I never believed in love until I met him. Well, I never believed in love in regards to myself. Sure, I loved people. I even loved a few romantically in my time, but no one other than my father ever truly loved me back. The wheelchair makes things awkward, you see. Sure, I have a nice face and a pretty cool personality, but as soon as people see the slight issue I have with my legs, they turn tail and run while they still can.
It's not like my condition is contagious; my legs were just burned. Badly. A group of Fire Nation soldiers took over my hometown when I was just a baby. They killed my mother and tried their darnedest to burn my legs right off my body, but thank God my dad was nearby to put the fire out. A few more seconds, and the limbs would have been gone.
Even though I still have my legs, they're beyond useless. I have to put clean bandages on them every single day, and they hurt. I had never heard of a scar hurting before, but mine do constantly. Admittedly, it could be just the memory of that horrid day haunting my pain receptors, but either way, it's next to impossible to ignore the burning that never ends. All my life, I've worked to keep my emotions in check so no one knows of the pain. It's already enough that I can't walk. Others knowing that I can barely concentrate on any task put in front of me thanks to the unbearable pain would just alienate them further.
But then, I learned to fly. My dad, who is pretty much a genius, rigged up a machine that pumped hot air into the area surrounding our home in the Northern Air Temple and gave me a glider to attach to my wheelchair. It was amazing! Flying was my only joy in life. It was the only time the pain faded. The only time my laugh wasn't forced. When I was up in the sky, the other kids wanted to be like me. They wanted to talk to me and play with me and be my friends. But then I'd land, and they'd remember how I was and leave me alone again.
The first time I felt true love was when the foreigners visited. Well, two of them were foreigners. I suppose the third was more of a native than myself, as he was an Air Nomad. In fact, he was the Avatar.
He was the one I loved. I didn't realize that was what I had been feeling until weeks after he left, which, thinking back on it, probably ended up being for the better. While he was there, I wanted nothing more than to spend time with him. I wanted him to like me and consider me his friend, and I was overjoyed when this wish came true. Showing him around the temple was amazing, even though his little Water Tribe friend tagged along most of the time.
After the Fire Nation attacked our temple, Aang (for that was his name) thought it was time for him and his entourage to make their leave. For days, I did nothing but mourn the loss of the friendly air bender, even though he wasn't gone for good. The pain came back then. Both the pain in my legs and the pain in my heart worked together to give me a terrible sickness that my father wasn't sure I'd make it out of. Strength, though, seems to be one of my main traits. I survived the burning of my legs, I survived the pain from those burns every day afterwards, and I survived the heartbreak I felt when Aang left me behind so soon after his arrival.
I got over Aang. Now that I think back on it, I doubt that I ever truly loved him. Yes, I felt something for him, but it wasn't love. Long before I saw him for the second time I had suspected this, yet I didn't know it was true until I joined the force behind the invasion on the day of the solar eclipse. I arrived, my father walking proudly beside me, and the first thing I noticed was Aang himself.
The wind was blowing his tunic around his hips, and determination filled his eyes. Staring into the distance, he held his glider tightly at his side while his Water Tribe friend, Katara, looked on with admiration in her gaze. That was when I knew. I felt nothing in my heart besides a lurch of care. I loved Aang, but only as a friend. I wanted Aang to be safe not because I wished to make a life with him, but because I enjoyed talking to him and didn't want to lose that.
The heaviness that had been crushing me since he left months earlier was lifted immediately. I didn't love Aang. Aang would cause me no more pain. Luck was not on my side that day though. As soon as the epiphany that I didn't really love Aang hit my tender heart, I caught sight of him. Long brown hair flowed down a strong back covered by a dark green tunic. Bare feet carried him with the sort of power that I had always longed for. His eyes were dark and deep and oh so expressive. I hadn't even spoken to the boy, yet all I wanted was to be allowed to hold onto him and never let go. But why would he ever want me? I was just a weak boy in a wheelchair.
