Zuko was undeniably ill. Which, he was completely aware of when he woke up the morning after having gotten back from the Boiling Rock with a sore pain in his throat, a pounding in his head and an ache residing within his bones. Nausea hadn't quite hit him yet but it would eventually, meaning he was screwed. Unless, of course, while he was still pretty functional (as in, now), he got adequate rest and let himself heal, meaning he'd get better in a couple of days. Sure, it wasn't ideal, but it was probably the responsible choice.
Except Zuko couldn't make that choice, not when he needed to teach Aang firebending and had already taken a few days off to help Sokka rescue his father and Suki. Which meant the firebender would just have to suck it up and get through the day- how hard could it be?
He pulled himself out of bed, noting that he'd slept in a little, and fought past the shivers that threatened to take through his body, knowing right now he didn't even feel too ill. It was barely even a struggle to walk the long distance from his room to the courtyard where he taught Aang firebending, the Prince only having to stop to catch his breath twice.
“Hi, Zuko!” Greeted Aang cheerfully, waving from where he was sat on a chunk of half crumbled stone.
“Hey, Aang.” Zuko replied, trying to ignore the sharp pain in his throat and how hoarse his voice was.
“I figured I'd let you sleep a while since yesterday you had to escape a Fire Nation prison. Did you have the breakfast I left you?” Breakfast, right, Zuko hadn't eaten in a while, actually, having had only a small meal when he was at the Boiling Rock whilst disguised as a guard. Eating now would only catapult his nausea, so he figured it'd be best to just pretend that he had eaten breakfast.
“Uh, yeah. Thanks. Anyway, we're gonna start with ferret-lunges…” Zuko carried on explaining their training session to the avatar, leaning a little against a wall before joining in.
After only an hour of training he felt at least ten times worse; his headache morphing into a migraine and the chills shaking at each of his nerves becoming more violent, though he was doing a really good job of hiding his symptoms from Aang. Zuko had also been forced to swallow down several coughing fits, which was not good for his already sore throat, and knew that, soon enough, he'd be unable to hide his sickness any longer.
“Okay, that's enough for today. Well done.” Zuko decided, nodding at Aang and trying to keep his voice normal instead of letting it show how much each word hurt.
“Are you sure? I can do another few sets-” Protested the airbender, still seeming full of energy.
Zuko just nodded and began walking back to his room, his stomach now lurching with each step, grabbing a bucket from one of the corridors to put next to his bed. By the time he had trudged all the way back to his quarters, his movements were sluggish and he'd never felt so drained, wanting nothing more than to just curl up in his bed. But even that seemed impossible, the excruciating sensation inside his skull screaming at him to stay awake and the way saliva pooled in his mouth warning him not to pass out. For those reasons alone, Zuko took an hour before he could get any rest whatsoever.
Zuko’s sleep until the next day had been fitful at best: him having to wake up every 30 minutes or so to throw up his guts until he could do nothing but dry heave. The coughing fits his body forced upon him were also brutal, tearing the firebender’s throat apart with pain and leaving him breathless, on the edge of passing out. And, on top of all of that, his fever had definitely worsened and he couldn't stop shaking, every fibre of his being freezing.
What probably made all of this worse was that he'd barely had half a glass of water in the twenty hours he'd been curled up in bed wishing his ailment would either kill him or leave him, plus Zuko had scarcely eaten anything in a week and he doubted that helped your immune system.
When he noticed the sun rising through his one window he willed himself to get up to train Aang, figuring that he could at least watch the kid do his firebending katas even if getting up to do them himself was completely impossible. But, even just doing that, required Zuko to get out of bed and down to the courtyard, which seemed completely undoable. Still, he tried, forcing himself up and ignoring how he swayed on his feet, barely able to keep standing upright. He started making his way down the corridors, leaning hard on any surface he could and going much slower than usual- breaking out into several horrendously painful coughing fits before he'd even gotten halfway. At around the halfway mark he heard someone walking towards him, and immediately felt compelled to squash down his ruffled hair and stand up straighter (even if the simple effort to stand unassisted made him struggle not to pass out).
“Why are you late to training Aang, again? Are you just too lazy to get up on time? Or don't you actually care about helping us?” Questioned Katara angrily, apparently not noticing how ill Zuko assumed he looked.
“I'm coming down with something-” He decided to reveal, starting to think he would be unable to do so much as stay conscious in his current condition and figuring the group's healer might want to know that.
“Well, you were fine yesterday so how bad could you have gotten just today? Go help Aang.” She ordered sternly, before walking swiftly down her own corridor.
Right, he'd hidden being sick yesterday and now everyone would think he was just overreacting to a little bug he'd caught this morning. Unless… Was he overreacting? Katara hadn't seemed concerned so maybe he was just blowing this whole thing out of proportion, and letting a barely even debilitating bout of the sniffles stop him from training someone who literally had to save the world in just a little while.
With that in mind, Zuko steeled himself and carried on towards the courtyard- trying his best to ignore how crappy he felt.
Sokka and Toph had been keeping Aang company for the last thirty minutes while he waited for Zuko to come teach him firebending. Yet, the Prince was pretty late and even sending Katara to find him whilst she was going to stock up their infirmary hadn't brought him to them. Eventually, he appeared from one of the halls walking ridiculously slowly, almost angering Sokka over how little he seemed to be attempting to be punctual.
