Throughout the time that Sokka and Zuko had been friends, Sokka had always been aware that Zuko had struggled with things like touch and expressing emotion. When they were teenagers, Zuko had always flinched away from every touch or tensed up when people got too close. Sokka had chalked it up to the childhood trauma (cause damn, did Zuko have a lot of childhood trauma), and had reasoned that, even though he was a tactile guy, he wouldn’t try to touch Zuko without making it absolutely clear what Sokka was trying to do. And as time went on, and they got older and closer and bared their hearts to one another, Sokka realized one very important thing about Zuko.
Zuko absolutely thrives on affection.
Physical, verbal, both, it didn’t matter. Zuko soaked it all in like a man starved (Sokka supposes he is, considering who his family is). The dam had officially been broken one day in college. Sokka and Zuko had roomed together all four years, and they had been witness to each other’s many (many) breakdowns about school. So, Sokka supposes it was inevitable they would turn to each other for comfort.
(Zuko had come home after a meeting with one of his professors, practically in the throes of a panic attack because his professor had basically told him that his entire final essay was shit and needed to be rewritten by the next week.
“ ‘You picked the easiest topic and it’s still basic.’ What the hell am I supposed to do with that? What the fuck? ‘You’re gonna need to rewrite it and go more in-depth.’ My twelve pages weren’t in-depth enough? And what the fuck does ‘easiest topic’ even mean? It was an open prompt! There were no topics to chose from!”
Sokka watched from the sofa as Zuko paced around their tiny living area, getting more and more worked up as time went on. “I really wish I knew what to tell you to make you feel better, but all I got right now is that your professor is a dick.”
“He’s the worst! Watch, I’m going to change everything and do what he told me to do, and I’m gonna get comments like, ‘why did you change this?’ and ‘your first draft was better.’ This shit is due in four days and he wants me to redo the whole thing.”
Zuko had gone back to pacing, though now it had progressed into being silent. Sokka let it go on for a few more minutes before cracking and saying, “Alright, come here. You’re so stressed it’s making me stressed, and you look like you need a hug.”
Sokka had held his arms open, and Zuko stared at him blankly. Sokka waved his arms a little and made faces at Zuko until he caved with a sigh, plopping down on the sofa next to him and allowing Sokka to wrap his arms around him. They stayed there for who knows how long before Zuko had whispered, “Yeah okay, I think I needed a hug. I feel a little better.”
“Any time, dude. Seriously, I’m all for hugs all the time.”)
After that, whenever either of them was stressed out they went to the other for hugs and comfort. Most of the time it was Sokka, throwing himself around dramatically until Zuko sighed and lifted his arm for Sokka to snuggle into, but he always did it with a smile. On the rare occasions that Zuko sought out the physical affection, he did it quietly, and softly, and nearly always talked himself out of it until Sokka pulled Zuko into the hug himself.
So, Sokka learned to offer the hugs himself rather than waiting for Zuko to break and seek them out. Still, Sokka was careful. He never touched Zuko if Zuko couldn’t see the touch coming and have time to back away, and he never pushed if Zuko indicated that he didn’t want to be touched. Over time, Zuko got more used to the hugs and affection, not feeling as awkward when he initiated them himself. He even gave Sokka permission to dole out casual touches that weren’t just ‘I need comfort now’ touches.
(“I trust you,” Zuko had said quietly. “I’ve known you a long time, yeah that’s part of it. But, even when we were younger, you never touched me if I didn’t want you to. And you never touched me without asking. I know you respect how I feel about these things. So, yeah.”
Sokka still wasn’t over that conversation. And in retrospect, he should’ve realized then and there that his feelings for Zuko went way past ‘platonic bros who sometimes hug’.)
After that, Sokka was more overt; patting Zuko’s arm to get his attention, a hand on his back when he passed him in the kitchen, tugging on his hand to get him to follow Sokka somewhere, or keeping ahold of his sleeve in a busy crowd. Eventually, Zuko even started to share in these casual touches. A pat on Sokka’s shoulder here, a hand on his waist there, until it was practically second nature to them to offer each other these unthinking touches.
