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Zuko calls at three in the morning and says, tears in his voice and rage through his teeth, “I want to run away.”

 

It’s Sokka’s turn to carry the brain cell in his household but he doesn’t waste a second before he’s saying, “Tell me when and where—I’m coming too.”

 


 

Where turns out to be a block away from Sokka’s driveway, and when turns out to be approximately fifteen minutes after Sokka hangs up the phone. 

 

Sokka’s car is bigger and a little more comfortable, but Zuko’s gets better gas mileage. They’re too young and too broke to think about renting a car but even if they weren’t, Sokka doesn’t think that he’d want to.

 

I’m here, Zuko texts, Come to the other end of the street.

 

Dad’s gonna kill them both for this, Sokka thinks, and ultimately decides that he doesn’t care. He’s eighteen years old and has just graduated and starting college in the fall—everyone should take one badly planned road trip before the onset of adulthood, right? It won’t be longer than a day or two, anyway.

 

It’s easy to throw a few sets of clothes, his phone charger, his Switch, and a few other doodads into the backpack he’d used for school only a week ago. Dad sleeps like the dead so he doesn’t hesitate to stop in the kitchen and gather up some snacks and a few cans of cola and the last unopened bag of Cheetos (sorry, Katara).

 

Sokka leaves a note on Dad’s forehead that promises to call him in the morning, when he’s far enough away to not be murdered on sight.

 

Zuko’s waiting in his car at the other end of the street.

 

Sokka throws himself into the passenger seat and chucks his bag in the back. 

 

“Where are we going?” He asks, and gets a thick stack of pamphlets tossed into his lap.

 

“You pick,” Zuko says, just a little bit wild around the eyes and looking seconds away from bolting. Sokka gets it. He’s had a hard year—more of a hard life, if Sokka’s being honest. They’ve finally gotten enough hard evidence to put Ozai away, thank god, and Zuko was a mess for the entire month leading up to graduation. Unfortunately, having a verdict isn’t the same thing as having a sentence, and now Sokka’s best friend has something new to obsess over: having to show up in court for sentencing before classes start in the fall.

 

Sokka thought that he’d been doing better.

 

Zuko has not been doing better.

 

Sokka hands Zuko a cold coke without being asked for it and flips through the pamphlets. He doesn’t know where they came from—there’s a few from what seems to be every state.

 

Finally, he pulls one out of the stack and opens it.

 

“Let’s start with the redwoods,” he says, “And see where we go from there.”

 


 

Sokka does not die by way of his father.

 

It’s a close call, but this is what Dad deserves for being so determined, throughout Sokka’s eighteen years of life, to be The Cool Dad. Maybe if he’d been a little tougher, Sokka wouldn't have swanned off for a road trip in the middle of the night. Dad just doesn’t get that sometimes it’s just way better to apologize than ask permission.

 

When the sun begins to crack over the horizon, Zuko asks Sokka to look up the nearest open grocery. They don’t buy a lot, mostly just snacks and stuff that doesn’t require refrigeration that Zuko stuffs into an empty duffel bag.

 

A few hours past nine in the morning, Sokka asks Zuko if he told Iroh about leaving.

 

“He knows,” the other boy says quietly, focused on the road and occasionally checking the gps to make sure they’re still going the right way, “He’s fine with it.”

 

“Is he really?”

 

Dad is cool as shit but he’s nowhere near that cool. Sokka would not have pegged Zuko’s Uncle Iroh for being that cool.

 

“Maybe fine’s not a great word,” Zuko amends. “But he knows and he told me I could. I just—I have to be back for sentencing. And he told me I have to call or text every day. He’ll probably check in with you too—I gave him your number.”

 

That won’t be hard. Zuko is ridiculously attached to his uncle, and Iroh is swiftly taking Dad’s place as Coolest Adult Sokka Knows.

