Categories > Cartoons > Avatar: The Last Airbender > Rescue Me

Seas of Misunderstandings

by hootowl 1 review

Recognizable quotes from "The Boiling Rock." I completely forgot about this site. I'm up to chapter 30 on fanfiction dot net.

Category: Avatar: The Last Airbender - Rating: PG - Genres: Drama,Humor,Romance - Characters: Aang,Katara,Sokka,Zuko - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2015-08-17 - 5577 words

1Original
They gradually fell into a routine: moving every few days, setting up camp, assigning camp duties, bending practice, and breaking camp. Zuko started firebending practice with Aang almost a week after he started sparring with Sokka and from what Katara could tell, things weren’t going well. The only thing that seemed to be improving was Sokka’s wary suspicion of Zuko.

Katara had grown used to rising early after all her time spent with first Zuko and then Zuko and Iroh. Zuko was still awake well before her, but she joined him after sunrise, sitting quietly at his side and enjoying the stillness of early morning. She loved her brother and Aang and would even admit to a certain fondness for Toph—the earthbender was incredibly sarcastic and uncouth for a young girl—but she missed the peace and quiet of just Zuko’s company.

Toph would inevitably stir next—woken by their movements no matter how quiet they kept them—followed by Aang and last by Sokka. Of course, Sokka usually had to be forcefully evicted from his sleeping roll. By that time, Katara typically had managed some kind of breakfast. After breakfast, Zuko would take Aang a safe distance away from the campsite and trees and teach him firebending. The first few days of training ended abruptly with Aang reappearing, singed and frustrated, to grab his glider and vanish for several hours. Zuko would stomp into the campsite after Aang left, even more singed and easily more frustrated, declaring it all a colossal waste of time before storming off in the direction of the nearest water source.
Toph would whole-heartedly agree, then snag Aang as soon as he arrived back and drag him off to chuck rocks. When Katara asked Sokka about the best way to help Aang, her brother merely shrugged. “He’s got a lot of pressure on him and gets disappointed easily. He is only twelve.”

A week passed and things still weren’t improving. In fact, things seemed to be getting worse. Katara had just packed the last of the sleeping rolls into Appa’s saddle when she heard an explosion. Alarmed, she turned in the direction Zuko and Aang had vanished. A minute later, Aang appeared through the trees, angry tears on his cheeks. She was relieved that for once he wasn’t blackened with soot and trailing smoke. She moved toward the airbender, ignoring the warning hiss from her brother. “Aang—”

He whirled on her, shouting, “I can’t do this! Leave me alone!”

Instead of taking his glider, he fled into the woods in the other direction. Katara was too stunned to immediately follow and Toph rose. “Let me handle this, Sweetness.”

The earthbender followed Aang’s trail, leaving the campsite uncomfortably quiet. Sokka rose, jarring her from her muddled thoughts, saying, “You might want to check on our resident firebender. That was a pretty big explosion.”

She gasped, spinning on her heel and running to check on Zuko. She could only hope he wasn’t seriously wounded. He usually returned within moments after Aang and his absence from the campsite sent a shiver of dread down her spine.

She found Zuko sprawled unmoving on the ground not far from a blackened patch of earth. Her heart lodged in her throat and for a brief moment, her body seized in terror thinking the firebender fatally wounded. She hovered a distance away, afraid to approach but refusing to leave, blood rushing in her ears. She nearly missed the dejected sigh and mournful words, “I really am a failure. I don’t know why I try. I guess I thought that maybe I could—I was wrong.”

Breath rushed back into her lungs and her heart started beating again. He was alive. He didn’t appear to be injured either. She knelt next to him, giving him a cursory scan to be sure there really were no injuries. Nothing. It seemed both benders had been able to avoid the explosion this time. Zuko draped an arm over his face, hiding from her gaze. With a slight sigh, Katara threaded her fingers through his and pulled his arm away. “Zuko, you really should be more confident about yourself and your abilities.”

His fingers twitched around hers and his despondent gaze drifted from the sky to her. “Uncle would be a better teacher.”

