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Friendship Bracelets

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Considering the fact that just under a year ago, Zuko had thought Sokka was perhaps the most annoying person on the planet - perhaps even in the whole galaxy - he figured that he and Sokka were getting along pretty well. And he wasn’t even just saying that to, like, lie and make himself feel better. He actually believed it.

Really - it was 10am on a Sunday morning, and they were making pancakes in their shitty dorm’s kitchen. Last year, when he and Jet had been roommates, the most they did together was smoke in their room with the fans on and the windows open. They didn’t even talk that much. 

And he’d known at the time that Jet had maybe wanted to be closer with him, get to know him better, but Zuko hadn’t really been ready for friends or anything else. Moving out and struggling to pay for his classes and his room mostly on his own was already too much to handle, and he didn’t want to add friends into the mix.

So then when the time came around for them to choose new housing, Jet had decided to move out into a house with a couple of his friends - he’d invited Zuko, but Zuko had said no and clicked the ‘random roommate’ button on his housing application.

And now, inexplicably, he was here. With Sokka.

Who, quite obviously, was not a morning person.

He was falling asleep into the pancake batter. His nose was practically in the bowl. His hair wasn’t even up.

Zuko gave him a soft kick, keeping his eyes on the pancake in the pan.

Sokka grumbled something unintelligible.

Another kick, harder this time. “Sokka.”

No discernable answer.

Zuko flipped the pancake, glancing sideways at Sokka. “Sokka, I don’t want your drool in my pancakes.”

“Our pancakes,” Sokka grumbled, standing up straight and wiping his mouth. He blinked blearily at Zuko, scrunching up his nose and yawning. “God. It’s too early.”

“It’ll literally be eleven in an hour.”

“That means it’s ten right now,” Sokka whined, but he gathered up his hair, taking the hair tie he kept around his wrist to tie up his short hair in a ponytail. “Ten is too early for anything except sleeping.”

Zuko used the spatula to scoop the pancake out of the pan and onto the plate of finished ones. He gestured for Sokka to pour more batter into the pan, and Sokka leaned over, pouring out the perfect amount despite the fact that his eyes were pretty much closed. “You’re the one who wanted to get up early to make pancakes.”

“It sounded so much better last night,” Sokka said, pouting as he wiped his finger along the edge of the bowl so the batter wouldn’t drip onto the counter.

“At four in the morning.” Zuko had been woken up at 4:03am by Sokka’s persistent shaking, Sokka’s blue eyes shining bright in the dark. Zuko had hated him a little bit, right then.

“Stop judging me with your voice and your” - he gestured to all of him - “because, frankly Zuko, that’s not very nice.”

“I’ll be nice when you stop waking me up at four in the morning,” Zuko said, flipping the pancake.

“But, babe, that’s when we bond.”

“I never want to throttle you more than when you wake me up at stupid o’clock because you’ve just decided you want to make friendship bracelets, or whatever, and need me to know right then,” Zuko replied, and Sokka slung his arm around his shoulders.

“Yeah, haven’t you heard, dude? That’s bonding.”

Zuko rolled his eyes.

“Oh, and that reminds me, when you get back from your Uncle’s, we really should make friendship bracelets. I can ask Aang for that nice thread that he uses, you know, for those little things he makes Katara.”

“You mean friendship bracelets?”

“Nah, those are, like, courtship bracelets or something,” he said, waving his hand. “But anyway, we still haven’t made friendship bracelets, Zuko. We need to.”

“We do not need to,” Zuko said, taking the pancake off the pan. Sokka poured the last of the batter into the pan. “And I’m not making friendship bracelets with you after I get back from my Uncle’s. I’m closing today, remember?”

“I remember,” Sokka said, leaning so hard on Zuko that he actually had to make extra effort to stand up even a little bit straight. He didn’t push him off, though. “But your Uncle’s shop doesn’t close that late, and I can go pick you up so you won’t even have to ride the bus.”

“Yeah, but I know we’re going to end up staying up way too late because you’re going to be absolutely terrible at making the stupid bracelets-”

“I’m taking offense to that.”

“You should. And anyway, you have an eight am tomorrow.”

“Aw,” Sokka cooed as Zuko finished the last pancake. “Babe, it’s so sweet of you to worry about me.”

