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Hey, Zuko?

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"Hey, Zuko?"

"Avatar."

"So you're the Blue Spirit, huh?"

"Yes..."

"So, why'd you rescue me?"

"I didn't rescue you."

"Right, right, sorry. You broke me out of the place where I was bound and captured, proceeded to bring me into the woods, then bound and captured me yourself."

"Correct."

"Why?"

"It has to be me that captures you."

"But why?"

"Prisoners don't get to ask questions, Avatar. I have a gag in my pocket if you keep asking so many questions. Keep that in mind."

"Okay!"

"So what's the Fire Nation like these days? You know, besides the war and stuff. What do you guys do for fun?"

"I really don't want to have to gag you. Correction: I do, but I know you wouldn't want that. So PLEASE, stop talking."

"You don't have to be so grumpy about it. Are all people in the Fire Nation today grumpy? They didn't used to be, before the war. You know, I used to have a friend in the Fire Nation. His name was Kuzon and..."

oOoOo

If Zuko was being honest with himself, he really didn't want to have to gag the Avatar. Just from the brief instances he'd been near him, their escape from Pohuai, and the ten minutes they'd traveled (he uses the word traveled lightly, because really, it was him carrying a bound avatar over his shoulder) since Zuko had revealed himself as the Blue Spirit and chi-blocked the child with some of the moves Ty Lee had shown him, a certain silent airbending Avatar seemed almost other-worldly unnatural. Zuko was surprised that he'd managed to last the ten minutes that he had, but figured it was probably due to the shock of realizing his rescuer was actually his enemy.

However, Zuko was a man? boy? child? of his word, so when the Avatar continued to ask annoying question after annoying question, Zuko set the boy on the ground, took out his gag, and fastened it to the young monk's mouth. Of course, that didn't stop the idiot from trying to talk for five more minutes.

(And if Zuko was truly being honest with himself, he'd admit that the forced silence was worse than the incessant chatter, but Zuko wasn't really being honest with himself, so he forced himself to believe that he liked the silence, because finally the boy isn't asking so many questions.)

Zuko, high on adrenaline, just continued walking, and soon enough, he found that the sun had risen. It was a new day. A day for victory... for the Fire Nation and him personally. Today was step one on getting back his honor.

oOoOo

"Hey, Zuko?"

"You know, when I took that gag off of you, I thought you'd agreed to stop asking questions!"

"Sorry, sorry, jeez. I just wanted to know... why are you trying to capture me? I mean, you are a prince, right? Why isn't someone else doing this while you do, I dunno, princey things? You could've just as easily been at home right now, and let Zhao capture me. Either way, we both end up in the same place."

"Not so, Avatar. I need to capture you to restore my honor."

"How does one even lose their honor? From what I've heard, it isn't something you can just lose. I don't understand."

"Of course you wouldn't understand. You wouldn't know what it's like to be a failure! You're the high and mighty Avatar, destined to save the world!"

"...Zuko?"

"What, Avatar?"

"I've failed too."

oOoOo

What did the prince mean, he didn't know what it was like to fail? He knew what it was like to fail more than the brooding prince could ever know (and more than Aang ever wanted anyone else, even his "enemy", to know). Aang's failure to be brave and face reality like the all-powerful master he was supposed to be lead to the destruction of his people and the desecration of his home. And even if he'd never quite move on, he wasn't angry and bitter about it!

Chill out, Aang. Zuko doesn't know what you've done or what you've lived through, Aang told himself. And I don't really know him either. Maybe he does have a reason for being angry, I shouldn't just assume.

I can't believe he gagged me. Actually, I think I can. Angry, and reclusive, doesn't like questions. Definitely Zuko.

He did warn me, though, Aang conceded. And he did take it off, which was nice.

Nice... don't think I'm going to be experiencing much of that once we finally get to wherever we're going. The Fire Nation had changed, that much was for sure. And if capturing the Avatar was how one regained their honor, Aang's future didn't look so bright. He just wished Zuko hadn't punched him into not being able to bend after the two escaped into the forest. (He didn't know that that existed, but it figured that a nation bent on taking over the world would invent it.)

oOoOo

"Hey, Zuko?"

