Aang rarely sat still for long. He had a lot of little jobs and errands normally but even more to do for the Sanctuary with the fundraiser coming up. With Korra and Asami being taken away, he wanted nothing more than to keep very, very busy anyway. Ideally, he’d stay so busy that the days just blurred together and before he knew it, he was home where he belonged!
The adventure of this place was starting to not be enough to sustain him. He was very good at adapting, and grateful really, that he’d gotten to meet Korra and Asami and Jinora, knowing that wasn’t possible at home. But he’d never been very good at shouldering loss.
He moved with purpose now, and a little frown between his eyebrows. His arms were full of boxes, blocking his view, and bags dangled from his forearms. “Appa, can you--just--lay a little flatter please?”
The sky bison huffed through his nose and lowered his head to the sidewalk but it did very little. They were blocking the entire walkway. Most people didn’t seem to mind. A lady fed Appa the last bits of her sandwich from the streetside cafe tables nearby. Aang sighed and started to set down his parcels when he saw a familiar profile, looking very lost nearby. He didn’t want to hope, but his voice came out in a childish pitch anyway.
"Aang. Hey," came the response, though it was a little off the cuff and distracted. After all, Zuko had just seen them all fairly recently and he was still sorting everything out in his head. One moment he'd been struggling with the day-to-day requirements of being Fire Lord (and failing, in his mind), trying to be better than his father but still dealing with contingents of people who had enjoyed their power under his father's tyranny. It was a lot. Then suddenly he was in this new place with new challenges and things he wasn't sure about.
Sure, there'd been some explanations and a box with moving pictures that explained a lot (with music, it was far better than the Ember Island Players, even if he wasn't really in the mood for a show). Sure, there'd been members of this Dee Oh Ay that were trying to be very helpful, but he had an inherent distrust for government, especially ones that tried too hard to be helpful. Maybe it was a front. He didn't know yet. But they'd explained things, gave him a different little box to write on and showed him how to use it to talk to others, but ultimately he'd just shoved it in a pocket and decided to wander a bit and see if anyone tried to follow or shadow him.
Then it clicked. If the Avatar was here, he'd know what was going on. So Zuko's features relaxed into something a lot less tense and suspicious and more into kind of a relaxed half-smile. "I mean, Aang, hey, it's good to see you."
All of the odds and ends in and on Aang’s arms clattered to the ground and he pushed across the sidewalk with a burst of airbending, crashing into Zuko for a hug. The height difference was still a thing - annoyingly so Aang just looped his arms around Zuko ribs, trapping his arms to his sides.
“You’re back!” He sounded a little emotional but that wasn’t particularly abnormal for Aang even on a normal day. “I knew you’d find your way back! Or we’d find our way back to you. Is Katara with you?” He pulled back without fully letting go and peered around Zuko before shaking his head. “No, no, I shouldn’t get my hopes up.” He hugged Zuko again, his words muffled but no less enthusiastic. “You’re back!”
Zuko barely managed an oof before the questions and the follow-up hug, and the pitch of Aang's voice silenced any objections he might've had. Katara wasn't here? The introduction said something about people having 'been here before,' but he hadn't followed that too clearly and didn't ask questions - again, he was suspicious in general. He couldn't hug back, though, because his arms were trapped and he also felt really awkward even aside from that.
"Uhm, it's all right. Right? Yeah. I'm here," because he was great at soothing words when someone sounded upset. He was guessing it was a good kind of upset, though. It was kind of nice being missed?
Aang let go with a sheepish grin and a hand over the back of his head. “Sorry, sorry. So many people have been leaving and it’s just really nice to see you again.”
Appa huffed through his nose in agreement and it pulled Aang’s attention to the mess he’d made. His eyes grew wide. “Oh no. I hope I didn’t break anything!” He quickly moved to recollect all his items and smiled around the boxes once they were stacked in his arms again. “Do you...remember being here before? I know some people don’t when they come back.”
"I'm not even sure where here is," answered Zuko, moving to help Aang collect the dropped items and help carry them. Why didn't he just pack them on Appa and not carry them all himself? Not that he had any room to judge the Avatar on stubbornness, of course, which made him feel a little inwardly sheepish. "But it's good to see you again, too, I guess. Though it hasn't been that long for me."
He stopped for a moment to scan around to see if anyone was watching them or listening in on their conversation. Then he lowered his voice. "Is it safe here? There's too much weird stuff, I don't like it."
“Oh!” It didn’t change a whole lot that Zuko didn’t remember being here but it would make things just a little harder for him, settling back in. Aang used some airbending to push his boxes up into Appa’s seat since the sky bison was too busy snuffling at Zuko now to be more helpful.
