.: Chapter Fifteen :.

What's there to say about Christmas

Zuko woke up to soft kisses being peppered across his cheeks and jaw. Soft lips murmured his name against his ear, another kiss being pressed against his temple. Zuko frowned and muttered something unintelligible, slowly blinking his golden eyes open.

"Mm…G'morning beautiful." a deep voice crooned against his ear. "Sleep well?"

Zuko took a moment, trying to remember where he was, and who was talking. Kibou was purring against his chest, so he knew it was nowhere he needed to be afraid of. Slowly, he opened his eyes and turned his head.

Aang was smiling down at him, head resting on one hand with his other arm still wrapped around Zuko. He grinned, leaning down to kiss his lips.

"Hey there sleepyhead." he murmured. "Merry Christmas."

Zuko made a small murmuring sound, scrunching his nose up. Aang just chuckled and kissed him again, stroking his pale cheek affectionately. Zuko could honestly say he didn't understand how Aang could be so sweet with him, acting like they were long time lovers after not even a day.

Were they even a couple? Who knew. Who cared.

"Good morning." Zuko said softly, nuzzling against the pillow. "What time is it…?"

"Ten." the artist replied, pressing a kiss to his temple. So many kisses. Eek.

Zuko sat up and Aang followed suit, leaning back on his arms while Zuko rubbed a hand through his hair, straightening the bangs covering his scar. After a moment, he looked over at his…companion, then away again, blushing. The memory of the night before was enough to make him want to hide his face in the pillow and never look up again.

After a few minutes of just sitting there, Aang spoke up.

"You mentioned going to your uncle's for Christmas." he murmured. "I…think you should."

Zuko whipped around, looking at Aang in surprise. He looked down at his lap, fidgeting.

"I haven't got anyone's gifts." he mumbled. "I was going to get them yesterday with uncle but…"

He trailed off awkwardly. He wasn't left hanging though, as Aang's arms wrapped gently around his shoulders and the artist kissed the crown of his head.

"I don't know your uncle very well, but I think that… Any chance to spend a day with you is gift enough to him."

Zuko thought about this. He felt ashamed. He had run to Aang, who he'd only known a few months, rather than his uncle. Though he reasoned that his uncle's home was the first place his father would look, that wasn't a good enough excuse. He felt low for not standing up to Ozai for the sake of his family.

"C'mon." Aang coaxed. "I'll drop you off."

"No." the reply came, instantaneous. "I…I'll go but…come with me."

Aang looked startled, and Zuko immediately realized what he'd asked of him.

"No, wait, never mind, you have family too, I'm sorry that was-"

A finger pressed to his lips and Aang smiled at him. Golden eyes blinked tentatively at his partner as Aang pressed a kiss to his forehead.

"A really sweet thing to ask." Aang said. "I'd love to come."

"But what about YOUR family…?"

The artist's smile became sad.

"I don't have any."

Zuko did not inquire any further into the matter, feeling bad for even bringing it up.

They got ready in silence, taking turns in the bathroom. Zuko didn't remember packing an extra set of clothes, but apparently he had, which was good as he preferred to be clean than dirty.

By the time Aang left the bathroom, dressed in faded blue jeans and a gray shirt, Zuko was pulling his coat on over a white turtleneck. The artist had something with him, which he held up. It looked like a large scarf tied together at one end, and proved to be, basically that only not.

"I use it for my tools, when I'm on the ladder." Aang said simply. "You can carry your cat in it, so she doesn't shed all over your shirt."

Zuko pulled his coat off one arm, letting Aang put the sling around his neck. He pulled his coat back on, picking up Kibou and settling her in the sling. The kitten shifted around until comfortable and started purring, apparently quite liking her new mode of travel.

"What's her name?" Aang asked gently, stroking her nose.

"Kibou." Zuko replied.

"She's a cutie." he smiled when Kibou licked his finger, then snuggled herself down in the sling. "Are we going to the teahouse?"

