And Zuko’s okay with that. Really, he is. He’s totally fine with Sokka going off to Ba Sing Se for three weeks. He’s fine with being completely alone in the palace for those three weeks. He’s fine with having to say goodbye to the only friend who’s stuck by his side for the past six months.
(He is not fine, and everybody knows it. Sokka included.)
Sokka chews his lip. “You sure about this? I could always just do it over letter—”
“No,” Zuko interrupts. “That would take way too long. Seriously, Sokka, it’s fine.”
“I just don’t wanna leave you alone, y’know? It’s not exactly like you’re friends with your ministers.”
Zuko rolls his eyes. “I’m not some pet goat dog that needs constant attention, Sokka. Go do your ambassador thing.”
“You know, for a Fire Lord, you’re really unprofessional.”
“I’m seventeen. I get some leeway.”
He doesn’t, though. He doesn’t get any leeway at all, because he’s Ozai’s son and Azula’s brother and what he does now will go down in the history books. Everyone’s watching him, and he can’t afford to mess this up.
Zuko knows this. Sokka knows this. They both pretend they don’t.
“Okay.” Sokka glances over his shoulder, at the waiting hot air balloon. “Keep in touch, yeah? And if anything happens I’ll come right back—”
“Just go,” Zuko tells him. They’ve been saying goodbye for, like, five minutes, and he knows his guards are watching with way too much interest. No, Mizu, the Fire Lord’s life is not your newest source of entertainment, no matter how easy he makes it.
“Okay, okay, I’m going, I’m going,” Sokka says, picking up his bag and shuffling backwards towards the ship. He pauses just before he hits the plank, which is good, because if he’d tried to walk it backwards Zuko would’ve had a heart attack.
“Fuck it,” Sokka says, and Zuko doesn’t even have time to ask what he’s talking about before Sokka’s throwing his bag aside and running towards him—
Sokka grabs Zuko’s face and kisses him full on the mouth.
Zuko’s brain goes flat out abso-fucking-lutely blank. There isn’t a single coherent thought bouncing around in his head right now. All he can process is the fact that Sokka’s mouth is warm and dry and tastes a little like the sweet bean buns they had earlier.
Sokka pulls away. Zuko stares at him. Sokka stares back.
“Uh,” Sokka says. “See-you-in-three-weeks!”
He turns and dashes for the ship, grabbing his bag and forgoing the plank completely in favour of just fucking leaping onto the deck. With a groan, the balloon starts pulling away from the palace, and Fire Lord Zuko, leader of a nation, is left standing on the balcony with his hands still half-raised in front of him.
His brain finally catches up to the realisation of what’s just happened.
“Wait!” he yells. “Sokka, you asshole! You can’t just do that!”
Sokka waves at him from the deck.
“Bye!” he yells. “Try not to burn down the palace while I’m gone!”
Zuko splutters indignantly and turns around. His guards aren’t doing a very good job of pretending they’re not interested in his love life. Zuko locks eyes with the nearest guard and gestures, very sharply, at the retreating balloon.
“He can’t do that, right?” he asks, a little desperately. “Right?”
The guard glances at her colleagues. When it’s clear none of them are going to help her, she coughs and shifts on her feet.
“On the contrary, Majesty,” she says, “I think he just did.”
A few hundred metres away, on the deck of a leisurely cruising balloon, a sixteen-year-old boy sinks down to the floor and buries his face in his hands.
“Tui and La and everything else,” he whispers. “I am so, so fucked.”
Sokka determinedly stops thinking about the Thing the moment he steps off the balloon. He’s here on Ambassador Business. Very important Ambassador Business. He’s here to talk with Earth King Kuei about the possibility of relocating some of Ba Sing Se’s refugees. Technically speaking, this isn’t strictly Southern Water Tribe Ambassador stuff, but at this point Sokka's name is pretty much synonymous with ‘has an in with Fire Lord Zuko’.
...Thinking about the aforementioned Fire Lord will lead to thinking about the Thing. Which means Sokka will have to stop thinking about Zuko. Which is hard, because Kuei keeps casually bringing him up whenever they so much as broach the topic of the colonies.
Sokka eventually manages to stop his brain from going where it shouldn’t by doing some good ol’ categorisation. There’s Fire Lord Zuko, who Kuei would like to talk to about refugees in the colonies, and then there’s Zuko Zuko, who Sokka kissed on a balcony and then left alone for three weeks.
Sokka pointedly does not think about Zuko Zuko.
