Can you stop that?
Sokka gasped breathlessly, tears trickling down his face as he struggled to choke down at least any actual screams.
He nearly failed when he had to grab onto an outcropping of rock and haul himself over the edge into a slightly sheltered opening in the rock face. The pain from his right arm was agonising, but he didn’t exactly have the luxury of time to stop right now, and he clenched his teeth and completed the manoeuvre with nothing more than a strangled whine for the pain.
“We may be all right here for now.” Zuko said, pointing towards the back of the shallow cave. “Get down; I’m going to see if I can tell how far back they are.”
Sokka was about to say that he shouldn’t, but the jarring sensation of sitting down prompted a gasp of pain - at least he didn’t shout - and by the time he had enough breath to speak again Zuko was gone, swinging easily off the ledge.
Sokka winced and looked down at his arm, extending it carefully and twisting it to look at the worst of it. The burn wasn’t . . . horribly deep, and it would probably heal all right even if Katara didn’t come in time to fix it, but it was blistered and raw and oozing and-
And it hurt.
Sokka cringed, locking his jaw against the low keening building in his throat as he shuddered once and the burn began to ache deep in his arm. He didn’t manage to stifle himself much, but he couldn’t help it. He’d pushed himself so hard and he was exhausted and he hurt.
Zuko swung back up onto the ledge after only a short time. “They’re still not sure which way we went, so as long as they don’t decide to cut across the cliffs here we’ll probably be out of sight.” he reported, and that was great, it was, but Sokka couldn’t muster more than a weak attempt at a smile.
“Hopefully Suikan has led the others away, rather than trying to follow after us.” Zuko said absently, and Sokka hurt too much to think or he might have tried to contribute to this - yes, Zuko was probably perfectly capable of defending himself against these ragtag renegades, but it was sort of his guards’ job to protect him - but as it was he just . . . let Zuko muse aloud to himself, letting the words slide past him without registering. Until- “They’re coming this way.” Zuko hissed, and Sokka squeezed his eyes shut tight, cringing.
Zuko peered over the edge of the rock and down. “I think they’re just looking for a way through, I don’t think they have any idea we’re here. If we stay down and stay quiet they should pass us by.” he reported, and Sokka let out a low breath of relief. He certainly wasn’t moving. Not now he’d stopped. He didn’t think he could go any further yet.
Sokka shifted a bit and his breath caught as the tiny movement jarred his arm, fresh tears welling up at the spike of pain. He bit his lip, hard, trying to focus on that feeling rather than the raging, fiery pain in his arm.
“Can you stop that?” Zuko muttered harshly, and if Sokka hadn’t been too consumed with trying not to scream he would have said . . . something scathing, curse it.
“No! No I- Ahh.” Sokka whined, swallowing hard and trying to be quiet, but-
But it hurt. His face screwed up and he whimpered softly, shaking. It was just pain, but he couldn’t . . . couldn’t control it.
“Let me see.” Zuko said and Sokka opened his eyes and then flinched back.
“No! No don’t touch it!” Sokka yelped, trying to pull his arm out of reach as Zuko’s hands came towards him. “I promise I’m trying to-”
“I’m not going to hurt you.” Zuko said, frowning, his voice soft. “Sokka, try to breathe, that’s going to make it worse.” he said firmly as Sokka choked and gasped, half holding his breath.
Sokka winced, scraping the soles of his boots against the cave floor, squirming because he just . . . hurt so much.
Zuko held his forearm gently with one hand and reached out with the other. Sokka flinched, but he didn’t touch the raw burn, just drew his hand through the air right above it, then again, and again, and-
The agonising heat was seeping out of the burn, even if it still hurt like fury. Zuko was bending the heat out of it, Sokka realised, and sniffled a little as he stared down at Zuko’s hand passing through the air over his burn. He hadn’t realised that was possible.
“I’m sorry,” Zuko said, frowning, “I didn’t realise it was that bad.”
“It, um.” Sokka’s eyes flicked over the scar on Zuko’s face. “It’s not that bad.”
Zuko met his eyes, giving him a dubious look, and he swallowed. “It really hurts,” he admitted, wincing, sniffing again, “but it’s not. . .”
“Is that better, at least?” Zuko asked, rubbing his thumb over the back of Sokka’s hand. Sokka nodded. “Good. Hopefully your sister will speed up a little when she hears about this mess; if she does we might meet up with her by tomorrow, and she can fix this for you.” he said, frowning.
“Stay back here.” Zuko added after a moment, releasing Sokka’s arm and rising to his feet. He kissed Sokka’s brow. “I’m going to see if they’re coming any closer.”
Sokka just nodded, cradling his injured arm across his lap.
. . .I know, tense situation and not being aware of the severity of Sokka's injury and all, but well done on being comforting there, Zuko. *dry*
It’s not that bad.
Sokka folded his arms along the bottom of the window frame, sighing as he looked outside at the light fluff of snow falling. It was . . . nice, to see snow again, but it was. . .
It was nothing like the snow at home, and he missed it. More than he might ever have thought he would, before he first left the pole. Sokka swallowed and tucked himself up a little tighter, leaning forward against the wall. He could be outside, playing in the snow - he’d seen games going on out there earlier, and Sokka was sure he knew some these Earth Kingdom kids didn’t - but . . . it just heightened the feeling that it wasn’t right, and. . .
The not rightness made him long even more strongly for the snow that danced over the tundra, the glow of the light from the stars in the long winter days, even the way the air felt in the deepest winter that drove everyone inside to curl around their fires and cling together in heaps of furs.
