Author's Note: This was written to test the waters with fanficforensics, to get a feel for what she liked before I sat down to write "Holding This Breath". It takes place several years later

Releasing It

The day the Avatar came to the Northern Water Tribe, Zuko stepped out of his room,cell, it was his cell, he had to remember that, and nodded to the guards on either side of the door. They used to bend the ice door to his room closed until he melted it open again.

He just kept walking. He just couldn't think in there, when that stupid place was actually starting to feel like home, like he belonged, and should stay.

For a moment, he contemplated shining his armor, and just coming down to the banquet, if they would let him wear his armor or even tell him where to find it.

Ever since the rumors had begun to filter through the merchants and sailors, to the young warriors and other people who fet safe gossiping around him, he had made plans and contingencies, and plotted escapes, and stuffed his head full of sea charts and maps of the ever-shifting underwater ice and stone tunnels, and how to steer the little Water Tribe kayaks and manage their strange outrigger sailing ships, and... And now that the Avatar was there, his mind was just empty, like a rubber ball someone stuck a nail into, flat and airless.

The ice halls twisted and bent outwards, and he walked out onto the palace steps. He let his legs give way, while the Avatar toyed with the ice under Pakku's disapproving eye. The Avatar didn't even glance at him, and Zuko tried to imagine how he looked, small and harmless in his Water Tribe blue parka and shorn hair, sitting on the steps and blinking in the sunlight.

He had the kayak tucked away in one of the inlets and vials of cotton-poppy juice frozen in the ice under the nest of blankets and furs on the floor of his room to keep the Avatar asleep for the journey. He knew where he could steal a boat small enough to sail by himself, close enough that he could get there in the kayak. He had the barrels of fresh water, dried fruit, and jerky stashed nearby. And he had the route to the Avatar's room memorized. He was going to do this. He was. It was going to happen.

And the sick feeling in the bottom of his stomach meant nothing.

And he couldn't think about what it meant that in two and a half years, his father hadn't ransomed him, or dashed off a treaty with his captors, or even attacked, done anything. And he couldn't think about the couldn't and shouldn't and what-are-you-thinking-they-will-be-so-mad. All he should be thinking about was melting through every wall the Northern Water Tribe had and running home.