 

It’s not quite ten when Sokka has Zuko pull over and switch seats so he can drive the rest of the way. Zuko’s a careful driver, but Sokka can see him getting tired, and neither of them are willing to risk an accident. Zuko passes out five minutes after Sokka restarts the car and doesn’t wake up until they get to the park and Sokka has to gently shake him awake.

 

Sokka’s never seen such massive trees in his entire goddamned life. He’s glad he packed walking shoes for this, because if he couldn’t properly do the trails because of improper footwear he’s pretty sure he’d cry. Zuko’s prepared enough, at least, carrying a backpack with his own, reusable metal water bottle and an extra plastic one for Sokka, a few ziploc baggies of cashews and dried cranberries, and sunscreen.

 

It’s a quiet walk.

 

Sokka offers to be in charge of the map, and Zuko lets him. Sokka fills the void with enough chatter to keep it from total silence but Zuko’s not really in a talking mood. He’s never chatty , not the way that Sokka is, but he’s still holding tension in his shoulders and in the space between his eyes.

 

Sokka can’t resist taking plenty of photos—a photo of the trees here, a selfie where all you can see in the background is trunk, and his favorite doesn’t even have him in it at all. 

 

Sokka catches it by complete chance.

 

Maybe Zuko’s tired, maybe it’s only coincidence. Maybe the feeling of smallness—something that Sokka feels fully every time he looks up, finally hits him. If Sokka hadn’t been watching (because Zuko’s in a weird mood and needs looking after), he wouldn’t have caught it. It only lasts a moment but that moment is enough.

 

One second, Zuko standing very still next to one of the giant redwoods, the next he’s got both hands planted on the trunk, and he leans forward to press his forehead to cool, russet bark.

 

Maybe it’s because the lighting is great, or because aesthetically it’s a great photo, but Sokka takes the shot.

 

Later that evening, when they’re heading back to the car and Sokka’s trying to figure out which photos he wants to post to his Instagram, he knows which one is going to go up.

 

“Are you ready to go home?” Sokka asks.

 

Zuko’s already flipping through his stack of travel pamphlets.

 

“How do you feel about sea lions?” Zuko ignores his question entirely. “Oregon’s got a cave of sea lions. And a lighthouse.”

 

Sokka moves going home to the back of the stack.

 


 

Dinner consists of peanut butter and honey sandwiches and fruit cups of diced peaches thrown back like shots.

 

It’s late by the time they reach the outskirts of Florence and instead of getting a motel, they end up sleeping in the car in the parking lot of a Walmart. Sokka points out the sign that says no overnight parking and Zuko looks at him like he’s stupid.

 

Zuko’s back seats fold down and while it’s not the comfiest night’s sleep that Sokka’s ever had, it’s far from the worst. Zuko, ever prepared for apparently anything except the tribulations of his own existence, has a stolen sofa pillow for each of them and a king-size comforter, which takes sleeping comfort from a two up to a solid five.

 

It’s not perfect, though.

 

Sokka wakes up more than once and every time, Zuko’s still awake and staring up at the sky through the sunroof. It’s still a parking lot at Walmart, though, and there’s too much light pollution to see any but the very brightest stars.

 

“Hey,” Sokka whispers at two am, “Why aren’t you sleeping?”

 

Zuko shrugs.

 

“You’re gonna be too tired to enjoy the sea lions.”

 

“No such thing,” Zuko retorts with a crooked tilt of his lips, but it slips right off his face and soon as he stops actively trying to hold it.

 

Sokka frowns.

 

“Can I help? You won’t be any good to drive at all if you don’t rest.”

 

Zuko shrugs again and returns to staring out the sunroof. He’s searching for something, and Sokka doesn’t know if he’s looking for stars or something else entirely.

 

After what takes way too long with all the lights in the lot, Sokka manages to find Sirius in the inky stretch of sky above them.

