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3 Times Zuko Gets a Gift (+1 Time He Gives One)

Chapter Text

June’s not one for politeness. For her, “polite” is letting a guy walk away with all his teeth after he throws her the wrong sort of smile. Politeness is irritating, and in most situations optional.

As a consequence, she’s never cultivated the skill of gift-giving. It shocks her, when she strolls through a market and her first impulse is to buy something for another human.

(Nyla gets regular presents, obviously.)

“How much for the skull?”

The price shocks her worse than the impulse. June tries reasoning with the seller, but she just gets an earful about supply and demand and the rising cost of materials. Kuzon could probably poke a hundred holes in the shop lady’s posturing- nothing makes that kid’s heart sing quite like fighting bogus accounting- but he’s not here to rescue June.

So June fishes out the coins with a sigh and buys him yet another present.

There’s no scheme behind this gift. It’s not payback for any favor he did her, and she’s not expecting to get anything in return. She’s giving it just because he’ll like it.

(So the Dai Li might’ve replaced June’s entire personality while she wasn’t looking- no big deal.)


Kuzon doesn’t like it.

June’s never giving anyone anything ever again.

She pulls herself off that cliff and inspects his expression more carefully. He doesn’t dislike his present, necessarily; he’s just staring at it like it’s terrifying beyond his comprehension.

(Which is the reaction it should inspire in strangers, sure, but not in him.)

“What’s it for?” 

“You wear it,” June says slowly, because what else would you do with it? “I can’t get you one that’s exactly like mine, ‘cause I don’t remember what market I swiped mine from, but this right here’s the closest I’ve found to a match-“

“ think I should wear this?”

“Why not?”

A good reason for why not smacks her as soon as she asks. It’s a silvery cuff decorated with a skull- and the anatomical proportions are faithful to real human skulls, June’s checked- with a narrow pin skewering it through the middle. It’s morbid, as accessories go. It might not be totally age-appropriate.

“Not a fan of skulls?” June says, trying not to think about the silver skull she’s sporting in her top-knot right now.

Still, Kuzon’s eyes flit right up to it. “Skulls are fine. They’re perfect for- for our line of work. Mom always said actors should be clear and creative with costuming.”

Now June’s got even more respect for the kid’s mother. He refers to her a lot, eyes lighting up every time, even while he never mentions his father. Her approval of bold aesthetics clearly holds a lot of weight in his head. After a few more seconds of awkward silence, he takes the hair cuff in his hands, cupping it like it’s precious and offering quiet thanks.


June’s used to ignoring chaos in her sleep. It’s one of the risks of living above a lively tavern- things crash and crack at all hours. Sometimes people crash and crack. She’s learned to sleep through it all.

So her first reaction when a heavy thunk shocks her awake is irritation- not at whoever caused the thunking, but at her own brain for noticing it happened. Her second reaction is alarm, because the sounds of chaos ought to come from below her, or outside her door.

This came from the wall. From the other side of the wall she shares with Kuzon.

(Something glass shatters down in the tavern; that partly sets her back at ease. Still there’s yelling from the wall, buried under the barroom clamor.)

June glances out her window. Going by the stars, it’s still before midnight, and ordinarily she wouldn’t even be tired at this prudish hour. It’s the kid’s fault with his early morning firebending lessons. She’s stopped accompanying him to every single one- Chit reads as safe to her, and Kuzon’s sufficiently well-armed to stop trouble before it starts- but she still shows up regularly. The kid seems to need the moral support.

Unfortunately, that habit’s dragged her into a proper sleep schedule.

With a groan she drops back onto her bed. June’s nearly talked herself into going back to sleep when the hollering starts up again, now impossible to mistake for anything but a kid rapidly cycling through a limited vocabulary of curse words. That wakes her up for good.

(They need to have a talk about using swear words appropriately. Right now, his grammar’s atrocious.)

June’s makeup pots and brushes are lined up by her mirror, but they’re not worth the trouble. She skips her top-knot too, just finger-combs some hair over her right eye, and heads to her window. It’s not an easy task, reaching all the way to Kuzon’s window, but she grabs a nearby riding crop and easily closes the distance.



She’s about to go for the third strike when the window’s shoved open and Kuzon’s head pops out. 

“What?” he snaps.

She can’t see him well in the darkness, but he seems intact enough. His hair’s thoroughly disheveled, straggly and wet. It’s hanging all over, unstyled, so she can spot the scar. It’s as huge and angry as ever. 

“Something broke.”

He sighs. “It’s just a dent.”

