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Aftermath


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Okay...well...here's my first story (that I wrote for the forum and feel remotely comfortable sharing)! I'm really nervous about it, but I wanted to write and post something almost immediately upon joining, and I don't want to write original stuff for the time being. I know I probably shouldn't feel as awkward sharing this as I do, but it's the first time I've showed anyone after I've written this sort of stuff.

Anyway, about the story itself:

I can't bring myself to write about real people in any way, shape, or form, so expect mostly anime and Avatar fanfics from me. I really have no clue how good this is or where it's going since I just kinda...whipped it up and skimmed back through to tweak some stuff. I hope that's alright.

I chose to completely ignore the fact that Aang's with Katara and Zuko's with Mai purely because I'm a huge Zutara shipper. biggrin.png But I'm also not sure how the whole fic will work out. XD But, perhaps against my better judgment...here you go!

Part 1

“If you needed someone to come with you, why didn’t you just take Aang?” Zuko asked Katara irritably, rubbing his palms together in a feeble effort to warm himself.

Since the war ended, Zuko and the gang had immediately set about trying to restore balance to the world. Before they set about rebuilding, they were visiting various parts of each of the four nations to assess the damage and see what should take priority. This particular excursion led them back to Katara’s home in the South Pole.

“Quit complaining,” she snapped, only mildly annoyed. By now she was used to Zuko’s uptight nature, despite how he had relaxed a little since joining the group.

“It’s freezing here,” he griped, scowl deepening as he hugged himself against the cold.

“If you were smarter, you’d have brought thicker clothes,” Katara chastised, peeking around the fur-lined hood of her Water Tribe parka. Zuko’s skin rippled with a quick shiver. He was only wearing a simple cloak over his regular clothes – in other words, far too little for spending any amount of time in the Southern Water Tribe.

“I didn’t think I’d have to,” he grumbled.

Katara scoffed. “We’re at the South Pole. Didn’t you think it would be cold?”

“I know it’s cold!” Zuko quipped defensively. “I’ve been here before.” His mind flashed back briefly to several months before, when he’d raided the village to capture Aang. That armor had been quite a bit warmer than these clothes, he thought. He wished he’d thought of that before they’d gotten here.

Katara sighed. “You know, if you really need a coat, I’m sure I could get Gran Gran to lend you one.”

Zuko blanched at the thought. “I’m not wearing some old woman’s clothing.”

Katara giggled. “You know, Gran Gran’s not the only one who’s lived in our house. Some of Sokka’s and our dad’s things are still there.”

Zuko ignored the offer, instead continuing to the main hut for their meeting. As he greeted the leaders of the village and sat with Katara on the floor, he found his limbs numbing, further and further until it became painful. He tried to control his shivering, clasping his hands tightly in his lap. By the time the meeting ended and it was determined that the Southern Tribe was not in need of immediate repair, Zuko had to put all his effort into rising from his position on the floor. His limbs ached with cold and he wanted nothing more than to return to his home in the Fire Nation where it didn’t matter how sensitive he was to the bitter chill of this air.

“How on earth did you ever live here?” he asked, using his breath of fire to warm himself a little.

“I guess it’s different when you grow up in a place,” Katara answered. “And when you’re a waterbender.”

“No kidding,” Zuko grumbled.

“Lighten up!” Katara said, more cheerfully than even she intended. “Why don’t you have a look around? We’ll be here for a few more days, and since the meeting’s over, we’ve got plenty of time.”

“Then why don’t we hurry up and finish visiting all the other cities?” he barked. “We don’t have time to sit around in a place like this when we’re not needed!”

“Zuko, the war is over,” Katara rebutted, growing genuinely angry with the firebender. “We can spare a couple of days. Besides, things like this usually take a lot longer, so it won’t seem unusual.”

Zuko growled under his breath. Why was it that this girl never listened to a thing he said? Before he could formulate another retort, she had already turned to leave. He spun on his heel, stalking off in the other direction.

Of course he had no clue where he was headed, only that the huts making up the village became sparser until there were none around him at all. He had been so angry at Katara’s inability to comprehend the importance of getting this done quickly, that he hadn’t even bothered to take note of where he was walking.

At this point, he wished he had.

If he’s thought he was cold in the meeting, he was frozen now. His fingers were completely immobile, limbs sluggish as if fifty-pound weights had been attached to each. It made it difficult to firebend, at any rate.

It was as he turned to go back that he heard it. A loud CR-CRK-CRACK that signaled ice breaking apart. It didn’t take long before he realized it came from beneath his feet.

He glanced down, panicking when he saw the fissures forming in the ground below him. He hadn’t even noticed the difference between the earth and ice when he’d stepped on it. Cursing his lack of perception, he stumbled back in the direction he’d come. His limbs refused to move fast enough, paralyze from the frigid climate, and his firebending would hardly help him right now. If anything, it would make the situation worse.

He ran farther than he thought he had to, all the while the cracking ice gaining on him. He was nearly three quarters of the way back to the land when the ice below him started shifting and separating. His feet dipped into the icy water as he tried to balance himself on floes that only got smaller.

In a last ditch effort to make it to the shore, he sprung from the ice, sending himself several feet before a crash landing…

…in the middle of the weakened ice. It immediately gave way beneath him, plunging his entire body into the freezing liquid. He gasped, inhaling a breath of water that set about numbing him from the inside. The water outside of him seemed to press in around him. It took hold of his nerves and muscles, making it nearly impossible to move at all.

He struggled until he had to breathe, and at that point, there was no air to take in. Inhaling a gulp of water, he felt his body begin to slow down considerably, getting ready to stop altogether.

Suddenly, a rush of spiraling water surrounded him, pushing him upward. He was barely conscious of what was going on around him as his face broke the surface. Solid ground met his back, but he still couldn’t draw breath.