 

“Hey, look where I’m pointing,” Sokka points to Sirius out the roof of the car, “You see that star? The really bright one? That’s Sirius A, the dog star. You know, people only ever talk about that one because it’s the brightest, but it’s actually a binary star? There’s a second star that you can’t really see. People always say that to find your way, you should look for Polaris, but that’s bullshit. Look for Sirius instead, and it’ll show you where south is. And over there, by Sirius?” Sokka shifts his hand. “That’s Orion, it’s easy to find him because of his belt. Over there—you can barely see it, fuck these lights—there’s a cluster of stars called the Pleiades, the seven sisters.”

 

Thanks to Dad, Sokka practically grew up on the water and knows the stars like he knows his own heart. He can recite this in his sleep.

 

As he talks, he lowers his voice to a soft, easy lecture. The more Sokka talks, the more Zuko relaxes until he’s curled in a graceful ‘c’ shape. He’s not so close that he’s touching but he’s close enough that Sokka can feel the warmth of his breath as he slides into sleep.

 

Zuko starts blinking very, very slowly right around the time that Sokka starts talking about Vega in the constellation Lyra, and Deneb and Albireo in Cygnus. Sokka rolls over to tell him about how to use the Northern Cross to tell the seasons, Zuko, finally asleep as he should be, rolls into him to fit himself into the space between them. Sokka’s too drowsy to think too hard about how easy it is to wrap his arms around his friend and curl around him.

 

The backseat, once hard and uncomfortable in it’s folded-seat glory, is now unspeakably cozy, and it’s so easy to fall back asleep.

 


 

Sokka knows that Zuko is awake because there’s a hard thud from the backseat of a body rolling in between the still-folded seats and the front ones when he brakes for a stoplight and a lot of swearing.

 

“Son of a bitch motherfucker—“

 

“If you can unwedge yourself without making me crash your car, I have breakfast for you.” Sokka keeps his eyes on the road and shakes the McDonalds bag. “I got you extra hash browns.”

 

Zuko manages to pry himself out of the space between the seats with a minimum of kicking and a whole lot of profanity. He makes a solid attempt to climb back over the seat, but Sokka screeches loudly enough that he gives up and settles back down in the remnants of last night’s blanket nest. 

 

At the next stoplight, Sokka hands him the bag. 

 

“Also, good morning.”

 

Zuko’s reply is muffled into his sausage biscuit, but Sokka understands him anyway.

 

“You could have gotten me up,” Zuko says when his mouth is empty.

 

“Nah, I ain’t that mean. You were sleeping like a baby. You’re just in time for the fun part—we’re about ten minutes out.”

 

“Pull over so I can climb up front? Anyone pulls us over, we’re screwed if I’m not wearing a seatbelt. And by we, I mean I.”

 

“Nope.”

 

Sokka.”

 

“Nope! You can either chill in your burrito or put the seat up. I stop when we park and not a moment before.”

 

Katara wouldn’t think twice about flipping the seat up and putting on her seat belt. Neither would Aang. Zuko, however, despite his protests, curls back up in his nest and pretends to be luggage every time they pass a cop car.

 


 

The sea lions are loud and annoying, and Sokka loves them.

 

Look, it’s you! He texts Katara with a photo of one that looks like it’s yelling. 

 

She immediately sends back a frowny face and a surly wish I’d gotten an end of the year road trip. Dad is so mad at you.

 

Sokka doesn’t know how to tell her that even though he’s having fun, he’s pretty sure that this trip isn’t just for fun. 

 

There’s a kitschy little gift shop that Zuko spends what feels like a thousand years picking out the perfect, sea lion-themed tchotchke to bring home to his uncle, and Sokka thinks hard about what he wants for lunch.

 

In between thinking about lunch, he snaps a photo of Zuko thinking way too hard about whether Iroh would prefer a sea lion Christmas ornament or a sea lion incense holder (both are tacky as hell and Iroh will love either of them), and posts it to his Instagram.

