It was a well-established, unspoken rule that no one bothered Zuko Li, the brilliant and new head of the legal department. He had been a hotshot lawyer freshly recruited from a top law school, and several years later, for reasons unknown, had left his law firm to work at the small startup known as OmashuCo. But frankly speaking, and Sokka would hold this truth until his dying breath, Zuko was the devil incarnate. He had seemed to take the startup life to heart, because when he wasn’t working late nights and meeting impossible deadlines, he was demanding his department to work late nights and meet impossible deadlines. Sokka was heartily surprised to find that since Zuko had been hired—and yes, OmashuCo had grown exponentially since then as well—no one had yet to even think about quitting.
It then followed that no one ever spoke to him unless absolutely necessary—unless you were Toph, the blind attorney who had more balls than the entirety of the male staff at OmashuCo. Sokka had eagerly approached his friend one time to ask her to dish the gossip on his sullen boss. She responded with a smack to his temple and a mind your own fucking business for once, Brown Nose . Sokka had temporarily retreated with his (metaphorical) tail between his legs and a permanent nickname. But he would not be cowed. Zuko had to have some weakness, some sort of Achilles' Heel that would force him to lighten up and take the giant ten-foot pole out of his ass.
Sokka didn't hate the guy, necessarily. When he wasn't glaring over everyone's shoulder or acting like a complete dick (which was pretty much twenty-four-seven), Sokka grudgingly admitted that, objectively speaking of course—Sokka could look at and rate other men in the non-gay and non-creepy way women did to each other—the dude was quite handsome, in a pale, freaky "I'm going to murder you with my mind" sort of way, barring the peculiar birthmark that swallowed the left half of his face. But Sokka had always loved a good puzzle. And Zuko was definitely a tough nut to crack. Sokka liked to tell himself that every nut always had a nutcracker—he would crack the nut that was Zuko Li if it was the last thing he did at this office. He had, however, tried almost everything he could think of.
He'd tried small talk.
"Wow, it's such a nice day out," Sokka said as casually as he could, leaning stiffly over his boss’s desk.
Zuko barely spared him a glance and continued typing on his laptop. He had on his default "I tried to shit this morning but all that came out was a small fart" frown.
Sokka leaned back and raised his arms to cross them behind his head. "Don't you just want to go outside and bask in all the niceness that's going on right now?"
Zuko paused his typing to throw Sokka his "I tried to shit three times this morning but all that came out was a small fart" glare. "Are you trying to hint at something?"
Success! Sokka clamped down on his urge to fist pump the air. He schooled his features into a neutral expression and shrugged. "I mean, who doesn't enjoy a nice, sunny day?"
"Some people have work to do." Zuko still sounded as if he were on the toilet with his bowels backed up.
"What work is it?" Sokka tried to sound interested.
Zuko's expression shifted from constipated to bemusedly constipated. "I'm your boss."
"Ah." Sokka nodded. "Boss things."
Zuko returned his attention to his laptop.
"What kind of boss things?"
Through gritted teeth, "The kind that gets you fired if you continue with the incessant questions."
Sokka had thought he was bluffing but decided not to risk losing his job. He went back to work and started formulating Plan B.
He’d tried inviting Zuko to Friday happy hours at the local bar, Ba Sing Se. OmashuCo was one of the many startups in the area that employed summer hours during the summer months, which meant that everyone could leave work as early as 2 on Fridays. Sokka and his work friends did not hesitate in forming a group to take advantage of Ba Sing Se’s 2–4 happy hour on Fridays.
"Yo, boss," he said, standing in front of said-man's desk.
Zuko looked up without halting his typing.
"It's two-thirty-two," Sokka hedged.
Zuko's good eye narrowed and slid to the clock hanging on the wall behind Sokka. "I can read the time." Was the guy fiber-deficient?
"Sooo," Sokka said, dragging out the "o" sound for as long as possible. "Me 'n some of the others are going to BSS right now. Want in?"
His boss stared at him for a full thirty seconds. "No."
Sokka gaped at him. Not a "No Sokka, but thank you for the warm and generous offer"? Not even a "No Sokka, I must get to the bathroom pronto before I explode of chronic constipation"?
"'No'?" Sokka echoed.
"Did I stutter?"
"Why not?" Sokka whined. "You're always sitting here cooped up behind your desk. Live a little!"