So, now they’re dating, and they live together in a little two-bedroom apartment that’s in between the campus where Sokka is getting his master’s and Zuko’s job at his uncle’s law firm. Now they’re both grown, responsible adults (mostly), with Zuko working a steady job and Sokka in the last year of his chemical engineering master’s with some pretty solid opportunities lined up, and plans for the future. Now, Sokka doesn’t worry about stopping himself from giving Zuko the affection he so desperately wants to shower him in for fear of it being unwanted. Now, Sokka is a lot better at reading Zuko and figuring out when it’s the wrong time to hover over Zuko too much, and when Zuko is craving affection but doesn’t quite know how to ask for it.
Now, Zuko more often than not has no problems with throwing himself near Sokka and soaking up affection like a sponge.
Case in point, right now.
It’s the weekend, and Sokka has been in the spare bedroom that they use as a study room/office for when they have to do work that requires attention that sitting on the sofa or kitchen table doesn’t give them. He’s sitting at the desk, doing some research for a project, and trying to get significantly ahead of his deadline. He doesn’t necessarily need to be doing this right now, he’s ahead of his deadline as it is, and has been making good progress that his professors and lab tech manager are happy with. But, he’d been struck with inspiration earlier and knew he needed to get everything down before he forgot it. That had been a few hours ago, and he’d gotten all his thoughts down, and now was just going more in-depth.
Zuko had come in some time earlier, bringing him in lunch and then sitting down on the loveseat they had in there with their Nintendo Switch and proceeded to play Animal Crossing while Sokka got sucked into his work. They sat in silence together, Sokka occasionally mumbling about the articles he was reading, and Zuko occasionally cursing when a fish or bug got away from him.
Sokka is absorbed in his reading, not noticing Zuko getting up and coming closer to him until Zuko is right behind him, arms going around him as he leans down to put his chin on Sokka’s shoulder.
“What’s up, buttercup?” Sokka asks, turning away from the laptop to look up at Zuko. Zuko flushes like he always does when Sokka pulls out some ridiculous pet name and Sokka can’t help but smile widely at him.
“Are you really busy right now?” Zuko asks softly.
“No,” Sokka says. “Just reading some articles, nothing really important.”
Zuko hums, looking like he’s thinking something over and pouting out his lips as he does so. And well, is Sokka just not supposed to kiss his wonderful boyfriend when he’s so close and pouting like that? Sokka leans in and presses a quick kiss to Zuko’s lips, which seems to decide something for Zuko; because he pulls back with a soft smile and climbs into Sokka’s lap on the chair. He loops his arms around Sokka’s neck and snuggles in close, resting his chin on Sokka’s shoulder.
“Not that I’m complaining or anything,” Sokka says, wrapping his arms around Zuko’s waist and squeezing. “But what’s this about, baby? You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good. Nothing’s wrong,” Zuko mumbles. “Just wanted to cuddle a bit.”
Well, that’s fucking adorable, Sokka thinks, and he doesn’t think he’s exaggerating when he says his heart swells even more with the love he has for Zuko. “We can go to the living room if you want? Watch a movie and cuddle?”
“But you’re doing work. And if you don’t follow these trains of thought now, you might forget later,” Zuko says and Sokka can practically hear the pout in his voice.
Sokka presses a kiss to the side of Zuko’s head that he can reach. “I don’t really have to be doing this right now,” Sokka assures. “If you wanna go somewhere more comfortable, I can save these articles and make some notes real quick. Easy peasy, no problem.”
“You don’t have to. If I’m not distracting you, then I’m good here,” Zuko places a quick kiss to Sokka’s neck where his face is buried.
“ ‘Course you’re not distracting,” Sokka says. “But let me know if you get uncomfortable and want to move. Worse comes to worst and I wanna keep reading, I’ll switch to the tablet.”
Zuko just hums and squeezes his arms around Sokka one more time, which Sokka returns happily, shifts around a tiny bit, and then just. Pulls out his phone and starts browsing Twitter with his arms still around Sokka’s neck and chin now resting more fully on Sokka’s shoulder. Someone was prepared to cuddle like this for the long haul, Sokka thinks, smiling into Zuko’s shoulder and pressing a soft kiss to the skin there. Sokka scoots the chair a bit closer to the desk, pulls the laptop and his notebook forward, and continues reading his articles.
It turns out Zuko may have had a point about staying here, because about ten minutes into their little ‘research turned cuddle’ session, Sokka is struck with another bout of inspiration and rapidly starts writing down new ideas. They must sit like that, with Zuko straddling Sokka’s lap and clinging to him like a koala, for at least two more hours before Sokka is satisfied with where his train of thought has led him. Sokka makes a few finishing notes and sends an email with his new ideas and updates to his project professor.
