The young man was standing in the back with Chit Sang while he and Suki greeted the others. He tried to keep an eye on him, but very soon the joy of seeing his daughter again, unharmed and as safe as possible took all his attention. When he raised his gaze again, the prince was gone.
Later at dinner the prince appeared again with a tray full of cups of tea and promptly started to serve them to the rest of the group. None of children looked surprised so it seemed to be a regular occurrence, but he still sneaked to get a good look on Chit Sang’s face. The man looked even more surprised than Hakoda thought was possible, even a bit green at the fringes of his face. So it was a big deal when prince served you by his own hand, no matter how others or even the boy himself acted. But he didn’t quite know the exact implications, even when he followed the boy with his gaze to read his body language and expression. He did seem a bit apprehensive when serving, but it looked to be shown more towards how they liked the taste than anything else.
Prince kept quiet during the meal when Sokka and Katara told him what they had been up to, rest of the kids pitching in at times. Chit Sang and Suki told how and when they had gotten into the Boiling Rock and the stories about it. Hakoda caught Chit Sang visibly censoring himself while talking, but couldn’t tell if it was because of the crude language or that he didn’t want to reveal his full experience in the prison. Hakoda himself hadn’t had much of a rough time in prison, mainly because he had been there for such a short time before escaping and in the prison before Boiling Rock he had had his clan men and other people in the invasion with him. Suki kept herself quiet, only revealing small snippets, mainly complaining about the bad food and constant interruptions. She was, although, calm and collected, and she didn’t give out the air of some repressed trauma so he didn’t think he should be too worried about her. He would make sure about it though by keeping an eye on her in the following days.
When everyone started to go to bed, he noticed that the prince had again slipped away unnoticed by anyone except Toph. She was more than willing to rat out prince’s hiding place to Hakoda, but he did notice that she was careful that no one else heard her speak.
Prince was in one of the sky-rooms that were basically just ordinary rooms lacking one wall. No one really wanted to sleep there, as the wall-less side was in to the open air with a drop of many thousands feet to the valley below. For some reason it didn’t surprise him to see the prince sitting on the ledge, feet dangling in the air. Hakoda took a deep breath and sat next to him while still keeping a firm hold on the crag. The boy was looking at him confusedly, but Hakoda could swear there was an inch of amusement when he gazed at Hakoda’s hands. Then the boy leaned forwards to the air and it took everything in Hakoda’s power to not to take a firm hold on his neck and throw him to the safer ground. The brat was actually smirking at him!
Hakoda narrowed his eyes at him but the boy continued smiling and leaning forward in a way that made him look like a small gust of wind would make him fall to his death. Then the brat let go of his hold on the ledge and waived his hands and legs in the air before them. The only thing holding him on the firm ground was boy’s own ass and even that seemed too skinny to be of any practical use.
The boy was teasing him on purpose, without a doubt. So Hakoda did his best to not to show any reaction and eventually boy stopped acting like a fool and started to sit normally. Even then he kept on glancing Hakoda with a furtive and slightly disappointed look, like he expected him to say something.
Hakoda had come here to talk, to figure him out but the words stayed still. He could hear Aang, Teo and The Duke’s voices farther away, carried by the wind. It was always calming to hear the laughter of children, no matter how fast they were forced to grow up. He sneaked a look at the boy next to him. It was hard to remember that he was just a bit older than Sokka, with the air he carried himself, whether in prison or serving tea to his allies. And then he acted like a small child, teasing and even a bit trusting towards the older man. He did wonder about it. Hakoda didn’t know much about the prince’s personal history, but he did feel that this almost instant trust was extremely rare. He didn’t understand why, though. Prince didn’t know him and what he had seen of the interactions within the group they hadn’t really yet started to truly share the most personal pieces of themselves to the boy. Hakoda was older and of Water Tribe, father of children he had chased all around the world and of the tribe that had suffered heavy losses because of the Fire Nation attacks. In all reason, the prince should be avoiding him like plague in fear of retribution, not slightly teasing him.
Hakoda looked at the prince’s face. The scar was big and ugly and it was probably always the first thing people looked at. He thought that not many people were able to look past it to the boy himself. The boy looked young and eager in a way that felt a bit painful.
He didn’t know where prince had gotten his scar. There were rumors about him getting it in a training accident, or that he managed to somehow do it with his own fire. Hakoda did doubt those stories now. The placement and the shape of it meant that it was an attack; Someone had given him a fiery punch to the face. He also doubted that it was done accidently in the midst of sparring. He had noticed that boy was able to see through the eye, and the scar was too controlled to be born in a wayward attack. It was made deliberately and with quite a lot of care, done to brand but not to hindrance.
There were very few people who would be able to do that to the crown prince and get away with it and all those options made him feel a little sick in the stomach.
Prince was looking at the sunset with an expression eerily familiar to Hakoda from his own daughter when she gazed at the moon. He would never be able to understand the utter need the benders had for their element and the thought made him shiver. He had once seen a firebender locked in a cave for months and that sight still made him want to vomit. The woman hadn’t been a person anymore, just a mad beast that had attacked anything she saw, no matter who or what. Later he heard that she had repeatedly smashed her head to the floor until she broke her skull and died.
He had also heard the stories Fire Nation did to waterbenders and he would rather stab himself in the stomach than let his daughter be caught and imprisoned like that.
Still looking at the boy next to him he did wonder why. Why had he come to their side? There was no feeling of deception coming from him, so what had made him turn against his people, his own family? He thought about asking but chose not to. It was possible that the boy himself didn’t know all of the reasons and the moment felt too precious to break it with words. He was little surprised when he realized that he was actually reaching the point of almost meditative calmness that was so rare to him nowadays. He couldn’t feel it when surrounded by his men on the sea, but now he felt it sitting next to someone who had once been part of the mass of his enemies, watching the sundown in silence.
He raised his hand and ruffled the prince’s – Zuko’s hair a bit and left his hand on boy’s head. Zuko had flinched a little but didn’t move away and also slowly started to relax. The hair felt far more silky and fine than any hair of Kya and Katara’s. Hakoda smiled a bit at that thought. Kya would’ve acted playfully furious about it and would’ve loved to make the boy blush in embarrassment.
Hakoda held his hand on the prince’s head, rooting him on the spot and watched the sundown in silence with him. And for a moment, nothing was wrong.