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and where you go, i will go too (yes, i am now a part of you)

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Toph let out a short, sharp sigh and put her plate down. Sokka turned to face her, watching the firelight dance in her pale eyes. “Do you guys know your soulmates?” she asked quietly.

Sokka frowned and glanced towards the others. Suki shrugged as if to say I don’t know either.

“Why?” Sokka asked tentatively.

“I mean…” Toph scratched at the back of her hand. She was uncharacteristically solemn. “It’s just that, being blind and all, there’s a chance I’ll never find my soulmate. I mean, I’ll never see at all, let alone in color. I’m kinda wholeheartedly relying on the other party here, trusting that they’ll tell me.”

“Is that why you laugh so loud?” Katara asked, not unkindly. 

“I mean, I’m just naturally that obnoxious,” Toph said proudly. “But, uh,” she seemed to shrink in on herself again. “Yeah. That’s one of the reasons.”

It struck Sokka then that for all her loud taunts and brutal words, Toph was, at her core, a twelve-year-old. And if Sokka knew anything about being twelve, he knew that it sucked. Majorly.

“I haven’t met mine yet,” Sokka said. 

“Me either.” Suki leaned back against a tree.

“Really?” Toph asked. “I thought for sure you two were—”

“Nah,” Sokka said. “Suki’s the best, but I still see in grayscale. And I make her laugh a lot.”

Suki chuckled obligingly. “You sure do.”

The clearing was small, so everyone was crowded close together around the campfire. Appa stood not too far off, taking up about half the clearing all by himself. 

Toph frowned and shoveled another bite of food into her mouth. “What about you, Twinkletoes? You met your other half yet?”

Sokka rolled his eyes toward Zuko, who sat across from him, on Toph’s other side. ‘Here we go,’ he mouthed. Zuko smiled uncertainly and Sokka realized, suddenly, that he probably hadn’t heard this story.

“The first person I saw when I came out of the iceberg was Katara,” Aang said happily. “And I thought she was really pretty, and that she had a good soul. The monks back home were really in tune with people’s souls and spirits, so I’d learned to identify kind souls by myself pretty early on. We clicked pretty much instantly, and I took her sledding on one of the otter penguins! I guess we have them to thank, because as we were rushing down the mountain…”

“We both laughed,” Katara said softly, reaching for Aang’s hand. “And the world around us erupted into light and color.”

“It was a lot to handle at first,” Aang said. “I knew I wore orange because the monks told me, but I never knew what it looked like. That was the first color I could put a name to. But I took one look at Katara and knew instantly that whatever color her eyes were was my favorite.”

Suki let out a soft “Aww.”

Sokka rolled his eyes. He’d heard this story a thousand times, just from Katara and Aang telling it to any old schmuck who asked. “It’s blue, by the way,” he told the other three before Aang and Katara could continue gushing. “Her eyes are blue.”

“How do you know?” Zuko asked quickly.

Sokka laughed dryly. “Because I’ve only heard Aang say it a thousand times.” 

“Your eyes are blue too, Sokka!” Aang said. 

Sokka’s hand reached up to touch his face, but he realized what he was doing and brought it down again. “Yeah, it’s a water tribe thing,” he said, sure some amount of his grumpiness was seeping into his words. “We’ve all got blue eyes, Aang, Katara’s not special for it.”

“No,” Aang agreed amiably. “But I like her shade best.”

“Euuugh, barf ,” Toph complained. “We get it.”

“Sorry,” Katara said quickly. “I keep forgetting you’ll never—”

“I don’t care about not being able to see your dreamy blue eyes , Katara.” Toph spoke around a mouthful of food. “I’m just tired of you saps mooning over each other all the time. Figures you’d be soulmates, don’t know why I bothered asking.”

Sokka laughed. “You tell ‘em, Toph. Imagine how tired I am of it.”

“What about you, Princey?” Toph asked, looking somewhere over Zuko’s left shoulder. Sokka turned his attention towards him sharply. The others all looked vaguely interested. 