By the time he leaves the meeting, his thoughts are pretty much centred on politics. This lasts for all of two minutes, because a man dressed in practical leather clothes runs up to him. There’s a russet-red hawk perched on his shoulder, which means that this is Kuei’s hawkmaster, which means—
“A letter from Fire Lord Zuko, sir,” the hawkmaster says breathlessly, handing over a scroll sealed with wax.
Sokka turns the letter over in his hands, gaze catching on the royal insignia stamped into the seal. Okay. Yep. Definitely from Zuko.
“Thank you, Hawkmaster…?” Sokka trails off, expecting a name.
The hawkmaster bows. “Dinh, sir.”
“Thank you, Hawkmaster Dinh,” Sokka says. The royal insignia feels like it’s burning a hole through his palm.
“My pleasure, sir,” Dinh says. “Should you wish to send a reply, the Royal Aviary is located in the West Wing.”
“Right,” Sokka says numbly. “Thanks.”
Dinh scurries off, the hawk—Zuko’s hawk—swaying on his shoulder. Sokka watches him go, then slowly turns his attention to the scroll in his hands.
To: Ambassador Sokka, of the Southern Water Tribe
...So no chance of it just being a mix-up, then. Sokka closes his eyes and heroically keeps himself from screaming.
Either that meeting lasted way longer than he thought, or Zuko’s hawks are freakishly fast. It doesn’t really matter, because the letter is here and it’s undeniably Zuko’s hand. Of course he’d written it himself; Sokka knows he hates using scribes.
Suddenly, Sokka feels exposed and very, very vulnerable, standing by himself in an empty hallway of the Earth King’s palace. He hurries to his rooms (rooms, plural, because apparently fancy ambassadors get whole sets to themselves) and closes the door behind him.
Once he’s inside, he shuts his eyes and lets his head fall back against the door. He’s holding the damn scroll tight in his fist, and a sudden seizing panic hits him—he doesn’t want to crinkle it.
Sokka slides down till he hits the floor and wonders how he got here: afraid of crinkling a stupid scroll. He stares down at it, and the wax insignia, and his name, written in Zuko’s cramped, tiny script.
“Fuck it,” he mutters, and tries to ignore that it’s exactly what he said before he kissed the Fire Lord.
He opens the letter.
What the fuck.
No, seriously. What. The. Fuck. You don’t just kiss someone and run away. I hope you know that’s some real douchebag behaviour.
If your goal was to throw me off-kilter so much that I couldn’t focus on any of my meetings, congratulations. Mission accomplished. My ministers think I have Swamp Frog Fever, despite the fact that I haven’t been anywhere near any frogs for months. They want the healer to check me over. Some of them think it’s a really subtle assassination attempt—some kind of poison that slowly drives me mad until I finally keel over and die.
See what you’ve done? You are a horrible, horrible person.
If, however, your goal was to, perhaps, dramatically confess certain feelings, I’d tell you that there might be a possibility those feelings are reciprocated. Reply to this letter first, and then we’ll see.
Your friend (?), who is very pissed off and confused right now,
Sokka reads the letter, then rereads it, then rereads it again.
Okay, no, he’s definitely mad. But he’s not mad that Sokka kissed him. He’s mad that Sokka kissed him and then immediately ran away with zero explanation, which, in retrospect, was an objectively shitty thing to do.
His eyes stick to one line in particular: there might be a possibility those feelings are reciprocated. Which, first of all, is surreal.
Sokka’s already resigned himself to quietly pining from afar like the bisexual disaster he is. After Suki had quietly, discreetly, ended things—completely amicably, might he add, she’s still one of his best friends—he’d moped around for a little bit, and Zuko had helped him through it.
So when Sokka realised that friends do not usually stare at other friends’ hands when they pull up their hair, he’d dismissed it as him being emotional and latching on to the closest friendly person. But then he’d visited Kyoshi Island to say hi, and it didn’t hurt at all—even better, it wasn’t even awkward. Suki was still Suki, still kickass and awesome and fierce, and the only difference was that they didn’t want to kiss each other anymore.
And Sokka had realised that, somewhere along the way, he’d fallen hard and fast for Zuko.
The kiss was a mistake. That’s what Sokka’s been telling himself ever since he did it. It was a lapse in judgement, a momentary brain-blank, because Sokka’s already used to the idea of keeping himself at arm’s-length because there’s no way Zuko likes him back.
And now Zuko...does this.
Zuko says he might like Sokka back.
