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Sokka drags himself through the heavy front door to his building, feeling the last dregs of caffeine buzz through his veins. At this point, he’s just jittery, not any less exhausted.

He looks at the time on his phone: 12:37. Sokka hadn’t meant to stay in the lab that late, it just happened, somewhere between when he sat down to split the cells and when he’d finally stood back up again. Once he got started on a task, his brain wouldn’t let his focus shift until it was done; this trait had helped him barrel through undergrad, and now grad school, but it’s a little inconvenient for making sure he takes care of his body.

Sokka skips checking the mailbox. That’s something for Morning Sokka. Or maybe Aang, who’s undoubtedly fast asleep upstairs, in full possession of a normal sleep schedule. Either way, Sokka’s planning on going straight up to his room and passing out as soon as possible.

As he steps into the elevator and smashes his finger into a button, Sokka blearily wonders if Katara’s sleeping over that night. She’s like an outdoor cat, coming and going from their apartment without really notifying Sokka, leaving for just long enough that Sokka hasn’t started making her pay rent.

The elevator pings, and the doors slide open. Sokka drifts down the hallway, letting his backpack slide half-off so he can fumble around in it for his keys. He pushes his rounded, wire-rimmed glasses back into place, wishing he could just wear his contacts — unfortunately, not allowed in lab. Apparently they pose a hazard when it comes to chemicals? As if I work with any chemicals that gnarly. His keys jangle loudly as he pulls them out, heavy with non-key attachments: a beat-up bottle opener, a reusable straw Katara bought him for his birthday, a key charm Aang made with Appa and Momo’s faces on it. Aang had made a charm for each of them, on a whim, no occasion. “Because their faces deserved to be immortalized,” Aang had said, and all of them, even Toph, carried it around with them faithfully.

Sokka tries the doorknob, and it’s open — Did Aang forget to lock it? Sokka thinks, pushing it open, and is non-plussed to see the lights on — he’s never up this late

It takes a few bewildered seconds, but finally it registers that this is not Sokka’s apartment.

A guy with a shaggy black mullet looks up at him from a couch that is not Sokka’s, surprised.

“Um. Hello?” he says, and then, in order, Sokka processes the following information: the guy’s cute, very cute; there’s a scar blazed across one side of his face; a septum ring glints from beneath his nose.

Sokka stands in the door, frozen for a moment. “I’m — Sorry.” 

“…Can I help you?” the guy asks, rising from the couch. He’s all in slouchy black and charcoal gray, holding a sketchbook and a pen.

“S-sorry, I just —” Sokka looks at the number on the door: 204. “I thought this was my place… I’m in 304, I must have gotten off on the wrong floor, huh.” Sokka throws in an awkward chuckle at the end for good measure, feeling his cheeks flame. Oh, god.

The guy comes closer, arms folded around himself. “Oh. Gotcha.”

“Yeah, sorry about that.” Sokka dithers for a moment in the doorway. “Uh. I’m Sokka. Your upstairs neighbor, I guess.”

“Zuko.” He sticks out a hand, and Sokka takes it; his palm is warm and dry, and his long fingers wrap gently around Sokka’s hand.

Sokka backs out into the hallway, feeling a little dazed, and hesitates again as Zuko leans against the doorjamb, one hand on the half-open door. Zuko’s looking at Sokka like he expects something, and Sokka doesn’t know what to say.

“Sorry again,” Sokka says quickly. “Um. ‘Night.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Zuko’s voice is quiet, and husky, and then he shuts the door. There’s a soft click of the lock sliding shut.

Just like that, Sokka’s wide awake.

 


 

“Aang! Can I steal some quarters?” Sokka yells across the apartment, hand already in Aang’s bin. It’s an old organic yogurt container, stashed in one of Aang’s desk drawers. Sokka knows the location well.

Aang’s voice is muffled through several layers of walls: “Sure!” 

Sokka feels a little guilty for using Aang’s quarters, but he’s fresh out, and Aang has about a million of them squirreled away. He leaves a dollar bill on Aang’s desk for good measure.

“Will you throw the kitchen towels in, too?” Aang asks, still turned to the stove. He’s in the middle of vegan pancakes, and the smell fills the apartment.

Sokka goes to root around in the cupboard under the sink. “Sure, I’ve got room.” He pulls out the bin of dirty hand-towels and dumps them in his hamper unceremoniously.