Opening his eyes, he saw Katara’s hazy shape kneeling over him. She gingerly lifted him so he was almost sitting up, until he was thrown into a coughing fit. Half falling onto one shaky elbow, he hacked at the ground, bringing up what felt like a gallon of water before his lungs once again welcomed oxygen.

“Zuko?” the Water Tribe girl said, peering into his eyes. Her voice sounded distant, and he was suddenly very tired.

She called out to him again, but by then he had dropped to the ground, unconscious.

~*~*~*~

When he woke, he had no idea what was going on. Everything was very quiet, save for a few distant noises. He knew he was lying on the ground and that he was inside even before he opened his eyes. A mound of blankets covered his entire body up to his chin, which he realized very quickly was rather uncomfortable.

As he kicked them off, he was suddenly aware of a deep ache in his limbs and back. Not to mention, his head was pounding and he wasn’t sure if he was cold again as soon as the blankets were off. Looking down, he noticed he wasn’t in the same clothes as he was before he passed out.

“I’m glad to see you’re awake.”

Zuko whipped around to find an elderly woman entering the hut behind him. He stared, bewildered, vaguely remembering having seen her before.

“I’m Katara and Sokka’s grandmother. You can call me Gran Gran,” she said with a gentle smile on her wrinkled features.

He said nothing, but relaxed knowing he could probably trust her. “Where’s Katara?”

“She’s meeting with the leaders of our village. They called for you both, but since you were unconscious, we let you rest.”

“How long have I…?”

“A couple of days,” Gran Gran answered placidly, as if this were a normal occurrence for most people in the Southern Water Tribe.

Zuko, absolutely mortified, moved to get up, intending to join the meeting immediately, only to have Gran Gran put a hand on his shoulder.

“What are you doing?” Zuko demanded. “I’ve been lying here for two days, and you expect me to stay here anyway?”

“Yes,” the old woman said, indicating there was no room for discussion. “You still need your rest.”

“I’m fi—“ He broke off suddenly, feeling a growing tickle in the very back of his sinuses. The sharp prickle danced rapidly from the bridge of his nose to the end of it, making his breath hitch all the way.

Hh…huh…hh-Het’TSChUH!

“I’m sure you are,” Gran Gran said in firm response to Zuko’s unfinished protest, “but you’d better be safe than reckless at a time like this. Your body hasn’t recovered.”

Giving in surprisingly easily, Zuko grabbed one of the blankets he’d thrown off, and turned away from the woman. If he were honest with her, he would have let it be known that he felt pretty awful. Like he had only just gotten out of the frozen ocean.

The thought made him shiver and pull the blanket tighter around his shoulders. Behind him, Gran Gran’s gaze softened again.

It wasn’t long before Katara burst in, casting the door flap aside noisily. “How is he?” she asked breathlessly. “Did he wake up while I was gone?”

Gran Gran nodded as Zuko rose to a sitting position. He had dozed off, retaining enough consciousness to hear Katara return.

“I’m awake,” he said. “And your grandmother is crazy.”

“She’s crazy?” Katara said in disbelief. “She isn’t the one who jumped into the freezing ocean by herself, is she?”

Zuko’s temper flared. “I didn’t jump in! How was I supposed to know where the ice was? Everything here is covered in snow!”

“You’re a firebender,” Katara reminded him. “If you really wanted to see the ground, you could’ve melted the snow.”

“You expect me to never stop firebending just so I can see where I’m going?”

“You certainly seem like you need to!”

Here, Gran Gran intervened before Zuko could formulate another argument. “Katara, perhaps you could fill us in on the meeting. Your friend is still recovering.”

“I told you, I’m fine!” Zuko snapped.

Katara ignored him, regaining her composure with impressive speed. “Actually, they didn’t have much to say. The only thing that really needs repairing is the wall that someone drove right through when they were here last time.”

Zuko looked away in embarrassment.

“Other than that, they just wanted to see where we were headed next and how much longer we planned to stay. I kind of told them we’d leave as soon as you were feeling better,” she said, directing her last statement at the teenager sitting on the floor.

“Good,” he said. “Let’s go.”

“But Gran Gran said—“

“Come on,” he pressed. “We can’t waste time here. Why didn’t we go to the Northern Tribe first?”

Katara’s frustration reignited. “Fine, if you’re so eager to leave, we’ll go.” She turned to her grandmother. “We’ll come back again soon. Or I will,” she added, casting a sidelong glare at her companion before they stepped out into the too-bright sunshine.

Zuko winced at the light when it sent a shooting pain through his skull.

Heh…MmXSHt!” He stifled while Katara said goodbye to her father.

Despite his stubbornness, he knew this did not bode well.

Feedback is so, so much appreciated! Also, if you have any plot ideas, don't be shy about it because I have practically none at the moment. XD If I did something wrong with posting this, please let me know - I'm still new to how everything works, even after I read all of those "Read Before Posting" topics. ^^; Sorry about the lack of sneezing, but if you'd like me to continue this, there will definitely be more. ;)

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So, honestly I read this just 'cause I wanted to read something by you (I don't know anything about Avatar!! Eep!) but I feel compelled to say that your writing is very good! It's so rare to find people with a flow to their writing, and you've got it...not that I'm an expert or anything lol. Just my opinion. Yep. I'm done.

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i like, i Like...I LIKE this so much. honestly i watched avatar last saturday, the episode where aang wanted to fight the firelord and i was thinking by myself: there are very rare avatar fics on here...AND what did i just read?!?!??!?!?!??

oh my THIS is perfect!!! :yes:

PLEASE more! :wub:

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D< so THIS is what you were hiding up your sleeves! can't believe it took you so long to share! you'd better update soon ;D

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Oh, this is great! I'd love to read more! Update soon!!!

