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shadows and steel

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“So then, right as they were slicing through the line--SLICESLICESLICE--blades fly through the air, pinning the guards down! Shfoooooooom!” Sokka threw himself to the ground, rolling back and forth in mock pain.

“Sokka! Be careful!” Clicking her tongue in a way that embodied their Gran-Gran, Katara handed her brother a bowl of soup. “You’ve barely slept, haven’t eaten, and just got back from breaking into a high security prison in the Fire Nation. Without asking for anyone’s help other than Zuko.”
She shot the firebender a look that, in his opinion, was completely unfair. It wasn’t his fault Sokka had been dumb enough to plan an attack on the Boiling Rock alone, and if he hadn’t caught him sneaking off, the idiot would have definitely not succeeded. If she’d wanted to go along on the suicide mission, she should have caught her brother first.

“She’s right, Sokka.” Leave it to Aang to take Katara’s side. Probably why he’d been given the biggest bowl of soup, despite his humble protests. “You’re lucky you didn’t get more injured during the fight.”

“Probably because his girlfriend did most of the work,” Toph chortled from where she lay prostrate on the other side of the campfire. Two bowls that had been licked clean sat next to her, a dirty spoon balanced precariously on top of them.

On her other side was Suki. The Kyoshi Warrior rolled her eyes, but her smile betrayed her appreciation for the earthbender’s recognition of her efforts. Katara had insisted she change out of her prison garb so they could be washed, so she was currently clad in a borrowed pair of trousers and a sleeveless Water Tribe tunic, her hair damp from her first proper bath in a while. Momo sat snuggled on her lap--apparently he had missed her just as much as the rest of the Gaang had.

It was just the six of them around the fire for the night. After a tearful family reunion, Sokka and Katara had shooed their father off to get some rest and send messenger hawks to the South Pole to let his family know he was alright. Chit Sang and his lady friend had disappeared for a romantic night under the stars--or at least, that’s what they had said. For all Zuko knew, they were hiding out in the bushes, waiting for everyone to doze off so they could steal their supplies and be on their merry way to a refugee camp with the loot. War criminals were still criminals, after all.

As for the rest of their troupe, Haru, Teo, and the Duke had agreed to take the night patrol around the boundary lines of the Temple. At first, Zuko had been grateful to hand over the responsibility after an exhausting excursion. Now, he regretted giving up the opportunity to escape Sokka’s semi-accurate reenactment of their field trip.

Aang was obviously not of the same opinion. “So? Then what happened?”

Dusting himself off, Sokka struck a dramatic pose: one foot in the air, palm shading his eyes. “We peeked out of the gondola to catch a glimpse of our savior--you know, the second one of the day, since Suki totally saved us first--and realized that it was...one of Azula’s friends! DUN DUN DUN!!!”

Katara’s jaw dropped. “You’re kidding!”

“Wow. She betrayed her?”

“Just goes to show, you can’t trust anybody these days.”

“Toph, she saved their lives.”

“I’m just saying.”

“Oh, and that’s not all!” The smirk on Sokka’s face widened, and Zuko felt his stomach clench. “She didn’t just save us. She saved Zuko...because she looooves him.”

Hand to his heart, Aang gasped, “That’s so sweet!” at the same time Katara made a retching sound.

“In love with Zuko? What’s the matter with her?”

There it was, the familiar throb of his chi’s energy building in his chest. Snarky comments about him, he could handle. After all, he had earned Katara’s suspicion when he’d made the wrong decision in Ba Sing Se. Anything related to Mai, however, was another matter entirely. Feeling everyone’s eyes on him, he forced himself to relax.

“Apparently, they used to date.” His story triumphantly completed, Sokka settled back on the ground next to his sister, his bowl of soup balanced on his knees. “Right, Zuko?”

“Wrong. Well...not exactly.” Zuko sighed, cheeks reddening. He knew he was going to regret this, but Mai had given up everything for him, and Sokka and Suki as well. He couldn’t let them talk about her like she was just some random girl he’d gone out with a few times. “She’s a little more than that.”

“Oh?” Aang looked ready to swoon. “Is she your girlfriend, Zuko?”

“Close.” He dipped his head, eyes trained on the vegetables floating in his soup. “She’s my wife.”