Finally, Sokka closes the laptop and wraps both arms around Zuko’s middle, hugging him close. “You okay over there, sweetheart? What’cha doing?”
“Mhm,” Zuko hums. “Started reading that new book Katara said to read. It’s interesting. You finished?”
“Yup,” Sokka says happily. “Got some pretty cool new ideas, did some research, emailed my professor, the whole works. You wanna get up and move to the kitchen? It’s getting late, we should start to think about what we’re gonna have for dinner.”
“Don’t wanna move,” Zuko mumbles, tightening his arms around Sokka.
“Well then, do you want me to carry you to the living room? Stay like this any longer and your legs are gonna cramp up.”
Zuko grumbles about it, but nonetheless, he gets up from Sokka’s lap and, once he’s up and standing, stretches out his muscles and groans when his back cracks.
“Should’ve moved to the couch like I told you, and then you wouldn’t be sore,” Sokka laughs.
“Not sore or anything,” Zuko denies. Sokka raises his eyebrows at him as they leave the study and head towards the kitchen. “Okay, maybe a little stiff, but it was worth it.”
“Oh, it was worth it, huh?” Sokka teases. He pulls open the fridge, poking around until he finds the chicken breast Zuko had put in there earlier. He hands Zuko the chicken and pulls out some vegetables to go with it.
Zuko pulls out a cutting board and knife, taking the chicken out of the package and starting to cut it into bite-sized pieces. Sokka rinses the vegetables, taking out a second cutting board and works on chopping those as well.
“It was nice,” Zuko says softly, focusing on the chicken in his hands. “Just sitting there with you and doing whatever. It felt relaxing. Safe.”
“Oh, sweetheart,” Sokka says, abandoning his vegetables. He goes behind Zuko and carefully wraps his arms around Zuko’s middle, careful not to budge his arms when he’s still holding the knife. He presses a kiss to Zuko’s neck, nuzzling in. “It really was nice. Always feels good to just sit there and be with you, no matter what we’re doing.”
“I’m happy you feel safe with me,” Sokka says quietly, squeezing Zuko’s middle.
Zuko turns his head and presses a quick kiss to Sokka’s lips. “I would turn around and kiss you properly, cause, duh. I love you. Of course I feel safe with you. But I have raw chicken on my hands, so you’re gonna have to let me go so I can wash them.”
“I love you, too,” Sokka says, reluctantly letting Zuko go so he can wash his hands, pouting at him the whole time. All the while, Zuko has this small, pleased smile on his face that makes Sokka want to kiss him silly and give him the world.
Finally, Zuko drys his hands on one of their hand towels and walks right up to Sokka, taking his face in his hands, and planting a solid, long kiss on his lips. Sokka sighs into it, wrapping his arms around Zuko’s waist and pulling him close. They kiss like that for a few minutes, leaning against the kitchen counter, until Zuko’s stomach growls, forcing them to pull back with a laugh.
“No more distractions until after dinner,” Zuko says, pulling out a pan and placing it on the stove before pulling out various seasonings for the chicken.
“Fine, if you insist,” Sokka sighs, going back to chopping the vegetables. They finish making dinner in relative silence, a few snippets of conversation here and there.
(“That’s definitely enough chili powder, Zuko. Are you trying to kill me?”
“Don’t be a baby, it’s hardly anything.”
“Last time you said that my mouth was on fire for hours.”)
They go to eat dinner curled up next to each other on the sofa, watching reruns of Law & Order, with Zuko making snarky comments about how ‘you know, that’s not how an actual court hearing would go’, but for the most part, being content to sit in silence. Eventually, they go to get ready for bed, taking their showers separately.
Sokka enters the bedroom to find Zuko already under the covers and doing some last things on his phone. Sokka puts his phone on the charger, setting it on the nightstand and climbs into bed. Zuko is leaned over on his side, also plugging his phone into the charger, before shutting off the bedside lamp. He snuggles back into the bed, and Sokka scoots closer, wrapping one arm around Zuko’s waist and pulling him close, Zuko’s back flush to Sokka’s chest. Sokka hums contentedly as Zuko laces his fingers with Sokka’s hand resting on his chest.
“Love you,” Zuko says tiredly, yawning after.
“I love you, too, sweetheart,” Sokka says, closing his eyes and letting sleep take him.