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Fly Away Home

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Being in an area so similar to his home in the Earth Kingdom but with no familiar landmarks in sight feels weird. Zuko knew that he would be traveling and that there would be new places that he has never seen before far from home, but it still feels odd. None of Zuko’s new traveling companions know much about foraging in the Earth Kingdom, especially in the early spring. Aang is the only one who can identify any edible plants and his knowledge is limited to what grew around the Air Temples.

For the most part, the group has been surviving off of the few plants and nuts that they are all sure are safe, food from villages, and meat that Sokka hunts down. Only Sokka and Katara will eat meat, since Aang is unwilling to part with his cultural values. Zuko is somewhat worried about him getting enough to eat when running from the strongest military in the world while traveling with people whose primary source of food was animal protein for all of their lives. Despite that, the young Avatar seems to be managing well and Zuko doesn’t feel he has any place or right to say anything about Aang’s eating habits, whether it comes from a place of genuine concern or not. Zuko has to admit that it is something that he respects deeply. His dedication to his culture and beliefs very clearly aren’t just for show. 

Aang has expressed a lot of enthusiasm when Zuko had brought up that he had learned how to forage in the local area pretty effectively, meaning that Zuko would be able to add a lot more variety to the kid’s diet. Kani had also been somewhat worried about Aang getting enough to eat when she learned that he is a vegetarian traveling with Sokka, giving the boy bags of beans, lentils, and nuts before he left the healing hut to continue on their journey.  

Katara seems happy about Zuko’s contributions to the group considering she had been doing all of the cooking, despite the fact that she had never seen or cooked food outside the tundras of the South Pole in her entire life before only a few weeks ago. She is also glad to learn that Zuko had been very close to his Earth Kingdom mother, Kani, and had spent a lot of time in the kitchen learning what he could. Sokka, on the other hand, had just talked about how Zuko could cook meat a lot easier, clearly not caring in the slightest about a balanced diet so long as he could eat meat.

` Right now Zuko is making his way through the unfamiliar forest, looking under logs and in stumps for mushrooms and brushing up leaves to try and find the little plant heads that when pulled up would be attached to a bulb. But this isn’t his home, with all his familiar logs, stumps, and root mazes that he had memorized where to usually find something so he comes up with a lot less than he was hoping for. It’s frustrating not finding as much as he wants. Fortunately, it does get easier as Zuko gets more familiar with the new territory. He starts finding areas with more bulbs, shoots, and mushrooms while combing through the area more thoroughly, getting more than he would by continuing to wander aimlessly through the forest an hoping for luck

Even though this forest isn’t the one he’s used to, part of him keeps expecting something familiar to happen. He thinks that Fao, his best friend, might tackle him, taking his mushrooms and running as a ploy to get Zuko to eat dinner with him in his family, or that Fao’s responsible mom, Shi, will call him over to show him a new mushroom she just found. Part of him expects to hear one of his parents, Kani or Chen, call him in the distance, wanting him to come home. He even expects Cabbage, the chicken cat he befriended, to come up to him, meowing, wanting to be picked up or to see what Zuko is carrying, less about wanting to eat it and more wanting to be involved in what Zuko is doing.

He’s grateful to have the chance to help with something bigger than himself, to begin to really atone for the sins of his family, but that doesn’t mean that he likes being away from home. He had been so happy and safe with people who took care of him, didn’t demand the impossible, and made him feel valued and loved at just about any and every point of the day. Hopefully, his longing for his home in the Earth Kingdom will fade a little as he gets to know his new companions better, feeling closer to them. If they succeed in ending the war, once tensions begin to settle, he’ll be able to return home and not need to hide so much about himself from his friends and neighbors. He doesn’t need to fear being turned in for being a firebender. He can just finally be himself whenever he wants.

After another half hour of gathering anything that they can incorporate into their meal, Zuko makes his way back to the camp, finding a tent set up, firewood being gathered in a pile before it gets dark, and Katara pulling out the cooking supplies from Appa’s saddle. The scene eases his nerves some, seeing that the group seems to have a routine with assigned tasks and aren’t just haphazardly figuring out what to do next on the go as he had worried.

When he gets close to Katara, he begins to empty his pockets, setting everything he found onto a piece of cloth that he lays down on a flattish stone. He’s glad that his pockets are big enough to hold this much stuff and probably more. He is also grateful that he had finally properly grown into Fao’s old clothes for his journey. 