BYE! :bleh:

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You know what would be cool!? I we got some Toph taking care of (or torturing) Zuko, THAT would be fun~ <3333 XD

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Hey, this is great!

I absolutely love ATLA and the more fics the better, especially with Zuko :)

This is really great so far! I can't wait to see how it goes.

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Akahana: Thank you!! Ohhh, that's a good idea, I might have to use that!

Scion: Thank you so much!!! I don't even know what to say, I literally sat here grinning like a weirdo for such a long time after reading that! laugh.png Avatar is an animated series that focuses on the use of bending, or controlling in a sense, the 4 elements. The avatar is someone who can bend all 4 elements, and in this case is a 12 year old boy named Aang. The world in the series is in the midst of a war - the Fire Nation is trying to take over all of the other nations and has thrown the world out of balance in the process, so the avatar has to try to restore that balance by defeating the Fire Lord. The series itself focuses on a group of kids travelling around the world trying to help Aang master all of the elements. I hope my summary wasn't too confusing, I'm not very good at describing things concisely. XD But it's a fantastic show, I highly recommend checking it out if you have the time.

Ciuty80: Thank you! I know, right? When I first started stalking the forum, I found a few, but the two fandoms I was constantly looking for had VERY few fics (which is why I'm taking it upon myself to stock the forum with them XD). I was watching it that weekend too, leading up to Korra! :D

happybunny: Thanks! Though the plot is still a mystery to me, I have no idea what I'm writing right now. yay.gif

Emily: Haha, yup! I only started writing it after I joined the forum (because half the reason I joined was so I could post these kinds of fics without being too embarrassed).

Bubbles!: Thank you so much, I'm glad you like it! :D

sneezychick93: Thank you! As do I. ;)

Rogue_infinity: Thanks! Hopefully I can bring plenty of Zuko to the forum. :D

I could've had this up when I finished writing it last night. Alas, I ended up locking my account because my keyboard was on caps lock and I just kept putting the password in without noticing. XD

I totally didn't expect anyone to read this, much less reply, so I'm really, really happy that you all like it! I'm still kind of nervous about posting new parts since my plot is...uh...not formed yet, but I'm slowly getting more ideas.

Also, just in case it happens, I'm not sure how quickly I'll be able to get future updates here. The next couple of weeks will be very busy, but knowing me, I'll make at least a little time to write here and there. Jeez, I write way too many notes...here's the next part!

Part 2

They hadn’t been sailing for long before Zuko wished he hadn’t suggested they leave after all. Even flying on Appa would probably be better than this. It’s not that he was prone to seasickness after having spent three years banished, most of which were spent sailing.

But now he found himself nursing a headache that had grown to nearly unbearable proportions. He stood, elbows propped on the rail, kneading his forehead and letting the wind whip around him. Spray flew up into his face now and then, but it was a lot better than cooping himself up in his room below deck.

“Hey, are you okay?” Katara.

Zuko turned around – slowly, so as not to make himself dizzier – to face her. Her brows were knitted with concern, and her eyes bore into him.

“I told you I am,” he retorted sharply. “Quit asking me.”

Her concern took on a hint of frustration. “You know, you could at least act like you appreciate people being worried about you.”

“Well, I don’t. Why don’t you worry about yourself instead?”

I don’t have anything to worry about,” she snapped. “But you’ve been up here moping for hours and avoiding me since we left the South Pole!”

Maybe I don’t want you asking me how I’m doing every two seconds,” he barked. “And I’m not moping!”

Katara seemed taken aback. “What are you doing then?” she demanded.

It was Zuko’s turn to stumble for words. “N-nothing. I’m just thinking.” He turned his back to her, looking out over the ocean once again.

A lengthy pause stretched between them before Katara spoke.

“You should get some rest. It’s getting dark and you look terrible.”

This time Zuko ignored her outright. It wasn’t entirely because he was tired of her saying that. Sure, that was part of it, but the other part was the new and persistent disturbance at the back of his sinuses. He’d been feeling it on and off all day, and he definitely didn’t trust himself to speak. The last thing he wanted was to prove Katara right and have her hovering over him.

He could feel her temper boiling behind him even before she spat it at his back. “Fine! Stay out here! Just don’t complain when you’ve caught a cold later because I’m not going to be the one helping you.”

Zuko was relieved to hear her storm off and slam the door to the cabin. The tickle had become more insistent than Katara’s mothering and his shoulders heaved as his breath hitched spastically.

Heh…h-hih…heeh…Het—“

Gone. Zuko cursed under his breath and pinched the bridge of his nose in aggravation.

The cycle repeated itself until well after nightfall, false starts preceding dissatisfied growls and groans. Was it really so much trouble to just let him sneeze?

When he finally retreated inside, he didn’t see Katara at all. Just as well, he thought. Now he could go straight to bed without having her bother him about dinner.

As he sat down on his bed, he knew immediately that it would be a long night. It hurt to move and he could hardly breathe through his nose at all anymore. His throat had gotten scratchy and was the one reason he almost didn’t mind not being able to alleviate the pressure in his sinuses.

He shivered slightly. That was another thing. He wasn’t cold, exactly. On the surface, he actually felt pretty warm. It was a cold feeling under his skin that bothered him, like his insides were being chilled.

A fever, he thought grudgingly. This – all of it – was not what he needed.

He removed his shirt, pulling back the thin covers on the bed to get in. He tossed and turned, muffling dry coughs into his pillow after he started breathing only through his mouth. The blankets got too hot, then he got too cold, and at some point he fell asleep with them tangled and twisted around his legs and waist.

“Zuko, wake up!” Katara shouted, banging a fist on the metal door.

Zuko bolted upright, tilting the room on its side before he fell in a heap of blankets on the floor. “Wh –hh –what?!” he shouted, mildly hoarse.