 

He also finds a plastic sea lion snapper toy and, after having way too much fun bothering Zuko with it, decides to buy it for Katara. She can use it on Aang; he’ll love it.

 

“Are you ready to go home, yet?”

 

Zuko doesn’t have to answer for Sokka to know what his answer is.

 

“You know,” Sokka continues as if he’d never spoken in the first place, “There’s an Air Bnb in Idaho that’s been built out of a giant potato? Dunno how much it costs but we could give it a look-see.”

 


 

The first sketchy hotel room happens, ironically, right after the potato Air Bnb.

 

Sokka, personally, attests that sleeping in a giant potato is the best thing he could have done with two hundred bucks, and insists that it was worth it even if it means that now he’s broke as hell. Zuko, on the other hand, claims that he can smell potato even after getting back in the car, which is a total lie.

 

Zuko decided, the night that they sleep in the giant potato, that he wants to go to Montana.

 

“What’s in Montana?” Sokka asks.

 

“Mountains,” Zuko replies, “And nothing else.”

 

That also turns out to be a total lie. There’s plenty to do in Montana, but Zuko wants mountains, and this is mostly his road trip. If Zuko wants mountains, then he deserves to get mountains. Not that there weren’t some mountains in Idaho or in Oregon, where they just were , but mountains in Montana are supposed to be special, Zuko insists. The damned state is named after them, after all.

 

The sketchy motel in Montana is what brings up a subject that Sokka’s been staunchly avoiding, mostly in the spirit of youthful tomfoolery.

 

“Not to bring down the mood here, buddy, but, uh, how exactly are you affording this?” Sokka insisted, on his pride and after the amount of shit talking that Zuko did about the potato, on paying for that himself, but that’s been his main contribution.

 

Zuko’s paid for everything else.

 

“Oh.” Zuko reaches into his wallet and pulls out a credit card. It’s not his, Sokka knows, because he knows what Zuko’s debit card looks like and it definitely isn’t a smooth, matte black. Zuko’s debit card also doesn’t say ‘Ozai’ on it. “I thought I told you. This is the first good thing that being my father’s son has done for me.”

 

“...Does he know that you have that?”

 

“What do I care?” Zuko’s voice goes sharp, “He’s in fucking prison where he belongs. Uncle’s taking control of the company this week and told me I could use it but not to go crazy. So here I am.” He grins, all teeth. “Definitely not going crazy.”

 

It figures that a man like Ozai can brutalize his kids for their entire lives and then get sent to jail primarily for tax evasion. It’s an old subject, but that won’t stop Sokka from being filled with rage that a lifetime of child abuse comes secondary to money. Zuko’s a realist about it, and routinely claims that jail is jail, and I don’t care why the courts make him rot as long as he never comes out

 

Sokka thinks that it’s because he doesn’t know how to handle it any other way.

 

“So...your dad is paying for your vacation?”

 

“And your vacation!” Zuko adds with a gleeful, borderline diabolical grin. “He’ll hate it.”

 

Ozai had hated everything about Sokka’s existence from the moment he’d met him, when he and Zuko were twelve years old. He’d always been huge and looming and awful, like a spectre hanging over Zuko’s head even though he was hardly ever around. Sokka had known immediately that the hatred was mutual from the moment he’d seen how blatantly terrified Zuko was of him.

 

He’d looked a hell of a lot smaller being handcuffed and shoved into a cop car. Sokka had seen it happening on tv, and had waved a vindictive goodbye to the man anyway.

 

“I’ve been way too cheap of a date, then,” Sokka jokes, “If I’d known this whole time that your dad was buying, I’d have been way more pricey.”

 

That’s a lie and they both know it, even though it does make Sokka feel better to know that he’s not going to inadvertently bankrupt his best friend.

 

The motel they stay at is sketchy as shit.

 

It’s sketchy as shit and there’s only one bed.

 

“You take the bed,” Sokka says immediately.

 

“No, you take it,” is Zuko’s insistent reply, “You drove most of today.”