Zuko's ears reddened and suddenly Sokka feared for his life. "No," Zuko said after a long pause. He took a deep breath. "I have plans."
"Okay," Sokka said skeptically, but dropped it. He started formulating Plan C.
Then Aang, the new legal intern, as naive and hopeful as the day he was born, approached Zuko with such a liveliness that Sokka's coworkers had all stopped doing anything to observe the interaction.
"Hi Zuko!" Aang greeted.
Zuko turned his glare from the computer screen to the tattooed college student.
"I'm Aang, I'll be interning with the legal team starting today." Aang thrust his hand out. Zuko stared at it down his nose, as if it was the most putrid thing he had ever seen in his life.
When Zuko did not return the handshake, Aang pulled back and thrust it in front of his face again. "I spoke with you over the phone about my offer, remember? It's really nice to finally meet you in person."
Slowly, as everyone inhaled a nervous breath (Sokka was about to shit his pants), Zuko reached over his desk to gingerly shake the intern's hand. The only description that could accurately describe Zuko’s expression was horrifically ill. Aang beamed. Sokka felt faint.
Then, "Go to work." And Zuko returned to typing away at his laptop, his glare intensifying tenfold, as if he couldn't believe that he had allowed himself to waste five seconds of his precious life shaking a subordinate's hand.
"Sir yes sir!" Aang saluted the older man comically and skipped away.
Zuko’s terrified glare would have made Sokka burst into loud laughter if he wasn't so busy wondering if that exchange had really happened.
Sokka decided then that Aang was a gift from God. But since that day it seemed as if Zuko barely spoke with or so much as looked at the intern, and Sokka went on to formulating Plan D.
Just when Sokka had been ready to give up hope, a chance conversation with Toph, Aang, and Ty Lee during their lunch break renewed his faith in the world.
"Who are you guys bringing to the charity ball?"
"Charity ball?" Aang piped up.
Ty Lee giggled. "It's an annual ball that OzaiTech hosts for charity. They invite all the up and coming tech startups in the city. It's a good way to network and to raise money for a good cause."
Aang's eyes widened. " The OzaiTech? As in, number one on the Fortune 500, OzaiTech? How do they even know about us?"
“Calm down, Twinkle Toes,” Toph said, amused. She ran a finger in one of her ears and flicked away whatever she found in there. “Apparently someone in the company has some deep connections. Actually this year I hear the CTO herself is gonna make an appearance.”
At this point Aang had gone cross-eyed. Sokka clapped him on the back. “Don’t worry, buddy, you get used to it after awhile. And trust me, some of the employees are not worth meeting.”
“But still!” Aang protested. He gasped. “Do we need to bring dates?”
Ty Lee hid her smile behind her mug. “Dates are optional and not required,” she assured him.
Aang deflated. “Phew! I would’ve asked my girlfriend but she’s so busy.”
Sokka frowned at the tattooed monk. Great, even this weirdly energetic kid was getting more action than he was. “What does she do?”
Aang puffed out his chest. “She’s a doctor!”
“No way,” Sokka replied. “My sister’s a doctor.”
Aang turned to Sokka, his expression suddenly fearful. “What a small world,” he squeaked.
Sokka’s frown deepened. “Yeah, it is.”
“So, Brown Nose,” Toph said with a drawl. “You gonna finally grow some and ask Suki to come with you?”
Sokka felt his face redden. He leaped at Toph and covered her mouth with his hands. “Quiet, woman!” he hissed. “Do you want everyone to hear you?”
Toph ripped his arms apart with a strength that did not match her petite frame. “Everyone knows already, dumbass. There’s a betting pool going on.”
“WHAT?” Sokka shrieked, prompting Toph to smack him on the head. He smiled sheepishly at the curious glances from the rest of the office before glaring at Toph.
It was Aang’s turn to pat Sokka on the back. “There’s still a few days left, Sokka! Don’t give in!”
Sokka groaned and prepared to head back to his desk.
"You think the boss is gonna bring...?" Ty Lee lowered her voice into an eager whisper.
Sokka whirled around so hard he almost gave himself whiplash. "Bring who?" he demanded.
Toph rolled her eyes as Ty Lee said, "His husband."
