We stopped after a while, once it started to get dark, and set up camp. Just like the past couple of nights, I got out my blanket while Zuko went to gather wood for a fire. When he got back this time though, he seemed almost... nervous.
“Zuko, is everything okay?” I asked him as he set down the wood.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, fine,” he responded without looking up from the ground.
I watched him suspiciously, as he set up the fire.
“Uh, Mara?” I heard him say quietly, breaking the silence.
“Yes?” I walked over to him and sat down.
“I, uh,” he turned to me and rubbed the back of his neck, “I got something for you.”
I smiled, “You did?”
Without looking at me he said, “Yeah,” and then grabbed something from his pocket, holding it out for me to see.
My eyes widened, “The necklace! Zuko how did you know?”
I saw him blush as he said, “At the village, when I was done getting the food, I saw you talking to that lady. When you had walked away, she showed me what you were looking at, and I bought it from her for you while you were talking to the girl with the flowers.”
I smiled, “That is so nice of you, thank you.”
He looked up at me, “Do you want to put it on?”
He shifted so that he was behind me, brought the necklace over my head and clasped it. The beautiful pale green and black beads fell perfectly just barely below my collar bones. We faced each other, and I blushed, looking down at the ground. When I looked back up, Zuko was smiling, which made me smile. He still wasn’t full blown smiling, but it was the most that I had seen.
“Thank you, Zuko,” I said softly, without breaking eye contact.
He bowed his head to me, “You deserve it Mara.”
“What makes you think that?”
He looked at me, “Because you are so brave, kind, and caring. You are a good person, and it’s really nice to see that after what I’ve been through.”
I smiled at him, “Well, I’m glad you let me tag along with you, if you didn’t, I don’t know what I would have done.”
Zuko scooted in closer to me and looked into my eyes. His were so calming, the bright amber made everything else fade away. We were inches away from each other. I looked at him, waiting to see what he was going to do. I saw his eyes waiver from mine, looking slightly down and then back up. He took one of my hands and leaned in. His lips were so soft, moving with mine. I could feel a warmness coming from his body, washing over me, and drawing me in. We broke away, and he looked into my eyes again. I blushed and looked away.
I felt his warm hand on my face, bringing me back to him. “You, are so beautiful,” he said softly, tucking my hair behind my ear.
I could see that his cheeks were flushed, and his eyes were shining. I smiled, “Thank you, Zuko. You’re not too shabby yourself.”
He chuckled, which made me smile more. He was so quiet and distant when we first met, and now he really seems like he is opening up and relaxing around me. We haven’t known each other for very long, only about a week, but I have felt a connection to him, stronger than anything I have felt in a long time. Probably since I met Lee’s older brother when I moved to the village. We were both heartbroken when he had to go to war, but he wasn’t going to refuse his duty.
“We should get some sleep,” I said quietly, our eyes still locked together.
Zuko nodded and broke eye contact. He laid down on his back next to me. I laid down facing him and rested my head on my arm.
He turned his head to look at me, “Goodnight Mara.”
The ground rumbling woke me up, I sat up and looked around.
“Zuko,” I placed a hand on his shoulder and gently shook him awake.
He grumbled, “What is it Mara?”
I stopped and listened, and he did as well. After a few moments, he felt the rumbling as well and sat up.
“What is that?” I looked to the sky behind us and saw a stream of smoke coming up.
Zuko followed my gaze, “I’m not sure, lets pack up and get going just in case.”
I nodded at him and we both stood, gathering our small camp, and climbing on Chu. We set off in the direction we knew the trail of fur went. Once we were on the edge of the tree line, Zuko and I both looked back, and saw some kind of machine quickly approaching.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before. What do you think it is?”
“Azula,” was all Zuko said, then turned forward.
Zuko was right, it didn’t take her very long to figure out that the Avatar’s bison was leaving a trail of fur wherever they went. If we caught up to them before she did, what were we going to do? Warn them? Fight them? Help them? It is hard to tell what Zuko has planned. He hasn’t told me anything about what he is going to do when we catch up with them, and now it is much more urgent.