"Yeah." Zuko replied. "Uncle lives above it, we usually have Christmas there with some of the workers. Jin and her brother Lee, Song and her mother…"

He shrugged, closing his coat and pulling his bag over his shoulder. Aang didn't question further, grabbed his own coat, a beat up leather thing, and pulling it on. They exited the studio and he locked up, then pressed the lock on his keychain and his car beeped from down the street.

They made their way to his car, where Zuko got in the passenger's side. For a few minutes they just sat in the car, letting it heat up and trying to decide on music. In the end, they chose a station that was, at the minute, playing Aerosmith. Once the car was warm, they pulled out onto the road and started the drive.

As it turned out, Aang's studio wasn't all that far from the Jasmine Dragon. The car ride didn't take all that long, and soon enough they were pulling up to the usually packed street in front of the teashop. The normally busy sidewalk was mostly empty for the holidays, as most people knew that, today, the Jasmine Dragon was closed until two pm.

Aang got out of the car, and then like a true gentleman, opened the door for Zuko. Though the model was slightly disgruntled by the gesture, he couldn't help admitting that it was in fact incredibly sweet.

He didn't need to knock when they got to the front door, just opened it, stepping into the empty teahouse with Aang in tow. Zuko had barely gone two feet into the room when there was a loud squeal and something launched itself at his abdomen. Stumbling back a few inches, he reached down to put his hand on the head of the little boy now clinging to him.

"Zuko, Zuko, Zuko you're here! We didn't think you were coming! But you're here!"

Zuko sighed, unable to stop the tiniest of smiles crossing his lips. He ruffled the boy's messy black hair.

"Yes Lee, I'm here." he said gently. "Is your sister around?"

"Uh-huh! Her and big brother are in the kitchen with Song!"

Zuko's eyebrows rose.

"Your older brother is here? I thought he was still in Afghanistan…"

"Nuh-uh! They let his troop off for Christmas, and he surprised us!"

It was then that Lee seemed to notice the newcomer to their teahouse. He looked up at Aang with his big brown eyes, eyeing him with childish curiosity.

"Who's this Zuko?"

"I, uhm…" he paused, flustered for a moment. What did he say? What the hell was Aang to him now?

Aang stepped in for him, wrapping his arm around Zuko's waist gently and smiling down at the little boy staring up at them.

"I'm Aang, I'm Zuko's boyfriend." he said.

"I thought you had to be a girl to have a boyfriend." Lee said, then scrunched up his nose. "Zuko yer not a girl are you?"

"What!? No I'm not!"

Aang laughed, squeezing Zuko reassuringly.

"Boys can have boyfriends too." he said. "And girls can have girlfriends."



"Oh. Okay."

With the acceptance only a child could possibly have, Lee grinned at them, revealing missing teeth, and then darted away to play somewhere. Zuko brushed himself down, opening his coat to let Kibou out. She leapt out of the sling and onto a nearby table, shaking herself off and then leaping down.

While he was taking his coat off and taking Aang's to hang in the closet, Song had come out of the kitchen. She was a lovely brown haired girl with a kind smile and a gentle demeanor, living up to her sweet name.

"Zuko! I'm so glad you're here… Your uncle is out at the store picking up a few things, and who is this?"

Aang walked up to her, holding out a hand.

"Aang Kazekama, I'm Zuko's boyfriend. And I'm afraid I'm not sure what your name is…?"

"I'm Song." she said. "I work here part time while going to college."

While Aang and Song got acquainted, Zuko put their coats away, running up to the third floor, where his uncle's home was. He threw his bag onto his bed and made sure his uncle's aquarium was lit, cleaned and fed, then went back downstairs. Kibou stayed on his heels as he went to the kitchen.

Jin and Sano were there, Lee's older siblings. Sano was the pride and joy of their family, a marine who had served two tours in Afghanistan thus far.