“I, uh…” Zuko shifted in his seat. “Well…” He gestured vaguely, hands following the movement of his wrists. “Yes,” he settled on finally, averting his eyes. “I’ve met my soulmate.”

“What?” Sokka leaned forward interestedly, ignoring the soft ache behind his ribcage. “Is it that goth chick? Mel?”

“Mai,” Zuko snapped. “And...no, it’s not her.”

“Then who?” Suki asked. “Do we know her?”

“Yes—No. It doesn’t matter.”

“You don’t have to tell us, Zuko—” Katara started.

“Good!” Zuko said, standing up. “Because I don’t want to!”

“Geez! Okay, Hotman, give us nothing!” Toph leaned back. “It was just a question.”

“Maybe we should go to bed for the night,” Katara suggested softly. 

“Yeah, maybe we should.” Zuko walked away from the fire stiffly, stepped over Appa’s tail, and laid out his bedroll on the other side, effectively using the bison as a barrier between himself and the rest of the group. Sokka shared a brief concerned look with Aang before settling down for the night himself. 

 

A sharp snap shocked Sokka out of his easy rest and he jolted into a seated position. “Hello?” he hissed into the muted gray of a barely-broken dawn. A long, miserable sigh met his ears. “Ah. Hey, Zuko,” he said. 

“Hey, Sokka.” Zuko’s voice was cold, but no colder than usual. 

“Where are you headed?”

“Firebenders wake with the sun,” Zuko said. “I’m going to do some exercises.”

“Cool, can I come with?”

“You’re not a firebender.”

“Well, it’s not like I’m going back to sleep now that you’ve woken me up. Is Aang coming?”

“Not today,” Zuko said shortly. He turned and stepped further into the forest. Sokka took that as his cue to follow and scrambled up off the ground.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“Dunno. Somewhere where it’s safe to firebend.”

“How about that waterfall we passed earlier? With all the rocks and water, it’d be hard to start a forest fire there.”

Zuko grunted noncommittally, but changed course and began to head in the direction of the waterfall.

“Wow, you’re in a worse mood than usual today,” Sokka said. “I’m sure Toph didn’t mean to upset you with all that soulmate muck. She was just curiou—”

“Drop it, asshole,” Zuko said, pushing aside a branch.

“Hey—” Sokka was cut off when the branch snapped back into place and hit him in the face. “Hey!” He jogged to catch up with Zuko, firmly keeping pace with him instead of staying behind him. “Rude. I thought you were a good guy now.”

Zuko slowed. “I am. I think. It’s hard to...well, you know.”

Sokka shook his head. “Sorry buddy, no clue.”

“It’s hard to be good all the time,” Zuko said. “Sometimes being a dick is easier.”

“Hey, well, Toph’s a huge dick, and she’s still one of the good guys. Hell, I’m a bit of a dick most of the time.”

“That you are.” 

“Hey, you weren’t supposed to agree!”

“Ah...sorry.”

“Hey,” Sokka nudged Zuko’s arm gently. “I was playing around. We’re friends. We can joke around like that.”

“Right. Sorry. I’m not used to casual friendship.”

“No worries, dude! Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe is the master of casual friendship. I’m your go-to guy! Any questions you have, you can ask!”

“Thanks,” Zuko said, almost too seriously. “I’ll remember that.”

“Hey, I can hear water up ahead!” Sokka broke into a speedwalk, and then into a run. He burst through the line of trees, coming face to face with the waterfall he had spotted earlier. “Woah!” He turned towards Zuko, who was just emerging from the underbrush. “This is so much bigger than I thought it would be! Hey, forget firebending! Let’s go for a swim!”

“I can’t just...forget firebending,” Zuko said stiffly.

“Eh,” Sokka said, already shucking his tunic. “Do your little yoga exercises and then hop in! I’m going in now, you can join me whenever.” He kicked his clothes to the side and waded in, clad only in his undergarments. 