 

“You didn’t sleep for shit last night. And you—don’t feed me bullshit, it’s semantics and you know it—you paid for the room. So you should get it.”

 

“Take the stupid bed, Sokka.”

 

“No! You have it.”

 

No.

 

Sokka has fussed with Zuko over a lot of dumb, dumb things, but this might be the dumbest.

 

Sokka glares at Zuko, who glares right back, stubborn as anything.

 

“Fine,” Sokka grits out, “Be stubborn about it. I’ll take the bed on one condition.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

Sokka bolts forward without warning and loops an arm around Zuko’s waist, yanking hard enough to throw him onto the mattress with an undignified yelp. Sokka throws himself into the bed as well.

 

“We’ll just share, then.”

 

Hopefully, that’ll teach Zuko to be so stubborn. Sokka has it on good authority that he’s a fairly horrible bedmate, clingy and smothering by turn. Also, according to Katara, he kicks. Next time, Zuko will know better than to challenge Sokka for the dubious honor of floor sleeping.

 

Or, at least, it’ll teach him to double check for two beds on check in.

 

Zuko sputters for words for a few moments, red-cheeked from exertion, and then stops struggling.

 

Fine,” he grits out, “The next time you throw me, I’m throwing you back. Probably out a window.”

 

That’s also a lie and they both know it, but Sokka indulges him enough to let it go.

 


 

“So, when are you coming home?”

 

Zuko’s taking a shower and Sokka’s taking the moment to call home and talk to Dad.

 

“Hmmm. Maybe in a couple of days?”

 

“Sokka. Something a bit more solid than ‘maybe in a couple of days’, please?”

 

“I don’t know! We’re just...going with the flow? You know that Zuko’s...you know. He’s working through some shit.”

 

Dad’s silent on the other end for a moment. Sokka waits him out.

 

“Just—couldn’t he work things out and stay in the state, at least?”

 

“That’s just no fun! Come on, Dad. You’re always talking about all the dumb shit you and Bato did when you were my age. All that coming of age and figuring out who you are garbage. Why’s it any different?”

 

“Me and Bato weren’t—“ Dad cuts himself off. “Never mind. Don’t worry about it.”

 

“You and Bato weren’t what, exactly?”

 

“I said don’t worry about it, you horrible brat.” Despite the bravado, Sokka can hear a smile in his voice, a part of him that he didn’t realize had been tightly wound loosens up. “Tell me about the sea lions. Your sister showed me the photos you sent her. You had fun?”

 

So much fun.”

 

“You’re helping Zuko with the driving, right?”

 

Sokka huffs.

 

Yes, I’m helping Zuko with the driving. Who do you think I am?”

 

“I don’t know sometimes, who do you think you are?”

 

“Your horrible, terrible son who you miss dearly?”

 

Dad snorts.

 

“Ugh, I guess. If I have to.”

 

The water shuts off from the bathroom.

 

“Okay, Dad, I’ve gotta go. Greetings from Montana and all that shit. Tomorrow we’ve got a date with a mountain and some wildflowers. Allegedly.”

 

“Allegedly?”

 

“You know, it’s like, sometimes we pick a place and then end up somewhere else?”

 

“Send me pictures, and tell Zuko I said hi.”

 

“Yup! Bye, love you!”

 

Sokka hangs up just as Zuko comes out of the bathroom, toweling off his hair and already in pajamas. Very familiar pajamas.

 

“Is that my…?”

 

Zuko glances down at his shirt and then smirks. That shirt should be familiar, because it’s Sokka’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt that Sokka has thought lost for at least six months.

 

“You left it at my house,” Zuko informs him, “Finders keepers.”

 

“You didn’t find shit! I left it.”

 

“Should have thought of that before the statute of limitations ran out on it, then.”

 

“Ha ha.” Sokka glowers at him. “We’ll see how long you keep a hold of your Florence concert hoodie, how about that?”