Sokka thought he really must be homesick if he was missing the bitter cold of the winter at the South Pole. Then again . . . winter in the Fire Nation was . . . strange. Especially the Fire Nation capital. This trip, far into the north of the Earth Kingdom, was the first time he’d even seen snow, save the occasional cap on a mountaintop, for over a year.
A creak caught Sokka’s attention and he half-turned, looking around at the door.
Zuko came through and shut it promptly, shivering even as he swept off his cloak, flinging melting snowflakes off the fabric as drips. Sokka sniffed a little, but a faint smile tugged at his lips as he watched Zuko shake his head, then fluff his hair with his fingers, bright snow clinging to the dark strands.
He might . . . miss it sometimes, but Sokka did remember the reason - well, multiple reasons - that he hadn’t gone back.
“Sokka, what’s wrong?” Zuko asked suddenly, striding across the room towards him, snow forgotten.
“I’m okay.” Sokka assured his boyfriend quickly, wiping at his tears.
“Sokka?” Zuko knelt by him, and Sokka smiled weakly, scrubbing his wet fingers on his pants. The tears had just . . . welled up, all of a sudden.
“I just-” Sokka glanced outside again, then back to warm, worried golden eyes. “It’s not right, the snow, but it makes me miss. . .” he trailed off. “Miss being at the South Pole. I’m a little homesick, I guess,” he said, “although I mean, now home is-” He gestured illustratively - home was the palace and Caldera City and the Fire Nation, now, as weird as that was. Home was Zuko.
Zuko who looked much less worried now, to Sokka’s relief.
“It’s not that bad.” Zuko said, and Sokka . . . stared at him, boggling a little.
“. . .what?” Sokka said, wondering if he’d misheard, a little twist of anger curling in his belly.
Zuko twisted, settling on the floor with his back to the wall below the window. “You can go back for a visit if you want,” he said, and Sokka frowned, because he might not just take off but he didn’t need Zuko’s permission either, even if he was the Fire Lord, “I mean, you could leave as soon as we get back home, if you wanted. They’d be happy to see you back and. . .” Zuko shrugged, looking away. “Even if you wanted to go home, to stay, they’d be happy to-”
Sokka abruptly remembered that when Zuko was thirteen he had been banished from his home, from his whole country, on pain of death if he dared come back.
Yeah, this sucked - he sniffed - but . . . he supposed compared to that, on Zuko’s life scale of suck, it wasn’t too awful. Sokka still elbowed Zuko lightly before shifting over a little and leaning on him.
“I might visit them sometime soon.” Sokka said, glancing backwards out the window at the snow and then turning his face away resolutely and resting his head on Zuko’s shoulder. “But I’m not going back, Zuko. It’s- I grew up there and it’ll always be home, in a way, but the Fire Nation is my home now. I belong there.” he said quietly, snuggling closer.
Zuko shifted away and Sokka frowned, about to grab him, but he only moved to wrap an arm around Sokka’s shoulders, stretching out his own legs and pulling Sokka in close. “I’m glad you feel that way.” he said quietly, against Sokka’s temple. “I would. . . I can’t imagine you leaving, if you weren’t- weren’t coming back.” he admitted, barely audible, his voice rough.
Sokka smiled, another couple of tears dripping down his face, and hugged Zuko in return. Silly Fire Lord.
Zuko, Sokka thought, would probably be miserable in a South Pole winter . . . but he would be very nice to curl up to, when the harsh cold drove everyone inside. Spending the longest nights tucked up inside and alone together, keeping the fire breathing - well, that would hardly strain Zuko - and keeping each other warm. . .
Sokka’s smile tipped crookedly at the thought. It was a sweet imagining, but also never going to happen. Zuko might visit the South Pole but he was never going to belong there, never going to stay - and he was desperately needed where he did belong.
Still. . .
Sokka shifted and slid over into Zuko’s lap, straddling his thighs and giving him a lingering kiss. “Warm me up?” he asked, hands sliding over Zuko’s shoulders. That idle fantasy might never be true, but Sokka could have most of it, in pieces.
Zuko’s hands slid up his back, and he smiled at Sokka, leaning forwards to meet him in another kiss.
Zuko's still a little awkward around the edges with comforting words, but he's improving! And he cares/does his best, which is the most important thing, right?
Chapter 3: I'm here.
Sokka felt like he was swimming through mud. Hot mud. He choked on it and struggled to breathe and-
Sokka jerked awake, disoriented and wobbly, and still couldn’t move or fight the hold strangling him down. He thrashed, trying to find his voice to yell, not even sure where he was or what-
Hands. Hands caught around his arms, and then pressed one of his shoulders down, and Sokka yowled, kicking out, his throat feeling like it was on fire with the cry. The hands tightened and Sokka realised he knew them and went limp with relief. “Zuko. . .” he rasped, and began to cry, shivering and weak, his head throbbing.
“What is it, darling?” Zuko asked, his hands gentling.
Sokka whimpered, squinting and then just closing his eyes again, only able to make out darkness and some blurry smears. When he opened them again there was a bloom of warm, red light spreading across the ceiling above him, though still nothing would come into focus.
“I’m here.” Zuko said, his hands gentle even as they pushed Sokka down, leaning over him. He keened, thrashing, and Zuko shushed him, face twisting with distress. “Sokka, stop, calm down, I know you feel awful but you’re going to make it worse!”
Sokka keened again, sobbing, and Zuko released his wrists, petting him comfortingly. He sniffled and choked, beginning to cough, and Zuko all but picked him up to help him sit and lean forwards so he could breathe. The world spun and the edges of Sokka’s vision flashed uncomfortable colours, but Zuko was a solid and strong support against him, unshakeable.
Sokka closed his eyes and bowed his head against Zuko’s shoulder, shivering, even though he was far too hot already. He panted. “Zuko. . .” he whined. “Zuko I feel. . .”
