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Brilliance Has its Limits

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Sokka is looking for somebody.

Specifically, he’s looking for Prince Zuko, and the guy is a lot harder to find than Sokka would have originally thought. But he has started this quest, and he cannot give up now! It would be unmanly.

He’s been wandering the halls of the Fire Nation Palace for the last twenty minutes trying to think of places where the elusive prince might be. Unfortunately, Sokka has only been to the palace a grand total of three times, and one of them was when he was two. So, it’s really more like two and a half times. There’s only so much you can know about a place when you’ve only been there two and a half times. Not particularly helpful in his present situation.

He’s checked the throne room: nope, no Prince Zuko.

 He’s checked the gardens: not there, either.

He’s checked the kitchens: nada (although there was a very tasty-looking batch of fruit tarts cooling on the counter. Suffice to say, that batch is now one tart short).

He’s checked the training grounds, which is Sokka’s ultimate destination if he ever manages to find the sneaky bastard: still nothing.

Tui and La, where the fuck is this guy? Sokka thinks. Does he turn into invisible mist and just float through walls or something?

“Just great, stuck in this jerkbender palace looking for some floaty-footed mist-man,“ Sokka mutters to himself as he trudges through the (ridiculously large, in his opinion) corridors in search of his target. If there were something better to do, he’d be all over it like stripes on a tiger seal, but his dad and Chief Arnook are having “special chief time” and Sokka is not invited. This annoys him, because all they’re doing is getting drunk on the supply of plum wine they pilfered from the kitchens (it’s the middle of the afternoon, too, what the fuck), but he guesses that’s a battle for another day. Bato and the other representatives are stuck in a meeting about the sales tax on salamander eggs, which is apparently something people here eat, and Sokka would rather claw his own eyes out than spend hours arguing about a “food” that he will never ever let anywhere near his tongue.

He’s still too embarrassed to show his face—heartbeat—whatever—around the blind earthbending noblewoman who drank him under the table the other night—where she put all that alcohol, he will never know—and the other Earth Kingdom delegates are either too stuffy or too old or too both to bother with.

La forbid he should have to spend the afternoon with Hahn (motherfucking girlfriend stealer), so hanging out with the Northern Tribe’s warriors is out. And Katara said that she would be busy until dinner.

So, Sokka has decided to seek out Prince Zuko, aka Floaty-Footed Mist-Man, for a little sword practice. Katara mentioned that the prince has some skills: apparently he mastered swordsmanship by the time he was sixteen. Well, Sokka is just going to have to put his “mastery” to the test.

One problem: he still hasn’t found him.

Still grumbling to himself, Sokka rounds another corner and nearly runs smack into a couple of servants. The girls quickly bow with a murmured “Your Highness”. Sokka still hasn’t gotten used to how, well, servile the palace staff is. Or how weirdly formal they all are. Back in the South Pole he’s not really thought of as royalty, but here he’s been saddled with the title of “prince” so that the servants know what to call him. They’re a whole hell of a lot better than the creepy-ass servants in the Earth King’s palace, though, so he’s not going to complain. He nods awkwardly at them and is about to let them pass when he is struck by a Brilliant Idea.

“Wait!” he calls. They stop and look back at him, glancing at each other with wide eyes before bowing again.

“Yes, Your Highness?” one of them asks politely.

“Uh, you wouldn’t happen to know where Flo—ahem, where Prince Zuko is, would you?” He flashes them his trademark Water Tribe grin.

The girls blink at him, then glance at each other again. And then, so quickly he’s not sure if he actually saw it, a smirk crosses both of their faces. “I believe I saw him earlier when I was in the north wing, Your Highness,” the one on the right says. Both girls have their eyes averted from his, their faces back to the polite blankness all the servants here seem to have mastered.

The whole thing seems a little weird to Sokka, but then again, the whole Fire Nation is weird. He thanks them anyway with another charm-filled grin and sets off in the direction of the north wing. This is one part of the palace that he does know. Katara lives there.

His sister has been living here for the past five years. Fire Lord Iroh decided that, as the full-time Ambassador of the Southern Water Tribe, she deserved rooms in the palace itself. Neither he or their dad, or even really Katara herself for that matter, had wanted her to move to the Fire Nation, but she was the most qualified for the job, even though she was only sixteen at the time. Sokka knows that she misses the South Pole, but hey, at least the digs are nice.

He treks through the obnoxiously huge palace (again, why does it need to be this big? Don’t only, like, five people need to actually live here?) until he reaches his destination: the north wing, home to Very Important Guests. He briefly wonders why Prince Zuko would be hanging around here but dismisses it. Who knows what floaty-footed mist-men do in their spare time?

Sokka scans the halls, but there is still no sign of Prince Zuko. He’s about to go punch a tapestry or something when he gets another Brilliant Idea.

He knows that Katara said she would be busy, but surely she won’t mind him popping in to ask if she’s seen the prince! After all, Katara is a kind of Very Important Guest, so it’s likely that she’s had some sort of communication with him. His Brilliant Idea still glimmering in his head, Sokka heads over to her rooms. Not bothering to knock, he opens her door and sticks his head in, mouth open to call out a greeting.

The words stop short in his throat at the sight that greets him.

Prince Zuko is in his sister's bedroom, frozen to her bedpost with a thin band of ice. He is also inexplicably blindfolded and, even more inexplicably, not wearing a shirt. Sokka takes this in for a full five seconds, not able to do much more than blink in astonishment. His mouth opens and closes several times before his brain clears and starts to ask just what the fuck is going on? Sokka decides that this is an excellent question, and one that demands answers.