Sokka didn't even know why he bothered. Zuko, for all his antisocial constipatedness, wasn't even a nice guy—at least, to the people who worked for him. When he wasn’t glaring over everyone’s shoulders or scaring the shit out of everyone during team meetings (the dude was a stone-cold statue), he just kept to himself at his desk, speaking to no one unless spoken to or if he was criticizing some hapless underling.
In the entirety of Sokka’s five years at OmashuCo, he couldn’t remember ever seeing his boss smile. Whenever he and Aang decided to goof off and engage in their daily Foosball matches, he would always catch Zuko glaring at them, but the dark-haired man would never comment on it. Sometimes Sokka seriously felt sorry for the dude. Sometimes. It was hard to feel sorry for someone who was always breathing down your back or giving you shit for your hard work. He rarely gave out compliments and whenever he did (“Not bad”), Sokka had to process the words for a few solid minutes before he realized that Zuko had just praised him. But those days were rare.
However, Sokka was a nice guy, and hey, no hard feelings right? Although it wouldn’t kill the guy to start taking some fiber supplements. He’d often joked with Aang that all they needed to do was find Zuko a nice girlfriend so he could start going easier on his team. But before Ty Lee had dropped that nuclear bomb on him he’d seriously thought that Zuko was asexual. Sokka wasn’t one to judge, of course, but the fact that not only did Zuko seem to actually have game , he was already fucking married.
“What the hell?” he had sputtered. “I’ve never seen him wear a ring!”
“Sokka you utterly useless shit stain,” Toph sneered, prompting Ty Lee to giggle and excuse herself from the conversation. “He wears his ring everyday.”
“Well!” Sokka would not be cowed. There was no way in hell his boss was married before he could even muster the courage to ask out Suki. “Has his husband ever visited? I don’t see any picture of them on his desk!”
Even Aang had given him a weird look. “Zuko’s a pretty private guy,” the intern pointed out.
Toph rolled her eyes. “And why do you think he never comes to happy hour Fridays?”
“Because he’s an antisocial ice cube with no sense of humor?”
Toph fell silent and Sokka smirked in triumph. “Hah! You know you can’t deny that—I’ve seen some pretty wound up people in my day, but that guy has got to be—”
Said-man gulped and turned around to meet an all-too familiar hard golden glare. “Yes, Boss?” he squeaked.
“You’ve completed everything you were assigned today.”
No shit, Sherlock, Sokka thought. Out loud, “Yessir.”
Zuko frowned, eyebrows pinching together. “I have some more paperwork for you to look at by Friday.”
Sokka chanced a glance down towards Zuko’s hand, which hung stiffly at his side. A thin, gold band winked back up at him. Sokka swallowed a lump of bile. “Sure thing, Boss,” he said with a weak smile.
Zuko turned in the way that only he could, ending the conversation and forcing Sokka to follow him back to their desks. Toph snickered behind them. He flipped her off behind his back, knowing that she couldn’t see it.
“I know what you’re doing, Sokka,” she threatened.
Fuck everything, he thought.
Sokka decided that this Christmas he was getting his boss a dictionary. “Some more paperwork” was a massive understatement. Zuko had practically given him the rest of his work, leaving Sokka miserable throughout the rest of the week, and still working by the time everyone had left the office. To make matters worse, it was the night of the charity ball, and the last person had probably already left by four.
“What does Zuko have to do on Friday afternoons anyway?” Sokka seethed. “Probably just sit on the toilet and glare. I’m definitely giving him laxatives and a dictionary. It’s not like he’s gonna be missing out on anything while I’m stuck here—”
Startled out of his angry mutterings, Sokka jerked his head up. He was greeted by a tall, smirking dark-haired. The man was dressed casually, and when he raised his tanned arm Sokka caught a glimpse of a thin tattoo snaking down towards his elbow.
Sokka’s eyes bulged. The other man was tossing and catching a paper weight with his raised hand. “That’s—!” he yelped, scrambling out of his desk to snatch at the offending object.
The man raised an eyebrow and deftly avoided Sokka’s desperate fumbling. “Something wrong?”
“That’s my boss’s paperweight!” Sokka panted, eyes darting back and forth the hall. He would know, he had been the one to label it, after all. “He’s gonna kill me if he sees it’s been misplaced!”
The man had the audacity to laugh. “Seems like you might deserve it with all that shit-talking you were doing earlier.”
Sokka reddened. “I’m not the only one who does! Anyway, who the hell are you to say that? You trespasser, I should call security!”