She poked him sharply between the ribs, glad when he only twitched away. “Uncle’s not here. You are Aang’s firebending teacher.”

Zuko said nothing, simply frowning at her. She frowned right back. “How did you first learn firebending?”

A blush rose on his cheeks and he immediately diverted his gaze back to the sky, mumbling, “I set fire to the bed curtains. Father was furious.”

“And your training?”

“Father put me in class with Azula. The Fire Sages liked her.”

Katara fluffed his hair a bit, distracting him from gloomy thoughts. “Do you think the Fire Sages—”

“No,” Zuko’s answer was immediate and definitive.

Well, she expected as much though she wondered how he could be so sure. Katara considered Zuko, watching him relax under her ministrations. He seemed less angry and defeated now than he had when she first arrived in the clearing. She let her thoughts mull over a way to teach Aang firebending. He’d already learned water- and earthbending—though Toph claimed he was still awful at her element.

“Is there a way you can start with the very basic basics?”

Zuko stirred, opening his eyes and giving her the most incredulous look he could manage. It was like she’d just asked the stupidest question imaginable. She flushed under that look, drawing herself up and attempting to defend her thought. “I’m not saying you’re not teaching basics now, but what about meditation?”

“Katara,” he groaned, “he’s the Avatar.”

“So?” she demanded. “He’s still an airbender first. Maybe he needs to find the firebending part of himself.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Zuko scoffed. “He’s the bridge between the Spirit World and ours.”
She frowned, tugging gently at his hair. “Well, I don’t see him meditating that much. You meditate every morning for the most part. Aang’s your student. If meditation is important to the balance and control of firebending, then Aang should meditate too.”

Zuko still looked doubtful. “I don’t think that will work.”

Katara shrugged. “Maybe it’ll calm him and help him focus on his training. He does have a lot of energy.”

He grunted his agreement and they lapsed into a comfortable silence. Zuko watched a few birds catch the wind currents and sweep away before he realized that for the first time in weeks, he and Katara were alone. He turned to look at Katara. She seemed deep in thought, gazing absently at the trees that lined the clearing. He cleared his throat, drawing her attention. “Where’s your brother?”

She shrugged. “At camp. Toph went after Aang so someone had to stay behind.”

That seemed reasonable and Zuko relaxed back into the ground, letting the tension from the failed firebending lesson fade away. He hardly noticed Katara’s agitated shifting until she released a breath and squared her shoulders.

“Zuko? About Ba Sing Se—”

The firebender tensed, pulling away. “Forget it. It was nothing.”

“Oh,” Katara said weakly. “Right.”

The silence turned awkward until Katara brushed her hands against her skirt and pushed herself to her feet. “Well, I’m going to see what needs to be done in regards to food.” She took a few steps toward camp before pausing and looking uncertainly at him. “Are you coming?”
Zuko grimaced and shook his head. “Later.”

“Okay. Don’t stay out here too long.”

He listened to her footsteps fade away before collapsing onto his back and pushing the heels of his palms into his eyes, groaning, “I’m an idiot.”

........*

By the time Zuko returned to camp, Katara was lifting the pot off the fire and gazing into its depths as she stirred. Toph was sprawled in the dirt not far from the fire and Aang hovered over her shoulder, chattering about things he’d seen in her absence. Sokka glanced up from the map he was examining as he approached, glancing quickly at his sister before saying, “Hey, we were wondering when you’d return. Did Aang really blast you that hard?”

“I didn’t ‘blast’ Zuko. The fire just kind of…exploded,” Aang explained, frowning at Zuko in concern. “I didn’t hurt you, did I? I mean, this time you were ready for it, right? Katara said you were fine.”

A glance at Katara revealed she was focused solely on the meal. Zuko sighed, running his fingers through his hair. He’d made a right mess of everything. “I’m fine.”

“Dinner’s ready; get your bowls,” Katara announced.

