Though they’d only been open for a little over six months, Katara’s Coffee had been getting great business. Such good business, in fact, that Katara needed more help running the place than she initially thought she would.
Of course, Sokka had worked there from the start. Because, hey, a job where your sister pays you? It’s not a bad deal.
Aang, a friend from school, had been working there, too. He needed a little extra cash because he was saving up to go to flight school (the kid had always had a thing for flying, piloting was his dream job).
But when business started to blow up, Katara hired a few other peers. There was Suki, leader of the volleyball team and the tennis team, and then there was Toph, a blind girl who was shockingly good at navigating the shop and was great at taking orders (with no visual distractions, it came easy to her). It was nice to work with people you knew, actually. Besides, it was easy to work under Katara.
That is—it was easy to get the job.
Katara was sweet—everyone knew that—but she had a do-no-harm-take-no-shit-attitude. You either did your job thoroughly or she’d make sure you paid the price. This business was how she was going to pave her way to graduate school and beyond. It wasn’t like she had anyone else to help her with it (her father, Hakoda, did all he could, but he was in the army and didn’t have the ability to provide the financial support he wished he could. For the moment, at least).
So yes, Katara was sweet, but she was also determined, persistent, and more than anything, competitive.
And because of that, she immediately became defensive of her customers when a tea shop opened up across the street.
The Jasmine Dragon.
Katara had to admit, it was a clever name. Catchy, even. But the thing is, she didn’t only sell coffee. She sold tea, too. The full name of her business was Katara’s Coffee and Tea, (the ‘and tea’ was in a small font on her marketing), and a good number of her customers ordered tea on a daily basis.
And, well, the Jasmine Dragon specialized in tea. Their entire budget was going into that. So there was a high probability that their tea was higher quality than Katara’s.
She could lose customers. So she needed to know more about this new shop. Then she could adjust costs, maybe decrease her chances of losing business.
It was about a week into the opening of the Jasmine Dragon when Sokka was talking to Suki while he wiped down the counter. (He was always trying to impress her, they had a casual flirting affair that really only went on at work.) Aang and Toph were joking around in the back, (not) doing some homework at an unoccupied table in the back. (They were still in high school and worked at the coffee shop as an after-school job.) Sokka was delivering the punchline to an unimpressive pun (to which Suki politely laughed and rolled her eyes) when Katara pulled Sokka from counter-cleaning duty and spoke to him in her I’m-your-boss-not-your-sister voice.
“Sokka, listen closely,” she said, lightly gripping Sokka’s arms so he couldn’t cower from the conversation.
“Okay…” he raised an eyebrow, a small and unimpressed frown on his lips.
Katara took a breath. “You know I need every bit of cash I can get from this business, right? So I can get through the next three years of college, and then-”
“And then become a doctor. Yeah, I’m aware, Katara,” Sokka finished for her tiredly. His shift was ending and he was too worn out to have a serious conversation right now. Katara’s ambitions were no surprise to the older sibling, nor were they to anyone Katara worked with. She wanted big things in life. She wanted to make the most of it.
Sokka, well, he didn’t need any of that. He’d be happy working in a tiny coffee shop the rest of his life, maybe even running Katara’s Coffee when Katara went to graduate school. He didn’t need to be rich or wildly successful. Was it not enough to live simply and happily?
Nevertheless, he supported Katara’s dreams. He helped her with her shop because it was important to her, so it was important to him, too. (Plus, the pay didn’t hurt.)
“Right,” Katara said, shooting him a look for interrupting her. “So I can’t risk losing customers to that new tea shop across the street.”
“The Jasmine Dragon ?” Sokka clarified, mostly for himself. “Do you really think they’ll hurt your business?”
“Yes! They serve tea , Sokka,” Katara said with wild eyes, as if Sokka were missing the point entirely (he was).
“ So , they’re gonna take my tea-drinking patrons. Get it now?”
With a sigh, Sokka nodded and let Katara keep ranting.
“I need you, starting tomorrow, to go over there and introduce yourself to the owners.”
“ What? ” Sokka was much more awake all of a sudden. “Why?”
“I just need you to get a little intel, that’s all. You know, their prices, food…”
Sokka raised an eyebrow. “You want me to spy on your competition.”
It wasn’t a question. More of an accusation, really.
“It’s not spying.”
“It totally is.”
“Fine,” Katara groaned. “Whatever. I need you to spy on the owners.”
“So you really expect me, your older brother, to go in there undercover and find out everything I can about these people, and report back to you.”
“I expect you, my employee, to go in there and introduce yourself as someone who works at this shop and make their acquaintances. Then report back to me.”
“So I’m not even going incognito?”
“What am I supposed to say?” Sokka questioned, exasperated. “Like, ‘Hey, I’m Sokka, I work for your rivaling company and I wanna know what your secret tea recipe is’?”
Katara rolled her eyes. “You’re being overdramatic, you'll be fine. Trust your gut.”
“My gut tells me that you’re crazy.”
“Maybe I am,” Katara said, putting her hands on her hips in a mother-like fashion. “You still have to do it.”
Sokka scowled, but protested no further. “Fine. But I’m only going in there once .”
“Fine,” Katara agreed. “Once.”
With a huff of frustration and defeat, Sokka stalked off to finish wiping the counters before closing.
It was the following day around noon when Sokka found himself making his way across the street toward the Jasmine Dragon .
This is stupid, this is stupid, this is really, really stupid.
He’d been harassed by Katara over text that morning before work to wear something at least a little nicer than his usual outerwear to meet these people. He argued very little. But it certainly wasn’t fun scurrying around his college dorm that morning, looking for something decent to wear before he had to leave for one of his early classes.
Sokka pushed open the door of the new tea shop, which had once been a mattress firm, he remembered, and was immediately taken aback by the pleasant aroma(s?) that had been hidden inside the walls. Who knew tea could smell that good? (Though, the pastries probably added to the scent of the atmosphere.)
With a quick scan of the dining (tea drinking?) area, Sokka quickly noticed that the place was almost empty, seeing as they had just opened for the day.
“Welcome to the Jasmine Dragon, can I help you with anything?”
Sokka quickly looked over to the slightly raspy customer-service voice that had greeted him.
It had come from a young man who looked to be around Sokka’s age, and spirits—oh, Tui and La—he was the most gorgeous person in the entire world, surely. No one had any right to be that beautiful unless they sold their soul or-
“Uh…” Sokka said awkwardly, trying to get a grasp on the little introduction he’d practiced before coming over. “Uh, right. Yes. Hello.”
The other boy— spirits he was pretty —dropped his pleasant ‘how can I help you?’ smile just a bit. “Uh, hi.”
Come on, you useless bisexual loser, Sokka found himself saying internally. Speak! He’s waiting!
“I’m Sokka. I work across the street. At, um, the coffee shop.” He held out his hand abruptly.
The other young man seemed surprised. “Oh.” He reciprocated the gesture and shook Sokka’s hand with a shockingly firm grip. “Uh, I’m Zuko.”
Sokka held the handshake for just a split-second too long before releasing Zuko’s hand (Zuko. What a perfect name to match a perfect face.)
“Nice to meet you.” (Very nice indeed.) “I-well, my sister, Katara, she thought it’d be best if we said hello. Just to, you know, have connections and stuff.”
“Katara,” Zuko repeated, tilting his head a bit, making Sokka’s knees go weak at the hinges. “So she’s the owner?”
Sokka nodded. “Yeah.”
Wow, real articulate answer. Just ‘yeah’? That’s it?
Zuko gave him an unusual look, and it was only then that he realized he’d been staring. He quickly tore his eyes away. “Sorry.”
Zuko forced a slightly embarrassed but also reassuring smile onto his lips. “It’s fine. People stare all the time.”
“They do?” Sokka questioned stupidly. “Wh…”
It was only then, right then, over a minute into this embarrassing interaction, when Sokka finally noticed the other side of Zuko’s face. His left side was entirely scarred, leaving one of his honey-golden eyes more squinted than the other. It was a bad burn, too. The circumstances of its cause were likely very severe.
And Sokka hadn’t noticed?
It seemed ridiculous. How had he not seen that right away? Perhaps he was too caught up in how gorgeous Zuko was as a whole or trying not to sound like an idiot, which he failed at (miserably).
Zuko laughed. It wasn’t a real laugh. It was short and hollow, perhaps even a little bitter. “Don’t worry about it.”
“No!” Sokka said suddenly. Real clear, Sokka. You totally don’t sound crazy. “No, I mean, I wasn’t staring because of that. Really.”
Zuko didn’t exactly seem to believe him, but he shrugged and set the topic aside. Clearly he didn’t want to dwell on it.
(Sokka did. He wanted to dwell on it very much. He wanted to know more. As much as how he wanted to know where Zuko was from and who his best friends were and if he was single. He’d only known Zuko for two minutes and suddenly he wanted to know every aspect of his life. Maybe he really was crazy. What kind of love-at-first-sight movie trope was he living?)
“Zuko?” another voice called, piercing through the muddled conversation.
Approaching them was an older man, even shorter than Zuko was, with gray hair and what could only be described as a jolly expression on his face.
“Oh,” he said, facing Sokka. “Hello. Welcome to the Jasmine Dragon.”
“I already welcomed him, uncle,” Zuko mumbled out of the corner of his mouth.
“Well then, will you introduce me since you seemed to be having such an interesting conversation?”
The golden-eyed boy sighed. “Sokka, this is my uncle, Iroh. He owns the place. Uncle, this is Sokka. He works at the coffee shop across the street.”
“Ah,” Iroh breathed, his sincere smile never wavering as he offered a quick, polite bow. “Pleased to meet you, Sokka. What brings you here?”
“My sister, Katara, she thought I should introduce myself. On behalf of our staff. To say hello.”
“Good manners are a virtue,” Iroh said. “Your sister has sense. And it seems you do, too.”
“Oh,” Sokka was a little flattered at that, “thank you.”
“Uncle, I think there are some customers who might like some help,” Zuko said, lightly nudging Iroh so that it was barely noticeable (Sokka noticed).
“I don’t see anyone-”
“You never know. I’ll finish up here,” Zuko insisted, seemingly forcing Iroh away.
Wonder what that’s about.
Iroh resigned and left the two of them, going to a table to see if they wanted a refill.
“Sorry. He’s really… sociable.”
“He seems cool,” Sokka said.
Zuko nodded. “Well…”
Right, Sokka remembered. He’d overstayed his invitation. Zuko was probably waiting for him to leave.
“Would you like a cup of tea?”
Sokka blinked himself out of his thoughts, simultaneously surprised at the offer and pleased that he got to look at Zuko’s beautiful face again.
“Uh,” Sokka patted his pockets down, as if he were his own TSA agent. “I think I forgot my wallet. Sorry.”
“It’s on the house,” Zuko said blatantly, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world and Sokka just wasn’t catching on.
“Oh. Well, okay, if you’re sure…”
Zuko nodded, turned (presumably to go get the tea), then threw a quick glance over his shoulder at Sokka, accented with a tiny, perfect, breathtaking smile. “It’s the least I can do for a fellow businessman.”
