Chapter 44: Fluff Monster

Iroh could feel the heat pour off his nephew as they walked through the halls of the Wani. He usually allowed Zuko to have more space. After all, it was always best to give a young flame room to breathe or else you risked suffocating it. But, part of him was still terrified that the young prince would blink out of existence like a star that the heavens had cast down. He tried not to be terribly apparent, but he couldn't stop staring at the boy.

Zuko had grown. He was taller and had filled out some more. And though blue would never be his color, at least the Water Tribe had been feeding him. His hair had even started to grow out. So, despite being a little shaggy, he looked handsome and regal with the way he held himself. Like Lu Ten at that age. But, most importantly, Iroh could see no immediate injuries.

But not all injuries are physical.

The old dragon wanted to ask how Zuko had been treated. He wanted to ask if he had learned any waterbending and what Masters had decided to take him on. He just wanted to fill in the gaps so that his heart may be filled. A wound had started to form there and it needed something of substance to continue healing. He needed to know that his nephew had been treated well while they were separated.

Directing the boy to his personal quarters, even though he saw the wanting glance Zuko threw further down the hall and towards his own room, Iroh asked, "Nephew, would you like some tea? I would like to hear what has happened in our time apart."

Meeting Iroh's gaze, a small ghost of a smile tugging at his lips as if in nostalgia, Zuko nodded, "Of course, Uncle. Hot tea leaf juice would be fine."

The aging prince felt his heart melt again because, for a second, with that small little smile, Zuko really did look like Lu Ten. Sweet Lu Ten who had learned to love tea for him. He hoped Zuko would learn to love tea one day as well.

They had just sat down and Iroh had barely started to boil the water when his heart could take no more. The Fire Master pulled his nephew into a hug, burying the boy's head under his chin while simultaneously suffocating the teenager in his robes. He would usually never be so forward with such shows of affection, it was dangerous to show such connections in court, but they weren't in the palace or anywhere near the Dragon Throne. There was no one here to hurt them.

One of his boys had come home.

Iroh, unable to hold back, then started to sob. Nothing loud or messy like children are prone to. No, it was more reserved than that. His sobs were soft like little hiccups, but even Zuko could probably feel how his chest heaved while he struggled not to cry harder. His breathing was a complete mess now, the fires flickering oddly in the room.

Hungry for familiar contact, Zuko allowed himself to be smothered as he buried his head deeper into his uncle's robes, intaking a deep breath. He could smell the slight ting of tea leaves that always clung to Iroh along with the incenses that were used for meditation. Then there was that warm-air almost burnt scent that clung to all firebenders like an ozone. Zuko wished he could say that it reminded him of hugging his father … but he never got hugs from his real father. Just Iroh, Lu Ten, and then there was this one foggy memory that he sometimes thought was just a dream, when Azulon had hugged him.

Zuko didn't remember why Azulon was upset, but he was sure it had something to do with his aunt's death. It was the first and only time he had been alone with his grandfather … and it was the only time he had ever seen any emotion on that stern face.

Are Fire Lord's even allowed to cry?

Also, had grandfather really threatened to kill him? Then again, Azula always lies.

Pushing all thoughts of the palace away before he got caught in a regret-filled loop, Zuko took a few more breaths and returned the hug, clinging to those rich robes like a piglet-monkey. He couldn't help but feel tears start to gather as well, his throat struggling to choke down a sob. He was safe now. He wasn't a guest of the Northern Water Tribe anymore and there was no point in sobbing.

And yet he did.

A fine picture the two of them probably made, sobbing like fools.

Iroh even managed to burn the boiling water. Not that Zuko was broken up about that, but once they collected themselves, Iroh dutifully started another pot.

"I missed you, nephew. I didn't know if they were treating you well. An old man worries," Iroh finally said, his hair worse for wear and his eyes red.

Zuko was sure he looked worse, his hair probably everywhere after a crying fit like that, his eyes red and squinty.

"I was a prisoner, Uncle. How do you think my stay was?" Zuko said bitterly, his grudge against Pakku still fresh in his mind, but the moment he saw Iroh start to frown he quickly added, "But, it could have been worse. They called me a guest. I was kept in a guarded room in the Chieftain's palace, but they fed me and clothed me. My Water Master taught me how to dodge though and left me wanting to burn his eyebrows off if not his whole face; I later tried to kill my Earth Master the first moment we were alone together, but my first Air Master … he saved me from the spirit realm and was apparently going to teach me how to make my first airstaff. He was thoughtful."