The invasion was a failure. The Fire Nation had known about it for months, thanks to the little bitch known as the Fire Lord's daughter, Azula. I fought alongside the fiercest warriors, including both my father and the adorable earth bender I had fallen for during the preparation stages earlier. When it got to the point that even our leader, Hakoda of the Southern Water Tribe, knew that we had lost beyond any doubt, he commanded his son, Sokka, to take all the children and run.
Sokka obeyed. He grabbed his sister, Katara, Aang, the tiny earth bending girl called Toph, a boy who couldn't possibly have been older than ten years, whose name was, oddly enough, The Duke, the beautiful boy with the long brown hair, and me. We boarded Aang's enormous flying bison and took off toward the Western Air Temple. During the ride, the beautiful boy lifted me out of my wheelchair and allowed me to lean next to him on Appa's saddle for support. When asked why he did this, he only replied that it was making him nervous watching me roll around in the saddle whenever Appa changed direction. He didn't want me to fall off to my death on the rocky earth.
Exhausted beyond belief, I simply nodded at this explanation, leaned my head against his shoulder, and slept. I slept until a bump so huge it felt like we'd collided with a mountain alerted me to the fact that Appa had landed. My head hit something hard as I jerked up, and noticed the beautiful boy rubbing his chin with a slight wince before he stood up and lifted the chair off of Appa, then hopped back up to grab me and placed me in said chair. I appreciated this quite a bit, but I had to take a stand when the beautiful boy began pushing my chair along, following Aang as we began walking toward the temple as an alternative to having to fly on an overly tired sky bison.
"Thank you for your help, but I'm capable of pushing my own chair. You should save your energy. I'm not sure how much farther the Western Air Temple is, but I doubt Aang and Sokka will allow for any breaks to rest."
"It is no trouble, but if you'd prefer me not to push you, I won't."
"You know, I don't think I ever caught your name," I said, changing the subject. I felt as if I had insulted him somehow by asking him not to push my chair.
"Haru. My name is Haru. And yours?" he replied politely.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Teo. I hope we are able to spend much more time together during our stay at the Western Air Temple."
"Yes, Haru. It would be wonderful to get to know you a bit better."
We walked side by side until we reached our destination. Once we did, my excitement overrode my exhaustion, and I immediately began begging Aang and Katara for permission to explore the temple for secret rooms and caverns. They allowed me to go, and I began to speed off, when I heard a deep, sultry voice coming from my right.
"Would it be okay if I joined you, Teo?" Haru asked.
"Actually, it would be awesome if you did. It's no fun to explore by myself." I tried not to sound too excited about the prospect of getting to spend some quality alone-time with the beautiful boy. He gave me a shy grin and began walking beside my chair.
"Wait up! I wanna come too!" screeched The Duke, chasing after us as fast as a cheetah-squirrel. I swear I saw Haru's face darken with frustration, but the expression disappeared too quickly for me to be sure what it meant. Personally, I was a bit ticked off. What did I do to deserve this? I didn't want The Duke interrupting my special time alone with Haru! But no. Somehow, Haru and I had become babysitters!
Day after day, The Duke followed Haru and I on our expeditions to explore different areas of the temple. Night after night, The Duke insisted on sitting between Haru and I as our group met and ate around the fire. But finally, some luck decided to come my way.
By this point, a fire bender by the name of Prince Zuko had joined our little posse in order to teach Aang how to fire bend. A few days after he joined the group was when it happened. Sokka asked to speak to him alone that night after Zuko served us all tea, and by the next morning, both of them were gone. The only proof that they had ever been there at all was a note in Sokka's handwriting, telling us that we were out of meat so he and Zuko had gone fishing together. Since Aang couldn't practice fire bending that day, he, Katara, and Toph decided to take a day off from training altogether and finally take their turn at exploring the various caverns in and around the air temple.
"I wanna go too! Can I come with you and Aang and Toph, Katara?" The Duke begged.