Out of the corner of his eye, Sokka was aware that Zuko was practicing forms and stretching to greet the sun or whatever the hell else firebenders had to do. Honestly, it was frustrating, yes, but sometimes he was so thankful he wasn’t a bender. How exhausting would it be to have to learn all those forms and maintain them and everything? His sword did the trick just fine, thank you. He swam from one side of the river to the next, and then back, fighting against the current this time. He pulled himself out onto a rock soaked with water from the spray of the falls, and observed Zuko more closely. He had taken his shirt off and was performing a series of kicks that Sokka’s eyes could barely keep up with. It was impressive. Zuko was impressive. Zuko was a lot of things, actually. He finally drew himself up, panting, the last of his fireballs dissipating in the air.

“Wooo! Go Zuko!” Sokka cheered, slapping the rock for emphasis.

Zuko turned to him, startled, and raised a hand to cover his face.

Sokka laughed and slipped back into the river, wading carefully to the other side, the water coming about halfway up his torso. “Come in, now, it’s nice and cool,” he said.

Zuko nodded carefully. “Don’t look,” he said, reaching for the bottom of his tunic. Sokka snorted, but obliged, and turned away. 

Moments later, a small splash to his right altered him that Zuko had stepped into the water too. Sokka grinned widely and lunged toward him. Zuko barely had time to yelp in surprise before Sokka dunked his head underwater. He quickly pushed himself off the riverbank, shooting to the other side of the water, while Zuko burst out of the stream, spluttering and wide-eyed. 

“What was that for?” he yelled.

“Casual friendship!” Sokka called back, over the roar of the water. “It’s called roughhousing and it’s completely normal!”

Zuko spat a rock out of his mouth. “I get the feeling you’re lying to me,” he shouted. “I think you’re just pretending that’s part of casual friendship so you’ll have an excuse to beat me up.”

“What? Me? Never,” Sokka said, paddling back towards Zuko. “Another part of casual friendship is, of course…” He moved his arms in a wide arc and splashed a wave of water directly into Zuko’s face. He spluttered again, rubbing at his eyes with one hand and trying to find a rock to hold onto with the other. 

Sokka laughed. “You’re too trusting, dude.”

“You’re right,” Zuko said seriously, taking a step towards Sokka. I’ll have to work on that.”

Sokka shrugged. “It’s no biggie. It’s kinda a good thing actua—ACK!” Sokka’s next words were drowned out by a powerful hand shoving his head underwater.

Sokka burst away, gasping for air. “You little sneak!” He grinned wildly. “You got my defenses down!”

Zuko smiled sheepishly. “Was that okay?”

“More than okay, dude! You actually felt like a real teenage dude for a second there!”

Zuko’s smile turned into a grimace. “Is that a good thing?”

“Sure it is!” Sokka said, hauling himself out of the river and onto the bank, shaking a loose plant off of his leg. “I mean, you’re fine the way you are and all, but I like seeing you loosen up a little.” Before Zuko had time to reply, a thought struck Sokka. “Hey, hey! Let’s see if there’s a cave behind the falls!”

“A cave?”

“Yeah!” Sokka jogged along the bank towards the base of the falls. “Is there...yeah, yeah I think there is!” He slipped behind the curtain of water, leaving it up to Zuko whether he wanted to follow him or not.

The cave was shallow, but tall. The roar of the falls pounded in his ears like a drum beat.

Zuko joined him a second later, his bare feet gently slapping against the wet rock.

“It’s nice back here,” Zuko said.

“It’s so cool, right?” Sokka said. “I’m so glad I thought to check.” He settled down on the floor of the cave, patting the rock in an obvious invitation for Zuko to join him. He looked uncertain for a moment, but joined Sokka on the floor.

Sokka sighed and leant back on his hands. “I love this place. I don’t ever wanna leave.”

“Being stuck here would be bad, I think.”

“Hmm. Maybe,” Sokka said. “I do like traveling. And there is still the fire nation to defeat.”

“Right.”

“And I still have to find my soulmate and make her laugh. Maybe when I do, I’ll take her back here, and we can hide behind the falls together for a while.”

“That sounds nice,” Zuko said softly.

“You know your soulmate, right?” Sokka asked. 