In the last two years, he had gained a good amount of weight and grown several inches, and that helped put Kani and Chen’s minds at ease that he would be able to eat enough to take care of himself. Even if they would worry about everything else, at least they wouldn’t be worried about Zuko getting sick again from being too skinny. Sometimes, one less thing to worry about is as good as it gets. He wishes that he could do more for his family when not seeing them for so long, but he tries to remind himself that this is the most that he can do in the long run. It is what will make the biggest difference in all of their lives.

Either way, it feels nice to have his clothes finally properly fit him, not hanging loose, spending a lot of his day pulling up the shoulder or finding new ways to tie it in hopes that it would stay better while also being comfortable and not looking stupid. It is nice to be able to stop caring so much about how he looks, since his appearance had been so important as a prince. More important than his health, self esteem, or general wellbeing so long as his father could find him presentable to the public. However, he does care about not actively looking stupid. Kani and Feya had made him new clothes the first time he grew an inch taller, and he had loved the soft green, yellow, and brown earth kingdom peasant clothes so much after the scratchy and heavy formal Fire Nation robes he had to wear before, growing so accustomed to them that he had long ago stopped registering them as uncomfortable and restricting.

“Wow! You found a lot! Katara won’t even have to hide the jerky!” Sokka practically yells, grinning at Zuko’s haul, seeming very excited for food that isn’t meat. Then again, maybe he has had some of these mushrooms before and the orange, twisty one tastes a lot like chicken-hybrid meat. It’s abundant most of the year even if not always good, being more woody in the early spring, late autumn, and winter.

“I wouldn’t have to beat you off the jerky if you didn’t eat for three people and then try and eat our emergency rations when you finish dinner off.” Katara replies, beginning to set up logs for the fire, not bothering with kindling, likely assuming that Zuko could light it and wouldn’t need to coax it with twigs. 

“Want me to start the fire?” Zuko asks, looking at the logs, not wanting to hear the siblings bicker about eating habits.

Katara just nods once, glancing away from Zuko for a moment before looking back in his direction, offering an awkward, slightly disingenuous smile. Zuko ignores the odd behavior, nor thinking much of it as he crouches down, quickly setting the logs up in a hot, even blaze as if it had been going for nearly an hour within only a minute or two.

Sokka grins, sitting next to Zuko. “It’s so much easier to have a firebender with us. You can make it so we don’t need to spend several minutes trying to get even just a spark to catch every night.”

Zuko smiles a bit in return as Katara begins throwing food in the pot, mixing it with waterbending as opposed to a spoon. He can already feel himself growing a little more comfortable around these people even though he still barely knows them. They’re easy to be around and seem nice. Also, if they’ve managed to evade Zhao for as long as they did until he recruited the Yuyan archers, they have to be pretty competent and resourceful as well despite their age and newness to this part of the world. 

Within an hour, the four are eating a surprisingly good soup that Katara had made from everything while just talking amongst themselves, the three others trying to make Zuko feel more a part of the group, catching him up on what he missed and what their plans are.

Almost to his surprise, Sokka was clearly not lying about being the chief strategist of the group. Despite all of his bad jokes and childish messing around, he’s incredibly bright and organized when he chooses to be. He has already figured out  how the Fire Navy operates with just being chased by them for a few weeks. Not just in general hierarchy and structure, but how long between fuel renewals they can generally sail and how different currents and winds alter their speed and precision. 

Zuko can safely assume that Sokka never had any formal naval training, especially not in how the Fire Navy works. Zuko had seen Water Tribe ships when a small, Southern Water Tribe fleet landed in Si Lang and they were made of wood and seemed to be entirely wind powered. Sokka really must have taught himself all of this by observation and any information that he was able to get his hands on.

The three have an interesting dynamic, but it has kept them alive and out of the Fire Nation’s clutches so far, so they are doing something right. As he listens to them , Zuko genuinely isn’t sure if he is more worried or excited about the upcoming events when he’ll be traveling with this group. He will definitely have a lot of adventure and chaos in store for him. No matter what happens, Zuko will have a lot to share with Fao when all of this is over. 

For  three kids coming up with a plan to end a war that has been raging for nearly a hundred years, it is pretty well thought through and organized. They already have a plan to learn waterbending, an earthbender master will be the easiest one to find even if Aang’s old friend that he already has his heart set on doesn’t work out, and they’ve already found a firebender teacher, the hardest one to find that would actually teach them through lessons as opposed to unwanted demonstrations in an attack.