“Where have you been?!” He asked, wanting to know all the facts before he started berating the firebender for being late to lessons he'd convinced them to let him teach.
“I, uh, got lost. Sorry.” Muttered Zuko, finally making his way over and speaking awfully quietly. Sokka decided to trust him on that, since he had proven his intentions to the non-bender by helping him rescue Suki and his dad- both of whom were currently resting.
“That's a lie.” Commented Toph, making a well of betrayal open up within Sokka’s chest. Yet, strangely enough, Zuko wasn't attacking them yet.
“Why were you actually late, Zuko?” Questioned Aang gently, looking a little hurt but not like he suspected that Zuko had been plotting against them instead of getting to training on time.
“I'm ill. It's not too bad, let's just get on with this.” He replied, looking as though he were about to get into a stance.
“If you're sick you shouldn't be doing all this work! Just sit down- tell me if I go wrong.” Advised Aang, to which Zuko nodded once and basically collapsed onto a chunk of wall where he was standing.
The firebender didn't look especially healthy, now that Sokka thought about it, with prominent bags under his eyes (well, under one eye- the scar stopped the other from having a bag) and sluggish movements. He also kept shaking despite the rather warm day and wearing plenty of clothes. Zuko also seemed unfocused, barely even acknowledging what even Sokka understood to be mistakes on Aang's part, until they eventually called the training session off.
“Zuko, you look like death and you're barely keeping your eyes open; go to bed.” Ordered Sokka, not thinking the firebender was too bad but wanting him to get better as soon as possible so that he could train Aang. (Also he cared about him).
“I'm fine.” Grumbled Zuko, pushing himself up onto his feet and swaying dangerously, Toph having to use her bending to give him something to lean on.
“That's another lie, maybe we should check his temperature?” Suggested the earthbender, and the other two had to agree due to the bleary look in their friend’s eyes.
Aang walked over to him and placed his hand sheepishly on his forehead, gasping worriedly at the heat. Sokka too touched the firebender’s skin, realising it was burning hot and he was in desperate need of some rest.
“Zuko! Why didn't you tell us you were so ill? Your fever is dangerously high!” Fretted Sokka, attempting to take the Prince’s hand but getting weakly swatted away.
“No, I'm just being dramatic I'm-” He protested, his voice barely more than a breath and his words slurred until he let out a coughing fit that sounded as though it was tearing his throat apart.
Aang and Sokka immediately slid their arms around Zuko to support him, whilst he finished coughing up a lung. When he could once again breathe, he went limp in their arms and his head lolled. Looking into the firebender’s amber eyes, they were clearly clouded by fever and were a telltale sign on top of everything else that their friend needed immediate help.
“Hey, buddy, we're going to take you to Katara at the infirmary, okay? I don't think she can heal you with waterbending but Gran-Gran taught her how to manually treat a fever-” Explained Sokka, beginning to walk them to the infirmary.
“No! Katar- Katara hates me, I-” He argued, sounding legitimately scared and struggling fruitlessly against the other two boys’ grip.
“Katara wouldn't let you suffer like this, we just need to explain everything to her, okay?” Said Aang comfortingly, but Zuko kept writhing in their grip- not really doing himself any favours.
Katara had just finished setting up an infirmary in one of the rooms of the Western Air Temple when she heard voices out in the corridor, along with some violent coughing. Thinking one of her friends sounded way too ill, she rushed out to meet them, only to find out that it was Zuko who was looking half dead.
“What happened to him?!” She asked, wondering how he could've gotten this bad in just a couple of hours, and leading the group into the infirmary, where they laid Zuko down on the nearest bed.
He immediately curled up until a little ball, shaking and definitely crying (probably the delirium) as he murmured something incomprehensible.
“He tried training Aang in this state and was very clearly sick, so we told him to go back to his room but then saw him almost collapse and checked his temperature, which is way too high by the way.” Explained Sokka, and Katara found herself feeling guilty. Sure, Zuko had said he was ill but it wasn't really her fault that he hadn't mentioned just how ill, right?
Zuko’s hand began grabbing for something, but ultimately didn't find it and instead pushed the firebender up so he could lean over one side and dry heave. Aang patted his back whilst he did that, until his muscles went limp and he collapsed back onto the bed, still shivering.
“Okay, I need you to focus, Zuko. What have you eaten recently? Please tell me you've had some water. When did you get ill?” She questioned, not managing to feel anything but sympathy for the sick firebender she was meant to be hating.
“I, I'm sorry- I-” He is voice was small, hoarse and weak, timid even. He was pretty obviously delirious, but also seemed emotional which didn't help the situation in the slightest.
Instead of relying on Zuko to give her a straight answer, Katara used her water to feel around his body. Her healing abilities wouldn't fix his illness but it could give some pointers to the cause and how to treat it on their own. For one, he hadn't eaten in a while, he was also super thirsty and exhausted. And, as far as she could tell, he caught his sickness when he was at the Boiling Rock but symptoms didn't appear until the day before.
“Damn it, okay, Sokka go get blankets, Aang get me that jug of water and Toph, you fetch me those herbs in the stone jar. We've got a lot of work to do.”.