Katara, sitting at the kitchen counter, leans forward on her elbows. “Are the they almost done? I’m starving.”

“Patience is a virtue,” Aang says sagely, and Katara sticks out her tongue. Aang grins back.

Sokka hoists his hamper into his arms, detergent bottle tossed in on top of his dirty clothes, quarters jangling in his sweatpants pocket. He leans the hamper against the wall of the elevator on the way down, scrolling through the endless litany of notifications on his phone. There’s a text from Toph, asking if they’re still on to watch the MMA fight tomorrow; Suki’s sent him a video of a bearded dragon wearing a gold chain, to the tune of Drift Away by Uncle Kracker; Bato has emailed him yet another recipe. Sokka always tells himself he’ll get more creative in the kitchen, but he inevitably ends up too impatient and just sautés whatever is in the fridge. 

Sokka’s got the hamper propped on his hip, still scrolling through his phone when he walks into the laundry room, and he almost drops the damn thing when someone says “Oh. Hey.”

He looks up; Zuko is perched on one of the dryers, cross-legged, two house shoes on the floor in front of the machine.

“Hi!” His reply comes out too enthusiastic, before Sokka can collect himself. He clears his throat. “It’s, uh. Zuko, right?” As if Sokka hadn’t replayed the previous, mortifying interaction over and over in his head as he tried to sleep.

“Mmhm.” Zuko sets the same sketchbook aside, leaning back on his hands.

Sokka busies himself with finding a washing machine, setting his detergent aside and throwing his clothes in as fast as he can, before Zuko can see his underwear — not that he wears weird underwear, of course Zuko knows that other people have underwear, Sokka wears perfectly run-of-the-mill underwear, but it’s the principle of the thing —

“I guess it’s laundry day, huh?” Sokka says, and has to physically restrain himself from smacking his forehead against the metal rim of the washing machine door. Pull yourself together. He pushes his glasses up from where they’re sliding down his nose and tries to ground himself.

Zuko chuckles a little. “That’s what Sundays are for.” 

When Sokka turns around, Zuko’s picked up his sketchbook again, doodling idly.

“So — you’re an artist?” Sokka asks, sliding the quarters into the machine’s slot and punching the START button.

Zuko shrugs. “I do tattoos. Just thinking of some new designs.”

Sokka’s interest is piqued. “Can I — is it alright if you show me? I’ve always wanted a tattoo.”

He nods, so Sokka slides over, and Zuko turns the sketchbook so Sokka can see. One page is full of them, a couple filled in with color, and it looks like he’s just started on the next page — they’re half-finished, in black and white. They’re all in traditional Japanese style, but some of the designs flirt with more modern subjects; they have a distinct, unique flair to the linework that Sokka really likes, as if each design has a personality of its own.

“Wow. Those are… really cool.” Sokka feels a little awestruck — the guy’s clearly talented, but he just shrugs again. Sokka catches a shy quirk of his mouth that makes Sokka go bubbly and warm inside.

Zuko sets the sketchbook down on his lap. “Thanks for saying that.”

“I mean it. Like, I’d totally get a tattoo from you.”

Zuko’s mouth drops open in a surprised smile. “Stop it.”

“Really.”

Zuko deflects. “I designed my own tattoos, too. This was my first one,” he says, turning over one of his wrists. There’s a little bunch of white flowers. “I filled in the rest later.” Zuko points to more ink that disappears up his arm, under the cuff of his loose, worn shirt.

“What’s the rest?” Does Sokka have an ulterior motive? No. 

Maybe. Yes. Sokka has an ulterior motive.

Zuko pulls his sleeve up to his shoulder, just like Sokka was hoping. “I finished this sleeve a couple years ago,” he explains, and. Wow.

Sokka can only dimly register the way Zuko’s lean muscle moves under his skin, because he’s too busy trying to absorb the intricate, gorgeous tattoo that fills said skin. A red and black dragon coils around his arm, snaking up his bicep, maw open in a perpetual roar. Clouds curl in and around the dragon, peppered with more of the small white flowers. The dragon’s eyes are intense and piercing, and its lips curl up in a fierce snarl.

“Holy shit,” is the only thing Sokka can say, and has to focus on not reflexively reaching out to touch the tattoo — the colors are vivid, with sharp, precise lines, and shading that blends smoothly into the pale background of Zuko’s skin.