And there’s a little question mark next to ‘friend’. Which could mean several things, including but not limited to:
- Zuko hates him, which means they are no longer friends.
- Zuko thinks Sokka hates him, which means they are no longer friends.
- Zuko...wants to be more than friends.
Sokka’s going to die. That question mark will haunt him for the rest of his life, and then he’s going to die.
Fucking question marks.
The reply comes faster than Zuko expected. Two days after Sokka’s departure, a familiar red hawk perches on Zuko’s windowsill.
“Hello,” he tells her, opening the rest of the shutters so she can hop onto his arm. “Have a good flight?”
She makes a low sound in the back of her throat and nudges her head against his cheek. He catches sight of the scroll and slides it out of the carrier.
It doesn’t really click that this is Sokka’s scroll until he sees the green wax seal. Green, because he’s in the Earth Kingdom and has to use their wax—but the stamp is the symbol of the Water Tribe, a crescent moon with wavy lines. Tucked in the top-right corner is a stylized wolf head to specify that yes, this is Ambassador Sokka.
It suddenly becomes much, much harder to breathe.
Zuko stares down at the scroll for long enough that the hawk on his shoulder gets impatient, nipping at his ear. He startles back to life and carries her to the door, popping his head out to hand her to one of the guards.
“Could you take her to Hawkmaster Shin? Thank you.”
Zuko shuts the door and leans against it. His hands are shaking, just a bit.
Well. He started this. He has to finish it.
(Technically, Sokka started it, but Zuko’s the one who wrote the first letter, so.)
He breaks the seal.
Yeah, the whole kiss-and-run thing was...not a good thing to do. I’m sorry. I should’ve at least given you an explanation; you deserve that much.
Did they try to feed you frozen frogs for your 'fever'? It’s not a nice experience.
About my goal, uh, the second one pretty much nailed it. Any word on that possible possibility that you mentioned?
Your maybe-more-than-friend, who is still very sorry,
It’s...a lot more solemn than Zuko expected. And a lot shorter. He was expecting a page-long letter full of jokes and sarcasm that would’ve left him even more confused than before he sent his message, but this…
This means that Sokka’s, like, serious.
Agni above. Zuko buries his face in his hands, but not before he carefully folds the letter and sets it aside. It’d taken him a while to realise he liked Sokka like that, because he’d never had any real friends around his age and his relationship with Mai was...unconventional, to say the least.
Toph, Aang and Katara don’t count. Toph and Aang are thirteen, first of all, and Katara has never even been an option to him, romance-wise. Friend, yes. Possible girlfriend, no.
Sokka, on the other hand, is the only person Zuko knows who checks both boxes. Friend, yes. Possible boyfriend? Also yes.
Zuko had realised it when Sokka flopped on top of him after eating one too many spicy spring rolls, and Zuko’s entire body had lit on fire.
Not literal fire. That would’ve been a major incident. But it felt like he was on fire, and Zuko had abruptly realised that this definitely wasn’t a platonic kind of feeling.
Which then led to two months of useless pining, which culminated in...that. The kiss. Which was very confusing but not necessarily bad, and now was a little less confusing because Sokka’s as good as said I kissed you because I hoped you’d kiss back.
Zuko takes a deep breath. He has paperwork to do, but the second he’s done, he’s writing another letter.
No, they didn’t try to feed me frozen frogs. Apparently I’m functional enough that they’ve decided it was just a brief period of too much stress, which...isn’t entirely wrong.
I’m just going to say it: I like you. Romantically. And if we could try the whole kissing thing again, minus the running-away part, that would be great.
We can absolutely try the whole kissing thing again. No running away, I promise.
I’ll send you another letter soon with all the information Kuei wants me to pass on. I think, personally, that it would be very unsexy of me to put that here right after I promised you a kiss, so it’s getting a letter of its own.
Thanks for the information. I’ll look into the possibility of hosting refugees while the towns are rebuilt. Maybe we could consider Taku, if we manage to get it in decent condition? Seeing as we’re not at war anymore, we could use Pohuai Stronghold as a shelter.
On a less political note, if you don’t follow through on your promise I will punch you. See you in two weeks.
Your boyfriend (?),
Look at my baby Fire Lord, all grown-up and making important political decisions! (No, ending the war doesn’t count, because that was a no-brainer.) Kuei says Pohuai Stronghold is a definite possibility. Potential supply point, maybe?
(Seriously, though, I’m proud of you.)