June waits him out, and he sighs harder.

“It’s the cuff.” His right eye goes wide, shining in the moonlight. “I- I’m grateful, of course I am, and I didn’t dent the cuff, which really speaks to the superior craftsmanship-“

June cuts him off. “What’s the problem?”

“...I tried it on and I look stupid. I look so, so stupid.” As June frowns, he continues, “So then I lost my temper and I tried to throw it at the mirror, but I hit the wall instead.”

June makes a noise of severe disapproval. “Your aim’s better than that.”

Kuzon stutters a couple times.

“Oh yeah,” she adds, belatedly realizing she’s the responsible adult in this scenario, “don’t break things like that. I’ll show you how to fix the dent, but you’re paying for the paint.” Then she cocks her head to the side. “Why’d it look stupid? You need help making a bun?”

“I know how to make a bun!” he protests. “It,’s bad with my bone structure?”

Well, that sounds fake. His face is a nice face, minus the awkward burnt patch. Once Kuzon grows out of the baby fat, his features have a shot at becoming almost regal.

Still, June’s had too much sake to find a coherent alternate explanation.

“Fine,” she says, closing her windows and going back to bed.

(A few minutes later, she lunges for her window again to call, “Is this about honor?”

“No,” he squawks, not even opening his own window.)


“It’s entirely about honor,” Prince Zuko says, face buried in his hands. His voice is very, very small.

For a moment, Chit Sang stares, baffled, as the adolescent prince of his nation teeters on the verge of tears. Mercifully, he saves them both that embarrassment. He tosses his head back up instead, long ponytail swishing, and gives Chit a challenging stare.

“I get what you mean,” Chit says, carefully, aware of the fact that he’s chopped his own hair short. That was more out of necessity than ethics- the less he looks like he did on Caldera, the better. But he does feel like he lost more than just the hair.

Prince Zuko huffs. The candle they were supposed to be working with gutters, since he’s won the flame over without even trying. “I never got to wear a top-knot when I was a real prince. Azula had one as long as I can remember, but my father said I hadn’t earned that mark of honor. Not with my bending the way it was.”

Chit frowns. From the prince’s telling, he had the weakest fire in his family. It might be true, but he’s still surpassed most of Caldera. Chit would have to look to the highest ranks of the military to find benders who’d decisively beat him in a fight.

“So now June gave me this hair cuff,” he adds bitterly. “And it was nice of her, and it’s the coolest design I’ve ever seen, and I hate it. But I can’t even tell her I hate it, because then she’ll just laugh and make me put more money in her stupid Honor Jar!” 

So that’s a term Chit’s heard a couple times without comprehending it.

“Hey,” he says tentatively, “so what exactly is an ‘Honor Jar’?”

Groaning, the prince drops his head in his hands and visibly deflates.

“If it’s a bounty hunting secret,” Chit says, “you can keep it-“

“It’s not,” he interrupts. “It’s not secret, it’s just ridiculous.” 

Chit waits.

The prince meets his eyes again. “June and I were talking one time about what you should do, if you get cornered and you can’t talk your way out or win a fair fight. I said you should surrender and accept your fate bravely, whether it’s captivity or…”

He trails off.

Chit nods in understanding. “I get it.”

“So she asked me why I’d accept my fate, and I said because that was the honorable thing to do. And then she said I could play dirty, like by pretending to surrender and then running while their guards were down, and I said I’d never do that, because that’d be a dishonorable thing to do.”

Chit tilts his head. “How’d she take that?”

“She said I was just resorting to honor as an excuse to quit thinking. But that’s not true.” He crosses his arms, scowling. “I think a lot.”

“I bet you do.”

“...It’s just that I think about honor.”

Chit rapidly sets a deep breathing exercise for himself. It keeps the smile off his face.

Prince Zuko shakes his head and lets out a heavy sigh. “She just doesn’t get it.”

He’s not wrong.

Thing is, she’s not wrong either.

“She’s not from the world we know,” Chit says at last. “Honor can’t fill your belly or keep you company. You can’t sell it. So in the colonies, they don’t care about honor the same way we did back home.”

Prince Zuko snorts at the understatement.

Chit keeps going. “But that doesn’t mean they’re without honor. Take June. She cares about doing her job well. She cares about how people see her. She cares about doing right by you-“

“Because she doesn’t know who I am,” he interrupts, voice raw and strained. “If she knew the real price she’d get for me, she’d sell me. She basically said so.”

So Chit’s not touching that with a ten-foot pole.