“It’s almost noon!” the waterbender called. “I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I’m not going to be the one doing all the work on this trip.”

He had no time to answer before the sneeze snuck up on him. “Hh-hupt’MmCHShuh!” He had just enough time to yank the blanket over his face, even if he couldn’t stifle.

“I’ll be out in a minute,” he said a bit nasally.

Tossing on his shirt, he left the room, trying to quell the pounding ache in his head, and wishing for nothing more than some of his uncle’s tea to warm him up.

But no. As soon as he opened the door, he was met with Katara’s deep frown.

“What?” Zuko asked impatiently.

“Nothing.” Despite what she said, she still fixed the young man with a penetrating stare.

He caught her shooting similar glances at him all day, particularly when he tried to rub away a sneeze or paused to steady himself while he walked. It continued into the day after, and the day after that, until the fourth and final day of their trip home when Katara cornered Zuko yet again.

“You’re going to tell me right now,” she ordered. “What’s wrong?”

“Why do you keep asking me that?” he demanded. He hoped Katara would take it as his usual hotheaded manner without realizing he was about five times crankier than normal.

“Because, Zuko,” she began furiously, “you’ve looked awful ever since you fell through the ice! You’re pale and you look like you haven’t slept in weeks. And you’re acting weird.”

“I’m not acting weird,” he retorted.

“Then why are you acting like you have no idea how to do anything on this ship?”

“B-because…” He trailed off, scrambling for a reply in his foggy brain. “Because I’m just not familiar with it.”

Katara raised an eyebrow.

“Ships aren’t all the same, you know,” he continued, putting as much effort into making the lie as believable as he could. “It takes a while to…um…get the hang of things.”

The water bender folded her arms across her chest. “If you say so. I’m not familiar with the ship either, but I guess I’d know more since I’ve been awake for most of the trip.”

Zuko tried to sputter some sort of argument, but she waved him off.

Every time they spoke, he thought as she walked away from him again. Every time, it ended in some kind of argument, or friction that only heated faster upon their next encounter. He was sort of used to this with people, though, having never been the most sociable guy.

Still, he tried to put the little incident out of his mind and resume his duties aboard the small vessel. It became more difficult to put up an act as the day wore on, and he was infinitely glad when they pulled into the port at his home in the Fire Nation.

They wouldn’t be staying long, but the warmth of the climate pleased him to no end. Everyone else, save Katara of course, was still on their respective missions across the nations and likely wouldn’t return too soon.

All the better for Zuko.

It was far easier to keep Katara away from him when the grounds of the palace were so huge. She had plenty to occupy her in the meantime before they set out for the Northern Water Tribe. As for him, all he wanted to do was sleep until their departure.

What he hadn’t taken into account was that he was still the new fire lord, and Katara wasn’t the only one who could bother him. Almost as soon as he got inside the palace and started for his rooms, he had people welcoming him back – whom he swept brusquely past – and soon after requesting his services. He turned away as many as possible, but was still left with a considerable handful who claimed their needs could not wait.

So instead of collapsing into his irresistibly comfortable bed, he was led to the rigid chair in one of the studies where he met with all those present, scribbling his name down on documents and sorting out whatever issues required his attention as best he could.

He couldn’t describe his relief as the last man approached him. “Are you well, My Lord?” he asked.

“Yes,” Zuko said shortly. “What is it?”

“W-well, it’s just you—“

“I meant what is it you need,” he clarified. “I just got back from a long journey and I’m tired.”

“Y-yes, sir,” said the man before launching into a lengthy explanation about something Zuko barely registered.

The infuriating tickle had returned, and he was putting all his effort into containing it. The entire time he’d seen everyone else, he had barely noticed it, but now it was like it sensed a chance for relief coming soon.

“Sir?” the man said uncertainly.

Zuko sighed. “Can it wait till tomorrow, whatever it is?” he asked, having completely ignored everything the man had said.

He frowned, but acquiesced, promptly exiting the office.

As soon as the door clicked shut, Zuko slumped back in the chair, eyes closed. It wasn’t thirty seconds later that he snapped forward with a powerful sneeze that tore at his burning throat.

Hept’kXJshUH!

He breathed heavily for a few moments before erupting into a grating coughing fit. It left his skin slick with fevered sweat and he hoped against hope that he wouldn’t meet anyone on the way back to his bed.

By the time he reached his room, he couldn’t even be bothered to take off his shirt. He didn’t care that this was showing weakness. At least he was alone. Crawling under the covers and shivering, he drifted off into a fitful sleep.

Still looking for more plot ideas! I'm afraid to keep it going too long without one. yay.gif

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Mmmmmmmmmm... Zuko's just too cute. Can't wait for the next update!!!

BYE! :bleh:

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this is zuko, ever so angry and stubborn, you really got his character on this virtual page! :yes:

i love it! :drool:

please give me moar! :wub:

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characterization is spot-on! and this makes me happy in all sorts of ways = w = glad you joined the forum

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OMIGOSH this is absolutely AWESOME!!!! :'D There aren't nearly enough Zuko fics out there... and this is seriously one of the best ones I've ever read drool.gif You are an excellent writer, I really like your style! biggrin.png I can't wait for more!! happy.png

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Bubbles: Completely agreed, Zuko's adorable~! If only he were real. :D

Ciuty80: Thank you so much! I'm so glad I got his character right, I always have their voices playing in my head so I can make sure I write something they could say. XD

Emily: Aww, thank you! I'm glad I joined too! Characterization is always something I worry about, so I'm glad I'm doing okay with them so far. :)

smileyfacegirl^^: WOW. Could I have just received more of a compliment? I read it about 3 times before it registered and I sat there grinning like a dork. XD Thank you SO much, it means a lot that you enjoy it so much! :heart:

I wonder if it's too soon to update? As soon as I posted yesterday, I started writing and I knew I'd have it done way more quickly than necessary. ^^; I just start and don't stop until I finish a new part of whatever I'm writing. I might want to write slower...