Iroh's frown hadn't disappeared so Zuko quickly added, "B-but, I met a cute-I mean nice girl, Uncle. I … she … we talked some and d-danced."

The Dragon of the West's worried brow turned into a growing grin and Zuko quickly regretted his words, especially when the aging Fire Prince leaned in and stroked his beard, "A pretty girl you say? Tell me more nephew."

Zuko sputtered, immediately blushing, "I, um, her name was Yue. P-princess Yue. She was the chieftain's daughter. It was nothing. She was just very kind to me and I liked talking to her."

The glint was hard to miss in Iroh's eye as the man moved to pour them more tea. "A caring woman is never nothing, nephew. Such a girl is the kind of woman you ask to bare your children."

The teenager immediately spurted his hot leaf juice all over his uncle, snapping at him that this was not the time to talk about pretty girls. Somehow, Uncle chuckled through the entire thing.

The teasing didn't last forever though. Uncle started to pry in order to get an idea of how bad or good Zuko's treatment was. And, after making his Uncle cry minutes before, Zuko honestly couldn't reveal everything. The thought of worrying the aging man wore down on Zuko like a boulder hanging over his head, just waiting to crush him. He didn't know if he would ever tell Iroh everything.

So, instead, he told his uncle about some of his less suicidal escape attempts, the food, his fake name, and the healers. He spoke of Pakku and the chieftain, breezing over some of the more forceful lessons the Water Master had tried to instill on him. He spoke of how he had tried to meditate and fell into the Spirit Realm. He mentioned the visage of Princess Yue that wasn't actually Yue, and how it had said something was broken in him. He spoke of the Air Master Yugato and how he had been sympathetic. He mentioned that Aang had come along with the Air Master and then proceeded to be a friendly little elbow-leech. He even spoke a bit about the festival and his dance with the princess. He ignored the blush on his cheeks and the way Iroh grinned at him. He then mentioned how the Earth Master had made him snap, forcing him into the Avatar State so that he could finally escape with Aang's help.

He ghosted over how terrified he had been of Master Kun Tein.

How can someone steal your memories?

Iroh was frowning by the end of it, running his hand through his beard as he hummed to himself. Zuko couldn't help but look at him with almost pleading eyes as if asking him if he had fought hard enough or if … maybe he should have stayed? A part of him believed that Iroh was better off without him. That the aging Dragon was safer and far less of a traitor without him around but instead Iroh stated, "You did well nephew."

That had not been what Zuko was expecting.

"I know that being caught by the Northern Water Tribe was … far from ideal, but you handled it as peaceably as can be expected. I know that the other Nations are desperate for a fully realized Avatar, but to go so far as to take you memories? Did the Earth Master mention how it was done?" asked Iroh, a sharpness in his eyes.

Zuko shook his head. "I probably could have found out Uncle, if I hadn't overreacted, but the thought of losing even a little of myself. I just snapped and there was so much power. And the Avatar State … is overwhelming. There were so many voices and they were all pulling at me and yet were me. I never want to do that again."

Sighing, looking older all of a sudden like he was coming to some hard decisions, Iroh added, "There is no dishonor is keeping yourself intact, nephew. A koi does not merely throw itself onto the shore because the wolf-bats are hungry."

Zuko raised a brow.

"Now, I was hoping to wait until you were settled in before we had this conversation, but from what you tell me, your Masters were desperate. They will surely come searching for you. And, as they say, a water lily should not settle roots where there is no water," said Iroh seriously. "We cannot remain on the Wani much longer. Your previous Masters know it and will follow it, and even if they cannot take you again … it may attract unwanted attention."

The banished prince did not like the sound of that. "What do you mean Uncle?"

"Commander Zhao tried to board the ship the other day. He seemed unusually suspicious, and the only thing that kept him away was a ruse about Dragon Fever. We must find a place in the Earth Kingdom sooner rather than later where you can train. And, while we travel, perhaps we can find a trustworthy Water Master and Earth Master as well," continued Iroh, his gaze still hard and calculating.