“Isn’t that honorable in a different way?” Chit ventures. “She didn’t know who you were. It didn’t matter. She saw a boy in trouble, and she helped. You didn’t have to be a crown prince for her to help you out.”

Prince Zuko watches him carefully, like he’s not sure where Chit’s going with this. Chit’s not sure where he’s going with this either. He’s not supposed to be advising anybody on matters of honor.

But he straightens up and squares his shoulders. “You’re in a tough place, Prince Zuko. I won’t tell you how to feel. But I think people from Caldera, and people in my village growing up, and people in the colonies all know about honor, even if they don’t say so. We all know the same things- respect, bravery, doing what’s right- even if we’re using different words.”

“Huh.” The boy tips his head. “Maybe if I just talk about dignity instead of honor, I’ll stop losing money.”

Chit chuckles. “One way to do it.”

“But I still shouldn’t wear a top-knot.”

He’s looking down again with a frown embedded in his brow, more pensive than a kid that age should have to be.

“I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”

Chit’s got no honor to speak of, by Caldera’s standards. His prince would be within his rights to laugh in his face.

Instead, he inhales sharply, head jerking up, gold eyes glowing with hope. “Really?”

“I wouldn’t blame you either way,” Chit answers. “Maybe you didn’t earn a top-knot when you were a prince.” And that’s a giant maybe right there, but he wants to meet the kid where he’s at. “Still, that’s not your place in the world right now-“

“Because I ran away,” he cuts in, jaw tight with tension. “I climbed out a window and ran to the harbor when the healers weren’t looking. I let fear and shame pull away from my duty as a prince-“

“You did what you had to, to live another day,” Chit counters. “But let’s say you aren’t a prince anymore. Let’s say that’s all gone. Do you think you’ve got honor, as apprentice bounty hunters go?”

He visibly flounders. “But my father…”

He trails off again. Chit nearly says something deeply illegal, but he stops himself. Then he remembers he’s already wanted for treachery against the throne, so he rephrases his original statement as a question and puts it out there.

“Do you think your father is a good judge on which marks of honor you ought to wear?”

He doesn’t gesture at the boy’s scar. There’s no need to. 

After the question hangs in the air for a few moments, Chit redirects their attention to the candle. “Anyway. Try to pull that flame up and curve it around, like you’re at an festival exhibition…”


A flash of silver catches June’s interest when Kuzon shows up for his daily weapons lesson.

(Whips, today. June’s got too many whips already, but if Kuzon takes a liking to them? She’ll finally have an excuse to buy more.)

“I see you reached a compromise.”

Kuzon’s got the skull in his hair, without a top-knot. Instead, he’s managed to thread his usual ponytail through the cuff. It’s a complicated setup, with an extra silver ribbon woven in to keep it in place, and June has no idea what he did with the pin that came with the cuff.

“Is this okay?” Kuzon asks, strangely shy.

“Looks great. Will it stay?”

After a second, he shakes his head. “Not in a real fight.”

June shrugs. “Whatever. Works for now.”

Chapter Text

Chit Sang grew up in a simple village. Hand-me-down, patched-over clothes. Books that were out-of-date but not old enough to sell as antiques. Water that’d give you a stomachache, if it wasn’t boiled first. His time in Caldera wasn’t nearly long enough to wipe those early memories.

So he’s not uncomfortable in the humble boarding house where June’s installed him. There’s no insects, at least this season. The cleaning girl has a knack for leaving things dirtier than she found them, but Chit doesn’t mind. He lets her skip his rooms. He can look after them himself.

He can live simply. 

(But he hasn’t forgotten Caldera, either. The clean, uncrowded roads. The elegant white walls and red roofs, touched with gold. Lush green trees on every street, tended with knowledge and care.)

June pays Chit decently for the bending lessons, and she’s making introductions on his behalf. Turns out his skills at text restoration transfer neatly to other domains. There might not be libraries or museums out here, but there are plenty of clients in need of a competent forger. He sincerely hopes his brushwork’s good enough to fool the passport checkers outside Ba Sing Se.

Slowly, he collects enough coins to afford one indulgence. He’s heard talk of a perfume factory not too far away, tasked with crafting oils and ointments for the nobles of Caldera. Chit had never splurged for fancy scents back then; whenever curiosity overtook him, he’d just stolen his girlfriend’s soaps. But here, before the tariffs kick in? He can buy himself something.