There was a minor squabble over who got the cracked bowl and Zuko hung back while the others gathered eagerly around Katara as she spooned food into the bowls held out to her. When Sokka retreated back to his maps, Zuko slowly approached, words forming on his tongue only to have Katara thrust a bowl at him. “If you want meat you’ll have to talk to Sokka.”

Zuko fumbled with the bowl, absently noting it contained rice, mushrooms, and some kind of flatbread. “Katara—”

She was already turning away, gathering her own meal before she skirted the campfire to find a seat next to her brother. Sokka welcomed her with a grin, balancing his bowl on his knee as he passed both Toph and Katara strips of dried goat. He tossed Zuko a strip and the firebender nearly upset his bowl attempting to catch it. Katara ignored him and Aang muffled a barely concealed giggle. Sokka merely grinned at the glare Zuko sent him. Sokka pulled the map closer to him with one hand while he shoveled rice into his mouth with the other. He tapped his finger on the map over the northwest corner of the Fire Nation, announcing, “Now that we’re all here, I think we should move in the morning.” Sokka raised his voice to be heard over the groans, “We’ve been here two days already.”

Aang perked up, scooting to get a closer look at the map. “Are we going to ride the hopping llamas?”

Katara smiled fondly at the airbender, but Sokka rolled his eyes. “No. We’re not sightseeing.”

“That’s too bad,” Toph drawled from her spot, popping a mushroom into her mouth and speaking around it as she chewed, “because I love sightseeing.”

“Well, you can do that after the war,” Sokka huffed.

“Assuming we’re still alive,” Toph noted dryly.

Aang snickered at Sokka’s disconcerted expression and Zuko had the feeling that the conversation would veer even more off course if Katara hadn’t cleared her throat and brought them back to the matter at hand. “So where are we going?”

Her brother nodded his thanks and once more tapped the map. “Here.”

Zuko wondered if he’d always have a sinking feeling of dread any time someone proposed a plan. He toyed with the idea of demanding to know just what the plan was, but chose to wait. If he brought up the issue now, the others would want to contribute and it’d probably disintegrate into an argument. He was glad when Katara spoke up, “That’s Fire Nation territory.”

Sokka nodded, picking up his bowl of food to finish it off. “I know, but it’s out of the way and we can camp for a day or two. Aang’s firebending practice won’t attract as much attention as it would here.”

It was true that on the mainland of the Fire Nation, a random firebender practicing wouldn’t draw the rumors it would in the Earth Kingdoms. The other elements weren’t as flashy so they’d be easier to hide. Zuko leaned over the map, tracing an area near Sokka’s proposed campsite. “This is the village of Huo Hua. The fire lily season is about three weeks away so we should try to avoid it during that time. It’d probably be best to avoid the village entirely.”

He looked up to meet Sokka’s searching gaze. The other boy swallowed the last of his rice before examining the indicated place with greater interest. “Why?”

“It’s a popular tourist attraction during the spring.”

Aang rocked forward, his eyes shining with excitement. “A festival?”

At Sokka’s barely stifled groan, Zuko hesitated to answer but his lack of response didn’t dissuade the Avatar and he immediately filled the silence with another question, “Are there games?”

Now the others seemed interested in an answer and Zuko shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t really know. I’ve never been to the Huo Hua Festival.”

Aang looked disappointed for a moment, but he immediately brightened again. “We’ll have to find out!”

“No,” Sokka jumped in immediately. “We’re not going to a Fire Nation festival.”

“Why not?”

“I would say because the Fire Nation doesn’t like you,” Toph commented.

Katara was moving around the campsite gathering empty bowls to wash and Zuko only listened to the escalating argument with half an ear as he watched. Katara had been unusually quiet through the whole meal and had avoided any kind of acknowledgement of his presence.

“What did I ever do to them?” Aang whined.

“You’re the Avatar,” Sokka pointed out, “and an airbender.”

“So?”

Katara headed off to a nearby stream and Zuko rose to his feet, determined to talk to her, and absently answered Aang’s petulant question, “Airbenders sacrifice infants to the spirits.”

He took two steps to follow Katara before he realized the argument had fallen silent. Sokka was staring at him in surprise, Toph’s expression was impossible for him to decipher, but Aang was looking appalled. “What?”