Your boyfriend (!!),
P.S. Again with the question marks? You have no idea how much anxiety you're causing me.
It took a bit of arguing, but everyone’s agreed and Shinu’s willing to turn the stronghold into a supply point/shelter. The Yuyan Archers currently use it as their headquarters, so any refugees will have to share. It’s worth noting that there’s a herbalist nearby, so there is medical attention on hand, but she’s also kind of crazy.
I’ll have you know I’ve made loads of important political decisions. Exhibit A: making you Ambassador. See how well that turned out?
Your boyfriend, who will see you in one week,
P.S. I'll use question marks as I see fit. If you can kiss me and run away, you can handle a couple of question marks.
The Pohuai Stronghold idea’s doing fine on this end. Kuei’s agreed, though his advisors (not Long Feng, thank Tui) are a bit skeptical about using a military base to house refugees. I’d also like to remind you that a) Taku is a really important military point and b) don’t let your guard down just because the war is over. You said something about archers? Keep them there. If you withdraw Pohuai as a military base completely, you’re leaving a weak point for anyone who wants to attack.
Aww, you think me being ambassador turned out well? I’m flattered, honeybear.
Your boyfriend (?), who would like it very much if he didn’t get punched upon return,
P.S. There, I used a question mark. See how bad it feels?
Call me honeybear one more time and I’ll rip your throat out.
Atsuko, one of my servants, informs me that this is not a typical way to threaten your boyfriend. I apologise. My first girlfriend was Mai.
Seriously, though, if you call me honeybear, I will not hesitate to lock you outside the palace for a night. Have fun sleeping in the street.
Your advice about Pohuai’s military usefulness is noted and appreciated. And of course you being ambassador turned out well. Just look at yourself now.
Your boyfriend (?), who is seriously considering punching you upon return,
P.S. Hm, no. It doesn't feel bad at all.
Zuko does not, in fact, punch Sokka upon return.
He yanks Sokka forward by his robes and kisses him right then and there.
He’s very, very aware of the fact that there are people watching—namely, the usual assortment of guards—so he keeps it short and chaste. When he pulls away, Sokka’s hands have settled lightly on his shoulders, and the man himself is blinking in a dazed sort of way.
Sokka gives him a dazzling grin, raising one hand to push back through his hair. “Well, that’s one way to greet your boyfriend.”
Hearing him say it out loud makes Zuko’s heart do a funny little flutter in his chest. He crosses his arms, keeping his face carefully neutral, but he knows the corner of his mouth is twitching upwards. “Better than a punch, at any rate.”
“Much better,” Sokka agrees. “So are we going inside, or what? I'm starving."
Zuko can’t help the tiny snort of amusement. “Yeah, yeah. Come on, Ambassador Snoozles. There’s a fancy meal waiting for you.”
They turn and start walking, side-by-side, and Zuko pretends not to see the coins that pass between his guards’ hands.
Sokka, Zuko decides, is an unfairly good kisser. His mouth always tastes like whatever he’s eaten last, which can sometimes be a curse. Zuko refuses to go near him for at least two hours after he’s eaten garlic or onion. But it also means that, on the night of his eighteenth birthday, Sokka’s mouth tastes like spice and fire and everything Zuko loves about his country.
It also helps that, as mentioned, Sokka’s unfairly good. Zuko’s...clumsy. He doesn’t know how to kiss beyond slotting their mouths together, but Sokka’s a fucking master. Either he's just naturally good at this, or Suki was a very good teacher.
"How many plates of spicy noodles did you have?" he murmurs against Sokka's lips. They taste like five different sauces, which in theory should taste horrible. It's Sokka, though, so it tastes damn amazing.
"A lot," Sokka admits, nudging Zuko's nose with his own. They're both tucked away on a small balcony just outside the ball room. It's a risky position; sooner or later, someone's going to notice that the Fire Lord isn't at his own birthday celebration. For some reason, Zuko can't bring himself to care. He strongly suspects that reason has to do with Sokka's lips, and eyes, and—
"Oh my spirits."
Zuko and Sokka both bolt upright, staring wide-eyed at the curtain separating the balcony from the ball room. There are two people standing there, silhouetted by the lanterns—
"Katara?" Sokka's voice comes out strangled. Zuko squints and, sure enough, it's Katara and Aang. "I—what—"
"You guys are dating?" Katara whisper-shrieks.
Well...she doesn't look mad, just shocked. Which is technically a win, in Zuko's book. Besides, this situation could've been infinitely worse—they could've been caught in a much more compromising position than just kissing, or they could've been walked in on by—Zuko shudders—one of the nobles.