"Avatar."

"What did you do to take my bending away?"

"It's called chi blocking. A... friend... taught it to me."

"I've never heard of that before."

"Of course you haven't. So far, only Ty Lee has done it."

"Is she your friend?"

"...You could say that, I guess."

"What exactly is chi blocking?"

"Basically, I hit pressure points along your body along your chi lines."

"How do you know where someone's chi lines are?"

"Ty Lee said that they're different for benders of different elements. I've never actually tried chi blocking before, but I remember her telling me about it. I'm just glad that I knew where your chi lines were at."

"How'd you know?"

"You airbenders tattoo over them."

"...Oh."

"Yeah."

"So why didn't you do it when you captured me at the South Pole?"

"I didn't know I needed to back then."

oOoOo

That night, just after the sun had set, Zuko placed Aang on the ground, made sure the ropes were tight enough so that the airbender couldn't move, and set up camp.

He knew he had to go hunting, but he wouldn't put it past the slippery child currently lying bound on his stomach to try to worm away while he was gathering food. So there was the question: what did he do with the airbender?

Aang did not like the look Zuko was giving him. Not one bit. And he liked it even less when Zuko got up and started walking towards him, even more rope- where was he keeping all this?- in his hands.

He liked it least of all when the prince picked Aang off the ground and stood him, wobbling, next to a tree. (Just like Katara a few weeks ago...)

oOoOo

"Avatar."

"You know that's not my name, right?"

"I could've guessed."

"Then do you know what my name is?"

"The Water Tribe kids called you Aang."

"Their names are Katara and Sokka, but yeah, my name's Aang."

"That's nice."

"It is nice- Now you don't have to keep calling me Avatar all the time!"

"I've known your name for a while now. I haven't used it yet, and I'm not going to."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't care what your name is, Avatar."

"...Okay."

"Anyways, hold still."

oOoOo

It took the last of Zuko's rope to tie the young Avatar to the tree, and he felt kind of- no! He didn't feel bad for practically covering the child with rope! And putting the gag back on the kid was completely necessary- what if he had called for help and the Water Tribe siblings heard him? He could take the two of them, but if they brought the bison...

Yes, tying and gagging the Avatar, was necessary. Besides, he soothed his rebellious conscience, you'll bring him back some food, too.

And, a condescending voice that sounded remarkably like his father reminded, he is the the enemy. Do not give him your sympathy!

Much to his dismay, however, all his reasoning of why he was making the right decision still didn't quite counteract the look the Avatar was giving him right then. He couldn't even describe the expression on the younger male's face, only that his eyes were so, so wide, and his head was bowed (which was probably a good thing, since it kept him from seeing the entirety of the kid's face.)

oOoOo

Aang couldn't even look up right then. Here he was, the Avatar, tied to a tree, helpless. He hadn't talked to any of the previous Avatars much, just that one time with Roku, but he was fairly sure that this wasn't supposed to be able to happen to him. Oh well, might as well not keep staring at the ground- that wasn't getting him anywhere. Looking up to face Zuko, he was only half-surprised to find out that Zuko was gone. Aang could only wonder where the fire prince had gone.

Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, he didn't have to wait long, for within half an hour, Zuko had returned, hauling a deer-rabbit over his shoulder. Aang winced in sympathy for the dead creature, having to look away when Zuko came close to him, the lifeless creature in tow, and took off the gag.

oOoOo

"Dinner."

"Y-you k-killed that?"

"Are you insulting my hunting skills, Avatar?"

"N-no... but how could you?"

"How could I what?"

"Kill it? That is- or rather was- a living creature!"

"Not anymore. Now, it's dinner."

oOoOo

Zuko didn't know what was up with the Avatar- everyone he'd ever met loved some form of meat or another- but figured he'd probably be alright once the animal was skinned, cooked, and didn't look quite so dead. He'd never met anyone who wouldn't eat meat, but some people, such as Ty Lee, he knew couldn't stand to see animals hurt and dead, so he figured the Avatar would be okay when the soulless eyes of the dear-rabbit weren't staring at him.

They're starting to creep me out too...