“Literally, you are always late to that class, and I’m the one who has to pay for it,” Zuko said, finally pushing Sokka off of him to place the pan in the sink to wash after they finished eating. “You always ignore all of your alarms, and then when you do wake up, you freak out and start yelling and crashing all around the room.”

“It’s not every time,” Sokka said, but they both knew it was.

They ate their pancakes at the shitty, wobbly table in the middle of the kitchen. Zuko poured the syrup over his and ate them with a fork, like a normal person would, and Sokka folded up each individual pancake he ate like a taco, dipping the taco-pancake into a puddle of syrup. It was messy and also a little gross to watch.

When they were washing the dishes, Sokka pushed open the creaky windows above the sink, and Zuko complained about flies or whatever bullshit, but he also didn’t complain too hard because the sunlight felt pretty nice, and Sokka was finally smiling all big and wide because the food in his stomach had woken him up.

And then Sokka scooped up a handful of suds, pressing said handful of suds directly onto Zuko’s face.

The first thought that Zuko had after this had happened was fucker followed by a strong desire to use the pan in his hand in a rather violent manner. 

After he’d wiped his eyes enough to glare at Sokka, his second thought was fuck.

Because Sokka was laughing, all stupid and nice with his head thrown back, and Zuko realized that he quite liked Sokka’s laugh. He liked it a lot.

And the sun was coming in through the windows in such a way that it was illuminating Sokka’s tanned skin, the blue of his eyes, the light of his smile. And Zuko thought fuck.

Fuck fuck fuck.

“Fucker,” he said, flicking soapy water onto Sokka’s shirt.

Sokka laughed again, even as he whined about his shirt even though Zuko knew for a fact that Sokka had been wearing it for over 30 hours straight. And Zuko said that that shirt was in dire need of a little soap and water because it was dirty, and Sokka argued and whined more, even as they worked side by side in cleaning the dishes.

But all Zuko could think was fuck. 



---



Of course the first thing Zuko did upon realizing that he was in love with his best friend was leave for work as soon as possible.

“I thought your Uncle didn’t want you in until later?” Sokka had asked.

“Yes,” Zuko had said, finding himself extremely caught up in how blue Sokka’s eyes were, like pieces of the sky, “but. I love Uncle so much. Goodbye.”

Yes, he knew he was pathetic. He couldn’t even make up a good lie, not that he’d ever been a particularly good liar. Honestly, in retrospect, it was probably for the best that his mouth had said something that was entirely true instead of making up an absurd lie that no one would believe even a little bit.

Upon arriving for his shift at The Jasmine Dragon Cafe six hours early, Zuko’s Uncle Iroh had looked at him and smiled knowingly. “Ah, young love,” he’d said.

And Zuko had replied, quite pathetically, “Young love? That’s ridiculous. I don’t even. I don’t even know what that is.”

Iroh had patted him on the back and said, “Okay, Zuko.”

Later, when he was taking his break with his uncle, Zuko had said “I’m not in love.”

“Okay, Zuko,” Iroh had replied.

“I’m not,” Zuko persisted, because maybe if he denied it enough he would actually become suddenly not in love and everything would be fine again.

“Okay, Zuko,” Iroh had said again, taking a sip of his tea.

“You’re not saying you believe me,” Zuko had said. Because his uncle was always the first to agree with Zuko, to tell him he believed him.

Iroh had looked up at him. “Do you believe you?” he’d asked.

And Zuko had put his face in his hands.

Even though Zuko had gone in early, he still stayed through closing, even after the rest of the employees had already gone home. He swept the floors even though he’d just swept them and knew they were clean. His uncle watched him.

“You know, Zuko,” Iroh said, and Zuko stared resolutely down at the floor, “it is alright to be in love. With whoever your heart chooses.”

Zuko moved the broom back and forth, his jaw clenching.

Iroh stood, walking over and stilling his hands with a steady hand on his shoulder. Zuko looked up at him. “Your father is not here,” he said softly. “It is alright to be in love.”

Heat gathered at the back of his eyes, and he pulled his Uncle into a tight hug, letting out a shaking sigh as his uncle wrapped his arms around him in a safe embrace. “I’m scared, Uncle.”

“It’s alright to be scared, too,” Iroh said, patting Zuko’s back. “But I do not think, right now, that you have to be.”

