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Sokka is fifteen, watching as Zuko brandishes his sword with a smirk.

Something claws at Sokka’s stomach, but he ignores it as he lunges forward at his opponent. The firebender easily guards with his own blades, pushing back at Sokka. Forwards, backward, it becomes a dance to them. It isn’t unusual to find the two sparring together in their free time. Sokka claims he likes the challenge; Zuko enjoys providing entertainment.

Their sessions had started as lessons for Sokka, Zuko constantly correcting and pushing. They weren’t sure when it devolved into a recreation, but it was exhilarating for both of them.

Sokka pivots away from a strike, Zuko steps back. The two lock eyes for a moment. The silence is heavy, and Sokka swears he can hear the sweat slide down his neck and hit the floor. He takes note of the other boy’s appearance. He too is perspiring, but less so. His form is still perfect despite the apparent exhaustion, and his eyebrows are drawn together in concentration. It reminds Sokka of when he first met Zuko, the Firelord only a prince before. Zuko has always been resilient and determined—admirable traits.

Both swordsmen take a deep breath and it’s obvious neither want to go on for any longer. Sokka’s thoughts roam again, thinking over Zuko’s perfect stance and handsome face. He’s suddenly snapped out of his thoughts as the door slides open, revealing Mai. She stands tall, a rare smile gracing her features as Zuko turns his attention to her. Immediately, Zuko straightens and the match is forgotten.

Sokka isn’t sure why that bothers him so much.

“I hoped to find you here,” Mai greets the firebender, eyes glinting in amusement as Zuko walks towards her before pulling her close. He says something that sounds like a mere murmur from where Sokka stands, but to Mai, it happens to be the funniest thing. His words elicit a low laugh from her, one she allows before pulling Zuko into a kiss.

Sokka turns away from them then. The feeling in his gut is stronger now, all but tugging at his insides with a fervent urgency. It tries to tell him something, anything to stop his current movement. Every inch of his body is screaming at him to turn around and march back into the room, finish the fight. Yes, that must be it, Sokka thinks. He only wants to finish the fight.

The giggles of the happy couple fade out as Sokka escapes through another door, unnoticed.

_

Sokka is eighteen, and they’ve all grown so much since the war.

Today, he is at Yu Dao, a former Fire Nation colony located on the west side of the Earth Kingdom. Avatar Aang and Firelord Zuko are discussing with King Kuei about their plans for the Harmony Restoration Movement. Sokka thinks that it’s admirable just how involved he and his friends still are in the world. Way back when, before it had even dawned on him that he would be helping to end a war, he had thought that once he finished his adventures he would simply go home and live like before. Oh, how wrong he had been about that.

All Sokka had done since the war’s end was travel. With his friends, for his friends—it made no difference. He was proud to be by Aang’s side, but a part of him couldn’t help but question why a group of teenagers was expected to lead the efforts on post-war restoration. We’re just kids, Sokka thinks to himself a lot these days, and the war was enough . But he can’t think of anyone who’s had it harder than that of the Firelord.

Firelord Zuko has just finished one of his many meetings with the Avatar and the Earth King, something about finalizing plans and such. Sokka doesn’t want to admit it, but he had been waiting for Zuko since the start of the meeting, just hoping for a chance to talk. They so seldom ever got a moment alone anymore, what with Zuko being pulled in all directions by his numerous duties.

Sokka sits at a small, wooden table by the window in the small room adjoining the throne room. It lacks any special qualities, its walls and floors strikingly bare compared to the room it connects to, but he appreciates it for its private atmosphere. No guards join Zuko when he steps into the room, nor do they form any ranks as he takes his place at the table, sitting across from Sokka. The two are silent for a moment, merely watching the sun as it begins to set on the city’s horizon.

Sokka spares a glance at Zuko and lets out a breath of awe. The soft hues of reds and oranges bathe the Firelord in a dull glow. The lighting does wonders for his eyes, emphasizing its amber color. Like honey , Sokka thinks absentmindedly. He doesn’t like the taste that thought leaves in his mouth.

Sokka wasn’t an idiot, he knew by now what his feelings were for his friend. It had taken him a while to realize, but he did nevertheless. And he’s reminded of it now especially, as he gazes at Zuko and thinks wow, he’s so beautiful . But he’s also painfully reminded by how wrong this all is, which is enough to snap him out of his stupor.

Finally, Zuko speaks. “You know, I used to think that this was all I would ever want. Being Firelord.” Sokka nods, urging him to speak further. “All I ever wanted was to return to the Fire Nation with my honor.” His eye twitches involuntarily, the one that had been burned, and Sokka feels sympathy blossom within his chest.

“But it’s not enough,” Sokka supplies.

Zuko’s voice is softer when he replies, “No, it’s not.”

Silence drifts between them again, an unwelcome visitor to their conversation. Sokka hates how he can’t bring himself to say anything. He wants so badly to comfort Zuko, to talk things out with him and to assure him that everything is going to be okay. The words die in his throat before he can even think to open his mouth. Instead, he opts to look over at Zuko once again, hoping his face conveys all that he wants to say. Zuko is looking at him this time, and it seems he does understand, or at least Sokka hopes so.

The sun is nearly gone at this point, the sky a gorgeous blend of purple and black. The stars are just beginning to peek into existence from the edges of the sun, not quite close but close enough. Sokka doesn’t need to wonder why he understands exactly how that feels.

“I broke up with Mai,” Zuko announces suddenly.

“Oh?” Sokka turns his head away with feigned nonchalance. “Really?”

Zuko nods with a swallow, “Yeah, it didn’t really work out between us. We’re still good friends though, and I’m not lying when I say I love her…” His words trail off but Sokka nods in understanding.

“I think you’re just too stressed right now,” Sokka offers. “All of this is new to you, to us. The world is changing, I realized that once Aang came into the picture. We just gotta adapt to it like we always do.”

“Change is good, at least from my experience.”

There’s something in his voice that piques Sokka’s interest, and he finds himself staring at Zuko yet again. The other boy’s attention is directed back at him. His gaze is strangely warm, eyes now a more subdued glow from the change of lighting, but no less arresting. By now, the sun is long gone. Their only source of light comes from the moon and stars, and Sokka can’t believe how Zuko can still take his breath away in this setting. His pale skin glows in contrast to Sokka’s own tan skin, proof of just how different they can be. And yet they still managed to find each other and become friends.

No matter how much Sokka would rather be much more than that.

In a rare leap of faith, Sokka smiles and gently places his hand over Zuko’s on the table. Zuko seems shocked by the action, eyes going slightly wide but only for a moment. In response, he merely turns his hand to cradle Sokka’s own just the same. It’s a tender moment between the two boys. A pause amidst all the chaos.

The moon does little to hide the smile that now resides on Zuko’s face. In fact, it seems to only shine brighter from the light of the celestial body. Sokka figures Yue herself is smiling down on this little moment, proud of the person he’s become today. He even imagines her voice, soft and kind as ever, urging him to say the words he wants to. The push for him to let everything come spilling out isn’t forceful, not in the usual urgency he’s felt for the past three years. Instead, it comes to him in gentleness, like the lull of the tide lapping onto shore.

Despite it all, he chooses instead to say, “Well, don’t worry too much about everything that’s going on. Bringing full peace to the world isn’t some easy task. You’ve got your friends who are more than willing to help, and… You’ve got me.”

Zuko squeezes his hand gingerly, as if afraid to break Sokka. “Thank you, that means a lot to me.”

And that is the closest Sokka can get to what he really wants to say. The moment between them fades as he pulls his hand away, immediately regretting his action once the warmth from their touch seeps out. It’s a moment of cowardice, which he’ll only admit years later. But for now, he has to be content with what’s been said. There was no use in dwelling on his feelings, not when they all had their respective responsibilities.

Sokka looks away too quickly then, unable to see the look of disappointment on Zuko’s face.

_

Sokka is twenty five, and he’s back at the Fire Nation Capital.