Zuko lets his sleeve drop, and it falls halfway down his arm, to the crook of his elbow. “Ah, thanks. It took more sessions that I thought it was going to, but June did a great job. Worth it.”

“June?”

“My coworker. Mentor. She taught me how to tattoo.”

“You have a great teacher.” Sokka can’t take his eyes off the dragon’s back claws, still visible. 

Zuko shifts a little, picking up his pen again. “Yeah, she’s really talented. I’m sure she’d tattoo you, if you want.”

Sokka drags his eyes back up to Zuko’s. “I think I’d rather have you do it.”

Zuko holds his gaze for a beat, then blinks and clears his throat. “Sure, I guess — I mean, if you want to stop by. We’ve got a lot of different artists to choose from. Uh, there’s me and June, you know that already,” he rambles, ticking off on his fingers. “Mai’s great, too, she’s killer at fine linework, and we do piercings too — if you’re interested.”

He’s cute when he’s flustered. Sokka hopes it’s because of his infectious charm, and not because he’s been staring openly at this guy’s bicep. 

“Yeah, I’m interested. What’s this place called?” Sokka tilts his head, hoping the smile he flashes at Zuko is cheeky and not leery.

“The Jasmine Dragon.” Zuko’s fiddling with the pen, clicking it open and closed. “It’s over on Cherry.”

“By Lotus Thai?” It’s Sokka’s favorite place to get pad see ew.

“Oh! I go there all the time. Yeah, it’s right next door.”

“Cool.” Sokka checks the timer on his laundry, and sets a matching one on his phone. “I’ll see you in… 28 minutes, I guess.”

Sokka thinks he might be imagining the little smile that grows on Zuko’s face.

“See you then.”

Once Sokka’s around the corner, he melts against the wall, hands in his hair, allowing himself one frantic moment before he flees into the safety of the elevator. When he comes back, Zuko’s still there, sketching away, and Sokka tries not to think about other tattoos that Zuko might be hiding.

 


 

Sokka slides the key into the lock and pulls the little mailbox door open. There’s spam, as per usual: coupons no one ever asks for, big exciting deals no one ever inquires about, something from his internet service provider trying to get Sokka to spring for a bigger subscription again. Why can’t they listen when he says he doesn’t want cable? Who even watches cable anymore? 

He flips through the rest of the mail: a stiff envelope for Aang, from his bank (probably that new card he was waiting on, the last one barely worked in chip readers anymore); something addressed to a previous tenant, destined for the trash; nothing for Sokka. He wasn’t expecting anything, so.

Sokka turns to trudge over to the elevator. Another late night at work; not quite the latest he’s ever come home, but still well into the hours most people are winding down for the night. Probably curled up with their sweethearts. 

Sokka knows that Aang is away for the night — he and Katara had planned a whole day. Katara’s favorite activity is kayaking, so that’s what they’re doing, with a romantic picnic. There’s a sleepover, with “something special”, as Katara had put it — to Sokka’s deep revulsion. But really, can he blame them? It's Valentine’s Day.

He pushes the UP button for the elevator, trying not to feel sorry for himself. So what if he’s single on Valentine’s Day? Plenty of people are single on Valentine’s Day, it’s not pathetic. Sokka had thought about swinging by Suki’s apartment; he’s still thinking about it. Joining the girls sounds more and more appealing the longer the night drags on. There’s probably snacks, and pink wine, and he knows Toph will be there to knock the self-pity right out of him. He hadn’t been planning on it, after realizing how long he’d be at the lab, but maybe —

There’s a loud noise, the sound of something hard knocking against the thick wood of the front door, and Sokka turns. The door swings open wildly, and there’s two people: a woman grimacing, and Zuko leaning hard into her shoulder.

Zuko throws an arm out, fumbling to prop himself up against the open door.

“‘Zulaaa. We’re home!” Zuko says with glee, laughing a little. Okay. He’s drunk. “’S fine, ‘m fine. Promise.” He stumbles a little. Very drunk.

“I hate you,” the woman says bitterly. 

Zuko scrunches his nose up, poking her cheek. “Mmm, no you don’t. You love me. We’re best friends, now, right?” His face goes serious, and he cups her face between both hands. “Right?”

The woman waves him off. “Yes, yes, the best of friends, whatever.”

