Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender. Yet.
A/N: This is just a short fic for Zuko, my favorite! Canon pairings, no slash-just brotherly bonding, taking place after the Southern Raiders and before Ember Island. Please read and review! Enjoy…
When Zuko and Katara finally made it back from their "life-changing field trip", the others were taking shelter in a large cave. A violent storm was on the way. The friends came and greeted them; they all embraced Katara, and they even gathered around Zuko. Toph punched him in the arm. Sokka gave him a handshake. But Aang was probably the happiest to see him, so he didn't shy away from giving him a big hug. They all settled down, talking about the adventure, and what had gone on while the two were away. The most pronounced was Sokka, rambling about how much they had all missed Katara's cooking. No one seemed to notice Zuko slip away out the mouth of the cave.
The rain started to come down hard. It wasn't until lightening flashed outside that anyone noticed what was wrong.
"Where's Zuko?" Aang asked suddenly. They all looked around cave. Thunder and lightening crashed loudly. Sokka stood up, as did Katara, each as concerned as Aang. Toph said lowly,
"I think he's outside."
Aang went to the opening of the cave and looked out into the darkness. The rain was pouring down in sheets and he couldn't see more than a few feet in front of him.
"I'm going to go look for him." Aang said, determinedly. Sokka shook his head.
"No, Aang, stay inside. I'll go. I need to talk to him anyway." Aang read between the lines: Zuko would probably be more open to talking to a boy his own age right now.
"Yeah," Katara added. "Just because you're the Avatar doesn't mean you have to solve every problem. It's no good getting you sick so near to the comet coming."
He nodded. Sokka put on a cloak and asked Toph,
"Can you tell where he is?"
"No. The rain's coming down to hard. I can't see him." She meant 'feel by earthbending' of course, but they all understood. Sokka made his way out into the rain, and was soon swallowed up. He trudged through muddy grass and between outcroppings of rock looking for his friend.
Over a half hour later, Sokka finally found him. He was huddled against an old ruin of stone, in the middle of nowhere by anyone's standards. The firebender didn't acknowledge Sokka, he just sat staring off into the darkness, teeth chattering and soaked to the bone. Sokka gasped at the sight,
"Zuko? Zuko, what are you doing out here?"
Zuko looked up, surprised to see him. He quickly wiped his eyes, though it was raining so hard that his action was the only way Sokka could tell he had been crying.
"Zuko, why are you out here in the middle of a storm?" Zuko just shook his head and curled himself up tighter.
"It's nothing. Just go away."
"I'm not just going to leave you out here, and it's obviously NOT 'nothing'." Sokka said. Zuko looked up at him and the water tribe boy could see tears glistening at the corners of his eyes.
"Just drop it, Sokka!" He cried. His voice broke on the words, but Sokka could barely hear it through the pounding of the thunder. Zuko struggled to his feet and tried to walk even farther into the wilderness. Sokka caught him by the arm ad tried to pull him back the opposite way.
"Come on, let's go back."
"No, I don't want them to see…it's bad enough you saw…I just…" He trailed off. Sokka looked on him pityingly. He was NOT okay. And now he felt even worse after Sokka had seen him without his tough exterior.
"Zuko, it's alright." Sokka said softly, comfortingly. "It's okay to…cry."
Zuko looked at him searchingly, as if trying to figure out if he meant it. Sokka smiled gently, hoping that it would help. Zuko cleared his throat, uncomfortable in the silence.
Of course the Firenation crown-prince would be too proud to cry. He would have been taught since birth that tears only showed weakness. It was like Sokka had come to believe during the years he was without his father. But unlike Zuko, Sokka was not afraid to cry, he just didn't like to. Zuko seemed to be firmly against showing any emotion but his anger, lest it cost him even more.
"Let's get back to the others. Everyone's worried about you."
Zuko opened his mouth to speak but closed it. Suddenly, he collapsed, and fell to the muddy ground.
"Zuko! Hey!" Sokka quickly reached down and shook him. Zuko remained unconscious.
"Oh, great." Sokka muttered. He still had a pulse. He was breathing, though lightly. Sokka sighed decidedly. He hoisted Zuko up, pulled one of the boy's arms around his neck and half carried, half dragged him back in the direction of the cave.
"Is it them?" Katara cried, pointing out into the darkness of the storm. Aang and Toph and Suki came running to see.
"It only feels like one person." Toph said confused. Aang gasped,
"That's because Zuko isn't walking, Sokka's crrying him!"
They all hurried out to meet them. Aang quickly took hold of Zuko and helped Sokka bring him inside.
"What happened?" He asked, very concerned.
"I don't know! One minute he was fine but then he collapsed."
"Here, lay him down. I'll see if I can help him." Katara said calmly, but with the authority of a healer in her voice. For awhile she checked him for wounds, but none could be found. He still had not waken.
"I'm not sure what's wrong with him." She said. "Did he tell you anything before he collapsed? Did you talk to him?"
"Not really." Sokka lied. He didn't think it was fair to Zuko to tell them what had been said. Not to mention the firebender would barbecue him for it when he woke up. If he did. "He must have been out there for awhile though, and in the pouring rain. I don't think firebenders can really take that kind of thing without getting sick."
"He has been looking pretty pale lately." Katara pressed a hand to his forehead, but immediately drew it back with a cry. "Ouch! He's really hot, he must have a fever."
She placed a cool cloth on his head and whispered soothingly,
"Come on, Zuko. Wake up. You need to wake up."
It was a quiet, tense night. They all stayed up late, waiting for Zuko's condition to improve. Toph and Aang drifted off. Then Suki. Finally, when Katara was barely able to keep her eyes open Sokka said,
"Get some rest. I'll take care of him." She nodded and crawled into her sleeping bag for the night.
Sokka looked down at Zuko just in time to see him stir. His eyes opened and focused on Sokka.
"How are you feeling?" He asked him in a low voice. Zuko rubbed his eyes and grumbled,
"What happened?" When Sokka told him, the Firenation boy just groaned and said,
"Perfect." Sokka frowned at him. He asked,
"How come you're afraid?"
"I'm not afraid!" Zuko cried angrily, then he relaxed. "Afraid of what?"
"Letting anyone see when your upset. You would have stayed out there all night rather than have cried in front of us. It's like you're afraid to: so why?"
Zuko waited a minute before answering, as if weighing the risk.
"When my mother disappeared, I cried for days. I begged my father to tell me where she was, what had happened to her. He just told me to get over it. He told me to stop crying about it, that boys of the Firenation never cry. Then I just didn't anymore, for a long time. Since then, only you and my uncle
have seen me like that."
"So then…what were you crying about?" Sokka asked cautiously. Zuko blinked slowly once, sat up and then said,
"When I got back from the mission with Katara, and we were talking about confronting the Firelord, I think it really sunk in: we have to kill my father. I mean, I know he's done a lot of awful things, but it wasn't always bad between us. He's still my father. It's just kind of hard to let that go."
Sokka nodded. He couldn't think of anything to say so he didn't. He hugged him. He embraced the firebender, because he was his friend, and he needed him. Zuko shrunk away a little, but then returned it. When they finally pulled apart, Zuko laid back down and said,
"Thanks for coming after me, and talking, and you know, everything."
"What else are friends for? Now get some sleep."