More specifically, he is at the Royal Palace. He decides to dress in his finest clothes, a variant of Southern Water tribe formal wear. He and his friends stick out like a sore thumb amongst the hundreds of other guests decked in Fire Nation colors. Katara is dressed similarly to him, but her betrothal necklace is much too striking to ignore. It is a pretty little thing, similar in fashion to her old necklace but now sporting the Air Nomad symbol. Sokka remembers helping Aang with figuring out its design.

He’s happy for them, really. He’s happy for all of them. Their plans for Republic City are well on its way to being accomplished, the addition of Toph and her students’ metal bending a great aid to speeding up the process. Sokka has started his own work in the Southern Water tribe, helping his father rebuild and bring everyone together. Katara helps in whatever way she can, paving paths for women in ways never thought possible by either of the tribes. Things are peaceful now, and Sokka can truly say he can breathe again.

The palace is less confusing now in comparison to the first time he stepped foot onto its premises. He navigates the halls with little effort required, and it doesn’t take long until he finds himself standing before the large set of doors he was seeking. The other guests are still milling about before the start of the ceremony, giving Sokka plenty of time to do as he wanted. The guards at the door pay him no attention, only giving him a side glance when he knocks on the doors. There’s a muffled call from within, and Sokka takes that as an invitation to enter.

Inside, he finds the person he is looking for, the man of the hour himself. Zuko is sitting at his vanity, still in his sleeping robes and muttering about whatever inane thing. Sokka can’t help the smile that seeps into his features as he takes in the Firelord’s appearance. It is an awfully domestic sight—Zuko still not dressed and Sokka coming in to hurry him up. Sokka approaches quietly, ignoring the pang he feels in his chest with each step.

Zuko’s hair is longer now, extending just a little past his shoulders and hanging like a dark curtain. Sokka’s own hair is longer as well, but nowhere near the same length. He still retains his warrior’s wolf tail hair style, which he wears even today on such a formal event. He is also taller than Zuko now, if only by just an inch. Even then, he doesn’t allow Zuko to forget it.

“My hair,” Zuko says and gestures to his head vaguely. That’s all he has to say, however, as Sokka nods in simple understanding. He merely grabs the brush from Zuko’s hand and begins to detangle the hair, ignoring the growing feeling in his gut. Zuko is quiet for the time as he allows Sokka to work on his hair. His hair is made into a half top knot in no time. Once Sokka finishes, the two stare at Zuko’s reflection for a while.

Sokka chuckles abruptly, “Don’t take offense to this, but you look like your mom.” And he’s right. Even though he met Ursa at a much older age, it wasn’t hard to imagine what she would have looked like at Zuko’s current age. Although her resemblance to Azula is much more apparent, there are still hints of her features on Zuko’s own face. The comment warrants a light elbow to the gut, to which Sokka pretends to be grievously injured by.

“I could never take offense to that,” Zuko admits. Sokka knows what he’s thinking, he doesn’t have to say it— thank goodness he doesn’t look like his father .

They stay like that for a while—Sokka stood behind Zuko as the two look at each other through the mirror. There is a mix of emotions sewn into Zuko’s expression, his eyebrows drawn together and face not quite smiling. Sokka wants nothing more than to reach out and smooth the furrows of whatever worries are plaguing him, wants nothing more than to coax the other man’s troubles out and find a solution for them just like any other puzzle. Instead, he keeps his hands on Zuko’s shoulders, deciding to let him speak of his own accord.

Finally, Zuko says: “I’m nervous.”

“Don’t tell me you’re getting cold feet,” Sokka teases, but there’s no denying the new octave his voice takes, a tell of his own nervousness.

“I’m not,” Zuko argues then continues in a careful tone, “I’m only… Confused. How can I be sure this is what I want?”

Sokka sees it then, the look of utter devastation in the other man’s expression. It’s only further shadowed by the marring on his face, a scar that only adds to the conclusion Sokka makes. That conclusion being that Zuko grew up too early and too fast. In reality, they all had. Sokka knew all too well what it was like to assume leadership early on. But Zuko’s own hardship was different. He had seen it before but didn’t think much of it then, only now realizing how truly hard things have been for the Firelord.

Firelord. It was quite the title, and had been an ominous one until Zuko had assumed leadership of the Fire Nation after the war. Sokka was bred to fear the name, and a part of him supposed that also was the case for Zuko. But this role still had been thrust upon him at such a young age. He had been only a boy before.

Sokka sighs and wonders what he could say to the boy who grew up too fast, to the man with infinite pressures.

Instead, Sokka opts for a joke, “What is this? You’re only twenty six and you’re already having a midlife crisis.” The two laugh lightly at that, distilling the tension for a moment.

“Who knows, this might as well be the middle of my life,” Zuko mutters with a shrug, and Sokka can’t tell if he’s joking or not.

“Oh no,” Sokka says in a resolute manner, head shaking. “No way this is your middle, you’re not leaving me that quickly.” His grip on Zuko’s shoulders tighten ever so slightly as panic rises within him.

That causes Zuko to turn away from his reflection to properly look up at Sokka. Sokka can’t bring himself to let go, even as his mind screams at him for his careless words . But he knows he could never really let go of Zuko. He feels that especially now, as Zuko gazes into his eyes deeply, searching for something Sokka could never hope to give.

“I just can’t help but feel so hopeless sometimes,” Zuko utters, his words the barest of whispers. “Even when I have you by my side.”

Sokka smiles softly in response, and his voice matches when he says, “You’re the Firelord, you can do anything.” He pauses. “Well, within reason of course, but you know what I mean.” Zuko’s laugh is refreshing, and it urges Sokka to continue. “Whatever hesitation you feel right now, it’s only because everything just feels like it’s coming at you too fast. And it was, for a while there. But you’re an adult now and everything is okay now. You can rest.”

That seems to resonate deeply with Zuko, as it manages to draw a small smile from him. Tentatively, he places a hand on Sokka’s own. The movement is strongly reminiscent of Sokka’s own action all those years ago, when they were merely edging the idea of adulthood. Sokka feels it stronger than ever now, the weight in his stomach that makes him feel heavy.

It doesn’t go away when Zuko continues to speak. “That’s true, I just sometimes feel like… There’s something else out there for me.” Or someone else , Sokka’s mind corrects.

The weight grows heavier with each second that passes. The urge to drop down to his knees and let his feelings be known is too strong now. The words that have been finding its way since he was only a fifteen year old boy are clawing at his throat with more desperation these days, begging to be let out. This is his last chance to come clean. But nothing comes out of his mouth, at least not the words he wants.

He instead chokes out, “Don’t bother with thoughts like that, okay? Today’s your big day. Just be happy.”

The light in Zuko’s eyes dim and he nods in understanding, pulling away from Sokka just like the other man had all those years ago and it hurts. There’s no denying that. It hurts even as Sokka slips out of the room, as he looks back to see Zuko turned away from him, as he makes his way through the crowd and to his friends. His whole body aches now, not just his chest anymore. And it seems that all Zuko would ever be for him is a dull pain.

The ache doesn’t intensify, only spreads as Sokka watches the wedding ceremony, the event of the year. He understands now what Zuko means—that feeling of hopelessness. He feels it strongly when he watches Zuko’s bride to be, Aihi, slowly make her way down the aisle. The crowd is in awe, and rightfully so.  Even Sokka can admit that she looks absolutely beautiful. She is dressed in the most ornate jewels, and it compliments her golden eyes. The dress she wears is gorgeous as well, her train just as decorated as the rest of her. Sokka figures that she’s wearing the expenses of a handful of villages in one outfit.

His eyes follow Aihi until she gets to the front, all the way to where he stands. Zuko is dressed in royal robes made of richly colored fabrics. There’s no denying just how handsome he looks. It’s breathtaking how his demeanor changes when in the role of the Firelord. His stance is taller, holding more power than usual. A commanding aura is exuded by him, and Sokka can feel it even from where he sits. Zuko is absolutely radiant up there as the sun shines down on him and his bride, the gold embellishments glaringly bright. But all Sokka can focus on is the feeling of nothingness within himself.

The ceremony continues until they say their vows and kiss. The cheers around Sokka are too much to bear, but he allows himself to clap along and congratulate the happy couple. He tries, he really does. Tries so hard as they leave and move to the grand reception. Tries even as Zuko and Aihi make their way to greet their guests. But it’s not enough—there is no avoiding of the feeling in his heart when he sees the way Zuko’s wedding band glints in the light.

