Sokka arrived for his first advisory meeting in the palace a few months after the war and a little bit of a nervous wreck. Zuko had stamped his diplomatic papers a few days ago, they’d posed for their sketch (to be turned into a painting, eventually) and he hadn’t seen his friend since.
He took a deep breath as he entered the throne room, seeing several other dignitaries and politicos, all at least ten years older than him. His eyes landed on a smiling old man waving him over. “Iroh!” Sokka exclaimed, meeting the man with a hug, “what are you doing here?”
“I wouldn’t miss your very first meeting, now would I?” Iroh answered, his eyes twinkling with delight. “I thought you may want some help. The Fire Nation can be… difficult to understand, and first. Consider me your guide.”
Sokka snorts. “You sure got that right, uncle.” He opens his mouth to say something else – what exactly he forgets – when Zuko walks in. Everyone sitting on the floor rises and he smiles softly, signaling that they can sit back down. As Zuko walks to his throne and the head of the table, Sokka studies him, having only seen him for a few minutes ago the last time.
Zuko looks… relaxed shockingly. Sokka had expected him to have bags under his eyes and terrible posture based on the letters he’d been receiving since Zuko’s coronation. Zuko stood tall, bearing the weight of his crown (well, hairpiece) well. He walked to the throne and sat, and then brought both legs up so he was sitting crisscross.
Sokka’s brain didn’t recover for a few minutes after that.
There was Zuko, leading a meeting (not just any old meeting, a meeting about military strategies for dealing with fringe Ozai supporters), sitting like he was at a family dinner. None of the generals or other advisors seemed to notice, so it was just Sokka left alone in wonderment.
“Ambassador Sokka, what do you think?”
Sokka looked up to see Zuko staring at him, not unkindly but with his royal face on. Fuck, what had Zuko said? He noticed Iroh tapping a line on his scroll and Sokka read quickly, mentally setting a reminder to thank the old man for his help at the end of the meeting. “Yes, um” Sokka said, clearing his throat, “I’m sure the Southern Water tribe would be willing to start a trade route through the Earth Kingdom straits.”
Zuko nods at him approvingly, but he can see the sparkle in the royal’s eyes. Sokka would love to meditate on it for a moment; how happy he is that Zuko is happy and comfortable, how beautiful he looks (and woah, maybe he doesn’t want to address that one just yet), but he is absolutely, completely, and utterly thrown off by the way Zuko is sitting.
It’s a chair! You just can’t sit however you want in a chair!
But Zuko does and he is and Sokka is still the only one who seems care, so he lets it slide. Even though he’s sure no one else in the palace sits like that when they’re running a meeting.
As if thinking about the meeting hastens it, Zuko uncrosses his legs and stands up, signaling the session’s end. The council stands up as well and starts to disperse. Sokka begins to make his way towards the door but Iroh grabs onto his arm, a silent order to stay for a few more moments.
When everyone has cleared out of the room and the last straggling butt-kisser has finished his conversation with the Fire lord, Zuko walks towards Sokka and wraps him in a hug. “Hi, Mr. Ambassador,” Zuko says, “sorry I haven’t been around a lot since you got here. Crazy few days.”
Sokka returns the hug with a force he didn’t know he had into him and laughs. “Hi to you too, your highness.”
When he and Zuko break apart, Zuko says, “Let me make it up to you. Dinner tonight?” And Sokka nods as Zuko gives him the directions to his personal dining chamber, where Sokka should be at seven sharp and yes, Sokka, there will be fire flakes.
Zuko and Sokka sit next to each other, on the same side of the table at dinner. And Zuko’s sitting in the chair normally.
A few days later, Sokka realizes Zuko doesn’t sit in one odd way on the throne. He sits in several.
Zuko sits curled up and leaning towards the side, both knees tucked tightly into his chest. Other days he throws both his feet over one armrest and leans back, as if he was in a bed, and wow, Sokka does not want to deal with the emotions that thinking about Zuko lying in his bed gives him.