Zuko beams like the sun. “Ha. So you admit it! You really do love me.” He stumbles back again, missing the open door entirely and bumping into the lobby’s wall; he looks surprised, like he didn’t expect anything to be there. “Even though no one else does.”

“Oh, would you —” she grabs him by his shirt, slipping her shoulder underneath his arm to prop him up and drag him along. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. It’s not cute.”

“I knowww,” he wails, hand over his face. “That’s the problem, I’m not —”

The elevator pings open, startling Zuko into noticing Sokka. He straightens up, finally holding his entire body weight by himself. “You’re here, too.”

Sokka gives a hesitant little wave. “Uh. Yep. I… live here.” He catches the woman’s eyes. “We all good?”

She rolls her eyes. “This idiot got sloshed before we even left the pre-game.”

Zuko squawks indignantly. “’S not my fault Malibu is so tasty!” He sways a little, but keeps himself upright. The woman holds her hands out, ready to catch him again.

“Ugh, I don’t know how you drink that stuff,” she grimaces.

Zuko wraps his arm around her shoulders again, whispering loudly into her ear, “Azula, be niiice. It’s neighbor boy.”

“Oh, this is neighbor boy? You know Zuko?” the woman, apparently named Azula, asks Sokka, pointing to the drunk Zuko still on her shoulder.

Sokka hears the elevator doors slide shut again behind him, but he’s not focused on that — neighbor boy? Has Zuko… has he talked to her about me? She’s still looking at Sokka with piercing, expectant eyes, so Sokka stammers through a response.

“Yeah, we’ve met a few —”

“Good, will you throw him in the apartment for me?” she says tersely, slipping out from under Zuko and striding towards the door. “I’m missing the bar crawl. He knows how to put himself to bed.”

Zuko spins, looking after her. “Azula, you can’t —”

“Yes, I can!” she calls over her shoulder. “Be a grown-up.” 

She’s gone before Sokka can do anything beyond stammer out an “Uh.” This wasn’t exactly what he had in mind for his night.

Zuko turns wide eyes on Sokka. “Sorry,” he whines, stumbling forward to push the UP button, over and over, past when he’s already effectively called the elevator. Sokka registers that he’s painted his nails for this occasion, a deep red-black. “You don’t have to take care of me. She’s just stupid.”

“Azula? That’s her name?” Sokka asks mildly, watching Zuko for any signs of falling over or — God forbid — vomiting.

“Mmhmmmm. She’s my sister.” Zuko sighs, turning to look at Sokka. His hair’s mussed to all hell, but it looks kind of good, with the shaggy cut of his hair. Like he’s a scruffy mutt, or something. The cute, scrappy kind, that just needs someone to take them home and love them — Sokka blames the thought on the fact that it’s Valentine’s Day. “She’s right, though, I’m an idiot,” he moans, knocking his forehead against the closed elevator doors.

“I don’t think so.”

“I aaam. I got too drunk and now I can’t go with themmm.” He stumbles back as the doors open, then stumbles in. Sokka follows, pushing the button for 2 on his way in; Zuko’s putting his weight on the corner of the elevator, so Sokka puts himself on Zuko’s other side, just in case.

“And now they’re having fun without meee.” Zuko’s in full mope, pulling out his phone to scroll through texts. His thumb hovers over a contact that has apparently been re-named Don’t Text, and then he flips to Grindr. Sokka looks away — it’s rude to snoop.

“Who’s they?” Sokka asks, as the doors slide open. Zuko starts to pull himself up, but he’s got his arm against the elevator wall, and each step looks structurally unsound, so Sokka puts a hand lightly on Zuko’s shoulder. “Here. Let me.”

Zuko’s eyes are wide, but he lets Sokka help support him with his shoulder. “Um. Uh. Y-you don’t have to do that. ‘M fine, I promise, ’m gonna be a grown-up like Azula said,” he says, but leans into Sokka’s body. He smells like coconut rum and some sort of woodsy, smoky cologne that makes Sokka want to shove his face into Zuko’s neck and take a deep breath. He restrains himself.

“It’s okay.” He hopes Zuko’s drunk enough to not notice the blush he can feel creeping up his cheeks. “Let’s get you tucked in.” 

Zuko spends a few moments fumbling with his keys before finally slipping the correct one in, right side up, and flicks on one of the lights. 