“Just what the fuck—“ he starts to ask, before he is cut off by a horrified gasp.

Sokka!

Unfortunately, his sister’s voice alerts him to Katara’s position.

On her knees.

In front of Prince Zuko.

Who isn’t wearing any pants.

Sokka has never fainted before in his life, but he is thinking that today might just be the day.

“I’m going to throw up,” he moans, lurching away from the door and hunching over, desperately trying to erase the things that his eyes have seen. Eyes which are now about to fall out of his head from the sheer horror that they just witnessed.

Dimly he hears a flurry of cursing from inside the bedroom, then a slamming door, and suddenly Katara is in front of him and frantically whispering at him not to freak out.

“—can’t tell Dad, Sokka, nobody knows, it has to be a secret, why the fuck didn’t you knock—“

“There shouldn’t be a reason for me to knock!” His voice is decidedly not a whisper when he straightens up and looks at her accusingly. But then he notices that her lips are somewhat swollen-looking and the horror overtakes him again, forcing a terrible gagging noise out of his throat.

“Agni, Sokka, be quiet—“ Katara is cut off by the sound of a door opening down the hall. Sokka looks up to see an elderly Earth Kingdom nobleman sticking his head out of his room and staring at them. His sister forces out a strained chuckle and feigns nonchalance. “Nothing to see here, Lord Huan. Sorry to disturb you.” Sokka doesn’t bother to stop gagging, but Lord Huan just frowns at them before retracting his head.

Katara turns back to him with the definite beginnings of a case of the crazy eyes. But before she can start whisper-shouting at him again, Sokka realizes another horrifying truth.

“The smirk!” he wails, flinging his head back in anguish. “They knew and they didn’t tell me! How can one human being do such a thing to another?”

“Sokka, what are you talking about?” Katara is looking at him with a mixture of annoyance and confusion. Sokka is finding it hard to return her gaze. The red Fire Nation robe she’s wearing is not helping. Tui and La, please don’t let it be Zuko’s—

He doesn’t bother to answer his sister’s question. There are more pressing concerns at hand. “I hate this place,” he says. “I hate this place and I am leaving. You are leaving. Right now. We’re going, Katara.” He grabs her wrist and starts trying to drag her down the hall. “Back to the South Pole where there are no floaty-footed, sister-ruining mist—“

Katara yanks her arm out of his grip. “Stop it, Sokka! I’m not going anywhere.”

Sokka whirls around. “Oh yes you are. We are getting Dad and we are leaving and we are not coming back.”

Katara is not impressed by this entirely logical declaration. “What the fuck gives you the right—“

Sokka feels himself getting some crazy eyes of his own. “I am your brother and I am doing what’s best for you!” he shouts. If his arms flail wildly while he does it, well, this is a very emotionally distressing situation, okay? Cut a guy some slack.

“NO YOU'RE NOT!” she screams back at him. Katara has now broken out her angry face, the bane of many a Water Tribe warrior/Chief, and she has turned it on full-strength. “You’re being STUPID and judging me before I’ve even EXPLAINED to you what’s going on!”

“Your explanation won’t mean very much, Katara, because clearly you’ve gone insane! You obviously don’t know what you’re doing—“

She looks like she’s going to strangle him. “Oh, and you do?” she practically shrieks. “So, what, you’re going to tell me who I can be with like Arnook does to Yue?”

Oh, she did not just go there.

Her screech echoes in the hallway, and Sokka feels ice knot in his stomach in its wake. He is suddenly furious, and he feels his face go hard as he stares down at his sister. Katara seems to realize what she just said—yep, that’s his sister, always putting her foot in her mouth—and her eyes start to widen guiltily. She her mouth to say something, but then a firm look crosses her face and she closes it again, glaring up at him with a defiant expression.

All of a sudden, Sokka feels the fight drain out of him. She’s right. He knows that Katara is a strong woman and that she can take care of herself. La help anyone who tries to tell her no when she’s made up her mind to do something.

Still, he has to be sure here. He looks at her seriously and asks, “Katara, just tell me the truth. Did he make you, somehow?”

She blinks at him, and her features lose their defiant cast.

“What? I—no, Sokka, no. I’m in love with him.”

Sokka looks down at her, at the way her face has softened with the declaration, and sighs.

“Alright, then. I trust you, Katara.” He can feel that his face has settled into a resigned sort of expression, but it’s the best he can manage at the moment. His sister seems to understand this and smiles gently at him.

“Thanks, Sokka. I knew you would come around.” Her mouth twists. “Eventually.”

“Yeah yeah.” He waves her off and rubs a hand over his eyes. He still might need to claw those out. It’s a thought that bears considering. Especially now that there’s a threat of again being assaulted by terrible things that sisters should never be seen doing.

But for now, they stand together in the hall, quietly accepting the other’s presence.

“So.” Katara breaks the silence after a moment. “What did you come to see me for?”

A strangled laugh escapes from Sokka’s throat. “I was going to ask if you’d seen Zuko. I wanted to see if he was interested in some sword practice.”

“Oh.” She glances up at him, then bites her lip and says, “Well, I guess he was kind of already doing that, wasn’t he?”

Sokka covers his face and lets out an agonized groan.

“Too soon?”

“It will never not be too soon,” he says, peeking accusingly out at her through his fingers. Katara purses her lips, but she can’t hold back a giggle. Sokka tries to glare at her, but before he knows it they’re both leaning against the wall, laughing hysterically.

---

Later, while making his way back to his room, Sokka decides that he will definitely be challenging Prince Zuko the Floaty-Footed Mist-Man to a very long, very drawn-out sparring session. And the prince is going down.