Rating/Warnings: PG-13 for Zuko being emo about normal teenage urges.
Summary: Zuko is just hoping that maybe the Southern Water Tribe just doesn't teach their children about civilized cultural norms.
AN: Avatar fic! For Wolfie, Shabz, and everybody else who has encouraged my flail over the last couple weeks. ZUKO IS MY EMO BOYFRIEND.
No Sidetracks, No Worms, and Definitely No Rainbows
While dating Mai, Zuko had often and loudly complained that she didn't care about anything.
After a week with the Boomerang Squad (or whatever insipid name Sokka was using at the moment), Zuko realized that the most annoying thing about them was that they cared about everything.
Katara felt the need to meddle in the personal well-being of every single person, animal, or leaf they came across. They spent most of their time in the middle of some forest, Zuko quickly learned. There were a lot of leaves.
Aang had that whole "responsible for the fate of the entire world" thing going on, so Zuko supposed it was forgivable. At least the twenty percent of the time his urge to superhero wasn't directly affected by his sickeningly obvious crush on Katara and her leaves.
Toph was more tolerable, except for her daddy issues, but Zuko could understand that. Less understandable was her need to prove that she could do everything herself, which was, in Zuko's opinion, a rather untenable position for a blind Earthbender with two burnt feet.
Sokka was…well. Zuko wasn't sure what Sokka was. Other than fashion-conscious, apparently.
"I really like it." Sokka shook out the cloak and examined it, then flipped it over and examined it some more. "But it's too expensive."
"Then don't," Katara said, not even looking up from the boots she was examining.
"But it would go so well with my bag…" Sokka hummed thoughtfully.
"Then get it," Toph said, eyeing the boots in Katara's hands with distaste. "It's only money. We'll just pretend I got hit by a carriage again."
"I shouldn't." Sokka set the cloak back down on the table and started to walk away, but then did a one-eighty and suddenly was hugging the cloak to his chest again. "I'm getting it!"
"Is he serious?" Zuko demanded of Aang, completely distracted from his search for a good whetstone.
"Yup!" Aang grinned at Zuko. "Sokka takes shopping pretty seriously."
Five minutes later and back on the street, Sokka demanded to know why they had let him buy the cloak in the first place, and Zuko thought about strangling him with it.
Two days later, Sokka was singing the praises of the cloak loud and long when they took a side trip to a nearby mountain range to investigate a string of pigsheep disappearances, and the climate change was something of a shock after spending high summer in the Fire Nation.
The grass was thick with frost when Zuko woke up on the first morning there, and he spent a few seconds wondering why he wasn't cold at all and priding himself on his obviously very manly constitution, before he glanced down and noticed that he wasn't alone.
Sokka, curled up with his cloak and a contented smile, was sleeping with his sleeping bag spooned right up against Zuko's, and before he could stop it, Zuko let out a very manly shriek.
"WHAT IS IT?!" Aang demanded, on his feet and in his bending stance right away, despite the fact that he was facing completely in the wrong direction. "ARE WE UNDER ATTACK?!"
"Bring it on, Fire Nation!" Toph shouted, also up and facing in another, yet also wrong direction.
"It's just Zuko," Katara grumbled from her sleeping bag, and the other two relaxed with sighs of relief. "What do you want?"
"Nothing!" Zuko barked, scrambling out of his sleeping bag as fast as he could. "There's nothing going on! I'm going for a morning run!"
"That sounds great!" Aang exclaimed, hopping so that he was facing the right way finally. Toph grunted her disapproval of that plan, and fell heavily back down on the ground, slamming the door of her earth hut up behind her. Katara rolled over as well, mumbling a few thoughts of her own.
At Zuko's feet, Sokka rolled over farther onto Zuko's sleeping bag and gave a happy little moan. Zuko took off at a dead run, trusting the Avatar could probably catch up, but hoping that the sight of Sokka nestling happily in his bed would get left behind.
By the time Aang and Zuko returned, everything was back to normal, a yawning Sokka being bullied by Katara into his share of the chores while he tried to tie his hair back out of his face, and Zuko was more than willing to convince himself that he had dreamed the whole thing. He had practically forgotten all about it in the course of solving the local mystery, and had gone to bed thinking about nothing more consequential than what a forest spirit, vengeful or otherwise, would need with that many pigsheep anyways.
Which is why he was doubly traumatized the next morning when he woke up to find Sokka not only cuddled up next to his sleeping bag, but snuggled right up against Zuko's chest, smiling peacefully and ruffling the hair that was hanging over his eyes with every snore.
"So warm," Sokka mumbled. "But what's the pigsheep for?"
Zuko bet his uncle didn't have a pithy saying about this, and then he made another very loud noise which he was choosing to think of as a war cry befitting a virile Fire Nation youth.
"NO, FIRE LORD," Aang hollered, this time facing the right way but with his shirt flipped up over his face. "YOU FORGOT YOUR PANTS!"