Zuko retreated a step, wishing he’d kept the words to himself. “It’s propaganda. The Fire Nation people are afraid of airbenders.”

“But it’s not true!”

Zuko frowned at the boy. “Who said all propaganda is true? The Fire Nation has had to wage war for a hundred years. They have to justify it somehow.”

Aang leapt to his feet, fists clenched, and gray eyes flashing and for a moment Zuko was reminded of an earlier time and a colder place and the death of the moon spirit. Then tears filled gray eyes and Aang looked impossibly young.

“It’s not fair,” he shouted and then he fled.

They watched him vanish into the darkening trees for the second time that day. Sokka sighed. “I’d hoped he wouldn’t find out about that.”

Zuko grimaced, glancing at the other boy but saw no recrimination in his expression. Sometimes ignorance truly was bliss. “He would’ve learned it at some point.”

Sokka rolled up the map, slipping it back into its protective leather tube. “I admit I’ve sheltered him from much of it and now that we’re moving into Fire Nation territory it’s probably for the best he learned about it now.”

“Well,” Toph interrupted, “you two are a cheery lot so I’m going to leave you to it. Aang’s probably going to need to blow off some steam and normally I’d volunteer Sparky, but Aang’s not quite gotten firebending so he’d probably end up doing more damage to himself than Zuko.”

She tossed a wave over her shoulder and followed Aang’s trail. Once Toph disappeared into the trees, Sokka turned a raised eyebrow on Zuko. “So, what’s up with my sister?”

Zuko folded his arms and refused to look at him. “What are you talking about?”

Sokka snorted and rolled his eyes. “I haven’t seen my sister give anyone that cold of a shoulder since I made fun of her magic water the first time she realized she was a waterbender.”

“A misunderstanding.”

Sokka looked skeptical, but fortunately didn’t ask for any kind of clarification. “Well, you’d better apologize before she comes up with some kind of revenge. Don’t take too long. I’ll give you until I have to add more wood to the fire.”

He nodded to the merrily burning campfire. Zuko glanced at it. There would be just enough time to find Katara and return to the camp before Sokka would have to add more wood. He doubted he could get Katara to talk to him in that time, but he was willing to give it a shot.

He found Katara kneeling next to the small stream, swirling water through the dirty dishes. She didn’t seem to realize he was there and her motions were sharp and agitated. He hesitated, wondering if perhaps he should just leave her to work out her anger before he approached. No. The tension between them would not go away until whatever it was that caused it was out in the open. He smoothed his palms against his tunic and took a deep breath. This was it.

“Katara?”

Her hands stilled from washing dishes and she glanced over her shoulder, eyes scanning over him before she returned to her task. “Did you get enough to eat? Sokka’s still a bit of a glutton so you’ll have to keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn’t take more than his share.”

Zuko stepped closer, glancing over his shoulder to see if he’d been followed. He wouldn’t put it past Sokka to spy on his interaction with Katara. Heat crawled up the back of his neck and he cleared his throat, trying to sound nonchalant. “It’s not that. I wanted to apologize.”

His words again stilled her hands and she frowned into the distance. She worried her lip for several long moments of silence and Zuko shifted awkwardly. With a sigh, she stacked the clean bowls into the cooking pot and rose. “It’s not your fault.”

This was not going as well as Zuko had hoped and he had the feeling he was missing something vital to the conversation, but he couldn’t imagine what. “Katara, earlier I—”

“It’s fine, Zuko,” she interrupted, balancing the cooking pot on her hip and turning away. “Like you said, it was nothing.”