“I know, darling.” Zuko soothed, kissing his brow and rubbing his back. Sokka gave a couple of exhausted, weak sobs, feeling utterly miserable and kind of confused. “Come on, lie down again and I’ll get you some cool water.”
Sokka whined, clinging to Zuko as he gently eased Sokka back. In fact he didn’t think he actually did anything to effect the change in his own position.
He shuddered as Zuko patted his chest lightly, then rose and disappeared from the limited slice of the world that Sokka could make out. His eyes slipped closed and he shuddered again, panting, each tremor through his body making him ache down to his bones.
“Zuko?” he called, prying his eyes open.
“Here, darling.” Zuko said patiently, appearing leaning over Sokka again. He squeezed Sokka’s hand and nudged him to let his arm rest on the bed again. He hadn’t quite realised he’d been reaching out.
Zuko sat next to him, a weight pressing down the bed, and helped him drink most of a cup of water. Sokka could have drunk more, but he also felt sick from what he had swallowed. He whimpered again, and Zuko shushed him quietly, wiping tears from his face and then drawing a cool, wet cloth over his brow and cheeks.
Sokka sighed, closing his eyes under the soothing touch.
Sokka happily tugged the letter tied with a blue ribbon out of the stack of dispatches he had been brought today. Pulling the ribbon loose, he opened the letter to see his sister’s handwriting, the familiar script from back at the South Pole.
He smiled, abandoning the rest of his correspondence on his desk for later and moving to the couch with his sister’s letter.
It was chatty and cheerful, and Sokka grinned at it, feeling a faint pang - he missed Katara; they’d had several years to get used to not being together all the time but they had been their whole lives up until . . . well, right up until a few months after the war had been brought to an end. When Aang finally left Caldera City and Katara went travelling with him on his Avatar duties - and Sokka stayed in the palace with Zuko, taking up official duties of his own here.
And keeping Zuko from going completely insane as he struggled under the weight of his role as Fire Lord, which was more of an unofficial duty Sokka had given himself before he realised. Not that he was unhappy with it. Sokka glanced up from Katara’s letter to where Zuko was frowning sternly at a letter bearing an Earth Kingdom seal, taking absent notes without looking.
Sokka shook his head, smiling fondly, and went back to reading.
His breath caught and his fingers tightened on the paper. Katara’s handwriting had gone loopier than usual and messy with excitement, but Sokka could still read it fairly easily, and she had just said-
Sokka brought the letter closer as he hurried through the rest of the letter, his breath coming a little too quickly. Katara ended the letter promising to tell him more when they visited next - soon - and telling him not to fuss.
Sokka let out a rough little sound, not quite a laugh, and bit his lip.
“Sokka?” Zuko pushed away from his desk and turned towards Sokka. “. . .what’s wrong?”
Sokka shook his head, laughing. “Nothing.” he said, waving the letter a little. “My sister, uh-” He sniffled.
Zuko rose, crossing the room towards Sokka. “What’s Katara got to say?” he asked, waving a hand as he got close, not quite imperious. Sokka pulled his legs out of the way and Zuko settled on the couch close against his side.
Sokka tilted the face of the letter towards his boyfriend helpfully. “Ah. . . She and Aang, they’re getting married.” He snorted, grinning. “Well, officially. They’re really engaged now.” He sniffed again, pushing the letter at Zuko and rubbing his eyes. “I can’t believe. . .”
“. . .that’s good, isn’t it?” Zuko said almost tentatively, and Sokka dropped his hands.
“Of course it is!” Sokka said, and then realised Zuko looked confused, rather than dubious or disapproving or anything. “I mean, I’ve known they’d get married for years, but. . . Yes, this is good news. I just can’t believe my baby sister is getting married.” he added, with a quiet sniff.
He blinked rapidly but failed to stop a few surprised, overwhelmed tears from escaping him. “It’s just. . . I mean, I’m happy, but . . . ‘tara’s getting married. How is that even. . .” He wiped a drip off the bottom of his chin.
“You’re ridiculous.” Zuko said, his voice warm, and wrapped an arm around Sokka’s shoulders, kissing his wet cheek.
“Shut up.” Sokka said, leaning into Zuko. “My baby sister is engaged, I’m allowed to be emotional.” Zuko chuckled and Sokka elbowed him. Lightly, because planting an elbow in Zuko’s stomach had a roughly similar effect to elbowing someone wearing plate armour - it always hurt you more than him. “And I was surprised.”
“Because Katara and Aang, that’s a surprise.” Zuko said dryly, and Sokka huffed.
“Hey, I practically raised her, even if I know Aang will take good care of her, I’m supposed to be emotional right now.” Sokka said, raising his chin and frowning at Zuko.
“Are you sure she didn’t raise you?” Zuko teased lightly, rubbing his cupped hand over Sokka’s shoulder. “I know she’s your baby sister, but. . .”
“Oh. . .” Sokka shoved at Zuko, though not enough to actually push him any further away. Zuko laughed and shifted a little, lounging against the arm of the couch. “Katara might mother everyone, but she was my baby sister, and I did spend . . . most of my life taking care of her.” He sighed, mouth twisting, half a smile, though he felt a tinge of sadness at the thought. “Even if she doesn’t need me to do that nearly so much now, it’s just . . . strange to think of it that way. Letting her go, sort of.”
Zuko nodded, lips pursed, watching Sokka, and though certainly he must have been busy he didn’t move to get up and return to his desk.
Zuko held out a hand, not quite beckoning, and Sokka smiled a little more and stretched out along Zuko’s side, letting their legs twine together. Zuko curled up to him. “Tell me about growing up with your sister?” he invited, and Sokka laughed, but nodded. Zuko stroked up and down his ribs with one hand, propping up enough to watch his face as he spoke.