Zuko tried as hard as possible not to speak to anybody with anything other than pointed glares for the rest of the day, which seemed to suit most of them just fine. They were all busy arguing over what they were going to do next, Sokka and Toph wanting to get back on task while Aang and Katara were lobbying for a tour through the mountains both for the scenery and to check out the situation of the other local villages. Zuko didn't care one way or the other, since he could teach the Avatar Firebending wherever they were, and stayed out of it.
He'd mellowed out enough to give gruff instructions when Aang asked for his Firebending lesson that afternoon before they took off. He was almost back to his normal plateau of irritation when a catcall from behind him alerted him that they had an audience and made him fumble a punch that would have singed an inch off the Avatar's hair if he had had any.
"Can we help you?" Zuko growled, turning to give Sokka the look that used to send Fire Navy officers scrambling right over the edge of the warship's deck.
Sokka just grinned back and shrugged his shoulders carelessly. "Just admiring your technique, Prince Zuko. Looks like you're a little…too hot to handle, should I say?"
Zuko, who had been about to deliver a scathing retort, snapped his jaw shut at Sokka's words and turned back to Aang. Had Sokka always been sleeveless? "Let's just continue."
"I think I got it!" Aang chirped, then proceeded to create a miniature fire crane out of thin air and send it swooping through a series of loops and twirls that was roughly thirty-seven thousand times more complex than the one Zuko had demonstrated originally.
"Yeah," he grunted, trying to tell himself that he just must be one hell of a Firebending teacher. "You got it."
"Hey, Zuko," Aang twisted his wrist and the crane winked out of existence, "can we practice the Dragon Dance? Huh, can we?"
"Oh, by all means!" Sokka called, cutting off Zuko's answer with a whoop of laughter. "You two should definitely practice your little dance! I hear it's all the rage at the secret Fire Nation junior high dance parties!"
Even Aang looked flustered about Sokka's comment, so Zuko felt no compunction at all about whirling around to shout, "Any time you'd like to climb down off that rock and try it, Idiocybender, I'm right here!"
"Oh," Sokka eyed Zuko, grin turning suddenly sharp and eyeing Zuko up and down in a way that got right under Zuko's skin, "I'd dance with you any time, Zuko."
Zuko's heartbeat sounded suddenly loud in his ears as Sokka continued staring at him, and he glared right back.
"Are…we still talking about Firebending?" Aang wanted to know, and Zuko had no idea, so he just snapped that the lesson was over and stomped off into the forest.
"At first I thought he was just an idiot," Zuko said, ruffling his hair all up in irritation. "But nobody can be that much of an idiot. Then I thought maybe he was putting the moves on me, but he likes girls! One minute he's practically asking me to the Fire Prom, and the next minute he's waxing rhapsodic to Toph about how that Kyoshi warrior person has breasts that are suppler than a sealwalrus! I don't even know what that means! Do you know what that means?!"
"Errrrrrrrrp," the toad sitting on the end of the log said, and then after staring at Zuko blankly for a second longer, licked its own eyeball. Zuko let his shoulders slump with a frustrated groan.
"Zuko?" came a voice from behind Zuko, who jumped six inches in the air and emitted another virile Fire Nation youth war cry. He whirled around to find Aang, head tilted in a way that made his arrow translate into a question mark. "I came to apologize for Sokka, but…who were you talking to?"
"Um," Zuko said, shifting in front of Aang to hide the toad as Aang came closer and tried to see around him, first one way and then the other, but Aang did some crazy Airbender dodge and weave that ended up with Zuko blocking about as successfully as a quadriplegic pentapus.
"Oh, hello there!" Aang said, crouching down to get a better look at the toad. The toad greeted the Avatar by magnanimously licking his other eyeball. "Hey, he looks familiar! Wasn't he hanging around the Western Air Temple too? Is he your spirit animal or something?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Zuko said quickly, reaching out to tug Aang away from the toad and shooting a glare over his shoulder back at the toad. The toad rolled its eyes, literally, before hopping off the log and shuffling off into the underbrush.
They walked in silence for a few moments, Zuko stewing to himself and Aang for all appearances just enjoying a nice walk in the alpine woods, listening to the melodious warble of the indigenous robintitmouse.
But then Zuko had an idea: Aang was a guy. Sokka was also a guy. Aang obviously was head over heels for that water tribe girl and had no doubt attempted some sort of bumbling courtship method. Maybe, Zuko reasoned, he could find out whether Sokka's recent attentions were romantic, or whether it was just that the water tribe didn't have any sense of civilized social norms.
"Look," he finally said, "can I ask you something?"
"Sure!" Aang gushed. "We can talk about anything! See, I told Sokka you weren't a monosyllabic thundercloud of doom! You just needed time to warm up to us!"
"Great," Zuko said, and he took a second to mentally set aside that little revelation for a later moment. "But listen, you like Katara, right?"