She gave him a brisk glance at him and a nod of finality before she started back to camp. Zuko watched her leave, not knowing the words to call her back. In a moment of frustration, he snatched up a stone from the bank and threw it as hard as he could. He heard it bounce of a tree and hit the ground, but it didn’t provide any kind of satisfaction. He kicked at the stones along the bank, mulling over the events of the last few hours but was unable to come to any satisfactory conclusion. With a last scuff of his shoe, he turned back to camp.
Some time while he’d been gone, Toph and Aang returned to camp. Toph was already inside her customary rock tent and Aang had retreated to Appa, curling up behind the bison’s head. Sokka was stretched out on top of his sleeping bag, either studying the shadows of his hand in the flickering firelight or tracing constellations, Zuko couldn’t tell. He did greet the firebender with a raised eyebrow when he returned to camp, but Zuko could only shrug.
Zuko scanned the camp. It was neat and tidy; the cooking pot and dishes next to the fire for whomever had breakfast duty in the morning. Katara was wrapped up in her sleeping bag, her back to the fire. It was clear she wasn’t going to talk to him any more that night. He watched her stiff back for several seconds before he shook himself and headed toward the edge of the camp.

“I’ll take first watch.”

Sokka’s hand dropped to his chest and he twisted his head to watch him walk away. “You know, you really don’t have to.”

Zuko glanced at the small earthen tent, but still settled down in an attentive kneel. “I know. I feel better if there’s more than one watch."

Sokka sighed, burrowing into his sleeping bag. “If you say so. Wake me when it’s my turn.”

Zuko nodded and listened as the camp faded into sleep.

Nothing happened that night.

........*

The trip to their new destination the next morning was made in near silence. While Katara didn’t exactly refuse to talk to Zuko, she didn’t make any effort to speak to him outside of necessity. Aang maintained a depressed silence that neither Toph nor Sokka could tease him out of. It was almost a relief to all of them that they finally landed in an out-of-the-way glen around noon. The group quickly dispersed to their assigned tasks, not even bothering to pair up.

Zuko was leaning against a tree, gazing out over an open valley when Sokka found him. Sokka dropped his own armload of gathered wood next to Zuko’s with a grunt and stepped to the firebender’s side. Zuko acknowledged his presence with a sidelong glance. When the silence grew long, Sokka rolled his shoulders and turned to the firebender. “So, find anything interesting?”

“The fire lilies are late this year.”

“I suppose so,” Sokka agreed, frowning. “It was a cold winter this year.”

That prompted a look of surprise. “Was it?”

Sokka shrugged easily. “So they say. I didn’t think it was so bad. You never explained this festival that’s coming up.”

Zuko pushed himself off the tree, turning back into the forest. “It’s mainly a lover’s festival. Fire lilies symbolize passion and purity.”

Sokka pulled a face, scanning the meadow below. Zuko was stacking the larger pieces of wood together when Sokka turned around. “My sister is still upset.”

Zuko’s movements faltered and he quickly put the wood down, glancing back at Katara’s brother to gauge the other boy’s mood. The Water Tribesman seemed relaxed, but Zuko still rose and turned to face him. “I know.”

They stared at each other in silence for several seconds before Sokka shrugged and motioned toward the hilt that rose above Zuko’s left shoulder. “Do you want to spar some before heading back?”

........*

Katara watched the water fall back into the small pond she’d found and sighed. She didn’t know why she was so upset. She pulled a face. Okay, so she knew, but it didn’t have to be like this. Whatever easy camaraderie that existed between her and Zuko before was gone now and it was all her fault. She started it in Ba Sing Se—her face heated just remembering it—and, just when it seemed the awkwardness between them was fading, she had to go and bring it up again. Drawing her lips between her teeth, she contemplated the events of the previous day. Zuko had tried to talk to her, but she’d interrupted him and thrown his words back in his face. She knew she’d been hurt and embarrassed then, but now she was wondering what he’d wanted to say.

“That was some pretty awesome bending.”

Katara started, whirling to face the intrusion. “Aang,” she breathed in relief, “you scared me.”

He laughed, giving her a crooked grin. “Sorry about that.”

He approached without his usual energy and Katara pushed aside her own concerns. “Is something wrong?”

The airbender shrugged, dropping to kneel next to the pond and poke at the water that lapped at the bank, answering morosely, “Everything.”

Well, that narrows it down, Katara thought with a frown. “Is it firebending? You’ll get it eventually. Zuko’s doing his best.”