"Of course you can!" Katara replied. "Teo, Haru, do you guys want to come along too? You probably know all the secret passages better than everyone, you've been exploring them so much."
"Nah, you guys go on ahead. The Duke knows how to find all of the awesome ones, right buddy?" Haru grinned at The Duke.
"Teo? Do you want to come along?" Aang asked sweetly.
"No, I think I'd rather stay back and keep Haru company. Well, if that's okay with Haru, anyway." I looked at him, silently asking permission to stay. He grinned and nodded, subtly placing a hand on my wheelchair.
"Fine by me. We'll see you guys later," Toph turned on her heel and marched off toward the other end of the temple. "Hey guys, there's a secret tunnel behind this rock here!" Toph called from somewhere off in the distance. "Twinkle Toes, come here and move it! That can be your training for today."
"Well, I guess we're alone now," Haru said, refusing to meet my gaze.
"Yeah. What should we do?"
Turns out we couldn't think of much else to do besides—surprise, surprise—go searching for more secret rooms. As we walked along a tunnel we had found to be forked about a hundred yards in a few days ago (we wanted to take the right path rather than the left one today) I noticed that Haru was keeping a gentle hand on the back of my chair. He wasn't pushing me exactly. He was more … protecting. As if he wanted to be close by should I lose control of the chair and needed to be stopped with haste.
As we walked, we made small talk. We spoke of our friends back at our real homes, our fathers, both captured during the invasion, and our opinions of Aang and all of his friends.
Our chosen path seemed to go on for miles, but finally, we began to hear the steady rush of running water.
"We must be nearing the end, Teo. When we reach the water, would you like to take a bit of a break? I brought us some food for a picnic lunch …" Haru trailed off, as if nervous about my answer.
"Yeah, that sounds like fun!"
"Great!" Haru let out in a great gust of air.
Haru's bare feet began to splash whenever he took a step, and the wheels on my chair began to get slippery and difficult to grip, even with the gloves my father had made solely for the purpose of properly spinning my wheels. Haru noticed my change in speed, and grabbed the handles of the chair without saying a word, pushing me along.
I recognized the reason behind his silence as him protecting my pride. He must have remembered that time before we really knew each other, when we were running to safety and I refused his help in moving my chair, even though the ground was rougher than sandpaper. His thoughts must have been along the lines of, Maybe he won't even notice I'm pushing him if I don't say anything.
"I know you're pushing my chair, Haru," I remarked after a few minutes of his help, despite me still working the wheels.
"Oh … ummm … Sorry, Teo. I just … I hate to see you struggling, so—" Haru stuttered before I cut him off.
"Oh. I … Umm … Y-you're welcome."
We walked in silence for a few minutes, when we finally reached what appeared to be a dead end. From the other side of it though, we could hear water pounding as hard as the steps of a thousand stampeding elephant-seals. Haru let go of my chair in order to stomp one foot firmly on the ground and shove his hands forcefully at the wall, bending the rock in the process to make an entranceway for the two of us.
"Wow …" I murmured as Haru pushed me through the newly made doorway. The pounding water we had heard was coming from a magnificent underground waterfall. The water was falling from fifty feet above down into a clear blue pool of sparkling liquid. A sprinkling of holes in the rock ceiling caused pinpricks of sunlight to shine into the cavern, making it appear as if stars were blessing our presence and forming tiny rainbows in the waterfall.
"This is amazing!" I sighed.
"I know, isn't it?" Haru smiled.
"Wait … You've been here before?" I asked, incredulous.
"Yeah. I know you like it when we search through these tunnels together, but I was really curious what was down this one, because Toph mentioned something about feeling water when she walked over this direction the other day. She wanted to know if we'd found anything we could use as a well so Katara wouldn't keep making her take trips down to the river every day to fetch clean water. I wanted to know what water she was talking about, so I snuck down here the other night while everyone else was sleeping, and I found this."
"It's amazing! Thank you so much for bringing me here!"
