It is the simplest piece of advice someone has ever given Zuko, and yet it turns out to be the most useful thing anyone had told him in his three years of being the Fire Lord.
“Just make a pros and cons list,” Sokka says. He’s lying on the floor of the palace library, and he looks so natural there that Zuko doesn’t give him a second glance as he steps over him on his way to pace by the window.
But at Sokka’s words, he freezes, one foot hovering above Sokka’s chest.
“Dude,” Sokka sighs, grabbing the foot that is in the air and guiding it to the ground for Zuko. Zuko moves to sit cross-legged on the floor next to his friend, the anxiety that had been bubbling under the surface for days momentarily replaced by curiosity.
Since his arrival yesterday, Sokka had been good at that, at distracting Zuko from the invisible weight on his shoulders, even if only for brief moments at a time. The week or two that follows an assassination attempt is always intense, and Zuko is grateful that Sokka had immediately traveled to the Fire Nation to be with him since he got out of the hospital wing. If it was anyone else, Zuko would feel like he was being babysat, but with Sokka, it’s easy to pretend that no one wants him dead and he can just hang out with his best friend.
“What did you say?” Zuko presses, and Sokka turns his head to look at him. His hair is out of his usual wolftail and it falls in his face with the movement. Zuko resists the urge to run his fingers through Sokka’s hair and move it out of the way of his brilliant blue eyes, and watches as Sokka does so instead.
“I said make a pros and cons list,” Sokka answers.
“How?” Zuko asks him, and Sokka sits up.
“What do you mean - have you never made one? I make them all the time, it’s how I make all my decisions.” He stands up, walking to the desk a few feet away and writing on a blank piece of parchment.
Zuko follows to watch Sokka write in his beautiful handwriting, Hiring the Kyoshi Warriors as the Palace Guards . He draws a line down the parchment in the middle, labeling one side Pros and the other Cons. He hands the brush to Zuko.
“There. Now, add the positive things about hiring them under the first column, then on the other side, write some possible drawbacks,” he explains.
Zuko gives him a glance, uncertain, but Sokka’s smile encourages him and he sits down to begin brainstorming ideas. Ever since Mai had brought up the idea to him (she hadn’t even given him a chance to be dismissed from the hospital wing, she just marched in and told Zuko exactly what she thought he should do), Zuko had been thinking and overthinking the idea of asking the Kyoshi Warriors to come to the palace. It would help to write some of his thoughts out, that much he knew for sure.
Under pros, he is surprised with all the points he adds. He mentions the skill of the warriors, how much he trusts Suki and by extent the rest of the warriors, the fact that it would be a nice way to change the environment from the one he had as a child.
He adds more lines and then moves on to the cons side, hesitating. The first one he adds is a big one, it’s the fact that many guards will lose their jobs. He also mentions the extra effort that will have to go into training new guards the complex hallways and quirks of the palace.
A few minutes later, he feels satisfied with his list and he looks up at Sokka, who is distracting himself with folding something out of a spare piece of parchment. He notices Zuko’s gaze and looks over. “All done?”
“I think so,” Zuko says uncertainly. “Here’s what I got.”
Sokka stands on his right side, leaning in very closely to read the list. Zuko forces himself to reread the list rather than overthink their proximity right now.
“There are definitely more pros on that list than cons,” Sokka observes, moving back. “So hire them.”
“It’s not that simple,” Zuko frowns. “The cons are important, too.”
“Alright, then address the cons. For example, your current guards can stay and train the warriors, and afterward you can either let them go with high praises and recommendations for them to present to another employer, or you can find other jobs for them around the palace. You don’t even have to replace them entirely, you can just add extra protection with some warriors,” Sokka suggests, counting off his ideas on his fingers. “That's just off the top of my head, though. I'm sure there are lots of ways to walk through all the cons you listed."
Zuko nods, a thought coming to his mind as Sokka rambles. He makes a few notes and then looks up. “Okay. I’ve made my decision. I’m going to write a letter to Suki now to discuss the details.”
Sokka beams. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Zuko nods, his head feeling clearer than it has in a few days. “That actually really helped, Sokka. Thank you for the idea.”
"That's me, the idea guy!" Sokka puts a hand on his shoulder, looking pleased. “Seriously though, you're welcome, I’m happy to be here for you.”
Zuko turns away to hide his smile and slight blush.
