Sokka was no stranger to the feeling of a flower pushing through his skin to blossom across it.
Since he was two, tiny flowers had been bursting out of his skin, beautiful bouquets of red, orange, and yellow. The first time, they burst out of his tiny pointer fingers in small groupings, a crescent shaped bouquet across each pointer finger. That same night, he coughed up another bouquet at dinner.
His parents put him to bed that night with the story of the flowers, a thrilling tale about how when his soulmate, the person the spirits had deemed to be his perfect match, was injured or in pain in any way- a bruise, a cut, a broken bone- the spirits told him by placing flowers on his skin in the same spot. When they fell out, it meant his soulmate was healed.
He listened with wide eyes, looking down at his fingers curiously. “So when dad cut his palm on his knife the other day, that’s why it showed up on you, momma?” He asked.
Kya smiled softly at her son. “Indeed, my little one.”
He looked at the flowers in wonder. “Wow. My very own soulmate…”
He was so entranced by the flowers that he missed his parent’s glancing at each other, a look that spoke of an uneasy secret kept by two adults.
As Sokka got older, it was more common to see him with flowers on his skin than without. It seemed that his soulmate, whoever they were, was very clumsy. He often had flowers sprouting out of his knees and palms; bouquets of red, orange, and yellow that he imagined were from his soulmate tripping while playing, or running across some earthy surface (for no one in the Southern Water Tribe had wounds that matched his flowers, or even flowers that looked like his) and falling.
When he was just four years old, flowers began sprouting out of his shins and knees, his hands and arms. He rushed to his dad to show him, frowning about why there were so many. Hakoda studied them seriously and as he gently brushed his fingers over the bouquets, explained that they were likely the result of training with swords, that Sokka’s mother had similar bouquets from him when he began his own warrior training.
Sokka looked down at the flowers with his heart bursting with pride, for his soulmate was going to be a mighty warrior.
When he was eight, flowers continuously grew out of his fingertips and up his arms in splotches and irregular shapes. He frowned at them, heart aching for his soulmate who was so often hurt, wondering what it was that caused them.
When he was ten, the Fire Nation attacked his home and killed his mother.
His father came to him late that night, and with tear tracks down his face, told Sokka the truth about his flowers.
“We wanted to tell you soon,” he whispered across the fire, voice empty and eyes hollow. “Your mother wanted to tell you sooner, but I asked her to wait.”
“Tell me what?” Sokka asked, heart racing as he twisted his hands anxiously.
Hakoda gazed at his son, then stuck his hand down and with a finger began to draw the symbols of each of the four nations, encompassed by a lotus flower. As he drew, he spoke.
“Each nation is represented by colors. As you know, the Water Tribes are represented by blue, purple, and white, for the snow and water upon which we live. The Earth Kingdom is represented by yellow, green, brown, and white for the mountains and fields upon which they built their lives. The Air Nomads were represented by yellow, red, blue, and brown for the ideals of love, enlightenment, and peace by which they lived, and the sky in which they soared. And the Fire Nation is represented by red, orange, and yellow for the flames that burn within them.”
Sokka gulped and felt nauseous. His mind was racing, and tears pricked at his eyes, but his father was not done.
“The spirits place the flowers on your skin, but the ones they choose, and the color of them, is no coincidence. Your mother was my soulmate. As she was from the Southern Water Tribe, the flowers placed upon my skin were blue, purple, and white. They were chickweeds, purple saxifrages, arctic lupine, and snow gentian- all the flowers native to our part of the world and significant to our culture.”
“My flowers are Fire Nation flowers.” The words poured out of his mouth before he could stop them.
Hakoda looked down, and Sokka realized with a start he was crying. “Yes,” came a broken whisper.
“I don’t want them,” Sokka said thickly. “My flowers, my soulmate, the spirits… I don’t want any of it.”
Hakoda looked up at his son again and took in the blue eyes, cold as steel, looking right back at him. “Son-”
“No! The Fire Nation took mom from me! I hate them!” he yelled, the tears that had been burning behind his eyes finally falling. “I hate them.”
Hakoda wrapped his son in his arms, and whispered, “I know.”
A few days later, his father and the other tribesmen left to fight in the war against the Fire Nation.
As he held Katara’s hand and watched his father leave them, he wished that flowers would sprout over his soulmate’s heart so that they knew how much pain he was in.
Katara had always been jealous of Sokka’s flowers. She was only eight, so it made sense that she was jealous that he always had an abundance and she had none. But after the raid and their mother’s death, her jealousy made him sick, so he told her the truth. He told her what their father had told him that night by the fire.
He watched her face twist in anger, and felt a fierce kind of love for her.
“I don’t want them, Katara. I don’t want the flowers.”
She gazed at him then, her big blue eyes hard, and asked, “Well, what do you want to do?”
He gazed right back. “Next time they show up, I want to cut them off.”
True to his word, the next time the flowers sprouted out of his hands, he handed her his boomerang and let her cut off the red, orange, and yellow bouquet. He watched them fall into the snow and a feeling of peace fell over him.
As he walked away, he crushed a fire lily beneath his foot.