Now that Sokka has more than a sleepy, dumbstruck moment to look at the place, it’s clear that Zuko’s unit has the exact same floorplan as Sokka’s. Open into the living room, kitchen with a little breakfast bar off to the side. If Sokka’s guessing correctly, that hall leads to the bedrooms — and Sokka’s apparently guessed correct, as indicated by Zuko dragging himself into the hall and through a doorway, kicking his shoes — serious-looking boots with steel toes — off as he goes.

Zuko turns on the light as Sokka hovers in the doorway, not wanting to intrude any more than expressly necessary. It’s a little messy, with clothes thrown over the bed and several pairs of shoes littering the floor in front of the closet, but those all seem like recent additions; they’re the kind of clothes meant for nights out, all mesh or shiny or ripped denim. Sokka kind of wishes Zuko were wearing the mesh thing he spots; not that Zuko’s low-cut shirt and leather jacket isn’t really doing it for him.

Zuko shrugs off the jacket, flopping face-first onto the bed. “This is sooo lame,” he says into the dark grey covers, then rolls over onto his back, hands covering his face.

“What’s lame? Going to bed?” Sokka asks, stepping a few feet into the room. 

“Nooo. Me being like this. Too drunk. Stupid. Oh no, everything’s all spinny.” Zuko half sits up, rolling, and barely catches himself before rolling right off the edge of the bed.

Sokka darts forward to help Zuko sit up. “It’s not lame. Everyone’s been there.”

He looks up at Sokka with forlorn eyes. “Really?”

“Yeah, really. God knows I’ve been even drunker.”

“Ookay. I guess.”

Sokka allows himself a chaste rub of Zuko’s shoulder. “I think you’ll feel better in the morning.”

Zuko glares at Sokka, his bottom lip poking out. “I highly doubt that, thank you very much.”

Sokka can’t help but laugh a little, and that makes Zuko’s eyes light up so bright Sokka feels a little dizzy himself. “Okay, let’s get you to bed. Sound like a plan?”

“That’s a good plan,” Zuko mumbles. “You’re good at plans. Sokka the plan man. Your glasses are cute.” He pokes the bridge of them and Sokka blinks.

“Uh. Thanks.”

“I lllike ‘em.” Zuko grins, then launches up.

He pulls his shirt off with no preamble, and Sokka almost chokes on his own spit. He supposes it’s to be expected, since Zuko’s a tattoo artist and all, but he’s covered in them, all down his back, his other arm — there’s one on the back of his neck that Sokka somehow hadn’t seen — Sokka’s mouth feels very, very dry all of a sudden —

And then Zuko slips out of his jeans, almost keeling right over when he tries to pull one leg out and his foot gets caught. Sokka should really make sure he doesn’t hurt himself, but he feels like reaching out for Zuko right now, undressed as he is, would be crossing some sort of line. And, Sokka’s still frozen, now that he can see the clouds and flames that curl around Zuko’s thighs, there’s some sort of vine, or something, on his calf —

Zuko seems entirely unaware of the ordeal Sokka’s going through, rummaging through the drawers in his closet, throwing clothes on the floor as he does.

“Where‘re they?” he mumbles, then finally finds a pair of flannel pajama pants. He flails into them, then yanks a loose shirt over his head, a gigantic black thing with a green dragon on the front, happily holding a cup of tea, over the words The Jasmine Dragon, in a traditional American tattoo font.

“Okay, buddy,” Sokka starts, ready to take his leave, “I’ll leave a trash bin here for —”

“I don’t vomit,” Zuko declares, then spins around to go to the door. “Azula’s the one that vomits. My stomach is strong!”

Sokka follows him out. “Hey, uh. It’s bedtime.”

“I knowww,” Zuko says, looking back at Sokka with a loose smile. “Have to brush my teeth. Azula said to be a grown-up.”

He spends about five whole minutes brushing his teeth, eyes closed, until Sokka finally urges him, “I think that’s good enough,” and gets Zuko to flop back down onto his bed. 

He wrestles the covers back, getting them over Zuko’s prone body, and sits on the edge of the bed, hands folded in his lap. Zuko nuzzles his face into the pillow beneath him, and — Sokka’s gotta get out of there, now, before he really has a heart attack. 

With half-closed eyes, Zuko reaches out a hand to pat Sokka’s knee. “Thanks you. I mean, thank you. ‘M not drunk. Well, maybe a little.”