Because Katara may be solidly the Mom Friend/Team Mom, but Sokka's a pretty protective big brother, too. And even once scattered all over the world . . . they're a close family.
Let me take care of you.
Sokka wanted to scream.
He pulled the last letter he’d received from Pakku out from one of the - many - stacks of papers around him. He sighed and scanned it again, comparing it to what Arnook had written, and what his father had sent - what his father had asked for. . .
Sokka rubbed his face, then muffled a yell into his palms. This was the seventh version of the trade agreement - a minor treaty - he had been trying to help work out between his father and Chief Arnook. It was not that complicated - spirits, it wasn’t that fractious, surely they could settle this a little more easily?
Sokka had seen Zuko sign treaties into effect with Earth Kingdom nobility who had been terrorised by and loathed the Fire Nation - with good reason; before, in any case - with far less resistance, fighting, and undermining. This had begun in an utterly reasonable fashion, and nobody was really trying to get one over on anyone else . . . why had it become so difficult.
Sokka dropped all the papers and dropped his head to the desk, groaning loudly.
Then he sat up, sighing again, and dragged a clean piece of parchment to himself, along with the notes he had been taking. And the scribbled over notes from last time. After a moment he bent and hauled open one of his drawers, pulling out copies of all the prior versions of the treaty he had penned as well.
“I will sort you out if it drives me completely mad.” Sokka said, pointing at the blank paper. Then he sighed and patted the paper gently. It wasn’t its fault, after all.
Sokka rubbed his face. Snow and sea he was so tired.
“Are you sure you aren’t already, darling?”
Sokka startled and accidentally flung his ink off the desk when the back of his wrist smacked into it. “Oh, blast!” he burst out, half scrambling for it and then stopping and just collapsing on his desk.
“Oh, Sokka.” Zuko rested his hands on Sokka’s shoulders, and he groaned. “I’m sure you’ll work it out,” he said quietly, “but it need not be tonight, darling. It is very late, and you’ve barely been to bed for three days.”
Sokka shook his head without lifting it from his desk. “Busy.” he mumbled into the surface.
“Not that busy.” Zuko said firmly. Sokka huffed and pushed himself upright, Zuko’s hands sliding over his shoulders and squeezing gently at the tops. Sokka dragged one of the earlier treaty drafts towards himself, rubbing at one of his temples as he tried to find the first relevant passage - the beginning few points had been argued completely down or changed entirely out of relevance to the current draft.
Sokka pressed his lips together, catching his breath. The very thought of starting all over with this, again. . .
His eyes ached and burned, and he dropped his brush, closing them and letting out a thin, low sound of frustration. A few tears slid down his cheeks. He was so tired.
“Just let me take care of you.” Zuko said, moving until he was standing warm against Sokka’s back, right against his chair. “You can work on it again tomorrow, when you’ve actually had some rest, and your brain wants to function properly again. Tomorrow afternoon.” he added, hands sliding down to Sokka’s upper arms and squeezing.
“But. . .” Sokka protested weakly, blinking and drawing a deep breath.
“It’s nothing this urgent, now is it?” Zuko said coaxingly, drawing Sokka’s chair back from the desk. “Come on, let me take you to bed, darling.” he murmured into Sokka’s ear, nosing at the curve of it gently.
Sokka took another breath, then let it out all in a rush without saying anything, giving in to his boyfriend. He was too tired to fight Zuko over this. Especially when he didn’t even want to be working on this stupid accursed treaty.
“That’s it.” Zuko said, tugging him from his chair and supporting him for a moment when he clutched at Zuko’s forearms, the world spinning around him.
“Oh, wait-” Sokka started, trying to pull away, looking back towards the ink now spattered across the floor. “I need to-”
“Let one of the servants take care of it.” Zuko said, pulling him back closer. Sokka wavered. Normally he wouldn’t even think of it, would clear up for himself - Zuko did the same much of the time, actually, particularly in his study - but. . . “Come on.”
Sokka let himself be pulled along, feeling vaguely like he was in a haze and rubbing his hand over his face as more exhausted tears dripped down his cheeks. He sort of heard Zuko directing someone into his study, and tried to thank them, but he wasn’t sure if the words actually crossed his lips.
“Maybe I should have stopped working earlier.” he admitted faintly as they walked.
“Maybe.” Zuko said without inflection, and kissed his cheek. “Almost there. You’ll feel better after some sleep.”
“Yeah. . .” Sokka wavered and closed his eyes for a few long moments. His vision was going blurry anyway and Zuko’s arm was wrapped around his back, he wasn’t going to run into anything. His eyes ached even more as he shut them, and he winced.
Zuko’s arm tightened around him, and he heard the low, respectful greeting of the guards at their door and sighed with relief as Zuko returned it. Bed. Soon.
I cannot tell you the number of times I have been working on a story, so exhausted tears just happen without any emotional trigger, and just stay up to keep working anyway because words are still happening for me. . . (I try not to stay up in that condition when inspiration isn't working and it's just a struggle, though sadly I don't have a Zuko to come and put me to bed when I'm silly enough to do so.)
“Sokka?” Zuko clasped his shoulder, tugging him lightly.
Sokka turned towards his boyfriend, tipping his head. “Zuko?” he returned.
“I-” Zuko paused, clearing his throat, and Sokka’s brows rose. “I have a . . . question for you. And a . . . present. If you want-” his voice hitched, “it.”
Sokka blinked, but nodded understanding, coming closer.
Zuko opened his mouth, then closed it, taking a deep breath and letting it out. Sokka eyed him with concern, but stayed quiet for the moment. Zuko pulled something out of his sleeve, cradling it in his palm and folding his thumb over it in a light nudge.