When he was twelve, he woke up screaming in agony, the left side of his face burning. He rushed to the mirror and gasped when he saw his reflection. The skin around his eye, ear, and into his hairline had become a red, orange, and yellow field of chrysanthemums, ixora, lilies, azalea, and hibiscus.
He ran to Katara and shook her awake, begging her to cut them off. As she did, he couldn’t help the worry that flared in his heart.
When he was fifteen, he met his soulmate for the first time.
He and his sister had found a boy in an iceberg- an airbender, frozen for a hundred years in ice, the last of his kind. He was young, bubbly, and energetic, and as he watched his sister and Aang, he knew eventually purple, blue, and white flowers would bloom across Aang’s skin, and yellow, red, brown, and blue flowers would bloom across Katara’s.
But suddenly, a flare was falling through the sky likea falling star and his heart sank, for he knew the Fire Navy was coming. He painted his face with the traditional warrior’s paint grimly, grabbed his club and boomerang, and stood ready to do the one thing his father had asked of him- protect the village.
As the gangplank lowered he stood in front of his sister and the village, but when he saw the face of their attacker his knees shook.
The boy, for the warrior walking towards them was truly a boy only a bit older than Sokka, had a scar across the left side of his face. All Sokka could see was his reflection that night when he was twelve, and the field of flowers that had covered his face that same way. He heard Katara gasp behind him and knew she was remembering the same night.
The next few minutes passed in a blur. He threw himself at the firebender with everything he had, but it wasn’t enough- the only solid hit he got in was with the boomerang, but even then the firebender was only stopped because Aang ended up coming back on an otter-seal and gave himself up. He sighed after he was gone, knowing that Katara would want to go rescue him.
They set out on Appa, when he noticed Katara looking at him strangely. “What?”
“You have flowers on the back of your head.”
His heart sunk and he reached up to feel a cluster of flowers, right where he had hit the firebender with his boomerang. “Shit. I guess Jerkbender really is my soulmate,” he spat. “Cut them off.”
Katara hesitated. “Sokka, maybe if you leave them he’ll see and-”
“No, Katara. I don’t want anything to do with him. I don’t even want to know his name. He’s Fire Nation. That’s bad enough.”
She hummed, and took his boomerang. “Alright, big brother. Whatever you say.”
As they neared the ship, the rush of battle took over and Sokka did what he could to get Aang out of there. He could feel the prickle of flowers blooming all over his body- down his back, on his palms, on his forehead- but he ignored it.
It wasn’t until they were flying away towards the Northern Water Tribe that he paid any attention to it, and cut off the flowers. He ignored Aang’s look and tossed them over the side of Appa’s saddle. He watched them scatter in the wind and couldn’t help but think the spirits were playing some huge prank on him.
On the ship they had left behind, the Prince of the Fire Nation took off his armor to find a bouquet of blue, purple, and white flowers on his chest, in the shape of his fist- right where he had punched the Water Tribe boy.
Over the next few months, it was a race to escape Zuko. He could never figure out if the prince knew they were soulmates, but even if he did, it didn’t matter. He was always ruthless, always right behind them, and always ready to burn everything in his path.
On Kyoshi Island, he met Suki. Sokka liked her, even if they both knew they weren’t each other’s soulmates. She was pretty and sweet, and it was nice to be with another nonbender and a warrior after so many years of being the only warrior in his tribe. She taught him how to fight a little better, and he was sad to leave her.
Flowers continued to bloom across his skin. He always cut them off.
When they snuck into the Fire Nation town to meet Jeong Jeong, Aang burned Katara on accident.
He watched his sister run away to cry and soothe the burn mark.
He watched Aang’s horrified expression when he saw purple saxifrages, blue arctic lupine and snow gentian, and white chickweed blossom across his arm.
He tried to be happy for them, but all he could think of was the field of flowers on the left side of his face.
At the Northern Water Tribe, he met Yue. She was beautiful and fierce, but in a different way than Suki. Where Suki was fierce with weapons and words, Yue was fierce with love and dedication. She put her people ahead of herself and was okay with it; even if that meant marrying someone who had a different soulmate.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” she replied when he asked how she felt about marrying someone who wasn’t her soulmate. “I don’t have one. I’ve never received a single flower in my life. The moon spirit wills it to be that way, and I owe it my life, so I will do what I must. For my people.”
He kissed her anyways, and found himself confiding in her about the horrible person who was his soulmate and how he thought it was one big mistake.
She placed a gentle hand on his cheek and murmured, “The spirits never make mistakes, Sokka. Although it may not be right yet, someday, you will be deserving of each other.”
When she gave herself up to the moon, he couldn’t help but think she was wrong. For if the spirits didn’t make mistakes, Yue would still be here, and he wouldn’t have two lines of Fire Nation flowers above his right eyebrow.
Their journey through the Earth Kingdom brought new struggles, though blissfully, no Zuko, and the growth of the flowers slowed down, for which he was grateful- it meant he didn’t have to think about his soulmate. Luckily, there was Toph, too, who served as a loud and boisterous distraction from the grief slowly filling his heart. She was crass and messy, but she was like another little sister to him, and he made it his mission to keep their entire group safe.
But everything else was so much worse. Instead of Zuko, they got his crazy sister and her scary friends with knives and the ability to block bending. They got stuck in the desert with no Appa and lost Aang to his grief, and they were all just trying to stay afloat.