Part 3

Zuko’s eyes fluttered open, the midmorning sun glaring fiercely across his face. He squinted into it, barely feeling the sharp sensation building in his sinuses as his brain struggled to clear the fog surrounding it.

Hh-huh’TSchuu! Uht’KTxJsh’uh!” He paused, waiting for the last one to free itself. Unbidden tears collected in the corners of his eyes, and he snapped forward in his bed when it finally released itself. “EkSCHxh’Uhh!

He groaned, half-consciously putting a hand to the side of his head and sniffling. He had hoped that one good night’s sleep in his own bed – as if he’d slept well – would set him feeling at least a little better. It’s not like he expected to be completely cured after being home for a few hours, but he sure didn’t think it would get worse.

He coughed into an elbow that he had rested on his knees, shaking from the effort once he’d finished. It was in that moment that he understood people would probably notice this if they saw him. Then again, he couldn’t very well hole up in his room all day. That would draw even more suspicion.

In the end, he came to the same conclusion as he had in the beginning. He would act like nothing was wrong, and everyone would see what he showed them without looking beneath the façade. He supposed that would be a bit harder than he imagined after changing clothes and looking at himself in the mirror.

His skin had gotten pale enough to be a ghost’s, except for the blush of pink across his cheeks. Even one look at his eyes would give it away – they were red-rimmed and bloodshot with shadows beneath them so dark, he might as well have smudged them with charcoal.

That gave him an idea.

Makeup wasn’t hard to come by at the royal palace. In fact, he was quite sure there was some in his own bathroom. Under any other circumstances he would never touch it. But this…this was to preserve his dignity, right?

Right.

He skimmed the labels in a fevered haze, smearing on whatever looked like it would help. He rubbed it in over the out-of-place colors before turning to some kind of face powder. It might make him look a little pale, but at least it would even out his color.

Feeling utterly feminine as he patted it on, his nose started twitching when he inhaled a small cloud of the stuff.

Hh…hh-heh…Ept’CSHuh!” he sneezed, feeling the spray coat his upper lip before catching another in a hastily snatched up hand towel.

This was a problem. If he let himself sneeze too much, he’d end up having to blow his nose and wipe off the makeup.

He sighed. It would have to work. There weren’t many other options.

Stepping out of his room, silently cursing water benders and their choice of climate, he made his way to the study. The downside to having just returned was the fact that there was an endless pile of work for him to do, problems to fix, and people to talk to.

He saw the man from the night before, who seemed reluctant to retell his story to the new Fire Lord. In fact, nearly everyone from the night before flooded in over the course of the day, and all within a span of a few hours.

Zuko found himself rushing around the palace on legs that occasionally threatened to drop him like a sack of potatoes. It made him lightheaded, moving that much, but he kept his face and his presence, effectively intimidating anyone he spoke to. Even with his killer headache, he didn’t so much as flinch when the local cabbage merchant went on a rampage through the city, shouting about how many stray animals were picking off his cart.

Exhaustion settled into Zuko’s very core by noon, and it showed in the way he snapped at everyone who approached him. This time he cursed himself for even feeling this kind of weakness, whether anyone else could see it or not. He shivered, his hand trembling minutely when he reached for the pen beside it.

Apparently, by mid-afternoon no one deemed it safe to venture into the room with him. Zuko himself had no complaints about it, instead resting his burning forehead in his hands. He was dozing off when someone called out to him.

“Hey Sparky, you sleeping on the job?”

No. That’s what he would’ve said under normal circumstances, but this time he didn’t say it. That one word, echoing in his mind, was meant for nothing other than to mentally express his displeasure at the person in his doorway.

He looked up to see Toph leaning against the wooden frame, wearing a mischievous grin. She wore her Earth Kingdom attire, a layered tunic colored several different shades of green, and bare feet now that she didn’t have to worry about concealing them in the Fire Nation. Although she couldn’t see him, he knew she felt his position in the room and the way his heart rate had slowed down until she came in.

“What are you doing here?” Zuko asked, genuinely curious.

She invited herself in, feigning innocence. “What? I just wanted to visit. It’s been a few weeks since I last saw you.”

“You’ve never seen me,” Zuko said flatly.

“True.” The grin was back. “That’s probably for the best."

“You guys weren’t supposed to be back this soon,” Zuko reminded her, setting the topic back on track.

“We finished our stuff,” she said, earth bending herself a chair.

“Where are Aang and Sokka?” the young Fire Lord demanded. “They should’ve come, too.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you didn’t want to see me.” She pretended to be offended just long enough to know he was getting annoyed – or more annoyed than he was when she walked in. “How should I know where they are? I’m not their babysitter.”

Zuko pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation, feeling some of the makeup rub off on his fingers. At this point, it seemed stupid to have gone through that trouble at all.

He didn’t feel like getting in an argument with Toph of all people, if only because she wasn’t like Katara. Katara would storm off when she got angry enough. Toph, knowing Zuko’s personality, would keep plaguing him until he retreated.

“What’s the matter with you, anyway?” she asked suddenly, without any air of concern.

“Nothing,” Zuko growled, resting his hand back on the desk. “Why?”

Toph shrugged.

She said something, but Zuko didn’t hear. He was too busy warding off another sneeze – the product of more or less managing to control them thus far. He held his breath, blocking off any air that might aid in triggering it until the urge faded. Even then, he breathed cautiously just in case it returned.

“Hello?” Toph said, drawing the word out and waving her hand in front of the teenager’s face.

What?” he snapped, slapping her hand away.

“I said,” she began, “we decided to all go to the North Pole together instead of just you and Katara.”