There is no getting rid of the guilt he feels when he steps out and leaves.

_

Sokka is forty, and he is officially part of the Republic City Council as the sitting representative for the Southern Water Tribe.

It is only a temporary position, of course. Sokka would eventually return to the Southern Water Tribe to assume the position of Chief once his father steps down, and word has it that the time for that would be very soon. In the meantime, he is grateful for the move no matter how much he misses being back home. A nice perk of living in Republic City is being close to his friends once again. It had been quite some time since he had last seen Toph which was why he was so surprised to learn of her daughter, a tough little girl named Lin. Upon meeting her, he had commented on how alike the two looked. Toph merely laughed and said she wouldn’t know.

Aang and Katara also lived in Republic City. That too was a temporary position for the couple and their family. The two had decided to live in Republic City while construction of the new Air Temple continued. Aang’s hard work on the reconstruction of the Air Temples as an effort to preserve his culture are going along well. Katara herself has a variety of projects going on as well. Between writing a proposal for the banning of bloodbending, pushing for the inclusion of women in the work space, and numerous environmental conservation projects, Sokka isn’t sure how she manages it all. It’s a miracle they still find the time to do any of that while raising three kids.

The three of them—Toph, Aang, Katara—sit in on the council meeting today. It isn’t unusual, as they are the founders of Republic City, but it is a rare occasion when the majority of them are present. The only one missing is the Firelord, who Sokka admittedly hasn’t seen in a very long time. It isn’t as if the lack of interaction is intentional, no, Sokka can never really keep away from him. But life happens for all of them, and in the other man’s case, it happens to be running a country and having a family.

Which is why when Zuko walks into the meeting right as it’s about to start, Sokka can’t quite mask the shock on his face. The rest of the room seems to feel this change in the atmosphere as well, knowing just how rare it is to have all five founders in the room at the same time. Zuko sits in the front beside Aang and Sokka belatedly notices the little girl with him. She has jet black hair and bright amber eyes and Sokka recognizes her as Izumi, Zuko’s daughter and heir to the throne.

Sokka forces himself to look away as the meeting begins, but it is near impossible for him to focus. He understands the gist of what’s being discussed—building plans for a headquarters for Cabbage Corp—however, none of that matters to Sokka, whose eyes find their way back to Zuko no matter what. It’s been ten years or so since they had last seen each other. In person, of course, as they still exchange letters. It goes without saying that Zuko is still handsome as ever, and Sokka highly doubts there will ever come a time where the other man does not take his breath away from a mere look.

When the meeting ends, Sokka heads straight for Zuko. No one stops him, thankfully, and in a few quick steps, he finds himself standing before the Firelord. Even the poor lighting in the City Hall does little to dim his eyes, bright as ever and just as gorgeous as Sokka remembers them to be. Sokka is treated to the beautiful sight of Zuko’s smile before being pulled into a tight embrace.

The action is entirely improper, especially in such a public setting, but to hell with properness. Sokka eagerly hugs back, uncaring of the odd spectacle he’s sure they’re putting on. Once they pull away, the two men grin at each other in boy-like fashion. Sokka only has half a mind to disentangle himself from Zuko and take a step back.

“I didn’t know you would be attending today,” Sokka says in a breathless manner.

Zuko’s smile is still on his face. “Yes, I will be staying in Republic City for two weeks. Part of an educational trip for my daughter.” At this, Izumi peeks out from behind her father and steps forward to bow to Sokka.

Sokka chuckles and turns to the girl. “Hello, Izumi. I’m Sokka, we met when you were only a baby.” He holds his hand out to her, which she takes carefully and shakes. She has a very regal air to herself, and Sokka can only imagine where she learned such prim and proper behavior. Izumi looks around the same age as Sokka’s oldest nephew, which is hard to believe considering how childish Bumi acted sometimes. This girl is different, and Sokka already knows she’d make a great ruler someday.

“We should catch up,” Zuko suggests when Sokka’s attention is on him again. “Go around the city, maybe go out to eat.” The last part is meant to be a question, but from Zuko, it sounds more like a command. Sokka’s gaze drifts over to Izumi.

“Oh, but your daughter—” Sokka argues, but is cut off by the dismissive wave of Zuko’s hand.

“I’m sure she’s okay to be away from her father for a bit, she’s probably sick of me by now,” Zuko teases. Izumi looks as if she is trying to hold back a smile and nods in agreement.

Sokka sticks his tongue out at Zuko and jokes, “And who’s to say I’m not sick of you either?” Zuko scoffs in response and Izumi giggles at the exchange.

“Impossible,” Zuko says, “I know you missed me too much.”

“Yeah, I did.”

The little moment between them is gone once Izumi clears her throat to get her father’s attention. It was a little embarrassing just how quickly Sokka had forgotten about their surroundings. She bids the two of them goodbye before being escorted by a pair of royal guards. And then Sokka is left alone with Zuko again.

The pair make their way to the city streets, which are less busy than Sokka would have expected to see at this hour. It is springtime in the city, meaning the flowers are in bloom and the sun’s rays aren’t as harsh yet. Sokka can’t help but think about how beautiful this city truly is. He sees people in shops, dusting off goods or bargaining for a better deal. Vendors holler at passersby from their food stalls, urging them to come and buy. A young man uses his waterbending to water his plants, in turn, a young woman uses her firebending to amuse a crowd of children by making various animal-shaped flames. A couple joins hands as they too walk down the street.

Zuko sees it too, the wonder of the hustle and bustle of the city. He wears an expression of pride, and it’s enough to bring out a smile from Sokka. He is easily the most striking person in the plaza they are walking through, his Fire Nation regalia bright and distinctive among the diverse multitudes. People point in awe as the two pass by, flanked by two royal guards, but it doesn’t bother them. Especially Sokka who, despite the hubbub of the crowds, can only concentrate on the other man. The rest of the world is but mere background noise when put against Zuko. Age only did him better, and it’s evident in both his physique and personality. As they talk of politics and their roles, catching up as if they hadn’t still kept in touch after all these years, Sokka falls into a comfortable rhythm with Zuko. It feels like they’re in their own little world.

They stop to eat in a quaint little restaurant that Sokka has become partial to upon moving to Republic City. Owned by an old man and his son, it sells what Sokka claims to be the best ramen in the whole city. Ping, the owner of the establishment, is all but honored to seat the councilman and Firelord as well as the guards. Before long, a bowl of chashu pork ramen is placed before them, to which Sokka thanks Ping profusely for. At the moment, they are the only ones in the restaurant. Not that Sokka minds, and he’s sure Zuko could use a break from the gawking eyes of the city’s inhabitants.

The sun was getting low now, orange streaks finding their way into the restaurant to cast a faint glow onto the wood floors. Their chairs creak quietly at every movement they make, adding to the ambiance of it all. It feels so normal, so easy. Sokka takes careful bites, enjoying his food and doing his best to ignore the heavy gaze he feels. When it becomes too much to bear, he lifts his head to meet Zuko’s stare. He has known it before, but he is only further reminded of how much he had missed this, missed him.

Zuko’s eyes are but tiny embers in the sunset’s light and it takes Sokka back to a time of confusion and heartache. Oh, how young they were then, not even knowing how the fate of the world would be, much less their own. It had been naïve thinking on Sokka’s part to think everything would work itself out after, and in some ways, it had, but not entirely. He recognizes this when his eyes fall to the shiny object wrapped around Zuko’s slim finger—his golden wedding band. Katara and Aang had gushed over its simple beauty. Created under a flame produced by Zuko himself, it was the finest gold in all of the Fire Nation, a rarity known as magma gold. It was what all of the engagement presents in the royal family were made of, Katara had told Sokka. The sight is enough to make Sokka pull back—literally and figuratively—as he remembers the topic of one of the letters they last exchanged.

“How is Aihi doing?” Sokka asks, and it’s hard to ignore the flash of pain that graces Zuko’s features.

