Sokka is a good older brother—he thinks so, at least. He does his best to look out for Katara and give her advice when she needs it, but he also tries to give her some space and let her make her own decisions. They are only a year apart, after all, and she’s grown up a lot since they first found Aang in the iceberg.
So when Sokka notices that Katara has been spending more time alone with Zuko, he holds himself back from immediately confronting her about it. They could be doing anything, talking about anything. He’s trusted her to be alone with guys before; he’s even teased Aang for his long-standing crush on Katara. Besides, they clearly bonded in some way when they went to search for the man who killed Sokka and Katara’s mother, even when it didn’t turn out the way they’d expected. He should be happy that they’re getting along now.
It’s not that he doesn’t trust Zuko, and it’s certainly not that he doesn’t trust Katara. He doesn’t think Zuko would do anything to hurt her—or, well, not on purpose—and he pities the fool who would even try, because hell hath no fury like a Katara scorned. So, really, it shouldn’t be any of his business what Zuko and Katara talk about in whispers on the shores of Ember Island or in the courtyard of Ozai’s beach house. At least, that’s what he tells himself.
Unfortunately, try as he might, Sokka just can’t shake the slightly sick feeling he gets in his stomach whenever he sees them talking, even if it’s only a word or two about what they’re having for dinner. He watches their interactions for any indication of romance, but if they do feel that way about each other, they’re doing a damn good job of hiding it. They don’t hold hands—in fact, they barely touch at all, except for when necessary—and they don’t usually sit next to each other during meals. Zuko does sit next to her when they go to see the Ember Island Players, but it seems completely platonic, and Sokka doesn’t miss the way they slowly scooch away from each other during the “romantic” scene between their actor selves. They still talk, though, and sometimes, Katara says something to Zuko that makes him blush furiously. Talk about mixed signals.
So Sokka makes little to no progress on his theory, which is really less of a theory and more of a sneaking suspicion that there’s something fishy going on. Zuko has been acting strange around Sokka for a little while, occasionally stuttering or spacing out in the middle of a conversation, and it might have to do with this whole business with Katara. If Zuko’s had a crush on her for some time, then it would make sense that he’d be nervous about Sokka’s reaction. (Sokka, for his part, feels weird around Zuko sometimes too, but that’s probably just because Zuko hasn’t been with them for very long, and maybe a small part of Sokka is still nervous around the guy who used to try to capture or kill them all on a regular basis.) Eventually, he decides he’ll just have to take the initiative and talk to Katara himself, or else the wondering is going to drive him crazy.
He corners her one evening after dinner, when everyone else has dispersed and Katara is starting to clean up in the kitchen. She looks up from the sink when she hears his footsteps and raises an eyebrow.
“I’m guessing you’re not here to help me clean up,” she says.
Sokka leans up against the nearby wall in an attempt to look casual. “Katara,” he starts out, “you know you can trust me, right? With anything?”
Katara frowns in confusion. “Yeah, of course. You’re my brother.”
Sokka nods and crosses his arms over his chest. “Good! Good.” He clears his throat awkwardly as he searches for the right words. “Because I realize that you can make your own decisions and that you don’t need me protecting you all the time, and so you know that if, say, you were to start dating some angsty firebender who used to try to kill us all the time, you could tell me that, right?”
Katara nearly drops the bowl she’s washing and shuts off the water. “What?”
Sokka can feel his face heating up. Apparently rambling tactlessly is still one of his strong suits. “Just, you know, theoretically,” he adds pathetically.
Katara just stares at him incredulously. “Zuko?” she says with a laugh. “You think I’m dating Zuko?”
Sokka shrugs. “Well, what else was I supposed to think with you two always running off to talk privately? Zuko hasn’t been able to look me in the eye since the Boiling Rock. I thought maybe he was nervous around me because he was afraid of how I’d react if I knew he had a crush on you or something.”
Katara laughs again. “Well, you don’t need to worry about that. I’m not particularly interested in him, and I’m positive he’s not interested in me.”
Sokka narrows his eyes. “Well, then, what have you two been talking about?”
Katara’s cheeks turn pink. “Us? Uh, nothing. Nothing important. What, two people aren’t allowed to just talk to each other alone?”
Sokka snorts. Like brother, like sister. “Well, that’s not suspicious.”
Katara sighs. “Look, if you really wanna know, you’re better off talking to Zuko.”
“He’s been acting weird around me for weeks now,” Sokka says, trying not to let the hurt seep into his voice. “What makes you think he’d tell me anything?”
“He will,” Katara replies cryptically, and with that, she returns to washing the dishes.
Clearly Sokka isn’t going to be getting a solid answer out of this conversation, so he turns around and heads down the hall to find Zuko.
It doesn’t take long to locate him, out in the courtyard practicing firebending with Aang. Zuko’s been training him in a frenzy; it feels like that’s all they do sometimes. They just ate, and they’re already back at it again, likely at Zuko’s direction. The least they could do is take a few breaks.