“Did anybody come find you yet? And talk to you about this place? It’s confusing, but they’re all very nice! And...well…” Aang frowned and shrugged. He had to tug on Appa’s fur to get him to stop pushing his big face into Zuko’s. “There are sometimes things here that aren’t safe but everyone really works together to protect each other so it’s not so bad.”
Zuko had braced himself for a giant tongue that hadn't come yet, so he was welcome for the questions as a distraction. "Yeah, some guards escorted me here and then there were these advisors who showed me some moving picture box with music that explained things. And then another box," he fished the thing out of his pocket to show what he meant.
"Sounds like you're trying to build some harmonic city," he mused, tapping his chin. It sounded like a good idea.
“Oh good,” Aang laughed. “I mean I’m sure you still have a lot of questions,but at least the weirdest part is over and we can just answer things one at a time now!” He smiled and patted Appa on the side of the face, which seemed to be the thing he was waiting for because he opened up and lapped his big tongue over the side of Zuko’s face.
“Oops,” Aang winced, trying to stifle a snort of laughter and failing. ”Well it wouldn’t have been much of a welcome with that anyway. Oh, I can show you how to use that thing later, by the way!” He gestured at the device in Zuko’s hand. “It can actually answer a lot of questions for you if you get tired of hearing me ramble.”
There it was. But Aang's laughter was something he found he missed, especially since the last time they'd seen each other it wasn't on the greatest of terms. He hated being Fire Lord and the decisions and all of the politics - honestly, the assassination attempts were the best part. He knew what to do with those. So, instead of being irritated, he just gave a half-smile as he used his sleeve to clean his face.
"Missed you too, buddy," he said as an aside to Appa, before turning back to Aang. "I trust you more than what's on this box, so I'm not sure I really need it. I've gotten by fine without one for seventeen years."
Aang’s face very blatantly showed how pleased he was - to be missed and to be trusted. They’d come so far from the days of Zuko trying to capture him and Aang working to take down Zuko’s nation. He beamed a toothy grin at Zuko and scrambled up Appa’s back to stick the bags on forms with the boxes.
“I’m really glad you’re here. Everybody will be glad. Even if they don’t all act like it.” Aang expected Toph and Sokka to be equally stubborn about admitting they were happy. He’d just have to make up the difference. “Do you want to fly around and get a look at the city first?” A horn blared and two people shouted back and forth nearby. “It’s quieter up there.”
"Everyone?" asked Zuko, allowing just a little bit of incredulity to his voice, though it was mostly because he didn't really know who all Aang was referring to you. But he nodded and leapt from the ground directly up to Appa's saddle, boosting himself with a bit of fire before making a dramatic landing. It was something he'd been working on, and okay so he wanted to show off a little.
He kind of beamed with pride a little since he didn't mess it up and then realized he looked happy, so he immediately forced himself back to his default emotionless face before settling into a corner. "I'm ready when you are."
“Toph and Sokka and Suki and of course your uncle! Sorry, I should’ve started with him.” Aang lit up, watching Zuko smoothly use his bending and looking pleased with himself about it. A few people nearby made noises of surprise and interest, and one or two sounded nervous, but Aang clapped a hand on Zuko’s back as he settled in.
“That was very cool. I don’t think to use fire nearly as smoothly in everyday stuff.” Fully realized Avatar or not, Aang was still a very young “master” of the elements. He felt like he was learning something new every day even now. He patted Appa’s head and looked around them to make sure if he took off, they wouldn’t be bowling over some unsuspecting person. “I could still learn so much from you!” he grinned at Zuko before calling out a little yip yip to get Appa into the air.
Letting all that soak in, Zuko raised an eyebrow and looked over the side to watch the city fall away beneath them. He'd grown up around airships in the Fire Nation, so it wasn't something new to see a city from great heights, but the layout of this one just seemed like sheer chaos. He could even swear that he saw a building move, so he shook his head and leaned back into the saddle.
"My uncle's here? How- no, probably the same way I showed up." He noticed that Aang hadn't mentioned Katara and he opened his mouth to ask, then thought better of it. "Just don't call me Sifu Hotman and sure."
A childish giggle burst out of Aang at that. It was a particular laugh he was trying to grow out of but there was only so much he could do. “I promise not to call you that. Not where you can hear me anyway!”
Banking Appa in a slow flight path over the city and towards the apartment complex, he appreciated the view for himself. Things weren’t perfect, but today was a better day than the last few weeks had been and Aang was nothing if not an optimist. Well, at least when his own decisions and abilities weren’t involved!
“Let’s see if we can find your uncle. I have a feeling that’ll make all of this a looot easier.”