He did what he could to steer them to Ba Sing Se on foot, finding Suki on the way again. As much as he wanted to kiss her, he still felt guilty about Yue and was unable to forget the vision he had of her in the swamp. By the time he forgave himself, they were across the Serpent’s Pass and Suki was turning to go back to the Kyoshi Warriors, leaving him alone again.
Ba Sing Se sucked.
Sokka thought they’d get a break, get a chance to speak to the Earth King and get a leg up on the Fire Nation. But, instead there was Joo Dee and then the Dai Li, and Katara was thrown in prison with Zuko.
As they flew away from the city, Sokka’s back was covered in flowers, Katara’s back was covered in a mess of blue, red, yellow, and brown flowers, Aang was stuck between life and death from Azula’s lightning, and Ba Sing Se had fallen to the Fire Nation.
The ship they stole from the Fire Nation was miserable. It smelled of coal, it creaked, it was dark, and everywhere he looked reminded him of Zuko.
The flowers on both his and Katara’s backs had since fallen out, showing both Zuko and Aang had healed, but the Avatar had yet to wake up. Zuko, it seemed, had gone back to the Fire Nation, and no flowers had bloomed on Sokka’s skin for weeks.
He often sat up on the deck, looking up at the moon and talking to Yue late at night, after everyone had gone to bed. Although he never spoke of it to anyone but her, Sokka’s heart ached and he found himself… missing the Crown Prince wasn’t quite right, but rather aching for what could have been. From what Katara had told him about the catacombs, Zuko had almost aided them- had turned to Azula at the last minute with obvious doubt. Against his better judgement, his heart had skipped when she said that, and Yue’s voice had echoed in his ear- someday, you will be deserving of each other .
He looked up at the moon, a confusing mess of anger, longing, and sorrow in his heart.
He clung to the anger like it was a lifesaver, and he planned the invasion.
The invasion came and went.
He had failed.
Once again, he wished flowers could sprout over Zuko’s heart to let him know how badly he hurt inside.
“Hello. Zuko here,” the Crown Prince said with an awkward wave and a sheepish smile.
Sokka stared at him, disbelieving. Zuko, his soulmate, was standing in front of him, being licked by Appa. He reached uncertainly for his boomerang, but paused.
“I know you must be surprised to see me here,” he said, looking directly at Sokka. He wondered if the firebender knew .
“Not really, since you’ve followed us all over the world,” he snarked back. He kicked himself mentally when he saw Zuko wince.
He continued talking, trying to argue about why they should trust him, but Sokka had stopped paying attention. This was the first time he had really looked at Zuko, and the traitorous part of his brain that wanted to trust him couldn’t help but point out how attractive he actually was. His long hair drooping in front of his eyes was insurmountably better than that awful ponytail he had been sporting when they first met, and it made him look softer. He held himself with a confidence that, despite the awkward stammering of his words, was similar to that of Suki, which screamed I am a warrior, and that of Yue, which yelled don’t you dare forget I’m royalty . His eyes were a shining gold even in the dim light of the temple, and his scar (an image of a field of flowers flashed in front of his eyes) made him somehow more attractive in a rugged, bad boy way.
Sokka snapped out of his thoughts when he mentioned sending Combustion Man after them, and he realized just who the person in front of him was- a firebender who had chased them around the world. Who had hurt all of them.
“Wait, you sent Combustion Man after us?” he yelped.
The prince’s eyes widened, and he stammered out, “Well, that’s not his name, but…”
“Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to insult your friend !” Sokka shook his head. They could never trust Zuko.
They turned him away, and as they discussed the situation after he left, he ignored Aang and Katara’s pointed looks. As far as he was concerned, he didn’t have a soulmate.
He woke up that night gasping in pain, and lifted his shirt to find a field of Fire Nation flowers blooming across his stomach and back. He looked around to find The Duke, Haru, Teo, Aang, and Katara still asleep, though Toph was nowhere to be seen. His gut twisted with unease, but when no more flowers appeared anywhere else, he fell back into an uneasy sleep.
When morning came, Toph still wasn’t back. His unease grew and the flowers on his back itched, but he pretended along with the rest of them that she was just off earthbending- until the wall burst open and she came tumbling out of it with her feet burned. He knew before she said it that Zuko was responsible.
As much as he wanted to trust him and as much as Aang needed a firebending teacher, Zuko wasn’t it.
And then, of course, Combustion Man was there.
And so was Zuko.
When Zuko went flying off of the cliffside, Sokka’s heart stopped. And he realized… maybe they were wrong. Maybe they should give him a chance. If he was willing to die to save Aang and the rest of them, then maybe…
Sokka threw his boomerang and as suddenly as it started, it ended. Combustion Man was gone, somewhere at the bottom of the canyon the Western Air Temple lived in, and Zuko was coming up to them once more.
His apology this time wasn’t as stuttering and awkward but rather a reminder that he was royalty, and something about the expression in his eyes touched Sokka. Aang accepted him, as did Toph. Suddenly, he was being asked what he thought. Aang’s eyes held an unusual weight in them, as if he was saying, He’s your soulmate. It’s up to you.