He left Sokka—slightly red in the face and probably looking like a moron—where he stood. Not that Sokka cared all that much, because wow .
Sokka had never really been a tea person, but he was starting to change his mind real quick.
It was true, Sokka wasn’t huge on tea. But this tea, well, it was exceptional. Or maybe it just seemed exceptional, because Sokka got the pleasure of sitting across from Zuko as he drank it, and that did all sorts of things to him.
“I have to say,” Zuko commented, “I was a bit worried you were going to be super competitive.”
“Oh,” Sokka said, as if the thought was just crossing his mind for the first time. “Why’s that?”
Zuko leaned forward and narrowed his eyes, making him unspeakably intimidating (and unfairly even more attractive, if possible). “Because that’s how I am. You’re competition, buddy. And I don’t like to lose.”
The color drained from Sokka’s face, and apparently it showed, because after a few seconds, Zuko’s hardened expression broke and was replaced with a tiny smirk.
Sokka made an offended face. “That wasn’t funny!”
“Yes, it really was,” Zuko chuckled. “You’re gullible, that’s good to know.”
“Good to know?” Sokka inquired. What did that mean?
Suddenly, Zuko looked ever so slightly panicked as he spoke. “I just mean, if I ever see you again. Well, I probably will. Because we have the same closing time, I think. So I’ll probably see you sometimes. That’s what I mean.”
Aw, so Zuko rambled when he got nervous(?). That was incredibly adorable.
“Right,” Sokka said. I want to see you much more often than that. “So, this tea is pretty good. Great, actually.” He thought he’d try his luck at a compliment. “I guess you could say it’s… quali-tea stuff.”
Alright, a compliment turned stupid pun. They were his specialty, after all.
Zuko stared at him for a moment before suddenly it seemed to click in his brain and he broke into a tiny fit of laughter, quiet and shy and breathy, and wow, he was not allowed to be that cute, even when laughing at one of Sokka’s hastily concocted jokes.
“That,” Zuko wheezed, “was so bad.”
Sokka smiled. A success. “Thanks. I try.”
Zuko looked at him inquisitively, still recovering from his unexpected reaction to the joke. He paused and stared at Sokka for a moment. What was he looking at? Oh, Tui, did Sokka have something in his teeth? Or was his hair messy?
Then, a few short seconds later, Zuko stopped staring and looked away hastily, gazing out at the room, filled with tables and some newly-arrived customers Iroh had gotten settled in. From this angle, only Zuko’s scarred side was showing, and Sokka found himself entranced. Not because it was scary or intimidating or even badass, but rather because it was a painfully obvious sign of some past trauma, a permanent reminder to Zuko, no doubt.
Sokka briefly wondered what that would be like. For so much of his face to be consumed by (what looked like) a burn mark. He’d probably be ashamed—he wouldn’t want to go out. But it was hardly noticeable on Zuko, strangely. Sokka didn’t see it as disgusting or pitiful or ruinous. Zuko was still probably the prettiest human being on the face of the planet, after all. And he seemed pretty comfortable to be seen by people, even with such a thing consuming his left eye and cheek
(Sokka remembered what Zuko had said. “It’s fine. People stare all the time.” What would that feel like? People staring at you wherever you went? For the rest of your life? Sokka also wanted to stare at Zuko, but for different reasons entirely.)
In short, Zuko was still attractive, even with the scar.
“But really,” Sokka spoke up again, “how did you make it like this? Or is that a secret?”
Zuko shrugged. “Uncle has particular ingredients he likes to use to make tea, but it’s nothing fancy. It’s all in his methods, which I don’t think I can tell you.”
“Hm, makes sense,” Sokka nodded, taking another sip. “It’s fantastic. And that’s coming from a guy who mostly drinks coffee.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Zuko said. “You do work in a coffee shop, after all.”
“Katara probably would’ve forced me to work for her no matter what. The coffee shop is just a coincidence.”
Zuko chuckled. “Siblings. So bossy.”
”Oh, you have some?” Sokka asked, curiosity getting the better of him before he could think.
Zuko grimaced ever so slightly. “One. My younger sister. Azula.”
“You don’t sound very happy when you talk about her,” Sokka observed out loud, regretting the words the moment they left his mouth. Zuko frowned a bit. “Sorry.”
The handsome young man shook his head. “It’s fine. Azula and I aren’t on the best of terms. We never really got along. But… y’know,” he shrugged, “that’s life.”
Sokka wanted to ask so much more.
What happened between you two? Do you live with your uncle because of something that happened with your family? What about your parents?
But those were all insanely personal, especially for someone you just met ten minutes ago.
Sokka’s phone buzzed.
He pulled it out and saw a text form Katara (of course it was from Katara, who else?).
Katara: You almost done over there??
Sokka texted back a quick response of ‘yeah, yeah, chill out’ and stood up.
“Thank you for the tea, it was really good. But I’ve gotta go.”
Zuko stood up across from him. “Yeah, of course. I’ll… see you around, I guess.”
Sokka nodded, flashed the most charming smile he could muster, and left, suddenly wishing he’d thought up an excuse to come back the next day.
Zuko stared after him.
“So? How did it go?” Katara asked.
Sokka hopped up on the counter, a habit he knew Katara disapproved of (she didn’t say anything about it, though), and grinned. “It went really well. Perfectly. Smooth sailing. No bumps in the road-”
“Just tell me who the owners are,” Katara interrupted.
With a dramatic sigh, Sokka complied. “Fine. The owners are this guy named Iroh and his nephew, Zuko. And they’re actually really nice. Zuko was really chill about our businesses being so close. Oh! And he has this cool scar covering the left side of his face. It’s awesome. And-”
“The prices , Sokka. What were the prices?”
“Oh. Right.” Sokka struggled to remember anything other than Zuko, his face, his rare smiles, his eyes-
“$9.50 for a cup of jasmine tea, which is their most popular one. Which is pretty reasonable, considering the quality. It was-”
“How would you know the quality?”
“I had a cup.”
“You had-!” Katara collected herself. It was clear the stress of the day was getting to her. “You had a cup?”
Sokka nodded, albeit a little guiltily.
“Sokka, you aren’t supposed to give them business.”
“It was free.”
Katara raised an eyebrow. “Free?”
“Yeah,” Sokka said. “Free. Zuko gave it to me; he said it was on the house. We had tea and talked.”
Katara sighed, clearly fatigued. “So I sent you to get intel, and instead, you went on a tea date with the boy who works there.”
Sokka went red and grew defensive very quickly. “It wasn’t a date! We were just getting acquainted.”
“It sounds like a date,” Toph’s voice rang out. She was leaning on the counter and had apparently heard the whole conversation (she had great hearing). “Good job.”
“It wasn’t a date, Toph. It was a business-based discussion over tea.”
Toph scoffed dubiously. “Well, from how you described him in such detail and got super defensive when Katara insinuated it was a date, I’d say you have a crush on the guy.”
“It was, like, fifteen minutes!”
“It probably took less than that for you to develop a crush.”
Sokka groaned. “You know what? Forget it. I got the information, alright?”
Without giving the girls a chance to respond, Sokka walked off to continue his shift.
It wasn’t for another week that Sokka saw Zuko. Not up close, at least. Occasionally they’d see each other after closing up shop from across the street, but that was about it, and oh, spirits, Sokka wanted to see so much more of those eyes and that nose and-
Perhaps the spirits were listening, because on a Tuesday afternoon, Katara started panicking when she realized their sugar shipment was going to be late and they were nearly out.
“I might have to actually borrow some. Borrowing sugar. Sounds like a fairy tale,” she mumbled.
“From who?” Aang asked, washing some dishes.
“I don’t know… the Jasmine Dragon, maybe.”
“I’ll go!” Sokka said way too enthusiastically to look like he didn’t have a crush on this ‘Zuko’ he’d mentioned at least twenty times since meeting him.
“Off to see your boyfriend?” Toph teased.
“Be nice,” Suki said to the younger girl, “his crush is his business.”
“Thank you,” Sokka said promptly.
“Aha!” Suki suddenly shouted. “So you admit it!”
“Suki! I thought you were being mature for once!” Sokka whined.
“I’m very mature,” Suki stated, “but I also know how to extract information for people. Go on, get your sugar.” She winked suggestively.
“I hate you all,” Sokka muttered. But his mood couldn’t stay dampened for long, not when he was about to see Zuko again. Maybe this time he could find a reason to see him more often.
He ran across the street and was soon opening the door to the tea shop, the little bell signifying his entrance.
Sokka scanned the room, and there was Zuko, hair tied up cleanly, pouring some tea into someone’s cup. Upon hearing the bell, Zuko looked up and his eyes fell on Sokka, and something in his face changed. Shock? Confusion? (Sokka honestly thought it looked slightly akin to excitement, but he wasn’t going to get ahead of himself. It wasn’t excitement. He barely knew this guy).
Suddenly, Zuko was in front of him, close but also way too far away.
“Sokka, hi,” Zuko greeted in his unusually flat but entrancing tone.
“Hi,” Sokka replied, trying to make sure his next words formed properly on his tongue. “Uh… do you have any spare sugar?”
As Zuko looked through the pantry, Sokka just stared at his face some more. It really was gorgeous.
Zuko wasn’t really one for small talk, it seemed. When Sokka tried to start a conversation, Zuko would give a short, satisfying answer, but not say anything further than that.
But when he did speak, oh, was he charming. He made little off-handed remarks and snarky comments, each one seemingly tailored to woo Sokka like some helpless maiden in an outdated story.
“So, are you new in town, then?” Sokka questioned.
“I guess you could say that,” was the vague response. Spirits, Zuko, why did you have to be so intriguing?
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sokka couldn’t help but ask. He was too curious to hold back.
Zuko shrugged and stood to his full height, holding a bag of sugar. “I moved here a little while ago, but I also lived here when I was little.”
Zuko just nodded and handed the sugar over. But Sokka wasn’t finished with his questionnaire (or perhaps interrogation was a more appropriate term).
“Why did you leave, then?”
Again, an answer, but nothing more.
“Why don’t you… tell me something about you, then?”
Okay, nevermind, he was actually continuing the conversation. How curious.
“What?” Sokka said. “Why me?”
“I dunno,” Zuko said nonchalantly, “you’re asking me a whole bunch of stuff. I feel like I’m supposed to do the same thing.”
“Oh, well then… ask me something.”
Zuko clearly hadn’t thought that far ahead. He pursed his lips and looked down in thought.
“Well… what do you like to do? What’s your… passion?”
Oh, of all the things.
It was a basic question. Sokka really should’ve expected it. But the answer was a little embarrassing, so he figured he’d at least try his luck at shifting the focus of the conversation..
“Really? Why not my middle name, or-”
“You’re trying to change the subject,” Zuko stated, crossing his arms. “It won’t work. Tell me.” He said it authoritatively, like it was a life or death question. (Shit, that was hot.)
“Well…” Sokka hugged the bag of sugar a little tighter, “you’re gonna think it’s really stupid.”
