Lunch at the Northern-Airtemple was always hectic.
Most of the time Katara was the one to cook for all the occupants of the temple but recently Zuko had taken to making some of their meals. At first Katara would glare and stomped away huffing when he had asked to help, but she had eventually conceded, still glaring.
The meals he would prepare would always be less salty then Katara’s but spicier and flavorful like most fire nation food.
Toph had liked it the most out of all of the group. She said it reminded her of the Earth-Kingdom food more than Katara’s.
Her compliment had brought a small smile to his face.
(The first since the day of black sun)
He hadn’t noticed the looks Sokka and Aang had shared at that, to busy ducking his head to hide the light dusting of pink on his cheeks.
Katara has said something snide, causing Zuko to hunch, and Toph to launch a people at Katara’s head, laughing loudly in distraction.
Zuko didn’t know why the earth-bender had seemed to attach to him, but he couldn’t say he minded. It was the opposite really. Toph was loud and tuff and wasn’t afraid of being blunt, and honest.
It didn’t help that she slightly reminded him of Azula before she became cruel and wrong.
Baby fat was still clinging to her cheeks, the goblin smile she had when insulting someone, or causing chaos was frankly adorable on her chubby cheeks.
Mealtimes were the only times during the day where everyone was gathered together in the same room, with the exception of Teo, Haru, and The duke, who had decided to utilize the giant Pi-Sho room for themselves.
Chief Hakoda would stay with the main group while Chit-sang watched over the trio.
Zuko was wary of the Chief, but so far he hadn’t seen the man do anything incriminating. He seemed to love both of his children immensely and if Zuko was honest he was jealous of Sokka, and Katara. They had a father who seemed to genuinely care for them.
Hakoda never went to hit them or yell at them when they did something they were not supposed to be doing. Zuko was frankly baffled at the chiefs behavior. It was so strange to see a happy family interacting, and he couldn’t help the knot of jealousy that formed in his chest when watching them.
Mealtimes were often filled with light conversation, but it seemed that today Toph had a different plan. She had seemed deep in thought and nobody wanted to be the one to disturb her.
Zuko spooned at his curry. He had been the one to cook today much to his happiness. He had always enjoyed cooking even when he was a child. His father had tried to beat out his enjoyment for the task, but Zuko had just taken to sneaking into the royal kitchens during the night to cook then.
Nobody, but stray servants would ever catch him, and although Zuko never new the palace servants always had a soft spot for the soft spoken boy who always thanked them politely and never seemed to take any joy in tormenting the staff like the rest of the royal family.
About halfway through the meal Toph finally looked up and spoke, cutting off Suki and Sokka’s conversation about weapons that everyone else was paying attention too.
“We are going to play a game” she stated, leaving no room for arguments.
“Uhhh... okay?” It was Sokka who finally responded after a minute of silence “what are we playing?”
“Well technically it’s more like a... icebreaker then a game” she answered “because I don’t know nearly enough about you guys and barely anything about Sparky over there” she said, waving a dismissive hand towards Zuko.
Said fire-bender looked none too happy about potentially having to tell people anything about himself. He was scrunching up his nose and hunching his shoulders as if trying his to hide
Aang looked excited at the idea, bouncing in place with a wide smile on his face.
“Yeah! How do we play? Is it a guessing game! Or charades! Or is it airball ? I can teach everyone to play!” Aang rambled excitedly, looking like a child who was given ten gold pieces and told to go wild.
“Can it Twinkletoes, let me explain” Toph demanded. Aang quieted down, still bouncing in place.
Katara looked like she wanted to berate Toph for talking to Aang like that, but she held back, already knowing that it wouldn’t do any good.
“Okay so we will go around, taking turns and say three things we like and three things we don’t. Is that simple enough for you dunderheads to do?” The last part of her sentence was said tauntingly as she grinned wickedly.
Sokka looked incredibly affronted, as if the mere Idea of him not being able to understand simple instructions was bizarre, And Katara looked to be restraining herself from strangling the girl. Chief Hakoda seemed to be enjoying his children’s disgruntlement, his eyes shining in silent mirth, and the corners of his mouth ticked up in a smirk.
Aang seemed to have missed the insult because he just nodded enthusiastically.
Zuko just deadpanned at the earth-bender, looking like he was judging her for even suggesting that he couldn’t handle simple instructions.
He heaved a sigh, shaking his head fondly. He had found that Toph was his favorite person in the gaang, with Aang coming in second.