The anger inside the young prince wanted to fight, wanted to claw at its enclosing destiny with all its might, but another part of him, the side he had named Lee, knew Uncle was right. Avatar Lee knew it was the best for him, Uncle, and the crew if he kept moving. They had to go.

Home was wherever Uncle was anyway.

So, even though his throat felt like it was closing up, that the world was pressing down onto him to heavily, Lee nodded and simply stated, "Perhaps you are right, Uncle. When … when should we leave?"

Smiling sadly, Iroh placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed, "Not tonight, nephew. First, I want you to finish your tea, bathe, change and rest. A man needs rest. Then we can discuss where we are going and when we should leave."

Not knowing what else to say, his throat feeling even too tight to drink tea, Zuko nodded, "Of course, Uncle."

Aang stood there staring at all the masks on the wall, his head feeling fuzzy like it tended to do from time to time when he was trying to remember something … that he shouldn't?

One of the masks on the wall, in particular, made his stomach drop. It was a simple white mask with huge blue circles around the eyes and these blood-red lips. The smile was knowing, sinister even, and though the face wasn't quite right, words echoed in the young airbender's head: Shall I take your face as well?

Frowning, wondering what that could possibly mean, Aang literally jumped a few feet into the air when suddenly there was a knock on the door. The metal door slid open a moment later revealing two men. One man was carrying a small table with a bowl and tea-set on it, while the other man had a bag slung over his shoulder.

For a second, the two Fire Nation men stood there stiffly, blinking up at the airbending child that had just plastered himself in the upper corner of the ceiling, panting as if they had just terrified him. Lieutenant Jee had told them the air-child was a bit skittish and wary of Fire Nation soldiers, but this was a bit ridiculous.

Regardless, the two men looked at each other with matching frowns because neither one of them planned on hurting a child that also happened to be a guest on the ship. The man carrying the bag stepped forward first, his face serious and his tone allowing little for discussion, "Air Master Aang, I am Ryto, the ship's healer, and this Tenli. I have been asked to attend to you. So, please come down. Such a position cannot be good for your healing hands."

Aang, as if remembered his burned hands, suddenly winced and dropped to the floor, filling the room with airbending as he made a smooth landing. Both men stood there in awe at the act of airbending, their hair now ruined and the soup almost spilled.

Ryto was the first to recover as if seeing an ancient lost art like airbending was nothing, the man strolling into the room. Tenli followed dutifully, setting the little table down in the middle of the room. Both men then sat before the small table, looking at Aang expectantly.

Not knowing what else to do, Aang swallowed nervously and padded over to the table. He looked the two men over, both dressed in red but lacking any armor, their eyes following his every move. He wanted to believe what Jee had said to him earlier, that he was a guest and that no one on the ship would harm him … but the warnings that had been ground into him as a child were hard to dismiss.

Finally realizing that the two men were staring at him because he was probably being rude, Aang put his hands together and bowed slightly as he remembered his manners, "Hi, I'm Aang. An airbender. Uh … thanks for attending to me?"

The two men continued to stare before Tenli patted the floor next to him, "Come on, sit down. We aren't getting any younger and your food's getting cold. Plus, Ryto has people to nag."

The healer threw a glare at the pikeman that promised vengeance, but the makeshift assistant merely shrugged. Aang, in turn, tried to plaster a smile on his face before sitting down with the two crewmen. The preteen sat there awkwardly for a moment before the Ryto cleared his throat and offered out his hand. "Here. Let me see your hands."

"Oh, right, I forgot. I mean. I didn't forget. It still hurts pretty bad, and there's no way I could forget because I can't do normal things like fly Appa or glide. Do you know how hard it is to use a glider when you can't grip it properly? And don't even get me started on brushing Appa –"

The two men were now staring at him with raised brows.

"Oh, sorry. My hands. Right," said Aang trying not to twitch as he offered his hands to the healer before him, his mouth still moving because he didn't know what else to do. "So, your name is Ryto? Do people always ask you for directions because you always know the Ryto-way to go?"

Aang tried to smile with his pun, Tenli looked somewhat constipated like he thought about laughing, but Ryto just gave him a look before he started to unwrap the wounded hands. Aang winced as those long-fingered hands went to work but he didn't pull away.