“I won’t. Just tell me.”
Sokka sighed and tried to say it with confidence, but ended up sounding strangely timid. “I like to study and write poetry.”
Zuko’s single eyebrow raised a bit. “Oh.”
Sokka shrugged, a little embarrassed. “Yeah. I told you.”
“I don’t think it’s stupid.”
Sokka laughed a tiny bit at that. “It’s fine if you do, seriously. I’m not gonna get anywhere with it. It’s more of a hobby than a skill.”
Zuko furrowed his brow, thought for a moment, then looked at Sokka, who was staring down at the pantry floor, cheeks flushed in embarrassment.
“Talent is what they say you have after the novel is published and favorably reviewed. Beforehand what you have is a tedious delusion, a hobby like knitting.”
Sokka looked up, a perplexed expression on his face. “That’s…”
“An excerpt. From Marge Piercy…” Zuko shifted awkwardly.
Sokka nodded distantly. “ ‘For the young who want’. “
“I… sort of like poetry, too. I mean, I don’t write it. But I like it. I read and memorize a lot of it.”
“That…” just makes you 10x more attractive, marry me, “that’s really awesome. I’m glad you don’t think it’s weird.”
“Literature and poetry are never weird.”
“That’s a good thing to stand by.”
“Well,” Sokka said, “I guess I should probably go and get this sugar back to Katara.” Please ask me to stay.
“Right.” Zuko ushered him out of the pantry, Iroh eyeing the two of them with a tiny smile playing at his lips.
Sokka couldn’t think of a single reason to come back to the Jasmine Dragon, at least not before he left. Another round of defeat. He really should have thought about this beforehand, maybe rehearsed a-
“Will I see you again?”
Sokka was pulled abruptly from his thoughts. “Huh?”
Zuko looked sort of nervous. “I mean… will I be seeing you around more? Like, where we can talk? It’s nice to have a friend nearby…”
Sokka didn’t know what tugged at his heartstrings more. That Zuko already considered him a friend when they’d probably talked for no more than 45 minutes total, or that Zuko apparently didn’t have anyone else to spend time with. Did he really have no other friends here?
“Yeah, that’d be cool…” he thought for a moment. “Katara’s shop closes an hour later than yours on Fridays. You could drop by after you close and meet my friends.”
Zuko almost seemed surprised at the offer, as if he hadn’t asked when they could hang out in the first place.
“Yes! Yes. That’d be… good.”
Sokka smiled. “Friday?”
And then, without another word, Sokka left to give Katara the sugar he got from a particularly handsome tea server.
“Hey… Katara?” Sokka said as Katara poured the sugar into the glass container on the counter.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I invited Zuko to come over after he closes on Friday. To meet you guys and just hang out. He’s sort of new in town and doesn’t really have any friends…”
Katara grinned. “Aww, you got another date!”
“Katara! It’s not a date! He’s just coming over to say hi and stuff.”
“Sure,” Katara teased, smiling cheekily. “He can come.”
“Thanks,” Sokka said quietly, not wanting to prompt any more jokes at his expense.
Friday couldn’t come soon enough.
Sokka had been waiting since Tuesday to see Zuko again, and his friends hadn’t relented in teasing him about having a crush.
Sokka tried to ignore them, but they were so right, it wasn’t even funny. He was head over heels for this boy and he barely knew him. Everything about Zuko was perfect. At least to Sokka. Cute, witty, sarcastic, soft-spoken but probably could talk for hours if he opened up a bit, and he liked poetry-
All day while at work on Friday (he didn’t have any classes that day) he thought about Zuko being there. As his friend. And since Zuko didn’t know anyone else very well, he’d probably stay close to Sokka for the duration of the hour.
The clock clicked to eight, and then to nine, and then, finally, to ten.
The lights of the Jasmine Dragon went out around 10:02 and then, within the minute, Zuko peeked his head through the door.
The shop was nearly empty. There were maybe four customers and then there was the group of employees spread out over a couple of booths, Sokka among them.
The second the blue-eyed boy spotted Zuko, his face lightened up considerably and he gestured for him to come join them.
Zuko approached, seemingly comfortable, but also silent and unsure.
“Zuko, glad you came. Guys, this is Zuko. He and his uncle run the Jasmine Dragon. Zuko, this is everyone.”
“Uh, hello,” Zuko waved.
“Hi,” Aang said immediately, smiling and waving in return. The kid was always so cheery—it was endearing, as Katara always said.
“Hi, Zuko. I’m Katara,” the younger girl waved.
Zuko replied with a tiny “hi” and a nod, curt and shy.
“Take a seat,” Sokka offered, scooting over to offer a space on the bench of the booth they were sitting at.
Zuko took the offer without a word and sat there, trying just a bit too hard to look relaxed and not hard enough actually trying to relax.
People chatted and joked around, and Sokka made a real effort to ask Zuko’s opinions on different subject matters, only to once again receive those short, simple answers.
As far as Sokka could tell, Zuko was enjoying himself. He wasn’t the most verbose or eccentric person when in a group (he probably thrived more one on one), but he had this subtlety that was hard to describe—his humor was blatant and hard to catch, but it was there, in every wry comment and short remark.
The conversation tapered out into Katara and Suki chatting intently on one topic or another while Aang did homework and Toph leaned her head back on the cushion of the booth. Sokka, on the other hand, was talking a little bit to Zuko, looking for an excuse to be closer to him or get him to say something, because not only was his voice entrancing, but he was such an intriguing character. He was nice but not too nice, which Sokka appreciated. He had opinions. He wasn’t compliant but he also wasn’t afraid to make a bland joke and watch the smile crack on Sokka’s lips.
Sokka could talk to Zuko forever. And ever. And ever.
And he’d never get bored.
“Sokka, do you know how to do this?” Aang whined at one point, holding up a sheet of paper with some long and winding equation on it. Sokka squinted at the paper, then shrugged.
“Sorry, my guy. I barely managed a C in that class. It was my worst subject.”
Aang sighed. “It’s okay. I’ll figure it out.”
“ B equals the square root of a plus three minus two,” Zuko suddenly blurted out, catching everyone’s attention.
Aang blinked. “Huh?”
Zuko suddenly clammed up and spoke more quietly, unscarred cheek dusted pink. “I mean… b equals the square root of a plus three minus two is the answer. To the equation.”
“Dude,” Sokka gaped at him, “ how did you do that so fast?”
Zuko shrugged. “Practice.”
“That was nuts.”
“Woah, I think you’re right,” Aang said, glaring at his paper wildly as if it had been lying to him. He looked up wondrously. “That was like… freaky fast.”
Zuko looked down a bit. “I guess I’m just… good at math.”
“That’s way better than good,” Suki said, just as bewildered as the rest of them.
He likes poetry AND he’s good at math? He’s smart. That’s hot. Why’s that hot? That shouldn’t be hot but it is. Marry me, tea shop boy. Marry me right now.
Sokka shook himself from his thoughts. “Zuko, consider us all impressed.”
“I wasn’t trying to-”
“I know. But it was still awesome.”
“Math,” Toph scoffed, “imagine having to do math.”
Aang rolled his eyes. “We get it. You don’t have to rub it in.”
“What? What do you mean? Why don’t you have to do math?” Zuko asked.
Toph looked toward him and tilted her head. “I’m blind. Blind people don’t have to do math. Unless they’re really smart and can remember everything without writing it down.”
“You’re blind?” Zuko asked, suddenly just as surprised as the rest of them had been at his mathematical skills. “I didn’t even notice.”
Toph grinned triumphantly like she’d just achieved something magnificent. “I’m blind, not incompetent.”
“Right, of course,” Zuko reverted back to his quiet voice.
“Well, I’m bored,” Suki announced.
Katara sat up a bit more in her seat. “Any ideas before we close up shop in…” she looked at her phone for the time, “twenty minutes?”
“ Not calculus, that’s for sure,” Aang said, shoving the sheet of paper into his backpack.
“Hmm,” Toph hummed, “truth or dare?”
“Ooh, that’s fun,” Suki perked up.
Sokka nodded, concurring that it was a good idea. He turned to Zuko for confirmation.
“Zuko, you down? Truth or dare?”
“Uh…” Zuko seemed hesitant, but then nodded. (Sokka hoped he wasn’t just saying yes because of peer pressure. He wanted Zuko to feel comfortable with his friends. But he also didn’t want them to think Zuko was boring just because he wouldn’t play some stupid game.)
“I’ll go first!” Aang announced eagerly. “Katara, truth or dare?”
Aang pouted. “You always pick truth.”
“It’s my choice, isn’t it?” She raised an eyebrow.
Aang sighed. “Fine. Do you like anyone?”
“Basic,” Toph groaned.
“I don’t know what else to ask!”
Katara thought for a moment. “Nah. Not really.”
Sokka thanked La that he wasn’t the one answering that question. He was an awful liar, and you weren’t supposed to lie, anyway.
But… would he want to lie? And openly let Zuko know that he didn’t like anyone, meaning he didn’t like him? He didn’t want to ruin his chances…
“Katara,” Suki said, “your turn.”
Katara hummed. “Uh… Zuko. Truth or dare?”
She probably asked him next because he was new and she wanted him to feel included, but Zuko froze up a little bit.
The answer came quicker than Sokka had expected.
“I dare you… to eat this packet of salt.” Katara held her hand out to offer a small pack of salt taken from the condiment compartment at the end of the table. It wasn’t large, but definitely enough to be slightly unpleasant. Zuko took it, ripped it open, then downed it in a single go.
His face scrunched up a little bit (which Sokka found adorable), but after a moment he seemed fine.
“It’s your turn, Sparky,” Toph reminded him.
“Oh.” Zuko looked around for a moment. It felt weird to ask someone he didn’t know very well, but he figured he’d give it a shot. “Aang. Truth or dare?”
Aang smiled. “Truth.”
Katara grimaced. “Oh, so you’re allowed to pick truth, but you get angry when I do it?”
“I don’t pick truth every time,” Aang defended. “So, truth.”
Zuko nodded in contemplation. “Uh… what are you most afraid of?”
Aang scrunched his nose. “Rats. I know all life is precious and all, but…” he shuddered
Lightening up real quick, Aang looked around. “My turn again. Toph! Truth or dare?”
“Dare, since apparently all of you except Zuko are too chicken.”
“Suki and I haven’t even gone yet!” Sokka defended.
Toph shrugged. “You would’ve chosen truth. You usually choose truth, like Katara. Suki, you’re fine.”
Suki beamed while Sokka glowered. He caught Zuko glancing at him from the corner of his eye, and he made a mental commitment to do dare when he was asked.
“Toph, I dare you to sing Ring Around the Rosie, and fall down at the end,” Aang proclaimed.
Toph huffed (she hated singing) and began.
“Ring around the rosie, pocket full of posie, ashes, ashes, we all fall down.” She halfheartedly dropped to the floor, then stood back up and reclaimed her seat at the booth.
“Bravo,” Sokka said, clapping in amusement and pure condescension.