Sokka waltzes down the couple of steps outside and into the courtyard. As they’re both practicing the same forms, Aang moving his body in sync with Zuko’s, neither of them notice him approaching. Sokka waits until they seem like they’re at a good stopping point, assuming a final fighting stance and then relaxing their postures, to call out, “Hey, Zuko? I need to talk to you.”
Zuko nearly jumps at the sound of his voice and whirls around. “Okay,” he says, attempting to act calm, but very obviously failing. The sweat rolling down his temples doesn’t help matters, either. “What is it?”
Sokka awkwardly glances over at Aang. “Uh, can we talk in private, actually?”
Zuko narrows his eyes, but nods silently and waves a hand in Aang’s direction, dismissing him. Once he’s out of earshot, Sokka sits down on one of the steps. Zuko, however, remains standing.
Sokka decides to just get straight to the point. “So. You and Katara.”
Zuko raises an eyebrow. “What about me and Katara?”
“You’ve been talking a lot recently,” Sokka says. “Alone.”
Zuko’s face heats up, though it was already a little flushed from training. “So?”
“I asked Katara about it, but I didn’t get much out of her. I thought maybe you two were dating or something, but she said that wasn’t it. She wouldn’t tell me anything else, though.” Sokka shrugs. “She told me to ask you instead.”
Zuko folds his arms over his chest. “What gives you the right to know about two people’s private business?” He really sounds like a prince there, and it looks like he knows it.
“Well, number one, something’s telling me this ‘business’ was hidden pretty specifically from me, and I’d like to know why,” Sokka replies. “And number two, I’d appreciate some sort of heads-up if my sister ends up dating the crown prince of the Fire Nation, who spent the better part of a year actively trying to capture us.” That last part comes out sounding more hostile than he means for it to.
Zuko scowls and throws his hands out. “What are you saying? That after all this time, after everything, you still don’t trust me?”
Sokka holds his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “No, no, I didn’t mean—”
“Save it.” Zuko scoffs, but there isn’t any venom in it, just hurt. “And here I was starting to think we—”
He bites his lip and stops talking, just stands and stares with his hands balled up into fists at his sides and his eyes glinting with something Sokka can’t quite decipher.
“What?” Sokka asks. “Starting to think we what?”
Zuko shakes his head, looks away. His body relaxes, and he opens his hands back up, using one of them to rub at his scarred eye. Finally, he walks over to the steps and sits down next to Sokka, resting his arms on his knees as he thinks about his response. After a long moment of silence, he speaks.
“When we were together at the Boiling Rock, I...realized something. I decided to talk to Katara about it later, and then she started giving me some advice.”
Sokka narrows his eyes in confusion. “Why her specifically?”
Zuko sighs. “Because she knows you best.”
Sokka shakes his head. He really, truly has no idea what’s going on here. “What does this have to do with me?”
Zuko is quiet for a long time. Finally, he says with a small laugh, “You got it all mixed up, Sokka. I’m not interested in your sister. I’m interested in you.”
Sokka almost doesn’t believe that he’s hearing correctly. His heart is full of so many somethings, things like relief and shock and hope and desire and an overwhelming feeling of duh.
“Me?” he sputters, because he realizes that he hasn’t said anything yet, and Zuko is looking at him like he expects Sokka to slap him. “I—me?”
Zuko smiles wryly. “I know; I was surprised, too.”
For a moment, they just look at each other. Then they both start laughing, so awkwardly and so stupidly. They laugh so hard that Sokka’s stomach starts to hurt. They laugh so hard that they have to hold onto each other to catch their breath, and that’s when Sokka leans in.
It’s short and soft, an apology, a beginning. He tastes like fire and what they had for dinner, but Sokka doesn’t mind. When they kiss, it feels like something clicks inside of him.
Zuko pulls away first, guilt written all over his face. “I’m sorry I snapped at you. I was just afraid—I didn’t know how you’d—”
“No, no, I get it,” Sokka assures him. “I’m the one who should be apologizing. I didn’t mean to imply that I don’t trust you, because I do, Zuko. I do.”
Zuko’s lips curl up into the faintest smile. “I wanted to ask Katara for her blessing. And then I just ended up coming to her for advice on how to...well. Court you, I guess.”
Sokka snorts. “Just be yourself. That’s enough for me. Just don’t go making me jealous.”
Zuko giggles—he actually straight-up giggles. Sokka thinks he could listen to it forever. “Jealous? Of who, Katara?”
“Well, yeah. I assumed you two had a thing.”
Zuko shrugs, his cheeks bright red. “I never said it was a good plan. But it worked out in the end, didn’t it?”
Sokka smiles to himself and laces his fingers with Zuko’s. His heart feels like it might take off and fly away at any moment. “Yeah,” he says softly. “I suppose it did.”
(Katara finds them kissing again a few minutes later, and the only thing she says is “Finally.”)