“Yeah.”

“I won’t pry, but if you could take her anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?”

Zuko let out a long sigh. “I guess...wherever my soulmate wanted to be, I’d be happy there. Whether it’s in the capital city of the fire nation, or right here behind this waterfall.”

“Ohh, so you’re a hopeless romantic, ” Sokka teased, leaning in. “Who would have thought?”

“I guess I am. I like the idea of falling in love and dedicating your life to someone. But for me…” Zuko trailed away.

Sokka fixed him with an analyzing look. “For you...what?” he asked finally.

“I am not my soulmate’s soulmate,” Zuko said, voice hard.

Sokka blinked. “What?”

“I can see color,” Zuko said. “But my soulmate can’t. I’ve been able to see color for ages now. Since back when I was still hunting for the Avatar. For, uh, Aang.”

“Your soulmate has a soulmate that isn’t you?”

“Yeah. And honestly, I’m glad. I wouldn’t wanna be stuck with me either. They’re better off with someone a little more stable and a little less like me.”

“Aw, man, don’t say that! You’re so hard on yourself. Anyone would be lucky to have you.”

“Yeah, Right. Just not my soulmate,” Zuko said, his eyes fixed firmly on the sheet of water falling in front of them.

Sokka was silent for a long time. Then, finally, dropping his voice into a rasp; “That’s rough buddy.”

A short, sharp, bark of laughter left Zuko’s lips. And Sokka’s eyes stung.

The water had been a sheet of white and gray, and was now frothy, something-tinted, roaring color. The rock they were sitting on was dark gray, yes, but there was an undertone,  something Sokka didn’t have a name for. He stood sharply and turned to look at Zuko.

Oh. Oh. Oh. His scar was angry and saturated, his skin tinged with something in the light from the falls. His eyes were piercing, sharp, rich. A thousand colors seemed to dance within them, colors Sokka had no names for. He was saying something, like, “Fair play, Sokka, not my proudest moment. I’m sure I could have been more comforting—” but Sokka could barely hear him. It was like the boy was the only thing in existence, but a thousand miles away at the same time.

He stared down at his own hands. Warm, Dark. Something. If only he knew the names for colors. He’d be shouting it from the rooftops. 

“Zuko,” he said softly.

Zuko blinked, and Sokka hated the brief second where Zuko’s bright, colorful eyes were hidden from him. “Can you repeat that?” he said. “The water’s kinda loud.”

Sokka sank to his knees. “Zuko,” he said firmly. “It’s not that your soulmate has a soulmate other than you. It’s that you’re a sourpuss, and your soulmate had never once, in his entire life, heard you laugh. Not until now.”

Zuko swallowed, his eyes fixed on Sokka’s. “You mean…” he said softly.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Sokka said, reaching for Zuko’s face. “It’s you. It’s always been you. I can’t believe I never saw it.”

“Yeah, well, you had other things on your mind,” Zuko said breathlessly.

“Not now,” Sokka said, cupping Zuko’s face in his hand. “Now the only thing I can think about is you. Tui and La, I’m sorry it took so long. I’m sorry I had you convinced that the universe had deemed you unworthy of love.”

Zuko shook his head. “I’m sorry for not having more faith in you. For not waiting for you.”

“You thought I had someone else.”

“But you had a right to know. Even if your soulmate was someone else, I should have told—”

“Hush,” Sokka said. “No point beating ourselves up over the past. We’ve found each other now.”

“I can’t believe it,” Zuko said, reaching up to grip the hand that was cradling his face. “I can’t believe you’re real.”

“Real as it gets, Baby!” Sokka said, joy threatening to burst from his chest, his head, his fingertips. Every part of him was screaming yes, yes, yes. Him. 

“Can I—” Zuko seemed to stop himself before he finished, almost curling inward. 

Sokka leant in further, closing the space between the two. “Can you what?” he asked.

“Can I kiss you?” Zuko asked in one, short breath.

Sokka smiled in the gentlest way he felt he could, and lifted Zuko’s face to meet his own.