Because, okay, sure, Zuko’s never been an unattractive guy. Sokka’s known that from the beginning (well, not including the ponytail years). And maybe at Boiling Rock, Zuko promising to back his play had made his heart skip a beat, but he was so beyond happy with Suki he didn’t even notice. But now, since it’s been a few months since he and Suki had broken up before she went back to Kyoshi, well…
Okay, maybe Sokka can admit he has a little bit of a crush on the Fire Lord. Just an itty-bitty thing for the sovereign ruler of the Fire Nation. And if that means sometimes Sokka checks out when his input isn’t needed in meetings to study the bow of his friend’s lips or the way the corners of his lips quirk up when one of the older council members defends his position well, that’s really nobody else’s business is it?
Today’s meeting sees them talking about Earth Kingdom tariffs so Zuko has positioned himself lying sideways across the throne with his legs curled (like a cat) and Sokka decides he really doesn’t have to pay attention. Not only is he not qualified to have an opinion on this (on anything really), but it had absolutely nothing to do with his position. So, he let himself drift really deep into Zuko-land, wondering just how soft Zuko’s mass of black hair really was and if he’d ever get the chance to run his hands through it and—
“Ambassador Sokka, your thoughts?” Sokka is pulled out of his daydream, not for the first time, by Zuko looking at him expectantly but not unhappily.
Sokka opens his mouth to respond (thank god he’d read the agenda before the meeting), but one of the finance ministers gets there first. “With all due respect, your highness, Ambassador Sokka is from the Southern Water Tribe. Why is his opinion relevant when discussing trade with the Earth Kingdom?” Which, okay, yeah it’s not like he hadn’t been thinking it, but it still hurt.
Zuko turned his eyes to the ministers and gave a steely gaze, moving to sit up before continuing. “I value Ambassador Sokka’s opinion on any topic, just as I would any of my other advisors,” he says, “and furthermore, our trade with anyone country should and will affect our trade with the rest. We’re moving towards a globalized economy here, and as an economic minister I would expect you to understand that.”
The minister pales and Zuko smiles, satisfied, and retreats to his more comfortable positions. “Ambassador Sokka,” he says, “sorry you were interrupted. What’s your take?”
Sokka notices, because he has a habit for noticing things about the people he cares about. Aang gets more aggressive when he’s hungry, it’s when Katara’s withdrawn that you really want to check in on her, and Toph… well, Toph’s hard to read so he can’t really be blamed for that one. Yue would only laugh when she was sad, and Suki bit her lip and narrowed her eyes when she was annoyed. So yeah, after being at the palace for a few months, Sokka’s going to notice some of Zuko’s more… unique behaviors.
Zuko doesn’t like being too assertive, so he winces when his own voice is too loud, even if it’s out of excitement. When he’s really proud of something Sokka said, he taps Sokka’s pinkie finger with his own when they’re discussing it. The more stressed he is, the odder his throne-sitting position is.
He realizes it the day before King Kuei’s first visit to the Fire Nation since the war. The whole gang will be there, but it’s official work business, technically. The whole week will be a conference dedicated to planning a process to cede Fire Nation colonies back to the Earth Kingdom, but Zuko has something even bigger planned; a proposal for a country where people of all four nations can live together in harmony, yada yada, but as neighbors.
Sokka, of course, is extremely proud of his friend for all the hard work he’s put into his proposal for the new, yet-to-be-named country. He’s all but promised the Southern Water Tribe’s support of the plan, which will bring the Northern Water Tribe along with them. Aang would agree to just about anything Zuko said, but especially with Zuko’s commitment to using some of the new government’s resources to rediscover air nomad culture? The one remaining representative of air will be all in. Which only leaves the Earth King’s approval.
If Kuei has half a brain (which Sokka is pretty sure he does) he’ll agree. That hasn’t stopped Zuko from his incessant pacing, taking precious time away from his and Sokka’s dinner conversations. The day before the meeting, Zuko enters the throne room as usual and proceeds to sit on the armrest of the chair, his feet placed squarely on the seat cushion.
It’s then that Sokka notices the pattern spanning back months. Uprisings outside the castle? Zuko sits with his back leaning on the chair. A foreign leader accidentally insulted? Zuko sits on the back of the chair, barely balanced. And now that Sokka’s noticed, well, he can’t help but wonder if he could be the cure to Zuko’s apparent stress.
