A. N. : Zuko is too kind to deal with the mess that is war.

Zuko is sick of the desert. Even the ice rock in the middle of the town seems sick of it. Miserable.

Uncle leads them to an inn and the shade feels good and the kid makes a small happy noise. Zuko would smile if it weren't for the clearly dangerous people around. Bounty hunters ?

He wishes they could go away right now, but Uncle starts playing a game of Pai Sho that looks so strange Zuko has to take a second look.

There are two people staring at him and the baby better keep quiet – it does, as if sensing the danger – and why can't Uncle and his new friend hurry

The old man brings everyone's attention to them and Zuko swears he's going to set something on fire, but he gets dragged away.

The kid started crying with all the agitation and Zuko stays behind among the plants to try and calm it down.

The baby is calm now and is playing with a flower. Zuko sighs, wonders when Uncle will be done with his old people club.

There's a giggle.

The kid sneezes and it's sparks

And Zuko knows it was real and really, really wishes it wasn't because the kid is dark as mud and looks so Earth and suddenly all he can see is Song's scars and Li's fear and the two bodies on the road and it's all going up in flames

Two gold eyes look at him curiously – gold, how did he miss this – and he holds the child close and he's not crying – but that's only because the desert dried him and he really, really needs to drink something soon.

It's dark outside when Uncle comes out and starts explaining the plan, his friends can find a family for the baby –

He can't.

Zuko has trouble talking, can't seem to find the words – and how could he, when even the thought of it is intolerable.

Uncle gets it eventually and goes back to his club to talk some more.

Zuko clings to the kid life a lifeline and he knows his nightmares will now include pictures of fire stealing the earth, and gold eyes in mud. And he's not sure he'll be able to keep food in his stomach, at least for some time, starved or not.

Zuko is sick of the desert and of exile and of spirits, and he just wants to find a hole and crawl in it and sleep for a hundred years, until there's no war, until Song is gone and her burns with her and Li has forgotten he ever existed and there is no kid with dark skin and gold eyes.

The baby shifts in its sleep – how is it sleeping when Zuko is almost crushing it. Somehow, this brings the prince back to the reality of the shop. He exhales and lightens his grip on the child in his arms.

He is sick of this life. He has been for three years.