(Zuko hadn’t understood how much she meant to him until one day when practicing his Kata’s alone in the training ground, that she had silently been watching him train and he hadn’t noticed. After completing a particularly complex set she had cheered from the sidelines, startling him, causing him to jump in surprise.
She had grinned at him with her goblin smile, and complemented him in her unapologetic way, telling him that while he may be good at fighting, that she could still kick his ass.
Blushing brightly, he agreed. She could definitely crush him in a fight. Literally. But her insult wasn’t meant to hurt him, it was clearly said jokingly.
It felt different than Azula’s false complements, and cutting insults. Looking at the short girl Zuko felt warm.
The next time he produced fire the flames came out flickering with startlingly bright flashes of forest green. The shade of green matched the color of Toph’s headband exactly.
Toph must have sensed something in his heartbeat, or the hitch in his breath telling her all she needed to know. She had walked up to him and given him a light punch to the arm while smiling up at him.
(“I love you too Sparky”)
Zuko had felt so content in that moment and happy to stay right there, but Toph has broken the moment by punching him again, much harder than the last time and demanded that he would give her a ride.
Zuko had rolled his eyes, smiling softly and complied.)
Suki, who was sitting against Sokka, his arm thrown over her shoulder nodded.
“Yeah, you might have to help Sokka here understand a bit” she said smirking. Sokka pouted dramatically at that, muttering under his breath about “ungrateful friends and girlfriends who had betrayed him”.
“Okay, who wants to go first?”
Aang wasted no time in raising his hand.
“Me me! I wanna go! Let me!”
“Yeah sure, go on Aang” it was Katara who answered. Aang wasted no time in launching right into his answers.
“Well I like my friends! and Appa! and Momo! and airball! and fish! and penguin sledding! and my bison whistle! and-“
“Aang, Toph said three things, not all of them” Sokka interrupted Wang’s ramble. Aang looked sheepish and rubbed his neck.
Katara sighed “it’s fine. Now answer the rest of the question”
“Things I don’t like- well” Aang’s face fell as he clearly tried to keep it on his face “ Well I don’t like my friends getting hurt... or the fire-lord, and I especially hate Sea-prunes!” Aang pulled a face at the mere mention of the offensive fruit.
The members of the water-tribe laughed at the last part, knowing what Aang was talking about. The rest of the group just looked confused, not knowing what a see prune was. Zuko and Suki glanced at each other, and Zuko shrugged with a confused expression on his face.
“While I don’t know what a spirts-dammed Sea-prune is, it’s someone else turn” Toph interrupted the laughter “Zuko, go”
Zuko opened his mouth to protest, but Toph cut him off before he could begin.
“Cmon Sparky, I don’t even know anything about you! Pretty please with a pile of rocks on top”
Zuko did not want to know where Toph had learned how to make turtle-seal pup eyes. He did not. He felt his protests die in his throat. Sighing, he relented.
Toph grinned victoriously, leaning back satisfied. The rest of the group looked baffled at the interaction happening in front of them, but the fire-bender started talking before they could ask what the fuck that was.
“Um, I like cooking I guess and... turtle-ducks, I really like turtle-ducks, umm what else?” He trailed off, deep in thought.
The group looked baffled. (Turtle-ducks? This tuff looking master fire-bender likes cooking and turtle-ducks?) was the shared thought of the group.
“-and theater! I like the theater! “ Zuko looked up from the ground, his eyes brighter then most had seen at the thought of his favorite things.
“You like theater?” It was chief Hakoda who asked. Zuko shot him a nervous look, before Toph nudged him gently in the side for reassurance.
“Um yes sir” he replied trying to not look nervous.
“Really. What’s your favorite production?”
Hakoda could clearly see how him talking to the prince was making him nervous, and was trying to ease his discomfort. Hakoda had some ideas of why the prince was afraid of him and the didn’t paint a pretty picture. After all who could get away with scarring royalty like that?
Hakoda wondered if the prince could even see out of his left eye.
At the question Zuko’s eyes could only be described as lighting up.
“Love amongst the dragons is my favorite, but only the original, not the fire-nation version. The Ember island players absolutely butchered it, like come on, how hard would it be to keep the script the same!?” Zuko sounded so outraged at the play writers for screwing up the play. His hands were flying around, gesturing angrily.
Toph looked on in open amusement as Zuko continued to rant about the play write and how the acting troupe had completely ruined it.
Five minutes later he was still ranting without looking like he was going to stop anytime soon. Toph cleared her throat loudly, cutting off Zuko mid sentence.