The conference goes swimmingly, of course. King Kuei is delighted at the prospect of a new country for everyone to share. He’s fully committed to the plan and Zuko walks around with a dazed smile on his face for the rest of the day, like he can’t really believe he’s accomplished it. That in and of itself makes it one of the best weeks of Sokka’s life.
Seeing his sister for the first time in six months is nice too, of course.
Katara and Aang take the week off of travelling (they’ve been searching for the other members of the Aang fan club and converting them into “air acolytes”) so they can be present at the conference. There’s really no reason why Toph needs to be there (she’s a glorified principal, not a politician) but everyone’s too scared to tell her no.
They all get dinner the last night of the week, in the Fire Palace gardens. They sit on logs and around a campfire, laughing just like it’s old times. Toph is regaling them with a story of her favorite lily livers (read: metal bending students). Zuko is listening intently and laughing just as hard as Sokka’s ever seen him laugh, so of course he’s staring at Zuko.
He catches Katara’s eye from across the circle, and she makes it very clear she’s been watching long enough to know what’s happening. She raises an eyebrow, causing Sokka’s cheeks to heat, and laughing silently at the confirmation she takes her two pointer fingers and draws the shape of a heart while making kissy faces. Sokka sticks his tongue out at her, because why is it her business that he’s in love with his best friend? And she sticks her tongue out back, which only Aang notices. He asks them what’s going on and they lock eyes, immediately breaking out into large belly laughs. This only causes Aang more confusion, which of course makes them laugh even more.
It’s not until much later after everyone’s gone to bed when Sokka’s staring up at the ceiling, unable to sleep, when he realizes what he admitted to himself earlier. Love. Huh. That’s a new one.
The next morning everyone leaves. Toph punches him on the arm and then gives him a hug, doing the same to Zuko. Aang looks like he might cry as he hugs to the two of them before getting back on Appa, where Toph is already seated and yelling at them to hurry up. Sokka realizes it’s time to say goodbye to Katara and he feels a pit drop in his stomach.
Katara hugs him fiercely and whispers in his ear. “Don’t fuck it up. Also, I’ll fuck him up if he hurts you. Also, I love you.”
Sokka chuckles, holding her tighter even if just for a moment. He feels something wet on his cheek and realizes he’s crying. Or maybe Katara is? Probably both. “I love you too.”
She climbs onto Appa and waves one last time before her boyfriend says his classic “Yip yip” and they all fly off. Sokka stares after them, reminiscing a day when he would have longed to chase after them and hop back on. Then he feels a hand on his shoulder, and he remembers why he doesn’t do that anymore.
“Hey,” Zuko says, the early morning rasp in his voice electrifying every nerve in Sokka’s body, “want to get absolutely faced tonight?”
A few hours later, they’re passing their fourth bottle back and forth in front of the fireplace in Sokka’s quarters. They’ve already played a ridiculous amount of rounds of fuck, marry, kill, and they’ve moved on to odd questions and truthful answers.
“So,” Zuko starts, “the boomerang. How did that happen?”
Sokka snorts. “I tried to join the Southern Water Tribe troops when I was like, six. My dad knew there wasn’t gonna be an end to it until he started teaching me how to fight. Gave me boomerang, some bullshit about how it was only for the most skilled of warriors… it was the only weapon small enough for my chubby baby hand to hold.” Zuko snorts and Sokka smiles at himself, satisfied at his effect. “The first day boomerang ever came in handy was when I hit you in the back of the head with it.”
This makes Zuko laugh again. “Okay, I deserved that,” he said, “your turn.”
And maybe it was the alcohol making him a little ballsy, but he asked, “Why don’t you sit on the throne like a normal human person?”
“Oh,” Zuko says, with a wave of his hand, “my dad.” When Sokka looks at him curiously he sighs and continues. “I look like my dad, I sound like him… being in that chair is kind of a constant reminder. So, I sit in it in ways he never would. Kind of ruins the image.” Zuko smiles and gives a half shrug.
Sokka’s brain freezes, but his mouth continues. “And when you’re stressed…”
Zuko blushes a looks down a little. “I didn’t realize anyone had noticed that. When stuff goes wrong, that’s when I hear my dad’s voice in the back of my head the loudest. Consolidate power, Zuko! Kill your enemies, Zuko! I do it a little extra when I need the extra reminder that I’m not him.”