Forcefully shoving the thoughts out of his head, as per usual, Zuko continued to prepare the animal to be eaten, not noticing the fact that the airbender behind him didn't once look over at him or the animal during the entire process.

oOoOo

"Here."

"Hey, Zuko, you know that airbenders are vegetarians, right?"

"What's a vegetarian?"

"It means we don't eat meat."

"Why wouldn't you eat meat?"

"Because you're eating a dead animal."

"No kidding, Avatar."

"All life is sacred."

"Funny thing coming from an airbender."

"What does that mean?!"

"Nothing, nothing at all. Just eat."

"I'm not eating that."

"Well I'm not going out to get anything else, so, I'd recommend you eat."

"No."

"Fine, then. More for me."

"Fine."

"Good night, Zuko."

"You're going to sleep already?"

"Nothing better to do."

"Suppose not. Have some water first though."

"Thanks!"

"Can't have you die on me."

oOoOo

Zuko once again chi-blocked the Avatar, mentally reminded himself to thank Ty Lee when he made it back home, and let one of the boy's arms lose so he could hold up the cup of water to his own lips and drink. Once he was finished, the prince tied him once again, and more reluctantly than he'd have liked to admit, put the gag back on the kid's mouth.

They both went to sleep later than they usually would have, the Avatar taking a while because of his uncomfortable position and Zuko due to the fact that he was waiting for the airbender to fall asleep before he did, but eventually they both succumbed to slumber, and daylight was there before either of them really wanted it to be.

However, Zuko knew he had to keep moving, so he took the gag off the Avatar's mouth, untied him from the tree, and set off once again.

oOoOo

"Hey, Zuko?"

"Avatar?"

"How hard is it to call me Aang?"

"Not at all."

"Then could you please call me Aang? Every time you call me Avatar, I feel like you're talking to Kyoshi, or Roku, or even The Avatar in general, but not me."

"Get used to it, Avatar. I've told you this once, and I'll tell you again, I don't care what you want."

"Of course you don't."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing."

"No- I want to know what you meant."

"It's just that... well... you say you have to capture me to regain your honor... but what about the rest of the world? Is your honor really worth thousands of lives?"

"You're very vain if you think you being free can save thousands of lives, Avatar."

"I can at least try!"

"And if you fail, neither of us would've gotten anywhere."

"But if I succeed, the world could be at peace!"

"And if I'm able to become Firelord, the same thing would happen."

"But not until years from now!"

"And if you die, we'd have to wait until another Avatar was born and matured."

"But I won't die!"

"You don't know that!"

oOoOo

Aang wasn't going to die, no siree, he wouldn't. Zuko was just being his normal, angry self. He couldn't die... if he died then everything was lost- the Air Nomad culture, the world, hope. He couldn't die... he couldn't, no matter what else happened, he couldn't die yet.

Speaking of not matter what else happened...

oOoOo

"Hey, Zuko?"

"What is it this time?"

"Zuko, are they going to kill me?"

"Of course not- that'd be stupid. If you die, you'll just be born into the Water Tribe."

"Whew..."

"You should not be relieved, Avatar. If I were you, I'd be wishing for death. My father will keep you alive, but he isn't known for his mercy."

"Hey... Zuko?"

"Do I have to gag you again!?"

"I don't want to be imprisoned for life."

"Well too bad! You the Avatar, the Fire Nation's biggest enemy and the reason I'm... the reason I'm... I don't care about what you want!"

"Don't you understand, Zuko? Wherever I go, the Air Nomad culture goes with me! ...Not only do I have to save the world, but I have to save the Air Nation. If I die, everything that's left of my home, my family- it'll be forgotten, erased."

"Maybe it should be erased! The Air Nomads were sick- bending the air out of their opponents lungs because they weren't strong enough to defeat them otherwise."

"What?!"

"I'm shocked you yourself haven't tried it out yet. Although maybe you have and I just haven't seen it."

"Your people were disgusting- you know that? Sozin did a service to the world getting rid of them when the only thing that could defeat them, the comet, came around. Who knows what your savages would've done if they were still alive? But then you wouldn't know, would you? You were too busy running away, like the king of cowards you are."