Soon enough the ship's healer was eyeing the angry-red and slightly-oozy burn wounds with a critical eye. He even hummed to himself before he stated, "It could be worse. They are both healing nicely and obviously have been properly cared for. I'm surprised you knew how to treat these wounds."

Hissing as the man started to clean the red flesh, Aang admitted, "Well, Lee mostly did it, actually. He said he had experience with … burns."

Tenli raised a brow and so did Ryto before Aang realized his mistake. That was right. He almost forgot that Zuko was Lee's real name. "I mean Zuko. Zuko treated them."

Now both the crewmen were looking away, their faces either pinched or carefully neutral. The healer at least had the nerve to murmur, "Yes, Prince Zuko does know how to treat burn wounds. He … has much experience."

A cooling salve quickly was added to Aang's skin but that didn't shock him as much as, "Prince? What do you mean by Prince?"

Pouring what definitely smelled like medical tea, it was Tenli's turn to speak, "You didn't know? Zuko is a prince to the Fire Nation."

"Banished Prince," corrected Ryto as he finished wrapping one hand. "Not that that title matters anymore. He can never go home. After all, an Avatar cannot be a prince, especially not a banished one."

Aang could only look at the two men in horror before taking the first offered cup and downing it in a harsh gulp. He immediately regretted it, of course. For one, it was medical tea and tasted horrible, and secondly, it burned all the way down.

At least Tenli got a snort out of it. Ryto, in turn, shook his head before asking, "You really didn't know, did you?"

Aang didn't say anything at first because he was too busy airing his tongue. Zuko's second name made a whole lot more sense now, but that just brought forth a thousand other questions. Like how does a Prince get banished and why can't he ever go home?

Jee's boots echoed as he made his way down the corridor to speak with the head animal handler. He was waiting for it. This was the calm before the storm, before the ship suddenly exploded into a riot or mutiny or a giant fireball or something. The sun was starting to sink into the sea though, threatening to turn the sky a rainbow of colors, and yet nothing had happened with the return of Zuko and his Air Master.

Except for … the lollygaggers.

That was an oddity. Most of the crew had routes or tasks that they were supposed to complete, yet he kept finding crew members where they essentially didn't belong. At first, it had unsettled him, like there was some kind of organization to the placement, but he saw no reason for the two engineers to be peeking around a doorway into the cargo bay and animal hold.

He stalled there and stared at the backs of their shirts, both of the crewmen seemingly oblivious to his loud footsteps as they whispered to each other.

"Do you think they'll let us have a turn?"

"Xun is a selfish jerk. He'll never share. He'll just pull rank or something to get rid of us."

"Yeah, he's such a jerkbender."

"A jerkhoarder is more like it."

Suddenly getting tired of this mutinous idiocy, Jee leaned forward and growled between their two heads, "Is that any way to speak about your Chief Officer?"

Both of the engineers jumped away, sliding around with a sir and an awkward bow of respect. They both looked guilty and more than a little ashamed. Neither would meet his gaze.

"Well, out with it. The first of you to admit to mutinous plans against the princes may escape corporal punishment," barked Jee, waiting for one of the men to break.

Instead of looking terrified or enraged, Chow and Chin, the only two brothers on the ship, gave each other an awkward glance. For a moment there seemed to be an eyeball battle between the two of them like they were debating about who should say what.

Jee only put up with this for about half a minute before he turned to Chin. The man's eyes widened as he was put on the spot and suddenly be blurted out, "It's not mutinous if it's true, sir. Xun never-"

"Chief Officer Xun," corrected Jee.

"Chief Officer Xun never shares," finished Chow for his brother. "He's not the only one that wants a warm nap on the fluff monster."

A warm nap? Fluff monster? What?

Deciding an explanation would take too long, Jee stepped between the two brothers and looked around the corner and down into the hold … only to immediately regretted it. What was he seeing? What was this madness?!

Someone had taken the saddle off of the flying bison at some point and now there was a line of the men taking naps in the fuzzy creature's fur. Most of the men were curled up on the flying bison's side, burrowed into its fur like little lamb-larks. They probably were enjoying the heat its great fuzzy body was putting off if their satisfied grins were anything to go off of, but Chief Officer Xun alone was curled up on the creature's back like a greedy cat-owl. He, apparently, was not sharing his space.

And that wasn't the worst of it.

