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zuko didn't bother to wipe the tears from his cheeks as he stalked through the darkened alleyway, didn't stop to tie the shoelace that flung precariously around his foot with every step, and didn't take even a moment to catch his breath or rub his aching legs. there was just one place zuko wanted to be, and once he got there the aforementioned discomforts would be fixed.

almost there. almost there. almost there.

the permeating cold stung his nose and ears, forcing zuko to stuff his hands in the pockets of his jacket and try his hardest to make it the rest of this block. frozen remnants of tears blurred his vision, and a suppressed sob threatened to break free from the restrains of his throat at any moment. there was no way he could try to warm himself in this state of mind.

almost there, he thought again as he passed a set of dumpsters he recognized. almost there.

finally, the young firebender came upon the bleak back of the apartment building, heart growing lighter as he situated himself beneath a familiar window. with numb fingers, zuko cleared his face the best he could and managed to find a series of small pebbles, tossing them one at a time up to a slim pane of glass on the second story.

after the fourth thrown stone, much to zuko's relief, the window was slid open and the fire escape ladder let down. climbing the rickety thing quietly as he could, he tumbled through the unorthodox entryway on trembling legs, nearly crashing into the desk on his way in. straightening up, he nearly collapsed in relief when he locked on a pair of brilliant blue eyes, an adjoining pair of calloused hands extended to him that he took gratefully.

"sokka," he sighed, the name coming out like a prayer rather than a greeting. if they hugged now, zuko was sure to break down, so he squeezed the familiar hands between his tightly instead to silently establish the temporary boundary.

"hey," sokka murmured, brows cinched in worry once he took in zuko's demeanor. "want some pajamas?"

zuko nodded, relieved at the lightness of the question. "just a shirt, please." he wasn't ready for the heavy stuff yet. sitting on the end of the bed, he watched quietly as sokka rifled around in his drawers, pulling one of his long sleeves from the top and coming right back to the stiff young man on his mattress.

"spirits, you're freezing," sokka whispered, peeling the wind blown clothes from clammy skin with the same look of intense worry on his face. "are you sure you don't want something else to put on?"

he asked the question as he slipped the blue shirt over zuko's head, trying to ignore the way his heart thudded at the sight of his love practically drowned in the fabric. in the dim moonlight streaming through his window, sokka could finally make out the oddly blotchy features below him as zuko shook his head no. there were dark circles beneath those golden eyes that nearly matched a bruise forming on his jaw, and if he had allowed himself to stop and inspect the pale surface of zuko's skin he would have seen the multitude of siblings the mark had across his back.

tentatively, sokka reached out and stroked his thumb across the large bruise, anger flaring in his stomach no matter how he tried to quell it. "wanna talk about it?" he asked gently, grateful his tone didn't betray the insatiable bloodlust he suddenly felt.

once again, zuko shook his head, twisting the familiar fabric of sokka's shirt between his fingers and averting his gaze to the small pendant resting on his boyfriend's chest instead. "can we just lay down?"

the answer came in the form of sokka lifting the blankets for him to crawl in, which he did, huffing a sigh of deep relief when he found the warm spot the water tribesman must have been asleep in before zuko's intrusion. the feeling settled even deeper into his bones when he was joined beneath the comforter, lithe arms sliding tightly around him.

they laid there for many long heartbeats before tears spilled onto zuko's cheeks once more, his body gradually relaxing as it caught up to his brain's knowledge of their safety. without thinking he turned into sokka's chest, closing his eyes in an effort to force away the residual urge to scream. his throat burned, as did his face, and the heat only grew when he felt his boyfriend's breath ruffle his eyelashes.

a chaste kiss was pressed to each of his features as sokka's lengthy hands wrapped themselves in zuko's shirt. though sokka himself had worn it a thousand different times, it felt like something else entirely when draped around his lovers wiry frame. softer, more comforting, akin to the feelings zuko stirred within him. while ghastly, though admittedly pleasing images of ozai pleading for mercy flitted through his mind, sokka left kisses on each of his lovers eyelids in turn, paying special attention to the bags beneath them. ice cold hands rested on sokka's side, and he winced. zuko would be lucky if he didn't catch pneumonia, on top of every other unnecessary injury he was sporting in the moment. here with me, he reminded himself silently. here with me for now.

zuko absorbed the affection with all the consistency of a sponge, his heart contracting each time sokka pulled away from him only to nearly explode when another part of his face was kissed lightly.

"we're gonna get you out of there," sokka promised, his voice warm caramel that coated zuko's throat and extinguished the incessant burn he had felt since the door to his fathers car jolted him awake earlier that night. ozai's arrival after a particularly stressful business trip was not something zuko looked forward to. not until he had climbed from his own window, however, nursing a fractured jaw and busted lip, did he realize just how bad things had gotten.

those thoughts were pushed from his mind as he let himself fall into sokka's words. they were said with such conviction, zuko nearly believed him. in his turmoil, however, he saw no way out of the terror that came with his home life. this was simply the way things were. but not now, not as sokka's lips grazed his neck. these touches weren't meant to be arousing- they were grounding techniques, and zuko succumbed to them as easily as he would any sedative. instead of making him hazy, however, sokka sent his senses into hyper focus.

when the object of that focus is someone as divine as zuko's boyfriend, it's easy for his thoughts not to stray. their hands roamed each other with no set destination, slow and trusting with all the care in the world.

he didn't bother with the tears that still pooled in his eyes before spilling onto his cheeks, nor the intense ache in his legs. sokka's gentle touches eased each of these discomforts, subtly reminding him to breathe every so often with a soft squeeze of his hands.

after an eternity zuko managed to calm down, settling against sokka's chest with a shuddering gasp that released the ghost of a sob caged in his lungs. as the sun crept above the horizon, and his lovers own breaths grew deeper, the young firebender was finally warm and relaxed enough to ease into a thankfully dreamless sleep, feeling only the weight of sokka's arms around him.