I felt Zuko jolt up with a gasp. I turned over to see him sitting up, with his knees to his chest, and his head resting on them. I could tell that he was breathing hard.
“Zuko?” I sat up, “Are you okay? What is it?”
“Sorry, it was just a nightmare. You can go back to sleep Mara.”
I sat up and crossed my legs. “When I was little, my mother used to always tell me that it is not good to keep your nightmares inside, that they will only release you if you let them out.”
Zuko sighed, “So what, you want me to talk about it?”
“We can talk about it now, or later. When is up to you.”
He slumped down and to the side, resting his head next to my lap, and looking up at the sky. “I’ve always had this dream, that when I go home, everything changes. My father still doesn’t accept me, and my sister challenges me to an Agni Kai for the right to the throne. In my dreams, she wins. Then she goes on to destroy everything... I don’t know what’s going to happen when I go home, or even if I go home. What if I don’t capture the Avatar before someone else, and I lose my chance to regain my honor?” he closed his eyes.
“Zuko,” I said gently, “It’s okay to be afraid of the future. No one will ever truly know what it holds, or what will change. You just have to take it step by step, facing each challenge without thinking of what the next one will be. If you do that, you will drive yourself crazy. Osana always told me to follow my heart, and that requires trusting and believing in yourself. Maybe capturing the Avatar isn’t what will give you back your honor. But for now, it is the only option you have.”
“I never felt like my father loved me. He always favored Azula, I knew that. She learned so much faster than I did, he used to say that she was so naturally talented. He thinks I’m a failure, an embarrassment. That’s why he sent Azula to take us back, so that he could throw me in jail where he wouldn’t be further embarrassed by me.”
“It doesn’t matter what your father thinks of you. What truly matters is what you think of yourself. If you constantly surround yourself with people who think and talk negatively about you, it will taint the view that you have of yourself. Also, if you think too hard and too long about those who think of you negatively, and you think about what they have said, what they might have said, or what they will say about you, it will consume all of your thoughts. Filtering that out can be a hard process, but it is definitely worth it,” I leaned on my hand next to him.
“I just,” he sighed and looked at me, “I just feel like I always make the wrong decision. I overreact, and I don’t think things through. I’ve been very careful with that around you, I don’t want you to be afraid of me, like many others have been.”
I smiled at him, “No one is perfect. We all let our emotions get in the way of reason sometimes.”
He stopped to think for a moment, and then said, “Mara, could you do me a favor?”
“Sure, what is it?”
“Whenever a decision has to be made, will you help me? Like, will you tell me if you think the decision I am making is wrong?”
“As long as if you don’t throw fireballs at me for disagreeing with you,” I joked.
He took on a small smile.
“Yes, for as long as you accept my opinion, I will tell you if I think you need to rethink your decision. However, no matter what you end up deciding, I will support you. As long as if it’s nothing too crazy,” I laughed lightly.
Zuko sat up and faced me. We locked eyes, and after a moment he broke the silence, “I never realized how blue your eyes were until now.”
I blushed, “Well, you are only just now paying attention.”
He leaned closer to me, and set his hand on top of mine. His aroma washed over me, making my heart rate increase.
“Thank you, for believing in me,” he said quietly, almost as if he had lost his breath.
I smiled at him.
He leaned in closer until he was an inch away from my face, and his lips met mine. I closed my eyes and kissed him back. Sandalwood pulled me into him, filling my senses.
After a moment, we broke away. We both blushed, looking at the fire that was dwindling.
Zuko cleared his throat, breaking the silence. “We should get some more sleep. Hopefully we can catch up with Azula tomorrow.”
I agreed, and we laid down, still facing away from each other. I could feel the heat radiating off of Zuko’s body next to me. I smiled, and closed my eyes.
Zuko woke me up again this morning. I don’t get how he is always awake before me, according to Rahin I was always an early riser. The sun was barely up when he handed me a piece of fruit to eat before we left. What seemed like a few hours later, we came upon a village.
“Are you going to leave me out here again?” I asked Zuko.
He looked at me, “No, you’re coming with me this time.”
“Oh,” I said, surprised. He got off and helped me down.
We walked into the village after tying Chu to a post outside the gates. It was a busier village than mine, children running around the town, many different shops. We only had a few shops in my village. No one stopped and stared at us like people do at home. They must get more visitors here. We came up to a shop that had fruits and vegetables. While Zuko was buying some food, I wandered off. Not too far though, I made sure I could still see him. I came up on a place that was selling jewelry.
“Wow, that’s beautiful. Did you make this yourself?” I asked the old lady who was watching me examine a small beaded necklace.
“Yes dear, I did. You like it?” she asked, holding it up for me to look at.
I touched it gently with my fingers, “Yes, I do. What is it made out of?”
“It is made out of kambaba jasper and black onyx, with white pearls separating them,” she smiled at me.
“Wow, I didn’t know you could get that kind of stuff out here,” I smiled back, bringing my hand down.
She put the necklace back down on her table and said, “Mmm, I have my ways,” and winked at me.
I laughed and bowed my head to her to thank her, and walked away. A small flower shop caught my attention and I walked over. I looked at all the flowers that were growing there, pretty much all the ones that I used to grow. A young woman, younger than me, came out.
“Hi there! Are you interested in some flowers?” she chirped.
I smiled, “I was just admiring them, I used to have my own flower shop before I started to travel.”
“Really? Wow, that’s great! Maybe you can help me with something?” she asked excitedly.
“Of course! What is it?”
“I can’t figure out how to tell if my flowers need water. I did overwater them, but then they started to die, so now I think I’m underwatering them, because now they’re dying again.”
She seemed really upset about this. I smiled at her, “Here, let me show you.” I knelt down on the ground next to the flowers, and she did the same. “You see, not all flowers need the same amount of water. So, sometimes you need to water them separately,” I grabbed her hand, and placed it onto the soil. “You want at least the topsoil to be dry, but the ideal thing,” I stuck my finger down into the soil, “Is that the underneath is dry as well.” The girl did the same, sticking her finger into the soil.
“Oh wow, I didn’t even think about that!” she exclaimed.
“If you put your finger in the soil over here, you’ll see that there is still moisture in this area,” I said.
“Which would mean that it doesn’t need water.”
“Exactly,” I smiled, “But, if you go over here,” I moved down further to a different spot.
“The soil is dry!” she yelled.
I laughed, “See, so if you keep checking it, you’ll be able to tell when the soil dries up, and then you’ll know when to water it. But remember, not everything needs water at once.”
She nodded, and we both stood up.
“I think your boyfriend is waiting for you,” she motioned behind me. I turned to look, and Zuko was standing behind us, leaning up against a post, watching us.
I blushed, “He’s not my boyfriend.”
She giggled, “Well he should be.”
I smiled, and walked over to Zuko.
“You ready to go?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at me.
I blushed and looked at the ground, “Yeah, I’m ready.”
“What were you and that girl talking about?” he asked as we walked out of the village and to Chu.
“I was admiring her flowers, and she asked me for some advice.”
He nodded at me and we were off.