Someone had also raided the giant saddle, finding what looked like large oil-paper umbrellas. An airbending tool of some sort likely. And now some of the crew were currently taking turns leaping off the railing that overlooked the hold. They'd then float down like dandelion seeds before being sent spinning whenever the bison snored. The bison was apparently very popular and didn't seem to mind one bit that it was now the crews' personal heater.

Jee turned to look at the two technicians, confusion written all over his face. He could only ask one thing, "Why?"

The two brothers shrugged, one admitting unapologetically, "It's fuzzy and warm, sir. All the men have been cold for weeks."

Running a hand down his face, wondering if airbenders just dragged madness wherever they may, he grumbled, "And where is Doi the animal handler? Why isn't he down here dealing with this debacle?"

"He's helping the cook," said Chow simply.

Jee raised a brow, already feeling a migraine of epic proportions coming on, "And why does Duck need Doi's help? I told them they weren't allowed to gamble on the fates of the komodo rhinos riders anymore. It instills distrust in the ranks. No one wants the amount of times they're bucked off counted. We're navy men, not the army."

The two men snorted like it was a great joke but stalled when Jee glared at them. Yeah, that was a migraine. He could feel it claw at the back of his eyes, but before he could even storm down into the hold and demand that everyone leave the sky bison alone, a screech started to echo down the adjoining hall.

Jee and the two engine technicians stalled, their heads all turning towards the noise in the darkness. At first, it was an odd sound, screeching almost like metal dragging on metal but lower-pitched.

"What now?" growled Jee, stepping in front of the two non-benders and taking a defensive kata, his eyes squinting as he tried to see whatever was in the gloom. He barely got to see the reflective eyes in the darkness before suddenly the lemur was flying down the hall, nearly banking into the three men.

All three of the men barked in surprise and plastered themselves against the walls to ignore the screeching little creature. They didn't even get to question what the little screechy beast (Jee believed it was called Momo) was flying away from when suddenly the cook came dashing out of the darkness.

"Come back here, you little food thief. I'm cooking your ears!" barked Duck as he raced after the lemur.

Jee wasn't even allowed to acknowledge that lazy, old Duck knew how to run when suddenly Doi slid down the hall, crying out, "You said we weren't going to eat it!"

"It don't need ears!" yelled back the cook as he tripped around a corner, nearly biffing it as he skidded on some fallen nuts the lemur had probably stolen and dropped.

If Doi was going to reply, he didn't get a chance as Jee reached out and yanked the man back by the collar of his shirt. The mustached man immediately ended up on his back and looking up at his commander.

"Sir, the lemur," defended Doi as he sat up and waved his hand pleadingly down the hall.

"It will be fine. Airbenders and their animal compatriots are apparently good at hiding," groused Jee as he stood up straight, folding his hands behind his back. He was the perfect example of a superior officer deserving of respect. Not that he got nearly enough with this ragtag crew.

Doi just pouted up at him like a particularly doe-eyed man-child.

Ugh, this day would never end.

"I would ask why you weren't at your station, but I don't want to look down into the hold again unless I want to risk madness," continued Jee in a dry tone, Doi giving him a muddled look, "Instead, I'm going to inquire about dragon eggs. If, perchance, Prince Zuko and the airbending boy found one and brought it onto the ship, how would you go about hatching it?"

The look of excitement that slowly filled the animal handler's face was startling. Doi had never seemed so happy. Jee personally found the expression disturbing.

"Please don't joke about such things, sir! I've always wanted to see a dragon! It's a life dream, besides riding one that is!" gushed Doi, his eyes wide and excited as he got to his feet.

Jee decided he didn't like that hopeful glint his underling's eyes either. Then again, it might just be because the crewman was crowding his personal space. When was the last time Doi brushed his hair?

"I do not joke. It is currently in the airbender's quarters. The child asked how to hatch it," said Jee bitterly. How had he ended up babysitting again?

"Really?! Is his quarters this way? Also, he got quarters? I'm surprised since he's an airbender, but he's also Prince Zuko's Air Master, right? Oh, but back to the dragon egg," prattled Doi, acting like a child at a festival. He even started to walk down a random hall.

"To the left," corrected Jee, wondering why he was essentially following behind his subordinate instead of leading the way.