"NO," Aang said immediately, going redder than a raddishbeet. "I mean, of course not! HA HA! Where would you, ha, get an idea like that?"
"I see." Zuko took a moment to regroup and also hope that the world wasn't depending on the Avatar's sense of subtlety. "But…say you did like Katara. Hypothetically."
"Okay, hypothetically," Aang said cautiously. "The kind of hypothetically where it never ever happens, really, but go on."
"If you liked Katara, but you didn't want to tell her exactly," Zuko winced internally at how idiotic this whole thing was, "what would you do to sort of…give her the hint?"
"Oh. Well. I." Aang twiddled his fingers nervously, a tiny ring of wind whipping into existence between his palms. "Hypothetically. I might, say. Give her jewelry. Or um. Maybe talk her into visiting the Cave of the Lovers. Or. Just. You know. Ask her to spend a lot of time in the water correcting my Waterbending stance in her bathing suit. Hypothetically."
"Makes sense," Zuko said, only refraining from laughing in the Avatar's face by focusing on relief that Sokka really wasn't trying anything like that. It was obviously just a series of strange, strange coincidences that didn't mean anything because Sokka was a moron.
"Um, and." Aang's little whirlwind was starting to suck in leaves from nearby bushes. "Maybe sometimes. I might wait until she was asleep and slide my sleeping bag over closer to hers. BUT ONLY IF I LIKED KATARA WHICH I DEFINITELY DON'T."
"Right." Zuko sighed, hope snuffing out like a butterfirefly in a downpour.
Maybe he should have just stuck with imitating his uncle.
Hours later, Zuko was soaking in the river near their camp, sunk low enough that only his eyes and nose were above the water and wondering why the water couldn't carry off his awkwardness as easily as it did the bubbles he was blowing.
"Oh great, if you're in there the water will be full of sulk," Sokka's voice shattered the peace from the shore, and Zuko resisted the urge to dunk his whole head under the water and stay there until he died.
Sokka almost solved the problem for him when he dived in with a cannonball and a tidal wave of water crashed over Zuko's head.
"YEARGH!" Sokka shrieked, spluttering and flailing as he surfaced, hair soaked down over his eyes. "It's freezing in here! Why didn't you warn me?!"
"It's a mountain stream, idiot!" Zuko snapped. "What did you expect?"
"You're from the Fire Nation, and you're sitting there content as can be!" Sokka wrapped arms around himself and shivered dramatically.
He started stomping closer to Zuko, and Zuko tried to shrink back up against the rock he'd been leaning on, tried to ignore the fact that he was naked and Sokka was naked and the water was only kind of waist-high if you stood, like Sokka was doing.
"You've told us thirty thousand times how you hate the cold, so I figured…hey." Sokka's expression scrunched up in confusion as he got within stretching distance of Zuko. "It is warmer over here. There's like a warm spot right…" Suddenly Sokka gave Zuko a look of utter horror. "You didn't!"
"I'M A FIREBENDER, YOU PROVINCIAL NITWIT," Zuko roared, so irritated at Sokka's implication that he forgot his embarrassment. He reached over to plant a hand on Sokka's bare chest and called up enough of his internal heat to spread it to Sokka and all the water either of them were touching.
"Oh," Sokka said, deflated, and then he shifted over to put his back against the same rock Zuko was leaning on. "That's, um, better. Thanks."
Neither of them said anything for a few minutes, but Zuko watched out of the corner of his eye as Sokka reached up to touch his fingertips against the spot on his chest where Zuko's hand had rested.
"That's why," Sokka said finally, "your sleeping bag is always really warm, isn't it?"
"Is that why I keep waking up with you practically in it?" Zuko asked icily, wondering why he wasn't feeling a rush of relief at the idea.
"N-no." Sokka tapped his fingers against his chest and pointedly stared down at them. "I mean. Maybe not exactly. So, Zuko. Say you, hypothetically, liked someone. What…"
Fed up with the whole thing, Zuko leaned over to crush his mouth against Sokka's, hoping that maybe he could at least get five seconds of peace and quiet out of the deal.
When they finally made it back to camp, nothing more dramatic happened than Katara yelling at Sokka for shirking his chores again, and Aang laughing that Sokka bathing was definitely for the good of the whole group, which only made Sokka pout because Appa lowed his agreement.
But Toph was grinning widely when Zuko sat down across from the campfire from her, and Zuko suddenly remembered with terrible clarity the extent of her powers.
"What's up, Toph?" Katara asked with a frown as she handed Toph a bowl of stew and noticed her expression. "Can you feel something?"
"Nope," Toph grinned harder, "but somebody sure felt the earth move a little while ago," and then Sokka choked on his stew when the fire suddenly flared high enough to nearly take an inch off the Avatar's hair, if he had had any.
"Don't react to what I'm about to say," Aang hissed to Katara, "but I think Zuko might have a crush on Toph," and then both Sokka and Katara slapped their foreheads.