Zuko frowned, pulling away, and Iroh grinned, nodding his head over to the front windows.

And there was Sokka, pulling off his helmet and swinging his leg over his motorcycle, face splitting open into an easy smile when he saw them looking at him. Zuko’s heart skipped a beat.

“Hey, Iroh,” Sokka called through the locked door of the cafe, waving his hands. “Is Zuko free to go, or do I have to beat you in chess for his freedom?”

Iroh let out a deep belly laugh, pulling Zuko along as he walked to the front door, unlocked it, and opened it. “As if you could beat me in chess,” he said, pushing Zuko through the door and nearly into Sokka.

“Don’t underestimate me, man,” Sokka said, shaking his head and passing his helmet to Zuko. “I’ve been practicing.”

“If you’ve been practicing with Zuko, then you have no chance with me,” Iroh said, and Sokka cackled.

“I’m a decent chess player,” Zuko grumbled, and Iroh patted him on the shoulder.

“Yes, very decent,” Iroh assured, and Sokka laughed again. 

“If me and Zuko didn’t already have an appointment, then I totally would’ve stayed behind to show you how much better than decent I am,” Sokka said, slinging an arm around Zuko, “but as it stands, we have very important business tonight.”

“Making friendship bracelets isn’t very important business,” Zuko snapped, trying to calm his racing heart and hoping his face didn’t look too red. 

“Oh, no,” Iroh said, shaking his head and pushing them both toward Sokka’s motorcycle. “That is very important business. You better get home quick.” Zuko glared at him. Iroh smiled. “Be safe on your way, and Zuko, remember what I said.”

“Okay, Uncle,” Zuko said, giving him one last hug before Sokka pushed the helmet he’d just been wearing to Zuko, giving Iroh a bro hug and then climbing onto his bike.

“I promise to be so safe,” Sokka said, turning on the engine.

“You didn’t even bring an extra helmet,” Zuko said, rolling his eyes and putting on Sokka’s helmet, which he found, annoyingly, to smell very strongly of Sokka’s fancy Lush coconut-scented shampoo.

“I promise to keep Zuko so safe,” he corrected, grinning back at Zuko. 

Zuko climbed onto the back of the motorcycle, wrapping his arms around Sokka’s toned waist. Which he had to do. Because they were on a motorcycle. And it was safer that way.

His uncle smiled at him. Zuko was very glad the viser of the helmet was down.

They waved goodbye one more time, and then Sokka pushed up the kickstand with his foot, and then they were riding fast back to campus.

He kept his arms tight around Sokka’s waist, smelling his coconut shampoo, and he thought about what his uncle had said.

And later, at three o’clock in the morning when Sokka had finally managed to make a bracelet that only had seventeen knots in it, he’d pushed Zuko awake from where he’d been dozing on one of their beanbags, showing him the blue thread bracelet with his eyes shining, Zuko had thought that maybe his uncle was right.

He also thought, as Sokka tied the bracelet around his wrist - the red thread bracelet Zuko had made for him still tight around Sokka’s wrist - that this shitty looking bracelet was probably his favorite thing he owned.



---



Prior to finally caving to Sokka’s begging three months ago, Zuko had always studied and done his homework alone and in complete silence. Even still, sometimes he would wake up early, go for a jog, shower, and then settle down into one of the small rooms tucked in the back of the humanities building to do all the homework he couldn’t do during him and Sokka’s study sessions that always devolved into whatever the fuck was happening at the current moment.

Sokka’s notebook full of scribbled equations and chemicals and only half-taken notes was abandoned to Zuko’s left, and to his right, Aang - Sokka’s freshman friend whom he’d apparently met in some music appreciation class - was making what looked like an elaborate paper hat made out of a homework assignment. Zuko was trying, desperately, to write a reflection essay for his psychology class on- on something. He couldn’t think.

“Hey, Zuko,” Aang said, poking him on the shoulder.

His professor had said the essay could be about anything they’d learned so far, just a reflection on what the content had reminded him of or how he personally related to the wonders of the brain or something. Zuko couldn’t even remember what he’d learned.

“Hey,” Aang said again, poking him again, “Zuko.”

They’d learned about how attraction affects the nervous system so, reasonably, he could have an excuse to write vaguely about Sokka, but that was, like, too much for a one page single-spaced essay. And why would he dump his weird gay crush on his poor psychology professor over an essay? 