Exactly one thing, as it turns out. The nuns at the factory rattle off prices, and all he can reasonably afford is a set of tiny, scented candles, each a quarter the size of his palm. He agrees to that, and they rattle off the list of available scents, a dizzying array of floral and food-inspired options. Chit goes for a cliche- an expensive cliche that breaks his budget. It’s the scent the wealthiest nobles in Caldera wore, at the height of their elegance. Or maybe their artifice.

(He brings the wax close and inhales deep. His eyes prickle, but he can’t feel bad about it.)


Next time he’s on teaching duty, Chit pulls one of his new candles out. “I got this for meditation.”

He got it for himself, but for Prince Zuko too. For all his learned skill and innate talent, the boy struggles at the start of every lesson. The study of firebending requires a calm, steady focus. He has trouble conjuring that up. Maybe he needs a whole other childhood, to heal whatever’s been broken in his head. Maybe he needs justice and a dad who wouldn’t burn off his face and proudly, wrongly declare him dead. Chit can’t offer that. All he’s got is a scented candle.

Chit lights the wick and sets it in front of Prince Zuko, who promptly closes his eyes to meditate.

For a few minutes, the candle’s flame contracts and expands. The rhythm’s smooth. Well-controlled. 

Until it isn’t.

The warmth of the flame melts a small pool of wax at the top of the candle, and the scent inside slowly escapes. It’s creamy, with a hint of spice and heat.

It ought to be relaxing, but suddenly, Prince Zuko jerks back. The flame explodes outward and then collapses on itself, guttering rapidly.

“What’s that smell?” he demands.

“Fire lilies,” Chit answers, bewildered. “Tell me you’re not allergic.”

It’d be just his luck, killing off the boy who managed to survive an Agni Kai with the Fire Lord. Belatedly, Chit extinguishes the candle as Prince Zuko shoves his face in his hands. He lets out a twisted-up grunt like he’s been punched in the gut and then gasps, like he’s struggling for air.

Shooting up, Chit throws open his room’s window to let in a rush of fresh air. He heads next for the door-

“I’m not allergic,” the prince exclaims, still muffled by his hands.

Chit freezes.

“Stop- stop opening things,” he adds, looking up. “I’m fine.”

Prince Zuko’s eyes are glassy. His face is flushed. 

“You don’t look fine,” Chit observes. A second later he adds, “Your Royal Highness.”

“Well, I’m not allergic to fire lilies.” He sniffs and rubs his nose, blinking rapidly. “My sister’s favorite thing was having her hair washed, and she always used fire lily shampoo. My mom did too, though her soap had panda lilies mixed in.”

Chit takes his hand off the door handle. “Not allergic, then.”

The prince snorts and shakes his head, seizing one deep breath. Then another.

It makes sense. Fire lilies are a symbol of the Fire Nation. They’re also sufficiently short-lived that it says something about your status, if you can afford to smell like them out of season. It makes sense that the royals would wear their scent all the time.

“It reminds me of home too,” Chit offers. “Back at my village, there was a hill that’d go entirely red with fire lilies, every summer.”

The prince’s gaze goes vague and dreamy. He’s seeing something far away from here.

“Sorry,” he mutters a moment later. “I didn’t mean to stop my exercises.”

“Should I pull out a normal candle?”

Prince Zuko’s expression twists, like he’s being torn in two.

“Yes,” he finally decides. “Keep this for something special.”


There’s not much that’s special in Chit’s days anymore, beyond the sunrises. Those can get spectacular, between the clean air and the different clouds now that he’s a little further north, but he’s not planning to keep a candle for a sunrise.


“You want to take it?” Chit asks after the lesson, pointing at the scented candle they set aside, lightly used.

It might be presumptuous of him to offer. Even if you set the prince-commoner gap aside, he’s been taken under June’s wing, and even if she’s no royal, she doesn’t seem to want for money. She’s been paying the young prince a salary too, for secretarial work or whatever else he’s taken on. If he wanted a fire lily candle, he could afford it himself.

(If he wanted a fire lily candle. It’s a big “if.” Given how he left the palace, he might want to forget it and Caldera. It’s a doomed goal, but Chit wouldn’t blame him for trying.)

Instead, Prince Zuko peers up at him with a horrifying blend of shock and gratitude.

(It’s not a cheap candle, but it’s not precious either, strictly speaking. Chit wonders if this is all homesickness, or if a once-crown prince could simply be unused to shows of kindness.)

“Thank you,” he says, folding his fingers around the candle. His voice always rasps, but there’s an extra hoarseness to it. “How much- should I…”

“I won’t take your money for this,” Chit says, understanding. “It’s a gift. To someone else who knows how to appreciate it.”