Zuko met his eyes. “I love you, and we’ve been . . . happy, together.” Sokka nodded immediately, though Zuko didn’t pause. “Will you marry me?” he asked, turning his hand out towards Sokka.
He didn’t even look down into it for a moment, shocked and staring into Zuko’s face. He looked nervous but hopeful and- “Zuko.” Sokka said faintly. Zuko smiled weakly, lips trembling just a little. “Zuko, yes.” he added quickly, just as Zuko’s eyes flicked down to his own hand.
Sokka glanced down reflexively, following the flicker of a look himself, and his breath caught in his throat. “Oh! Oh- Zuko, you. . .”
Zuko was holding a blue band with a patterned - carved - creamy disk attached to it. A-
“You made me an engagement necklace.” Sokka said, blinking rapidly, tearing up.
“I- I know it’s. . .” Zuko shrugged helplessly. “That is, I know the tradition isn’t quite right,” he swallowed, giving a faint shrug of his shoulders, “that women wear . . . engagement necklaces, that’s it’s a tradition for. . .” He nodded towards Sokka. “But there aren’t really any . . . similar traditions here, and I thought- for you. . .”
Sokka grinned, giving a rough little breath and feeling a few more tears escape. “Oh, Zuko. I can’t. . .” He shook his head.
“Sokka, I- I’m sorry?” Zuko said, sounding not quite frantic but definitely upset. Sokka felt a little ridiculous but- He rubbed the heels of his hands over his cheeks. “I- You didn’t have to- If you don’t want. . .” Zuko sounded pained, and no.
“No! No, no, no.” Sokka said emphatically, lunging towards his boyfriend - his fiancé - and grinning through his tears. “Zuko, no, of course I want to.” He framed Zuko’s face with his hands, stroking his thumbs along sharp cheekbones. “No, I’m fine, I’m just- I’m happy.” he said, flushing.
Zuko made a soft sound, looking adorably confused, and Sokka kissed him rather than try and explain - he wasn’t entirely sure he knew why he was crying himself. He was just- Happy. And overwhelmed. And . . . Zuko. Zuko’s hands slid up his arms and curled around his shoulders and he returned Sokka’s kiss with a low, pleased hum.
“And,” Sokka said when they broke away from each other, “I’m . . . really pleased that you-” He glanced at the blue silk caught between Zuko’s fingers on his shoulder. “It means a lot.” he said, clearing his throat.
Zuko nuzzled his cheek. “I’m glad. I hoped you would like it and not think it was. . .” he trailed off, concern briefly twisting his features.
“No, I like it.” Sokka confirmed quickly, shaking his head. “I. . .” He’d been about to say that he almost couldn’t believe Zuko had done it, but . . . no, he could. Zuko was a deeply caring partner, very sweet - as odd as that once would have felt to say - and as much as he put everything he was into anything he thought was worth doing, it was how he had approached their relationship, too.
Sokka kissed him again, feeling warm and . . . deliciously in love. “I love you.” he said against Zuko’s mouth.
Zuko smiled, his eyes warm and soft. “I love you, too.” he said again, a low purr.
“Put it on me?” Sokka asked, reaching up and tugging at the necklace he wore to get it out of the way.
“Is that,” Zuko paused, gesturing to the plate choker, “er, is it important?”
“Zuko,” Sokka said firmly, narrowing his eyes, “I am wearing my engagement necklace. Help me put it on. Blast.” he muttered, trying to get the knot at the nape of his neck undone. “Maybe help me with this one first.” he added after a moment, too impatient to keep fighting with it himself when Zuko could probably get it quicker.
“If you want.” Zuko said, and Sokka turned his back, letting Zuko pluck at the stubborn knot in his stead. “I . . . is this one. . .” he trailed off, even as the plates finally loosened, sliding away - he felt weirdly light, without it resting there - and Sokka looked over his shoulder at Zuko with a smile.
“I like it, but it’s not anything particularly meaningful, no.” Sokka said, grinning. “I made it when I was a kid.” Zuko gave him a sceptical look, and he snorted. “I made it bigger as I got older, thank you. The plates are carved from bones from some of my kills. Some of Dad’s, and Bato’s, too, especially when I was younger and nothing I killed had bones big enough. You can see where I was learning to carve them, too.” Sokka said, turning back to face Zuko again and holding up the choker, showing the differences between some of the pieces he’d added over the years.
“Let me see.” Sokka reached for the engagement necklace Zuko had made and he flushed lightly but offered it up. The pendant was bone, all shades of warm yellow and soft cream, with a spiky design that made him think of Boomerang’s flight, marked out with darker lines that Sokka had thought were simply due to the depth of the carving, though they were a striking contrast, but this was. . . “Did you burn it?” he asked, surprised.
Zuko rubbed the back of his neck. “I know it’s not traditional, but huǒ shǒuyì is . . . a Fire Nation tradition. To do it with your own hands. . . Especially for . . . important gifts.” he said awkwardly. Sokka’s face must have showed his confusion. “Ah, fire art. Craftsmanship. Usually in wood or bone, sometimes glass, metal or clay, or leather.” Zuko clarified.
“So you made me a Water Tribe engagement necklace,” Sokka said slowly, “and you used your Fire Nation traditions, too?” he asked. Zuko nodded tentatively, and Sokka grinned. “That’s . . . perfect.” He rubbed his thumb over the face of the carving.
“Oh, good.” Zuko relaxed visibly, and Sokka laughed, tugging him closer with one hand slipping behind his neck and kissing him again, nuzzling playfully.
“Put it on for me?” Sokka asked, surrendering the necklace back into Zuko’s hands.