Zuko shakes his head, “Not much better, I’m afraid.” The public does not know yet how severe Lady Aihi’s sickness is. For the most part, the public believed it would only be a short lived spell, one she would overcome soon enough. But Sokka knows that the truth is far more grave than that. With every day that passes, her condition only worsens, and all Zuko can do is carry on as always.

Sokka nods and gives his best comforting smile, “No matter what happens, everything will be okay.”

“I know I shouldn’t,” Zuko sighs heavily, “but I do worry. If her condition doesn’t get any better… Well, I’m sure you can imagine…”

“Don’t think like that,” Sokka says with a tsk. “Have you asked Katara for help?” Zuko shakes his head in response, earning a frown from Sokka. “Well, I think it’s time to ask.”

“Oh, but she’s always so busy now,” Zuko argues. “Last time I tried pulling Aang away for something, she talked my ear off about responsibilities, as if I’m not the Firelord!”

At that, Sokka can’t help the laugh that escapes his lips. “Some things never change, huh?”

Zuko smiles fondly, biting down on his lip to stop his own laughter. “No, I suppose they don’t.”

Sokka is just about to argue that Katara really wouldn’t mind helping considering the circumstances, when Zuko turns away to look out the window. With the sunlight fading, the streets seem to come more alive. The nightlife in Republic City was always a sight to see. It differed so greatly from what Sokka grew up with. Republic City was an intricate machine of different scraps and parts from all over the world, and it was their machine.

“I still can’t believe all of this is because of us,” Sokka says in awe, and he knows Zuko is thinking the same.

Zuko nods, agreeing, “It feels good to have it all pay off in the end. This coming together of the nations has been a long time coming.”

Sokka’s gaze drifts over to two young men perusing a stall of trinkets. One of them, the taller one, lifts up a beautifully decorated fan and says something, causing the other man to laugh. They buy the fan, and exchange a kiss before bounding down the street. The sight makes Sokka’s stomach roil with an ugly feeling, and he knows Zuko has also been watching the exchange.

“Haven’t you ever wondered what it would have been like to lead a normal life though?” Sokka inquires suddenly.

“Every day…” Zuko’s voice is quiet and his eyes are lowered, not meeting Sokka’s gaze. “You?”

“Sometimes, yeah.” An understatement. There was no counting the amount of times Sokka had mulled it over. The possibility of their lives being simple, no responsibilities or obligations. No chiefs, councilmembers, or Firelords. Only Sokka and Zuko. And maybe, just maybe life would have been different. Maybe Sokka would have gotten the courage to speak up all those years ago when they were only boys.

Zuko, unaware of Sokka’s inner turmoil, smiles softly at him. “I should head back to the embassy, I promised to show Izumi the night markets. Walk back with me, will you?” Sokka agrees, of course, there was no need to spare any of the time they had together. They quickly pay and head out, just before another group of people enter the restaurant.

The walk back to the embassy is quiet. In the dark, their clothing isn’t as conspicuous but it’s still hard to miss them with the guards trailing behind. They make it back quick enough with no interruptions, though, and Sokka belatedly realizes that this is his first time seeing the embassy. It’s actually rather close to City Hall, and to Sokka’s own residence. The building looks as official as the other government buildings around, only distinguishable by the plaque of the different nation’s emblems on the side of the building. When they reach the door, Zuko waves the guards off, and the duo head inside, leaving Zuko and Sokka alone.

They are the only ones on the street at this hour. The other buildings in the area have their lights on, and Sokka wonders if anyone else was looking down at them from any of the buildings. Watching the councilman and Firelord on the street—it must’ve painted a very peculiar picture. The nearest source of light is a street lamp by the side of the embassy, its gold light giving the barest of luminescence. They look into each other’s eyes and once again, everything else fades into the background.

Zuko speaks first, “Thank you for your time.”

“I always have time for a friend,” Sokka murmurs. Zuko’s eyes drop to Sokka’s hip, and in a bold move, he reaches over. Sokka panics, but only for a moment, as Zuko pulls his hand back to brandish the dagger that had been sheathed at Sokka’s hip.

“This is the dagger I sent you for your birthday,” Zuko mumbles, a declaration rather than a question. A small smile is on his face as he inspects the dagger. It’s a wonderful piece of craftsmanship. The entirety of it is golden, which makes Sokka figure that the dagger is more decorative than purposeful. The hilt is shaped to look like a dragon snaking around with two small rubies in place of its eyes. It casts a faint glow in the dimness, and it’s hard to ignore just how stunning the gift is.

Sokka gulps at the sudden closeness of the other man. In his reaching over, Zuko had gotten into close proximity to Sokka, his face now mere inches away. Flustered, Sokka could only whisper in a hoarse voice, “Yeah… I always have it on me.” It’s a pathetic admission to Sokka’s ears, but it makes Zuko smile nonetheless.

He lifts his left arm to pull back his sleeve and reveals a sleek, white bracelet that shines in the moonlight. Sokka recognizes it immediately—the bracelet he had gifted Zuko for his birthday. It was made of the bone of a polar wolf bear Sokka had hunted, the same bone that he had fashioned his current necklace out of.

“I always have this on me too.” The confession shocks Sokka, and he wonders just what he is supposed to do with that. He feels young again, unbearably so, under Zuko’s warm gaze, and he wonders if the other man feels the same.

“Well,” Sokka swallows and it’s difficult when Zuko is looking at him like that, “I’m glad you like my gift.”

“As am I,” Zuko responds. His eyes fall to the dagger in his hand, and he puts it back in its holding at Sokka’s hip. “You know, I had that dagger specially made. It’s made of a special kind of gold, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it—magma gold.”

Sokka’s eyes widen at his words as the realization dawns on him. Magma gold, the same gold Zuko’s own wedding band was made of. The same gold that was considered to be the rarest in the world, the same gold that Katara and Aang had enthused to him about. The same gold Katara had told him was only for engagement presents for the royal family.

Zuko is looking at Sokka expectantly now, and it’s evident he knows the weight of his words. There is something unexpected in how open his expression is, and Sokka feels himself leaning closer against his own volition. This was all he ever wanted—a chance. Over the years, he had begged for even the feeling of a chance. And now that it was in front of him—in the form of a wonderful man who Sokka has been in love with for so long—he knows it’s wrong.

Sokka recoils, as if burned, and he scolds himself for his wishful thinking. How disgusting of him to hope while Lady Aihi is on her deathbed. Zuko’s face betrays an expression of hurt, and Sokka is sure that he mirrors it. Except there is nothing else he can say to make it better, even though he wants to kiss the look away, wants to hold him tight and just let things be. But now is not the time, and Sokka isn’t sure when the right time ever will be. Maybe there never would be a time.

Sokka says good night to Zuko and walks away without another word, not allowing himself to look back.

_

Sokka is sixty nine, and Aang is dead.

The world mourns the loss of the beloved airbender. His friends mourn the loss of a friend. Katara is inconsolable for the time being, so Sokka toughens up. For his friends, for himself, for Aang. He understands that after this, the search for the new avatar will begin. The White Lotus had talked to them all about it already, even deigning to ask for assistance. It felt all too quick to Sokka. Many times in his life did he once again feel youthful, but this time the feeling came in an overwhelming sense of dread. The feeling of loss and confusion as the world moved all too swiftly around him. The feeling of being a young boy, and watching as the world took everything away from him, as the war ripped apart any semblance of a normal life.

The funeral takes place on Air Temple Island, a proud display of the work Aang had put into preserving his history. Throngs of citizens attend to mourn the late avatar. The Air Acolytes of the island had set up a simple memorial, similar to that of a typical Air Nomad funeral. It feels inappropriate to Sokka, to have such a public funeral. He knows Aang would have liked a private ceremony, with only his closest of friends attending. But of course, the avatar was such a public and beloved figure, there was no getting around it. The world would grieve alongside him and his friends.

He is called up during the service to say a few words. He feels numb through it all. What he really wants to say is that it was too early for Aang, that it should not have happened this way. He wants to be angry, to cry and curse the spirits for taking Aang away far too quickly. But his words get stuck in his throat and instead a message of hope comes out. He inspires the people of Republic City instead, encouraging them to carry on the great things Aang started as the avatar and to always remember him.