“Zuko, is there anything that you think that we should know? About the war, Fire Nation, your father, or anything?” Katara asks as they finish dinner and around the fire as the night gets colder and darker.

Zuko shrugs, thinking for a moment. “Well, a lot of plans and schedules that I know are almost certainly outdated by now, and I didn’t know all that much to begin with.” He admits, thinking back to the war room, the only time that he had ever been a part of the planning in any capacity. He tries not to think about it too much, the day following he had lost everything. Even if it had been worth it in the long run to be safe and cared for in the Earth Kingdom, it had been far too high of a price to pay.

“Well, one thing I know is that the military leaders generally couldn’t care less about what happens to their troops so long as they are victorious. They don’t care if two thousand of their own soldiers die to kill a thousand of the opposition, they just want to win, so don’t think that there will be choices made to preserve the lives of their troops if they are losing. On top of that, my father, my uncle, and my sister can all generate lightning. I know it’s rumored and not everyone believes it, but it’s true. My father is the only one you need to worry about, though.” He reassures before sticking his hand in his bag and resting a hand on his crochet turtle duck for comfort. 

There is a brief silence, and Zuko is  unsure if it was about the lack of care for troops or the lightning bit, before Sokka speaks up. “Wait, why don’t we need to worry about your uncle, this is the Dragon of the West we’re talking about, yes? Shouldn’t we like be, I dunno, really worried about him?”

Zuko shakes his head in reference to the worrying part, realizing it may be misleading as he does it. “That is who we’re talking about, but at this point, he just wants the war to be over and for me to come home. Or at least for him to be able to see me without worrying that he may reveal that I’m alive to the wrong person. Point is, he won’t do anything to stop you, might even help you, I’m not exactly sure though.” He admits, needing to be fully honest in this, not just because of his preference, but because of the safety of the group. Anyways, if he acts sure and Iroh turns against them, they may never take Zuko at his word again, honest mistake or not. 

He has known for a while that his uncle wanted the war over ever since he lost Lu Ten under his own command, but he isn’t sure if he has a strong opinion to which side wins. Iroh had never shared that information with Zuko in the palace, likely out of fear of being overheard, but also never said anything about it to Zuko in the Earth Kingdom. In his defense, Zuko hadn’t asked even when Iroh was talking about how things would be different after the war ended and both had been very emotional after finally seeing each other, being reassured that the other was alright.

“Wait, who’s ‘the Dragon of the West’?” Aang asks, confused. It is weird to think that the kid had missed out on 100 years of history. Less than a month ago in his memory, he must have been playing with other airbenders. It has to be a painful transition.

“He’s a very powerful firebender general, the Fire Lord’s older brother, we only learned so much about him with our remote location, but he waged war on Ba Sing Se, Earth Nation capital for nearly two years and then stopped for…hey, Zuko, do you know why he stopped? Also why isn't your uncle the Fire Lord if he’s older?” Katara asks, cocking her head a little.

Zuko looks down, absentmindedly pulling his turtle duck from his bag and into his lap, petting its head with two fingers. “The battle ended when my cousin, Lu Ten, was killed under my uncle’s command. I don’t know all the details of why my father is the Fire Lord, but from what I’ve gathered over the years, my father used my cousin’s death as an attempt to usurp the throne, saying that he should be the next Fire Lord because my uncle wouldn’t have any more children to follow him.  My grandfather was furious and accused my father of demanding he betray Iroh, and told my dad to kill me to know the pain of losing a first born son. I’m not sure what happened that night, but in the morning, my mom was gone, grandfather dead, and my father was crowned Fire Lord.” Zuko says softly, praying that no one in the group says something about how if Zuko had just been killed, many others could have been saved. He doesn’t think that they would, they don’t seem to be that kind of people, but he can’t be sure. People can be cruel. He had learned that the hard way.

He feels a hand rest on his right shoulder and a body gently against his left side, pulling him into an awkward, but comforting half-hug. For the first time all day, Sokka doesn’t seem to have anything to say, just offers Zuko the notion of physical affection and comfort. “Thank you.” Zuko breathes, looking down at his turtle duck.

“Katara and I had a lot of bad things happen to us growing up, but I’m sorry you had to grow up with…that guy. Sounds terrible.” Sokka says, offering Zuko a small, friendly smile.