He nodded, and Sokka turned away again, holding his breath without thinking as Zuko’s fingers smoothed over his neck, then tugged the silk into place and clasped it there firmly. “Good?” Zuko asked, hands resting close to Sokka’s nape.
Sokka nodded, and Zuko’s breath tickled over his neck, followed by a soft kiss just below the silk band. “I love you.” he said quietly, lips brushing Sokka’s skin.
Shivering, Sokka gave a low hum of pleasure, then spun and pulled Zuko towards himself. “Yes.” he said, hugging Zuko tightly. “Thank you. I love you.” he said, leaning in close. Zuko took the chance to kiss him, warm and languid, hands sliding over his back.
“Thank you. For saying yes.” Zuko said, and Sokka laughed, kissing him again.
Writing this was actually the second proposal between these boys I wrote in about 24 hours . . . and I wound up using an engagement necklace in both of them, though it wasn't in my original plan for this one. (That other proposal was for another request; it is in Important Question.)
I don't know whether huǒ shǒuyì is a term that is actually used as such in Chinese or not, but it does translate (in my inexpert researching) to 'fire craftsmanship', by way of craftsmanship being 'art made by hands', and even if we don't see anything like in canon it seemed fitting for the Fire Nation.
I’m not leaving you.
“Oh, spirits, Zuko. . .” Sokka smoothed the blanket already pulled over Zuko - gently, so as not to put any pressure on his cracked ribs, the slash wound across his chest, or any of the dozens of bruises and scrapes and smaller wounds all over him. “Oh. . .”
Sokka hadn’t been there when the assassins - only the latest attempt - cornered Zuko earlier; Zuko’s guards hadn’t been with him either, these had been good. Good enough to separate the royal guards from their Fire Lord, good enough to be a dangerous threat to Zuko . . . good enough to nearly kill him.
Sokka bit his lip, turning away and heading for the pitcher and cup left on the table across the room, covering his mouth. He swallowed against the lump in his throat, his chest aching, and hot tears spilling down his cheeks.
“Sokka.” Zuko said behind him, voice a little rough.
Sokka caught his breath and scrubbed at his face before giving up on it - Zuko no doubt knew he was crying already anyway. He moved quickly closer, leaning over his fiancé again. “Yes, love?” he asked, reaching instinctively for Zuko’s hand and then stopping, because it was battered and scraped up pretty badly from the fight.
Zuko caught hold of his hand and Sokka froze, wanting to disengage - he didn’t want to hurt Zuko - but not wanting to pull back from him.
Zuko smiled slightly, mouth a little crooked, pulled by the scabbed over tear just below his lower lip at one corner. “I’m not leaving you, darling.” he said, and Sokka’s breath caught in his throat, choking painfully.
Zuko almost had. Sokka loved him so much and he had nearly died today and there wouldn’t even have been anything Sokka could do. Sokka sobbed roughly, collapsing to the edge of the bed, his legs giving out. “Zuko.”
“Sokka. . .” Zuko rubbed his thumb over Sokka’s knuckles. “I’ll be all right.”
Sokka took in a rough breath, kissing the back of Zuko’s hand and daring to squeeze it a little tighter in his own. “I know you will, love.” he said, pressing his cheek against the backs of Zuko’s fingers. “I just- I love you so much. I was . . . afraid, when they told me what happened. When we found you. . .”
Zuko had been in the centre of a cracked, blackened circle on the stone street, barely propped up on one knee and slouched over a broken crate. Barely conscious, too. There had been a handful of other bodies scattered around as well, Zuko’s attackers, a mix of unconscious and dead, all at his hands.
His guards had been beside themselves with guilt and regret at their failure, not even able to find him - to catch up with him - in time to help. They were currently filling the palace, more of them than were normally assigned stationed at every post anywhere near Zuko, inside and out, and more of their number were searching the lower city for the rest of the assassins and for whoever had sent them.
“Sokka.” Zuko squeezed his hand again, a little weaker this time.
Sokka kissed his fingers again. “Yes, love. I’m sorry.”
Zuko smiled. “Could you stop fretting, and come lie down with me?” he asked, giving Sokka a hopeful look.
Sokka started to take a breath, then stopped, licking his lips. “Of course.” he said, pulling on the best smile he could. He petted Zuko’s hand lightly as he released it, then rose, sliding off his boots and belt before climbing into bed carefully beside his fiancé.
Zuko sighed, looking down his body pointedly, and Sokka paused, then rose again, stripping down to just his loose pants before returning. “Better.” Zuko said as Sokka settled at his side, propped up a bit on one elbow.
Zuko reached up, tracing his fingers over the thick silk of Sokka’s necklace.
Sokka smiled at him, twining his fingers carefully through Zuko’s before lying down properly with him. “I’m . . . so glad you’re safe.” he said, the words a little thick in his throat, and kissed Zuko’s battered knuckles.
At this point assassination attempts are hardly something new - though less common than they were when Zuko was newly-crowned - but Zuko does not usually wind up facing them entirely alone, either.
Chapter 8: I love you.
Rather a bit of a time-skip since the last one, and they got married in the intervening time (and you may assume that Sokka cried at their wedding or not; or that Zuko did or not - it simply didn't come up for one of these 'moments').
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I love you.
“Well, it looks like everything at the South Pole is going w- Sokka?” Zuko interrupted himself as he came through the open doorway to the balcony. “Sokka, what’s that? Did your father send you-”
“Bato.” Sokka said numbly, eyes still fixed on the letter. It was short. And it was a little hard to read - Bato’s handwriting was . . . it had always been a mess. Sokka swallowed.
“Darling?” Zuko brushed a caress over his cheek, then clasped his shoulder. “What is it?”