The other man tossed the paper weight into the air one more time before snatching it with his other hand and passing it to Sokka. “Relax. I was just looking around before heading out.”
“You better leave now, then,” Sokka snarled.
His only reply was barking laughter and lazy wave before the man brushed past him and sauntered away. He quickly replaced the paper weight on Zuko’s desk, chewing his nail as he wracked his brains and tried to remember how it had looked before the offender had taken it away.
“Fuck it,” he muttered, and returned to his desk. He checked the time: 6:52pm. He was almost done with everything. But the charity ball was in an hour, and he could always come in early on Monday to finish the rest.
“Fuck it,” he said again, and turned off his computer.
“Why is everyone so jittery right now?” Sokka complained, handing Toph another flute of champagne.
Aang goggled at him. “You haven’t heard?”
“What?” Sokka snapped. He’d been in a foul mood since he’d left the pile of paperwork behind at the office. The only thing that brought some relief was that Suki had also opted to come alone. Now all he had to do was drink enough champagne to become slightly tipsy and summon enough courage to ask her on a proper date.
“Apparently Zuko’s husband was in the building today!” Ty Lee explained. “Do you know if anyone saw him?”
Sokka scowled and downed his champagne.
“I heard Bumi from finance saw him coming out of the bathroom,” Suki said.
“As if anyone would ever talk to Bumi ,” Toph replied with a small shudder.
“Speaking of Zuko though,” Sokka said, craning his neck around the ballroom, “Shouldn’t he be here by now, lecturing us about not making complete assholes of ourselves?”
Suki laughed. Sokka’s heart melted at the sound, then froze up completely when she said, “He was only really talking about you during those lectures, though.”
Toph snorted. “Remember that time when you clogged the toilet and tried to ask the UPS guy to call maintenance for you?”
“No way!” Aang exclaimed. “What happened?”
Sokka tuned the rest of the conversation out with as much dignity as he could muster, scouting the area for his boss. He glanced past the stuffy, old white men who were no doubt the rich patrons he’d have to suck up to for sponsorships and investments, and tried to keep his eyes out for Zuko’s telltale birthmark. God knows it was the only way to differentiate him from the other well-dressed Asian men at this event.
He spotted Zuko several feet away from the, holding two champagne flutes and looking, for once, very out of place. Sokka almost felt sorry for the dude. Almost. It was hard to look past almost eight months of torture to feel sorry for someone who was just standing there looking like a sad little puppy.
“Hey guys,” Sokka said, still eyeing his boss. “You think the husband stood him up?”
“That’s a terrible thing to say, Sokka,” Suki admonished. Sokka wilted under her stern tone, hating the way Toph cackled behind her.
“Maybe he’s pooping,” Aang chirped.
“Alcohol does make me pretty gassy,” Toph commented.
“That’s a lot of champagne though,” Ty Lee worried. “Hopefully something bad hasn’t happened.”
Sokka was ready to implode. “THIS ISN’T—”
He jolted forward. Someone had stumbled into his back.
“Whoops,” a familiar voice said, sounding unapologetic. “My bad.”
Sokka turned around. He saw dark skin and darker eyes. The man had both his arms raised in defense, so his sleeves had ridden up his forearms, revealing a tattoo that wound around his wrist.
Sokka pointed at the offender. “YOU! PAPER WEIGHT JUGGLER!”
“Sokka, keep your voice down!” Suki hissed, coming up beside him to pinch his arm.
The man had the audacity to look at Sokka like he had gone crazy. His lips quirked into a lopsided grin. “If this is some weird attempt at flirting with me, you’re doing it completely wrong.”
Sokka reared back, sputtering. Behind him, Toph snickered. Suki placed a restraining hand on his shoulder. At least, he hoped it was Suki. He didn’t want to tear his gaze off of the taller man for a second. How dare this guy just waltz into a private corporate event like he owned the place! And he didn’t even seem to recognize Sokka at all.
“What are you even doing here?” Sokka fired back, looking around the ballroom for any hints of security personnel. “Shouldn’t you be lurking around other offices playing with their paper weights? In fact, are you even supposed to be here? Is there a security guard around here? Hello? This man is trespassing a private event!”
“Um, Sokka,” Aang piped up.