Relaxing a little, Zuko looks back up. “He is a horrible person, but I had my uncle and then my Earth Kingdom dad, Chen. They were really good to me. It’s okay now.” He assures the Water Tribe boy, meaning it. Even if the fact that his own father didn’t see Zuko’s life as valuable in any capacity, he had men in his life who took on that position, making sure that Zuko felt valued and cared for despite his past and family history. 

The slight tension around the campfire relaxes, likely at the knowledge that Zuko doesn’t carry his past abuse so heavily on his heart, not knowing Zuko well enough yet to properly navigate his emotions around a sensitive and personal topic. With how horrible Zuko’s mental health was when he first arrived in the Earth Kingdom, he really has no idea how Kani and Chen managed to do so much for him when knowing little about him other than he was an injured, scared, firebender child. He doubts many others would have put up with him in that state. If they weren’t so kind and didn’t want to be parents so desperately, he doubts that they would have sat with him for long periods of time, calming his fears that would come up so suddenly, help him work through destructive coping mechanisms and learned behaviors, and find ways to accommodate his needs as best they could no matter how difficult he must have made it for them.

No matter how hard Zuko made it for them, they made it possible for Zuko to have a chance at being a functional teacher and traveling with a group of people who should hate him by his very lineage just by personal loss. No matter what happens, Zuko will be eternally grateful for their kindness. 

As the fire grows dimmer and it gets later into the night, the group begins to disperse, getting settled in for the night. Aang is the first to leave the fire, laying on Appa’s side, not bothering with a sleeping bag. Uncle had mentioned that he had learned the trick about regulating body temperature from airbender practices, but Zuko had assumed that, like himself, airbenders would need to do it intentionally. However, it seems that Aang can literally do it in his sleep.

The siblings go into the tent not long after, Sokka going a few minutes after his sister. Zuko considers joining them but settles on sleeping by the fire, the proximity reminding him of his usual spot sleeping by the hearth back at home. He’ll need the reminders for a little until he gets closer to these people. Maybe. He isn’t sure. Not caring that he is certainly a little too old to be sleeping with a stuffed animal, Zuko snuggles into his sleeping bag, holding his turtle duck close to his chest, drifting off surprisingly easily in just a few minutes.

Katara feels somewhat guilty for her slight unease around Zuko. He’s done nothing but be helpful and polite, and is literally the only reason that they’re all alive right now. Aang would have died in Zhao’s clutches and no one would have known where to find Sokka and Katara. By the time Appa may have figured out a way to safely take them somewhere, it easily could have been past the point of no return.

Anyways, even if he hadn’t saved their lives, Zuko is gentle and kind, living in the Earth Kingdom with farmers and healers, perfectly content with his long, black hair pulled up in an Earth Kingdom style top-knot opposed the Fire Nation one that Zhao and his crew all have. He still dresses and acts like he was born as a peasant in the Earth Kingdom despite playing the part of an Earth Kingdom nonbender won’t last for long. It will be revealed that he is Fire Nation royalty as soon  as one person from the Fire Nation recognizes him. She can only assume that the world will know who Aang’s firebending teacher is, especially when it is someone as important as the Fire Lord’s son. Considering trying to continue playing this role is futile, she can only assume that it is out of preference or habit in opposition to trying to hide. 

Continuing his life of humility as an Earth Kingdom peasant is something many in the Fire Nation would probably see as beneath them, especially those of higher status, judging from Katara’s few interactions with Zhao and his crew. She is well aware that she has no real reason to be uncomfortable around him and that everything she doesn’t like about him isn’t his choice and certainly isn't his fault. It would be hard for even the biggest firebender hater to think that Zuko is any kind of threat while he is sitting with a crochet turtle duck in his lap, watching how gentle his is with Appa and Momo, and how  excited he is to be with the group and getting to know them even if he is also a bit socially inept.

Okay, he’s incredibly socially inept. It checks out that he only had one friend his age and the rest of the people he was close with were adults. Zuko had also claimed that he likes to spend a lot of time with animals most of the time, claiming that they are easier to understand than most people. She has to assume that his social isolation began as a young child, likely raised as a soldier above anything else given how feared the royal family is and how important strength is to their culture. Katara doesn’t need to know all that much about the Fire Nation to understand that much. It is something that they make incredibly blatant through their military forces and occupations.