“My Dad.” Sokka said, his voice breaking. “Bato says- He’s- Um.” He sniffed and began to cry, his hands shaking and crumpling Bato’s letter. “He’s . . . really sick, and he’s asking for me to come home. To come and- and see him. Before- In case. . .”
Sokka couldn’t finish, the words dissolving into rough, wet breaths.
“Oh. . . Darling.” Zuko clasped his wrist and pulled gently, and Sokka turned towards his husband, letting Zuko support him as he crumpled.
“My Dad.” Sokka choked into Zuko’s hair, spilling over his shoulder.
Zuko rubbed his back firmly, up and down, and held Sokka tight as he struggled to breathe through his tears. “I don’t know-” he broke off. “I have to go- I can’t- Dad could be-” Sokka felt like his world was crumbling around him. He was grown and it had been years and years since his Dad was- But-
Zuko held him tight, and Sokka felt like that embrace was the only thing that was keeping him from crumbling, too. He’d pull himself together, he would - he needed to make arrangements, to pack, to plan, to get himself on a ship - unless Aang and Katara were coming this way before going to the Pole, surely Katara had got a letter too, but it could take longer to get letters to her, with their constant travel, and Sokka needed to go now. . .
“I have to get to the South Pole.” Sokka said roughly. Zuko splayed a hand over his back, just below his shoulder blades, pressing him tighter to his husband’s body. “Zuko, my Dad- I can’t believe- What am I going to do, how can- He’s not-” Nothing made sense, and Sokka all but keened into Zuko’s shoulder, shuddering in his arms.
“I love you.” Zuko said gently, simple and true. Sokka sobbed against him. “We’ll go. As soon as arrangements can be made, we’ll go.” he said firmly, rubbing Sokka’s back. “It won’t take long to make a ship ready, even for a trip to the South Pole.”
“Yes, a shi- We?” Sokka repeated, feeling as though his throat was closing up even as he forced words through it. “But- I know you can’t just leave, I mean, just to- just to come with me, and he’s- Dad’s-” He couldn’t finish, struggling to catch his breath.
“Sokka.” Zuko said, clasping his shoulders and pushing him away just a little - not enough to break contact between their bodies, but enough that their eyes met. “I love you. Don’t be stupid. Of course I’m coming with you.”
“Are- Are you sure you can?” Sokka asked, his voice faltering. He desperately wanted his husband at his side, but Zuko couldn’t exactly just . . . take off so easily as some people. Most people. Even Sokka really couldn’t just leave - he was part of governance here, too, the Fire Lord’s Consort had quite a few duties, and it was something of a production when he did travel - but it was easier than for Zuko. And he had to leave. Immediately.
“I’m not letting you go alone.” Zuko said firmly. “Just . . . let me worry about everything, all right, darling? I’ll handle it.” He kissed Sokka’s temple and held him close again, his arms closing around Sokka almost tight enough to hurt.
Sokka breathed in and out slowly, once, and nodded gratefully. He let Zuko hold him together, and trusted in his husband to hold together . . . everything else, too. Just- Just for a while.
Brace yourself if necessary - the next chapter is not much of a time-skip, it is set soon after this one . . . and given that, you can probably guess the reason for Sokka's tears.
Chapter 9: I wish I could make it stop.
Warning: as you may have guessed from the prior chapter . . . this is the one the minor character death and loss of parent tags are for. If you'd rather skip it, the final chapter is safe and unrelated.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I wish I could make it stop.
Sokka stumbled out of the soaring, icy wonder of a building - the kind they had never had when he was growing up here - with no eyes to see its beauty or the familiar-strange village - truly a city, now - around it or. . .
Sokka’s feet took him over the ice and towards another building without his mind having anything to do with it, even as the cold wind froze his tears on his cheeks and in his lashes. He barely felt it, though he knew it should hurt.
“Sokka. . . Are you sure you’re. . .”
Sokka waved a hand at Bato, or tried to - he wasn’t sure how much he actually moved for the gesture. He couldn’t actually give any reassuring words, he didn’t have them in him. Sokka wasn’t sure he had any words in him right now.
Right now it felt like there would never be words again. Never be anything again. He felt like . . . ice, like the freezing tears were sliding over him and cutting into his chest even as the wind lashed through him, and-
Sokka bumped into the doorframe as he made his way through into the low light of a much smaller building. Low, but bright and white and sparkling, the furs scattered over the icy floor and hanging on the icy, snowy walls not dampening the way the light refracted everywhere, cool and inescapable. He suddenly missed the warmth of the Fire Nation palace, red and gold and copper everywhere and soft, warm flickers and glowing light.
“Sokka. . .” Zuko rose immediately, crossing to him, arms coming around him. “Is it. . .”
Sokka opened his mouth and all that came out was a wretched, cracked, aching sound as a fresh wave of tears burst out of him. “Oh. Oh darling.” Zuko held him tight, drawing him out of the doorway and closer to the fire pit in the centre of the building, rather than the bed in the next room.
Sokka was grateful. He didn’t want to go to bed. He didn’t want-
“Dad-” he choked out, but nothing more came. Nothing more in words; his mind was full of the sight of his father struggling for breath, thin and pale and weak, barely able to talk, and the slow stilling of his chest, the dullness of his eyes, the way it had felt- “Zu-” his voice cracked.
Zuko dragged them both down to the floor and curled up around him, rocking gently, stroking his back and squeezing him so tight it felt like it was compressing his ribs. The pressure eased some of the bloody ache that had felt like it was breaking him, cutting into his chest. Sokka keened into his husband’s shoulder, shaking, and Zuko only held him, letting him shake apart and promising with the steadiness of his embrace to put Sokka back together again.
