For the life of him, Zuko cannot remember why he ever agreed to Sokka’s idea of an aquarium date.
He grumbles the entire way there, staring sulkily out the window of the bus as Sokka chatters on excitedly, their fingers twined together in his lap. Lags behind when Sokka drags him towards the entrance, his long legs moving at a pace that is entirely too fast for someone like Zuko (what an inconsiderate boyfriend). Pouts while he waits for Sokka to pay the admission. Glares at the tacky cartoon fish on the posters.
Sokka just laughs at his sour expression and kisses his cheek, his eyes sparkling. He tugs Zuko along with a grin and, “Come on, Zuko, it’ll be fun!” Zuko rolls his eyes but lets Sokka lead him towards the enormous tanks full of spiralling, gleaming fish.
Zuko allows himself a small smile as he watches Sokka, who has his nose pressed against the glass and is giggling at an enormous and obscenely bizarre fish. He follows the fish as it drifts by and pulls Zuko along, pointing out various creatures of dubious origin as they go.
As they walk, there is the sudden crackle of speakers and a clear, crisp voice announcing that the penguin feeding will take place in five minutes. Sokka immediately freezes and whips around, staring at Zuko with a pleading look on his face.
“Sokka…” Zuko sighs.
“We have to!” Sokka says, and he brings Zuko’s hand up to his lips and kisses his knuckle. “Please?” he adds.
Zuko’s stomach flutters, and he knows that Sokka’s won. He’s already resigned himself to spending twenty minutes in a cold exhibit that smells very strongly of fish and that will likely be overcrowded with children just to please his boyfriend. But…he decides to resist a bit longer, just to see what Sokka will do.
“Do we really have to?” he groans.
Sokka moves closer to wrap his arms around Zuko and presses a kiss against his neck. “Please, Zuko?” he whispers, his breath hot against his ear. Zuko shudders.
Damn it. If he hadn’t already made up his mind to go see the stupid penguins, that definitely would have done it.
“Fine,” he says, and he tries to ignore how unsteady his voice sounds.
“Yes!” Sokka whoops, and he pulls back to plant a quick kiss on Zuko’s lips. “You’re the best!” He disentangles himself and Zuko inwardly bemoans the sudden lack of boyfriend wrapped around him.
“Come on, come on, let’s go,” Sokka says, tugging on Zuko’s arm. “Ugh, why are you so slow? No, wait, I know. It’s because you’re so short. I should just carry you around everywhere; it’d probably be faster.”
Zuko wants to wipe the grin off of Sokka’s stupid smug face. He tells him so.
“Okay, but first you’d have to be able to reach, shorty pie.”
“You’re not that much taller than me, asshole!”
They end up spending almost half an hour at the penguin exhibit. The feeding only takes about ten minutes (during which Zuko makes a show of huffing and sighing and being generally annoyed), but Sokka insists on staying after to analyze each and every penguin and assign them names based on their personality.
“Alright, see, that one’s Katara because it’s super bossy and spends a lot of time in the water. Just like my sister.”
“And that one is Toph because I’m almost one hundred percent sure that it’s just walking around asking the other penguins to fight them… See? That was definitely the penguin equivalent of ‘Fight me.’”
“Hmm… I’m gonna call that one Aang because it just seems like a really friendly penguin, you know? A real happy guy.”
“And…hey! I found you Zuko, look! It’s the penguin that’s just sitting alone in the corner, sulking. Haha—ow!”
After much protesting on Sokka’s part, they leave the penguins to wander around aimlessly, hand in hand, moving from exhibit to exhibit. Sokka yelps about how cold the water is when he dips his fingers into the tide pool; Zuko laughs and strokes the sea cucumbers and grins at the starfish under his palms. He rolls up his sleeves and reaches in to glide his hands over the baby stingrays, and his face softens into a smile; Sokka teases him and calls him a sap. Zuko flicks the water off his hands and onto Sokka; he shrieks and threatens to feed him to the sharks.
Somehow they find themselves in a dark corner, Sokka’s hands on Zuko’s waist, Zuko’s fingers tangled in Sokka’s hair, their lips hot and heavy, illuminated by the distant glow of the fish tanks.
Zuko hooks his leg around Sokka’s, his back pressed against the wall, and Sokka tightens his grip and pulls him closer until they’re completely flush against one another. Zuko hums, pulling away for a breath, and grins deviously. Sokka darts his tongue out to lick his lips, his breath coming in harsh pants, eyes dark, and Zuko leans up to press a wet kiss against his jaw. Sokka shudders against him and he feels his fingers tighten around his waist; one hand slides down to grip the underside of his thigh.
Zuko inhales sharply, his nose filling with the distinct tang of sweat and boy and Sokka, and he pulls at his hair, the strands sliding between his fingers like silk. He muffles Sokka’s groan with his mouth and bites down on his bottom lip, and then presses an apologetic kiss against the corner of his mouth. Sokka lets out a small noise, almost a whimper, and Zuko laughs against his lips.
There’s a sudden flash of light and Zuko’s eyes fly open. He pulls away with a gasp and stares at Sokka: his swollen lips, his mussed hair, his rumpled clothing, his wide eyes.
“Excuse me, no flash photography please!”
It suddenly dawns on Zuko what exactly they’d been doing in a darkened corner of a deep-sea fish exhibit.
Sokka makes a funny noise in his throat then, and Zuko looks up at him in confusion.
“Damn it Zuko, please don’t say stuff like that right now,” he says, his voice strained.
Zuko stares at him, uncomprehending, and then he snorts when he realizes what Sokka means.
“You kinky shit,” he laughs. He pushes away from the wall and grabs Sokka’s hand, lacing their fingers together. “I think you need to cool down. Maybe a swim with the belugas, hm?”