“No problem.” Sokka leaves a trash can at the side of the bed, and Zuko pulls out his phone, tapping away with clumsy fingers — that’s no good. “Hey, no drunk texting, alright? Trust me, I’ve learned from experience.”

Zuko pouts. “Was just texting Azula.” He shows Sokka the phone; it’s fully unintelligible.

Sokka holds his hand out. “Here, let me. I’ll let her know you’re fine.”

He gives Sokka the phone, and Sokka shoots off a quick text.

Azula ⚡️

Today 11:18 PM

M gobw

Dmam it

Sodokka jwliedn nt

Jesus christ Zuko

Hoiis bighw

Sorry about that, zuko’s fine.
Just put him to bed

This is sokka, by the way

I figured.


 

Sokka sends himself a text too — to make sure Zuko’s okay in the morning. No other reason. Just being neighborly.

He plugs the phone in and sets it facedown on the nightstand, and then Zuko’s hand fumbles over to pat at Sokka’s leg again.

“Hm? What is it?” 

Zuko rubs at his eyes. “Do you hate Valentine’s Day, too? I hate it. Hate it, hate it.”

“Yeah, I hate it too.” He lays his hand over Zuko’s, rubs his thumb over Zuko’s knuckles for a moment, and then pries off Zuko’s hand.

“Good. That’s essellent news,” he slurs, eyes falling shut. “G’nite neighbor boy.”

Neighbor boy. Sokka flicks the light off before leaving. “Uh. ‘Night.”

He locks Zuko’s doorknob behind him, and drives to Suki’s with Aang’s ABBA CD blasting at full volume, and has to chug an entire glass of pink wine before even beginning to recount what happened.

 


 

+1 (907) 213-8529

Friday 11:19 PM

This is sokka reminding you
to let sokka know if you
survive the night :)

Yesterday 10:42 AM

I am so, so sorry.

you survived!

You have no reason to believe
me, but I’m usually much
less of a disaster.

happens to the best of us

Azula shouldn’t have dumped
me on you

it’s okay, you weren’t that
much of a handful

maybe a little bit of a
handful. but like, a small hand

a baby’s hand

Seriously, I’m so sorry

i’m telling you, don’t worry
about it

Today 9:58 AM

Hey, can I bring you some
coffee? To apologize for Friday

zuko, seriously.

no apology necessary

I have an espresso machine

nevermind. i would like
apology espresso please


 

Sokka was planning on working that morning, but — fuck it. Who is he to say no a cute guy bringing him surprise coffee? Zuko shows up in the same flannel pajama pants as before, but a different shirt, holding two mugs of steaming coffee in his hands.

“Hey.” Sokka throws his arm wide. “Um. Welcome?”

“Sorry. Again.” Zuko slinks through the door, setting one cup on the kitchen counter, and curling both hands around the other. He’s still wearing the wine-red nail polish from the other night, now a little chipped around the edges. 

Sokka picks up the free mug. “Dude. It’s really not a big deal.” The espresso’s foamy and delightful, with a little steamed milk — nothing like the drip coffee sitting stale and unloved in Sokka’s coffee pot. “Oh, this is good.” 

“My uncle bought the machine for us. He has really strong opinions about how tea and coffee should be made.”

Sokka takes another blissful sip. “I wish I had your uncle.” 

Zuko leans against the counter, and Sokka’s eyes are drawn like magnets to where his shirt rides up, exposing a little strip of inked skin that Sokka wants to lick like a — God, Sokka. Focus. 

“So this is your place. Huh, the floorplan is the same,” Zuko comments, looking around, apparently not noticing the gutter that Sokka’s head is in. 

Sokka clears his throat and adjusts his glasses. “Yeah, I guess it is. I noticed when I was in your apartment.”

“The first time, or the second, far more embarrassing time?” Zuko asks, a sheepish smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

Sokka goes to lean next to Zuko, bumping Zuko’s side lightly with his elbow. “The second, really not that embarrassing time.”

“Come on. I didn’t even make it to midnight.”

“Hey, go hard or go home, right?”

Zuko laughs, a beautiful raspy noise that makes Sokka’s chest feel fluttery and nervous. “Sokka, I literally went home. I didn’t even have a chance to go hard.” He sighs, but he’s smiling in earnest now — it feels good to drag a smile out of him. “Did you at least have a good Valentine’s Day?”

