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A growl rose in Zuko’s throat, and he drew himself up to his full height as he stalked into the room, barking angrily, “Just what do you think you’re doing?!”

Commander Zhao had a bruising grip on the Avatar’s wrist, and the kid was twisted as far away from him as he could manage.  Zuko didn’t blame him.  “Unhand my prisoner this instant!”  His voice lowered.  “Or have you forgotten whose ship you’re on.”

Zhao scowled at him, saying coldly, “Of course not Prince Zuko.”  He released Aan- the Avatar’s wrist, and the kid scurried back immediately, hastily putting distance between them.  “I should have consulted you before speaking with the prisoner.” 

“Yes, you should have.”  Zuko bit back the urge to snap that it didn’t look like a conversation had been the commander’s intention.  “I assume you’ve finished discussing whatever you wished to speak to the Avatar about.”  His tone indicated it wasn’t a question.

Zhao’s face twisted angrily for a moment.  Zuko glared back.

Aang was curled protectively inward when Zuko next came back to see him, huddled toward the back of the room and leaning against a fire nation tapestry as if he could hide himself among the bright colors. 

The sound of the door made the child flinch, gray gaze wide as it shot in his direction.  Some of the tension eased when he recognized Zuko, but he didn’t show any indication of moving from his spot.

Zuko lingered uncertainly in the doorway, not really sure what to do now that he was actually here.  The Avatar was fine, maybe a little shaken, but fine.  What was he doing?

“I- that wasn’t supposed to happen.”  He glanced away from the Avatar, voice barely more than a murmur as he added.  “I’m sorry.”

This was stupid, he should leave, do something productive with his time.  Not stand here and show compassion toward an enemy of the fire nation.

“He was scary.” The voice was small and quiet, but it cut clearly through the silence. The younger boy had his gaze fixed intently on the floor.

“That's one way to describe him.” It wasn't quite an agreement, but his distaste for Zhao was clear in his tone. “Did he say or do anything else I should know about?”

The kid tensed, staring more intently at the floor and drawing himself into a tighter ball. That was definitely a yes.  Silence stretched between them, grating on Zuko's nerves. It left his mind all too free to try and fill in the blanks.


“Stop calling me that, I have a name!” The kid spat bitterly. Zuko chose to ignore the outburst.

“Tell me what happened.”

The kid's face was scrunched up in distress, a stormy expression clouding his features. A breeze stirred the air in the room, making the tapestry behind the Avatar flutter. Zuko shifted warily. Bars separated the two, but he did not fancy getting blown into a wall. Again.

“What's going to happen to me when we get to the Fire Nation?” His voice was brittle, trembling at the edges.

The prince stiffened. It wasn't an answer to his question, and yet it told him everything he needed to know about what Zhao must have been saying to the kid.

Gray eyes rose to meet his own, scanning his reaction. His shoulders slumped. “So he wasn't lying, it's going to be bad.”

Zuko grimaced, fixing his gaze on a blank section of wall so he wouldn't have to meet that wide eyed gaze. “What happens to you will be up to the discretion of my father, the Fire Lord.”

“And what do you think is gonna happen?”  Aang pressed.

Zuko didn't want to think about it. “You should get some rest Avatar,” he said instead, turning back toward the door.

"Wait, Zuko."

He didn't wait.  And he was not fleeing the room.  He wasn't.