"Is it a problem if we are?" Sokka narrows his eyes at his sister, who instantly holds up her hands.
"What? No! We were wondering when you were going to get together anyway."
"We were?" Aang asks.
"Everyone except you," Katara admits. "Toph wanted to see how long you could go without realising."
Aang pouts. "I'm not that oblivious."
"Uh, yes, you are," Sokka tells him. "Okay, so just to be clear—we're dating and you're fine with it? You're not gonna threaten to kill him? Or me?"
"No, I'm not." Katara shakes her head, a faint smile on her face. "I mean, I'm definitely going to have to give Zuko the shovel talk later, and then probably yell at you for not telling me, but I'm not mad. Though you should probably stop making out on balconies."
Zuko coughs into his fist. "So what were you and Aang coming out here to do, anyway?"
Both Katara and Aang promptly go bright red, and Sokka gags.
"Never mind," he says, looking queasy. "We don't want to know."
Toph punches them both in the arm for daring to get caught.
"Ow, Toph," Sokka complains, rubbing his arm. For a puny thirteen-year-old, she hits hard.
"Dumbass," she says curtly. "The hell were you thinking, doing that at a celebration?"
"We weren't thinking," Sokka grumbles. "That's kind of the point."
"Gross, Sokka!" Katara yells from across the room. He sticks out his tongue at her. He may be seventeen, but being petty with your siblings is something that you never grow out of.
"And you, Sparky—" Toph turns to Zuko and jabs an accusatory finger at his chest. "—you should know better than that!"
"I know, I know," Zuko says, actually looking ashamed. "It was dumb."
"Damn right," Toph mutters. Sokka feels like he's missed a crucial step of the conversation.
"Wait, rewind," he says, holding up his hands. "Can someone tell me why it's such a big deal that we got caught? I mean, yeah, it's embarrassing, and neither of us are totally ready to be out, but...that's it, isn't it?"
Toph snorts. "Yeah, no. Think about it, Snoozles: Sparky's the Fire Lord, and you're the Water Tribe Ambassador. Now imagine one of Zuko's ministers caught you sucking face on the balcony. Boom—instant international incident, nosy dickheads up in your personal business, and people are probably going to start calling you the Fire Lord's boytoy. It'd be even worse for Zuko. If he so much as mentions the Water Tribes after being caught with you—"
"They'd never take me seriously," Zuko interrupts. "They'd think you were corrupting me."
Toph nods. "Exactly. It's high society, Snoozles. In other words, if you're not careful you're fucking dead. Sparky and I grew up in it, and Katara's got default immunity 'cause she's dating the Avatar, which leaves you as the biggest target."
"I can deal with high society!" Sokka protests, trying to ignore the churning feeling in his stomach as he realises just how much they were risking that night. "I'm, like, the king of dealing with high society. The best. I'm basically a societybender."
Toph starts cackling. Zuko reaches over and pats Sokka's knee.
"Sokka," he says gently, a faint smile on his face, "I love you, but...no."
Toph's cackling grows louder.
The morning after that, Sokka opens the door to a haggard-looking Zuko.
"Woah," he says, surveying his boyfriend. "You look like shit."
"Yeah, I know," Zuko rasps. He shudders. "Uncle found out. He gave me the talk. I never want to hear the word protection ever again."
Sokka likes to think he's a good boyfriend. However, being a good boyfriend doesn't stop him from doubling over and laughing until his stomach hurts.
Zuko just stands there. Sokka's pretty sure he's used to it.
So. Two weeks until you're nineteen. Is that a milestone in the Fire Nation? No, right? You do things by even numbers.
Anyway, the newest designs for the irrigation systems are coming through nicely. We might get a couple more waterbenders to come up from the South, which means I'll have to go down there to supervise. I am Ambassador, after all.
Don't worry, I'll be there for your birthday. Wouldn't miss it for the world.
Love, and lots of it,
You're right about the milestone thing. Nineteen's not anything special, unless you count it being kind of auspicious. Nine is auspicious, so I guess it's halfway there.
If you need to head South, then go ahead. You know I won't mind. It's only a day, and your job is more important.
Love, and more (?) of it,
P.S. You were right about the even number thing too, except for four. Four's bad. Do not pick four.
Again with the damn question marks. I hate you.
And no, I'm not going down South and missing your birthday. You are more important. I'll send a message now and head down when I get a reply, after your birthday.