He studied him, this boy who was supposed to be his soulmate. Yue’s words came to him once more- someday, you’ll be deserving of each other.
How could they be deserving of each other if Zuko never got a chance? If he never gave Zuko a chance?
Sokka spoke carefully. “Hey. All I want is to defeat the Fire Lord. If you think this is the way to do it, then I’m all for it.”
Aang gave an understanding nod, a small smile tugging at his lips. “Katara?”
Katara’s gaze was hard and narrow. Sokka knew what she was thinking of- not only everything he had done to her and Aang, but the nation he represented that took away their mother, of chrysanthemums and azalea, of ixora and hibiscus, of fire lilies spread across his face. She was thinking of her eight year old hands holding a boomerang and slicing flowers off of her brother’s hands.
She turned to her soulmate and with her usual optimistic tone missing said, “I’ll go along with whatever you think is right.” The I trust my soulmate went unspoken between the two.
Zuko beamed, and Sokka had to turn away before he did something rash.
Aang sidled up to him and said urgently, “Sokka, I think you should show Zuko to his room.”
“What? Why me?!”
Aang blinked up at him with an exasperated sigh. “Sokka… You know why. The spirits don’t make mistakes.”
Sokka blinked, remembering a gentle hand on his face, and sighed. “Yeah. So I’ve heard.”
He showed Zuko to his room awkwardly, ignoring the elephant-mandrill in the room (which he wasn’t even sure was an elephant-mandrill, considering that he didn’t know if Zuko knew) and mumbled something about lunch. Aang was standing outside the room waiting for him, and gave him a knowing smirk.
Sokka sighed. They both had a long way to go before things would be easy between them.
Having Zuko around was… weird. He was quiet and solitary, keeping to himself and eating only what he was given, never more and never less. After his trip with Aang to the dragons, he was a little closer with everybody, but mostly with Aang.
Things between him and Sokka, though, were just… uncomfortable.
Sokka tried- he really did. But he didn’t know if Zuko knew, and he didn’t want to be the one to break it to him or anything, so he just tried to force conversation.
It never went well.
When he wasn’t trying to talk to Zuko, he was thinking about the invasion forces. He was a failure- his plan had failed, and now everyone was in prison or missing or hiding somewhere. His dad was in prison. He tried to be casual about asking Zuko where they might be keeping him, and he got an answer, but he should have known it was too good to be true. When he snuck up to Appa, Zuko was right behind him, telling him his plan to go alone kind of sucked, and that really, taking Appa was not a good idea for this trip.
Sokka sighed in defeat and followed the prince to his war balloon- that Soka had helped design.
They kept making eye contact, each pretending they weren’t looking when they were caught by the other. It was an awkward, heavy silence and Sokka ached for conversation.
He wanted to ask, Do you know we’re soulmates?
What came out instead made him regret every decision he had made that led to this point.
“Yeah,” Zuko said with an endearing chuckle. “Fluffy.”
They flew in silence some more, until Sokka realized he was whistling and Zuko was whirling to him with a “What?”
“Huh? Oh nothing, I didn’t say anything… You know, a friend of mine actually designed these war balloons?”
“Yup. A balloon… but for war…”
“If there’s one thing my dad’s good at, it’s war,” he said angrily, punching more fire into the engine.
“Yeah, it seems to run in the family,” he said absentmindedly, eyes widening when he said that. Why couldn’t he go thirty seconds without insulting his so-called “perfect match"?
“Hey, hold on. Not everyone in my family is like that.”
Sokka hurried to smooth over the rift he had caused, stuttering out, “I know, I know. You’ve changed.”
He looked away and deflated. “I meant my uncle. He was more of a father to me.” His voice was uncharacteristically soft, and he looked more sad than Sokka had ever seen. For once, he found himself wishing flowers would burst out of his own heart so that he knew how badly Zuko was hurting. “And I really let him down.”
“I think your uncle would be really proud of you. Leaving your home to come help us? That’s hard.” Sokka was surprised to find that he meant it- from what he knew about the Dragon of the West, he was a gentle and kind man who was often the one to keep Zuko from doing anything rash. He had always encouraged him to choose his own path and his own destiny, and that’s what he had done. Sokka found his heart was beating quickly at the thought, the little traitor.
“It wasn’t that hard.”
“Really? You didn’t leave behind anyone you cared about?”
There was a small smile. “Well I did have a girlfriend… Mai.”
“That gloomy girl who sighs a lot?”
His smile was wider now, and Sokka bit back his own smile at how attractive it was. “Yeah.” He frowned again, though. “It didn’t work out though. She has… I’m not her soulmate. Everyone in the Fire Nation thinks I’m a traitor. I can’t drag her into that when I’m not even her soulmate.”
Sokka’s mouth was dry as Zuko’s golden eyes met his in a piercing gaze and he had to look away. “My first girlfriend turned into the moon.”
“...That’s rough, buddy.”
They flew the rest of the way in silence.
Actually infiltrating The Boiling Rock was a lot easier than Sokka thought it would be, despite the balloon crash landing. When the water splashed up and burned his finger, he waved his hand until it stopped hurting. He turned quickly to see if Zuko had a flower on his finger, but he was on the other side of the basket, looking at the water. Sokka shrugged, and turned back to getting out of the balloon and hiding it.