"...The monks never bent the air inside a human body... I didn't even know we could do that..."

"So you're oblivious and despicable."

"Hey! I'm not oblivious- the Air Nomads didn't bend the air inside people's bodies- they didn't!"

"If you say so. Either way, it doesn't matter now. And your culture being finally being erased with the person who let it be erased is a just end."

"I would never allow my culture to be destroyed!"

"Oh yeah? Then where was this 'I need to save the world and restore balance' crap one hundred years ago? It would've been easier to defeat the Fire Nation before the military was as built up as it is now, but you didn't even try; you just disappeared."

oOoOo

Zuko knew what he had said was a lie. Not about the Air Nomads: them bending the air in people's bodies made perfect sense- why would Sozin attack them without reason, and why would he wait until the most powerful day of a century for firebenders to do so if not for the fact that the airbenders already had an unfair advantage? No, he was telling the truth about the Air Nomads, whether the little kid believed it or not, but he was lying about the boy himself.

There was no way that kid could've beaten Sozin, especially with the comet on the former Fire Lord's side. Besides, Aa-vatar, the Avatar, disappeared 100 years ago, and this kid hadn't even gone through puberty yet. Something didn't add up, and Zuko seriously doubted a 12-year-old would know how to and purposely keep himself stuck at his age for 100 years.

It didn't add up, and Zuko tried to ignore the fact that he'd just called a 12 year old despicable for something he couldn't control and a coward for not fighting a far-more-experienced-than-he Firelord with his bending improved 100 fold.

(And if he was being honest with himself, which he seemed to be more and more these days, he'd say that the title of despicable fell more on him for placing the death of a culture on a twelve year old.)

oOoOo

"I know..."

oOoOo

Aang knew what Zuko had said about him was the truth. Not about what he'd said about the monks- they'd never bend the air inside someone's body, but about Aang himself. He did leave the world in its time of need. It would've been easier to defeat the Fire Nation back in Sozin's time, but Aang was a coward, and now millions, including the entirety of the Air Nomads, were dead, the Earth Kingdom was slowly descending into poverty, and the Southern Water Tribe, the home of his friends, had been beaten down.

He was despicable in every sense of the word.

oOoOo

"Hey, Zuko?"

"What?"

"Is this really necessary?"

"Unless I want you to escape, yes, it's necessary."

"But why do you have to gag me? Don't you think I'll have enough problems trying to fall asleep as I am right now?"

"Just this once, Avatar, listen, I'm restraining you just as I have the last few nights- there! All secure, now for the last bit..."

"Please no- don't do this again! I've had problems breathing through my nose in my mmmhf."

"You're an airbender. I don't believe that you have breathing problems."

"Hmph."

oOoOo

Zuko did realize that sleeping for the past few nights gagged, bound and tied to a tree couldn't have been easy for Aan-the Avatar, but there was no other way to make sure the elusive kid couldn't escape. Besides, Zuko was comfortable, and that's all that mattered, right? Right?

Putting all self doubts out of his mind, the fire prince laid himself out on the forest floor and worked on falling asleep.

It started out as a fairly nice dream. He was back to being 13, unscarred and innocent. But it wasn't long until he realized where the familiar hallways he was walking down were leading.

The war room... Zuko gasped internally, knowing what was coming next. He tried with all his might to run away, to hide until it was all over, or even just to get out of this body so he wouldn't have to relive the pain, but his body would not obey his commands.

He knew he was in a dream, but he had no control over it, which made sense, he figured, considering how little control he seemed to have over his mind when he was conscious.

The 13-year-old prince continued on, smiling, while his 16-year-old counterpart hid on the inside, begging the body of his younger self to just turn around, just turn around now.

oOoOo

It's not fair that he gets to sleep and I don't, Aang thought as bitterly as he could, which wasn't that bitterly at all. Besides, he has carried me all day- but I didn't ask him to! I didn't even want him to! He could've just left me be...

The airbender's internal debate went on until, much to his surprise, he thought he heard someone else talking, too. He considered trying to call out for help for a second, only to realize that it was actually his captor that was mumbling. And Aang didn't think it was intentional.