She is well aware that Zuko has put a lot of trust in them by admitting that he is Fire Lord Ozai’s son right away. Even if the group would have been irritated if he hid something that big from them, they couldn’t exactly blame him for it. Anyone who has any connection to that man is pretty much branded. In Zuko’s case, he has quite literally been branded by him in the most sick and twisted way possible. 

Despite the only real issue that Katara has with Zuko not being his fault in the slightest, she can’t help but sometimes just see the Fire Lord’s son. The living flesh and blood of the family who had destroyed so much of the world, the man who had likely given the order to send the southern raiders to the South Pole, and the evidence that the Fire Nation royal family is able to live on despite so many others being decimated. It is something that she is deeply ashamed of feeling, doing everything she can to hide her feelings from the others, especially Zuko, not wanting to do something to hurt him like that. It would be cruel and unnecessary if he were to find out. 

Fortunately, it does get a little easier to see him as just Zuko as opposed to the Fire Lord’s son as the first few days pass relatively uneventfully. Even if she had expected more immature jokes and shenanigans by adding a third boy to the group, he had been very close to his adoptive mother and helped her out a lot at home, comfortable doing what Sokka would call ‘women’s work’, not feeling like it threatened his masculinity in any way. Even better, he knows how to cook with the foods available in the Earth Kingdom and forage in the local area so Sokka can’t bring back random nuts that no one wants to eat. Overall he has a gentle nature and is easy to talk to with his desire for genuine human connection incredibly strong even if he seems to have no idea how to initiate it. She is grateful that at least it seems to get easier to see him more as an individual, helping her get past her prejudices of their new member.  She doesn’t want to dislike him when she can't point to a single thing that he has done wrong besides being born into the wrong family.

As they continue to spend more time together, Zuko continues to bring back fungi and plants while Sokka hunts before sitting with Katara, helping cleaning and cutting vegetables as Sokka or Katara would prepare the meat separately. Aang does not even want any trace of meat in his food and Zuko doesn’t really like preparing it, seeming to have very mixed feelings about eating meat himself despite never saying anything. Katara can only attribute it to his connection with animals.

 After living in the South Pole her entire life, meat making up about 80% of her diet, the concept of being vegetarian is interesting and impractical to say the least. However, Aang has been able to maintain his lifestyle driven by cultural values despite running all over the world and evading capture successfully, so she isn’t going to fight him on it. As long as they all remain healthy and fed, she doesn’t really care what Aang chooses to eat for whatever reason he may provide. If he manages to end this war, Katara would be happy to serve him the rarest truffles every day if it meant she could be with her whole living family again.

At one point, as she and Zuko are chatting while preparing the food they have available, he compliments her necklace. She takes the opportunity to talk about her past, explaining what had happened to her mother, what the Fire Nation has done to her family, and how that had affected them. Even though it is a story she has commonly used to empathize with many people during her travels, it feels like it makes it possible to get closer to the firebender next to her, have a very human and vulnerable conversation with him, breaking down that last wall that keeps him at arms length in her mind.

She is careful not to bring up the year or how it was likely an order that came from the Fire Lord himself, not wanting to make Zuko feel guilty for a crime he took no part in. Anyways, even if he didn’t see his mother’s body, Zuko had lost his as well, leaving him with a cold, heartless man who is incapable of caring for anyone but himself. Even if Katara’s own father had left less than two years after her mother’s death, he had done his best to be there for her and her brother. Even if he made mistakes and was unable to take on both parental roles, pushing Kya’s old contributions to the household and tribe onto Katara, he genuinely cared about his children and loved them, doing his best to make sure that they had grown up in a safe and loving environment. It is something that she can assume that Zuko didn’t have. That the only person who even tried to provide those things to him was his mother.

“If you don’t want to keep talking about it, I understand and just tell me that, but she would probably be proud of you, your mom would. Even if you can’t bring her back or undo any of the damage that my family has caused, by doing this, helping Aang, you can help make sure that no one else loses someone who they love like you did. Like most people have.” Zuko says softly after Katara finishes talking, offering her a small, awkward smile, moving a little closer to her.

“Thank you.” She replies softly, resting a hand on Zuko’s shoulder, smiling a little, unsure about what to say. It seems a little too dismissive to say that his mother might be alive as well as implying that Zuko had just been left behind willingly by his sole protector. She just tries her best to convey her gratitude and see more of who Zuko is, distancing him further from his father. Making sure that he sees the real person who is leading a different life from his ancestors and actually being willing to make a difference even if it puts him in direct danger when he was not only happy with his adoptive family but safe.

