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Zukaang Week Day Two: Impossible Odds

God, this story is just a mess. It's what I get for waiting until 9:30PM to start, and trying to watch Supernatural while I'm writing.
I thought I was going to do something tackling the issue of Aang and Zuko needing offspring, but dracomaleficium did such an awesome job with her story that I don't think there would be much I could bring to the table. I had another idea (sort of) that I wanted to do, anyway, so I tried that. Pretty obscure usage of the prompt, especially because I didn't really finish out my idea, but oh well.

Word Count: ~1800
Rating: G
Characters: Onesided Aang/Zuko
Summary: Aang comes to a realization while training with Zuko.



"Good. Take two more breaths here and then let me see your Firebending."

Zuko stepped forward, poking Aang in the chest to make him straighten. Aang exhaled a slow breath. His eyes closed. When Zuko backed away, he shot out a fist, a decent sized flame curling out from his knuckles.

This time, he heard no praise from Zuko, but when Aang dropped his arm and glanced at his new teacher, he saw the shadow of a smile.

It was Zuko and Aang's third Firebending lesson. They were standing in their usual spot, on one of the lower terraces of the temple, overlooking the valley below. Birds were singing in the distance. It was just after sunrise.

Aang was still getting used to having Zuko as a teacher, and Zuko had to get used to being a teacher. Not to mention the strangeness of a former enemy turned friend. Even though he knew what he was talking about, Zuko had never had a pupil, and their lessons had been disjointed and random. Aang still learned a lot, and not just about Firebending. Waking up early with Zuko and practicing with him for the past few days meant that Aang was privy to a lot of Zuko's quirks that he never would have thought about before. Zuko always yawned twice in a row. He could only focus on his meditations if there was a fire burning nearby. He got nervous when anyone other than Aang watched him Firebend-- which was weird, since their entire group had been bended at by Zuko. When Aang asked about this, Zuko told him it was because he felt like he was putting on a performance for everyone else, and had to prove himself worthy to be in their group.

Another thing Aang learned about Zuko was that he was unconsciously charming: the way he always hesitated when it was time for dinner, unsure of who to sit by; how he gently shook Aang awake when it was time for their lesson; and one of the best parts of Zuko's lessons was the flabbergasted look on his face when Aang effortlessly caught on to a new Firebending technique. Zuko wasn't used to Aang's learning curve yet, and even though Aang repeatedly told him about the hundreds of times the Avatar had mastered Firebending in his previous lives, Zuko still felt shown up.


"Okay, now show me the form I taught you yesterday, that ended in a fire kick," Zuko was saying.

What one?" Aang asked, feigning innocence. He knew perfectly well what form Zuko was talking about, but there was something else Aang had learned from his lessons: he really liked watching Zuko Firebend. "Can you give me a demonstration?"

Zuko gave a quiet sigh, but went through the movements anyway with his usual precision. Aang reminded himself not to abuse Zuko's charitableness, as fun as it was the watch his white limbs move so confidently.

"Remember now?" Zuko asked when he finished. Aang nodded, and repeated the movements.


After that, Zuko was out of things to teach Aang for the day, so the rest of the lesson was filled with breathing excercises. Aang didn't mind too much; it would still be a little while before everyone else was awake, and it gave him some time to think.

Was it wrong for him to like watching Zuko so much? There was just something about the line of Zuko's muscles while he moved, with concentration narrowing his golden eyes, that really appealed to Aang.

He tried to put a name to his feelings: maybe if he could identify what was going on, he could figure out what to do. Zuko was his friend now, maybe Aang was just feeling some friend-like affection towards him-- but Aang wasn't making Sokka, a friend, throw a boomerang for his viewing pleasure. It was something more than that. A crush? Could he have a crush on Zuko?

No. Aang discarded that thought quickly. Zuko was older; Aang looked up to him. And he just happened to be interesting to look at.


Later that day, at dinnertime, Aang scooted a little to the left of his normal place by the fire. Then he watched Zuko get his food and do his customary fish-out-of-water gaze around the group.

"There's a spot over here," Aang said, gesturing beside him. "As long as you bring some soup over here to me."

"Oh hey, Zuko, while you're up, could you bring me another spoon? I dropped mine," Sokka interjected.

"Sokka, you can get your own spoon," Aang said, only because Zuko was looking unsure of himself again.

"If Zuko's getting your food, he can grab something for me too!" Sokka had a good spot by the fire, and apparently he did not want to get up from it.

In the end, Zuko brought Sokka his spoon and then sat down by Aang with full bowls for both of them. As they ate, Teo entertained everyone with a story of how one of his wheels had broken off as he was racing down the Echo Chamber. Aang's mind was only half on the albeit amusing story; he was distracted by Zuko's body, sitting so close to him and feeling almost as warm as the fire.


Life would have been pleasant at the Air Temple, except for the war that hung over all their heads. They tried to distract themselves and not think about it, but each day brought the comet and their destinies closer.

Zuko didn't seem to pick up on the whole 'distraction' thing; he reminded Aang daily of why exactly he was learning Firebending. Aang wondered if there was any way of getting Zuko to relax.

He tried. One morning, Aang was practicing his breath of fire. Zuko pushed him.

"More. You have to give it more juice, remember? Or else it'll fizzle out and probably burn you."

Aang was nervous enough with fire so close to his face, and Zuko's snappy words made him falter even more. He heard Zuko's impatient sigh and knew there was a lecture coming.

"Stop being so scared of it. Fire deserves respect, but it's not going to respect you if you keep shying away from it. If you hesitate like this in front of my father, do you know what's going to happen? He'll shoot lightening through your heart!"