Against all odds, they made it out of the Boiling Rock with Suki, his dad, and Chit Sang. As they took off from the volcano in the airship, Sokka watched Zuko. He was standing at the window looking down at the island where Mai had saved them. His eyes were full of sorrow and he was curled in on himself.
He walked up to his right side and stood next to him in silence until Zuko was ready to speak. While he waited, he reflected on the past couple days. He and Zuko had worked well together. They had fought off Azula with a fluidity that came naturally- Zuko fending off the fire and Sokka pushing her back with his sword in between the bursts of flames.
When Sokka had begun to fall off the gondola as they cut the line, he reached out and grabbed him without thinking.
His heart had raced at the feeling of Zuko’s hands, calloused over by blisters and burns that Sokka was already familiar with, holding onto him. He blamed it on the thrill of the fight, even though the little voice in the back of his head knew that the racing of his heart was the same as when he had first met Yue, or Suki.
“She betrayed Azula,” Zuko stated. “Mai betrayed Azula for me. Despite everything I did to her, despite leaving her behind, despite not being her soulmate, she betrayed Azula to save me.”
Sokka studied the other boy. His unscarred cheek was towards him, and he looked younger than he ever had before. His golden eyes betrayed his confusion and sorrow. “She loves you, Zuko.”
“But- why? How? We’re not-”
“Love isn’t…” He paused. An image of Yue flashed in his mind. “Love isn’t that easy. You’re not each other’s soulmate? You broke up? Big deal. You can still love each other. It might be different than the way you love your soulmate, but it’s still love. And love is powerful.”
Zuko turned to him then, surprise making his golden eyes shine. “Thank you, Sokka.”
His lips quirked in a soft smile. “For being my friend.”
Sokka beamed, and they turned back to look out the window. “Thank you for helping me rescue my dad. I don’t think I could have done it without you.”
Silence fell over them again.
Sokka thought it was nice to finally have a friend his age.
Ember Island was the perfect place for them to prepare for Sozin’s Comet. It was isolated, quiet, and had space to practice their bending and fighting, as well as space to relax and have fun (which was code for things to distract them from thinking about the upcoming fight).
Perhaps the best part about Ember Island was that it was warm, so Zuko often practiced firebending shirtless. As he moved through katas and fire fists and hop squats and the new forms he and Aang were inventing to incorporate what they learned from the dragons, it was hard for Sokka to keep his eyes from drifting to his bare chest. Really, he thought, it was unfair that Zuko was so attractive when he was firebending.
Since they had gotten back from the Boiling Rock they had spent a lot of time together, and Sokka was discovering that in addition to being unbearably attractive, Zuko was actually really kind, funny and witty without trying to be, and endearingly awkward (despite the easy confidence with which he carried himself). He found himself falling a little bit more for the prince with each day that passed, and thought that would probably be the case even if soulmates weren’t a thing.
Aang, Suki, and Katara all gave him knowing glances whenever they were together, and Toph always had a shit eating grin that Sokka knew meant she knew about the situation.
But he never said anything.
They were gathered around the fire on the beach, pretending for a few glorious moments that they were normal kids on a vacation, not four master benders, one elite warrior, and one boomerang/sword/plan/sarcasm master, talking about nothing and everything.
As the light grew dimmer and the fire grew brighter, the conversation naturally turned to soulmates after Katara brought up the burn from so long ago.
“Agni, I was so embarrassed ,” Aang groaned, placing his head in his hands. “I burned my soulmate because I couldn’t control myself.”
Katara gave him a soft smile. “It’s okay Aang, I know you didn’t mean it. Besides, I healed!”
“Well we know Twinkle Toes and the Sugar Queen are soulmates, what about the rest of you?” She leaned in towards Suki. “What about you, Suki?”
“Oh! Um- Well,” she blushed, looking at Sokka for help, who just nodded. “It’s one of my warriors… Mikah. We’ve known for a long time, but we never got together or anything because we wanted it to be natural, not just because of some flowers.”
Aang lit up. “That’s so exciting that you’ve known that long! What about you, Toph?”
Toph shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s not like I can see them, and I’m only twelve so… I never put much thought into it.”
They all giggled as Toph leaned back, looking pleased with herself.
“Zuko’s being awfully quiet,” she said after they stopped laughing. “What about you, Sparky?”
The prince looked up, startled. “Um, well, I- I thought it was Mai, but… she has someone else so…”
“So you don’t know who it is?” she pried.
Zuko has gone pale, looking anywhere but Sokka, and his heart broke. Zuko had to know, but didn’t know if Sokka knew, so he didn’t want to say anything. Sokka knew the feeling well.
“Hey, Toph, let it go, alright? Not everyone wants to share that stuff,” he interjected.
Toph shrugged. “I was just curious. Sorry. Sparky.”
“It’s fine,” he murmured back, but his gaze was focused on Sokka.
They didn’t talk about it that night, either.
Aang was missing.
Aang was missing, and it was the day before the comet. Katara was beside herself with worry and a fair bit of rage. The only bit of comfort Sokka could offer his sister was that he wasn’t injured. If he was, she’d be the first to know of blossoming yellow lotus flowers, red and blue rhododendrons, and poppies across her skin.