Even if it gets easier to not think of Zuko as just the Fire Lord’s son, she hates even having the whisper of that in her ear, sure that the firebender next to her hates and fears the man more than anyone else here. He has been struck down by him directly in every conceivable way, destroying him even if it may have brought him to a better palace in the long run. It’s unfair to see someone who is trying so hard to make a difference and do better than his ancestors and country have for the past 100 years as nothing but his family and their mistakes. She can’t attribute their sins to someone who has been just as much of a victim as the rest of the world while taking no part in the cruelty. 

No matter what their individual pasts have been and her struggles to see Zuko as just that, she is sure that it will pass. Anyways, it has only been a few days since he joined them and it is so much easier to meet his eyes and not need to fake her emotions around him. She doesn’t need to pretend that she doesn’t like who he is on a hereditary level despite everything that he has already done for them and continues to add to the group with his knowledge of the local environment and culture. 

As she gets to know him a little better, continuing to watch his interactions with the others and contributions to the group, she grows less concerned about what he could do, coming back on what he has done and is able to provide. It may take a little bit longer than she would hope, especially being an optimist, but she trusts that she will come around to him completely even in her subconscious. She doesn’t have much doubt about it.

After several days of persistent nagging, Zuko finally agrees to teach Aang firebending basics despite being fully aware that it is the last element in the cycle that he should be learning, especially when he hasn’t even gotten a second element down. However, with talking about it nonstop while building the fire and setting up camp, Aang is finally able to either convince Zuko or wear him down. He is pretty sure that it is the latter, but if it gets Zuko to actually start teaching Aang some firebending, he’ll happily accept it.

Unfortunately, instead of starting by showing Aang some easy moves, Zuko instructs Aang to work on his breath work and feel the sun on his face, the biggest source of heat that warms the earth, using its energy to ignite something Zuko referred to as his ‘inner flame’. Zuko had explained how making the connection to Agni, the sun spirit, within himself would allow him to continue to firebend with strength and precision at night, underground, and in the cold so long as Aang was careful to maintain that connection, not allowing it to sever as it can be hard to rekindle, something Zuko had never had to do himself but had heard about the success and failures of others. 

This peaks Aang’s interest when Zuko begins to explain that by drawing energy and strength from his inner flame, growing it much like airbenders would use their breathing to regulate their body temperature, something apparently Zuko’s uncle had learned and adapted to firebenders when traveling the world. Despite knowing that Iroh is a feared general and war lord, Aang can’t help but like the man some with his willingness to learn from other cultures, understanding that they all have their values, none inherently being superior or inferior. Even when gone with only one to hold onto everything from it, someone still managed to learn from it, taking wisdom from an all but dead culture. Aang gets even more interested when Zuko explains that healing with firebending is from strengthening one’s inner flame and then transferring that energy to the injured or sick person, strengthening their chi so they can heal faster and more fully. 

Unfortunately, Zuko just wants to make sure that Aang has proper meditation practices, instructing him to just learn how to kindle his inner flame and to focus on it. He makes it clear that as a firebender, Aang will always be able to control flame that he didn’t produce if he is to gain control over its energy, but being able to metabolize his own flame from just heat and actually have fine control over it is what is important. That learning how to control fire he didn’t produce before generating his own will lead to lack of discipline and a lack of understanding of his element. It isn’t hard for Aang to say that his is very disappointed in his first firebending lesson especially considering he doesn’t even get to breathe a spark. He just has to sit and breathe and feel the sun on his face. 

He very quickly gets bored, finding little interest in his lesson that he practically begged for, wanting to tell Zuko that he’s boring even if he may have a legitimate reason for not wanting Aang using fire yet. Just because Zuko is the firebender master and objectively knows more than Aang doesn’t mean that he has to like, admit, or accept it.

He continues doing his firebending exercises that he will be the first to call stupid and pointless even as Zuko and Katara fall into their normal routine of cooking and talking, continuing to get closer. A bit closer than Aang would like, feeling jealousy towards someone he barely knows and has done nothing but help them. That doesn’t really seem to matter though. He isn’t going to say anything, not going to mess up the group dynamic especially considering Katara is more than allowed to befriend whoever she wants, but that doesn’t mean he has to be happy about it.

As they continue, Aang can’t help but look at the crackling fire, feeling tempted to try and do something to see if he actually could firebend and prove Zuko wrong. Zuko may be a firebender, but Aang is the Avatar, he was born to be a master at all elements. As a bonus, firebending the fire might impress Katara and distract Zuko, although, the first part of that weighs more on his mind, more interested in just getting Katara’s attention. 