Is Zuko... Sleep talking?

oOoOo

"You can't sacrifice an entire division like that! Those soldiers love and defend our nation! How can you betray them?"

"Meh, Mmpho?"

"I am not afraid!"

oOoOo

Wait, this wasn't right.

He was in the Agni Kai arena, and he had turned around, against his will, but then something snapped, and 16-year-old Zuko had control of his body again.

An even more shocking revelation, however, was that the man whom he was facing wasn't his father.

Instead it was Bujing, the old general who had proposed the plan to sacrifice new recruits.

This is just a dream, and I now have control, Zuko spelled out for himself. He could do whatever he wanted, and this was the coward who wanted to sacrifice new recruits... this was the man whose plan had eventually lead to his burning and respective banishment...

oOoOo

"Mmpho? Mmpho!"

oOoOo

Aang tried to catch the older boy's attention. He was worried about the fire prince. He'd went from talking in his sleep to sleep bending.

Starting to freak out at the weird display, the Avatar continued to try to shout Zuko's name, while also trying to attract his attention by kicking the tree as much as he could with his bound legs.

oOoOo

Suddenly, the dream morphed and changed, and he was in the ship harbor where he'd had his Agni Kai with Zhao, except there was no Zhao in sight.

"Well aren't you just so perceptive?" came a voice from behind him.

"Azula!" Whipping around, the fire bender expected to see his sister, but instead he still faced General Bujing, wearing an all-too-Azula-like smile.

He spoke again, and this time, when the general opened his mouth, out came the words Lieutenant Jee had spoken to him not too long ago. "The way you talk to everyone around here, from your hard-working crew to your esteemed uncle, shows you know nothing about respect! You don't care about anyone but yourself! Then again, what should I expect from a spoiled prince?"

Letting out a growl, Zuko lunged forward, and the fight began.

oOoOo

What at first was terrifying was now strangely interesting, and Aang was watching Zuko firebend straight into the air and wondering whom his in-dream opponent might be.

All the firebending was almost beautiful, in a way firebending hadn't been since before the war, but Zuko's anger was starting to scare him.

"Starting to scare him" turned into utterly terrifying him instantly when the prince suddenly turned rolled over and faced him. He heard some kind of cry, and then there was a fireball flying at his face.

The fire hit, and suddenly he was flames to the face, BURNING.

oOoOo

"AAAAAAAAAAAAMPH!"

oOoOo

He heard the scream, and he smiled, before he realized that this wasn't Bujing's voice, or Azula's, or Lieutenant Jee's... it was the Avatar's. After the initial shock wore off, however, he was happy once more. The man was just imitating another voice, and the one that had been the cause of all his pain was finally feeling a fraction of it, even if only in a dream, but then...

The plain warped and twisted again, and he was in the forest, in front of a screaming Avatar with a face on fire. And as he felt the warmth of his hands and his eyes shooting open, he knew that this was reality.

Another wave of pain hit the Avatar, and he screamed through the gag once more. The sharp sound snapped Zuko out of his momentary shock, and he did the first thing that came to mind. He took the gag off of the kid's mouth and assessed the damage.

oOoOo

"H-hey Z-zuko?"

"A-Aang?"

"W-why'd you l-light my face on f-f-fire?"

"I-I-I, I don't kn-know."

oOoOo

All Aang could feel was pain. Pain on his face, spreading to his body, PAIN! everywhere. It felt like his skin was crawling, scratching and clawing, trying to worm it's way off his face. There was nothing else right then, just pain, pain, blackness in the corners of his eyes, pain, pain, PAIN!, more blackness, pain, and more pain.

Then everything went completely black.

oOoOo

Beings he had been through his own scarring, he knew somewhat well what to do for someone with a burn mark like his own.I burnt his face... just like- NO! Don't go there. Thoughts later, actions now. Shoving away every thought except memories of how to treat a newly made burn out of his mind, Zuko set to work.

Untie the kid, set him down. Burn salve he carried with him (Just in case, his uncle had told him when he'd slipped the jar in his hand) on the wound, pick the Avatar back up. Start walking.