Their kiss was short, and tasted like river water. It was the best thing Sokka had ever experienced.

“What color are your lips,” he whispered into Zuko’s mouth.

“Pink,” he replied. Sokka could practically taste the word, their mouths were so close. 

“I like pink,” Sokka said, pressing another short kiss to Zuko’s mouth. “I like you.

“Why,” Zuko asked. And Sokka knew that it wasn’t a plea for attention, or a demand. It was a genuine question. Zuko needed to know what could possibly be lovable about him.

“I was so stupid,” Sokka said, releasing Zuko’s face and settling onto the rock beside him, leaning against him as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Zuko, seemingly without thinking about it, took Sokka’s hand in his. Sokka didn’t complain.

“Stupid how?” Zuko asked.

“Everything was so easy with you, came so naturally. I never felt like I had to try around you. Like there were no demands for how I should be. I mean, when you were trying to murder me and my sister and kidnap our tiny bald friend constantly, that was kinda a turn-off, but I think you’ve more than made up for it since then.”

Zuko laughed, and it was so bright and cheerful that Sokka knew right then that from this moment on, he’d never once, for the rest of his life, stop trying to make Zuko laugh. 

“Yeah,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “Sorry about that.”

“But you’re not just easy to be around,” Sokka said. “You’re good to be around. You make me happy. You’re comfortable.”

“I am?”

“And you’re brave. You turned against your dad and the fire nation. You’re teaching Aang firebending. You’re trying every single day to be better. That takes guts, Zuko.”

“Oh,” he said softly. “I didn’t realize.”

“Of course you didn’t, you big dumbass,” Sokka said, leaning in and pressing his lips to Zuko’s temple. “Only you would work as hard as you do every single day and not even notice it was draining you.”

Zuko was quiet for a while. “It was also hard to watch you,” he confessed softly. “Because I heard you laugh for the first time so long ago.”

“Tell me,” Sokka said, pressing gently into Zuko’s side. “I want to know.”

“Back when I was still traveling with Uncle, trying to capture Aang, you and I had this confrontation. We came head to head so many times, they all blend together. But not this one. We were in the middle of a forest clearing, just you and me. You were trying to hold me off so the other two could escape, or something. And I don’t know what gripped me, but you were always cracking jokes and some part of me wanted to do the same. So I did. I made a dumb joke about something. I don’t remember what. The trees maybe. But you laughed. I don’t know if you were angry, shocked, or genuinely thought it was funny.”

“I remember,” Sokka said. “You were trying to say ‘how about you make like a tree and leaf,’ or something like that—which is really dumb by the way—but instead you said ‘the trees have leaves, maybe you should too.’ It was so stupid, and it took me like two days to figure out what you were saying. But yes,” he leant in further. “I laughed.”

“And everything was suddenly too bright, too clear. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it it. It overwhelmed me.”

That’s why you fell on your ass that time!” Sokka exclaimed, pulling away to hold Zuko at arms’ length. “I thought attempting to make a dumb joke was just too much for your puny, hate-filled body, and you like...physically couldn’t take it!”

Zuko laughed again, and Sokka’s heart pressed against his ribcage, swelling, screaming Yes! His laugh! More! More!  

“I’m not puny,” Zuko said.

“You’re like two inches shorter than me,” Sokka replied easily. “Puny.”

Zuko shoved him, not a lot of force behind the motion, but Sokka dramatically toppled to the side, tongue lolling out of his mouth, a low ‘blehhh’ humming from his lips. Zuko laughed again. Sokka grinned widely and rocked back into a sitting position.

“So you knew all this time?” Sokka asked.

Zuko’s lighthearted expression dropped a shade. “Yeah. I knew. All the rest of the time I was chasing you, I knew. I was glad, almost, that you had someone other than me.”

“But I didn’t. It was only ever you.”

“I was such an idiot.”

“Yeah,” Sokka said. “But I guess you’re my idiot now, if you want to be.”