“Not now , Aang!” Sokka said through gritted teeth, glaring at the amused man in front of him.
“Are you sure,” Aang said nervously, “Cuz—”
“ Not now, Aang!”
“If you say so…”
The man crossed his arms and addressed Sokka. “I don’t think I need to explain myself to you, not with that attitude.” A sly grin unfurled across his lips. “Unless you say please, then maybe I’ll consider it.”
“You….” Sokka raised a shaky finger at him. “You….you….”
“Zuko alert,” Toph muttered.
Sokka snapped his head in his boss’s direction, who was rapidly stalking towards them with a deep frown. It would have been a lot more intimidating, he thought wildly, if Zuko wasn’t double-fisting the champagne glasses and trying not to spill anything.
The man arched a dark eyebrow at him. He followed Sokka’s gaze and his expression instantly lightened up. His whole body seemed to relax, much to Sokka’s surprise. He hadn’t even realized how tense the man was, given the way he had slouched in such boredom when speaking with him.
“There’s my beautiful husband,” the man called, grinning hugely.
There were four intakes of breath behind Sokka.
“No fucking way,” Suki said.
“Holy mother of fuck,” Toph crowed.
“Oh my god!” Ty Lee squealed.
“NO WAY!” Aang cried, clapping his hands.
“I guess you found my co-workers,” Zuko said in lieu of a greeting. He handed a champagne glass to the man with a grimace.
The man beamed, sliding an arm around Zuko’s waist and planting a kiss at the corner of his husband’s mouth.
The pitch of Ty Lee’s squeal reached decibels unable to be heard by the human ear. Suki’s grip on Sokka’s shoulder, although previously welcome, was now crushing his bones.
“Aw man,” Toph complained. “Did they kiss?”
“Woah, how do you do that!” Aang exclaimed.
Sokka could not stop staring at the couple. He was almost sure that Zuko would have shied away from the kiss, or even given the man an uppercut, or glared at him, or something . But instead, beyond all of Sokka’s expectations, he had flushed a deep red from his neck to the roots of his hair, and given his husband a tiny smile. Sokka was caught between wanting to faint and wanting to whip out his phone because holy shit did anyone see that Zuko Li just fucking smiled.
“Your co-workers are lovely,” the husband drawled, smirking at Sokka.
Sokka wilted underneath his gaze, wondering why he was so interested in him, when— fuck he heard me complaining about Zuko earlier fuckfuckFUCK.
Zuko turned towards them. “I hope you all have been handling yourselves well.”
“Of course, Boss!” Aang chirped, stepping out to stand next to Sokka. “Sokka’s on his best behavior—well, sort of—he did just try to start a fight with your— umph— ”
“What he meant to say,” Sokka said loudly, clamping his hand down over Aang’s mouth, “Was, er, should we do some introductions?”
Ty Lee eagerly came to stand in between everyone. “I’m Ty Lee, this is Sokka, Aang, Suki, and Toph.”
Everyone stared expectantly at Zuko, who shifted uneasily.
“Um. This is Jet,” Zuko said, jerking his head toward said-man. “My husband.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Jet flashed a set of white teeth at them.
Suki sucked in a breath. “He’s charming,” she whispered. Sokka grunted, his dislike of Jet increasing exponentially. What the fuck kind of name was Jet, anyway?
Jet shifted his gaze back to Sokka, who started to feel sweat trickle down his back. Please don’t remember me, he pleaded silently, please please please—
“Oh shit!” Jet said. “I remember you!”
Everyone’s heads swiveled to Sokka. Zuko’s eyes narrowed.
“Have you two met already?” Zuko asked, eyes still on Sokka.
Sokka let out a nervous laugh. “Well, you see boss, I thought he was trespassing in the office, and he was playing with your paper weight, and I—I didn’t know he was your husband!”
Jet laughed, finishing his glass of champagne. “You always talk to yourself when you’re alone?”
Sokka gulped. “Yeah, it’s a...bad habit of mine.”
Jet hummed thoughtfully before turning to Zuko. “Shall we go mingle?”
“Let’s get it over with,” Zuko muttered.
“Nice meeting y’all,” Jet called over his shoulder, as husband and husband walked shoulder to shoulder into the sea of suits and evening gowns.
“Explain,” Toph demanded.
Sokka felt all energy drain out of his body. “I fucked up, guys.”