Unfortunately, Zuko couldn't ignore his thoughts when he was doing nothing but walking, walking, and more walking.

Step, step, Azula's voice: Guess I'll have to see you again soon.

Step, step, duck a few low-hanging tree branches, Iroh's voice: Going home is not what you truly want, Zuko. You should return the Avatar to his friends. One of them is a waterbender and might be able to heal him.

Climb up a short hill, duck a few more low-hanging tree branches, and miss a few others. Zhao's voice: He's right, you don't have to go home just yet, Prince Zuko. Come this way, come straight to me, with the Avatar too. 'Zhao' pointed in the direction of Pohuai.

Walk around a large tree, and scramble over a few rocks. Azula: And why exactly would you even want to return the Avatar to his friends? Aren't you trying to return home?

More walking, to the sound of Iroh's voice. Because the waterbender might be able to heal his burn. If we don't go, the kid could lose his sight.

Stop in surprise when a new voice enters: Ozai. Well I think the little brat deserves to be blinded. It'll make him all the easier to keep incapacitated. Besides, then you won't be the only one with a mark of shame.

Wish he could place hands over ears to try to block out the voices, Azula, again: His scar looks just like yours, doesn't it, Zuzu? What're the odds- two traitors with scars over their eyes. You two should start a club!

Step, step, extra long step, Azula's voice again, saying: Why are you even going this way, Zuko? Don't you know that the ship is the other way?

Step, step, hoist the Avatar up on his back, Iroh's voice: Because this way is the direction in which the stronghold is, and by association, Aang's friends.

Speaking of annoying people he didn't want to hear in real life, much less his mind, Zhao: No matter what you decide, the Avatar will be captured. You can take him to his little friends, and let me capture them all, or you can do it yourself and restore your so called "honor". Your choice.

I don't know what to chose! He was more surprised than he should've been to hear his own voice inside his head, yet strangely happy to see he had some representation in this debate. I don't want anyone to have to have a scar like my own, especially a kid. But he's still the Avatar, and can still restore my honor. Uncle, what do you think I should do?

Walk slower, knowing that whatever came next would decide whether he turned around or not. Iroh: What do you think you should do, nephew? After all, we're just figments of your imagination.

Step, step, hear a groan. The Avatar was waking up.

oOoOo

When Aang woke up, he was once again over Zuko's shoulder, but not bound this time. At first he wondered why, but then a flaring pain hit in his right eye, and he was reminded of what happened (even if it still didn't answer the question of why he wasn't bound). Shockingly enough, his eye didn't hurt as much as it used to, in fact, it didn't feel like much at all, and Aang couldn't help but feel grateful for the numbness. Speaking of his eye...

Aang couldn't open it.

Starting to panic, the young Avatar reached his formerly limp arm up to his face, and forced his eyelids open. Or at least he tried to, since right before his hand touched his eye, his wrist was grabbed, and yanked away.

oOoOo

"Don't touch that, Avatar."

"'Ey, Zuko, why cn't I op'n m'eye?"

"It's burnt closed. I put some salve on it to help the pain, but that stuff doesn't work to well for facial wounds..."

"Will I... will I ever be able to open my eye again?"

"If you get to a healer soon enough, yes."

"I know you want to ask me something, Avatar. You've been looking at me funny for five minutes now. Just ask, already."

"Will it scar?"

"...I don't know."

"And you're out again."

oOoOo

After Aang had passed out the second time, Zuko set the boy down and set out to look for more food.

He probably needs it after not eating a whole lot for a while, Iroh commented.

Azula responded, And all the better. You haven't chi-blocked him today.

How is it better? He's passing out from infection, and lack of food, Iroh argued.

A lack of food you created, Azula appraised.

A hunger I created...

Zuko went to hunt for some berries, hoping he'd be able to tell which ones were and weren't poisonous.

oOoOo

Aang's eye opened up a second time to see he was lying on the ground, propped up against a tree. He only had to question where Zuko was for a moment before the prince came back, and, walking up to Aang, gave him some berries. It didn't take long for Aang to eat them, and soon as he did, Zuko grabbed him by both wrists, and hauled him up. Chi blocking him just in case- just in case the half-blind idiot decided to try to run- the prince took one of his wrists in his hands, and started to walk. Aang, having to keep his head down to not trip over anything, started walking along too.