It calmed her down enough for them to get to Ba Sing Se and be reunited with the Order of the White Lotus. When Zuko was reunited with his uncle it was like a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders- his smile came freer, his eyes sparkled with happiness, and his shoulders were loose and relaxed.
It made Sokka happy to see him happy.
Everyone had gone to bed when Sokka left his tent. He was just thirsty and wanted some water, but he stopped when he saw the lone figure sitting by the fire.
He walked up to Zuko and sat next to him, so close their thighs and shoulders were touching. “What are you thinking about?”
The prince sighed. “For so long, I was so scared that my uncle would never forgive me. I betrayed him in Ba Sing Se and I didn’t think he could possibly still love me. But seeing him today… He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t even blink before he was hugging me and telling me how much he loved me. I’ve never… He’s the only person who has ever forgiven me that quickly.” There was a pause. “At least, besides you.”
Sokka blinked in surprise and looked at Zuko. “What do you mean? I forgave you at the same time as Aang and Toph.”
“No. I could tell. You… You forgave me while I climbed up the vine after Combustion Man threw me off the cliff.”
“How do you know?”
Zuko’s eyes glowed like the dying embers of the fire. “I saw it in your eyes.”
They sat in silence until the fire died, then went their separate ways.
Sokka watched Zuko disappear into his tent and promised to talk to him about their flowers tomorrow.
The morning of Sozin’s Comet came with a clear blue sky and the bustle of people getting ready for war. Sokka, Toph, and Suki were preparing to head out for the air fleet while Katara and Zuko prepared to face Azula. The Order of the White Lotus was moving around them, preparing their own plans to reconquer Ba Sing Se. Sokka was wrapping his forearms when Iroh pushed aside the flap to his tent.
“Excuse me, Sokka, do you have a moment?”
“Of course, General Iroh. What is it?”
The man entered his tent and gazed at Sokka with an unreadable expression. “Once the war is over and my nephew has been crowned Fire Lord, I plan to stay in Ba Sing Se. I’m not sure what it is you plan on doing, however I hope that it includes keeping an eye on Prince Zuko.”
Sokka’s mouth was dry. “I- Well, yes, I suppose it does. He’s a good friend. I wouldn’t let him do this on his own.”
Iroh smiled wryly. “I think he is a great deal more than that, dear boy.”
Sokka blinked. “I- How did you know?”
“An old man has his ways… Just remember, flowers do not bloom without a little rain. Everything has its purpose. Even the pain.”
Then the general was turning to leave. Sokka watched him go, confused, then shook his head. “Kooky old man,” he muttered as he finished wrapping his arms.
He walked out of his tent to find Katara and Zuko preparing to leave on Appa for Caldera City. Katara threw herself at him, wrapping him up in a tight hug.
“Please, be careful Sokka,” she whispered with a sniffle.
He clutched her to him. “I promise. Watch your back for me, okay?”
She nodded and pulled back. “I’ll watch his, too.”
He smiled weakly. “I love you, Katara.”
She placed a kiss on his cheek before she turned away.
Sokka turned to Zuko, who was looking at him with sad golden eyes. “Hey.”
Sokka reached out to Zuko, who smiled with relief as he threw himself around Sokka. “Zuko, I have to tell you, I know we’re-” he began, but the prince pulled away.
“Wait, Sokka…” he took a breath. “We’ll talk about it once we’ve won, okay?”
He nodded. “Okay. We’ll talk about it once we’ve won.” He pulled Zuko back to his chest tightly. “Be careful, okay? I can’t…” He choked on tears that were threatening to fall. “I can’t lose you.”
Zuko nodded. “I know. I know, Sokka. Promise me that you’ll come back to me. Please?”
Sokka looked into his golden eyes, at the promise held within them that once the war was won, they’d talk about what they had both been avoiding. He pressed a kiss to Zuko’s cheek without thinking. “I promise you, Zuko, I’ll come back to you.”
They separated, and then it was time to go.
Being on the airships was mildly terrifying. But Sokka had made a promise to Katara, and to Zuko, and he didn’t break his promises. Also, the fate of the world counted on him, Suki, and Toph, so he didn’t stop to think about the fear racing through his veins.
Instead, he steered the ships and took them out, one by one. He held onto Toph and kept track of Suki the best he could.
He was protecting Toph from the falling rubble when he felt flowers erupt from his chest. He gasped.
“What?” she yelled, clutching him tight.
“Zuko! Something’s wrong with Zuko!”
“He has Katara, Sokka! We have to keep going!”
He nodded and they stood up. His chest was burning from the flowers and he found himself praying to whatever spirits were listening that he was okay.
When he and Toph fell from the ship, all he could think of was his promise to Zuko. No matter what, he had to make it back to him, so he twisted in midair so that they landed on one of the posts.
He felt the bones in his leg snap, and hoped that whatever Zuko was doing, it didn’t distract him.
Suki came to the rescue, as always, and Aang whooped Ozai’s butt. As he looked down at the Firelord, the shell of who he once was now that he couldn’t bend, all he could see was Zuko. He let go of Suki long enough to crouch down right next to him, look him in the eyes, and say, “Zuko is ten times the man you ever were. And I am lucky to have him as my soulmate.”