The rest of his friends are also called up to speak. Katara’s speech is the hardest to listen to. She gets through most of it, despite the watery edge to her voice, until the very end when she lets out a wracked sob. It hurts for Sokka to watch, and he brings her into a tight embrace when she takes her seat beside him once again. More people come up to speak—allies from the war, various world leaders, even citizens with personal testimonies of how Aang had helped them.

The last to speak is the Firelord. There is a quiet awe that fills the room when he steps up, expression somber. Sokka finds himself scrutinizing Zuko’s stance, knowing how closed off he is at the moment. It’s a small tick of his, the protective stance, and Sokka can spot it from a mile away. For all the facades of strength and grace the Firelord exudes, Sokka knows just how much he is hurting right now.

Sokka scarcely speaks with Zuko these days. It has been nearly thirty years since that fateful night at the embassy, thirty years since Sokka’s moment of cowardice. He has mulled over that night ever since, wondering what else he could have done. It plagues him, haunting him like a ghost of the past. And he supposes that is just what it is—a specter of what could have been. No matter how many alternate endings he could come up with, there was no way for him to get around the feeling of regret that would forever remain in his gut.

Why hadn’t he gone after him?

Yes, it is the feeling of what might have been that drags him down these days. It is the feeling that takes over him now as he watches Zuko begin to speak. The sight is similar to a memory, what Sokka would think was the last time they had a proper conversation. It had been only a year after the night at the embassy, and it took place at Lady Aihi’s funeral. Zuko had stepped up to deliver a eulogy for his late wife. Afterwards, he and Sokka had talked in formalities, the conversation much too rigid to be between two good friends.

Their friends never really did understand what happened between them.

“Avatar Aang was a beacon of hope and unity to the world, but to me, he was a friend.” Zuko’s voice booms across the main hall of the temple, amplified by the microphone at the stand. “Over the years, I came to lean on him for advice and support, which became mutual. There are many times in my ruling where, without his wisdom, I surely would have failed the nation.” There is a smile on Zuko’s face now, and Sokka can’t help the one that forms on his own face.

Zuko continues, “It is odd, when you think about our origins. We were only children then, but originally we had been enemies.” He pauses to huff a laugh. “Never in my prepubescent life had I ever imagined the things I would accomplish with him. I say this as a means to not only showcase Aang’s compassionate and forgiving nature, but also to demonstrate how love can turn any situation.”

No one else in the room understands entirely, but the burden of Zuko’s words register in Sokka’s mind. The Firelord is pointedly looking at Sokka now, hoping his message has been conveyed. Sokka gives him the barest of nods in acknowledgement, and it seems to satisfy Zuko.

After the service, Sokka meets up with old friends. He walks with Katara around the room to greet everyone and thank them for attending. This reception is a private gathering, closed off to the public and meant only for Aang’s good friends. Mostly everyone is there, and it looks as if everyone has shed a tear. Even Toph, who is arguably the most emotionally tough of them all, wears a sullen expression. Despite the sorrowful mood, Sokka is happy to see them all again. He doesn’t expect to see certain people, but it ends up a pleasant surprise for him.

Katara eventually drifts off to talk with Toph, leaving Sokka alone with Mai and Ty Lee. Although much time has passed since they were kids, the two are still the same in attitude. Sokka is happy to catch up with them, their wedding being the last time he had seen them. The couple talks of their travels around the world and their work in providing aid to prisoners wrongfully incarcerated. Sokka is impressed, to say the least, and commends them on the wonderful work.

The next person to surprise him is Suki. She greets him with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and he realizes how much he has missed her. Her hair is shades lighter now and her forehead has begun to wrinkle, but she retains her youthful features even at this age. The Kyoshi Warriors she was once a part of disbanded years ago and are now nothing more than a relic and a legend to the people, but she works hard to keep their memory alive. She tells him that for the most part, she has been living in the Earth Kingdom after she left the Fire Nation. She shows Sokka a picture of her daughter, her pride and joy, as well as a picture of her husband. There was a time when Sokka thought he would have been the one to marry her and have the title as her husband. Of course, that was so long ago and they were only kids then, but he still hoped. Sokka can see how happy she is, and it makes him happy too. He excuses himself from the conversation when he sees Katara by the food and drinks, and heads over to her again.

“Hey again,” Sokka greets her. She pours herself a cup of water and takes a long sip before putting it down and offering Sokka a half-hearted smile. He smiles back and tilts his head down at her. “I know things are tough right now, but this is a great example of how Aang could always bring people together.”

Katara nods, and her smile turns a little wobbly as tears form in her eyes. “It’s wonderful that all these people came. I worried some might be too busy.”

Sokka sighs, shaking his head, “Aang would have done anything for these people, and they recognize that.” Katara starts to wipe her tears away, and Sokka’s heart hurts for her.

She loved Aang, there was no doubt about it. They had retained that pure love from when they were kids up to now. Sokka would never actually admit it, but he was jealous in the past. Oh how much he longed for something like that, for things to just fall into place and feel easy. Aang and Katara had something special, and Sokka still vies for such a love.

“I was talking to Smellerbee and Longshot earlier and they told me about how they rescheduled their granddaughter’s wedding for this.” Katara laughs, a light noise that eases the tension just a bit in Sokka’s heart. “I still feel him with us, you know?”

“Yes, I know…” Sokka murmurs. On the other side of the room stands Zuko, conversing with Haru and a woman Sokka does not recognize. Subconsciously, he keeps staring, and it doesn’t take long for Katara to take notice. It’s painfully obvious to anyone who looks closely enough just what is on Sokka’s mind at the moment.

“You know,” she says, voice soft, “you’re right about Aang bringing people together.” Sokka nods again. “Especially for love.”

The statement snaps Sokka out of his reverie. He looks over to her, eyes wide, and slowly asks, “… In what way?”

This time, Katara tilts her head at him, a small smile on her lips, “Come on, Sokka. I’m your sister, not an idiot.”

“I never said you were…” he mutters.

She sighs and looks up at him, blue eyes wide and full of care. “Go on, talk to him. It’s what Aang would have wanted.”

Sokka shakes his head and looks away from her, his gaze returning to Zuko’s figure in the distance. “You don’t know what’s happened.”

“I guess I don’t know,” she replies with a shrug, “but I know that you love each other.”

Sokka chokes and sputters. “You can’t just assume these things, Katara!” She laughs at that, a real laugh this time. It’s the first time all day he has seen that from her, and it makes him smile despite himself.

“Just go, please,” she begs him. “I’ll be fine, I have the kids. Just go talk to him.”

Confidence fills Sokka and soon enough he finds himself outside on one of the balconies overlooking Yue Bay with Zuko by his side. The moon’s reflection in the water is poetic, and Sokka finds himself fighting a smile at the thought. To Sokka’s delight, Zuko had agreed to join him outside rather easily. But now that the two were outside and together, whatever courage that had possessed him before was now replaced with feelings of worry and anxiety.

Their conversation starts as small talk, of course. They discuss little things like the weather, politics, the funeral. It helps diffuse the tension between them, but does nothing to rid Sokka of the unease pooling in his gut. It’s difficult for him to carry on with the conversation normally. Every inch of him is screaming to just let it all go, to finally be done with it once and for all, but he steels himself. Tells himself that he needs to ease into it, for both his sake and Zuko’s own.

The stars are shining bright, but not as brightly as the city before them. Aang’s statue on Memorial Island stands tall in the night, a symbol of unity and hope, just like Aang had been when he was alive. It’s hard to believe that he is truly gone, and Sokka supposes that he really isn’t. In all of Sokka’s lifetime, he has never considered himself to be spiritual in any way. That was more of his sister’s thing, which was aided by her waterbending abilities. He had only ever really felt something for the spirits when Yue died, but once again, she never really did die. Aang’s life was just as much the same, Sokka thinks, and now a new avatar is out there, somewhere. A new beacon of unity and hope.

Unity. The word rings in his mind like wind chimes swaying in the wind. He looks over at Zuko and sees the man, truly sees him this time. The evidence of time was just beginning to take hold of Zuko’s features, the barest hints of wrinkles setting on his face now. Streaks of grey hair are now present as well. But his eyes, those stunningly amber colored eyes, the ones that would always be captivating. Those eyes could never be dulled, by light or time, no. And looking into those eyes now, Sokka knows what he has to say.

