"You know, I never told you this, but..." Zuko, his hands cupped around his bowl of rice, paused then. "Forget it. Never mind."
"No, go ahead, Zuko. You were gonna say something?" Aang goaded. A shiver ran across his heart at the younger's voice and he almost winced. Almost. He kept staring into his rice bowl and the shadows within it that flickered with the fire's light. The fire he had started.
"Well, I just," He looked up at the Avatar beside him, breathing in again, too fast, nervous, "I wanted to tell you that-" he cut off again, and his eyes snapped down in nervousness.
Aang's face softened then and he put down his own dinner, standing and offering a hand to help Zuko up. "C'mon. Let's go somewhere."
The older teen gulped softly at the phrasing but set down his own food and stood on his own, pushing on his knee and not taking the Avatar's hand. Aang smiled at him anyway and settled the hand on his far shoulder, rubbing it back and forth subtly, for comfort.
The pair of them glanced at the rest of the gang sitting in a circle around the fire and they mumbled their vague goodbyes, which the group just shrugged off. Zuko noticed Sokka, the Water Tribe boy, start to open his mouth with a shrewd expression on his face, but his girlfriend noticed it too and elbowed his side. Aang kept his hand on Zuko's back, pressing ever so slightly, as they turned from the fire's light and wandered off behind a rock beyond the campsite.
"Now," the painfully-young Avatar said, once they were out of earshot of anything human, "What did you want to tell me? We're alone now, so no one can embarrass you."
"Cept for me," Zuko noted dryly.
"Yeah, that's true, but is what you wanted to say really that embarrassing? I doubt it is."
The Fire Prince sank slowly to sit against a natural recess in the rock, dropping his head into his hands and sighing. He heard a soft rustle of clothing as the younger sat down beside him, and Zuko looked away. His companion slid a concerned hand along his shoulders again and it disturbed Zuko enough to make him stand.
"Zuko, come on. I'm not trying to hurt you. Is it-"
"I know!" Zuko snapped, looking back at him. "I know," he said again more softly, running a hand through his hair. "I know you don't mean it, but the last time someone touched me like that-" the subject changed with startling abruptness- "Do you even want me here?"
The boy's soft grey eyes widened, almost hurt. "What do you mean? You're, you're supposed to be here, I think. You, we need you right now. I need you."
"But not like that! I'm just a teacher to you, an angry firebender who could blow up at any minute and incinerate every last one of you!"
Zuko didn't see it, but Aang's eyes were trained on the ground below his feet. "I don't think you will, Zuko. I was with you when we met the firebending masters, the dragons-"
"Yeah? And so what? You don't know if I'm not still running on rage anymore! I may as well be for all you guys trust me! I mean, I know I don't deserve it but-"
"You do, Zuko. You really do. And you have it. You have our friendship, you even have Appa's approval. He took to you right away - it even took him a few days to warm up to Sokka and Katara! You are supposed to be here, Zuko. This is your home, for now."
"Home? What do you know about home? You haven't seen your home in a hundred years and it's my ancestors' fault!" Zuko collapsed to one knee in a fit of sadness - all the anger had drained out of him and there was only shame and regret. "I am so, so sorry for what I put all of you through, I am, but that's not me anymore, I guess it never was, and why do you keep touching me like that??" Zuko yelled this last when Aang came up behind him and touched his shoulder.
"What?" the young Airbender snapped testily. "You have a bruise there or what!? Why can't I touch you!?"
Zuko bit his lip. "I want you to, but..."
"But what?" Aang repeated, so softly, so kindly that Zuko nearly broke down and told him everything right there but he bit his lower lip and let only two tears fall from his good eye. Aang saw this in profile, on his knee beside Zuko and he raised a hand, slid it haltingly along Zuko's chin, looking for signs of resistance. When he found none, just the profile expression of self-hate and pain, he pulled gently at the teenager's jaw and took his lips with his own.
Unlike his recent efforts with Katara, Zuko responded. His lips went soft under Aang's, and his mouth opened willingly, his tongue pressed right up against his teeth so that when Aang leaned in a bit closer on instinct, his own made contact. The soft skin, or maybe it wasn't skin, since it was so sensitive, brushed, sending bolts of electricity through both of them.
It was warmer, inside Zuko's mouth, than the night air outside and Aang pressed forward to escape into it. His head tilted at just the right angle and all of a sudden, they fit. Mouths and tongue and teeth all simply meshed and thought disappeared but Aang could sense they were near the end and indeed, after one or two token rubs, as if in thanks, Zuko's tongue slid back into his own mouth and although Aang's longed to follow it, he respected the older boy and closed his mouth to Zuko, leaving their lips connected for a few more seconds as he opened his eyes. As he did so, his face still touching Zuko's, he was astounded to see golden-yellow eyes watching him.
Neither moved, simply watched the other, for at least ten seconds. Then Zuko's eyes closed and he backed away.
"We did good yesterday, you know?" Zuko's voice sounded different, thought Aang. Farther away somehow, like a distant horizon.
"Mmm? We did?" questioned the dizzy Avatar. Aang, at least, wasn't quite in control of his senses yet.
"Yeah. With the dragons. And you got to firebend! How must that have felt?"
Aang looked up at the teenager beside him, with the floppy black hair, that had been the cause of so much worry and fear and anger... Aang took a deep breath in and let it out. Zuko watched the steam that went out with it, and Aang felt at peace.
"Amazing," he admitted softly, looking at his newfound friend. Zuko smiled back at him, watching the emotions that flitted through his eyes.
Since he was watching him so closely, Zuko sensed the moment that Aang's thoughts began to cloud over with lust almost before the airbender himself. But Aang was watching the firebender just as closely and he saw exactly when the other boy's smile turned up at the corners and he, in response, leaned closer.
Their lips met again.