Ozai’s eyes widened in a way that was almost comical and began yelling and thrashing until Aang earthbent a pair of handcuffs, and they loaded him onto the airship to deliver him to Caldera City.
The few days between the comet and Zuko’s coronation passed in a blur.
The night of the comet, they regrouped at the palace. Katara tried to heal both Zuko and Sokka, but there was only so much she could do for lightning absorbed into the chest and multiple broken bones, so they were both bandaged up, and their flowers remained. They all ate a large meal in Zuko’s room in exhausted silence, then the six teenagers who saved the world collapsed into a heap to get some much needed sleep.
Almost immediately the next morning, Zuko was rushing around the palace like a hurricane. He sent out messenger hawks and heralds to every corner of the world to tell them that the war was over. He freed the war prisoners, brought back the troops, sent out invitations to his coronation. He sent Ozai to the prison in Caldera City, held in a cell in the lowest underground level, all by himself, with only the best guards hand selected by Zuko to watch him. Azula was sent to a hospital to begin healing her mind as best she could.
Iroh and the rest of the gang tried to help where they could, intercepting mail and drafting letters when possible. The fact of the matter, though, was that Zuko had a hundred years of his forefathers’ messes to clean up, and it was going to take a long time to accomplish all of it.
With all of his activity, they never had a moment to speak. Sokka understood- he really did. As it was, he and Katara were working with their dad and Bato to begin rebuilding the Southern Water Tribe. His father had mentioned that Sokka should begin shadowing him so that he would be ready to take over as chief, and his heart sank. He pulled his dad aside.
“Listen, dad… I don’t think I’m going to be able to return to the Southern Water Tribe to take over as chief someday,” he explained.
Sokka took a deep breath. “Zuko is- Well, Zuko is my soulmate. And we’ve become closer these past few months. Although we haven’t talked about it yet, I think… I think I love him. I want to be with him. Even if he wasn’t my soulmate, I’d want to be with him. The world needs him to be here, as the Fire Lord, and I can’t be here with him and lead our people.”
Hakoda wrapped his son in a bear hug. “Oh Sokka… I’m so proud of the man you’ve become. Although you won’t be able to take over as chief, knowing that you must step aside is the exact thing a chief would know to do. Zuko is a good man, and I’m happy for you.” He elbowed his son. “Plus, I think that Prince Consort to the Fire Lord is a bit of a step up from the future chief of the Southern Water Tribe, isn’t it?”
Sokka laughed. “I guess so. Thank you for understanding, dad. I love you.”
“I love you too, son.”
Renewed by his father’s assurance, Sokka threw himself into the reconstruction project. Although he couldn’t be chief, he was still able to be a leader in the eyes of his people.
Zuko’s coronation was a joyous affair. People from all across the four nations were there to witness the official end of the war, the heralding of a new era.
Zuko himself was glowing. He was still bandaged up beneath his ceremonial robes, but he held himself taller than Sokka had ever seen. He looked at home in his dark robes embroidered with red and gold thread, wearing his nation’s colors with pride. His hair was pulled back out of his face, placing his scar on full display, but for once he didn’t look ashamed of it. The mark of the banished prince was now the mark of the bringer of peace, of the Fire Lord who would change the world alongside the Avatar.
Sokka looked up at him on that stage as the headpiece was placed into his bun by the Fire Sages and his heart burst with pride. They made eye contact as Zuko rose and they shared a soft smile.
The party that followed the ceremony was lively and joyous. For the first time in decades, music poured out of the palace doors. Iroh and other members of the White Lotus had joined the musicians on stage, playing tsungi horns, erhus, taikos, and guzhengs. Aang and Katara were leading a dance in the middle of the ballroom and people from all the nations were mingling and dancing together. Foods and drinks from all four nations were abundant, and laughter rose above the music in waves.
Zuko stepped up onto the stage where the musicians sat at the end of the song, a glass of wine clutched in his hand. The ballroom fell silent and the new Fire Lord grinned.
“Good evening, everyone. I’d just like to say a few words quickly, and then the party can start again. A few years ago, I never thought I’d be here. I was a banished prince, disgraced, dishonored, given an impossible task, and fueled by rage. For so long, that is what the Fire Nation has been; a nation without honor and fueled by rage and hatred, and at the helm of it has been a leader who encompassed those traits. But I refuse to be a Fire Lord like those before me- I will do my best to serve not only my people, but those of all nations with honor, love, and pride. I stand here today, looking out at this room filled with people from all four nations, some I know and some I have yet to meet, and I am filled with hope for that future. I see an era of peace on the horizon that will be ushered in not by me alone, but by all of us together. It will not be easy. There is much injustice to fix, many errors to mend. It will take time, but I truly believe the results will be beautiful. I thank you all for your efforts towards that goal thus far, and I look forward to our continued progress towards it.” He raised his glass. “To peace!”
The room echoed him, raising their glasses as well. Sokka grinned as he turned to his uncle, who had tears shining in his eyes, and they embraced. As Zuko came down from the stage, the music started up again and he was swarmed by people, shaking his hand and hugging him and congratulating him.
