Fall was starting to get colder, easing its way into winter too soon for Zuko's tastes. Winter meant snow and ice and that Aang would have to either stop his runs for the season or move them someplace warmer, and less likely for him to slip and fall, like the YMCA. Moving the runs meant no more passing the tea shop on Saturday mornings and when Aang paused to have tea with him, it was really the only one on one time Zuko got with the boy.
The change might be good for Zuko though. Since he had become Aang's friend he had started to like Aang a little too much, finding himself staring at Aang and often his lips when he talked or laughed and especially when he sang. At night he couldn't sleep without remembering Aang's smile, imagining touching those lips, imagining holding him and, shamefully, imagining Aand there in bed with him. Everything about Aang just brought so much light into Zuko's life and he shouldn't really be thinking of Aang that way after all of Aang's kindness toward him; it felt like a betrayal.
Snow drifting outside the window when Zuko woke up seemed to agree with him that he and Aang should be kept apart for a while. The weather turning from flurries to a storm in the short amount of time it took Zuko to get dressed and go downstairs to the tea shop only seemed to further guarantee that he would not see Aang that day.
Instead of sweeping the entrance, Zuko would be shoveling and salting the sidewalk to make sure none of their patrons fell and Zuko was confident the usuals were already on their way in spite of the weather. He was nearly finished when he heard crunching of the snow behind him and figured it was an early customer.
However it was Aang behind him, headset looking frozen to his head over his beanie as Aang shook and smiled at him. The boy had left his house in a simple jogging outfit, made to keep him cool, not warm, which was soaking wet and clinging to him from the snow.
"You idiot," Zuko shouted without thinking, dropped the shovel and took off his jacket, wrapping it around Aang and using it as means to pull Aang into the tea shop.
"I-it wasn't snowing yet when I left," Aang's voice shook along his body, Zuko swearing his lips looked blue.
"That's what the weather channel is for," Zuko scolded, pulling Aang the rest of the way inside.
"Those guys wouldn't know weather, unless they looked outside a window," Jet commented, frowning as he looked Aang over.
"Hi Jet," Aang greeted friendlily; despite his chattering teeth.
"Hey," Jet mumbled before turning to Zuko. "Take him to your apartment and warm him up, I'll finish the shoveling."
The offer surprised Zuko but he wasn't about to argue. He thanked Jet and dragged Aang to the upstairs apartment, pulling his jacket off Aang once they were in the entryway and told him to strip out of the wet clothes, barely able to keep himself from stammering.
To distract himself Zuko rushed to get blankets, turning on the little electric heater that looked like a real fireplace and started a kettle for some something hot to drink. He tried not to think of how this would be a romantic date under different circumstances.
When Zuko returned Aang was just in his underwear and beanie, arms wrapped around himself as he continued to shiver. It took all of Zuko's willpower to not stand there and stare, to drink in Aang's lithe body and touch it, to instead wrap a blanket around him and rub over his shoulders.
"I have some old pajama bottoms that may fit you if you tie the string real tight," Zuko continued to rub over Aang's arms, wishing he could heat his hands to help him warm up quicker. "You can change into them in my room so you can get out of your wet underwear." He paused and managed to look at Aang's face, "You'll have to take off the beanie too."
For a moment Aang hesitated and Zuko could guess as to why. For as long as Zuko had known of Aang, he had never seen him without the beanie. The boy probably didn't like being reminded of when he was sick due to his lack of hair.
"Don't tell anyone," Aang suddenly said, not looking at Zuko as he reached up. Before Zuko could ask what he meant, Aang pulled off the beanie, revealing that he had short, dark, shaggy hair underneath it.
Unable to stop himself, Zuko reached up and ran his hand through Aang's hair, marveling at the softness and that it existed.
"Why wouldn't you tell anyone about this?" Zuko asked softly.
With a shrug, Aang looked down, "I don't want to get their hopes up again."
It was a cruel reminder that Aang had to fight cancer not once but twice. He had probably grown hair in his first remission too.
"Well," Zuko said slowly, unsure of what to say, "It looks good on you and I'm sure the others would agree."