“Shut it,” Toph said. “Suki, truth or dare?”
Suki perked up. “Dare.”
Toph dared her to hold a handstand for ten seconds, which she did with ease (she was good at that sort of thing). Suki looked over at Sokka.
“Alright, Sokka. Truth or dare?”
“Dare,” Sokka said definitively, shooting Toph a glare for making fun of him earlier, even though she definitely couldn’t see it, being blind and all.
When he looked at her, though, he saw Katara leaning over to whisper into Toph’s ear, and Toph grinned evilly.
That couldn’t be good, whatever it was.
“Sokka,” Suki said, “I dare you to make sheep sounds. For twenty seconds.”
Sokka begrudgingly did so, to his everlasting embarrassment, looking over to see Zuko smiling and laughing a tiny bit.
He’d make sheep sounds forever if he got to see more of that .
When he was done, Sokka asked Katara. She actually picked dare, and had to drink orange juice mixed with Diet Coke. She swore she’d never forgive Sokka, but they both knew that wasn’t true.
Katara picked Toph again, who picked truth (despite her earlier comments about truth being a coward’s way out) and ended up confessing that she was actually a fan of a cheesy pop artist that seemed way too ‘girly’ for something she’d listen to.
Then, when that was over and done, that evil grin returned to her face and she turned to where she knew Zuko was sitting.
“Zuko, truth or dare?”
“Dare.” (He really didn’t want to tell them any truths, huh? Well, Sokka could respect that. They didn’t need to know too much about Zuko—Sokka could have that for himself.)
Toph’s diabolical smile widened. “I dare you to kiss a person of your choosing.”
Aang choked on his water and was sent into a coughing fit, trying to contain both his shock and his laughter.
Zuko’s face went blank. “Uhh…”
Sokka felt the blood drain from his face.
Curse you, Toph Beifong.
Katara was giggling.
Zuko looked totally lost.
Suki spoke up. “Zuko… you know you-”
“I have to,” he said abruptly. “It’s the honorable thing to do. So I have to.”
“Honorable?” Aang questioned.
Zuko just nodded, as if that was a sufficient answer.
His golden eyes scanned the group. “I’m pretty sure you guys are minors, right?” He questioned Aang and Toph.
They nodded (they hadn’t turned eighteen yet).
“Not doing that.”
He looked at the other three and was clearly dazed. He didn’t know what to do, it seemed. He had only met Katara and Suki a short while ago, but it wasn’t like the kiss meant anything. They were college students—people went to parties and made out with strangers all the time. One tiny kiss with someone you sort of knew wasn’t weird . But Sokka was there, and—
“I… don’t really know you guys that well…” Zuko mumbled. “So…” he slowly but surely turned to his right.
He was facing Sokka.
Toph was laughing under her breath.
“If you’re cool with it…” Zuko said quietly, almost inaudibly, though maybe Sokka could barely hear it due to the deafening thrum of his heart, threatening to beat out of his chest as blood rushed past his eardrums.
Sokka swallowed and stared dumbly, his mouth suddenly very dry. “It’s fine with me if it’s fine with you.”
Zuko gave a short, awkward nod, then slowly leaned in as everyone else watched with intent (Sokka could’ve sworn he saw Suki taking a picture. He’d have to make sure she didn’t send it to anyone.)
He met Zuko halfway, and suddenly, Zuko’s lips were against his, just for a brief moment, and it was the best damn moment of Sokka’s entire existence.
They broke apart and straightened their bodies once more.
Zuko looked awkward.
Sokka looked shaken to his very bones. In the best way possible, of course.
Toph pumped her fist. “I didn’t get to see it, but nice job, guys.”
Aang giggled at her comment, and Katara looked at the time again. “Alright, closing time. This was fun. Nice to meet you, Zuko.”
Zuko nodded and said a quiet “thank you,” then turned to leave as everyone stood up, talking.
“Zuko, wait,” Sokka said, escaping the bunch of friends. “Uh, you good?”
Zuko nodded what seemed to be nonchalantly, but he didn’t look like the most relaxed guy in the world.
“Good.” Sokka tried to remember the other reason he’d stopped him. “Oh! Uh, he should exchange numbers. So we can do more stuff like this.”
“Like…” Zuko glanced over at the group of employees, “with you friends?”
Sokka nodded, then paused before speaking. “Or just us, if you want. Y’know. Hang out.”
Surprisingly, Zuko smiled, an actual, real, full smile that sent fireworks of warmth bursting through Sokka’s heart.
“I’d like that.”
I’d like that a lot, too.
“Cool,” Sokka beamed.
They exchanged information and then Zuko was gone, disappearing like a mysterious entity that comes and goes as it pleases in the blink of an eye, and Sokka turned to his group of friends, who were smiling all-too-innocently at him.
“I hate you all.”
Katara smiled. “You love us.”
“What did I do?” Aang asked, looking a little sad.
“Nothing, Aang. You’re my favorite as of right now,” Sokka said. Aang seemed delighted at that.
“Did I do something?” Suki asked.
“Yes,” Sokka said, “yes, you did.”
“I tried to tell him he didn’t have to.”
“And then you took pictures of us kissing.”
“It was cute!”
“The point is,” Katara cut in, “you not only got to kiss your crush—who, I admit, is very cute—but you also got his number.”
“As friends!” Sokka whined, trying to make his point clear.
Suddenly, the whole group, save it be Toph, was making faces that all clearly read you’re an idiot.
“What?” Sokka said. “Why are you all looking at me like that?”
“Sokka,” Suki said bluntly, “he was staring at you all night.”
“I thought Toph was the blind one,” Katara snarked, exasperated. “No offense, Toph.”
“None taken,” Toph said, throwing up a peace sign.
Katara continued. “He didn’t take his eyes off of you. At all. He clearly likes you!”
“What? Katara, you’re insane,” Sokka insisted. There was no way anything she was saying was true. He wasn’t that oblivious, surely.
“She’s right, Sokka,” Aang said, albeit a bit timidly. “Zuko didn’t seem interested in much, other than you. I thought you noticed.”
“I literally have no eyesight, but the tension was palpable,” Toph said, deadpan.
Sokka, to put it simply, was dumbfounded.
After a long moment of silence, he spoke softly. “Do you really think he likes me?”
They all nodded in unison.
“I say you ask him out, Sokka,” Katara stated.
After another strong silence, all Sokka said was “Let’s close up shop.”
None of them really knew what that meant, but hopefully, it meant that Sokka would give it a shot.
Zuko: It’s Zuko. Thanks for inviting me tonight, it was nice.
Sokkrates: no prob! I hope they didn’t make you too uncomfortable or anything. They can be like that sometimes
Zuko: No, they were nice. You all seem really close.
Sokkrates: so… are you gonna tell me how you solved that math problem so fast?
Zuko: I’m good at math, I told you.
Sokkrates: seriously. Tell me.
Zuko: Lots of pressure to get straight A’s. You know how parents are.
Sokkrates: So your uncle, or…???
Zuko: nah, my dad
Zuko: I get it if you’re confused. It’s a long story.
Sokkrates: you should tell me sometime
Sokkrates: y’know, if you wanna
Sokkrates: no pressure lol
Sokkrates: wow an emoji
Sokkrates: i didn’t peg you for the type
Zuko: They’ve been growing on me :)
Sokkrates: well, I should probs get to bed
Zuko: I should, but I don’t really want to sleep…
Sokkrates: You’ll be tired tomorrow and regret it.
Zuko: If I regret it, it’s on me.
Zuko: I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Sokkarates: William Ernest Henley??
Sokkrates: he’s a great poet
Sokka didn’t have work the next day.
This was, quite possibly, the only time he was considerably saddened by that prospect.
No work, no coffee shop, no Zuko.
Sokka usually worked weekends during the summers, but that was because he was less busy and business was much slower, since less and less people were going out of their way to get hot beverages—usually only their regulars came in to get coffee or tea in the mornings during the season.
Now, winter was approaching and more and more people stood at Katara’s Coffee to study while they sipped on coffee and ate pastries.
The Jasmine Dragon hadn’t been doing poorly, either. Sokka never thought he would’ve been so happy for another business’s success, but he was. Zuko and his uncle really deserved it. Their tea was—in a word—outstanding.
Mm, tea. Warm jasmine tea. That sounded so good.
Sokka always opted for coffee in the mornings, and then maybe tea in the afternoon or evening if he was really feeling it. But his coffee consumption was considerably higher than his tea consumption.
That might just change soon.
Because, well, he was craving tea in the morning for the first time ever and he wasn’t sure if it was because Iroh was just that good (he wouldn’t be surprised) or if it was because the thought of seeing Zuko made his heart skip a beat and his breath get caught in his throat.
Memories from the night previous flooded in.
“He didn’t take his eyes off of you. At all. He clearly likes you!”
Did Zuko like him, though? Or had it just been late and his friends had seen it all wrong?
Don’t think about it. You’ll stress yourself out.
Oh, but how does one not think about Zuko?
He’s such an inspiring being, intriguing and attractive in every way a man should and shouldn’t be. He made Sokka want to write poems and poems and more poems until he could fill a five-inch thick book with descriptions of him in all the ways possible.
But writing a poem about Zuko, that was cheesy, right?
Maybe. Sokka would almost definitely end up doing it anyway.
He wanted to see Zuko again. So badly—it probably wasn’t natural, but since when was Sokka ‘normal’ on any basis?
He was going to go to the Jasmine Dragon, he was gonna drink tea, and he was gonna see his favorite face.
Zuko almost seemed surprised when Sokka walked into the tea shop later that morning.
“Sokka,” Zuko greeted, running up to him with a tea-green apron tied around his waist and neck.
“Heya,” Sokka smiled. “I came for some tea. And I actually brought my wallet this time.”
“I’ll make you some!” Zuko said, almost too excitedly to seem normal.
So… maybe he does like me…?
“Thanks. Jasmine, please.”
Zuko briskly walked back to the kitchen and started preparing Sokka’s tea. The blue-eyed boy took a seat at a small table for two against the wall and watched Zuko from afar as he poured tea into a cup, as he had probably done a million times.
But this time it was for Sokka. And that felt special.
Sokka discreetly took out a tiny notebook and began to write.
He who has the power to
Change my favorite color from blue to amber
He who has the power to
Make menial tasks look elegant and charming
He who has the power to
Sokka closed his notebook when he saw Zuko start his journey back to him.
As soon as he reached the table, Zuko set down the tea and shoved the tray under his arm.
“Thanks,” Sokka said, smiling. The tea smelled so good… “here.”
He held out his hand, which clasped a credit card.
“It’s free,” Zuko said.
“What?” Sokka questioned. “Again?”
“Because we’re friends… I think.”
Sokka’s heart melted into a puddle.
“Of course we’re friends,” He quickly supplied. “I just mean, is your uncle okay with that?”
Zuko nodded. “He’s not the most money-hungry guy out there.”
Sokka nodded. “Yeah. And he makes some amazing tea,” he said, taking a sip and immediately falling back in love with it.
Zuko smirked. “I thought you were a coffee person.”