"What color is the shell? Oh, don't tell me. I can't wait to see if for myself," continued Doi as he was essentially tugged down the correct corridors. "I hope it's gold. Dragon's with golden shells are lucky."

"How does a Prince get banished and why can't he ever go home?"

Apparently Aang had asked that out loud because the two men were now frowning deeply. Tenli suddenly wouldn't even meet his gaze and Ryto looked torn like it wasn't his tale to tell. Instead, Ryto slowly refilled Aang's teacup and whispered, "Please have another cup, Air Master Aang. It is a sensitive subject. In fact, most of the crew didn't really know why Prince Zuko was banished or where he got his scar for that matter … until recently. It was one of the reasons the ship didn't mutiny when we found out he was the Avatar."

Aang felt his stomach sink, a pain that wasn't his own echoing in his head. He even reached up a hand and touched his face as if to feel a scar that was not there.

Tenli still wouldn't look at him and Ryto stared at him as if trying to decide what to say. Finally, the healer sighed and shook his head, "It would feel wrong telling you something so deeply personal for Prince Zuko. You should ask him or his esteemed uncle why he was banished, not us. It is not our place."

Sitting there, wondering how he was going to bridge that conversation, Aang decided to leave it for later and instead asked, "Okay. So, Zuko is a prince then?"

The two men nodded warily like they didn't want to be the cause of Aang suddenly fleeing or something.

"So," continued Aang, "That means he is related to the Fire Lord, right? Is he his nephew?"

Ryko looked like he swallowed an egg, his frown growing.

"But he keeps talking about his uncle, Uncle Iroh," continued Aang as he tapped his chin, one hand still unwrapped. "And the elders said there were only two sons of Fire Lord Azulon, which means that Zuko is … oh."

Aang suddenly felt breathless. Lee, or Zuko, was the son of the Fire Lord. The banished son of the Fire Lord. No wonder he had lied about his true name to the Water Tribe. Honestly, knowing this, part of Aang wanted to flee. He wanted to take Appa and find Master Yugato because this was way over his head. He didn't know how to deal with this.

Should he be mad? Angry?

Then again, Lee had admitted that his name was Zuko, and that he had been afraid to tell people his real name. Aang couldn't even imagine what some of the Masters would have done if they had known Zuko's true bloodlines.

Besides, Zuko had said he wouldn't mind being Lee. So, did that mean he didn't want to be a prince anymore? Was that why he was banished?

Aang didn't know. There were too many questions, too many things unanswered, but he did know that he didn't want to push Lee away. Lee needed to learn airbending. Plus, Aang had promised himself that he would make Lee smile more. Running away wouldn't help anyone.

He'd just have to ask Lee about being the Fire Lord's son as well he supposed.

Forcing a smile on his face, Aang stated, "That's going to be an awkward conversation."

The two Fire Nation men gave each other anxious looks like they didn't understand why Aang hadn't gotten up already and started to run away. They knew how to chase, but this awkward small talk with a nomad that their ancestors had massacred was killing them. They never even got to voice their concerns though when suddenly the door slammed open, a wild-eyed crewman stepping into the room. Aang might have ended back up on the ceiling if Ryto wasn't still wrapping his other hand.

"I have come for the egg," said Doi as he stepped into the room, hands opened expectantly towards Aang.

Aang just looked confused and slightly terrified of this random crewman, Tenli looked like he was torn between concern and hilarity, and Ryto looked simply irritated. The healer pinched his nose bridge and exhaled deeply before he groused, "Doi … did one of the komodo rhinos kick you in the head again?"

The man, mustached lip dragging into a frown, folded his arms over his chest, "I got kicked once, Ryto. Once. And you won't let me live it down."

"It was more than once, Doi. I just think you've landed on your head so many times that you've forgotten them all. Honestly, I think you've lost the concept of knocking," continued the healer, sarcasm lacing his words. "In fact, after I'm done taking care of the prince's guest, I'd love to reintroduce you to the notion of manners ... and hair brushing apparently."

"Who spit in your breakfast rice, Ryto?" grumbled Doi with his hands still crossed over his chest, only to suddenly turn bubbly again as he looked at Aang, "So, Lieutenant Jee said you have a dragon egg! Is it true?! Where did you find it? Can I touch it? Smell it?! Memorize its texture?"