Aang collapsed back with a sigh. “Everything is just so wrong. How am I supposed to bring balance and peace to the world when it’s full of lies?”

Katara took a seat next to him, stretching her legs out toward the water and watching the way the sun reflected off the pond. “You’re not alone. We’ll help. My dad’s the chief of the Southern Tribes and didn’t Toph say her family was powerful?”

He considered her words, mulling over them as he said, “And Zuko’s going to be Fire Lord.”

“He is?”

Aang grinned at her. “Sure; assuming we’re still alive.”

His words surprised a laugh out of her and Aang’s spirits seemed to improve. He bound to his feet, splashing into the shallow pond. “Let’s practice waterbending. We haven’t really had the chance and I want to see the difference in bending styles. I bet I can beat you.”

Katara grinned, rising to her feet and dusting off her skirts. It’d been a long time since she had another waterbender to practice with and she wasn’t about to turn down a challenge.

........*

Evening was falling and Zuko and Sokka were still overlooking the meadow, each relaxing against the base of a tree while they cared for their weapons. Zuko ran a clean cloth over the engraved dragons that ran along the spine of the blade, lost in thought. The sparing match was good and had distracted him from his concerns for at least a little while. Caring for the blades afterward provided a sense of peace.

Sokka held out his sword, glancing critically down the blade before sheathing it and turning to watch Zuko fit the dao blades together. Sokka slumped casually against the tree, picking at a few stray weeds nearby. “Why do you practice the sword when you can firebend?”
Zuko glanced at the other boy but returned his attention to his swords. “I am a poor firebender.” Sokka made a sound of disbelief and Zuko shrugged. “Compared to my sister.”

“Do all firebenders use weapons?”

“No,” Zuko said, “it’s considered shameful for a firebender to learn a blade.”

“Why?”

Zuko sheathed his swords and pushed himself to his feet. Sokka quickly followed and they divided the firewood between them. They hiked through the woods in silence for a distance before Zuko finally answered, “The firebender is considered weak if they learn a weapon. It usually means their firebending is too weak to be of any use except lighting the cooking fire. A weapon master is below a firebending master, but above those who are unable to do either.”

Sokka frowned. “And if the firebending master became a weapon master?”

“He wouldn’t.”

“But—”

“Pride and honor would prevent it. If the firebender is a master, there is no need for a physical weapon. The Fire Nation is elitist.”

They entered the campsite to find the others present. Aang was bending misshapen animals out of the surrounding rocks for Katara and Toph was grumbling about the airbender needing more practice before showing off. Zuko caught Katara’s swift glance in their direction, but it was Toph that greeted them. “What took you so long, Snoozles? I was beginning to think your instincts got you lost.”

Sokka dropped the wood with a roll of his eyes, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “Ha ha, you’re a riot. Zuko and I decided to get some sparing practice in.”

“Your ribs aren’t bothering you, are they?” Katara asked Zuko.

“No.”

She stared at him as if trying to determine if he was telling the truth or not. Finally, she nodded. “Good.”

She turned away and said nothing else to Zuko that night.

........*

Spring was fading, the days growing warmer though the nights remained cool. Zuko stood watch, breathing in the cool of the night air. He enjoyed these quiet moments when the noise and the energy of the group faded away into rhythmic breathing. The quiet let him regroup his thoughts and brace himself for the bustle of the next day. A soft murmur drew his attention and his eyes sought the source of the sound. Katara was curled in her sleeping bag, sound asleep. By the dying light of the fire, he could see her brow furrow as she muttered something unintelligible. She settled back into a peaceful sleep and Zuko shifted his focus back to the surrounding darkness.

Zuko wasn’t exactly anticipating an attack during the night—the Fire Nation preferred the light of day—but being back in Fire Nation territory set him on edge and it took several hours to relax in the silence of night before he could find sleep.

A sleeping bag rustled behind him and soft footsteps padded toward him.

“Hey.”

Zuko turned slightly, taking in the disheveled hair and bright eyes of Katara’s brother. Sokka usually slept like the dead. “What are you doing up?”

