author's note: things that i should really not be doing: starting another multi-chapter fic when i should be working on the ones i already have posted. but this idea wouldn't leave me alone and i really like genderbends ok they're like my favorite part of being in a fandom.

this will probably be split into four parts, but i'm going to see if i can maybe shave it down to three. we'll see how it goes :)

reviews are what encourage me to write faster, just saying.

disclaimer: bryke owns.

that's rough, honey; pt. i
in which zuko and sokka embark on their life-changing field trip

It all starts when Sokka approaches her with questions about where the Fire Nation keeps war prisoners.

"Sokka," Zuko says, shaking her head, "I can't tell you."

"Why not?" Sokka is beginning to look desperate, wringing her hands and leaning closer and closer.

"Knowing will just make you feel worse," she says bluntly. Sokka's blue eyes widen, and Zuko turns to walk away.

Sokka's hand grips her shoulder, stilling her movements. "It's my mom," she says. "She was taken and I just...I need to know what I put her through."

Zuko sighs and turns back to Sokka, her expression slightly softer. After a long silence, she finally says, "My guess is that they took her to the Boiling Rock."

"What's that?" Sokka asks.

"It's a giant prison in the middle of a boiling lake. It's the most well-guarded jail in the entire Fire Nation. No one's ever escaped." She considers Sokka warily for a moment, seeing the fiercely determined look on her face before continuing slowly, "It's a safe bet they're keeping your mom there...but you're not really thinking of going after her...are you?"

Sokka seems to notice the way her face looks because she lifts her hands up to feel her cheeks before making a visible effort to look less eager. "Me? Oh, no. Nope. Not me." She yawns exaggeratedly, patting Zuko on the shoulder as she slips past her towards where everyone is laying down for bed. "Thanks so much, Zuko; I feel so much better just knowing."

Zuko sighs wearily as she watches the Sokka head off to the others.

I never should have said anything.

Sokka likes to think that she's an expert at pretending to be asleep.

She used to do it all the time when she was younger; it's just a matter of closing your eyes lightly (the lightly part's important, scrunch your eyes shut too tight and your dad will laugh and tell you to Actually Go To Sleep, Sokka, You Aren't Fooling Anyone), forcing yourself to breath deeper and slower than feels comfortable (which is always the hardest part; Sokka remembers once she choked on her own breath and Mom had to come and slap her on the back until she could breathe again), waiting for everyone else to fall asleep (and not falling asleep while you're waiting — she's done that on accident a couple of times), and then you're free to go practice throwing your boomerang outside alone in the dark (because you are not going to let Katara get better than you at that just because he's a boy).

Katara's the last one asleep tonight. His breathing's not quite deep enough to be sleeping for at least an hour after the others have started dreaming. Sokka's tempted to reach over and bean her younger brother in the head with her club a couple of times, but refrains. It might wake Aang up, and then she would be stuck with the younger girl babbling in her ear for hours about peace and kindness and Maybe next time you could ask Katara to go to sleep rather than making him yourself, okay?

Finally, finally, finally, Katara starts snoring and Sokka sits up, grabbing the bag she packed earlier from under her pillow. Standing up, she brushes off her clothes, says a silent goodbye to everyone, and creeps towards Appa.

It's not until she's halfway into Appa's saddle, of course, that she realizes that a certain Fire Princess is absent from her sleeping mat.

"Not up to anything, huh?" Zuko's voice startles Sokka so badly that she actually falls out of Appa's saddle, nearly landing on a sleeping Momo when she hits the ground.

She stands slowly, rubbing her rear end and glaring at Zuko, hoping that maybe if she wishes hard enough Zuko'll disappear and reappear asleep with the others.

It doesn't work. Sokka is a little bit disappointed.

She sighs, bending over to collect the things that had fallen out of her bag. "Okay, fine, you caught me. Happy?"

Zuko's face rivals that of an otterpenguin on an iceberg in the South Pole in the middle of winter.

(Very, very, cold.)

"I'm never happy," she deadpans.

Sokka blinks and then shrugs. "Whatever. Now will you move out of my way? You can't stop me, Zuko."

"I'm not going to stop you," she replies easily, hefting herself over the edge of Appa's saddle and landing lightly next to Sokka. "I'm going with you." She flips short, choppy hair out of her eyes and crosses her arms over her chest, as if daring Sokka to argue.

Sokka sighs. (She seems to be doing a lot of that lately.) "You really don't have to do that, Zuko—"

Zuko raises one eyebrow and shifts her hips slightly to the side. It's very, very intimidating. Sokka gulps and shakes herself. "Fine. Whatever. Just get in," she says as she tosses her bag up into the saddle and twists her hands in Appa's fur, beginning to climb.

"We're not taking Appa."

Sokka looks over her shoulder. "What? Why not?"

Zuko sighs in an exasperated manner and throws her hands above her head, rolling her eyes a bit more dramatically than Sokka thinks is necessary. "Where in Agni do you think we're going to hide a ten ton flying bison at the Boiling Rock?!"

Sokka reaches up into the saddle to grab her bag with a groan and then drops back down next to Zuko. "Well, do you have any better ideas?"

Zuko huffs slightly, uncrossing her arms in favor of putting one on her cocked-out hip. "Actually, I do."

Sokka stares at her quietly for a moment before holding out her arms impatiently. "Care to share?"

Zuko crosses the courtyard back to Appa, climbs partway up and reaches into the saddle for her own bag before hopping down and walking away, not checking to see if Sokka follows. "We're taking my war balloon. Come on."

Sokka can do nothing but go.