Sokka did, in a way. Toph cackling at Sokka’s frantic tale, Suki overpouring their wine glasses, Jin putting on a playlist full of Britney Spears and Ke$ha and laughing in delight when Sokka knew all the words. He’d have preferred to spend Valentine’s Day in a whirlwind romance with some tall, dark, and handsome man, or a beautiful, heart-stopping woman, but. Britney Spears and Ke$ha did the trick.

“Yeah, it was okay.” Zuko raises an eyebrow. “Just did something with friends, you know how it goes.”

Zuko hums, looking at his espresso. “Yeah, I know how that goes. Apparently I missed a wild night.”

“Oh?”

He rolls his eyes. “Apparently, my friends went clubbing. Without me, can you believe that?”

“How rude.”

“Exactly. And my friend ended up on stage with the dancers, and I missed it.

Sokka feigns indignation. “Ugh! Did they at least get it on video?”

Zuko pulls out his phone, flipping to a groupchat, and taps on a video someone sent. When it starts, it’s shaky, just a lot of dark and blurry bodies illuminated by flashing colored lights; then, the cameraperson steadies, and a raised stage area with poles comes into frame. The male dancers are all in shiny red shorts and pink cowboy hats, and one of them lends a hand to haul someone — must be Zuko’s friend — up onto the stage with them. 

She’s wearing her hair in two braids, and she’s in this sequined top that glitters blurrily on camera — the phone focuses and unfocuses, finally adjusting to the far more well-lit stage area, and there’s a wave of screaming on the audio as the girl goes to the pole. She’s saying something inaudible, and then there’s more cheering as she steps confidently around it, hooking her legs and spinning. The woman hoists herself up, leaning back as the flips her body in a way that Sokka doesn’t quite understand is physically possible, and the crowd goes absolutely batshit. 

The dancers are cheering too, and some people are throwing money onto the stage. The girl spins a little more for good measure, then stops to stuff the new money in the dancers’ shorts, to more raucous yelling, and finally, after blowing the crowd a few kisses, she hops down.

“Can you believe I wasn’t there?” Zuko complains, shoving his phone back in his pocket.

“Well.” Sokka takes another sip of his coffee. “I can, because I witnessed you passing out, but yeah. That seems like a hell of a night to miss out on.” He bumps his elbow into Zuko’s side. “There’ll be other crazy nights.”

“I guess.”

“Maybe I can get drunk and have you give me a tattoo.”

Zuko gives him an exasperated look, but he’s smiling. Perfect. “I don’t tattoo drunk people.”

“You wouldn’t make an exception? For me?” Zuko shakes his head. “What if it was a really cool tattoo?”

He purses his lips. “Like what.”

Sokka leans lightly into Zuko’s side. Maybe he’s pushing it? But Zuko doesn’t slide away, so Sokka stays put.

“Hmm. Let me think. What would drunk Sokka want…” Zuko laughs a little under his breath, muffling it when he takes a sip of espresso, and Sokka grins at him. “Okay, okay. What about a cactus? Like a little one. A little cactus.”

Zuko stares at him, grinning. “A cactus.”

“Just an itty bitty one.” Sokka holds up his fingers, demonstrating. “Right on my buttcheek.”

Zuko barks a laugh. “I’m not doing that! Not when you’re drunk.”

Sokka puts down his coffee. “Wait, wait. So you’re telling me you’ll do it when I’m sober?”

“I mean. I’m not gonna tell you what to do with your body.”

Sokka pumps his fist. “Yes! I know what my first tattoo’s gonna be.”

“I legitimately can’t tell if you’re joking.”

He’s half-laughing through his words, looking at Sokka with eyes crinkled up at the edges, and looks so pretty with bedhead that Sokka feels reckless. He turns, so that he’s got his hip propped against the counter and his body turned towards Zuko’s side. Zuko gives Sokka a look, half-smiling, raising his eyebrows and looking down at Sokka’s chest and back up again, as if asking him if he’s really gonna be this blatant about it — and he is, because Zuko doesn’t pull away, and even turns a little towards Sokka, too. 

“Okay, I’m joking. I’ve known what my first tattoo is gonna be for a while.”

Zuko’s voice goes soft and hoarse, like that first night Sokka barged into his apartment. “Yeah?”

“Mmhmm. I wanna get a fish.”

“A fish.”