“I think I need to apologize,” Sokka starts. “For that night.”

Zuko’s expression visibly softens at Sokka’s words. Even now, they are reliving past mistakes. In that moment, Sokka understands that Zuko too has been tormented by the phantoms of his blunders. Zuko’s countenance is all too open and familiar, just as it had been all those years ago.

The older man shakes his head, “No, I should be the one apologizing. You didn’t want to overstep. And my wife… It—It was the right thing to do.”

“I get that,” Sokka replies, voice earnest. “But I still should have gone after you. Even before, when we were just kids. We could have had something… And now it’s too late.” His voice shakes against his will.

He feels pathetic, broken up over a decades long unrequited romance that could have been requited all along. But Zuko places his hand on Sokka’s own, a habit they seem to have formed over the years, and the feelings of pity wash away. Sokka sees nothing but love in Zuko’s gaze, which is enough to bring him the courage to turn his hand and hold onto Zuko. In reality, it is a simple gesture, but to Sokka, it means the world right now. It is his lifeline, and he could never let go.

Voice hoarse, Zuko finally replies, “It’s not too late. I know we’re old now, but we still have the rest of our lives, however long that is. Isn’t that enough?”

Sokka laughs, tears welling in his eyes. “You really would still want me? After all these years?”

“I could never not want you.”

The sob that escapes Sokka’s mouth is uncontrollable, and it causes even Zuko to let a tear slip out. He pulls Sokka into a tight embrace and all of the concerns Sokka once held melt away. They are replaced with new feelings of relief and comfort, and it feels as if he can breathe again.

“I can’t believe,” Sokka whispers, “it took this long for us.”

Zuko presses a kiss to Sokka’s temple. “I know, but that doesn’t matter. We’re finally here.”

They stay together, in each other’s arms, for a moment longer. Sokka figures that they must look silly at the moment—two old fools hugging and crying into the night at their friend’s funeral. The situation truly was ridiculous, and Sokka couldn’t believe how Aang could still bring people together, even beyond the grave.

“What now?” Sokka asks, suddenly. “Where do we go from here?”

“We can think about that at another time, let’s just enjoy this moment.”

Sokka beams at him. This is the man I love , he thinks, and he loves me back . All those years of pining and bitterness mean nothing to Sokka now, not when he has the love of his life in his arms. Everything feels complete now, except for one thing.

“Wait, I need to do something,” he murmurs. He looks down at Zuko, faces the man’s expectant gaze, and it fuels him with a boldness he can only remember from his youth. Sokka begins to lean down as his hands find their way to Zuko’s face, tilting the older man’s face up to meet his. The moment is tantalizingly slow, his mind going blank as their lips near each other. He stops right before they properly meet, their breaths a mere whisper on each other’s lips from the proximity. This was it, the culmination of what Sokka sought to do since he was simply just a fifteen year old boy.

At last, their lips touch and the world spins. It is a momentous feeling that fills their guts as they press closer to each other, knowing that nothing in the world could ever dare separate them. The kiss is gentle, but passionate, and it is everything Sokka could have ever wanted. Zuko’s lips taste vaguely of whatever sweet drink it is that they were serving at the reception, Sokka realizes in a blissful haze. Zuko tangles his hand in Sokka’s hair, pulling him even closer in desperation. This electric feeling is what shocks Sokka back in time to a period of juvenescence that can never be replaced, one that makes him feel more alive than he has felt in years.

For the first time ever, he doesn’t walk away.

_

Sokka is ninety, and the world is different. 

It is said that water is the element of change. The idea is derived from the ocean’s ability to be a tempest in one moment then at peace the next. Sokka has seen the world change countless times in his lifetime, and once again does he witness the avatar usher in a new era of peace and balance.

Tonight’s events are meant to be a celebration of love and unity--the wedding of Iknik Blackstone Varrick and Zhu Li Moon. But in the eyes of some, it is also a celebration of peace. Sokka had been invited out of formality’s sake. Although he is no longer the Southern Water Tribe Chief, he is still well honored in many circles as a friend of the avatar. Nonetheless, Sokka is flattered to be able to attend what would be considered the greatest event of the year.

It was all rather sudden, really. In the wake of Kuvira’s defeat, Varrick had proposed and once the dust settled, invitations for a wedding at the end of the week were passed out. It was jarring to Sokka, but he supposes that the action is in line with the eccentric inventor. They were only briefly acquainted, but Sokka only needed five seconds with the man to know how bizarre he could be.

Sokka is gliding through the house now, making his way to the foyer. The house is relatively quiet, the only noise being the soft babble of the waterfall by the koi pond in the living room. Sokka sweeps through the room in hastened foot steps; he doesn’t want to be late to the wedding. However, just before he reaches the foyer, he passes a mirror and stops to give himself a once over.

Dissatisfied by his reflection, Sokka stops himself from his initial task and now focuses on his appearance. While most his age would not care about keeping up with appearances, time had only increased his need to look presentable. He fidgeted with the collar of his robes, trying to figure out how he could best position it. His fingers fiddle with the fabric, a soft kind that is dyed blue and feels like the smoothest thing on Sokka’s skin. He is just about to give up with the collar when a hand reaches out and fixes the collar for him.

Sokka turns his head to see his husband, Zuko, standing at his side. Zuko has a small smile on his face, his eyes trained on his hands while he works to fix Sokka’s clothes. He finishes easily enough and runs his hands down Sokka’s shoulders, smoothening the material.

“You worry too much about your looks,” Zuko murmurs. Sokka tries hard to fight a smile, but ultimately gives up.

He hums. “We’ve been married for sixteen years now. When will you get over it?" 

“Never,” Zuko replies, eyes alight with humour. “Besides, when will you accept that you always look good?”

Sokka scoffs. “You flatter me.”

“Not too much, I hope.”

The couple holds each other’s gazes for a moment, merely looking into each other’s eyes. Cool blue meet warm amber, and Sokka feels… calm. Safe. It’s nothing like he’s ever experienced in the past, not the feelings he had felt all those years ago when they were just boys. No, nowadays the emotions he felt were more of a feeling of comfort. So long were the days of an ever-present itch under his skin; he was satisfied. 

Zuko is the same as he always has been. Time could never dull his mind, or his good looks, Sokka has come to find. The older man is dressed sharply, like always, in Fire Nation regalia. The layers of richly colored fabric are fitted well on him, making him look sophisticated as ever. However, a strip of blue peeks out from under his collar--his betrothal necklace. Sokka’s eyes drift to the adornment on Zuko’s neck and he is reminded of his struggle to carve its design.

Katara had helped him choose the design. A simple Fire Nation insignia carved into the cool, blue stone. It had taken Sokka a few days to perfect it, and aside from a few outbursts of exasperation, Katara was very patient in guiding him through the process. She was the first to find out. She had been elated for them, and had made one too many playful jabs at their expense. Talks of how it “took them long enough” and how “ignorant men could be.” It was enough to make the two men sheepish, even at their age.

The proposal had come in a rush. Years ago, when Korra was only a child, she was kidnapped by Zaheer and the Red Lotus. Both Sokka and Zuko had been employed to search for her and bring her back. Against the combined forces of the White Lotus, Sokka, Zuko, and Korra’s father Tonraq, the Red Lotus had been taken down quickly and efficiently. It was after everything had blown over, when the couple returned to their shared home in Republic City, that Zuko blurted out the question. 

“Will you marry me?” he had asked, the words tumbling from his lips in an awkward mess. Sokka stared at him, bewildered.

“Would it kill you to try to make this more special?” he had bit back, no true malice in his voice.

Zuko had grinned then, sauntering up to Sokka and taking his hands into his own. “Is that a yes?”

The answer came in the form of a searing kiss.

They exchanged engagement gifts right after. Sokka giving Zuko the betrothal necklace, Zuko giving Sokka a wedding band made of magma gold. The ring was simple looking enough as to not draw any suspicion to anyone who saw it. It wasn’t as if the two of them were purposely hiding their relationship. No, they were very much past the age of secrecy and the need for such. But they were private people by nature, and if no one asked, they had supposed no explanation would be needed. Those around them could come to the conclusion themselves easily enough if paying well attention to the couple. Anyone would have to be a complete fool if they were unable to see it, see just how in love the two were with each other.