“Oh.” Zuko’s heart plummeted into his stomach. If there were a worst case scenario, this might have been it. He didn’t want to go with just Katara, let alone with the rest of the gang. Knowing them, they’d find all sorts of ways to make the trip miserable.

“Don’t sound so happy about it.” She leaned back in her chair, getting comfortable.

Zuko’s mind couldn’t seem to formulate any sort of intelligent reply. He kept zoning out, and it didn’t go unnoticed. “Why aren’t you staying in the Earth Kingdom?” he wondered, frowning slightly.

“I dunno about Sokka and Aang, but I’m sick of it.” She folded her arms behind her head and brought her feet up to rest on the desk. “Going back to Ba Sing Se was a nightmare. They still have all those walls and rules and I’m sick of getting trapped in there. Especially after last time,” she added, referring to when the group – before adding Zuko – had gone to warn the Earth King of the war, only to get caught in Azula’s plot to overthrow him, nearly losing Aang in the process.

“So why can’t you go somewhere else?”

“We are – the Northern Water Tribe.”

“That’s not what I meant!” Raising his voice hurt. The words scraped against his already raw throat, and he coughed once, quietly to the side.

Toph raised an eyebrow. “I’ve never been to the North Pole,” she said simply. “I wanna see it.”

“You won’t be able to ‘see’ anything,” Zuko informed the twelve-year-old in an effort to deter her. “The whole place is made of ice, so you won’t be able to bend, and your feet will get cold.”

“Since when are you worried about any of that?” she challenged.

“I’m not.”

“Then what are you worried about?” She could feel something was wrong from the vibrations in the ground below her, but there was something about them that she couldn’t quite place. It wasn’t like the feeling she usually got from him.

“I’m not—“

“I can feel when you’re lying,” she warned.

“Don’t you have something to do?” he finally growled, not at all happy that he had someone else to be careful around now.

“Nope.” She stuck a finger in her ear and dug around unabashedly as if to make a point.

Zuko made a reproachful face.

When he didn’t say anything after a few minutes, awkward silence stretching between them, she finally put her feet down and stood. With one solid movement, the chair she’d made sank back into the floor.

“I’ll see you later.” She moved leisurely toward the door, adding, “And go to bed soon.”

He didn’t speak, instead offering a noncommittal grunt.

Through the vibrations that traveled through the ground, she felt him suppress a shiver, his heartbeat skipping just a bit. In fact, she’d felt it almost the entire time she’d been there. If it were anyone but her – anyone who relied on their eyes – they probably wouldn’t have noticed it. It was the advantage to being a blind earth bender in her case.

She could mess with him and no one would be the wiser.

Feedback is lovely, and I appreciate all of it! :heart: Thank you guys so much for keeping up thus far, I'm happy you're enjoying it (and I hope I can live up to all the nice things you've said so far)! :D

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awesome!!!! :yes:

and NOBODY can lie to toph :D

i watched avatar again this morning. zuko and aang were visiting a temple to find the real meaning of fire.

in one building they had to "dance" (dragon dance) some figures to open a secret thing. it was a golden egg...and also

a trap ^_^. and when the slime came and both where hanging at the ceiling i wished...really i WISHED

the slime would be cold and make zuko or aang sneeze...but unfortunately not <_< (i already watched

the whole serie but i still love to fantasize about some sneezes :sillybounce: yeah i´m silly :razz:)

sorry, but yeah sometimes my fantasy goes weird ways

please more :wub:

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WSEDTFRGUHYKOLP,DFMBUISDOMGJEKOVBPDGOPWGIKOPBIKPOBIPEIOE O W O

/rendered incapable of speech

LOLjk Otherwise I wouldn't be able to leave you a comment that makes sense.

I'm loving how this is starting to look for Zuko mwahaha although said victim might not appreciate it all too much. and I lovelovelove your writing style! gets better with every update :D now if you'll excuse me, I have some fangirling to do.

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This is so cute! Zuko's just so adorable with his denial, and trying-to-be-toughliness.

She could mess with him and no one would be the wiser

Hmmmm... I wonder what you Toph has in store for Zuko. Knowing you Toph, it'll be something inherently awesome evil. Can't wait for your next update!!!

BYE! :bleh:

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YUSH!!! I'm sorry I haven't seen the new parts until now, SO MUCH LOVE!!!!! XD Yay, I love Toph and her sibling-like relationship with Zuko, so fun~ <333 I'm evil. I love this and can't WAIT for more!! :D

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey guys! I swear I didn't forget about this story for a day over the past...like 3 weeks since I last updated. I've just been wicked busy, and now that I'll have a lot more free time, I can hopefully devote more time to my fics and whatnot.

Ciuty80: Thank you~! Oh, I love that episode, and no worries, I thought the exact same thing when I watched it! I wanted Zuko to sneeze so much, and when it didn't happen, I was kinda disappointed for a bit. XD

Emily: Thank you so much! I always worry that the beginning of my stories are good and then it goes steadily downhill from there, so I'm really happy to hear you're still enjoying it. :D

Bubbles!: Thank you! Haha, to be honest, I'm still wondering what Toph's got in store for him. :sweatdrop: So I guess we'll both be surprised come next chapter, eh?

Akahana: No worries! I took long enough to update here, so you had plenty of time to catch up. XD I'm sooo glad you like this, I hope I can keep them in character (for some reason I had a lot of trouble with it this time around).

Rogue_infinity: Thank you so much, I hope the future updates keep your interest. :D

blackrose: Wish granted~! :)

Part 4

Why? he thought. Why did they all have to come back today?

Of course it was just his luck that set things up this way. Any other time, they’d come back a week later than planned. Only when he was sick would the universe do this to him.