 

“Put a hand on my baby and you’re a dead man.” Zuko talks a big game but he doesn’t mean it. He might seem like he’s all edges but Sokka sees the softness in him like a neon sign in the dark. “How’s your dad?”

 

Sokka grins.

 

“He’s good. Still a little salty at me, but you know. He’ll get over it. He says hi, by the way.” Sokka will never get used to how easily Zuko gets thrown off by casual care. Passing on Dad’s message isn’t hard, but there’s always that little moment where Zuko looks so shocked that somebody thought about him. “Are you tired?”

 

“...A bit.”

 

“Well, come on then.” Sokka pats the section of bed next to him. “Time to take your punishment.”

 

Zuko takes a step forward and then hesitates at the last second. He looks, very suddenly, extremely uncomfortable.

 

“It’s, um. I really can sleep on the floor. I don’t mind.”

 

“Nope. If you sleep on the floor, we both sleep on the floor.” Sokka pats the mattress again. “Come on, buttercup. I’m tired, and I don’t bite. Hustle.”

 

Zuko does not hustle but approaches slowly, like Sokka and their sketchy motel bed are some wild animal that will attack on sight. Sokka would have expected him to look annoyed about it but he’s nervous instead. Well, he probably just isn’t used to sharing a bed with anyone else. He’s sure as hell gonna learn, and maybe next time he won’t fight so hard to keep Sokka off the floor.

 

Zuko slides underneath the comforter like it’s going to bite him and lays there, rigid and statue-stiff.

 

“Oh my god,” Sokka grumbles, “At least pretend to relax. It’s fine. It’s just me. Chill out or I’m gonna spoon you.”

 

“Do not—“ 

 

“Too late,” Sokka rolls right over all over Zuko’s protests and scoots closer to his friend, curling around him back to chest and hauling him into his arms, “Now suffer.”

 

He fully expects to get swatted or smacked for his audacity, but it never comes.

 

Zuko stays tense and coiled for a moment that’s agonizingly long, and then, very suddenly, he’s...not. All of Zuko’s tension drains out of him, and he goes loose and warm and pliant in Sokka’s hold. It’s easy to hold him and Sokka’s a cuddly shithead by nature anyway, and if he happens to tuck his head down to brush his nose against the nape of Zuko’s neck, that’s between him and the cosmos.

 

Zuko shivers.

 

“Shit, are you cold?”

 

“Shut up!” Zuko snaps and rolls over to face Sokka’s chest, out of proper spooning position but remaining in the circle of his arms, pressing his nose hard into Sokka’s collarbone. “Just...just shut up.” 

 

“Are you—“

 

“I said shut up.”

 

Sokka shuts up. Zuko stays quiet and still.

 

Sokka shuts up but only for a moment.

 

“You know you can—if you wanted, you could hold me back.” Sokka keeps his voice low but feels like he’s shouting into the silence of their motel room. Zuko doesn’t so much as breathe. “Do you want me to let go?” Zuko’s weird about touching sometimes, like he needs it but doesn’t know how to ask for it, or if he even wants it in the first place.

 

Just one more thing that Sokka hopes that Ozai pays for in prison.

 

Sokka’s about to ask again, but stops when Zuko answers, not with words but with an arm looped over his waist instead that pulls tight until the space between their bodies has been crowded out. It’s a relief, because Sokka likes to tease and he likes to touch and it’s fun to do both at the same time, but not at Zuko’s expense. Sokka gives his best friend a full body squeeze, tries to put every drop of the warmth and love in his soul that he has for him into it, like that can erase for a second what Ozai did to him.

 

It’s not enough. It won’t ever be enough. Sokka remembers being thirteen and scared to death when Zuko’s out of school for a month. Sokka remembers being thirteen the day that Zuko comes back to school, hard and sharp with bandages still covering his eye. Sokka wanted to hold him, then.