“A koi, specifically.” Sokka realizes, belatedly, that his dead high school girlfriend might not be the best thing to bring up right now — vague, be vague — “It’s my friend’s favorite animal. I wanna get a white and black one, on my chest, I think.”

Zuko hums, setting his coffee down on the counter, next to Sokka’s. “Right here, maybe?” he murmurs, letting a few fingers brush Sokka’s pec through his shirt — Sokka feels like his whole body is buzzing. He opens his mouth to reply, but nothing comes out.

“I think it would be a good spot. Professionally speaking.” Zuko spreads his palm, pressing into Sokka’s chest. His eyes drift up to Sokka’s face, until Zuko’s holding his gaze in a way that makes him feel frozen, a deer in the headlights.

“Uh. Yeah.” Sokka swallows, trying to make his mouth less dry. “That’s all? Your professional opinion?”

Zuko’s mouth parts, and he inhales. “Come on, Sokka.”

Sokka leans in, hesitating for a breathless moment when his lips are an inch from Zuko’s — he can feel Zuko’s exhale, hot and frantic — and swallows down the little noise that Zuko makes in the back of his throat. Sokka cups his jaw, holding him close, trying to keep himself from hyperventilating into Zuko’s mouth. 

Zuko’s hands grip Sokka’s sides as he presses the plane of his body into him, gasping through the kiss — it’s comforting to know that Zuko is just as frazzled as he is. Zuko makes another little noise, and Sokka chases after it, hand slipping around to sink into Zuko’s hair and cup the back of his head. 

Sokka forces himself to slow down, take it easy, focus on kissing Zuko nice and deep and red-hot. Zuko follows along, letting Sokka set the pace — but he presses it deeper, opening his lips wider, licking into Sokka’s mouth. Sokka feels a rush down his skin, the zing of goosebumps at how Zuko catches Sokka’s lip between his teeth, gentle and teasing — ah, fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Sokka’s head is already spinning, and when he finally pulls back they’re wrapped tight around each other: Sokka clutching Zuko’s hair, Zuko clutching Sokka’s body, leg pressed between Sokka’s.

“Uh.” Sokka tries to keep his breathing under control. His glasses are fogging up, but he doesn’t give a shit. “Are you — do you wanna —”

“Yes?” Zuko asks, tilting his head to mouth along the line of Sokka’s jaw, which is not really doing much for Sokka’s ability to speak coherently.

“Just, uh — oh —”

When Zuko’s lips find his neck, Sokka’s head sags to the side, reflexively opening up more space for Zuko to kiss and nip and lick. He curls his fingers tighter in Zuko’s hair — it’s so soft — and then his eyes catch the clock on the microwave.

“Zuko, let’s… hold on a second,” he pants, and Zuko pulls away, putting a few inches between their bodies again.

His brow furrows. “Sorry, did I —? If I misinterpreted —”

“No, no no, not at all.” Sokka’s hands fall to Zuko’s shoulders. “It’s just that my roommate should be home soon, and… I don’t really trust myself to not escalate this.”

Zuko’s worried expression melts into a grin. “Oh. Gotcha.” 

Sokka pauses for a moment — he feels out of his depth. He didn’t plan any of this; it was just a handful of weeks ago that he bumbled into this beautiful man’s apartment and now he’s got Sokka pinned against the countertop. Sokka hadn’t strategized about this, he hadn’t made any pros/cons lists, he hadn’t thought.

So Sokka doesn’t think, and just blurts, “Will you be my Valentine?”

Zuko barks out another surprised laugh. “Valentine’s Day was two days ago.”

“I know. You didn’t get to celebrate, though.” Sokka’s mouth keeps running of its own accord. “And you’d make a good Valentine.”

“Oh? Why’s that?” Zuko’s still half-laughing.

“’Cause I like you. And you’re cute.” Zuko’s eyes flick down, his mouth twisting like he’s trying not to smile. “What? You are.” 

He just hums. “Okay, sure.”

“Sure, you’ll be my Valentine?” Sokka asks, and Zuko looks up at him again and rolls his eyes.

“Yeah, yeah. But only if you’ll be mine.” 

Sokka leans in, until he’s hovering at Zuko’s lips — he can feel Zuko’s smile spread, slow, an inkling of something new and raw and a little scary — but, Sokka thinks, maybe surprises can be a good thing, sometimes. 

“Deal.”