It had been such a simple idea, but Zuko finds himself turning to it whenever he needs to make another important decision. His mind is always filled with contrasting reasons before he decides to finally start writing out the pros and cons and working through the consequences of whatever path he is leaning toward.
It doesn’t always work. Sometimes he wants to be able to come up with more pros than cons, but it doesn’t happen, and he has to be realistic and objective about the decision before him. Other times he thinks through everything a dozen times forward and backward, going into depth on the pros and coming up with solutions to the cons, but the other council members refuse to see reason. Zuko wants to shove his lists in their faces angrily, yell at them to really look at the pros and cons, but he refrains from doing so.
He feels irritated after one such meeting, prepared to just stew in his rooms until he falls asleep when Sokka finds him in the hallway and starts walking next to him. “You look like you just had a fun day.”
Zuko sighs and his glances at his friend, now the Water Tribe Ambassador. He hasn’t been in his new position for very long, but he is already strutting around like he owns the place. “You could say that. I’m going to sleep my irritation away now, we can catch up in the morning.”
“Oh, come on, don't leave us so soon,” Sokka protests, pulling at Zuko’s sleeve. "Mai and Ty Lee are returning to Kyoshi Island in a few days, and Suki will be gone by tomorrow night to go back into the city. We should do something fun."
Zuko feels a stab of guilt at ditching some of his closest friends, but he also isn't in the mood right now to do 'something fun'. "I don't know..." he starts.
“Besides, you shouldn't go to bed angry," Sokka argues. "We can find them in a minute, I have something that will cheer you up first.”
Zuko is exhausted, too exhausted to protest as Sokka grabs him by the hand and starts to pull him down the hallway and to the gardens, not letting go of his hand as they walk side by side. Zuko watches his friend as he talks about his day, making even the less exciting parts sound interesting with his knack for storytelling. Zuko is distracted by the smile on Sokka’s face and the way he gestures with his hands while he talks, but it’s not like he needs to look where he is going. He could blindfold himself, spin around five times, and still be able to walk the familiar path to the turtleduck pond.
They sit down at the edge of the pond, and Zuko finds himself leaning against his friend, fitting comfortably against his side and resting his head on Sokka’s shoulder as exhaustion sets in deeper now that he is relaxed. He feels his anger fade away even more as he watches how Sokka stops talking and reaches out to gently pet a turtleduck on the head.
“Forget being the Fire Lord. I should just run away to Ba Sing Se and work at the Jasmine Dragon full time,” Zuko sighs half-heartedly.
“Make a pros and cons list for that,” Sokka suggests, and Zuko lets out a huff. It has been two years since he first suggested the idea to Zuko in the library, and Zuko doesn't think Sokka realizes just how often he actually uses that very strategy for difficult situations.
Zuko lifts his head from Sokka's shoulder. “Pros: I won’t have to deal with certain council members on a regular basis, I get to be with Uncle more, I can make tea all day, I’ll be able to see Toph more often at her new metalbending academy. Cons: none to be found.”
Sokka laughs, giving him a glance. “No cons? What about the people you would leave behind here?”
Zuko smiles back, knowing full well that Sokka means himself. While Mai and Ty Lee are currently visiting the palace, they usually stay on Kyoshi Island, helping to train more warriors. He doesn’t see Suki as often these days since she has moved into Caldera City to work closely on developing a system to utilize skilled warriors to protect the citizens. Aang and Katara have their fair share of traveling the world on Appa, and Toph visits often but she has been so busy recently with moving to Ba Sing Se. The person he would leave behind has only been living here for a few weeks but is sitting with him now, the sinking sun casting a warm light on his features.
As a matter of fact, there are a few cons of running away that Zuko can think of: I won’t get to see Sokka every day. He won’t take me to the turtleduck pond when I need to relax and he won’t smile at me when he walks in for breakfast. He won’t be there to fill the silence with his loud laughter and to complain about the weather being too hot.
“Alright, you got me. The cons outweigh the pros, I’ll stay.”
Sokka quirks an eyebrow. “Really? Changed your mind that quickly?”
Zuko shrugs. “You made a convincing argument. I can’t abandon Uzok when he’s gotten so good at cutting my hair.”
“Uzok?” Sokka laughs. “That’s who you don’t want to leave behind?”
In his mind, Zuko starts a new list, titling it Telling Sokka How I Feel About Him.