Though Aang nodded in acknowledgement he didn't respond verbally. He allowed Zuko to direct him to Zuko's bedroom so he could change.
While he waited, Zuko hung Aang's clothes to dry in the bathroom and called down to the tea shop to tell his uncle what was going on in case Jet hadn't. Thankfully Iroh said he'd call Aang's grandfather to let him know Aang would be staying with them at least until the storm passed because Zuko had no idea what Aang's home phone number was.
By the time Zuko finished, Aang returned from Zuko's bedroom now wearing the red pajama bottoms which hung over his feet a little but at least fit decently with the pull string tied at the right size. Zuko directed Aang to sit on the other blankets near the electric fireplace as he poured them both some hot chocolate. Zuko imagined Iroh would have preferred Zuko serve their guest tea but Zuko never became a master brewer like his uncle and didn't want to risk poisoning his friend.
First Zuko gave Aang his mug before going to change back into his pajamas so he could sit on the floor comfortably with Aang. He then grabbed his mug, another blanket and joined Aang on the floor, wrapping his blanket around himself and Aang.
Sharing body heat was Zuko's excuse for wrapping the blanket around the two of them but Aang didn't ask. Instead Aang just scooted closer to Zuko and leaned against him a bit, just the right height difference between them that Aand could rest his head on Zuko's shoulder comfortably.
Keeping his mug on his lap within his hands, Zuko felt too nervous to drink it, too nervous to move and disturb the other boy or, worse, cause him to move away. This was turning into a scenario from those romance novels Ty Lee always gushed about. If they were in a cabin in the woods all that needed to happen was for the power to go out and they'd have to share body heat to survive. Though if that happened here nothing could happen before Zuko's uncle rushed up to check on them. Actually he was surprised Iroh hadn't came up to bring them tea or something yet.
Feeling paranoid, Zuko strained his ears to see if he could hear his uncle coming up the steps when something cold touched his wrist; it only taking a moment for him to realize that the cold thing was the icicles called Aang's fingers.
"Hey, are you alright," Aang's head did not move from Zuko's shoulder as he peered up at the older boy, "You got really quiet."
"I'm not the one that nearly became a snowman," Zuko set down his hot chocolate and took Aang's hands into his own to try and warm them up that way. "How are you feeling, any warmer yet; I sort of feel like I should check you for frost bite or something."
Aang chuckled softly, his breath tickling against Zuko's neck, "You just want to see me practically naked again."
"No I don't," Zuko protested too quickly, sure he would burn Aang with how much his skin heated up at the jest.
Instead of pulling away, Aang laughed again and moved closer, pulling his hands free from Zuko's in order to casually wrap his arms around Zuko's waist, his head now coming to rest in the crook of Zuko's neck.
"Whatever you say hotman," Aang murmured, not caring that he was shirtless, just wearing Zuko's pajama's as he practically snuggled against Zuko's side as the boy was just in pajamas himself.
"Don't call me hotman," Zuko grumbled, secretly pleased to note that Aang's skin no longer felt cold and no longer looked remotely pale nor too red.
Absently stroking over Aang's arm that was in front of him, Zuko tried to remember the signs of hypothermia that he learned in first aide. Aang had never showed signs of weakness or loss of coordination, nor did he show any signs of having problems thinking. The shivering had mostly stopped once Aang had dried off and gotten into dry clothes and was gone by the time Zuko came to sit beside him. Aang's breathing never seemed to have slowed and his heart beat felt normal with Aang pressed so close to Zuko. And he had given Aang a sweet, warm beverage, which Aang had drank most of while Zuko had been changing, which was part of first aide for hypothermia to warm a person up while waiting for medical assistance. The main sign Aang seemed to be exhibiting was drowsiness but it was still early on a Saturday and he had just warmed up from being cold and had a hot drink, things that could make people sleepy under normal circumstances.
Luckily given all this, hypothermia seemed unlikely. Still there was the possibility of frostbite to consider. Hands, feet, nose and ears were the places most likely to be affected by frostbite and Zuko had felt Aang's hands and Aang had seemed to feel the touch just fine and there hadn't been any blisters.
