Note: I did mention these chapters were going to be short, right? haha.
Zuko sat at the edge of the air temple ledge, his legs dangling out into space, a cup of cooling tea in his hand. The cup was part of a mismatched set – ugly and chipped – and he knew just from the smell alone that someone had let the water get too hot before steeping.
He hated how the scent of tea still relaxed him.
A bark of laughter echoed back from the other side of the floor: the Avatar and his friends chatting and joking around a badly lit fire. No one had tried to rebind his hands, and a few hours ago Katar—the waterbender had called him over for supper. Zuko had ignored her and she hadn't offered again.
An hour after that, the little blind earthbender quietly walked over and handed him the teacup. She had said nothing, but he still thought he saw pity behind her filmy eyes.
He looked away.
Now, Zuko sat, alone and determinedly not thinking about the friends he'd made among the palace staff as a servant named Li. If were still there, he would be busy helping the rest of the staff with preparing the nightly meal for the royals and nobles; talking and laughing together like the Avatar and his friends were doing right now.
Zuko heard footsteps behind him – too heavy of a tread to be anyone but the Water Tribe boy. A moment later the other boy cleared his throat from behind him.
"What do you want?" Zuko asked roughly, not turning his head to look at him.
There was a little bit of a pause, then, "Hey buddy, you're the one sitting on my favorite ledge." And as if to prove his words, the Water Tribe boy took a final bold step forward and sat down next to him.
Zuko rolled his eyes. It was obviously a lie, but he was simply too bone- weary to call him out on it. So he said nothing, letting the silence speak for him.
Eventually the Water Tribe boy sighed and said, "Look, I'm not going to beat around the blubber, here: we helped you out, and Aang has to have a firebending teacher. So I need to know if you're with us or against us."
A hot burst of anger flared up in Zuko's chest, although it wasn't directed at the Water Tribe boy. Not really. Zuko may have been playing the servant for the last few months, but some part of him still had his pride – wounded and bruised as it was. He turned at last, narrowing his good eye at the other teen.
"You need me to teach the Avatar."
"Weeelllll," the other boy drawled, "we thought about trying to find Jeong-Jeong again, but he's…" he flipped a hand artlessly in the air, indicating the empty landscape before them and beyond. "And I figure, you might have a bone to pick with the Fire Lord."
Zuko flinched involuntarily as the memories of the last few months tried to bubble up again. He firmly clamped down on them, closing his eyes and breathing though his nose.
"Just think about it," the Water Tribe boy said, when Zuko didn't reply. He got up and turned to leave, but Zuko's answer stopped him.
"I'll do it."