“I am,” Sokka explained, “except for when it comes to your uncle’s tea”
Zuko smiled a little bit and sat down, which Sokka hadn’t been expecting. “I’m glad you like it so much.”
I like you so much.
Sokka nodded and took another sip, then set down his cup. “So, you really enjoyed last night then, for real?”
Zuko nodded. “Yeah.”
“Zuko,” Iroh called.
Zuko looked over his shoulder, and Sokka thought he looked a bit saddened as he stood up and excused himself.
Sokka said goodbye and continued drinking his tea, wishing Zuko would stay.
Zuko: Sorry I couldn’t stay longer.
Sokkrates: no problem
Sokkrates: you were working
Sokka stared down at his phone screen. Here was his dilemma.
On one hand, everyone seemed to think Zuko liked him back. So that increased his chances with this guy.
On the other hand, he could be totally wrong and Zuko was just looking for a friend in a town where he didn’t seem to have many.
So if Sokka were to ask him out… would he say yes? Or was he just kidding himself and he’d lose his new friend because he made things awkward?
Sokkrates: lemme know if u ever wanna hang out. I’m free over the weekends usually
Zuko: thanks. But I’m not the most interesting person. I hope I don’t bore you.
Sokkarates: ‘ Hope’ is the thing with feathers ;DD
Zuko: Emily Dickinson?
Zuko: Nice. She’s one of my favorite poets.
Sokkrates: She’s pretty awesome.
Zuko: Well, if you’re so sure you won’t get bored around me, I’m not doing anything Sunday night.
Sokkrates: u wanna grab dinner or something then
Sokkrates: I know a good ramen place
Zuko: Sounds good. Time? Meeting place?
Sokkrates: uuuuhhh like 6:30? And I can send you the address so we can meet there if that works
Zuko: Alright. See you.
Sokka had to take a moment to flop down on his bed and take a deep breath.
What they’d planned—it was a casual outing.
But Sokka couldn’t help but hope it would be more like a date.
When Katara found out, she teased Sokka relentlessly, telling him to let her know how his date went.
“It’s not a date, Katara.”
“It totally is.”
“No. We’re just hanging out.”
“He likes you, Sokka!”
“You don’t know that!”
“Trust me, I do. I’d bet on it, but you know how I feel about gambling.”
After that conversation, Sokka decided he should plan his outfit in advance—something casual enough that it wouldn’t look suspicious but also passable for a date, if it ended up that way.
Spirits, he hoped it did.
Sunday evening approached at a painfully slow pace. Just to taunt Sokka, probably. He found himself glancing at the time constantly—he’d never wanted Saturday to end so quickly.
Throughout Sunday, he waited and waited for the minutes to tick by. Another second closer.
He couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to him. He thought a crush was what he’d had on Suki, but no, apparently it wasn’t. This was a crush. Sokka couldn’t stop thinking about this boy from the tea shop for the life of him, no matter what he attempted to distract himself with. ‘Head over heels’ was putting it lightly.
A couple hours before the dinner “hang out”, Sokka pulled out his notebook and continued the poem he’d started.
He who has the power to
Make my heart stutter and stop
He who has the power to
Smile and make me dizzy—disoriented
When he pulled up into the parking lot of the ramen restaurant—Rockin’ Ramen (Sokka thought it was a stupid name, but man, the noodles were good)—he saw Zuko waiting outside the front door, looking around with a detached look on his face.
The amber-eyed young man looked up and his face lit up with the most beautifully enchanting of smiles.
“Sokka,” he said in that distinct voice (a voice Sokka would forever remember). “Hi.”
“Sup,” Sokka waved. He immediately took note of Zuko’s clothes—it was the first time he’d seen him in normal attire—starkly different than what he wore to work at the Jasmine Dragon . And, to put it simply, he looked pretty well off. He wore a deep red sweater over a white dress shirt and then a brown leather jacket—not the “bad boy” kind you’d see in The Outsiders , but a nice one without lapels that made him look sophisticated. It was accented with red and white dragons winding around the sleeves and across the front and back. (He paired all this with black, untorn jeans.)
“You ready to go in?
Zuko nodded, and they stepped through the door.
It was a nice place, but it was also a “choose your own seat and order at the counter” kind of place. Sokka and Zuko took a two-seater table and looked through their menus—Sokka took note of how this already felt like a date. The two of them at a table, about to talk and eat (and probably flirt, if Sokka knew anything about himself).
Once they had both decided on what they wanted, they stood up to wait in line at the counter, leaving their jackets on their chairs so no one took their table.
“Next, please,” said the unusually pretty girl at the counter. She had raven hair cut below the shoulders with red highlighted tops and sharp eyeliner.
“Hey,” Sokka greeted. “Uh, I’ll have the Shio bowl.” He looked at Zuko.
The girl turned to Zuko, too, and Sokka noticed immediately how her gaze lingered on his scarred left side, then on the rest of his perfect face.
“Spicy Tonkotsu, please,” Zuko said, shifting where he stood.
The girl noted and tapped her screen to play the order, glancing up at Zuko.
“Sorry if this is unprofessional, but… could I maybe get your number?”
Sokka felt a spike of jealousy shoot through him. He was kind-of-sort-of-not on a date with Zuko and there was a girl asking him out.
“Oh,” Zuko blanched. “Uh, Sorry. I don’t…”
The girl’s surveying eyes landed on Sokka, and then she glanced between them, suddenly looking apologetic as a realization set in. “Oh! I’m sorry. Nevermind.”
To Sokka’s surprise, Zuko made no move to correct her. He just smiled a little and said “It's fine,” holding out his credit card. Sokka noticed it was a sleek black—it looked fancy. But if Zuko was well off, why would he be working at his uncle’s tea shop?
They paid (Zuko hadn’t said anything about him paying for both of their meals, but Sokka was going to pay him back—he assumed it was expected) and went back to their table, waiting for their order to be called.
“Why didn’t you take her number?” Sokka asked, not because he wanted him to (Spirits, no), but because he was genuinely curious.
“Uh…” Zuko huffed a low, breathy laugh, “I’m not… really into girls.”
“Oh, cool,” Sokka nodded.
“Is that, like, okay?”
Sokka was shocked he would even feel the need to ask that question. They’d just kissed two nights ago, for La’s sake!
“Of course it’s okay,” Sokka said immediately. “I, uh, I’m bi, so…”
Zuko looked relieved and nodded.
“Besides,” Sokka said, the corners of his mouth turning up, “you know what the late and great poet William Wordsworth said.”
Zuko raised an eyebrow and tilted his head. “What’s that?”
Sokka broke into a sarcastic grin. “A poet could not but be gay.”
Zuko stared for a moment, then broke into spluttering laughter, unable to control his reaction.
Sokka laughed, too.
Nice one. You didn’t sound like an idiot for once.
Catching his breath with rosy cheeks, Zuko spoke. “You know… that’s not… what he meant…”
Sokka looked at him with faux innocence. “Isn’t it?”
Zuko was still smiling, and Sokka couldn’t help but feel elated that he was the one who put that smile there.
Sokka didn’t bring up the fact that Zuko didn’t tell that girl they weren’t dating.
They spoke a bunch more over food.
Sokka cracked a few more stupid puns, each one earning a little chuckle from Zuko (why was he allowed to have such an attractive laugh? Why? ) and a triumphant smile from Sokka.
Toward the end of their meal, Sokka once again took joy in the fact that yes, this felt like a date, even if it wasn’t, and yes, Zuko was incredibly perfect. Sokka wondered if he had any flaws at all. How could one be so nice, funny, interesting, talented, mysterious but not too mysterious, and attractive all at once? It must’ve been tiring—Sokka could only imagine. He liked to think he was pretty alright himself, but he knew he had his issues.
Zuko had none, it seemed, and it was both infuriating and intriguing.
“Oh,” Sokka pulled out his phone, “what’s your Venmo?”
“Or do you use PayPal?”
“Why do you need to know?” Zuko asked, looking genuinely confused.
Sokka scrunched his eyebrows. “So I can pay you back. For my meal.”
“Oh,” Zuko said, “it’s fine. It’s not a huge deal.”
“Dude, I invited you. If anything, I should be paying.”
“Really,” Zuko said, looking a little uncomfortable, “it’s okay. It’s not an issue.”
Sokka thought back to that shiny black credit card. It did look like some sort of premium account card, but again, Zuko worked at a tea shop. He was a college-aged guy working in a tea shop . Why wouldn’t he want to be paid back?
“Are you sure?”
Zuko nodded. Whatever his deal was, he clearly didn’t want Sokka to know about it. Maybe it was just chivalry, or maybe he was actually loaded and didn’t want Sokka to think he was some spoiled rich boy.
Sokka didn’t think that. Sokka thought Zuko was the most sincere and perfect person he’d ever met, who worked for his uncle, who was always polite to his customers, but wasn’t afraid to make fun of Sokka a little bit or share his interest in poetry and who was clearly some sort of math genius-
“Thanks. For coming out with me,” Zuko thanked him, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Of course,” Sokka said nonchalantly. “It was fun. We should do it again or something.”
Wow, this really was like a date. Whether they called it that to not, that was what it was, essentially. A friend date, but still a date.
They walked outside, waved goodbye, and Sokka went home, assuming Zuko was doing the same. He hoped to Tui that Zuko enjoyed their evening as much as he did. Because he could definitely do that again. And again. And again.
Sokka went to bed that evening wondering, once more, how he scored to even have Zuko as a friend.
“Soooo…” Katara said, grinning, as Sokka tied his apron around his waist on Monday morning.
“How was your date?”
Sokka groaned. “It wasn’t a date.”
“Right,” Katara said, sarcasm dripping from her voice. “It was an intimate outing where two people who like each other went out and had dinner with one another to learn more about each other. Definitely not a date.”
When she said it like that, yeah, okay, but that didn’t mean Sokka was going to admit it. He was the older brother. He won these sorts of arguments.
“Katara, drop it.” He walked over to the oven to start preparing the muffins.
Katara followed him, but when she spoke, her tone was sincere. “Really. How was it?”
Sokka paused and smiled to himself. “It was nice.”
“Dad would be proud of you. He always said you’d find someone and stick to them like glue. He was right.”
Sokka sighed and looked over his shoulder. “So now you’re calling me clingy?”
“You know that’s not what I mean,” Katara stated.
Sokka rolled his eyes and let another small smile creep onto his lips, turning back to the oven.
It wasn’t until late the next week that Sokka got to see Zuko again.
They’d texted a bit, but Zuko said he was a bit held up with some stuff on Friday of the week prior. Now it was the following Thursday, and Sokka was wishing to see his friend. He wanted to know more about his interests (especially poetry) and his favorite foods and colors and animals.
Two whole weeks without Zuko—it was torture itself, classes and work not included. Sokka began to wonder how he had ever lived a day of his life not thinking about this guy.
So closing time Thursday evening, he figured he’d pop on over to see Zuko while he and Iroh were closing up shop, too. Katara could lock the door herself.