"Of course. And it really was a lucky break that Sokka and Zuko chose today to go fishing. I asked Katara yesterday if she could try to get The Duke out of our hair sometime, because I really wanted just us to see this, but I wasn't sure if she'd actually be able to do it, what with having to train Aang and all. But now with Zuko gone, Aang can't technically work on his fire bending and … Yeah, I guess you know the rest …" Haru trailed off. I couldn't speak. Haru had wanted to take me here alone? So much so that he had actually asked Katara to keep The Duke occupied for an entire day so that we would surely be by ourselves?
"And the rocks blocking the entrance … I did that too. I've gotten up a few times during the night before to find The Duke gone, and I didn't want him discovering this before you got to see it." Tears began flowing down my cheeks, and I gasped out a silent sob.
"Oh God, Teo! What's wrong? Did I do something? I'm sorry! I didn't mean it! We can just leave now and pretend we never saw this cave and then we can bring The Duke back and pretend neither of us have ever seen it before and then it'll be okay. It can be okay, right? Teo?" Haru's voice got weaker and weaker as he rambled on.
"No, Haru, I'm not sad or angry or anything like that. It's just … no one other than my dad has ever done something that nice for me before. It's a little … overwhelming," I choked out between sobs.
"But Teo, you're crying!"
"I'm crying because I never imagined I'd ever have such a magnificent friend as you." And I love you so, so much, I thought to myself.
Haru reached over and gave me a warm hug, squeezing me tightly against his chest. Taking me by surprise, I didn't react quickly enough to hug back, and Haru pulled away looking slightly hurt.
"Thank you, Haru," I whispered. He gave me a smile, and I noticed the beginnings of tears in his own eyes, but before they fell, he reached behind a nearby rock and produced a picnic basket.
"Are you ready for some lunch?"
"You kept that down here?"
"Don't worry, I only packed foods that I knew wouldn't spoil. And I brought the basket down just last night, so even if they were foods that spoil, they wouldn't have had the time to." Taking the time to first lay down a blanket, Haru lifted me out of my chair and set me down on the rocky cave floor. The food was delicious—salty and fresh. Haru even lit a small fire in order to heat up a bit of spiced meat he'd packed. Everything was perfect. And that's why, when the meal ended and Haru stood to help me back to my chair, I burst into fresh sobs.
"Teo! Teo, you have to stop doing this! What's wrong? You're scaring me! Did I do something to hurt you? Please answer me, Teo," Haru moaned helplessly.
"Haru," I sighed.
"What is it, Teo? Talk to me! Please."
"I'm just … This has been the best day I've ever had. And now it's over. And on top of that, my legs hurt worse than they have in weeks and my head hurts from all the crying and my heart hurts from knowing that this is probably the last time I'll ever truly be able to be with you like this," I began rambling and lost control of all the useless drabble exiting my mouth.
"What do you mean, this is the last time you'll get to be with me like this? Teo, you're my best friend!"
"Haru, that comet is approaching fast. We all know that once Aang takes on the Fire Lord, we're all just going to go on back to our old homes and forget about each other. Sokka and Katara are going to leave Zuko and Aang to help rebuild the Southern Water Tribe. Toph is going to be forced to go back to her parents and live in isolation again. Zuko will have to leave Sokka behind for his duties in the Fire Nation. Aang has a lot of business to take care of all over the world, so he'll have to say good bye to Katara. You'll have to return to your village to help rebuild, and I'm expected to return to the Northern Air Temple with my father as soon as he's released from prison. It doesn't matter how close we are now, Haru. It's inevitable that we're going to be separated in the end."
"What do you mean, I'm wrong? Don't tell me you haven't thought about it too! You know that's what's going to happen!"