 

He wanted to hold him last year, when Zuko had been having panic attacks every time he or Uncle had to give testimony and when he lived in absolute terror that the man would be found not guilty.

 

He wants to hold him now.

 

“Two bros, chillin’ in a motel, no feet apart because it’s 2020 and they’re secure in their masculinity.”

 

“Sokka.” Zuko’s voice finally comes, shirty and mortified and annoyed from somewhere around his neck, “Shut up.” Tough words from someone currently wrapped around Sokka like an octopus, but Sokka lets him have it.

 

He means to stay awake for a bit longer, but Zuko passes out almost immediately and is way too warm and soft and cuddly for Sokka’s resistance to stand a chance. He’ll definitely regret this in the morning, when Sokka’s spent all night kicking him and rolling around.

 

He’ll definitely regret it.

 


 

Zuko, in fact, does not regret it.

 

Zuko, in fact, has one of the best nights’ sleep of his life.

 


 

Zuko was right about the mountains. They are special, and the hike makes Sokka want to die but in a good way. Zuko insists that eating lunch in a field of wildflowers on the side of the highway doesn’t count as having a picnic, but Sokka staunchly disagrees.

 

“You’re not gonna win on this one. Even Google says I’m right.”

 

“Google can suck my—“

 

“Be quiet and like it. You want the rest of these almonds?”

 

After Montana, it’s a visit to Yellowstone in Wyoming, because Sokka’s basic as hell and has wanted to see Old Faithful for his entire life. After Wyoming it’s the official Sasquatch Outpost in Colorado (Zuko’s pick, for the record) and Junkrassic Park, also in Colorado (Sokka’s). Zuko buys a Sasquatch hoodie despite it being summertime and boiling and wears it because he’s stubborn and Sokka says that he won’t. Sokka gets some matching stickers instead and plasters them onto both his and Zuko’s water bottles.

 

Sokka takes so many photos of the metal sculptures in Junkrassic Park, and even more of Zuko taking photos of them like the artsy fartsy nerd that he is. He feels like a wildlife photographer, capturing the true essence of his best friend on digital film...and the true essence of his best friend is nerd.

 

People look at Zuko and think that he’s so cool and cold and sharp, and so rarely see that all that’s just the awkward he’s suffered from his whole life. Zuko cries at ASPCA commercials and refuses to watch animal movies until he knows for sure that the dog doesn’t die, for goodness’ sake. Zuko spends a thousand years methodically peeling tangerines because he hates the bitter taste of the pith, and Sokka makes fun of him endlessly for it even though the segments he shares with him are the best he’s ever eaten. Zuko showers at night because he likes to feel like he’s going to bed clean and listens to way too much indie pop the moment he has control of the aux, and manages, somehow, to sing along to instrumentals.

 

There’s absolutely no part of Zuko that’s cold or hard.

 

Zuko stops finding places to hole himself up to talk to his uncle alone, and starts putting him on speakerphone so that Sokka can say hello and interject as necessary. And it is necessary, sometimes, because Zuko doesn’t always know what the best parts of a story are and needs Sokka to keep him on track. Apparently, Iroh and Dad keep each other updated on their respective kids, and Sokka’s not totally sure how he feels about it.

 

The next motel room (after three nights of sleeping on Zuko’s folded down back seats at truck stops and waking up every morning, somehow, curled up around each other like cats) has two beds. Only one of them ends up being used, because Sokka falls asleep playing Animal Crossing on Zuko’s bed while he looks over a physical map like the fucking nerd he is. Sokka wakes up the next morning plastered to Zuko’s back and with his Switch carefully set aside on the nightstand, and then says nothing more about it.

 

If every room after that contains just one bed, that’s nobody’s business and nobody’s asking.

 

Dad keeps asking when he’s coming home, and Sokka is running out of ways to say that he doesn’t know.

 

He’s also running out of ways to tell himself that it’s all for Zuko’s sake, because now it feels like a lie.