up with pride. The cocky, euphoric grin on his face could not have been hidden if he had tried.
What else was there to know? Aang sat in silence for a moment, pouting as he splashed the water around in front of him. He sank down until his chin was just barely setting on the water's surface and he looked up at Zuko's sunlight face in defeat. "Well... You tell me something."
"What do you mean?"
"Just tell me something. Anything you know about me that you haven't said already. Anything you find..." He dipped his face lower into the water to hide his blush and blubbered the rest of it into the water quietly. "Interesting."
Zuko thought about this for a moment, 'Hmm'ing aloud as he stood up in the pond. The sun was falling behind the trees. They'd have to be on to be on the move again soon if they wanted to get back to camp before nightfall. A plethora of facts about the 12 year-old prodigy swirled through his head as he shuffled over to the clothes line.
"Let's see..."He hung his shirt over the line and began untying his soaking pants. "Anything?"
"Anything," Aang confirmed, glancing back at him only for a second. Though the scar on his face was the most major, there were others. A few on his back were visible even from the couple yards of distance between the two of them. The pasture between them shuffled in the wind, and Aang sank lower to keep from the cold breeze.
"Hmm...." A couple different things stuck out in Zuko's mind and he smiled to himself as he answered.
"The only thing you'll ever say you hate is sea prunes. Everything else you just 'don't like.' You're not good at hating things."
Aang chuckled at the little fact as Zuko went on.
"You didn't like the color red until the water-peasant started wearing it."
Zuko didn't have to turn around to feel Aang blushing the exact shade he had in mind. He continued, hanging up his pants and brushing excess dirt off of them.
"Growing your hair out scared you because you were afraid bugs would get caught in it or that a Sparkflit family would try to nest in it while you slept, so you always kept the lamp by your sleeping bag."
The nervous laughter from the pond made him chuckle, but he decided his next fact would be his last. The water splashed from the pond as Aang climbed out and made his way toward Zuko. The monk air-dried his clothes with ease and began pulling his shirt back over his head.
"And..." The somber tone in Zuko's voice drew Aang's full attention. His eyes on the back of the firebender's head assured Zuko it was okay to say this. Told him it would be wrong not to let Aang know he knew.
"On your second day in the Earth Kingdom, you found a painter and had him paint a scroll of an Airbending master named Gyatso."
Aang stood stock still. His eyes were wide, but the excitement was gone. Shock settled into his stomach as Zuko continued.
"On cloudless days, you'll bake or buy a small cake and set up a memorial shrine while you eat."
That was one thing that no one knew. Aang had never told Toph, Katara or Sokka. 'Taking food to Appa,' he usually said. They would always take his answer-- What reason did he have to lie? Still, his eyes dropped to the ground. He wasn't ashamed. He wasn't guilty. It was... he didn't want to be so weak. He had already promised Sokka and Katara that he was okay. How could he let them know he was still so... ?
A shadow fell over Aang and a warm hand met his shoulder. He looked back up at Zuko with a start. Pity. Sorrow. That's what he would see. The face that he never wanted to see on any one of his friends.
But the face he found had no pity. It had no apathy or that small, 'I'm sorry,' face. He was smiling.
Zuko was smiling at him.
"Remembering a long-lost friend is nothing to be afraid of. It doesn't make you weak." His voice was strong. Unusually strong. Like he was trying harder than usual to hold his words together.
But somehow, those words were holding all of Aang's world together. Before he even had time to think, Aang jumped forward and wrapped his arm around Zuko's neck.
Surprised, Zuko just barely managed to catch him. Aang's cheek was strangely cold on his bare collar. It sent shivers down his back, but he couldn't help but smile as he placed one hand on the back of the monk's head. Zuko had always found that something his Uncle would say was always the right thing to say. He leaned forward into the hug so that Aang's heels rested comfortably on the ground.
The embrace was so warm. Warmer than even the sunlight shining on Zuko's back. It was like a ray of light all it's own, to have the tiny, skinny arms around his neck in such a completely natural manner.
Of course, it took only a moment more for Aang to realize how completely unnatural this must seem. With a yelp, he detached from the strong neck and pushed himself back from the flushed older teen.
"S-sorry," He mumbled, his ears burning.
"N-no, don't worry about it," Zuko's good ear burned, but he couldn't stop the wide, brilliantly happy smile from sticking across his face. Aang coughed and shuffled past him, air-drying Zuko's hanging clothes. With a small, almost-too-quiet thank you, Zuko began to redress.
Somehow that hug had broken up the ground between them. Wait. Was it the hug or all the things before? Maybe both? Aang kicked at the dirt, fumbling his hands behind his back and facing away from Zuko while he tied his shirt. It seemed almost like Zuko could tell what he was thinking. Like he knew exactly how he felt about everything.
But for all the things Zuko knew about Aang, Aang knew almost nothing about Zuko.
Maybe that was why it was so hard to trust him. How could you trust someone you didn't even know?
Did Zuko trust him because of all the things he knew about him or because he was the Avatar?
A loud cough turned Aang back around to face the newest member of his team, now fully clothed and only a little bit red in the face. Aang smiled nervously up at him and looked back down at the ground.
"It's funny. You know all of that stuff about me, but I know almost nothing about you."
"You know more than you think," Zuko replied with a smile and a pat on the monk's tattooed head. "And you'll have plenty of time to find out the rest."
"... What's my favorite part of me?"
Aang laughed heartily. "This may take a while."
There you have it! Hope you folks enjoyed the ride. I sure did. x3
Comments? Reviews? REVIEWS ARE LOVE. They make writers feel goooood.
lol I'm a fan of critiques or compliments. I'll take both x3 Thanks for reading! Hope you liked it! 3