“We know,” Toph said impatiently. “Explain.”
“I was kind of shit talking Zuko earlier today and Jet might have heard.” Sokka cringed.
“Oh, Sokka,” Suki said in despair. “What did you say?”
“I don’t really remember,” Sokka mumbled. “Something about laxatives and a dictionary.”
Toph had the nerve to throw back her head and dissolve into hysterical laughter. Ty Lee giggled nervously into her hand while Suki and Aang placed sympathetic hands onto his arms.
“Don’t worry, Sokka,” Aang said. “Zuko’s not stupid or deaf. I’m pretty sure he knows what people say about him.”
Sokka turned to look at the intern, waiting for him to say more.
“What?” Aang scratched the side of his neck.
“Is that supposed to help me at all?” Sokka shrieked. “I’m, like, the only person in the office who’s stupid enough to talk shit about him while he’s at work!”
“Dude,” Toph said. “You’re not the only person who talks shit about him during work. You’re just the only person stupid enough to get caught.”
“You do complain a lot, Sokka,” Aang pointed out.
“Thanks for making me feel worse, guys,” Sokka groaned.
“But actually, Sokka,” Suki said. “Don’t worry about it too much. Zuko knows how he operates, and he knows that people will talk shit, but he also knows how to get shit done, which is probably why he doesn’t care about the people he upsets. He really knows how to separate his own feelings from his work.”
Sokka sighed. “Thanks, Suki.”
She smiled, then pulled him into an embrace.
“Now kiss!” Toph cheered.
Sokka didn’t resist the urge this time to punch her. She punched him back.
“ FUCK! ”
For the next two weeks Sokka was known as the “Fuck Boy”.
“Which doesn’t help at all with my rep!” Sokka complained during lunch. “People already think I look like a fuck boy.”
“Sokka, people don’t think that,” Toph said. “They know that already.”
“Even better,” Sokka muttered, draining the rest of his coffee.
Even worse, he had forgotten to finish the extra paperwork Zuko had assigned him the day of the charity ball, and had had to endure even more long-suffering glares and condescension from His Royal Constipatedness. And when he finally did manage to finish that monstrous stack, Zuko had barely even managed a “Thanks” before assigning him another fifteen-hundred case studies due within the following week. The dude was officially batshit crazy.
“I don’t even understand how Zuko has a husband,” Sokka whined. Objectively speaking, Jet was hot too. And despite how annoying he had been in his interactions with the man, he had seemed especially charismatic as well. As far as looks went, the two of them actually made an above-average looking couple, Sokka admitted to himself. But how was it fair that such an evil person could be married to a guy like Jet when Sokka couldn’t even be in the same room as Suki without wanting to shit his pants?
Jet was obviously mentally ill. There had to be something wrong with him. Maybe in his past life he had been an obsessive, homicidal stalker. That was literally the only explanation that made even the slightest sense to Sokka.
Toph reached up and flicked Sokka’s ear. “I have no idea how you haven’t been fired yet,” she said. “Remember what we talked about? If you’re gonna talk shit about your boss at least keep your fricking voice down.”
Sokka smacked her hand away and rubbed at his sore ear. He had the decency to look around and make sure they were still the only two at their table, but she had (as always) been right. As much as he complained about his boss and his job, he still liked what he was doing. In fact, he was pretty damn good at what he did too. And maybe he had also improved a little since Zuko had become his boss. But just a little.
“But still,” he hissed, bending down so he was eye level with his blind friend. “There has to be at least something wrong with Jet for him to marry Zuko! Am I the only one who thinks so?”
Toph stared at him for a full twenty seconds. “You know,” she said. “As much as you complain about Zuko, I don’t think I’ve seen you this productive or motivated at work since you first started.”
Sokka gawked at Toph. He wanted to flap his arms at her. “Did you hear nothing that I just said, you crazy woman—”
Toph brushed past him with a smirk. “Think about it, Fuck Boy.”
Sokka did—for a good five minutes before he shrugged and went back to sulking at his desk. He’d finished his work for the day and had nothing else in his schedule besides a few meetings. God forbid he ask Zuko for even more assignments. After a few furtive glances around his desk, he opened up Facebook.
Yelping, Sokka frantically closed the tab before plastering on a wide grin and looking up at Zuko. Of course, just when he finally was able to catch a break, the bastard’s my subordinates are slacking off sense had to go ahead and start tingling.