Reaching up, Zuko felt Aang's ears and cheek, hand resting there as he smiled; relieved that they felt warm and normal under his touch. Aang's nose looked a little red but had not said anything about pain as he thawed.
"How do you feel," Zuko asked softly, letting his hand drift off Aang's cheek and down his neck, glad to feel him radiating warmth there, "Any pins and needles or numbness?"
"No," Aang yawned, "I'm pretty comfortable actually."
"Good," Zuko mentally told his hand to let go of Aang but his hand seemed perfectly content to cradle the back of Aang's neck. "You don't seem to have frostbite or hypothermia but I'm not sure how good of an idea it is for you to sleep just yet."
"You can't be this warm and comfortable and expect me to stay awake," Aang said so seriously in his half asleep state, Zuko nearly laughed at how cute it was.
"I could move," Zuko threatened. It was an empty threat but he was curious as to what Aang would do about it.
"No," Aang whined, his arms tightening around Zuko, "not allowed."
Zuko did chuckle then, his free arm coming up to wrap around Aang's waist as his thumb absently stroked just below Aang's jaw. If sleepy Aang made him cuddle up to Zuko like this, he wasn't about to complain.
"Alright, I'm not moving," Zuko promised, smiling when Aang's hold around him loosened but remained close to him.
"Hey Zuko," Aang asked after a bit of silence, Zuko having thought he had drifted off, "do you live here?"
"Yeah, with my uncle," Zuko explained.
"What about your sister?" Aang asked.
"She lives with our father," Zuko answered.
"Why don't you?" Aang hesitated to ask, his voice soft now.
At first Zuko didn't want to answer. He kept his family life as private as possible; no one at school would have even known Azula was his sister, even with the same last name, if she hadn't made a big deal about it on her first day against his wishes. Still Aang had shared so much about himself, his past, his own family history and his battle with cancer; it would be unfair for Zuko to not answer his question.
"My father and I don't get along, we never have. It got worse after my parents got divorced and my father got full custody of both of us to spite her. He even has a restraining order on her seeing us while we're underage, claiming she's a bad influence," Zuko was surprised how calmly he was explaining this.
Usually discussing his parents and his mother's expulsion from his life had him seething the moment it was brought up. The only explanation he could think of that was keeping his anger at bay was the warmth of the dear person practically wrapped around him more securely than the blankets that contained and shared the heat of their bodies.
"He's the owner of an empire in the fuel industry, he knows how to manipulate the law and how to get away with things," Zuko thought of his scar, how the police practically strong armed him into saying it was an accident of his own making the night his uncle took him to the ER. He had been so terrified at the time at being banished from his home, as confining and as petrifying as it was that he would have been willing to say anything to keep his father's anger from coming down on him again. He had never been able to press charges or face his father since, living in the haven of his uncle's home that he had often escaped to before that feared night had happened but being casted out did not make the suddenly full time arrangement any easier to handle.
There had been and still were rumors about how Zuko got his scar. He never confirmed or denied anything, ignoring anyone who tried to bring it up with him. He had been so relieved when Aang and the others never asked about the scar but he was sure they all wondered about it.
"Do you like living here?" Aang suddenly asked, brining Zuko out of his thoughts.
"At first I had been resentful," Zuko admitted, "But yeah, now I do."
"I'm glad," Aang's arms tightened around Zuko briefly in what seemed to have been a hug. "If you hadn't lived here and worked at the tea shop, we may have never started talking and become friends."
There's that silver lining uncle is always talking about, Zuko smiled to himself. Even though he had been longing for more than Aang's friendship he couldn't argue that right now he couldn't remember feeling happier than to have been there for Aang when he needed help and to have him here in his arms.
"Yeah," Zuko mumbled, "I'm glad for that too."
When Aang didn't respond, Zuko realized that Aang had drifted off. He considered just staying there and letting him sleep, allowing Zuko to hold him for longer but knew Aang would wake up sore if he stayed in this position.
Eventually Zuko gathered up the will power to pull back enough to lift Aang up and carry him to his bedroom, able to tuck the younger boy into his bed without waking him up. Again he had been tempted to crawl into bed beside him, under the excuse of continuing to keep him warm, but settled for sneaking a whispered kiss onto his forehead.