“Zuko. Hey.” Aang poked him twice.

Zuko’s eye twitched. Would his professor even read the essay at all? Or was it just, like, a participation grade? Either way, he couldn’t just. Unload all of his pining for the sake of a participation grade. That felt pretty low, even for Zuko.

“Zuko,” Aang said again, grabbing him with both hands and rocking him back and forth. “Hey.”

“What could you possibly want?” Zuko snapped, throwing his hands up and pushing Aang off of him. 

“Do you have glitter pens?” Aang asked.

“Why the fuck would I have glitter pens?” Zuko yelled, and the few heads that were still in the library so late turned toward them. Zuko ducked his head.

“I don’t know,” Aang said, shrugging innocently. “Just figured I’d ask.”

Zuko let out a sound of frustration, barely resisting the urge to throttle Aang. 

“Someone’s grumpy tonight,” Suki said, sitting down at their table and pulling out her laptop.

“I’m not grumpy,” Zuko said, hating the fact that he sounded pretty grumpy.

“Hey, Suki,” Aang said brightly, pushing his rolly chair over toward her. “Do you have glitter pens?”

“Not on me right now, kiddo,” she said, looking over at the whiteboard at the front desk that had the printing website’s URL written down on it. “But you can drop by later if you really need some.”

“Really?” Aang asked, and Suki nodded, typing the URL into her computer.

“Sure thing,” she said, and then she looked up at Zuko. “How’s that psych reflection going?”

“It isn’t,” Zuko said, glaring at Aang, who did not seem to notice.

“Aw, that sucks, Zuko,” Aang said, completely genuine.

“Eh, you’ll get it,” Suki said, the printer roaring to life behind her. “I just banged mine out right now.”

“Suki!” Sokka came barrelling from across the library floor, running up to Suki and throwing his arms around her. “Are you staying to study with us?”

“Hey, Sokka,” Suki said, laughing and hugging him back as best as she could. “And no, I just came to print something out.”

“You haven’t even been studying,” Zuko said, rolling his eyes. “You’ve been gone the past half hour.”

“Aw, babe, did you miss me?” Sokka asked, letting go of Suki and batting his eyelashes at Zuko.

“Fuck off,” Zuko said, eloquently.

“But then you’d miss me again, dude,” Sokka said, moving away from Suki to stand behind him, leaning his chin on the top of Zuko’s head and slinging his arms over Zuko’s chest. “And we can’t have that, right, bro?”

“Whatever,” Zuko said, praying that Sokka couldn’t feel his rapid heartbeat through his, like, elbow or something. “You should be doing homework right now.”

“I’m taking a break.”

“You’ve taken ten breaks within the past hour.”

“God, what are you, the fucking. Academic Dean or some shit?” Sokka asked, leaning all of his weight on top of Zuko. He noticed that the stupid red friendship bracelet he’d made him was still tied neatly around his wrist, and he also noticed that now was a stupid time to notice that.

“What nonsense have you been doing now?” Suki asked, and Sokka straightened, but he still kept his palms flat on Zuko’s chest, which Zuko was painfully aware of.

“It is not nonsense,” Sokka scoffed. “I have been participating in the arts.”

“He’s been doodling on the touchscreen board over there,” Aang said, pointing back to the board on the other side of the library floor which was indeed covered in Sokka doodles. All of them were horrendously awful. Zuko felt a punch of fondness in his chest and desperately tried to swallow it down.

“Very nice,” Suki said, the amusement clear in her tone.

“Thank you, I know,” Sokka said, and Zuko didn’t have to look up at him to know that he was sticking his chin up. “And I’m not continuing my homework until I finish my masterpiece.”

“I’m not staying here until four in the morning again,” Zuko grumbled, and Sokka patted his left hand - the hand wearing the stupid bracelet - once on Zuko’s chest, right above his heart. 

“And I’m not rushing perfection, babe,” he said, and then he was walking back over to the touchscreen board.

Aang continued messing with his paper hat. Suki raised her eyebrows at Zuko. Zuko felt himself blush.

“Sokka,” he said, shaking his head and waving his hand. “He uses ‘dude’ and ‘babe’ like synonyms.”