“What’s up, Boss?” Sokka greeted, his heart hammering in his chest.
“I just looked over the case studies you finished up for last week,” Zuko replied with a frown.
Internally, Sokka groaned. Great, had he made another spelling mistake? Misused the Oxford comma? Just please let me go home at a reasonable time tonight, Sokka prayed fervently. He braced himself, ready for the volley of insults and “Get this fixed within the next five minutes.”
Sokka flinched. “I’m sorry sir,” he babbled. “I’ll go ahead and—wait. What?”
It was Zuko’s turn to flinch. If possible, his neck had started to flush. He gaze was directed towards Sokka’s right ear. “Just—um—you did a good job. This time.”
Sokka gawped at him. “Right,” he said faintly, blood rushing in his ears. “You got it.”
Zuko jerked his head in the semblance of a nod. “See you in thirty.” He turned around and strode away.
“See you…? Right—meeting,” Sokka mumbled. He turned back to his computer and stared blankly at his screen before he started shaking uncontrollably.
His boss had just complimented him on his work and that had had to be one of the top three most uncomfortable moments he’d ever experienced in his life. But—but Zuko Devil Fucking Incarnate Li had just told Sokka that he’d done a good job and hadn’t even assigned him any more work. Sokka suppressed the maniacal giggles that were threatening to burst out of him. He was so going to shove this in Toph’s face when he saw her later.
Despite Sokka’s determination to head home early that day, he was still one of the last people to leave the office. He sighed and rested his forehead on his desk, relishing the feel of the cool wood against his skin.
“—we’re gonna be late for our reservation.” A familiar voice floated through the air.
Sokka shot up in his seat and strained his ears. It was definitely Zuko. But who was he talking to?
“Relax babe, you’re fine. Take your time.”
“Sorry. It’s just— argh —why do you have decide now is the time to start doing so many damn updates!” A sharp noise cut through the air. Zuko must have slammed his fist into his table. “I hate Windows.”
There was a long stretch of silence, save for the occasional drumming of finger tips on a hard surface. Sokka contemplated how he could leave without alerting the two of them of his presence.
“Hey,” Jet said. He sounded like he was holding in laughter.
Zuko groaned. “What.”
“Why doesn’t Apple make any cars?”
There was another long stretch of silence. “Why.”
“Because then they would have windows.” Jet openly snickered.
Through gritted teeth, “I’m going to punch you.”
“Aw, c’mon! That was a pretty good one. Admit it. You’re dying of laughter. Just let it out. Your coworkers aren’t here, you won’t have to lose any face. You’re still Zuko Li, Fearsome Demon Boss, or whatever the kids are calling it these days.”
Zuko’s laugh was breathy and short. Sokka was going to implode. He definitely needed to get out of the office now. But he stayed rooted to the spot, morbidly curious of what was going to happen next.
“They really do hate me,” Zuko said, something strange lacing his voice.
Jet scoffed. “I’m not surprised, given how hard you probably work them.”
Sokka could almost hear the glare in Zuko’s reply. “If they hate it so much they can just quit. I’m not here to just do the bare minimum and make money off of it. I want to contribute something meaningful to his company, help it grow to its full potential. I know we can. We’ll be bigger than OzaiTech.”
Jet laughed softly. “Just don’t overwork them too much.”
“You should see how much progress everyone’s made,” Zuko said. “Remember Sokka? I could barely trust him even with spell check, but now I’d almost even let him proofread my work.”
Sokka’s eyes widened, blinking rapidly. All of his blood was rushing to his ears. He almost wanted to break his cover and give Zuko a hug. His grammar and spelling really had improved since Zuko had first started working here. He sat at his desk and grinned to himself like a loon for a good five minutes before tuning back into the conversation.
“—Everyone who gets to know you s’gonna see that you’re just a soft and mushy Zuzu,” Jet teased.
There was a soft thwack accompanied by Jet’s laughter and Zuko’s, “Don’t call me that.”
There was a slight pause. “I still can’t believe we’re married,” Zuko said, voice muffled.
Jet laughed. “I was one persistent bastard.”
“I probably enjoyed that way too much on some level. Back then.” Zuko’s voice was fond.