Zuko is still smiling, but Sokka can see right past it. He sees how vulnerable his friend is, how hard it was for him to put himself out there like that. But he did it anyway. Because Sokka asked. And even more, Sokka sees how Zuko has become, against all odds, one of the best men he knows.
So Sokka leans in to kiss him.
Their lips touch and Zuko’s response his immediate. He brings his hands up to cradle Sokka’s face, and in turn Sokka grabs the back of Zuko’s neck to pull him closer. Every cell in Sokka’s body is screaming yes yes yes this is it this is right and suddenly Zuko bites his bottom lip, forcing a small moan out of him.
That’s when Zuko freezes. His eyes open and widen and he falls backwards, standing up with a “Fuck, I’m sorry, I’ll just…” before running out of the room. Sokka realizes a moment too late what’s happened and throws his head into his hands in defeat.
They don’t talk about it, but not for Sokka’s lack of trying.
Sokka wakes up early the next morning to pick some flowers from the pot on his windowsill and meanders down to Zuko’s quarters only to learn that the Fire Lord had woken up early to practice his katas and was now in meetings. He doesn’t see Zuko for the rest of the day.
He tries to flag Zuko down after lunch the next day, only for the him to pretend he hadn’t heard Sokka’s call, and yeah that one hurts a little bit. It’s days after that before he sees Zuko again, and he’s worried to walk into the advisory meeting and see Zuko after so long.
It seems as if Zuko’s stressed too, because he walks in and sits backward on the throne, moving his feet so that they’re thrown over the top and leans backwards across the seat until his face is upside down, his hair barely grazing the floor. He conducts the whole meeting like that and doesn’t ask for Sokka’s opinion once. That’s when Sokka decides Zuko’s going to have to talk to him whether he likes it or not.
He waits until everyone has left the throne room except for him and Zuko, who’s attempting to make a quick exit without acknowledging him. He grabs onto Zuko’s arm and Zuko’s guards (who Sokka had honestly forgotten about) raise their weapons, only for Zuko to give a soft “At ease.” He turned to Sokka and said, “What do you want?”
Sokka takes a deep breath. “If you want to pretend that it never happened, we can do that,” he says, “but I need you to know that I’ve thought about it every single second since you left my quarters a few nights ago. You don’t have to be ready to talk about it yet.” Sokka shrugs. “But, if you’re willing, I’d really like the chance to kiss you again. One of the guards gasps, and another puts her hand over the mouth of the first to shush him.
Zuko’s staring at him with wide eyes. “Okay,” Sokka said, “I really did mean it when I said take your time. Just know that I’m ready whenever you are.” And with that Sokka leaves the room, a dazed and confused Zuko in his wake.
It doesn’t take long for Zuko to come talk to him. That same night (well, incredibly early the next morning if he’s being technical about it), Sokka wakes up to sirens. He jumps out of bed and pokes his head outside his door, where he sees three guards stationed. “Please stay inside, Mr. Ambassador,” one says, “There’s been an assassination attempt on the Fire Lord. The intruder’s still inside the palace, presumed to be armed and dangerous.”
Sokka remembers panic and suddenly he’s in front of Zuko’s quarters, two guards chasing after him and one telling him he can’t go in. He’s truly about to start a fist fight with the guard when there’s a soft “Let him in” from behind the door. Sokka feels lucky he didn’t start swinging a second earlier or they might have missed it.
The guard gives him a frustrated look and opens the door, and Sokka just about trips over his feet running in. He sees Zuko, sitting with his legs crossed, looking comically small on his large bed. They look at each other for a second or thousands of years before Zuko cracks a smile. “Well,” he says, with a wet laugh, “I’m fine.”
At that, Sokka moves to the bed and gets on his knees next to Zuko, wrapping the Fire Lord into his chest. Zuko cracks and collapses against Sokka with a sob. Sokka rubs small circles onto Zuko’s back as Zuko cries into his shirt. “I’m sorry, Sokka,” he says, looking up for a moment, “I’m making your pajamas gross.”