Sano looked a lot like one might imagine Lee looking like when he was older. Dark hair and eyes with tanned skin and a big, happy grin. He was six foot something with a buzz cut and a few scars, including one across his cheek. But he was a handsome guy, and as good as a big brother Zuko had ever had.

"Hey! There's the superstar! Saw you in some mags while I was oversees kiddo-"

Zuko winced.

"-Don't worry, you looked miserable."

Zuko smiled as he was pulled into a bear hug. He returned it, though his own grip was nowhere near as strong as Sano's. Jin laughed, pausing in her cooking to rest her hands on her hips.

"Jeez Zuko, you look so tiny compared to Sano."

"He looks tiny compared to anyone! He's still a shrimp!"

Zuko growled and smacked Sano's chest, narrowing his eyes at him. He looked like a puppy yapping at a giant Doberman. Sano just laughed and mussed his hair, slinging an arm around his shoulders.

"Now then," he said, leaning down conspiratorially. "Who is this strange, tattooed man in our teahouse charming the pants off Song. Have you brought an interloper Zuko?"

Rolling his eyes, Zuko tried to wriggle out of Sano's grip and got a noogie for his trouble. Growling at the older man, he managed an annoyed glare.

"His name's Aang." Jin piped up. "Zuko's modeling for him."

"He's Zuko's boyfriend!" Lee piped up, having come into the kitchen to see if he could sneak any food before dinner.

Zuko tensed, feeling Sano freeze. Nervously, he glanced up at the other, then away. Sano was quiet a moment, then laughed, squeezing Zuko in a brotherly hug.

"Aw, lil' ZuZu found him so luvins! Good for you kiddo!"

Zuko let out a relieved sigh, trying in vain to ward off Sano's attempts to tickle and generally bother him. He wasn't as motivated as usual though, just feeling happy that his ragtag family didn't judge him for his choices. Choice. Whatever Aang was, the bothersome idiot.

An hour later and the front door opened again, Iroh entering his tea shop to find Aang playing card games with Jin and Lee. Song and Sano were in the kitchen, which was where Zuko was returning to. However at the sight of his surprised looking uncle, He handed the dish he'd gone to get off and dashed to him instead.

Zuko hugged his uncle tightly, feeling the familiar surge of happiness that meant he was back where he belonged. Back with his real family, not the horrible people who did nothing but torment him.

"Welcome home Uncle." he said, releasing his uncle from his tight grip.

"I should be saying that to you, Zuko." Iroh huffed. "Your father said he had forbidden you from coming."

Zuko faltered for a moment, then, to his own surprise, smiled.

"Fuck the old man, I'm not going to let him ruin Christmas for me." he said, which seemed to surprise his uncle as much as it surprised him.

Across the room, Aang laughed.

"I think I'm a bad influence on you." he said, his amusement evident.

Zuko turned his head to glower at his boyfriend, who did a very good impression of a kicked puppy. Giving him one last withering look, he turned back to his uncle and smiled lightly.

"Dinner's almost done, I hope you don't mind that I invited Aang over too."

"Of course, of course! Any friend of yours is a friend of mine, nephew. Now come along and help me get these presents sorted."

"Er, yes Uncle, about that 'friend' part…"

As he went upstairs with Iroh, he started to explain things to him. In the end, he wound up starting all the way back at his last photo shoot where he had gotten his new coat, continuing on from that point up until last night. Of course, he left out some of the more personal details, but what he told Iroh was enough.

To his joy, Iroh didn't at all seem to mind that his nephew was… Not dating a girl, whatever that made him. He didn't even seem to mind his choice of partner.

They spent a good hour and a half upstairs, wrapping presents and talking, something they hadn't done in some time. It felt good to smile again, have some fun with his uncle. He had missed this, the feeling of belonging somewhere, of being an equal. Being happy.

And, he thought, traipsing downstairs his arms laden in presents, it was all thanks to that stupid artist, Aang Kazekama.

Funny how things work out, isn't it?

A/N:Two chapters for Christmas everyone, and we're officially done with the first arc of the story! Merry whatever you celebrate!