See you in four days. I'll probably arrive before sunrise on your birthday, so if I'm lucky I'll still get to see that cute face you make when you wake up and try to curse the world, even though you look like an angry turtleduck.
Love, and the most of it,
P.S. Poor four. What did it ever do to you?
Zuko wakes up on his nineteenth birthday with an intruder in his bedroom.
"It's me!" the intruder hisses, slapping a hand over his mouth before he can call for his guards. "It's Sokka!"
Zuko wrenches his boyfriend's hand off his mouth, his heart still pounding. There have been way too many assassination attempts since he was crowned for him to not be paranoid when there's someone in his room, but at least now he knows why he didn't sense anything wrong. Sokka, in his mind, translates to safe.
Nevertheless, it's terrifying. "Agni, Sokka, don't do that," he snaps. "I thought you were an assassin!"
Sokka winces. "Yeah, not the best idea. Sorry." He sits down on the edge of the bed, and it's then that Zuko realises he's still wearing his travelling clothes. Spirits, he hasn't even changed yet. The absolute dork.
"Hey." Sokka leans forward, smiling fondly. The first light of sunrise is inching over the horizon, gilding them both in gold. For a moment, Zuko can only stare and marvel; Sokka looks like a statue, a monument to all things good.
The monument presses a soft kiss to Zuko's lips. "Good morning," he says softly. "Happy birthday."
Zuko hums, tipping into the kiss. "I think I'm ready to come out."
"Wait, you—seriously?" He pulls back, eyes bright. "Zuko, I—are you sure?"
Zuko nods. He's been considering it for a while, and the longer he leaves it the worse the backlash. Not that he thinks anyone will actually care that he's dating a boy, that kind of thing has never mattered in the Fire Nation, but because if this goes far enough then they'll end up with two Fire Lords and no possible way of conceiving an heir. Unless Zuko takes a consort, which he'll...probably have to do. In the far, far future.
"Been thinking about it," he tells Sokka. "Ever since you said you were ready."
He still remembers that conversation clear as day. Two months ago, Sokka had turned to him and said, "I'm ready to come out."
Zuko froze. "You what?"
Sokka took his hand. "I'm ready to come out," he repeated. "Let everyone know we're dating."
Something seized in Zuko's chest. He didn't realise his hands were shaking until Sokka covered one with both of his own.
"Hey. Hey, Zuko, look at me," he said gently, ducking his head so he could look into Zuko's eyes. "I'm not saying we have to come out. I'm fine with waiting until you're ready. Everyone we care about already knows."
Zuko couldn't do much more than meet Sokka's eyes. "You're sure? Because I'll get backlash for not having an heir, but you're Water Tribe Ambassador. And I know they can be a bit, ah..."
"Bigoted," Sokka supplied. "Yeah. The South got rid of that ages ago, and the North is working on it, but...yeah. I'm sure, though. If Arnook wants to cut ties with his sister tribe because the Ambassador likes boys, let him. I'm pretty sure Katara would kill him for that anyways."
Zuko let out a wet laugh. Shit, he was crying. When did he start crying?
"And you're okay with waiting?" he asked, because he just had to make sure. Sokka nodded.
"More than okay," he said, and something eased in Zuko's chest. He closed his eyes and let himself breathe.
"So," Sokka says thoughtfully, "are you gonna do it tonight? Make it dramatic?"
Zuko's not usually one for making a scene, but the thought of the looks on his ministers' faces is too good to pass up. "Maybe. I might ask Toph."
Sokka grins. "Oh, yeah. She'll probably end up bending every piece of metal in the room to spell out, ZUKO'S GAY."
"She probably will," Zuko muses, playing with the hair at the nape of Sokka's neck. It's grown out since he visited Teo at the Northern Air Temple, and he'll need to shave the sides soon. "You're going to the colonies, right?"
He's kind of tucked under Sokka's chin, so he can't see Sokka's grimace, but he knows it's there. "Yeah. Some Water Tribe settlers had an argument with the other citizens, and it got bad enough that they're calling me to help." He kisses the top of Zuko's head. "I won't be long, though. I'll definitely be back for the party."
"You better be," Zuko says. "Katara would slaughter you if you didn't."
Sokka chuckles. "Oh, she definitely would." He pauses, then murmurs, "I have to go change for colony weather, mmkay? See you tonight."
"See you tonight," Zuko agrees, tipping up his head for a kiss. Sokka obliges.