"No. Maybe Sokka and Katara will go back to the South Pole for a few weeks, but only to make sure that all the Water Tribe warriors have returned safely. As soon as those duties have been taken care of, Sokka's going to return to the Fire Nation to live in the palace with Zuko, and Katara's going to join Aang on his travels. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Aang's first journey ends up being accompanying Katara and Sokka to the South Pole to check up on the rebuilding project there. Additionally, there's no way in Hell that Toph would ever go back to living in that town as the nobody her parents were forcing her to be, and there's no way anyone in their right mind would allow such a travesty to happen. Toph will be revered as a hero. I'm not sure exactly where she'll go, but I know she'll always be welcome in the Fire Nation with Zuko and Sokka, and Katara and Aang would probably love to have her with them as well.
"As for me, I wasn't really planning on going back to my village. Yeah, I'll probably go back just to let my parents know that I'm safe and healthy once this war is over, but I wasn't going to stay. I was actually hoping that I'd be welcome to go along with you, wherever you ended up going. If where you want to be is the Northern Air Temple, then I would be honored if you would allow me to live there as well."
"But Haru … why would you give up your entire lifestyle just to live near me? You realize that there's virtually no earth for you to bend up in the Northern Air Temple …"
"God, Teo, you're so clueless," Haru grumbled.
" … Sorry?" Haru merely sighed in annoyance, grabbed the front of my tunic, and yanked me forward, pressing his lips against mine forcefully in the process. "Oomph!" I grunted.
He let me loose after a few seconds of violent kissing, looking at me with such fear of rejection that I had to refrain from laughing at the sheer cuteness factor.
"Oww," I moaned. "You couldn't have done that any more gently?"
"I'm guessing that's your way of saying that the kiss wasn't welcome?" Haru looked on the verge of tears again, and that just wouldn't do. I giggled slightly before yanking him forward by his tunic and kissing him right back in a much gentler manner.
"Teo …" he sighed when we finally broke apart. "How did I ever get so lucky?"
"I should really be the one asking that question. I never thought I'd ever have a best friend, much less find someone who loves me," I grinned ecstatically, my expression contrasting greatly with my words.
"Teo! Why would you ever think like that?"
"You don't know what my life was like before I joined Aang and the others at the invasion. The only one who didn't actively avoid me at the Northern Air Temple was my father. They all feared my disability. And they feared me. They feared hurting me, since I was always hurting. They didn't want to make the pain any worse than it already was. You see, the pain in my legs never goes away. It dims sometimes when I'm really happy or focusing on something else, but it's always there. My dad thinks that my legs are going to hurt for the rest of my life, and that scared all the others in the temple. Aang, Katara, and Sokka were the first people to ever speak to me as if I was a human being and treat me like they wanted to get to know me because they liked me and not because they felt sorry for me. Before them, I had given up all hope of ever having a normal life."
"Teo …" Haru leaned over and kissed me hard and I felt all the love and passion he felt for me communicated in that kiss. "I promise that I'll never leave you, Teo. Anytime you need anything, anything at all, just come to me. I swear I'll always be here for you and I'll always love you."
"I love you too, Haru," I whispered before burying my face in his chest. I felt his arms wrap tightly around my torso and his cheek rest against my head. He sprinkled light kisses on my curly hair as he gently rubbed my back.
"Come on, Teo. We should probably head back. Katara may be getting worried about us, and The Duke is probably just bursting with news of the adventures he had today." I nodded and raised my hands, silently asking Haru to lift me into the chair. I began wheeling myself toward the door, when Haru's hands on my chair stopped me. " … Could I push your chair? Please? I know you prefer to do it yourself, but … I really want to."
I had never seen such a wide grin directed at me in my life.
5 Years Later …
"Teo! Get up! Aang's here! He says he wants to go flying with you!" a sprightly little body that was much too old to be doing something so childish as bouncing onto my bed to wake me was doing just that—bouncing on my bed to wake me.
"Duke! You are thirteen years old, damn it! That is too old to come running in here and jumping on our bed at six in the morning!" Haru shouted.
"Well jeez, sorry for doing exactly what Aang told me to. Anyway, you're just grouchy cuz your backside's sore."
"What?" Haru cried, eyes going wide.