They walked for over an hour in silence before Aang started to notice that that rock, and this tree were familiar. But why were they going back the way they had came?

oOoOo

"Hey, Zuko? Wh're we going?"

"Hopefully to a healer."

"... Fire Nation?"

"Can't do that, cause if I did that now, they'd know I'm the Blue Spirit."

"So where?"

"Your friend, she's a waterbender, right?"

"Katara... mmhmm."

"My uncle once told me that many waterbenders have healing abilities. We're going to see if this... Katara... is one of them."

"M'kay."

"How d'ya know wh're we're at?"

"I don't. Some help would be nice here."

"C'n't quite r'member where we were, but I got m' bison whistle. If I t'ke it and blow on it, Appa'll come, 'nd Sokka and Katara 're prob'ly still on his back!"

"Okay, so then do that."

"But..."

"But what, Avatar?!"

"They're sick. I was spose'd to get frozen frogs for 'em to suck on-"

"You're delirious aren't you?"

"-but then I got captured. Sides, what if 'Tara can't 'eal me?"

"Do you have a better plan?"

"What if I c'n't ever see out of my eye again?"

"Be quiet for one second! Would you rather I not take you back to your friends?"

"No..."

"Good. Then we're going with my plan."

"Kay..."

"Avatar?"

"Avatar! Okay... I got you."

"Hey, Avatar?"

"I'm sorry..."

oOoOo

Zuko felt like a coward only saying that after Aang had passed out again.

Great, Azula said, Now you're calling him Aang in your mind too.

It's his mind, Iroh reminded Azula. He can call Aang whatever he wants to in here. I rather like it.

The scarred prince decided not to dig too deep into his thoughts. Just keep moving...

Hiking the Avatar up his back, Zuko remembered what Aang had told him about the bison whistle. I may as well blow it, see if the darn thing works.

Once again setting the Avatar up against the tree, he took the staff the kid had kept gripped in his hands since his capture and searched it for hidden compartments. Despite being whacked in the head when he found what made the wings shoot out, he didn't find anything. Patting down the kid, he came across a lump in his pocket, which turned out to be the bison whistle.

Gathering up all the air he could, he pressed the whistle to his lips, and blew.

oOoOo

Katara and Sokka were still curled up on Appa's tail when the bison's eyes suddenly dilated and ears perked up. The airbending animal raised his tail just high enough for the Water Tribe siblings to roll down it and onto his saddle and took off.

oOoOo

It was probably a good thing, Zuko decided, that they were in some kind of clearing. The air bison probably wouldn't have been able to land if they hadn't stopped where they were. Although Zuko didn't quite plan ending up in the clearing, his mind too focused on making sure they were near a river, figuring the water bender might need actual water to bend.

Although when the bison did land and no one came out of the saddle, Zuko wondered if his plan might have been lacking than he realized. And then there was a growling bison coming at him with teeth bared.

He did the first thing he could think of: he took the airbender off his back and held the kid in front of him. His plan worked; the bison halted and instead of barred teeth showing, a tongue shot out and licked the unconscious Avatar. The wet appendage dragged the tattooed head up, then let it drop once more as it returned to, in Zuko's opinion, its rightful place.

Mission accomplished and bison stopped, Zuko maneuvered the kid to his back once more, only for the bison to growl again.

Okay, Zuko decided, I'll just keep him in front of me from now on...

Now to find the waterbender...

Laying the Avatar down gently (not that Zuko would ever admit it) on the ground, the Fire Prince was relieved to find that the sky bison focused all of its attention on its companion, instead of on Zuko, who was currently moving around to its side. Grabbing the edge of the saddle and pulling himself up, the teen soon realized that the airbender's assessment had been correct. The two watertribers were sick... not only sick, though, but almost delusional.

Will water healing fix this kind of sickness?

I guess there's only one way to find out...

Azula: Drop them all in a freezing cold river!

Is that really the best thing I can come up with?

They are getting worse... Aang's burn won't abstain from infection much longer...