Agni, every time Zuko thinks he's getting better with social functions he's reminded of just how fucking wrong he is. Other nobles are exhausting. If it weren't for Toph by his side—because Aang and Katara are doing their level best to fend off their own horde of power-hungry rich people—he's pretty sure he would've collapsed over by the drinks table ages ago.
He scans the crowd for Sokka. The party started half an hour ago, and he still isn't here. Zuko swallows down the thought of what that could mean with a healthy gulp of alcohol.
"Chill, Sparky," Toph says, rapping a knuckle against his glass. "You can't get wasted until your ministers do. He'll be here soon."
"Yeah, I know," Zuko mutters. The only flash of blue he sees is Katara, dressed in formal Water Tribe robes, politely trying to chivvy herself and Aang away from a group of older women. Zuko snorts. He's willing to bet that they've gotten at least one question about their marriage.
Toph elbows him in the side with enough force that Zuko's glad he wasn't drinking when she did it. "Look alive, Sparky. Snoozle's here."
"He is?" Zuko looks up sharply, and—yes, there's Sokka, quietly blending in at the edges of the crowd. Zuko can't help but exhale with relief.
Sokka looks up, and they lock eyes. He grins and bounds over. Zuko’s heart spasms a little, nowhere near the romantic little flutters that Katara’s always gushing about in her romance novels. It feels like he’s about to keel over and die from heart failure, meaning: not good.
As Sokka weaves through the crowd, Zuko reminds himself that until they figure something out, he can only hug, and smile, and do friend-things. Because if he and Sokka—
Sokka reaches him and everything else goes right out the goddamn window, because Sokka’s kissing him.
It’s a chaste kiss, but it’s still a kiss, in front of a bunch of nobles, and this is what Sokka was talking about earlier when he said make it dramatic. Zuko thinks, oh, that little shit, but that's about where the thinking ends because it's really, really hard to do anything when Sokka’s lips are on his.
Zuko pulls away first. He stares at Sokka and raises his one brow.
“You do realise,” he says dryly, “that you just instigated a major international incident?”
Sokka blinks and looks around, as if he’s suddenly remembered that they’re surrounded by dozens of important people. Which he hasn't, because that was the whole point of the kiss. “Oh,” he says eloquently. “Right.”
There's a hidden message there, written in the furrow in his brow and the downward turn of his lips: was that okay?
Zuko snorts. “Yeah. Right.”
More than okay, he says, with the tiny smile of his mouth and the crooked edge of his eye. Sokka relaxes almost imperceptibly.
"You guys," Toph says, "are oogie. And I can't even see you."
"Shut up, you're like six," Sokka says, flicking her nose. Toph flicks her finger, and a metal spoon zooms out of nowhere to hit Sokka in the face.
"Toph!" he yelps, clapping both hands to his head. "You tiny little shit!"
Zuko is entirely unsympathetic. When Sokka turns to him for help, all he says is, "You should've seen it coming."
Sokka puts a hand to his chest. "Betrayed by my own boyfriend? Oh, woe is me; I'm surrounded by traitors."
"Damn right you are," Toph says smugly, and Sokka smacks her upside the head. Zuko's laugh abruptly dies in his throat when he catches sight of a minister over Sokka's head.
It's Minister Dai Yun, the only remaining member from Ozai's council. He locks eyes with Zuko, and his jaw tightens. His gaze flickers over Sokka, now all but wrestling with Toph on the ground, and back up to Zuko: disapproving.
Zuko holds his gaze.
Dai Yun looks away first. Zuko grins.
The backlash is...pretty much exactly what they expected. For the first few weeks, Zuko carefully avoids mentioning the Water Tribes unless absolutely necessary. It's only when Katara bursts in to deliver a message from Chief Hakoda that the council members start to relax.
For a while, Sokka loses some of his sway over the Northern Water Tribe. Not because he's bisexual, as it turns out, but because he chose the Fire Lord. International relationships between national figures are never good in the eyes of the Northern Tribe, and Katara has to step in to play messenger between Sokka, Arnook and the rest of the world.
Like all things, though, it eventually ends. It ends slowly, and painfully, but it ends.
On his twentieth birthday, Zuko walks in with Sokka on his arm. No one even bats an eye.
Sokka's trying to relax, damn it.
He's so glad he doesn't have guards trailing him everywhere like Zuko. If he did, they'd be getting a prime-time viewing of Ambassador Sokka, twenty-three years old and losing a fight to a flying lemur.