The boy’s jaw wobbles. He’s either fighting back tears or the urge to say something more, but eventually he just bows deep, hands forming the flame.


“Can I go put this in my room before we start?” Kuzon asks June, darting up for the day’s bounty hunting lesson.

(Knives. It never hurts to train with knives.)

(Actually, it can hurt a lot to train with knives, but June’s sticking to optimism here.)

“What is it?” 

He uncurls one fist to reveal a puny candle. “Chit gave it to me.”

“What’s so special about it?”

“Nothing,” Kuzon answers too quickly. “...It’s just flower-scented.”

June admittedly hadn’t pegged Chit as someone who’d own tiny, floral candles, but to each their own. “Can I?” 

June waits for his nod before she takes the candle and brings it to her nose. Kuzon scrutinizes her intently as she takes a whiff. The scent’s light, and she needs a second to recognize it, and another second to recognize why she hates it. It smells cloying yet sharper than any flower should.

It smells like Baohua Fang’s fire lily perfume.

June nearly gags dramatically, but then she catches sight of Kuzon’s expression. It’s weirdly serious as he awaits her judgement, and June gets the feeling that she’s being judged too, right now. There’s a deeper meaning here that she’s missing. It probably relates to honor somehow.

“Not bad,” she says, like she would in a world where Baohua Fang never darkened her tavern door. 

As she hands it back, Kuzon melts like he’s hot wax himself. She hadn’t even noticed all the tension he was carrying until it abruptly drains away. And she’s about to point out that he can just keep his candle in his pocket during their lesson, but he’s cradling it so delicately that she doesn’t have the heart.

“Fine,” she says, “go stick it in your room.”

He shoots her a smile and scampers away. June gets the sense she’s passed a test nobody told her about, but she rapidly laughs at her own paranoia. There’s no way Kuzon would overthink a candle.


Chapter Text

June’s not a fan of plotting behind her protegee’s back. But this time, Chit Sang convinces her it’s necessary.


“Why are you coming with me?” Kuzon asks as they head into his morning firebending lesson. “I’m not ungrateful, of course, but I thought you had a job up north.”

“Ditched it,” June replies simply. “The price was on the low side-“

“But couldn’t you negotiate?” he interrupts. “I thought-“

“More importantly,” she interrupts him right back, knocking on the door, “I had better things to do.”

Chit sweeps it open immediately, revealing an unconventional breakfast feast. There’s a pot full of hot noodles with a bottle of fire flakes on the side. There’s a pot of tea with fancy- in June’s opinion, horribly overpriced- leaves. There’s a basket covered with cloth to keep the heat in, and Chit’s rigged up a line of yellow paper lanterns, strung across his room. The place could almost pass for festive.

June drops a hand on Kuzon’s shoulder. “Happy birthday, kid.”

She’s not prepared for him to shoot her a look of utter bafflement.

“You mentioned it offhand to me,” Chit Sang says, and Kuzon’s gaze snaps back to him. “I thought we’d switch things up and celebrate.”

(Chit holds Prince Zuko’s gaze steadily, begging him to understand. It’s not his real birthday- it’s not even the right season- but Chit switched the numbers of the month and the day. The Fire Lord’s stolen so much from his son, it’d be a shame to rob him of birthday parties too. Of having a day for himself.)

After a long moment, Kuzon exhales slowly, comprehension dawning. “I never expected anything like this.”

“Yep.” June strides in and starts helping herself to a bowl of hot noodles. “That’s the idea with surprise parties.”

Hesitantly, Kuzon joins her. He dumps half the bottle of fire flakes into his bowl and then passes it to Chit Sang, who readily dumps out the other half. The two of them share the tea too.

“It’s good,” Kuzon says appreciatively. Then he takes another sip and re-evaluates: “No. It’s really good.”

“It’s a white dragon tea,” Chit informs him. “Just a local plant from the forest here, but isn’t the flavor beautiful?”

Kuzon hums in enthusiastic agreement. “Tastes like...citrus, nuts and cinnamon.”

June tries one sip out of curiosity. It tastes like every other cup of hot leaf juice, but she doesn’t rain on the kid’s parade. Call it her birthday gift.

Chit unveils the real birthday gift soon enough, pulling the cloth off the basket. “Here’s something to go with your tea.”

He reveals a pile of fresh golden cakes, each shaped like…

Like nothing.

“What the hell?” June grabs one, squinting at the inchoate mass of pastry. “Maybe normal taiyaki just look like fish, but Emi swore she could do other animals if I paid her double.”