Azula: Just do it already!

But... hypothermia...

Azula: They're already sick.

Okay.

Moving his adversaries was harder than Zuko would have guessed it to be.

The easier, the one he did the first, was the bender. All he had to do was put her on his back, climb off the bison, and walk her over to the river. He ignored her incoherent rambling as much as he could and soon they were at the river. Setting her on the bank, he walked back to the bison, who had taken up nuzzling the youngest with his nose. Climbing back on the saddle, he realized, got harder with every time. He'd been walking for days, and he was tired. But he knew he couldn't go back to the ship- or at least not with a clearer conscience- until this was finished, he pushed on.

The warrior was considerably more delusional than his sister?, girlfriend?, and since the girl could heal him later, Zuko just left him where he was.

The harder one to move, naturally, to move was the 10-ton bison-protected Avatar. After trying to come up with a plan for a few minutes, the teen eventually resigned to just grabbing the kid and running out of the clearing, where the trees were too close together for the beast to fit. Luckily for Zuko, he made it without a scratch and was at the river again in what felt multiple times longer than it actually was.

The prince quickly dumped the Avatar into the inches-deep river, followed by the girl. Now he just had to hope that she could heal the two of them while being sick herself.

Standing on the bank of the river, Zuko watched as the frigid river water seemed to almost snap the girl back into lucidity. Almost. She stopped mumbling, opened her eyes a bit more, and looked around her. Zuko ran for the treeline before she could see him, and if she heard the noise he caused, she didn't show it. The waterbender was clearly confused, and the firebender wondered how much of it was "Where am I/How did I get here?" and how much was sickness.

It took her longer than it probably should of have to locate the Avatar and her kinsman. Zuko looked on from behind the tree as she noticed her friend's burn. She waded on her knees over to him, hiding her front side and the Avatar from their onlooker's view.

(Zuko knew he should probably leave now, should've probably left after he dropped them in the river, but he had to see if the Avatar would scar. He didn't know why- whether it was just morbid curiosity or guilt or a sick want to not be the only one with that kind of mark or something else entirely- but he had to stay.)

oOoOo

"K-k't'ra?"

"A-aang... that you, right? You look different..."

"D'ya know if ya' are a 'ealer?"

"H-healer?"

"L-like wi' water. Can you 'eal?"

"I dunno..."

"I thin' you just ben' wa'er to a wound. He didn't 'ell me a lo' abou' it."

"I g-guess I could try. But who's this He guy you're talking about?"

oOoOo

Zuko heard the Avatar tell his friend that it didn't matter right now, and tried to get a better view of the kid. But when he stepped to the left to do so, he stepped on a dry twig, and had to return to his hiding spot to avoid the girl's stare. Not going to try that again.

Settling for just listening to the kid, Zuko leaned his back against the tree and listened. He heard the Avatar try to convince his friend to heal herself first, and heard her argue until eventually the younger pointed out that she'd be better able to heal if she healed herself first.

She obviously hadn't healed before, the prince decided as he watched the girl hesitantly bend the water up to her head. He witnessed it glow blue, and her eyes opened all the way. Wasting no time, she placed her hands back in the water and the blue glow spread throughout the river. After briefly turning his head sideways to see the warrior sit up, Zuko returned his attention to the back of the girl in the water.

My plan would have never worked had she not woke up... his burn wasn't even in the water...

Pushing the thoughts out of his mind, Zuko renewed his earlier resolve to see the kid and took a step to his right, keeping his eyes on the ground to prevent a repeat of his earlier mistake (With both of them lucid, I can't afford for them to see me...). Making it safely to an angle at which he could see the Avatar's face, the scarred teen watched the duo once more.

He watched the girl bend the water around her hand and hold it to the airbender's face. He watched the glowing water remove the pus and infection from the second degree burn.

He watched the Avatar blink his second eye open.

His second, scarred eye.

oOoOo

"Hey! Who's there? Show yourself!"

oOoOo

The sound of feet running over leaves was Katara's only answer.

oOoOo

"Where have you been, Prince Zuko? You missed music night! Lieutenant Jee sang a stirring love song."

"I'm going to bed. No disturbances."