Aang looks at the fire, trying to make a connection with the crackling flame opposed to the sun, something that feels kinda stupid when he already knows how to breathe and feel the sun on his face. Aang is supposed to make a connection with fire later in his life when normal firebenders are supposed to make that connection when infants. He is sure that Zuko knows what he’s talking about when it comes to training a firebender but knows little about doing so for the Avatar. He can make a connection and make a fire in his stomach or whatever whenever he wants. Right now, he just wants to do some real firebending. He’ll learn more, faster this way. Anyways, most have the luxury of years to learn, Aang barely has one.

He can feel heat in his fingertips but not how it would feel when extending his hands towards a fire, it feels different. Normally, the heat would press against the epidermis of his fingertips, possibly even scorching it but likely not going deeper with just being in range and seeking heat. This feels like heat is pressing against his deepest layer of skin in his fingertips, slowly making its way through each layer of skin, making it to the air surrounding him, ready to ignite and command the heat already existing around him. Taking a few deep breaths the fire begins to rise and fall rapidly, looking like it is bouncing, Aang can’t help but to grin.

“Aang, stop messing around, you’re going to hurt someone.” Zuko snaps, voice rising more than Aang has heard the firebender do in anger so far. Despite the tone in his voice, Zuko doesn't look particularly worried, if anything, he just looks irritated.

"Zuko, please show me how to do one cool thing besides breathing." Aang pleads, letting the fire fall back to its natural height, smiling at his new friend. "I'm the Avatar, not a normal firebender, I'm supposed to build a connection to the sun later. Anyways, knowing how to breathe properly isn't going to protect me from your dad." He insists, hoping it at least works a little.

Sighing, Zuko stands, waving Aang forward. "Okay, one thing, but you have to promise you'll practice that and only that until you're able to have control over your inner flame. Just like any bending technique, it's stupid and dangerous to mess around when you have no foundation to build your skills off of." Zuko explains, irritation still in his voice but traces of anger gone.

Jumping in the air, Aang cheers a little grinning wildly before looking back at Zuko, going into a calm stance and bowing his head. "I mean, thank you for believing in me." He corrects himself, looming back up at Zuko, still grinning.

"I'm going to ask you to hold a ball of fire in your hands and not let it grow, shrink, or touch your skin." Zuko instructs, producing a ball of fire about the size of a fist in his hand, offering it to Aang.

Trying to hide the disappointment that his 'cool firebending lesson' is just this. Holding fire in his hands, concentrating on the fire, quickly getting the hang of it, growing bored in just a few minutes. He's pretty sure Zuko was just trying to get Aang to shut up and stop pestering him about firebending.

Despite not liking the route that Zuko has chosen, he still focuses on his ball of fire, doing as Zuko had instructed even if looking at it with a sulky expression.

“Aang, if you’re not putting your full attention into it, it defeats the purpose of this exercise. Even if it is boring and feels pointless, the best thing you can do is try and understand your connection to sources of heat and how your body allows you to create fire. Please take this seriously, I have seen a lot of people who got seriously injured or hurt someone else when they were young because they got ahead of themselves and had little control over their flame despite being determined to learn.” Zuko warns, only glancing up at Aang, head turned towards Katara as they continue to talk, cutting vegetables and continuing to add them to the pot along with the beans they had added first so they would soften.

Aang just lets the ball of fire go out, losing interest in it completely as he watches Zuko and Katara continuing to talk, wishing that they didn’t have so much in common at the very least. It’s been easy for Zuko and Katara to bond after a caregiver role had been pushed onto Katara and she had started defending herself as a provider and Zuko had been very close with his mother, taking part in just about everything that she would do from cooking to healing and everything in between, giving him and Katara a lot of common ground as to what they provide to the group and what they have grown to enjoy doing and refined as their way to express that they care about people without needing words. 

Jealousy is a stupid, destructive, and pointless emotion and he hates feeling it, especially towards someone who he barely knows and who has helped them and done his best time and time again in just a few short days. 

Getting up, ignoring Zuko and Katara, he walks over to Appa, climbing up and laying on his head, smiling. “You’ll always be my best friend, you know that, right boy?” He mumbles to the sky bison, hugging the top of his giant head as best he can and smiling. Appa just growls in response.