Momo's persistent, okay? And yes, Sokka sees the letter tied to his foot, but it's kind of really hard to get it when Momo's thinking they're playing a game of Keep-Away.
They are not playing a game of Keep-Away. They're playing a game of Momo-get-back-here-and-let-me-take-the-letter-Tui-damn-it.
Finally, finally, Sokka manages to grab the letter off Momo's leg. It's sealed with wax, which is weird enough, because he knows that Zuko is the only one in the palace right now who'd send him a letter with Momo. Wax is for important political letters, but this can't be that important, or Zuko would've already come found him by now.
The other weird thing is that the wax is blue, but the insignia is Zuko's. Sokka didn't even know he had blue wax.
Momo settles on his shoulder—oh, so now he decides to behave—and chitters curiously. Sokka's just as curious, so he breaks the seal.
I'm a coward for doing this over letter, but seeing as we established our relationship over letters it seemed kind of appropriate. That being said, if you want to come scream at me, I'm in my chambers, not my office.
Sokka, you're the best thing that's ever happened to me. You're incredible. I don't know if I've ever told you, but you get this look in your eye when you think of an idea, and I love it. I love you. I love everything about you: how fiercely you care, how you won't hesitate to knock people down a few pegs—me included—and how you're always so completely, absolutely you.
I'll be honest: when I realised I was in love with you, it was a relief. Because if I had to love anyone, anyone at all, I wanted it to be you. If I had to give myself over to someone, and let them have my heart, there was no one better than you. What I'm trying to say, Sokka, is that I looked at you, and I knew I was falling in love, and I said: I am going to love you, because I want to love you, and because you are the kind of person who I will always want to love.
In other words, I'm asking you a question.
Marry me (?)
Love, and all of it,
The door to Zuko's chambers opens and closes silently. He closes his eyes and steels himself.
"Are you serious?"
Of all the answers he was expecting, that...wasn't one of them. Zuko opens his eyes and turns around.
Sokka is standing before him, eyes wide and suspiciously bright. He's clutching the letter in trembling hands.
Zuko swallows. "Yes."
"About all of it?"
Sokka stares at him.
"Spirits," he says hoarsely. "Zuko, you fucking sap."
And then, quite suddenly, his hands are on Zuko's cheeks and his lips are on Zuko's lips and Zuko acts on instinct. That instinct is to wrap his arms around Sokka's shoulders and push back—up, really, because he's sitting and Sokka's leaning down but he's still taller—into the kiss.
"Yes," Sokka whispers, his voice breaking. "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes."
It feels like a dam's broken in Zuko's chest. He presses kiss after kiss to Sokka's lips, to his hair (that adorable wolf-tail), to his cheeks and his hands and his neck. It takes a while for him to realise that they're both crying, and it's only because he tastes the salt of their tears.
It tastes like the sea, he thinks, which is a poem waiting to happen. Zuko's not a poet, though, so it'll have to wait forever.
"You know," Sokka says, resting his forehead against Zuko's, "I do have to say something about that letter."
"Oh?" A thrill of panic runs up Zuko's ribcage as Sokka leans away to pick up the fallen letter. He turns it so that Zuko can see it, his own ridiculous heart spilled out in ink on a page.
Sokka's pointing to a line. Well, it's two words, but it's still a line.
Marry me (?)
Zuko's brow creases. He doesn't frown, exactly, but he's not sure what the problem is.
"The letter," Sokka says, "was stupid romantic. But this?" He shakes the paper in Zuko's face. "Tui and La, Zuko, you little shit. I thought we were done with the damn question marks!"
Zuko can't help it. He bursts out laughing. After a moment, Sokka joins in too.
He reels in Sokka like a fish, still laughing, and presses a kiss to the tip of his nose. Sokka smiles, and Zuko smiles, and they're happy.
"Fuck," Sokka says, that night as they eat their dinner. "Now I have to carve you a betrothal necklace."
"Make it a question mark," Zuko suggests, and Sokka throws a spring roll at him.
Zuko stares down at the necklace. It's a work of art, a shining white stone hanging from a cord of thick blue leather.
"You actually did it," he says. Sokka snickers. "Agni above, you actually did it."
It's subtle, only there if you know you're meant to look, but there's a fucking question mark carved into the stone. It weaves between the dragon and the wolf heads, looking for all the world like an innocent ribbon of stone, but Zuko knows. He knows.
"Sokka, you absolute piece of shit," Zuko says. "I love you. Can you help me put it on?"