“Well, he’s not the only one,” Zuko says slowly, and maintaining eye contact with Sokka right now is both the hardest thing he’s ever done and the only thing he can possibly do at the moment. If they were just friends, it would be easier. Easy for Zuko to say that he doesn’t want to leave Sokka’s side, that he would miss him too much. That’s what friends say, that they care and enjoy each other’s company. But he doesn’t want to see Sokka as only a friend, so the words hold a greater significance in his mind.
Pros , he thinks. Sokka might feel the same way. We might kiss.
“Then who else?” Sokka asks, wagging his eyebrows in a way that makes Zuko’s lips twitch upward at the corners. “Anyone catch your eye that I should know about? Any charming Fire Nation men successful at sweeping you off your feet?”
“Well, there’s this one guy,” Zuko starts, and before he can lose his nerve he moves to grab Sokka's hand. Sokka doesn’t pull his hand away, just intertwines some of their fingers together. “He’s not Fire Nation, though.”
“Oh?” Sokka asks, trying and failing to conceal a smirk, his thumb running along the back of Zuko’s hand. “Don’t tell me it’s that cook from the Earth Kingdom, he’s too old for you.”
“No, actually, it’s not him, it’s-” Zuko pauses as his mind unhelpfully supplies him with the cons of his list. Sokka might not feel the same way. He might be disgusted by me. I could ruin our friendship forever.
Zuko pulls his hand back.
“Who is it?” Sokka prompts, his expression turning confused as he watches Zuko stand up and take a few steps away. “Zuko?”
“Sorry, I...never mind. I’m not thinking clearly, I should go to sleep,” Zuko tells him, looking at a spot on Sokka’s shoulder rather than his face before turning to take another step away.
Sokka scrambles to his feet. “Just tell me who it is, Zuko.”
He grabs Zuko by the wrist and Zuko turns, surprised at how close they are standing together. Neither of them move. Sokka's cold hand on his warm skin sends a chill throughout his whole body, and he is unsuccessful at suppressing a shiver.
There is something unreadable on Sokka’s face. The soft curve of his smile, the light in his eyes - it’s breathtaking, and Zuko doesn’t know how he got so lucky to be on the receiving end of a look like this from someone like Sokka.
Maybe it’s the fact that Sokka’s smile leaves him speechless. Or possibly it’s the bravery that seems to return at the feeling of Sokka’s hand on him. Or maybe it’s the fact that he’s wanted to do this for so long, and now, in the golden light of the sunset, he can’t find it in him to resist the urge. Whatever the exact reason behind his next movement is, Zuko doesn’t know. But he does know that he takes a small step closer, closing the gap between them even more as he tilts his chin up.
Zuko’s mind goes blank as his lips make contact with Sokka’s, already bracing himself for how it will feel but still nearly being knocked off his feet at the sensation. Suddenly his mind is filled with “yes” and “finally” and “more” as his free hand moves up to cup Sokka's jaw.
And then another word pops in his mind. Pros, he thinks, of kissing Sokka: do something I’ve always wanted, see if Sokka’s lips are as soft as they look, tangle my fingers in his hair...
His hand slides from Sokka’s jaw to his wolf-tail, idly pulling at the ribbon there.
Cons of kissing Sokka, he thinks. I might not be a good kisser and that’s embarrassing, Sokka might not actually want to kiss me back-
Every muscle in his body freezes at the second point. Yes, he realizes that Sokka didn’t hesitate to melt into the kiss, his hand on Zuko’s wrist moving to properly intertwine their fingers and the other resting on Zuko’s chest over his wildly beating heart. But doubt and fear seize him as he wonders if Sokka really wants to kiss him, or if he just feels obligated to.
Zuko panics and pushes himself away from Sokka and his lips and his distracting hands - or at least, he tries to. What ends up happening is he pushes Sokka away from him instead, and they’re still at the edge of the turtleduck pond. Zuko watches in horror as Sokka stumbles backwards, completely off balance, and lands in the water with a loud splash that soaks Zuko up to his knees and sends the swimming turtleducks speeding away quickly.
“Sokka! Agni, I’m so-“
He can’t finish his apology because Sokka is laughing. The pond is only about a foot deep, and he is propped up on his elbows and laughing his head off, completely soaked. The ribbon that Zuko had loosened has disappeared, his wet hair sticking to his face, which he fixes with a shake of his head.
“That’s not exactly how I imagined our first kiss to go,” Sokka says once he finally gets control over himself enough to speak, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “And trust me, I have imagined it a lot.”