Sokka laughs. “Dude, you really think that matters? That that could ever be what mattered? You’re alive, that’s all I care about.” Zuko goes silent for a moment, and Sokka’s worried he’s said too much. But feeling bold for a moment, he drops a kiss on the other boy’s head. “I love you,” Sokka says, “and even if you don’t love me like that, I’m not leaving you. I’m here as long you want me.”
Sokka closes his eyes, bracing himself for a rejection. “My mom’s not dead.” Sokka opens his eyes, confused, to see Zuko looking at him carefully. “I always thought she died. My dad just messed her up so bad she ran away, from him, from us. I just don’t want to do that to anyone I love, I can’t.” Zuko pauses a moment and takes a deep breath. “I can’t do that to you.”
Sokka laughed, which seemed to confuse Zuko. “What’s so—” and Sokka interrupts by laughing harder and swooping in to kiss him. Zuko’s eyes widened in surprise before he relaxed into Sokka. Sokka smiled against the other boy’s lips, grinning as Zuko whined when he pulled back.
Sokka held on to Zuko’s shoulder, forcing eye contact with him. “I love you,” said Sokka, kissing Zuko’s temple to punctuate the statement. “I love how you hate when you yell,” a press of lips to Zuko’s forehead, “I love how you tap my hand when you’re proud of me,” his nose, “and I love how you refuse to sit in your throne correctly,” his chin. “Most of all,” Sokka finishes, “I love how you’re incredible and you’re making up for years of wrongdoing all on your own. You make your own path and the fact that you’re worried about becoming like your father is enough evidence that you’re not even a little bit like him.”
Zuko stares at Sokka with a look in his eyes the Water Tribe boy had never seen before. He doesn’t recognize it until Zuko kisses him, hard, like his whole life depends on it. They break apart eventually, breathing a little more heavily than they were before. Sokka looks at Zuko, and Zuko smiles. “I love you too, Sokka.” And well, now that he’s said that, Sokka has to kiss him again. There’s really no other option, is there?
So he does.
Zuko’s pacing back and forth, and Sokka’s trying to calm him down. “Babe,” he says, “we don’t have to tell them yet if you don’t want to.”
Zuko looks at him, shocked. “You don’t want to tell the council we’re dating?”
“Of course I do!” says Sokka, attempting to backtrack. “I want to tell them we’re dating so we can go out in public and I can hold your hand without worrying, like I have been for the past six months.” Sokka’s and also so I can give you the betrothment necklace I carved for you a week after we started dating is left unsaid. But really, isn’t that better as a surprise anyway?
Zuko’s face lights up. “I’ve got it,” he says excited, grabbing Sokka’s hand and dragging him down the hallway to right outside the door of the throne room. “Don’t freak out, okay? But we’re definitely about to cause an international incident.”
Sokka nods. “Not worrying. I love you.”
Zuko’s look of determination softens. “I love you too,” he says, before turning around to open up the doors.
The rest of the council is already seated, Iroh saving Sokka’s place next to him. Zuko and Sokka stand next to each other, hands still interlocked, as the seated council members give them a once-over. Iroh’s giving them a big grin.
Zuko starts to walk, passing by the table. Sokka tries to let go of Zuko’s hand to sit down when he passes by Iroh, but Zuko tightens his grip and keeps the two of them walking to the head of the room. That’s when Sokka realizes what his plan is. “Babe,” he whisper-shouts, “we are not going to fit on that throne next to each other.”
When they reach the front of the room, Zuko turns around and smiles. “I know,” he says, gesturing for Sokka to sit down. Then Sokka really realizes what the plan and gets a wicked smile on his face. He sits and makes himself comfortable, and then Zuko plops himself onto Sokka’s lap.
Several of the councilmembers’ eyes bug out of their heads. One chokes on the tea they’ve been drinking. Iroh starts wheezing with laughter. Sokka smiles, pressing a light kiss to Zuko’s cheek. “You got this,” he says.
Zuko smiles. “Hello,” he says, “I’m courting the Ambassador from the Southern Water Tribe. I assure you all that there will be no official governmental difficulties because of this. Any other, more personal, questions about my relationship should wait until after we’ve discussed all the official business on the docket for today.” Zuko grins at the council in front of him, and Sokka has never been prouder of his boyfriend. “Now, onto the cabbage taxes.”