"Don't try to pretend otherwise, Haru. I heard you yelling up a storm last night!" Duke gave both of us an evil grin before bounding toward the door. "Glad you had such a nice night, Teo!" he giggled maniacally before slamming the door. "Oh! I'm going to go flying with Aang. I'll tell him you guys had a 'rough' night and aren't up for flying yet. Be out in an hour, or I'm sending Toph and Katara in to help get you up!" Duke shouted through the door.
" … Remind me again why we couldn't just leave him with that fortune teller we met awhile back?" Haru groaned.
"Because he's our responsibility! He's practically our son, you know. And it's not like we're going to be having any kids of our own anytime soon."
"How the heck could he be our son? He's only five years younger than you and seven younger than me! That's just gross!"
"I didn't mean he was literally our son! My goodness! And he was right, you are cranky when your back's sore," I snickered.
"Oh, shut up, you," Haru smirked. "You know you aren't any better when our positions are reversed."
"Fair point," I nodded in agreement before offering up my arms for him to snuggle between. He took me up on the offer immediately, wrapping his own arms tightly around my waist and resting his head on my chest. I smiled as I felt his bare legs twine with mine and our bare midriffs press together. I was just beginning to drift off again, when our cuddling was rudely interrupted.
"Hey, lover boys! Time to get up!" came the unmistakable tones of one Toph Bei Fong. The door flew open to reveal Toph in all her glory, a smirk on her face. "You're dang lucky I managed to convince them not to send Katara, as it seems you were in such a hurry to get into bed last night that your clothes never made it to the laundry bin."
I glanced over and our clothes were indeed strewn all over the floor.
"If you guys come out here to say hi within the next twenty minutes, I won't send everyone else in here to watch you two cuddle muffins having a grand old time in your birthday suits," she grinned, slamming the door behind her as she stomped back off, presumably to wherever Katara and Aang happened to be.
"Guess that ends our snuggle time," Haru grumbled.
"Well, we'll just have to go to bed extra early tonight to make up for it," I leered. Haru's eyes brightened and he leaned down to kiss me deeply.
"Have I told you how much I love you lately?"
"Only about fifty times a day," I smiled.
"Oh, well that's not nearly enough. I'll have to get that number up to at least a hundred." I did nothing more than beam at him and pull him down for another long kiss.
"Come on. We still have to get all my bandages on before we can go see the others."
"Alright, alright, I'm getting up!" Haru had begun grumbling again as he rose slowly from the bed, wincing at the pain in his lower back. He picked me up only to set me right back down so that I was above the covers rather than underneath them and handed me a tunic to put on. I pulled it over my head while he dressed himself, and then he retrieved a pair of underwear and shorts.
Oddly enough, dressing was one of my favorite parts of the day. Haru made it seem like one of the most intimate things we did with each other. He knelt down at the bedside and pulled my pants gently up to my knees, doing his best not to let them touch the burns. I pulled them up the rest of the way while Haru began working on my bandages. He began slowly wrapping them around my bare, burned legs, maintaining eye contact the entire time, making sure to give me the most smoldering gaze he could muster. I gave him the look right back, and reached down to cover his hands with my own at certain points during the wrapping process. He responded to these touches by picking up my hand and kissing each fingertip, the palm, and the inside of my wrist before setting it back down beside me on the bed and continuing with his original task.
Once he had finished, he held both my hands as he kissed me soundly, then helped me into my chair and pushed me out the door to greet our friends. My legs hadn't hurt in three years. I love Haru. Haru loves me. I am happy.
(A/N: So, this is the first fanfiction I've ever let anyone read ever. Yes, I know we've already uploaded a different story, but Sokka wrote that one exclusively, while I (Zuko) wrote this one exclusively. So be nice to me. I'm still not very happy with the ending of this. I'm not good at ending things. :/ But I put in my best effort, and I somewhat like this story ... Granted, it's not the best thing I've ever written, but it's not horrible, I hope. Ok. That's about all. I just wanted to let you know that I hate the ending. Yup. That's it. Have a nice day.)