He had long since returned to his room and was scrubbing away the ridiculous mask he’d applied earlier. If he’d known it would be this annoying, he’d never have done it in the first place. Then again, it had served his purpose, and as far as he knew, no one noticed his haggard appearance.

Running the wet cloth over his nose, he realized just how sensitive it had become after holding back sneezes all day. His breath immediately started hitching desperately before he had to bury his face in the towel. “Huh’GmMpCH!” He caught a couple more before leaning over the bathroom sink in defeat.

After glimpsing himself in the mirror, he hardly wanted to look back up. It hardly even looked like his face anymore. Dark shadows showed even under his scarred eye and the blotchy redness had once again become visible on his cheeks and nose. His good eye was rimmed pink and both shone bright with fever.

And now he’d be leaving for the Northern Water Tribe like this, because no doubt now that everyone was in the same place, they’d all be impatient. After all, there were plenty of other places they needed to get to as soon as possible.

The young fire lord staggered to his bed, collapsing across it like a child after running around all day. Wearily, he took his hair out of that annoying topknot, letting it hang loose over his mismatched eyes. He wanted so badly to sleep, but his pounding headache wouldn’t allow it. At the same time, it didn’t allow him to keep his eyes open for long, and he was far from alert.

At some point, he must have fallen asleep, because he woke to someone banging harder than necessary on the door. He didn’t have time to answer through his sandpapered throat before the person started talking.

“Rise and shine, Jerkbender!” Toph’s voice sliced through the air, using Sokka’s nickname for Zuko.

For the umpteenth morning in a row, Zuko dragged himself out of bed with immeasurable effort and opened the door. He was, in a way, thankful that it was only Toph standing before him. Even if she could feel every movement of his body, she wouldn’t tell him he looked awful like everyone else probably would. He hadn’t looked in the mirror yet, but he dreaded what he would see.

“What do you want?” he asked moodily.

“We’re leaving,” she said bluntly. “You all packed?”

Zuko’s eyes widened, a panicked jolt passing through him. “No one told me.”

“I’m telling you now.” She leaned against the door frame, arms crossed.

He scowled, but turned back to the inside of his room – wobbling a just a bit – and grabbed the few possessions he deemed necessary for the long trip to the North Pole.

As he did, Toph paid close attention to his movements. They were mostly slow, careful, and deliberate. Those that weren’t usually ended with Zuko stumbling or pausing to regain his balance. If she were just a little softer, she might have been worried about him.

Zuko, meanwhile, resisted grumbling to himself, instead allowing his increasingly foul mood to emanate from him in all directions. His vision kept swirling with the dizziness, making him trip over his own feet, and now he’d be flying on Appa for hours at a time.

“Are you coming or what?” Toph finally inquired, staring at the ceiling.

Zuko cleared his throat. “Yeah.”

Without another word, the young earth bender pushed off the door frame and started off down the hall. Zuko followed suit, finding it harder than it should’ve been to keep up with her pace.

Until they stepped outside, he hadn’t realized how early it was. The sun had not yet risen, and he beheld the sky’s myriad of colors ranging from indigo to orange to light pink.

“What took you guys so long?” Sokka called from Appa’s saddle. “We were supposed to leave twenty minutes ago!”

“Sorry,” Toph said with a touch of sarcasm, “I couldn’t get this guy out of bed.”

Zuko was tempted to shoot back a retort, but his muddled brain couldn’t organize one fast enough. Instead, he threw down his minimally packed bag, dropping his head on it unceremoniously.

“What’s up with him?” Sokka asked, a look of mild concern crossing his features.

Toph shrugged, feigning innocence.

Katara reached out to touch Zuko’s shoulder, only to think better of it and retract her hand.

Aang, holding the reigns, called back, “Ready?”

The three fully conscious members of the team nodded, and – after Aang’s customary “yip yip!” – Appa took off with a great leap into the air.

If Zuko had been awake, he would have noticed the sudden decrease in pressure that made his head ache. As it was, he had drifted back to sleep almost immediately after situating himself in the spacious saddle. Even if he couldn’t stretch out with three other people around him, the fact that he could lay down at all satisfied his needs.

That is, until the dreams started.

Even in sleep, he could tell it was just the same one repeating again and again with only minor changes. The first few times, it hardly registered in his mind, the sequence was so quick. After that, he saw it in such vivid detail he could feel his body react – stomach churning, heart racing – even without being awake.

It started with lightning. Electric blue streaks came down from the sky, several at a time. They came in waves one after the other, and every time they did, Zuko had to shield his eyes to keep from being blinded. Why were they flying in this weather? he thought. At first, he assumed it was a storm, a monsoon that would pass over if he just waited it out.

But no.

The longer he waited, the deeper the pit of unease grew in his stomach. He chanced a look at the ground – the bolts looked as if they were being drawn to earth.

He tore his forearm from his brow in shock. Below him sat a great black dragon, its mighty jaw open to the point where Zuko thought it might be unhinged. It wasn’t the dragon itself that frightened him. A neon blue glow emanated from its gleaming scales, and he suddenly realized that the lightning was indeed being drawn from the charcoal sky. It gathered on the dragon’s tongue, a ball of energy growing and growing until the beast’s maw could hardly contain it.

Zuko looked around at his friends, only to find they weren’t there. Somehow, he had ended up alone, sitting between Appa’s horns, but without the reigns. He scrambled for something, anything, the bison’s fur! He could steer him away!

“Don’t you want to see Mother again?”

He froze. It was his sister, Azula’s voice. Before he regained his bearings, the dragon fired an enormous stream of lightning directly at his chest and—

Zuko bolted upright in a panic. Something hard had collided with the side of his head. Before he could look around to see where it had come from, he felt the disruptive tickle tumbling from way up in his sinuses. In this state of semi-consciousness, he barely had time to register the feeling, let alone fend off or stifle it.

Hih-hh-hept’JScHUu!”