“No,” Suki snorted, crossing her arms and leaning back in her chair. “He doesn’t.”

“Yeah, he does,” Zuko said. “You just heard.” He gestured vaguely in Sokka’s direction.

“Well, yeah,” Aang said with a small shrug, still staring down fiddling with his paper hat which was starting to look suspiciously like a paper airplane now. “But that’s just around you. When it would be just me, him, and Katara, he wouldn’t do that.”

Zuko glared at him. “That’s so helpful, Aang, thank you,” he said sarcastically.

Aang flashed him a bright smile. “I try.”

“He used to do that a lot with me,” Suki said, seeming to find great amusement in Zuko’s red face and scowl, “back before I told him I’m a lesbian.”

“I’m not seeing your point,” Zuko said, closing his eyes.

“It meant he liked me,” Suki said, and Zuko pushed himself away from the table, standing awkwardly for a moment. Suki smiled at him. Aang was very engrossed in his now very elaborate paper airplane.

“I’m. Going to get some.” He waved his hand around, in the vague direction of the vending machines. “Hot cheetos.”

“Oh, can I share some with you?” Aang asked, perking up.

“No,” Zuko replied, stalking over to the vending machines.

When he got there, he realized he’d left his wallet at the table. For a moment, he stared at the vending machine, fuming. And then he returned to the table, still fuming.

“Where’s your hot cheetos?” Aang asked.

“I already ate them,” Zuko said, staring resolutely at his computer screen.

Suki laughed, standing up and stuffing her laptop and her newly printed out essay into her bag. “Good luck, Zuko,” she said. “On your essay, of course.” She winked at him.

Zuko hid his face behind his laptop.



---



Being in love with his best friend, it seemed, did not really affect Zuko’s day to day life schedule. It didn’t even affect Zuko’s day to day life schedule with Sokka. Although Zuko was now more aware than ever of how often Sokka wrapped an arm around him or rested his leg on him or whatever, it felt just like it always had.

There was something to be said about how long Zuko had actually been in love with Sokka before realizing this fact, but Zuko tried not to think about it too much or it would give him a headache.

But now, after midterms when his brain was recovering from a two-week long fit of headaches and he didn’t think he could think himself up into another awful one, Zuko thought maybe he might think about it.

There was the added bonus of it being three in the morning, too. And of an old episode of How it’s Made playing, which was not exactly riveting content to Zuko like it was to Sokka, who was watching the tv screen in rapt attention, his fingers running lazily through Zuko’s hair. Which, Zuko figured, was also a bonus. Not necessarily for keeping a headache at bay, but for just. Being nice.

It was all very nice - what was happening right now. They’d gone out with their friends for a while, and now they were back here, in their room with all the lights turned off. Sokka was sitting cross-legged on Zuko’s bed, and Zuko was sitting on a beanbag, his head leaning against Sokka’s legs. And they were watching How it’s Made. And Sokka was running his fingers through Zuko’s hair. And Zuko thought that it was, in fact, extremely nice.

Given that he wasn’t nearly as interested in seeing how bassoon reeds were made as Sokka was, Zuko let his mind drift.

The first week that they’d been roommates, Zuko thought that he was going to end up going to jail for attempted murder. Sokka had just been so much, Zuko was not at all prepared to deal with all the noise and business that was Sokka. 

And then Sokka had forced him to actually hang out with him around the two week mark, taking him to ‘his favorite place literally ever’ which actually ended up being Iroh’s cafe. They’d gotten boba teas, and Zuko had realized that Sokka was actually a little bit funny.

And then Sokka had forced him to meet his friends - Suki and Aang - and his little sister, Katara, that hung around campus despite the fact that she was still a senior in high school. They’d played Wheel of Fortune on Sokka’s old Wii, and Zuko had realized that maybe having friends wouldn’t be so bad.

And then Sokka had forced him to do homework with him, despite the fact that they were definitely not in the same classes at all. Their study sessions were always so stupid and very little studying was ever done, but Zuko had realized that maybe he didn’t really mind that much - as long as he got his homework done at a different time.

And then Sokka had forced him to make pancakes and friendship bracelets, and now they were here, in their room watching How it’s Made while Sokka ran his fingers through his hair. Since they’d made their friendship bracelets, Zuko only took his off when he showered, and he hadn’t seen Sokka without it for even a second.