Jet snorted. “Please, you totally got off on that shit. Remember all those times in that park behind the Jasmine Dragon—”
“Because you wouldn’t stop molesting me in public—”
That was it. Sokka didn’t even care if he was heard scrambling out of his chair and beelining towards his car. His brain could not handle anymore of this stranger with Zuko’s voice.
Predictably, at their lunch break, all his friends’ reactions to the defiling of Sokka’s ears were that Zuko and Jet sounded like the cutest couple ever.
“I totally ship it,” Ty Lee sighed.
Sokka scrunched his face at her. Millennials and their lingo...
“He’s honestly not that bad of a person at all,” Aang said earnestly. “He’s actually been the most incredible mentor to me. I’m definitely asking him to write my letter of recommendation when I start applying to law school!”
“That’s sounds so wonderful, Aang!” Suki cried, wrapping him in a hug, much to Sokka’s chagrin. Her face fell. “I’m gonna miss you so much when your internship ends though.”
“We’ll still see each other,” Aang promised. “I’m planning on moving here after I graduate next semester.”
“Damn, congrats, kid,” Toph said. “Have you looked into housing yet?”
Aang’s wide eyes flew to Sokka’s before his excitement suddenly faded. “Erm. I’ll be moving in with my girlfriend, actually.”
“Congrats again, Aang!” Suki exclaimed, drawing him into a hug. “You two will be so happy together. But are we ever going to meet her?”
Sokka narrowed his eyes. Aang was studiously avoiding his gaze. “Hopefully soon—she’s been pretty busy with work recently.” He laughed nervously.
“You said your girlfriend’s a doctor?” Sokka leaned in closer to the intern.
Before Aang could reply, Toph jabbed Sokka with her elbow. “Incoming,” she said.
Everyone turned to watch Zuko walk past them. He barely glanced at them, instead seemingly walking faster when he realized they were all goggling at him.
Ty Lee broke the silence with a giggle. “I spy a poorly concealed hickey!”
“ What? ” Sokka whisper-shrieked. He whipped around and craned his neck to catch another glimpse of his boss.
Toph whistled. “Must’ve been an anniversary or something.”
Ty Lee sighed, clasping her hands together. “Makes me wonder if I’ll ever find a love as true as that.”
Aang’s eyes widened and he rushed forward to grasp her hands in his. “Ty Lee, you are an amazing, independent, and beautiful woman. Any man would be lucky to have you! Don’t worry, one day, you’ll be sweeped—swept?—er, swept off your feet by your Prince Charming when you’re least expecting it!”
Sokka could practically see the anime stars in Ty Lee’s eyes. He wanted to gag.
“Do you really mean it, Aang?” Ty Lee squealed.
“I mean it with the fiery passion of ten thousand burning suns!”
Over their heads, Suki rolled her eyes fondly towards Sokka. He flushed and shrugged. “What can you do,” he mouthed. Suki giggled and his heart melted.
“All right guys,” Toph announced. “Some of us have work to do, and I for one will not be late to Friday happy hour.” She strode off towards her corner of the office.
Sokka waved bye to Suki before starting towards his cubicle. He paused in front of Zuko’s desk. Like clockwork, his boss had already finished his lunch and was typing furiously on his computer. Sokka had long since given up trying to catch him slacking off at work. The guy was a literal, constipated machine.
He cleared his throat. “Erm. Boss?”
Zuko looked up with a frown. He barely paused his typing. Strangely, the Grand Canyon between Zuko’s eyebrows no longer irked Sokka as much as it had in the past. Instead, he almost felt grateful that he had a slavedriver for a boss. Almost.
“Today’s Friday,” he began. When Zuko didn’t seem likely to start talking, he finished in a hurry, “Would you wanna come with us to Ba Sing Se for happy hour after work today?”
Zuko grimaced and opened his mouth to reply, not before glancing at his computer then slumping his shoulders in defeat. “That would be...nice,” he said.
Sokka was careful to hide his shock when he grinned. “See ya there, boss!” He waved and turned back towards his desk.
If he had waited a couple more seconds, Sokka would have seen Zuko’s features relax into a smile and a murmured, “See you.”
But he probably would have fainted on the spot, because his boss was still the devil, and Sokka would soon learn that not only was Zuko good at his job, he was also very, very good at handling his alcohol. And Sokka...wasn’t.
Sokka was known as “Pee Boy” for two weeks following that disaster, but that was a story for another time.