Zuko smiled hopefully at him. “If...if you don’t mind, I’d like that very much. I’ve been growing more and more attached to you, but I never thought I’d get the chance to—”

Sokka cut him off with a firm hug. Zuko was stuff for a moment, then melted into it, their bodies melding together as if they were made to be intertwined, which, Sokka supposed, in a way, they were. 

The falls roared in Sokka’s ears, the cool air of the cave sinking into his bones. But Zuko’s breath was soft and warm on his neck. Zuko’s arms were firm and sure. 

Zuko had been right, Sokka thought dazedly. He could have stayed here forever if it meant he never had to let go of this boy.

“What will we tell the others,” Zuko asked, his words vibrating in Sokka’s chest.

“The truth, I guess,” Sokka said. He paused, thinking. “But maybe not immediately.”

Zuko sighed. “Good. I wasn’t ready to share this, I think. At least not yet.”

“Then we don’t have to.” Sokka pulled away from him, eyes scanning Zuko’s face, trying to map out every ridge, curve, and spot. He had three freckles grouped closely together on the right side of his nose. Cute! Sokka was filled with the overwhelming urge to kiss them.

So he leant in, and he did.

Zuko squirmed a little, but he was smiling. “What was that for?” he asked.

“I like your freckles,” Sokka said. He kissed the pale one on his left jawbone. “I like you.

“Promise?”

Sokka laughed. “For a while, honestly. I guess a part of me always assumed my soulmate would be a girl, which is why I never thought about it. Never realized why I always wanted to be close to you, why seeing you smile made my breath catch. But it makes sense now. I get it.”

“Wow,” Zuko said. “Wow. You like me. You like me and I’ve liked you for...ages. Possibly before I even knew you were my soulmate.” and when he leaned in to meet Sokka’s lips, Sokka welcomed the kiss. 

“Why didn’t you tell me ,” Sokka asked when he’d pulled away. “We could have been doing this weeks ago.”

Zuko ducked his head. “I thought you wouldn’t want me.”

“You’re nuts,” Sokka said. “There is no universe in which I don’t want you.”

“Not even a universe where I never betrayed the fire nation and instead remained and fought on the wrong side?”

“Hmm. Tricky.” Sokka tapped his bottom lip thoughtfully. “I don’t think that that universe exists. You’re too good.”

“Every universe exists, Sokka.”

“And you’re good in every single one of them.”

“That’s not how it works—”

“Shh. We’re not in that universe. Why are you worrying about whether or not we end up together in a timeline entirely other than our own? We’re here now. We have each other. I found you. That’s what matters.”

Zuko smiled, his eyes crinkling. “You’re incredible.”

Sokka laughed. “I am! I’m the best. You’re so lucky to know me.”

“Yeah,” Zuko said. “I am.”

“You need to laugh more,” Sokka said firmly. “I can’t believe we’ve been traveling together for weeks and it took this long. Come on, asshole, we’re going back into the river.” He tugged on Zuko’s arm, and Zuko stood, letting himself be led out of the cave.

“What color is the grass?” Sokka asked, stepping into the water.

“Green.”

“The sky?”

“Pale blue.”

“Your eyes?”

“Ah...just light brown.”

Sokka turned to Zuko incredulously. “There is no way that those things are just light brown. I am enchanted by them, sir. There are like a thousand different colors in there.”

Zuko let out a short, quiet laugh as he lowered himself into the stream. “My mother said they were like golden fire, but I never saw them that way.”

“They’re gold,” Sokka said assuredly.

“How do you know?”

“I just decided that right now. Nothing else that claims to be gold is gold enough. Not with your eyes to compete with. Hey, Zuko?”

“Yes?” Zuko turned to him in an almost-daze.

“Think fast!” Sokka cried, pouncing on him and shoving his head under the water. Zuko, however, was ready, and had a hand on Sokka’s arm before Sokka could pull away. He yanked Sokka down over his shoulder and into the rushing water with him. They burst out of the water in sync, chests heaving, blinking fiercely to get the water out of their eyes. They looked at each other, blue eyes meeting gold, and burst into loud, unapologetic laughter.