Sokka ran across the street, not bothering with the crosswalk (it wasn’t like there were many cars on the road, anyway) and found himself opening the door to the Jasmine Dragon once more.
When he entered, what he saw was unexpected.
The shop was empty, of course, and Zuko was sitting at a table by the tea counter, alone, a bunch of papers spread out before him. They didn’t look like school work.
His hair was messy and, overall, the boy looked disheveled. He looked worn, skin sallow and pale. He was holding the sides of his head in his hands, until he heard the jingling of the bell above the door and looked up. His unscarred eye definitely had a bag under it.
Sokka’s heart broke into a million pieces.
“Sokka!” He exclaimed softly, looking surprised.
“Uh, hey,” Sokka said gently, approaching the table.
Zuko immediately gathered up all the papers before Sokka could see.
“Sorry,” Sokka apologized. “I hope it isn’t a bad time. I just haven’t heard from you and I wanted to see how you were doing.”
Zuko looked unsure of what to make of that, like he didn’t realize Sokka would care. Sokka briefly wondered why he looked so surprised to see a friend checking in on him.
“It’s-it’s fine. I’m good.”
He very clearly wasn’t good.
“Really? You look… tired. Have you been sleeping?”
“Does it matter?” Zuko sounded slightly frustrated, and Sokka couldn’t help but feel a little bit hurt.
“Sorry. I can go-”
“No, I’m sorry,” Zuko jumped to amend his tone. “I’m sorry.” But this tone sounded so tired. “I just… you can stay. We’re closed but we probably aren’t leaving for a little bit.
Sokka nodded and spotted Iroh in the back, putting away a kettle.
“Gimme a sec,” he excused himself. Zuko nodded and lowered his head.
Iroh smiled as Sokka approached. He looked tired, too. Not to the extent Zuko was, but tired.
“Sokka. It’s good to see you,” he greeted kindly, bowing. Sokka returned the gesture.
“Same here.” He glanced over his shoulder at Zuko. “I was wondering… is he okay? He looks really…”
Iroh pursed his lips. “Would you like some tea while we talk?”
Sokka found himself with yet another free cup of jasmine tea at a table in the back, behind the counter.
Iroh sat across from him, his own cup steaming.
“My nephew,” Iroh began quietly, “has been going through difficult times these past months, even before we moved here.”
Sokka nodded, listening intently.
“He’s always been a little jumpy, maybe defensive, but it is resurfacing now more than it has in these last few weeks.”
Sokka tilted his head. Zuko didn’t seem too jumpy or defensive. Maybe a little mysterious, but he wasn’t snippy (most of the time).
“Much has happened. Which is why I consider you such a blessing.” Iroh smiled gently, taking a sip of tea.
“What… do you mean, exactly?” Sokka questioned.
“Zuko has had difficulty finding friends. He tends to intimidate people. They see his face and are scared off. But you seemed unfazed, and that day you came to introduce yourself… I haven’t seen Zuko that happy in a very long time.”
Sokka felt himself smiling softly at that. He made Zuko happy?
“Now,” Iroh said, voice still low, “he probably doesn’t want me to say too much, but I will tell you this: Zuko has found great solace in your company. He’s always acted like he doesn’t need anyone to care for him, but he does. Even you coming here today to check on him is a gesture I’m sure he greatly appreciates. He talks about you quite a lot.”
Sokka felt his cheeks warm up. According to Iroh, he made Zuko happier than he usually was. Zuko talked about Sokka. A lot. Could that be true?
“I’m happy he likes being my friend,” Sokka said. “But something seems to be going on,” he glanced at Zuko, who was looking at those papers again, “and I’m sure it’s none of my business. But I want to know if there's anything I can do for him. ‘Cause he seems… off.”
Iroh smiled a little wider. “You’re a good man, Sokka. Just you being there for my nephew is plenty.” He looked over at Zuko. “Maybe try talking to him. Apologies in advance is he gets a little feisty,” he said with a chuckle.
Sokka nodded, standing up with his cup of tea and thanking Iroh before walking back over to Zuko and sitting across from him.
“Hey,” Zuko replied softly.
The environment was so quiet. No music, just the muffled shuffling of feet and sipping of tea as the lights illuminated the shop, contrasting the dark night sky on the other side of the door.
“I don’t wanna invade your personal life or anything, but I just wanted to know if I can… do anything. Y’know?”
Zuko clutched the papers a bit more tightly against his stomach, making their contents impossible to discern. He nodded. “Thanks. I’m okay, though.”
Sokka could tell that, once again, that was a lie. He wanted to pull Zuko into a hug and stroke his hair and tell him that whatever it was, he’d be there for him. But they definitely weren’t at that level yet.”
He nodded, thought for a moment, then spoke. “If you want, sometime this weekend or something you can come by my place and we can just chill. If you need a stress reliever. I have a gaming console.”
Zuko glanced up at him. “...Seriously?”
Sokka nodded. “Yeah, dude. That’s what friends are for. Right?”
The boy with the yellow eyes looked like he didn’t know that was right, but he still nodded and gave a smile, much to Sokka’s relief.
“And just… lemme know if you need something. Anything. Seriously.”
Zuko paused for another moment. Then, softly, he mumbled out a few words.
“Anytime.” Sokka stood up. “Text me.”
Zuko nodded. “I will.”
Upon exiting the shop, Sokka glanced back at Zuko once to see that yes, he was staring at him when he wasn’t looking, and yes, his unscathed cheek did turn slightly red as he turned away last second.
Maybe Zuko really did like him. How wild was that?
Sokkrates: hey there
Zuko: Is your offer still good?
Zuko: If not that’s okay.
Sokkrates: of course it is!
Sokkrates: just lemme know when ;)
Zuko: ...fifteen minutes, maybe…?
Sokka raised an eyebrow as we looked at the text. Fifteen minutes? It was short notice, but his dorm was clean enough that he could straighten it up in that time. It’d probably only take him five.
Sokkarates: sounds good, see you soon :)
Sokka had texted Zuko his address the day prior, and he vaguely wondered if fifteen minutes was the time it took to get there. If maybe Zuko wanted to come over right away, as soon as possible.
And Sokka was still in pajamas.
At that realization, he grabbed some clean clothes and bolted to the bathroom (he didn’t have enough time to shower, but a little water and soap was fine, he was sure, he’d showered the evening prior, anyway).
Sokka brushed his hair, making sure he had a rubber band around his wrist so he could pull it up when he was done cleaning.
Fast as he could, he ran around his dorm (his roommate, Haru, was out on Saturdays, usually) and picked up any clothes laying around, made his bed speedily, and then, just for good measure, sprayed just a bit of air freshener.
Well, now it looked like he tried too hard.
He ruffled his bed sheets just a bit and left a t-shirt hanging over the arm of a chair in his room.
Was he overthinking it? Yes. Was he going to stop? No.
Sokka slipped into some jeans and a tank top, fully aware that it showed off his lean, muscular arms and the tribal tattoo on his bicep he’d gotten his freshman year of college (he did NOT cry while getting it, but don’t ask Katara, she’s a liar).
Just as he finished pulling the article of clothing over his torso, there was a knock on the door, and Sokka ran to get it, very quickly positioning himself to look like he didn’t run to get it.
When the door opened, on the other side was that criminally beautiful face with an even more beautiful soul and— spirits , Sokka was wondering if this was getting to be more than just a crush.
“Zuko, hey,” Sokka greeted, opening the door to let Zuko in.
The boy in question, Sokka noticed secondarily, still had that tired look in his eye. Not as severe as it was on Thursday, but still disheartening. What was going on?
“Hey,” Zuko mumbled tiredly, his voice even more pitiful. Though Sokka doubted Zuko wanted to be pitied. He still had dignity, and he certainly wasn’t the type to need someone to feel bad for him.
More than anything, Sokka just wanted to help him.
After a moment, he realized Zuko was staring at him, looking like he was processing something. His eyes were flickering between the top and sides of Sokka’s head.
Ah. He’d forgotten to tie his hair up.
“Oh,” Sokka laughed a little. “Forgot to do my hair. Sorry.” He moved to bring his hand up to his head so he could pull it back, but stopped at Zuko’s words.
“I like it like that. You should keep it.”
Zuko liked it. Sokka kept it. And hoped that whatever blush was on his cheeks was masked by his dark complexion.
“Welcome to mi casa , where would you like to sit?”
“To my room, then.”
Taking Zuko to his room really wasn’t weird. After all, he had a beanbag chair and an armchair, and his bed didn’t look particularly intimidating.
Zuko followed Sokka, who plopped down on his bed. He took the armchair (thankfully not the same one with the shirt on it).
“So,” Sokka began, “tell me: do you wanna talk about whatever is going on, or talk about something else, or just play video games and forget about life for a little while?”
Zuko, whose limbs were all tucked together awkwardly, shrugged. “Whatever you want, I guess.”
Sokka frowned. “Nah, dude. This is for you.” He elaborated. “Not that I’m not gonna have fun, because hanging out with you is tons of fun. But you tell me what you wanna do.”
Zuko (who was unusually quiet, which made Sokka’s heart ache) nodded, pondered on the question, then said:
“Let’s play video games, then.”
As it turns out, Zuko was obnoxiously good at Call Of Duty, and when he got really into it, he wasn't afraid of smack talk. Sokka didn’t mind, he just snarked him right back. During each round, Sokka noticed Zuko glancing at him (he even thought he caught him looking at his arms, nice!) and felt his heart flutter. With each passing day, he was more and more sure that Zuko returned his affections.
They played for what must’ve been hours, because when Sokka finally looked at the clock, it was 11:46 and probably time to take a break.
He hoped it wouldn’t mean Zuko’s smile disappearing for too long.
“Alrighty,” the dark-skinned boy said, stretching his back a bit. “I think now’s a good time for lunch. You hungry?”
Zuko hesitated for a moment, then nodded, still not speaking much outside of gaming.
“I have stuff for sandwiches. And I have soda. That cool?”
Sokka stood up, gesturing for his friend to follow him to the kitchen. He felt his hair brush his neck and wondered if Zuko thought he was more attractive like this. If so, he’d wear his hair like this for the rest of his life.
He pulled out bread, deli meats, cheeses, lettuce, and even a tomato and a knife.
Zuko reached for some bread and began preparing a sandwich. Sokka cut the tomato, then did the same, preparing a similar sandwich to Zuko’s and putting away the food when he was done (he didn’t and his ham and cheese to get warm. He and Haru shared it and Haru would kill him).
They sat at the small table in the corner of the miniscule kitchen, eating their sandwiches and talking.
“So, no weekend classes, then?” Zuko questioned.
“Nah,” Sokka said, “how about you?”
“Oh.” Zuko offered a small, tight smile. “I’m actually taking a gap year. Just taking it easy academically.”
“Cool. That sounds nice.”
Zuko nodded, and Sokka had an uncomfortable realization that it probably wasn’t nice, and that something really difficult was happening.
He had to ask.
Just lightly, just briefly.