Zuko practically shouted his last words, and Aang jumped, the last of his fire puffing out and nearly singing his eyebrows. He was already sweating, his heart was pounding, and they had barely started the lesson. Aang broke out in a nervous sweat whenever Ozai was mentioned nowadays; he had had enough.

"Alright, Zuko, I get it!" Aang shouted back, knowing in the back of his mind that he was taking out his stress on Zuko, but not much caring at that moment. "How is telling me something I already know supposed to help me with this stuff? I know Ozai would kill me in a second! I know what I have to do! But all I want to do right now is learn Firebending. And I'm doing that, every day. You never even let me have a break!"

Zuko was taken aback by Aang's outburst, and it took him a moment to come up with a response.

"Why would you want to take a break if you know what's at stake?" he said slowly. Aang growled in frustration.

"What good is sixty hot squats a day doing anyone? I know what I have to do, and I thought I was doing well with Firebending!"

Zuko watched him carefully.

"You're doing good with your bending. I just want you to be prepared." Zuko swallowed. "I'm sorry if I'm not as good as your other teachers. I've never done this before."

Aang's anger rapidly evaporated, and he sighed. He didn't need Zuko doubting his skills.

"Don't think like that," he told Zuko. "You're a good teacher, I just really hate doing hot squats." Odd how easy it was to compliment Zuko now, when a month ago Aang never would have dreamt of it. Odder still was how much Zuko brightened at the compliment- did Aang's praise mean that much to him?


Zuko stopped mentioning his father so much after that, and Aang noticed that Zuko seemed to be happier, too. Once, he even laughed at a joke that Aang told. Aang had to duck away quickly after that; hearing Zuko's laugh for the first time had made Aang turn scarlet.


Their lessons morphed into mutual Firebending practice, with the both of them moving through forms they knew by heart; every limb, breath, and flame in sync. Zuko had taught him well, and in the rare instance that Katara was up early enough and decided to watch them, Aang could tell she was impressed. It felt good to Firebend with Zuko.


There was one morning where Zuko didn't shake him awake. Aang woke up at sunrise anyway, it was too much of a habit by now. He looked around in confusion, wondering with his sleep-hazed mind why waking up on his own was so strange. Then he realized there was no Zuko.

Aang was worried at first, since it seemed highly unlikely that Zuko had simply slept in, but when he crept over to their ledge, he saw Zuko there, stretching. Zuko had his back to him, so Aang stopped a little way away and watched instead of interrupting him, letting him enjoy his solitude for a few minutes more.

After a little while, Zuko turned and happened to see Aang. He looked surprised and embarrassed to discover his audience.

"I didn't think you'd be up," Zuko said.

"You've been waking me at sunrise for so long I can't remember what it's like to sleep in," Aang said, hoping Zuko didn't mind him watching.

"Oh. Well, I thought today you deserved a break," Zuko said.

"You're giving me a break?" Was he dreaming? "I was hoping you'd say that I knew enough Firebending to not need lessons anymore, but this is good, too," Aang said with a grin.

"No, you still have things to learn. But not today."

An entire day without a single hot squat. This deserved celebrating.

"You should come with me to explore the temple," Aang blurted out the first thing that came to mind. There were still a few rooms he hadn't been to that Haru kept mentioning.

To Aang's surprise, Zuko agreed.

"I never got to see much of this place before, but it is pretty ingenious," he said.

And that was what sealed the deal for Aang: Zuko wanting to look around the temple, ready to appreciate Air Nomad culture like no other Fire Nation citizen, on top of one of Zuko's rare smiles.

It wasn't love, not yet, but Aang knew then that his feelings for Zuko were much more than friendly. Just as he believed that Zuko was meant to be his Firebending teacher, he felt like this was the next step they were supposed to take, because it was going to take a lot more than their friendship to rebuild the world.

There only left the question of how Zuko felt about him, and Aang couldn't answer it. But maybe a day of exploring dark and deserted rooms could.



Sorry, I need to sleep now. D:

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
dracomaleficium
Mar. 20th, 2012 12:33 pm (UTC)
Firebending lessons! I do love me some Firebending lessons :) It's such a cool opportunity for bonding time and exploration of chemistry between these two and we see so little of it in the show, so every time someone does a fic about it, it makes me happy. And this was fun. A little disconnected, true, but fun - the dialogues especially. You do write some great dialogue with the boys, their voices are exactly right. And Zuko being the Big Scary Teacher trying to intimidate the student into obedience and diligence - that's right, Zuko, keep scaring the kid, it'll sure make him practice more XD It's just so him. Also, the little snippets of life in the Western Air Temple, like Teo breaking a wheel, Katara spying on their training, Sokka being lazy by the fire, and Zuko's "quirks" that Aang observed - all of that was simply lovely.

Also, Aang hatin' on the hot squats and having an outburst about it - genius. Because Zuko would be the kind of teacher who treated "breaks" as some exotic, barbarian concept best approached with a long stick. I imagine that since he trained himself mercilessly basically from dusk till dawn and pushed himself as far as he could go and further, he would demand the same from Aang. And Aang, well... He just doesn't see things this way :)

Plus, Aang's budding crush. So cute <3
lepharus
Mar. 20th, 2012 03:52 pm (UTC)
I do really like thinking about/exploring/reading stuff in the Western Air Temple. It was such a neat setting, and like you said, so many opportunities for bonding time. The glimpses we got in the show are some of my favorite.

And thank you for what you said about the dialogue. I try to keep everyone in character, so I really like to hear that! It's very hard for me sometimes, haha, and some bits of dialogue take a lot of deliberation.

Oh yes, Zuko is a merciless teacher. Katara needs to have a talk with him like she did with Toph.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting! <3
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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