Prince Zuko's ship had never been admired for its appearance. It was a small, rust-patched thing that was more like an outdated hairdo people wished would disappear—served its purpose, but also kind of embarrassing. In any case, the fact the ship was so disgustingly recognisable was also how those travelling on Appa ended up descending to greet the people on deck rather than fleeing. Zuko wasn't sure what he had expected upon meeting his old crew again, but learning that they had been tracking the Avatar ever since the failed siege on the North, even in his absence, was a weird source of pride and confusion.
"Why?" he blurted. "Why would you even bother to keep looking when I wasn't there to hound you? You all hated looking for the Avatar!"
Kan, one of the younger firebenders, lowered his gaze to the deck and then off to the side. Most of the others looked a bit uncomfortable as well, scuffing their shoes or glancing up at the sky. Even Cheng, the cook, was picking invisible fluff off his apron.
Zuko, Iroh, Tomoki and Jee all exchanged glances. It wasn't like the crew to be quiet.
"We wanted to find you," Kan finally admitted. "We heard you were all supposed to be travelling with the Avatar now, so we thought, hey, we're all pros at tracking the Avatar. Let's just find the kid again and then we'd find you as well." He scratched his pink-flushed cheek. "I mean, we've been together for three years. It's just … weird without you all."
Zuko felt something disturbingly warm and mushy settle in his stomach. "Oh. Well, uh, you know we're basically traitors now, right?"
The crew nodded.
"And you're okay with that?"
The crew nodded again.
Iroh placed his hand on Zuko's shoulder. "I believe they're saying they wish to join us, Nephew."
Zuko blinked and once more glanced at his crew. All of them smiled back at him. It was kind of surreal. He wasn't sure he'd ever seen so much positivity and affection directed to him from the motley collection of men. Maybe he and his Uncle getting cursed had messed with their heads.
Sokka eyed the gathered Fire Nation soldiers, engineers, the old helmsman and the cook. "I think we're gonna need a bigger bison."
"We'll need more than that," Katara said dryly.
"But what to do?" Aang chimed in, rubbing his chin in thought.
Lieutenant Jee cleared his throat. "Uh, if I may, there is a perfectly good ship right here which we can use. The bison can barely carry us all as it is. This way, Appa can get rest on the ship when we have to travel on the sea and—"
"And the Fire Nation won't bother us anymore because they'll think we're one of them!" Sokka said, hitting his fist against his palm. "That's genius!"
Zuko eyed his small, outdated ship. "Yeah, I don't know how well that will work. The Washiuma is kind of recognisable."
The crew stared around them and then shrugged. It was true.
Jee folded his arms across his chest. "I was going to say that we won't have to be crammed in the saddle all the time."
Iroh's mouth twitched. "A valid point. I believe we could all do with some extra space."
"Then I guess that means we'll be travelling together from now on," Aang said with a broad grin. "Happy to be aboard! I hear you guys like to have music nights! I'm pretty good with a dizi, you know. I'd love to join."
Cheng nudged the old engineer next to him. "Does this feel weird to you?"
"A little bit." The engineer shrugged. "But, hey, at least we have a dizi player now."
Aang grinned at them both. "I think we're all going to get along great."
Zuko just continued to blink. Somehow, he'd ended back where he'd started: branded a traitor, travelling on this rust bucket of a ship with his motley crew, and dealing with the looming threat of music night. This was so weird.