“Thinking,” Sokka said shortly, taking a seat on the ground next to the firebender. “I couldn’t sleep.”

Zuko grunted. That much was obvious and Zuko had no intention of encouraging conversation. Silence settled comfortably around the camp again, the familiar sounds of a Fire Nation spring surrounding them. Zuko hadn’t realized just how much he missed home. The spring night brought back pleasant memories of better times. Memories of his mother and childhood stories.

“Azula said something,” Sokka started to say and then hesitated.

“Azula always lies,” Zuko muttered.

Sokka shifted restlessly, turning to Zuko. “Would she lie about torturing the leader of the Kyoshi Warriors?”

Zuko opened his eyes and took in the other boy’s agitated movements. “Is she important to you?”

“Yeah.”

“Probably not,” Zuko allowed.

The news sent Sokka into a thoughtful silence and Zuko returned to his own thoughts only to have them interrupted again. “Where are political prisoners taken?”

Zuko frowned, tapping his fingers against the sheath that rested across his knees. “There’s an island surrounded by boiling water—the Boiling Rock. She was probably taken there.”

Sokka grunted. “Where is it?”

He started to answer before a thought struck him and he turned to glare at the other boy. Katara’s brother looked far too casual. “No.”

The Water Tribe boy leaned away from him, looking stunned. “What? But—”

No,” Zuko snapped, irritated. “This isn’t a fairy tale. You can’t rescue the damsel in distress.”

“I can’t just leave her there,” Sokka exclaimed, face reddening, and Zuko wondered if there was more behind the boy’s desire to save the girl. “I’m stronger now. I can save her.”

“The Boiling Rock isn’t like the Prison Rig, Sokka. You’ll fail—you will fail,” Zuko stressed over the other boy’s protests, “and when you do, you won’t just be taken prisoner. You’ll be made an example of. You’ll die—both of you—but only after your throat erupts from screaming and your heart bursts from pain.”

For several moments Sokka looked defiant before he wilted, dejection falling over him. “So that’s it? I do nothing? I abandon her to that place?”

“If Azula has moved her to the Boiling Rock, she’ll survive. In a few weeks, the war will be over and the fate of the world will be decided. If we lose—well, we’ll probably be dead along with most of the nations’ leaders if it comes to that.”

Zuko scanned the night shrouded trees while Sokka sighed despondently. “I wish I’d told her I loved her.”

The firebender stilled, sending Sokka a wary side-long glance. He darted a quick look toward the fire before allowing a quiet agreement, hoping the glance wasn’t noticed. “…Yeah.”

The two boys sat quietly. Night insects buzzed around them in harmony. Zuko allowed himself to sink back into a meditative silence. He was disappointed he hadn’t been able to speak to Katara “Don’t you have someone at home?”

Sokka’s sudden question startled him out of his thoughts and it took a moment for him to recall the question. Mai, he remembered. Negotiations had started between Mai’s father and his before his banishment. “Not any more.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It was arranged,” he explained. He was almost relieved to know that any marriage schemes had fallen through at his banishment.

“Oh.” A beat of silence. “My first girlfriend turned into the moon.”

Zuko stared at him incredulously and, seeing he was in ernest, he couldn’t stop himself from finding the waxing moon in the sky. “That’s rough.”

They watched the moon until Zuko felt his eyes drooping. He stood, stretching the kinks out of his back. “I’m turning in.”

“Yeah, sure,” Sokka muttered, never taking his eyes from the moon.

Zuko hesitated, on the verge of saying something completely unlike him, before changing his mind and making his way to his bed roll. He paused to toss more wood on the fire and steady the flames with his internal fire. Katara sighed and snuggled deeper into her blankets, drawing his attention. He wasn’t aware how long he’d been staring without really seeing until Sokka cleared his throat. “Something wrong?”

“No.”

He ignored the raised eyebrows the other boy was sending his way and rolled into his bed roll and turned his back to the fire. He watched the play of moonlight and shadow until he fell asleep.
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