“Not that, that wasn’t interesting Spark breath, but you still haven’t answered the second part of the question” Zuko went bright pink. Ears going red and a flush making its way down his neck.
The rest of the group was still in shock, trying to process the fact that Zuko was a theater nerd. The angsty Fire-breathing, angry flame prince was a theater nerd.
“Sorry, I got carried away” Zuko apologized, his shoulders up to his ears.
“It’s fine Zuko, just answer the rest of the question now” Sokka said.
“Okay, umm I don’t like the fire-lord-“ Katara snorted at that. Zuko ignored her “-or the cold, or that foliage sucking bastard-“
“Wait, do you mean Jet?” It was Katara who asked.
“Um yeah, you knew Jet?” Zuko asked, eyes wide. Katara blushed and turned away looking angry. Sokka let out a loud laugh.
“Yes, we knew him. He and Katara kinda dated” He said, smirking. The chief looked like he wanted to question Katara, but Zuko’s voice cut him off.
“Oh, me too”
Dead fucking silence.
“You dated Jet?!”
“Yeah, I claim temporary insanity for that one” Zuko said, shaking his head.
Katara turned to him with a contemplative look on her face “why would you date Jet? I don’t like you but even you could do better”
“I was in a bad place” Zuko replied simply “he was an absolute cunt”
Aang gasped at the swear, but it was otherwise ignored. Katara didn’t even chastise him for it.
“Yeah! And he always had that stupid piece of grass in his mouth like it made him hotter!” Katara exclaimed.
“Yeah! It just made him look even more like a douche bag!” Zuko agreed with the Water-benders sentiment wholeheartedly.
“I know right!”
Zuko was back in ranting mode and this time Katara had joined him. The group just looked on in mounting humor as the situation continued.
“Did you ever, you know do “that” with him?” It was Katara who asked. Sokka and Hakoda looked scandalized, while Toph and Suki were laughing and poor Aang just looked confused.
Yeah, and it was terrible! He was so bad at it!” Zuko didn’t even sound slightly embarrassed to be talking about his sex life.
“Yeah, you’d think with the way he acts he’d be able to back up his claims, but no, it was terrible!”
“What are they talking about?” Aang asked.
“Their talking about sex. You do know what sex is right?” Toph answered Aang’s question mockingly. Aang went bright red then he turned to Zuko.
“You had sex with Jet?!” He asked incredulously. Zuko paused and turned to Aang.
“Wait aren’t you like way older then him? How old are you?” Aang continued.
The fire-bender eyed him weirdly “how old do you think I am?” He asked, raising his brow as he looked at the group weirdly.
“Well like twenty-twenty one maybe?” Sokka said. The rest of them nodded with the exception of Toph. “Yeah like twenty!”
Zuko looked incredulous while Toph looked amused “I’m sixteen” He deadpanned “I cant believe you guys didn’t know this”
“Your sixteen!” Sokka screeched.
Toph was cackling while leaning heavily against Zuko’s side “oh my spirits! They’re so dumb!” Toph exclaimed gleefully. Zuko huffed, rolling his eyes.
“But-but you seem older! What about your voice, and your screamy ponytail self had a boat!” Sokka sounded so confused at the prospect that their once enemy could be the same age as him.
“Yes Sokka I had a boat and what does my voice have to do with my age?” Zuko questioned.
“Well it’s all deep and raspy!” Sokka exclaimed as if it explained everything.
“I bet Sokka’s just jealous because his voice still cracks” Katara broke in smugly. Sokka tried to lunge at his sister but his girlfriend held him back. Letting out an enraged gurgle, Sokka let himself be pulled back into his seat.
“Can you guys just go back to trash talking Jet please? It was funny” Toph said.
“He doesn’t deserve to be talked about” Zuko responded “but his swords are to stupid not to trash talk. They didn’t even cut things!” He said, gesturing wildly “and after we broke up he just kept following me! It was fucking annoying! He was all like “Li take me back””Li lets go blow something up””Li you’re a fire-bender””
“Li?” Sokka asked curiously.
“That’s thats name I used in Ba-sing-se when we worked in the tea shop”
“You worked in a tea shop?” Sokka asked.
“Yeah, me and uncle worked there for a couple months” Zuko answered, calming slightly.
“You were in the city for months?” Katara questioned.
“Yeah, me and uncle were living there. I didn’t even go there looking for you”
“Really?” Katara sounds slightly incredulous.
“Yes, uncle had even opened his own tea shop before Azula showed up” Zuko felt a pang of sadness at the thought of his uncle, his mouth tilting downwards and brows scrunching. His uncle probably hated him now, for betraying him (look inside yourself prince Zuko, What is it that you want?)