“You got ripped off,” Kuzon says sagely, taking a cake of his own. “What’s it supposed to be?”

“Half of them are shirshus,” June answers. She bites into hers, and at least the red bean filling tastes good. “Other half are turtleducks, like your mom used to have.”

Kuzon takes a weird stabbing breath, but he keeps chewing, happy enough. Then he diligently sweeps all the crumbs he’s dropped into a neat pile and puts it on his plate to be easily disposed of. After that he goes for seconds, pulling out a cake that looks equally like a turtleduck and a shirshu. It might just be an unholy hybrid.

He bites in.


Curls up into a ball, shoving his face into his knees.

June scowls. “Poison?”

Kuzon shakes his head, but he doesn’t otherwise move. June watches with a mix of surprise and terror as the kid dissolves into body-shaking weeping. And he’s welled up before, and he’d cried in silence when he was ill, but this is full-blown ugly sobbing.

June meets Chit’s eyes, and they freeze, sharing one moment of mutual consternation.

Chit moves first. He just opens his mouth to say, awkwardly, “It’s alright.”

June rolls her eyes. She’s not sure what this is, but “alright” is pretty clearly not it. Kuzon grips his half-eaten pastry a little harder, like he’s somehow not comforted by that statement.

Chit tries again: “You’ve been torn between two different lives. It’s okay to be sad.”

“I’m not,” Kuzon retorts. He’s trying for waspish, though the ongoing sniffles ruin the effect. “You’re both being really nice, and I’m not sad. I don’t know what I am.”

There’s presumably years of warped, tragic history behind that statement and this entire breakdown. June doesn’t know about it. She doesn’t get it.

Maybe she doesn’t need to.

“You’re awesome,” she says firmly. “That’s what you are.”

A chuckle escapes among the sobs, and she chuckles too and drapes one arm around his shoulders and pulls him in.

“And emotions are the worst,” she adds. “Hope I never have one.”

“I’m being weird,” he mumbles into her shirt.

“Bold you to say that, like you’re not always weird.”

He chuckles again, a series of funny wet noises, while June smirks, ruffles his hair as much as his gel will let her, and helps herself to another cake. Chit Sang just sips his tea and watches them both, a soft, contemplative look on his face.


(Plus One)

“Hey, so I need firebending help.”

June drops her sake glass with a clank and looks at Kuzon as he joins her for dinner. “Hate to break it to you, but I’m the wrong person for that.”

“I’m not sure about that.” He pulls out a piece of paper covered with his unfairly neat characters. “Master Chit and I made a list of advanced skills I could work on, to add to my repertoire. I’m not sure what’s most useful, from a combat perspective.”

Naturally, June ignores the twenty valid options, honing right in on the one word that’s been crossed out up top. “Why don’t you try lightning? Sounds epic to me.”

Kuzon frowns. “That’s one of the most difficult techniques in any element, ever. Only the Fire Lord and his brother can do it.”

June snorts. “If Ozai can do it, anyone can.”

He frowns harder.

“Fine.” She sighs and looks through the list more carefully, reading the names of all the moves and their descriptions. “Charged attacks would be useful. Fire walls are also a solid option, firebenders never have any idea how to defend themsel-“ She falls off mid-word. “You could make a fire whip?”

“What? Oh, yeah, they’re decent for larger battlefields and you don’t have to keep making new fire, and Master Chit says I’d have an advantage sustaining the threads since you’re teaching me about real whips…”

He trails off. June doesn’t notice, lost somewhere very far away.


“Huh?” She inhales sharply, rapidly blinking. “Wait, something’s in my eye.”

He’s still frowning, a little differently now.

“Should I...not learn this?” he says, tentative though he’s not calling her bluff. “There are a lot of other techniques-“

“Please learn it,” June cuts in. His eye widens at her voice- harder than he’s ever heard it. “Be the best fire whipper the world’s ever seen.”

“Well, it’s hard to be the best…” He tilts his head, catching something in her expression. “But I’ll do my best. I promise.”

And his best, she can safely assume, will be pretty damn exceptional.

June shoots the rest of her sake. “Thanks.”

“Is this a strategy thing or…”

She wipes her mouth. “No. And you shouldn’t actually dump time into this if you’ve got better uses,’d make me way too happy.”

(Infuriatingly vague, she knows. But she knows he won’t pry.)

He just shoots his own cup of tea, mirroring her and regretting it as he scalds his tongue. “You got it.”