Jee took this opportune moment to finally catch up with his subordinate, hearing just the tail end of the questionnaire. He gave the animal handler a tired glance and was about to say something (likely apologize to everyone in the room), when Aang floated to his feet, just as excited.

"We got it from a bone dragon that was haunting this island which was also infested with pirates and tasty mushrooms! It smells like egg and charcoal but feels like a whole bunch of thick seashells fused together. Do you want to touch it?" chirped Aang, seeming to float back towards the cot where the egg was still wrapped in a parka.

Ryto made a displeased noise as his patient basically escaped across the room and Jee ran his hand down his face again. Great. The little airbender was already infecting the crew with his weird bubbliness. Doi was always kind of eccentric mind you, but Jee feared that this was going to become a trend if the cargo hold was an indication of the coming days.

"It's gold-colored," gushed Doi as Aang presented the egg to the excited man, allowing him to pick it up. "And it's warm. Plus, the shell does kind of reminded me of overlapping seashells."

Then, to the surprise of no one really, Doi brought the dragon egg up to his nose and inhaled deeply like he was smelling flowers. He made a thoughtful humming noise and then, despite Ryto's knowing glare, he licked it. Everyone present cringed and Jee even covered his eyes, embarrassed by his crew.

"Hmm, smells and tastes like wet bear dog," said Doi thoughtfully.

Aang rubbed the back of his head as if embarrassed, "Uh, yeah. That's probably our fault. We kept it wrapped in parkas this whole time and those likely haven't been washed since … summer."

Tenli actually made a gagging noise and quickly covered his mouth.

Shrugging like he didn't mind, the lanky animal caretaker walked over to the fireplace in the room with a skip in his step, "No worries. Call in flavoring. Now, let's cook this egg."

Aang immediately blanched, sliding in front of the fireplace while he waved his hands about, "What? No! We promised the spirit that we'd hatch it! Not eat it."

Doi rolled his eyes, "Do I look like a cook to you. That's Duck's job."

The airbender merely stood there, continuing to look confused.

The animal handler sighed, "Dragon eggs require hot temperatures to hatch, usually volcanoes. So, to hatch it, we basically have to cook it. So, into the fire with it."

Understanding overcame Aang's eyes and he was hopping around once more, "What, really? That's so cool. How long will it take to hatch? Today? Tomorrow? How big are baby dragons? Can I ride one?"

Just as excited as the child, Doi replied, "I have no idea … on any of those things. Let's throw it in."

Jee covered his eyes with his hand again like he couldn't watch this mockery a moment more and exhaled deeply, smoke rolling out of his nostrils. He stood there wondering if he'd have to put out the flames when those two inevitably managed to start their eyebrows on fire. He had better uses for his time after all … like deciding what he was going to do with the proclamation from the Fire Lord

Ryto, looking up from his position at the small table, waved Jee over, "Please sit, sir. Would you like some calming medical tea? It's for pain and swelling though it might help with that growing migraine."

Rubbing his neck, Jee looked at the two excitable idiots once more before he sat down. He grunted and accepted a spare glass

Pitying his commanding officer, Ryto said simply, "It could have been worse, sir. Price Zuko could have brought three elemental Masters with him after all."

Elsewhere, on a Northern Water Tribe ship, Master Pakku sneezed into his tea. Simultaneously, Master Kun Tein somehow held in his own sneeze while Master Yugato was completely caught off guard. He sneezed all over the small tea table on the deck, sending said table and everyone's teacups flying. Conveniently, he also added some air to the sails.

"I suppose the time for tea is over. I didn't really like that blend anyway," grumbled Pakku as he used his waterbending to clean himself off. He left the rest of the mess to the clumsy deck hand though, the poor kid immediately tripping over the abandoned teapot.

XXX

Paw07: Hello everyone. I decided this would be a fluff chapter of sorts, especially since Appa got involved and now it's literally a fluff chapter. And then I was like, 'Hmm, who handles the animals usually on the ship?' because of the komodo rhinos. Then Doi showed up and now Aang has an adult that's just as bubbly as him.

Anyway, if you finally got a reply to your review months later, sorry about that. Usually, I'm rather prompt, so I decided to just reply with this update.

Furthermore, should I get a Tumblr? I feel I'm too much of a recluse and the format just doesn't make sense to me. .