“What are you moping about now Sparky?” Toph’s voice brought him out of his thoughts.
“Uncle” he replied simply. Toph just nodded, understanding, but not pushing him.
“Wait, if you’re only sixteen why does your scar look years old?” Aang asked, breaking his own silence for the first time in awhile.
Zuko went still, his heart stopping in his chest and single good eye widening.
“Hey Sparks you good?” Toph asked as concern colored her tone lightly.
“Yea yea, I’m fine” Zuko took a breath “it looks like that because it is”
“How many years?” Aang kept pushing.
“How did you get it?”
(Whywhywhywhy? Why did they have to ask that question? Anything else would have been fine. So why this one? Why did they want to know? Everyone knew. They all watched but they didn’t help. Why did they not help? He had pleaded but now he was burning. Agony was ripping through his body as father talked (suffering will be your teacher) and Azula was laughing. He couldn’t breath. Why couldn’t he breath? The floor felt cold underneath him but he was still burning, still hurting. Why did it hurt?)
“-ey you n-ed to br-the Zuko”
“I’m s’rry, s’rry. M’nt no disrespect sorry. P-please e’m sorry-“ an ice cube was shoved into his mouth, the cold shocking him into coherency. Zuko blinked rapidly to clear his vision while working his mouth around the piece of ice. A small callused hand was gripping his own, the owner of said hands looking at him in concern, her face twisted. Various pairs of eyes were looking on with in concern. Katara was crouched down in front of him, one hand holding his other hand that was unoccupied by Toph’s own, and her other filled with various small chunks of ice.
“What-“ Zuko began, confusedly “what happened?” He asked, his voice raspier then it had been before.
“You had a panic attack Zuko” it was Katara who answered him, worry creasing her brow.
“Oh” Zuko’s mind felt slow with the remains of his earlier panic, his processing power running low “that fucking sucked”
Sokka barked out a loud incredulous laugh “Yeah it does buddy, are you okay?”
His heartbeat was still slowing from breakneck spears, and his head still sluggish, Zuko replied “I feel like I just got run over by a stampeding Komodo-Rino”
Another strangled laugh came from Sokka.
“Zuko, do you know what triggered it?” Zuko looked back towards Katara where she was crouching. He had to look up slightly to meet her gaze from his own position sitting down. Her eyes were soft and concerned which was not a look the fire-bender was accustomed to even being pointed in his general direction, let alone at himself.
It was weird, but a nice weird.
“Probably the question about my scar” Zuko answered Katara’s question “fire-benders don’t burn easily”
“Wait... are you saying that someone did that to you on purpose?” Suki piped in from her seat besides her boyfriend.
“Yeah” A slightly hysterical laugh bubbles up out of his throat, coming out raspy and harsh “my father never did love me I guess”
Zuko closed his eyes against the sudden suffocating silence, raspy chuckles still working their way up his throat.
“Are you telling us that the Fire-Lord did this?” Aang broke the silence, his voice sounding completely stricken. Zuko opened his eyes and turned to meet the avatars eyes. Grey met Gold. Grey eyes teary. One gold one hazy and slitted, the other bright and metallic. Zuko’s chuckles died out.
“Who else do you think could get away with scaring the crown prince?” A lone tear made its way down his cheek to drip silently onto the stone floor.
Suddenly Zuko’s arms were full of crying air-nomad. Aang was clinging onto his front, limbs wrapped around him like an Octo-cats tentacles.
“Why did he do that!” Aang cried out “parents aren’t supposed to do that” The twelve year old clutched onto Zuko harder trying his best to comfort his fire-bending teacher.
“Yes I know that, it’s fine. Guess what” Zuko said as he awkwardly pat the child’s back.
“What?” Aang looked up tearfully.
“When I left the caldera I confronted him. I told him he was cruel and wrong, and then I threatened him with my swords” His grin morphed into a much more feral expression at this as he bared his teeth in a parody of a smile.
“Way to go Sparky!” Toph said breaking the stunned silence. The earth-bender moved herself towards him and shoved Aang aside and crammed herself onto her brothers lap next to her earth-bending student.
Zuko looked so confused at this development, not quite sure what to do with the children monopolizing his lap for themselves.
“Is there any other top secret-secrets your not telling us?” Sokka asked jokingly. Which by now he should have learned not to ask stupid questions. Zuko considered the question for a moment before replying.
“I’m the blue spirit”
“Your the fucking what!?!”