“Jerk,” Sokka mutters.
Zuko grins. Sokka sighs, exasperated, and moves to leave, but Zuko tugs on his hand, “Wait, wait, wait.”
Zuko sets about straightening Sokka’s clothes for him, and Sokka, after a moment, returns the favour. Zuko motions for Sokka to bend down. He pulls out the hair tie and rearranges Sokka’s hair, carefully scraping back the strands into an orderly wolftail. Zuko stops him before he can straighten and runs his thumb over Sokka’s bottom lip.
“I didn’t hurt you, did I?” he asks, concerned.
Sokka smiles and shakes his head. “I’m fine.” He catches Zuko’s wrist and presses a kiss to his palm. Straightening, he tucks a stray hair behind Zuko’s ear.
Sokka snickers suddenly, his face brightening with delighted horror. “Oh shit.”
Sokka brushes his fingers over Zuko’s neck, laughing. “I think I gave you a hickey.”
Zuko groans and rolls his eyes. “You idiot.”
“I’m sorry!” He grins sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to do it. I kind of got carried away.”
“Let’s just—look at the fish.” Zuko takes Sokka’s hand and pulls him away, headed in no particular direction.
They meander through the exhibit, Sokka laughing at the variety of odd-looking fish (again), Zuko looking on in amused silence.
It’s not until he spots a particular sign that Zuko gets an idea of where he wants to go. As they walk, he gently pulls Sokka around corners, nudging him down the proper hallway, glancing covertly at the directional arrows all the while. He hopes Sokka is too engrossed in the jellyfish they pass to notice.
He drops Sokka’s hand as they approach an enormous glass wall, advancing with slow, reverential steps.
“Hey, Zuko, what are we…” Sokka trails off.
Zuko tips his head back in awe and stares at the slow-moving creatures swimming beyond the glass. He raises his hand, tinged blue from the light filtering through the water, and presses it gently against the glass.
He tries to suppress a smile as a turtle swims past right in front of him. He follows it with his eyes, and watches as it moves deeper into the tank until it’s lost from sight.
A wave of calm washes over him as he watches the turtles circle lazily above. He stays frozen, simply observing, his chest light, until he hears footsteps approaching behind him.
He turns and finds Sokka staring at him with the utmost look of adoration on his face, his eyes soft and mouth turned up in a small smile.
“What?” Zuko says, suddenly self-conscious.
“I love you,” Sokka says. He says it so simply, so easily, without any hesitation, that Zuko feels his heart swell and his throat constrict.
They’re alone in the exhibit, and Zuko half-heartedly lifts his arms in a vague gesture of…he’s not sure what.
Sokka seems to understand, though, and he steps forward to wrap Zuko in his arms. Zuko clutches at the back of Sokka’s shirt and buries his face into the crook of his neck.
“Are you okay?” he asks, rubbing his hands up Zuko’s back.
Zuko nods and tries to steady his breathing. Sokka stays silent, waiting for him.
He swallows. “I—I love you too.”
He feels Sokka press a kiss to the side of his head, then chuckle.
“What’s the big deal?” he says. “It’s not like this is the first time I’ve said it to you.”
“I know. It’s just—I can’t explain it.” Zuko pulls in a shuddering breath. “You just make it seem so easy. Like—like loving me is easy. I don’t know.”
“Hey, Zuko,” Sokka says, and Zuko pulls back to look at him. He leans in to rest their foreheads together, and Zuko swallows, staring into Sokka’s eyes.
“Zuko, loving you is the easiest thing I’ve ever done.”
Zuko smiles, a warm feeling spreading out from his chest to the tips of his fingers, letting Sokka’s words sink in. And then he snorts.
“That was cheesy as hell,” he says, grinning.
Sokka laughs, “I know. I’m kind of embarrassed, to be honest.”
“Good.” A pause. “I love you, Sokka.”
“Thanks. I love me too—ow!”
“Hey, Zuko, so I noticed you really liked those turtles.”
Zuko sputters, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Sokka snorts. “You’re a horrible liar, you know that right?”
Zuko grumbles and thumps Sokka’s thigh with his fist. He can feel Sokka’s laughter from where his head is resting on his stomach. He pointedly doesn’t answer.
Sokka stops carding his fingers through Zuko’s hair to poke his cheek. “Little Zuko has a thing for turtles, awww,” he teases, his smile evident in his voice.
“So? Sokka has a thing for penguins,” he retaliates, but Sokka just laughs.
“But that’s me. You’re mister dark and mysterious. You aren’t supposed to like things like sea turtles. But you do!” He punctuates this last word with another poke to Zuko’s cheek. Zuko growls and swats at his hand until it returns to its rightful place in his hair.
“Fine, I like turtles. What’s your point?”
Instead of answering, Sokka suddenly sits up and twists to reach over the side of the bed. Zuko groans when he jostles his head. Sokka rummages around, huffing, until he finally snags what he’s looking for with a triumphant, “Aha!” and flops back onto the bed.
There’s the sound of a plastic bag crinkling and then quite suddenly there is something small and soft landing on Zuko’s head. Several small things, in fact.
“Agh, Sokka, what the hell?” Zuko picks one up and sees that Sokka has in fact dropped several small stuffed turtles on his face. They’re kind of cute, but Zuko isn’t about to admit that.
“You’re shitting me,” he deadpans.
Sokka laughs and plucks the turtle from Zuko’s hand, tossing it up in the air before catching it again. “Absolutely not. I mean, I thought, since you seemed to like the turtles so much, maybe you’d might want to bring a couple home.”
“I’m going to feed these to Appa.”
“No way. Five bucks says you’ll have all of them named by the end of today.”
“That’ll be five dollars, Zuko.”