He thought about that.

He thought about what Suki had said.

He thought about what his uncle had said.

“Hey, Sokka?”

“Hm?” 

“Do you…” Zuko trailed off. He shifted so that he was looking up at Sokka, and Sokka’s fingers stilled in Zuko’s hair. He tore his eyes away from the tv, raising his eyebrows. 

“Do I what?”

“Do you” - this was so stupid and he was definitely going to regret asking - “call other people babe?”

“Why, babe? You jealous?” Sokka said immediately, the pads of his fingers rubbing over Zuko’s scalp as he shot him a stupidly charming grin.

Zuko knew it. “Oh, my God, shut up,” he said, looking away from Sokka to stare at how bassoon reeds were made. “Forget I asked.”

Sokka was quiet for a moment, his fingers thoughtful in Zuko’s hair. Zuko thought maybe that was it. That they’d finish this episode of How it’s Made and go to bed. Wake up in the morning and continue living their day-to-day schedule, and everything would be fine.

“Um, no,” Sokka said, and Zuko felt his insides somehow turn into jelly and stone at the exact same time.

“What?”

“Calling people babe,” Sokka said quietly. “It’s just. Just you.”

And there were a lot of things Zuko could say to that - the pathetic “oh” or maybe the quiet “okay” or maybe he could turn to some other excuse of a response. But he didn’t really know if he could talk, and he didn’t really want to.

Because there was this- impulse deep in his stomach, and Zuko thought that maybe he should just. Act on it.

So he maneuvered himself to where he was kneeling on the beanbag facing Sokka, and he grabbed Sokka’s face - pushing back all of his thoughts and insecurities and the litany of extremely loud emergency sirens going off in his head - and he smashed his lips into Sokka’s.

It wasn’t particularly graceful, and it kind of hurt a little bit. It was also maybe the best thing Zuko had ever done in his whole life.

And then Sokka pulled away, bright eyes wide in surprise, and Zuko’s stomach sunk down into the fucking mantle of the earth. Right there around the churning lava or whatever.

“Am I being pranked right now?” Sokka asked, and Zuko blinked.

“What?”

“Like, are people with cameras gonna jump out from behind a curtain or something and, like, say ‘You just got pranked!”

“Sokka, we don’t even have curtains.”

“Did- did campus police set up a sting operation to bust me? Zuko, are you part of the campus police?”

“What would campus police even be busting you for right now? Being badly kissed by your roommate?” Zuko asked, and Sokka squinted at him.

“Are you or are you not part of a sting operation? Blink twice if you’re miked.” He didn’t even wait for Zuko to blink. “I do not have and have never had weed in or around my person, campus police,” he said loudly into Zuko’s t-shirt. “I do not even know what weed is-”

“Sokka, shut up,” Zuko said, squeezing Sokka’s face hard in his hands so his lips puckered up like a fish. “I kissed you because I’m in love with you, you stupid idiot.”

“What the fuck,” Sokka said, his lips still all puckered. He placed his hands on Zuko’s wrists, his thumbs rubbing anxious circles into his skin. “Dude. Babe. For real?”

“Yes, for real,” Zuko said, easing up his grip on Sokka’s face. “Now do you want me to kiss you again or not?”

“God, yes,” Sokka breathed, and he used his grip on Zuko’s wrists to pull him closer until their lips crashed together again.

And it was clumsy, and very messy, and pretty gross in general, but Zuko thought that he could probably spend the rest of his life just kissing Sokka and he wouldn’t even be mad about it. He would actually be pretty stoked about it.

And later, when they finally managed to pull apart from each other enough to turn off the tv and climb into bed - Zuko’s bed, all tangled up together and barely keeping all of their limbs on the tiny mattress - Sokka laced his fingers with Zuko’s.

“Remember how I said Aang’s friendship bracelets were like courtship bracelets for Katara?” he’d asked, quiet and happy. He looked pointedly down at the blue bracelet on Zuko’s wrist.

“Fucker,” Zuko said, rather fondly.

“I love you, too, dude,” Sokka replied, smiling all soft and sweet, and Zuko rolled his eyes. But he couldn’t resist leaning forward and pressing another kiss to Sokka’s lips.

He closed his eyes, and he looked forward to the morning.