Zuko’s face is bright red, and he feels sick with shame, embarrassment, and guilt as he steps into the pond after realizing his feet are already wet. He extends a shaking hand to his friend.
“I’m so sorry, I-“
“Panicked?” Sokka finishes, a glint in his eyes, and Zuko can only nod in surprise. “I figured. I know you too well, Zuko, you’ve got to give me some more credit. Although I’m sure I could still find ways to surprise you.”
Sokka grabs Zuko’s hand and pulls down quickly, sending Zuko stumbling into the pond with him. He lands on his hands and knees, and when Sokka starts howling with laughter, he can’t help but join in and accept his fate by sitting down in the water next to him.
“Alright, I deserved that,” Zuko sighs, watching Sokka’s smile as he laughs. “I’m sorry I panicked. I started making a pros and cons list of kissing you, and the pros were all great, but the cons scared me, and before I could think I tried to pull back and...didn’t exactly do it right.”
“What were the cons?” Sokka asks curiously.
Zuko sighs. “That you might think I am not a good kisser, and that you might just be kissing me back out of obligation.”
“Zuko,” Sokka starts, finding his hand on the floor of the pond and giving it a squeeze. “You don’t have to worry about that.”
“I‘ve just been so worried this whole time that my feelings were one-sided,” Zuko admits.
“I was talking about the first point. Don’t worry about that because you are a great kisser,” Sokka tells him. At the unimpressed look on Zuko’s face, he laughs. “I’m kidding. Well, I’m not kidding about you being a good kisser. Anyway, I did not kiss you back out of obligation. More like out of desperation, I’ve been pining after you for ages.”
Zuko’s lips twitch into a smile. “I’ve wanted to kiss you for a long time, Sokka. I haven’t had fire flakes ever since you came here to visit and told me you hated the aftertaste of them. I stopped eating them because I realized that I didn’t want you to remember our first kiss by the taste of fire flakes before I even realized I wanted to kiss you. I guess I just wanted to be prepared in case...well,” he gestures between them. “In case we ever had a spontaneous first kiss.”
“You did that for me?” Sokka asks, and Zuko nods. Sokka’s eyes light up and his shoulders shake with silent laughter. “Zuko, I love you. I’m in love with you.”
“I...I’m in love with you, too,” Zuko says, relief filling him as the words finally tumble from his lips after being held back for so long.
“What’s going on? We thought we heard-“ Suki stops, Mai and Ty Lee following her closely and freezing as soon as they all see the scene.
Sokka gives them a dorky wave. “Hey Suki, Ty Lee, Mai. Nice weather, isn’t it? Although Zuko thought I wasn’t enjoying the heat so he gave me a hand and pushed me into the water to cool off.”
“You what?” Suki gasps as Ty Lee giggles, Mai smiling softly at her girlfriend.
“It was an accident! We were kissing-”
“You kissed?” Ty Lee squeals, looking absolutely delighted. Suki’s eyebrows are shot up in surprise with her mouth open in a huge smile, and Mai’s eyes widen.
“Yes, yes, start the fireworks,” Zuko says dismissively. “I kissed him, but then I-“
“Panicked?” Mai and Suki ask in unison, and Zuko would hide his head in his hands if they weren’t covered in dirty pond water.
“Yeah,” he sighs. “I panicked and accidentally pushed him in. But now we’re even.” He gestures at himself, accidentally flicking some water on his face in the process.
“Now if you ladies don’t mind, I’ve always dreamt of having my second kiss to Zuko take place in the middle of a pond, and I intend to make that dream come true,” Sokka says cheekily.
“We’ll leave you to it, then,” Mai says, grabbing Ty Lee’s hand and leading them back inside the palace. Suki just smirks at the two men in the pond, giving them a quick thumbs up before following her friends away.
“I want the details tomorrow!” she calls over her shoulder before they disappear inside.
“This is one of my favorite outfits, too,” Sokka pouts, brushing some mud off his elbows.
“Oh, we’ll take care of that later,” Zuko rolls his eyes. “Now remind me what you were saying just now about a second kiss?”
Pros of Dating Sokka:
- His uncharacteristically shy smile right before we kiss
- He burns everything he cooks but makes stellar watermelon juice
- He gives great advice
- His eyes light up whenever he gets an idea
- He sometimes leans too far back in his chair and has the best expression on his face right before he falls
- He knows every constellation in the sky
Cons of Dating Sokka:
None to speak of