“I don’t wanna upset you or anything, Zuko,” Sokka prefaced carefully, “but I was wondering if you wanted to talk about whatever is getting you down. You seem really upset, and I…” he pondered seriously for a moment if he should say the next words, and decided it was worth it, “I hate seeing you like that. Because you don’t deserve to be upset. And I wanna help, if you’re okay with me helping.”
Zuko looked at him with such a soft, surprised, wondrous look that Sokka felt like he could become a puddle on the spot. Then, the scarred boy looked a way a little and stared down at his plate.
Silence overtook the room.
Sokka felt his heartbeat increase. Did he just screw everything up? Was that insensitive? Was the subject too touchy and now Zuko resented him? Zuko had come over in hopes of comfort and Sokka had made him uncomfortable, how stupid-
“It’s my dad,” Zuko said softly.
Sokka stopped and made sure he heard correctly. “Your dad?”
Zuko nodded in confirmation.
“What about him?”
Zuko still didn’t make eye contact, but he didn’t wait as long before answering. “He’s been convicted. Of money laundering and tax fraud.”
“Shit, Zuko, I’m so sorry. That’s probably really difficult.”
Zuko shook his head. “It’s not that. He deserves to go to prison, anyway,” he admitted, voice harshening infinitesimally. “But I have to go to his hearing. And I haven’t seen him since I was sixteen” he laughed bitterly, “because he was a shit father and he kicked me out when I was fucking, like, thirteen years old . And now I have to go and see his face again, and see my sister’s face again, and I’m sure she’s all whiny about it, because she was always his golden child .” He said those last words with a sneer and venom in his voice. He was breathing heavily and his face had gone red and he seemed so stressed just thinking about it, but also relieved that he’s finally gotten to tell someone.
That was so much information, and Sokka had to process it all, because he could never in a million years imagine his father kicking him out at that age. He couldn’t imagine his father favoring Katara like that.
Sokka quickly realized tears were forming in his eyes, and he felt like a damn baby, but also not because Zuko looked close to crying, too. Sokka had always been a sympathetic crier—others got emotional and he fell over the edge with them.
Zuko shut his eyes tightly. “Sorry…”
“No,” Sokka said quickly, “it’s fine. I’m glad you told me.”
Zuko nodded, though he didn’t exactly look like he believed it.
Sokka sniffled a little bit. “Uh, would it be weird if I hugged you right now?”
The alabaster-skinned boy, eyes still closed, shook his head and relaxed himself, and Sokka was suddenly out of his seat and hugging him, and Zuko was standing up to hug back, clutching onto Sokka’s tank top.
At a moment like this, when he was hugging Zuko, Sokka might’ve had a moment of ‘oh my Tui and La, he’s hugging me!’, but here, right now, all he could think about was how sorry he was, and how much better Zuko deserved.
After a couple of minutes, Zuko’s grip on Sokka loosened and he seemed almost weak, like he needed to rest after such emotional exertion.
Sokka’s eyes still welled with tears and his nose was still red, but when he pulled back he smiled and breathed a laugh through his mouth. “Feel better?”
Zuko closed his eyes again and nodded, smiling a tiny bit, too. He wiped his eyes with his wrist and then opened them, and still they shined brilliantly, a glossy yellow like a wolf’s narrow eyes in a darkened wood.
Sokka really was a sappy poet around Zuko.
In that split second, Sokka knew that he no longer had a crush on Zuko. He was completely in love with him.
“Let’s go to my room,” Sokka recommended, voice wet with tears. “I think we need to talk a little bit more.”
The remnants of their sandwiches long forgotten, Sokka and Zuko sat on Sokka’s bed, Zuko making slow, steady, quiet confessions.
Sokka wanted to make his own confession. He wanted to tell Zuko how he felt more now than ever before, but he withheld himself. Now wasn’t the time. Zuko was really going through something here, and he didn’t need the weight of Sokka’s feelings on his shoulders.
Sokka assured Zuko multiple times that he had nothing to be embarrassed about, and that he didn’t have to worry around him, and with every word from Zuko’s mouth, he was more and more surprised that Zuko had turned out as well as he did.
Over the course of a few hours, he learned the following:
-This Ozai guy was a real shithead
-Azula was mentally insane, or something of the sort
-Azula was also, apparently, a prodigy and a scholar, who’d always triumphed at everything in life and left Zuko in the dust
-Because of that, Zuko worked incredibly hard to excel in all the things Azula did (it still wasn’t good enough for his father, it seemed)
-when he was kicked out because he admitted he had a crush on a boy and was already behind Azula in everything, he went to live with Iroh, and he was hellbent on getting his father’s approval back (that didn’t turn out so well)
-Zuko had since moved on from trying to impress his father, and was living happily with his uncle (though he could certainly afford to live on his own)
-He worked at the Jasmine Dragon to be with and assist his uncle (whom he loved dearly)
By the time the clock hit 5:00, the only big question Sokka had left was Zuko’s scar, but he didn’t ask about it. A little at a time.
Zuko grew more and more open, but still didn’t tell Sokka everything. And that was okay. It was brave of him to say anything at all.
(Sokka also felt a burst of warmth for his own family. He was truly lucky, it seemed.)
After a bit, Zuko seemed tired out, and they began watching a movie together on Sokka’s bed.
The early winter atmosphere darkened gradually, and soon, the only thing illuminating the room was the television screen, where Paul Rudd and Alicia Silverstone were playing Josh and Cher respectively in Clueless (Zuko and Sokka both agreed that young Paul Rudd was unspeakably attractive, and then both decided that fifty year-old Paul Rudd was just as attractive. Sokka thought Alicia Silverstone wasn’t half bad, either).
As each scene progressed, Sokka’s heart rate increased as Zuko sat closer and closer, and soon, they were shoulder to shoulder, hunched forward, watching the movie together.
Sokka’s breath hitched when he felt Zuko tiredly rest his head on his shoulder.
His hair is so soft. His hair should not be that soft.
Zuko was worn. Sokka was, too. So he must not have been thinking very clearly when he brought his arm up around Zuko’s shoulders, and he must have been hallucinating when Zuko leaned into the touch almost eagerly.
Spirits, Zuko smelled good, too.
More lines of poetry floated around in Sokka’s head.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
It was Sokka’s favorite poem, a poem by Langston Hughes that had stuck with him for a while. He recited it to Katara sometimes, much to her annoyance, but he hoped she’d understand some day he only meant to spur on her aspirations.
But he had dreams, too. Deams where he and Zuko were together. Dreams where they drank tea together and talked about poetry and literature, and weren’t afraid to sit closely.
Dreams like the one Sokka was living right now.
The staircase scene of Clueless .
When Sokka glanced over at Zuko, he saw that he was staring at the screen intently, a distant look of longing in his eyes.
Yes, I know, we’d all like a chance to kiss Paul Rudd.
As the on-screen kiss occurred, Zuko suddenly glanced up at Sokka, who stared back with pupils blown wide and thin blue rings around them, and he was sure he wasn’t imagining it when Zuko stared at his lips, an then up at his eyes, and then-
In the blink of an eye, in the beat of a heart and a butterfly wing, Zuko was pressing his lips to Sokka’s eagerly, and Sokka froze, unsure of what to do. He was in shock. Zuko—yes, Zuko —he was kissing him .
After a moment, after realizing the kiss wasn’t being returned, Zuko hastily shuffled back, looking horrified at himself.
“Shit. I’m sorry, I’m—spirits, fuck, I’m an idiot. I thought—I’m sorry,” Zuko stammered, eyes wide in fear as he pushed himself up.
“Zuko.” And then Sokka pulled him in quickly, kissing him again, and this time is was Zuko who hesitated, only he caught on much quicker than Sokka had and kissed back with ferocity, letting himself melt under Sokka’s hold as the he boy entangled a hand in Zuko’s long hair.
Sokka couldn’t believe this was happening, it was real , and he was right , Zuko liked him . Him!
After a kiss that was long overdue and just long, period, they broke apart, breathing heavily and pressing their foreheads together.
“Did I ever mention that I’ve had a massive crush on you since I met you?” Sokka joked breathily.
“No,” Zuko replied, smiling, “that would’ve been a helpful tip.” He kept his arms linked around Sokka’s neck, and the taller young man guided him back to sit on the bed.
A couple minutes of silence passed. Zuko leaned up against Sokka, who ran his hands delicately through the long, dark strands. Zuko presses his face into Sokka’s neck, seemingly inhaling his scent.
Sokka’s phone chimed, and he slid it out of his pocket to see a text from Haru.
Haru: be there in ten ✌️
He sighed. “My roommate will be home soon.
Zuko nodded and sat up. “That’s alright. Uncle will be getting worried if I don’t get home soon, anyway.”
Sokka chuckled. “It’s cute how he cares so much about you being home. He knows you’re an adult, right?” he joked.
Zuko smiled. “He’s just a little overprotective.”
The other boy nodded. “And just to be clear—when we went to get ramen, that was a date, right?”
Zuko laughed a bit and nodded. “Yeah. That definitely felt like a date.”
Sokka stared at him with enchantment in his eyes. Tui and La, this was actually happening. Zuko From the Tea Shop had gone to Zuko his Friend, and was now Zuko who Liked Him Back.
“What’re you lookin’ at?” Zuko teased.
“My heart moves from cold to fire. I love you only because it’s you the one I love…” Sokka quoted the poem by Pablo Neruda, another favorite of his.
“I love you, Love, in fire and blood,” Zuko recited from the same poem.
“That’s doubtful, but thank you.”
Zuko flushed a bit and smiled to himself.
Sokka raised an eyebrow. “Why? Has no one ever told you that? Because I’ll tell you all the time. Every day. I’ll write it on post-it’s and stick them to your wall, and-”
“For the love of Agni, Sokka, just shut up and kiss me,” Zuko said, doing exactly that. Sokka returned the kiss just as, if not more, eagerly and smiled into it.
Haru may or may not have walked in on Sokka kissing some random stranger on his bed.
Sokkrates: Katara guess what happened
Sokkrates: KATARA SERIOUSLY GUESS WHAT HAPPENED
Katara: Spirits, Sokka, what do you want??
Sokkrates: HE KISSED ME
Katara: I TOLD YOU!! I TOLD YOU HE LIKED YOJ AND I WAS RIGHT!!
Sokkrates: We’re gonna have a spring wedding. I’ll let you come if you actually change your hairstyle.
Katara: very funny. The hair loops are a tribal custom and you know it.
Sokkrates: I’m serious
Katara: also, if you actually got engaged that early, I’d be incredibly concerned.
Sokkrates: you’re no fun. See you Monday
Katara: Kay. And congrats ;DDD
Zuko was busy Sunday, but on Monday he promised to come by during his break.
In the meantime, Sokka endured relentless teasing from his co-workers, who all made jokes ranging from “Zuko and Sokka sittin’ in a tree!” to “how good was the sex?” (Thanks for that, Toph).
Sokka told them to lay off (and that no, Toph, we didn’t have sex, chill out). Knowing his friends, it was no use. Aang, at least, was a little bit considerate. And Katara didn’t make any super gross jokes.