“Is he okay?” someone asked. Sokka, Zuko thought.

“I’m fine,” he said, rubbing sleep from his eyes and trying to formulate some excuse. “It’s just the altitude.”

Someone – Toph? – snorted.

“We’re on the ground, Zuko,” Aang chimed in, sounding as if he were trying to keep the laughter from his voice.

The young firebender snapped to attention. They weren’t moving. Appa’s enormous paws were planted firmly on the packed earth. No one else was in the bison’s saddle, but instead setting up camp on the mossy floor of a thick forest. When had they landed? Had he been asleep for that long?

“Yeah,” Katara said from below, “so unless the air on top of Appa’s back is that much thinner than the air on the ground, I’d say it’s something else.”

“I meant the change in altitude,” Zuko covered, sniffling discreetly, and hoping they’d all taken it as a condescending gesture.

He looked around, gauging their reactions. Aang and Sokka exchanged a quick glance before shrugging it off; Toph seemed to be paying no attention to his excuses at all; Katara raised one eyebrow in mild suspicion, but thankfully let it go without another word. Zuko sighed, relieved.

Carefully, he slipped down from Appa’s back, loosening a few handfuls of the beast’s fur and inhaling a little. “Heh…hnksst!” he stifled hastily, mortified that his nose had become this sensitive. At least no one had noticed.

Or so he thought.

Just feet away, Toph smirked to herself, noting again the slight tremors which wracked the sixteen-year-old. He was doing his best to conceal them along with the occasional sneezes, but even earlier, when he was asleep, she noticed nearly everything about him was amiss. It had been the same when she visited him in the palace.

She thought of mentioning it to another member of the group, but that wouldn’t be as much fun. She would make him admit it himself. As a challenge, she’d make him admit he was sick even before they reached the North Pole!

“Hey, Zuko!” Sokka called from the entrance of his earth tent. “Come over here for a minute, will ya?”

“What for?” Zuko snapped, not eager to spend any amount of time with the young Water Tribe warrior. Despite the guy’s brilliant plans, Zuko was not in the mood for any of his antics today.

“I just want you to have a look at the maps,” Sokka said. “I don’t want us getting lost.”

Zuko started toward the tent, swaying for only a few steps before regaining some semblance of coordination. “Shouldn’t you know where we are?” he demanded, sitting cross-legged beside the ponytailed youth.

“Yeah,” Sokka mused, unusually serious, “especially since you slept the whole way here.”

“Hey, that—“

“I know, I know.” Sokka raised his hands in a gesture of submission. “You’re the new Fire Lord, you’re tired. But we still have a mission here.”

“That’s not...” Zuko began, only to stop himself before he said too much. Sokka had come up with a reason for him. There was no need to dispute it. “If you don’t need me, why am I here?” he asked impatiently.

“Just to see what route we should take,” Sokka said, pressing one fingertip to what Zuko guessed was their current location. “If we take this one—“ he slid his finger in a straight line directly to the top of the map “—it’s quicker.” He positioned his finger back on the starting point. “But if we take this one, there are towns on the way where we can stop for supplies,” he explained, drawing out a zigzagging line that paused at a couple different locations colored with earth tones to signify the land.

Zuko considered this, or tried to. His fevered mind was hardly up to the task. “What do we have for supplies?” he asked, absently swiping a finger across his nose.

“We can get to the North Pole,” Sokka said, though he sounded dubious.

“Are you sure?”

“I think so.”

“In that case, we should probably take the rhh…” Zuko grimaced, swallowing the impending sneeze before continuing, “Route with the stops.”

“Yeah, but—“

“If you’re going to decide by yourself, then why did you call me here?” the young Fire Lord barked.

Sokka jumped back in surprise, then stared at his friend. Zuko was known to have a short temper, but not that short, and he’d become a lot less aggressive since he’d joined their group. The Water Tribe warrior suddenly seemed to see the older boy for the first time since their journey here.

He was paler than normal around the deep red scar over his left eye. The other eye, despite the fact that the guy slept all the way there, was ringed with an unpleasant charcoal smudge. His nose practically glowed pink, and Sokka was pretty sure there were patches indicative of fever on Zuko’s cheeks.

“What are you staring at?” Zuko growled, scowling heatedly.

“N-nothing,” Sokka stammered, averting his eyes and sobering instantly. “It’s just, you seem kind of…different today. That’s all.”

“Worry about yourself. Do you want help with this or not?”

Sokka opened his mouth to rebut, only to reconsider and change his retort. “No, I’ll do it.”

Without another word, Zuko stood and stalked out of the tent. He didn’t need telling twice – he’d been fighting a sneeze almost since he’d knelt on the floor, and he really wanted nothing more than relief from the insistent tickle.

Hh…heh…hh-ihh—“

He was cut off abruptly, tears forming in the corners of his eyes, by the sound of approaching footsteps. He looked to his periphery to find Toph sauntering over, a look of boredom etched across her childish face.

“Hey Jerkbender,” she greeted him with a smirk.

“What do you want?” he asked, not in the mood for any of her games.

“I was just wondering if you could help me with something,” she admitted, though her tone betrayed a bit of mischief. Zuko, still preoccupied, didn’t notice. “We need kindling for a fire,” she went on, “and obviously it’s faster if more than one person goes to get it. Since you’re a fire bender, I figured once we get it all, you can work your magic and make things easier.”

“That’s it?” he ventured skeptically. Tophs favors were never that simple.

“Yup.”

That was all he had to know, anyway. All she had to do now was make him sneeze.

As always, I'd really love to hear what you guys think about this! If you have any plot ideas or general suggestions, let me know - I'm totally open to them. I'm also terrified of the characterization job this time around.

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*is so amazed she can't even leave a competent reply* MORE!

BYE! :bleh:

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