Suddenly, Sokka is brought back to the present by the weight of Zuko’s hand on his arm. “Are you ready to go?” Zuko asks, his words warm and low. Sokka nods, the smile on his face seemingly permanent as he takes his husband’s hand and heads out into the cool night air.

The wedding ceremony is full of opulence and grandeur. The splendor does nothing to diminish the obvious love between the happy couple, however, and even from Sokka’s seat, he can see how much they truly care for each other. Brought together by chaos, was what they were. There was no denying the horrors that war could bring, but sometimes it was effective in its bringing together of people. Sokka thinks just as much about Zuko and him.

It is, however, a total opposite to his and Zuko’s own wedding.  Far from grand, the ceremony was held in a private garden at the center of Republic City—a fitting location for the couple. Republic City had become a symbol of unity for the world, and it would continue to be so for the two of them. Accompanied by only the most trusted of their friends and an officiant sworn to secrecy, Sokka and Zuko married at sunset.

It was a dizzying feeling that Sokka felt when he finally got to see Zuko that day, standing at the altar. The man looked breathtaking, bathed in the golden light of the sun’s last rays. It was his eyes, beautiful and gleaming brightly as ever, that Sokka always found himself drawn to. And he had been drawn towards the sight then as he walked down towards him, unwavering under the eyes of the crowd. None of them mattered to him then, his focus solely on Zuko.

There was something poetic about their wedding being held at sundown. It had been, after all, a time of pivotal moments through their life. Times of fleeting feelings and touches that finally led to where they were now. Sundown was also the time when the sun would meet the moon. Katara had been the one to point it out to them, ever the spiritual one, that it was symbolic of their own elements. As fanciful as it had sounded, the thought had brought a smile onto both of their faces.

The movement of Zuko’s hand on his own brings him out of his thoughts. The gold of his wedding band glows even in the night, the ring on Zuko’s own hand glows distinctly as well, and the sight is a pleasing one. They are far too old now, the both of them well wrinkled and past their prime. But no amount of time could ever put out the fire in Zuko’s eyes, the one that always lights up those beautiful amber eyes. He looks regal in his formal robes, and Sokka is appreciative of the sight.

After the ceremony, many of the guests stay for the reception. Just as grand as the ceremony had been, the reception is full of drinks and dancing. The newlywed couple is thoroughly enjoying themselves on the dancefloor, giggling at each turn and step made. The sight gives Sokka an ache of nostalgia from where he stands, watching the two. Judging from the look on Zuko’s face, Sokka can tell he’s thinking similar thoughts. 

“Don’t tell me you’re waiting for me to ask you for a dance,” Sokka drawls. His words draw a low chuckle from the other man.

“I’m too old to dance,” Zuko retorts. He casts Sokka a sidelong glance, his eyebrow raising. “And I think the same could be said for you.”

Sokka gives a huff of indignance. “This is the body of a warrior, I’m sure I could take on a little dancing.”

Zuko is just about to respond when the old couple is interrupted by the arrival of another guest. Sokka is astounded to find that the guest is none other than Korra, the avatar.

Avatar Korra is different from Aang in many ways, and yet entirely the same. At the start of her path as the avatar, she had been an obstinate one, her temper rivaling even that of Zuko’s own. But as the years had passed, she had grown and matured into a leader, and it was then that Sokka could see the resemblance. The patience and care for her work was a characteristic of Aang’s, and it made Sokka’s heart pang in the hollow of his chest.

“Lord Zuko, Chief Sokka,” she greets them. She is dressed in a more trendy version of formal Southern Water Tribe clothes, her short hair made up into a bun. Sokka thinks Katara would have liked the outfit.

Sokka tilts his head at her. “Avatar Korra, I am no longer chief, there is no need for titles and formality.” 

“The same goes for me, we are old friends after all,” Zuko says with a nod. 

She visibly relaxes. It is obvious that while she has grown much, diplomacy is still not her strongest suit. A smile appears on her face. “Right, of course. How is the night going for you two?”

“Could be better, if this old fool would dance with me,” Sokka teases, ignoring the roll of Zuko’s eyes and the small jab of his elbow. Korra giggles at that.

“Well, if he still refuses, I’d be happy to dance with you myself,” she offers. Sokka is charmed by the idea, and briefly considers it before giving a shake of his head. It is moments like these that lead him to believe that Korra’s connection to Aang is not entirely gone.

“I’m flattered, but I’m sure there are more things you’d rather do than dance with a decrepit man such as myself,” Sokka replies.

Zuko’s voice is mocking when he says, “Oh, but I thought you said you had the body of a warrior…” Sokka glares at him.

“Anyways,” he continues, turning back to look at Korra. “I do think a word of thanks is in order for you. We’ve watched you grow so much, and you’ve done so much for the world. Aang would be very proud of you.”

Korra’s eyes shine for a moment. “Thank you, that means a lot to me.”

Zuko nods in agreement. “Things are very… Different now. But for the best. I’m glad I’m here to see it.”

“I do have to thank you two as well,” Korra says. She wrings her hands together, as if shy to say it. “You two have supported me and guided me during times of trouble in Republic City, and for that, I am forever grateful.”

The couple knows what she means. It had been Sokka, after all, who had spoken out as a nonbender in favor of her during the Equalist movement. He had also been the one to give support to her father when Unalaq invaded the Southern Water Tribe. And when Zaheer and his lackeys returned, both Zuko and Sokka had offered whatever aid they could to the avatar. Even if the days of their own adventuring were long gone, they still had a duty to the world.

The couple and avatar exchange only a few more words after that before she heads off to speak with more guests. Although they did not say it, the two were touched by the sincerity found in the avatar’s words. But they knew the truth--with or without their help, Korra’s victories had been her own. There was no one else in the world that could take credit for her work in revolutionizing politics, society, and even life itself. And for that, both Sokka and Zuko were immensely proud of how Korra had turned out. 

“She’s so young, and she’s already had to bear the weight of the world on her shoulders,” Sokka says with a sigh.

“We were younger,” Zuko points out. Sokka knows he’s right, but it doesn’t lessen his sympathy for the avatar.

“I remember those days, feeling responsible for the world,” Sokka murmurs. His arm finds its way around Zuko’s waist, pulling him close in a half embrace. He smells of sandalwood and rose, the heady scent a relieving one to Sokka’s senses. He allows himself to draw even closer.

Zuko hums then, tilting his head to rest on Sokka’s shoulder. He looks out to the courtyard, surveying the guests. “I think we always will feel responsible in some miniscule way. If the feeling ever truly went away, I would have dragged you off to live alone together years ago.”

Sokka chuckles at the thought. “I would have liked that very much.” They stand together in each other’s embrace for a moment longer, just enjoying each other’s closeness. Some of the guests, those that weren’t so wrapped up in their own activities, take notice of their proximate nature and shock is evident on their faces.

“Do you reckon people will finally figure out that we’ve been married for years?” Sokka questions.

Zuko doesn’t reply, though, only keeps his gaze on the sea of people spread around the courtyard. There are throngs of guests still at the reception despite the late hour. Sokka sees his nephews and niece talking with the Beifongs by the buffet table, Bumi indiscreetly trying to sneak more food onto his plate. At another end, he sees the new Earth King, Wu, standing with his bodyguard, Mako. Sokka had only met the two briefly prior to the wedding, and Zuko had agreed with him in his assessment of Wu’s eccentricism. Mako’s own temperament was much more reserved, and while the man acted as a paragon of stoicism, Sokka could tell that he was fond of the Earth Kingdom royal. It is especially evident now as Wu drags Mako onto the dancefloor with an excited expression, Mako’s own mask of resignation cracking. 

However, that is not what Zuko is looking at. Sokka follows his gaze, only to land on a lone figure by the refreshments table. He finds himself looking at Asami Sato, CEO of Future Industries. It takes Sokka a moment to comprehend why Zuko is so intrigued by the woman’s presence. It is only when he notices just where Miss Sato’s attention is directed that he understands the knowing look on Zuko’s face.

