I know, I'm so slow. I just started classes when I intended on finishing this, so I got very distracted and busy all the sudden. But here we go!
The two of them sat almost a full four yards apart, each on his own rock, staring at the ground infront of him. They had pushed out into the forest and were today in charge of gathering firewood. This was not their only task of course. But today? One thing at a time.
Zuko had his back against a tree and his arms crossed too tight against his chest. Sokka continued to stare at the ground infront of him, ignoring the address as if Zuko hadn't made it.
Zuko looked up at Sokka, unblinking and unamused. He tried again. "...SO."
Finally, Sokka looked up. Maybe they should just go ahead and get this over with. Yeah, that was good. The faster they got their work done, the faster they could get the hell out of each other's sights. When his eyes met Zuko's he felt his face heat, and swallowed hard to push his anxiety back down.
"So, we should gather firewood now?" He said hopefully.
"Yes," Zuko said too quickly, standing up and letting his arms drop to his sides just as fast. "Yes, we should."
Sokka stood, too. "Yes, perfect. Firewood time."
It grew quiet again, and they stared at each other across the small clearing. Finally Sokka turned for the nearest tree. "Let's get started!" He said, lifting Boomerang high above his head.
Zuko stared at him blankly. "...Sokka."
The voice made him jump. Sokka didn't turn back toward him to answer. "What?"
"You've never actually done this before, have you?"
"WHAT? Gathered FIREWOOD?" Sokka turned, shocked, flabbergasted at the very thought, before he realized that, no, in fact, he hadn't. His face flushed again. "Umm, no, not really."
Zuko laughed and approached him slowly. "We don't actually chop down trees," he said smiling. "Healthy living branches are hard to burn. We just need to go out into the forest and pick up dead branches and logs."
"Oh..." Sokka rubbed the back of his head. "Yeah, I knew that. I was just... testing you."
Zuko chuckled, unsheathing one of the dual swords strapped to his back. "Well I passed. Let's get going."
The fire prince pushed forward into the trees before Sokka could answer. Sokka followed quickly behind.
They looked in seperate places, but always nearby each other for the first few hours. There wasn't much on the edges of the forest, but when they got further in, kindlin became much easier to find. It was warm out that day, and the trees broke the sunlight into small rays around the area. There was enough light to be bright, but everything seemed green and cool despite the heat outside of the forest.
Sokka found himself working hard to face away from Zuko at any given time. He couldn't face him. It was too weird. Why was it weird? Because it was Zuko. Why was Zuko weird? BECAUSE HE WAS ZUKO. What was Toph even trying to pull? There was no way they could be any less than awkward, it was just better if they avoided each other. Obviously, as last night had proven to them.
Nothing good could come from being friends with such a sourpuss.
"What did you burn when you lived in the South Pole?"
The voice was startlingly close. Sokka turned on his heel only to find Zuko was about three feet from him. The branches in his arms began to slip, but he managed to regain his grip and jar them back up safely.
"What?" was all he could manage to say, dumbfounded. Zuko noticed how full his arms were and slouched the basket from his back down his arm. He turned to his side and offered it toward Sokka for the firewood.
"Well, I noticed when..." Zuko stopped short, his ears reddening and his eyes dropping to the basket. "...when I was there, there aren't any trees or anything. Yet you still had firepits. What did you burn to keep them going?"
Sokka shifted the bundle in his arms and began sliding sections of it into the basket. "Usually fish and polarseal oil. Polarseals have the best oil, and it's easier to collect than fish oil, but they're a lot harder to hunt."
To his surprise, Zuko's eyes widened. "Polar seals are hard to hunt? They're just little things, though, how could they be hard to catch?"
Sokka was shocked at how interested Zuko was. "W-well, they have surprisingly good hearing, and they can push off the ice and slide into the water a lot faster than you'd think. They're pretty friendly generally, but the packs near our village had learned to avoid the hunters when they came near." He smiled, remembering his first time seal hunting. "But it feels so great when you catch them! One of the adults can keep a hut lit for half a season."
Zuko nodded, shifting the basket to knock the sticks deeper into it. "I never realized how hard it is for other nations to get fire."
"That's right, Sparky! Not all of us can make FIRE come out of our FINGERTIPS," Sokka sneered, wiggling is fingers in Zuko's face. Zuko swatted them away and turned to beeline for another scattering of twigs.
"Yeah. I know."
A burst of pride welled up in the watertribe. He couldn't help but puff out his chest and raise his nose into the air, forgetting about the firewood and basking in this moment. "Yes, sir, us Watertribe men are hard workers through all the seasons."
"Tell me more about it."
He stopped; turned slowly. He felt his jaw slack slightly as he stared at Zuko's back, hunched over to the ground where he was gathering up twigs.
"Huh?" Sokka felt his face grow hot. As Zuko started to turn back toward him, he looked away quickly and focused on a nearby tree. Zuko spoke up, louder and clearer this time.
"Tell me more about the watertribe. About your people."
"R-right now?" Sokka's 'watertribe man' voice had become more like a watertribe mouse's.
The birds became louder in the trees. Leaves rustled noisily in the wind like a hurricane was blowing through, but Sokka barely even felt the wind. His eyes gave in and drifted back to Zuko, who was looking around him with a low hum buzzing in his throat.
"Not yet," he finally said, looking back to Sokka's face, his own serious as usual. "I think we should get this firewood back to the temple before we do anything else."
I'm sorry if this is a totally weak chapter, but I'm working on where I wanna go with it! I promise. I'll get back to the better writing.
So sorry for a boring chapter! It'll pick up in the next one!