Zuko’s break began at two in the afternoon, and when he came in, everyone looked at Sokka suggestively. Sokka didn’t pay them any mind, because he was too busy getting excited over seeing Zuko for the first time since that night they kissed.
“Hey,” Zuko waved.
“Hi,” Sokka greeted enthusiastically, hopping over the counter ( don’t tell me what to do, Katara ) and standing before the other young man.
“Good. Better now that you’re here.”
“Flirt,” Zuko rolled his eyes.
Sokka moved a bit closer. “Not my fault you’re so cute.”
“Lovebirds, chill out, will you?” Toph whined.
“Hi again, Toph,” Zuko said.
“Why do you call me that?”
Toph shrugged and turned back to whatever she was doing (Sokka really didn’t care enough at the moment to notice.)
“I’m… glad you’re here,” Sokka said blankly.
Zuko smiled a little bit and nodded. “I’m glad I’m here, too.”
“Zuko!” Katara stepped on over. “It’s good to see you again.”
Zuko nodded and glanced toward Suki, who was smiling an awful lot at him and Sokka.
“Katara,” Sokka said, nudging her a little bit, “do you need something?”
“What? Can’t I just talk to my good friend Zuko?”
“You’ve met, like, once.”
Katara frowned. “Still.”
“Uh, I’m only on break for an hour, so is there anything you wanna do, or…?”
Sokka’s attention immediately shifted back to Zuko, holding out his hand for him to take (he did) and dragging him along to a back table with a farewell wink from Katara.
“Sorry about my sister,” Sokka apologized, a little red.
The other boy just shrugged. “She seems… nice.”
A chuckle. “She is. But she can get a little overbearing.”
Zuko nodded. A little moment of silence passed between them.
“So…” Sokka said awkwardly. “What… exactly… are we?”
Zuko hummed in thought. “Well… normal couples would go out on dates and then decide if they want to be boyfriends or not.”
“So, are we a normal couple, then?”
Zuko nodded. “But we’ve already been on a few dates… So let’s go on another one right here, right now, and then talk it over,” he said with a wink.
Sokka’s heart did that thing again, and he was suddenly very glad he was sitting down, because his knees would’ve buckled beneath him if he hadn’t been. He’d never seen Zuko wink before, and spirits that did things to him, too.
Sokka nodded eagerly. “Yes. Let’s do that.”
He didn’t even care that his friends were watching from afar when Zuko took hold of his hand and looked down at it fondly, and he certainly didn’t care about their teasing by the time Zuko’s break was over, because guess what? He had a boyfriend.
Sokka was in a good mood all week.
He saw Zuko a couple of times after that, and sweet spirits, he was definitely in love. Every time Zuko looked at him with those sharp, yellow eyes, he felt like he could faint and every time he kissed him it was like he was in a dream.
Hold fast to dreams…
Zuko had told him more about himself. His favorite book was Love Amongst Dragons (though he strongly resented the theatrical adaptation of it) and he’d read it exactly seventeen times.
His favorite poem was “[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]” by E.E. Cummings, and he could recite it word for word. (Sokka had memorized it later that evening.)
Zuko’s father had already been found guilty, but Zuko had to attend his sentencing, and he was trying to keep it together until then—he really didn’t want to embarrass himself. He was terrified of his father. More so than Sokka had previously thought.
That was how the two of them found themselves back at the Jasmine Dragon late on a Wednesday evening. Iroh was in the pantry, which was located in the back of the shop, and the two young men sat at a table in the now-empty dining area.
“I don’t want to look at him,” Zuko mumbled. “He’s crazy. Azula is crazy. Agni knows what she’ll say…”
Sokka nodded in sympathy, gripping Zuko’s hand in his own and squeezing it tightly. Zuko shuddered at the contact and leaned into his boyfriend a little bit from his seat, which was sat right next to Sokka’s. Sokka brought up a hand and ran it through his hair gently.
“I understand… but after it’s over, he’ll be put away, and I’ll still be here.”
Zuko huffed. “I-I can’t—I hate him, Sokka. He-He deserved to be thrown in prison years ago. And he deserves to stay there for the rest of his pathetic life.” He squeezed his eyes shut.
“I mean, I endured an entire childhood under that psycho. And they’re having him arrested for fucking tax evasion? Stolen money?” He began to support his own weight and sit up, looking at Sokka with wild, furious eyes. Eyes that were furious at no one but his father (and his sister, presumably). He needed to yell.
“He deserves worse . For what he did to my mother. For what he did to me . For what he did to my face! And—and the law has let him get away with all of his bullshit for too long .” His eyes brimmed with angry tears and he shook ever so slightly, looking away and down at the legal documents that littered the table.
Sokka took in his every last word. He’d never heard of anything to do with Zuko’s mother, he’d just assumed she wasn’t in the picture (understandably). But there seemed to be more to it than that.
And Zuko said his face.
Could his father really have-
Of course. Of course he could. After all Sokka had heard, it was horrific but believable—horrific and believable.
Sokka was ready to throttle this guy.
He turned his whole body toward Zuko, who was turned away, and brought a hand to his scarred cheek, turning him toward him.
Zuko seemingly weakened under the touch and let himself be caressed by Sokka, who held his face in his hands and stroked his cheekbones tenderly. Zuko kept his eyes closed.
“I’m sorry,” Sokka whispered, “that all this is happening.”
The other boy steadied his uneven breathing and swallowed.
Sokka brought his own face close and kissed him softly and gently, on his lips, then the corner of his mouth, then the marred skin stretched across his left side.
“You’re beautiful,” he mumbled, lips against skin, “and you’re kind, and gentle, and your father didn’t deserve you. You deserve people who care about you,” kiss, “like your uncle. And me…”
Zuko smiled gently under Sokka’s hold and nodded. “Yeah…”
Iroh almost walked out to ask them how they were doing, but stopped short in his tracks and let a smile spread across his aged face when he saw Zuko, head held in hands, being kissed by a certain coffee shop employee.
He let them have their moment. It was what Zuko deserved.
Sokka wasn’t permitted to attend the sentencing, which frustrated him, because he hated the thought of Zuko not having him here, even if he still had Iroh.
Saturday morning, in front of the courthouse, Sokka awaited his boyfriend.
When people began shuffling out, he noticed Zuko accompanied by someone—a girl who looked to be about Katara’s age, and who was seemingly distressing Zuko.
Sokka briskly walked over.
“ Honestly , Zuko,” the girl said in a condescending voice, “do you not understand that this might actually be good for you? It’s bad for your reputation, sure, but you get father’s money. I don’t know why you have to be so whiny about it.”
“Go away, Azula,” Zuko snapped at her.
Azula rolled her eyes. “Insolent as ever.”
“Zuko,” Sokka called as he approached, eying Azula suspiciously.
“Sokka,” the golden-eyed boy said, visibly relieved. He looked stressed.
“Aww, Zuzu!” Azula teased (definitely not in the same way that Katara teased, it was much more venomous), “is that your boyfriend? Father wouldn’t be happy.”
“Father’s going to be rotting in prison, like he deserves,” Zuko growled at her, taking Sokka’s hand, preparing to go with him.
“You okay?” Sokka whispered.
Zuko furrowed his brow. “Let’s go to the car.”
They began walking, and Zuko threw over his shoulder at Azula, “Feel free to lose my number.”
They hastily got in the car, Zuko in the passenger seat, staring at the dashboard.
“How… was it?”
“How do you think?” Zuko said glumly. Sokka refrained from feeling hurt. He knew the anger wasn’t directed at him.
“Do you wanna talk about it, or do you just wanna go?”
Zuko didn’t move, he just said, “Let’s talk later.”
Sokka nodded and started the engine.
They wound up at Zuko’s place that he shared with his uncle. It was nice, to say the least, but not overdone. Sokka found that he quite liked it.
They didn’t talk much, Zuko just seemed interested in falling asleep against his boyfriend, emotional exhaustion weighing on him.
Zuko let Sokka continue his tradition of carding fingers through his hair, and he even playfully pulled Sokka’s elastic band out, quietly declaring that he was ‘hot’ with his hair down. Sokka smiled at that.
Iroh had taken his own car and was in the kitchen (the man really loved his tea), giving his nephew and Sokka some space (he’d comforted him plenty in the courtroom, it seemed). Zuko didn’t seem to mind, with his head tucked into the crook of Sokka’s neck as he tried to forget the feel of his father’s glare.
Eventually, Zuko asked for a kiss, which Sokka gladly provided, and let out an unexpected whimper when Zuko returned the gesture of hands in his hair.
Zuko broke into a grin at that sound. “That’s interesting.”
“Don’t even start,” Sokka mumbled between kisses.
Zuko rolled his eyes. “Wouldn’t dream of it.” Another kiss. “And it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant…” he quoted.
Sokka recognized the poem. Zuko’s favorite. He figured he should finish the quote.
“And whatever a sun will always sing is you.”
Sokka would really have to remember to thank Katara one of these days for making him introduce himself to the owners of the new tea shop across the street. Because this, right here, kissing Zuko on the couch? This was paradisiacal; it was perfect and pure.
He who has the power to
Change my favorite color from blue to amber
He who has the power to
Make menial tasks look elegant and charming
He who has the power to
Make my heart stutter and stop
He who has the power to
Smile and make me dizzy—disoriented
He, the man I love,
When Zuko finally talked about the court sentencing, he seemed highly uncomfortable, the memories gnawing at him unpleasantly.
They were still at his and Iroh’s house, now in his room, and Sokka listened to every word he said with true intent.
“He was staring at me,” Zuko had muttered, “the whole time.”
“Dunno. Anger, maybe.”
“He’s weak. And he’s just trying to cover it up,” Sokka said. “He knows he lost. And after everything he did, he’s trying to still act tough.”
Zuko nodded. “Y’know, I used to think I could earn his love… but I don’t think he was ever capable of loving anyone. Even Azula.”
With a nod of agreement, Sokka ran his thumb over Zuko’s palm. “Iroh loves you, though.”
Zuko nodded. “Yeah.”
“And I love you.”
Zuko smiled. They’d quoted those same words from poems, but that was from Sokka. Purely.
“I love you, too.”
“Do you think you’ll be okay?” Sokka asked gently. “Now that it’s over?”
Zuko nodded. “I think I will be.”
“But you need to come over for tea more.”
Sokka huffed a chuckle. “I will. And you have to play more truth or dare with my friends and I.”
“I will. But you also have to read Love Amongst Dragons.”
“So you get two conditions?” Sokka looked offended.
Zuko grinned deviously. “I get whatever I want, you sap.”
“You’re the sap.”
“We’re both saps. We like poetry .”
Sokka barked another laugh. “Point taken.”
“So if I won this argument…” Zuko scooted closet, “does that mean I get another kiss?”
“I was gonna do that anyway.”
Sokka didn’t think he’d ever been as happy as he was in Zuko’s bedroom, kissing and talking about poetry and cheesy romance novels about dragons. And he wouldn’t trade it for anything, not for the skies or the seas themselves.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)