Miss Sato has her gaze trained on the brunette standing on the other end of the courtyard, avatar Korra herself. It would have seemed normal to anyone looking, possibly not even worth noticing to most. But to Sokka, who could understand just what that look held, it was painfully reminiscent. Sokka does not even need to say anything to Zuko. He merely squeezes his husband’s shoulder before making his way to the woman in red.

There is no one around the refreshments table when he arrives, the majority of the guests preferring the bar to the non-alcoholic choices offered. Miss Sato doesn’t notice his presence, still enraptured by whatever the avatar is doing. It takes the noise of Sokka clearing his throat to snap the woman out of her stupor. She blushes when she realizes just who she is standing next to. 

“Chief Sokka!” she exclaims, clearly surprised by his presence.

“Please, just Sokka is fine,” he replies easily. “How are you enjoying so far, Miss Sato?”

The woman gives him a nod. “The party is wonderful so far, Sokka. And please, Asami is preferable.”

It is Sokka’s turn to nod in acknowledgement. “I’ll keep that in mind, Asami.”

Before this, Sokka remembers them having spoken to each other once in the past. It had been a year ago or so, when the Red Lotus had made their return. Asami was starstruck by Sokka, it seemed, and she had expressed her admiration to him as a fellow nonbender as well. Zuko teased him about it afterwards, but it did nothing to diminish his smile from the encounter.

“Forgive me for assuming,” Sokka starts, “but you and Korra…?” 

He turns to see Asami’s eyes widen in surprise. She chokes on her drink, coughing into her glass for a moment. When she looks back up to face him, her skin is flushed and Sokka has an inkling that it isn’t just from the cold air.

“Oh no, I--” she pauses, catching herself with a sigh. “It’s that obvious, huh?” 

Sokka hums and pours himself a drink--a sort of sweetened tea that he vaguely recognizes. The liquid cools his throat as he once again thinks back on his first encounter with Asami. The lingering looks Korra and Asami had given each other when Sokka first met them are now more prominent in his mind. While he was not present for the final battle against Kuvira, he had read the reports and heard the stories for himself. There was no denying just how protective Asami was of the avatar, and how stricken she had been when Korra was injured.

“Obvious, yes,” he says with a sigh. “Only to one familiar with such a situation.”

“Oh, familiar?”

Sokka looks across the room to where Zuko is, the man now sitting at a table. He is talking to Bolin, Korra’s earthbender friend. Sokka isn’t sure what it is that they are discussing, but Bolin seems fascinated by whatever it is that Zuko has to say. Sokka’s chest constricts at the sight, feeling his heart swell with love for his husband.

“I used to have that look on my face too. I know all too well your situation,” Sokka says in explanation.

Asami’s eyes widen again. “Oh, I didn’t realize--you and Lord Zuko--”

Sokka waves his hand to dismiss her apologies. “We don’t advertise, and I’m sure you can understand why.” Asami nods in understanding, her eyes catching on the flash of gold on his finger. “I am the happiest man alive because of him, but I only wish we could have been happy together earlier.”

Sokka sees Asami’s expression turn somber, her gaze softening as she makes eye contact with the former chief. He must be imagining it, he thinks, when he stares back into the woman’s green eyes. It is as if she can see it, the pain he had felt in the past. As if she can see every moment in Sokka’s life where he had turned away and been a coward.

He breaks away from her gaze to nod in the direction of Korra. She is now in conversation with Tenzin, a small smile on her face. Sokka turns back to Asami and sighs. “You’re young and in love, which is the greatest of all gifts. Don’t waste the opportunity you have now.”

Asami’s eyebrows furrow. “But what if… what if she doesn’t feel the same way? This could ruin everything I have with her.”

“And what if you never tell her?” Sokka muses. “What if you’re left feeling bereft your entire life, wondering what might have been?” He sees Asami’s look of worry fade away at the recognition of his words. “I’m lucky enough to have been given numerous chances in my life, I wouldn’t want you to suffer a similar fate. Or worse.” 

Asami is quiet then. She takes a sip of her drink, a dark red liquid that matches the color of her lips. Her swallow is audible as she mulls over his words. Her gaze is once again on Korra, and Sokka knows she’s weighing her options.

“How did you do it?” Asami asks, her voice a mere whisper that Sokka nearly misses her words.

How did I do it? he wonders. That pivotal night on Air Temple Island had been a miracle, really. He had spent the majority of his life believing that he would never get his time with Zuko. But in that rare moment, he had been filled with a daring that forced the words out of him. The reason for his hour of valor were a result of many things. Aang had just died, Katara was supportive, but most of all, Sokka was tired. 

He was tired of running away from his feelings, tired of giving excuses, tired of being alone. Every time he met with Zuko there had been a voice in his head, telling him how it was wrong and not meant to be. It only took him so long to realize it was his own voice, trying to rationalize why he didn’t deserve his own happy ending. It was his exhaustion that finally led him to confess his feelings.

It takes him a while to find his words, but he finally speaks. “I couldn’t keep putting off my own happiness. So finally, I just gave in.” At that, Asami turns to look at him, expression unguarded and eyes betraying uncertainty. “Don’t let that voice in your head stop you from being with the one you love.”

“Wow… Thank you,” Asami breathes. Sokka sees her countenance visibly lighten as she drinks in the information that has been handed to her. She gives Sokka a nod and a wave of mutual understanding passes between them before she stalks off towards where Korra stands.

A feeling of pride wells up in him as he watches Asami do what he never had the courage to do all those years ago. He sees Tenzin run off in a hurry from whatever it is that Asami said to him, and then Asami and Korra are gone, having walked off to a private part of the courtyard it seems. That alone gives Sokka a smile as he makes his way back to where Zuko sits, now alone.

The expression on his husband’s face is questioning. “You look smug, I take it that things went well?”

Sokka’s smile only widens. “I’ll tell you all about it later, I promise.”

It is hard to ignore the growing feeling of adoration that bubbles in Sokka’s stomach at the sight of his husband. Wow, he thinks, husband. Even after all these years, he is still awed by the title, not entirely believing of the truth. How unreal it was to him that Zuko was here with him now, looking up at him with those gorgeous eyes of his. Like honey, he had thought when he was merely a boy, and he thinks it again now. There really is no amount of words or a proper enough language to suitably convey just how smitten Sokka is and continues to be.

He looks at the old man sitting before him, a retired Firelord with snow white hair and equally white beard, and feels young again. That always seems to be the effect Zuko has on him. Though his bones ache and his hair is now grey in color, Sokka feels the lighthearted joy of a young man within him. He misses adolescence and sometimes he still wishes that he could go back and do things right. But Sokka could never truly pine for his youth, not when Zuko was with him.

Zuko studies him curiously. “You’ve got that look on your face, your thinking one. What’s on your mind?”

Sokka shakes his head, still unable to shake the grin that is growing on his face. “Nothing, only thinking about how much I love you.”

The wrinkles around Zuko’s face soften at his words. “I love you too.”

Zuko’s hand finds its way to Sokka’s, bringing the hand up to his lips in a kiss. Sokka can’t help the snort that escapes him. There’s no denying how touched he is by the action, but he rolls his eyes.

“Oh, don’t be like that. Get up here and kiss me like a man.”

Zuko huffs a laugh before standing to his feet. His arms wrap around Sokka, still strong even as an elder man, pulling his husband close. Although there are still others around, the two men share a kiss. The meeting of their lips is soft and sweet, somehow perfectly conveying their love to each other. They pull away after a moment and feel breathless, as every kiss is just as exhilarating as their first.

Sokka feels Zuko nudge him, directing his attention to look behind him. When he turns, he sees two young women holding hands and heading towards the exit. It is no surprise to Sokka when he realizes that the two are in fact Asami and Korra. Just before the two women leave, Asami turns back just in time to see Sokka’s gaze. Sokka nods to her in acknowledgement, to which she responds in kind to him with a smile before hurrying off with her own lover to wherever.

Sokka takes Zuko’s hand into his own, feeling only love in his being, and he knows: there are no ghosts here.