Sokka pushed himself up to his feet on his crutches and went out into the garden, where he sat down by the turtleduck pond. He knew Zuko would find him.
Sure enough, ten minutes later there were soft footsteps behind him, then the Fire Lord sat down next to him.
“That was a good speech you gave, Sifu Hotman,” Sokka greeted.
“You think so?”
Sokka turned his face to him. “I know so.”
They looked at each other in silence, Zuko sitting in lotus position with his hands resting lightly on his knees, his face soft and relaxed. He looked calm and open.
Zuko was the first to break the silence. “I grew up in this garden. It was my mother’s favorite space. When she came out, the turtleducks would come out of the reeds and swarm her. She always had a loaf of bread stowed up her sleeve to feed them, and she taught me the best way to care for them so that I wouldn’t get nipped.”
“She sounds lovely.”
“She was.” He looked around wistfully. “This is also where she first explained to me why flowers were bursting out of my hands in blues, purples, and whites- that it was because somewhere in one of the water tribes, my soulmate was hurt. I was so excited to learn that there was someone out there, somewhere, who was meant to be mine. My perfect half. She smiled with pride, kissed my palms beneath the flowers, and said she loved me. But my father didn’t see it that way. He thought I was a disgrace, a disappointment for having a water tribe soulmate- for even having a soulmate at all. He burned the flowers off, and said he better never see them again. After that, I started having Yari, my servant, cut off the flowers for me. He never saw them again. Once I was banished, I was still hiding them. My uncle tried to get me to stop, to embrace my flowers, but I never did until I was back at the palace. They were a reminder that I had a different destiny waiting for me outside the palace.”
Sokka squeezed Zuko’s knee, then laced their fingers together. “I’m sorry your father did that, Zuko…” He took a deep breath. “My first flowers showed up when I was two, little crescents of flowers across my pointer fingers. That’s when my parents told me about the flowers, but I didn’t find out that my soulmate was from the Fire Nation until I was ten, when the soldiers killed my mother. I was so angry that after that, I had Katara cut them off for me. I felt like it must be some cruel joke that the spirits were playing on me, making the person who is supposed to complete me be from the same nation that tore my life apart. But despite all of that, I couldn’t help the twinges of sadness that came over me whenever flowers showed up on my skin.”
Zuko had a tear slipping down his unscarred cheek as he looked at his lap. “I’m so sorry, Sokka. I didn’t-“
“Hey, no. It’s not your fault, Zuko. That wasn’t you. You were… you were just a child.”
Zuko squeezed his hand and looked at him again with shining eyes. “How long have you known?”
Sokka inhaled sharply. “When I was twelve, I woke up in the middle of the night in agony. The left side of my face was covered in red, orange, and yellow flowers. When you walked down the gangplank that first day three years later, I knew. I knew you were my soulmate.”
Sokka felt a great weight lift off of his shoulders at the admission. For all of the awkward silences, all of the heavy looks, all of the dancing around the topic, they had never said it out loud. They had never acknowledged what they both knew.
“That’s the day I found out too. After you flew away on Appa, I took off my armor to find flowers on my chest in the exact shape of my fist, right where I punched you.”
Sokka laughed and leaned into Zuko’s side. “What a pair we are, huh?”
Zuko laughed too, and Sokka decided it was the loveliest sound he’d ever heard. “Yup… some pair.”
They looked out across the pond for a few moments, then Sokka spoke. “Can I… Can I see? Your leg?”
Zuko nodded and pulled away. He lifted up his robe and pulled up his left pant leg.
Sokka reached out with shaking hands to gently touch the lines of snow gentians, saxifrages, chickweed, and arctic lupine on his leg, in the exact spots where his own bones had broken. Unwittingly, a tear slipped out of his eye. “Oh, Zuko,” he whispered. “For so long, I was so angry. But now… I don’t want anyone else besides you. I feel so… so much love and safety and happiness when I’m with you, I don’t know what to do with it.”
The golden eyed boy lifted Sokka’s chin with a gentle touch so that they were face to face, so close they shared breath. “Sokka,” he croaked out.
At the same time, they moved forward.
The kiss was soft and gentle and slightly wet with tears, but it was still perfect. It didn’t feel like firecrackers or lightning or whatever else the stories and plays described it as- rather, it was like something in Sokka’s heart that he hadn’t known was missing slotted into place.
He felt whole.
They parted as softly as they’d joined, with a breathless laugh from Zuko, whose cheeks were bright red and mouth was split in a dopey grin. “I- wow. Sokka- you’re my soulmate. I can’t believe after everything… You’re here. You kissed me!”
Sokka grinned uncontrollably. “I love you, Zuko… I want to make this work. I want to be with you, to give this a try. Let me stay here with you, please?”
“Yes. Agni, I love you, Sokka! Please stay. Be with me. Be my boyfriend.”
“Well, I can’t say no to Fire Lord Zuko, now can I?”
Sokka laughed as Zuko pushed him back into the grass. Even though he knew that there were going to be grass stains on his back and on Zuko’s robes, even though he knew people would be wondering where Zuko was, even though he knew Katara would be looking for him, none of it mattered.
None of it mattered as long as his soulmate, Zuko , was kissing him breathless.