Sokka’s tears had melted again, out of the wind and so close to the fire, to Zuko, and he felt like they were burning his face. The unspoken words clawed at his throat, and his heart felt like it was bleeding inside.
“Dad,” Sokka forced out again, his voice raw and aching and sounding all wrong, “Dad’s dead.” he managed, feeling at once both wholly numb and like he’d been shredded and glued back together poorly.
Zuko crooned, rocking Sokka in his arms and squeezing him just that little, impossible bit tighter. Sokka laid his head against his husband’s shoulder and gave up, falling to pieces and sobbing breathlessly into Zuko’s solid, steady support.
“I wish I could make it stop.” Zuko said against the top of his head. “For you, I wish I could fix it, that this wasn’t happening.” He squeezed Sokka again, kissing his hair and rubbing his back, wrapping a thick, heavy fur around them, blocking out the light and the ice and the small fire and everything that wasn’t the pain clawing inside Sokka and the warmth and strength of Zuko holding him together.
Sokka curled up tighter, a crumpled and breaking mess, and hid away in the close, warm darkness, wishing that it could just take away everything else. Wishing he wasn’t hurting like this. Wishing that his father was still all right - even that he was just still barely hanging on, anything just so that he wouldn’t be-
Sokka keened, his abused throat aching with the sharp cry, and Zuko hummed softly, not shushing him and not offering words, just . . . a gentle murmur of his voice as Sokka’s grief shook him.
“I wish this wasn’t happening.” Zuko said as though voicing the words Sokka felt for him, and he shuddered with wracking sobs that were hardly muffled for being pressed against Zuko’s neck. Sokka nodded roughly, fingers digging into Zuko’s clothes, into his sides, until Sokka felt like they would break from the pressure.
He was probably hurting Zuko, he thought, very distantly, with a very tiny corner of his mind. Zuko didn’t voice a complaint, didn’t flinch, and Sokka needed him, needed the steadiness of holding on to him, and couldn’t let go as he cried into Zuko’s support.
Eventually Sokka sobbed himself out. Not out of tears, or out of grief, and he wasn’t asleep, either, but he was just . . . empty. He could feel the yawning, icy blackness of the ache still inside him, but it was too far away to touch him, for now. He had nothing remaining in him to sob with, and was left just in a daze, unable to muster the energy even to move.
Zuko stayed there with him on the floor, curled in the fur, and rocked him, murmuring from time to time, not so much consolation or reassurance as support. Sokka only half-heard most of the words, but he was comforted, in a distant, faint way, by what he did take in.
Every so often more hot tears would slip from Sokka’s eyes, coursing over his cheeks. It hurt, now, ached - his face and his eyes, though both fell into insignificance beside the sharp, raw ache in his throat and then the boundless, broken pain lodged in his chest.
Sokka wasn’t sure when dazed exhaustion fell into actual sleep, only that Zuko stayed wrapped around him, shielding him and holding him together, for as long as it took - and when he woke, was still there, just as strong and sure.
I haven't really written a parental death since I lost my mother, six and a half years ago - writing it this way was a little rough but also a little cathartic. It definitely draws strongly from how I felt then.
Chapter 10: (Nothing at all.)
Another small time-skip to this one to finish off the series, though their moments together are not over of course - they're in their fifties here.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
(Nothing at all.)
Sokka paused just inside the bedroom door, biting his lip. Zuko was lounging in their bed, his hair falling loose around his shoulders, wearing only a half robe over loose trousers and reading.
Sokka closed his eyes for a moment, taking a slightly shaky breath as a few half-cooled tears were forced out with the gesture. He opened them again, feeling . . . not much steadier, really, but willing to pretend.
Zuko looked up, his eyes curious and sharply observant. He put aside his book, shifting a little higher in the bed, though he didn’t sit up fully, and opened his arms, holding them out.
Sokka gave a choked little sound that wasn’t quite a laugh or a sob, but was somewhere between, and went to him. Zuko’s arms were warm and familiar and welcome as Sokka collapsed onto his husband, letting the steady support he always knew was there if he needed it buoy him up. Zuko stroked his hair, rubbed his knuckles down along Sokka’s spine, let him stretch out and just lean on his husband.
Sokka took that support and breathed it in, calming slowly. Zuko’s fingers ran through his hair, free hand resting low on his side.
Sokka reached for it, twining their fingers, and shifted his position, sliding away from Zuko’s shoulder - his robe was a little damp there, though damp never stayed on Zuko for long if he cared about it - and down the bed a little, lying more against his body.
Sokka lay there, soothed by Zuko’s hand running over his hair, down his neck - pausing to caress the silk band of his engagement necklace from time to time - and smoothing down his back, over and over. He squeezed Zuko’s hand from time to time as well, their linked fingers resting on Zuko’s thigh.
“Zuko?” Sokka tilted his head up to look at his husband from where he was lying almost in Zuko’s lap, head against his stomach. It was kind of unfair how Zuko’s abs still felt the way they had more than thirty years ago. Not that Sokka was in bad condition himself, but. . .
Zuko looked back down at Sokka, tilting his head to one side. “Mm?”
“Thank you.” Sokka said, and Zuko’s eyebrow rose, a quizzical look lighting his eyes. “For . . . being here, like this. Always.” he said, clearing his throat against a bit of thickness that had lodged there.
Zuko just smiled at Sokka, shaking his head slightly, and bent, drawing Sokka up to meet him, to give him a soft kiss.
(Because sometimes, no words are needed.)
I don't know why Sokka was distressed this time - but that makes a rather nice ending for this one, I think. They have been together for a long time, obviously, and this is a more generic scene after a series of very specific ones, showing how they are together and almost (though not explicitly) slots as an epilogue.