The rain made a light, pitter-patter sound as it hit the roof. Zuko barely heard it, the only sound in his ears was the pounding of his own anxious heartbeat.
He pulled his door upwards by the knob while he pushed it open, silencing any creaks that could've been made. His steps silent as ever, he closed the door and crept across the hall.
He stopped at the farthest door from his, sparing the dark hallway an extra glance. Toph probably knew what he was doing already, if she was awake. But she was reliable. Well, he hoped she was, anyway.
Without taking his eyes off the other doors, he knocked once. Not five seconds, and it opened, with a hand grabbing his wrist and yanking him inside.
" Why— " Sokka shushed him, a wide grin on his face as he closed the door. Zuko's tone went dry. "Why do you feel the need to do that? We do this every night."
Sokka shrugged, smirking. "It's much more fun that way."
Zuko rolled his eyes. "Why am I not surprised?"
Sokka shrugged again, reaching down to grab Zuko's arm again. He pulled him a bit closer; just close enough to plant a little kiss on his left cheek, just at the edge of the scar. He seemed to do that a lot. Not that Zuko was going to complain.
"Because you know me so well?"
Zuko breathed a laugh. Sokka brightened in response.
He let his head rest on Zuko's shoulder. Then proceeded to wrap his arms around Zuko's waist, humming contentedly. Zuko only watched him, a soft smile pulling on his lips.
He flinched as thunder cracked outside. Sokka perked up, looking at him expectantly.
"Bed time?" he asked.
Sokka all but tossed the blanket aside. He made a throwaway line about it last time Zuko asked. You provide all the heat I need anyway . He had yet to figure out whether that was a joke or not.
He took a seat on edge of the bed. He had just finished taking off his shoes when Sokka proceeded to yank him back again, forcing him to lie down.
Zuko turned his head back to look at him.
"You have my arms."
Sokka buried his face in Zuko's hair, his grip tightening.
"D'you need 'em?"
Zuko sighed, grinning.
"Yeah, I think I kind of do ."
Sokka whined in protest, but did it anyway. His hands snapped back around his waist almost immediately, and Zuko chuckled a bit.
He looked out the window with a hollow feeling in his chest. His smile faded when lightning struck the waters, reminding him where he was, and what was coming.
"Do you think Aang is ready?" he whispered, resting his hands on Sokka's intertwined fingers.
"I.. don't know." Sokka sighed.
"Sorry for bringing it up right now," Zuko's brow furrowed. "I'm.. I'm just worried. He's just.. Well, he's Aang. Against things like revenge and violence. I'm not sure if he can.."
"Don't worry about it." his thumb swiped a soft back and forth over Zuko's pointer finger. "Aang's not the type to avoid his problems anymore. He's grown. He'll do what needs to be done, I know it."
Zuko sighed through his nose. "And if he isn't?"
"I know I'm not the Avatar, but I'm still not opposed to kicking Ozai's butt as a substitute—"
"Sokka. Seriously. I thought we were over this."
"That is the hill I will die on, and you can't stop me."
Thunder rumbled, louder this time. Zuko didn't mind the rain. But thunderstorms.. Those brought to mind a lot of bad things. Sokka's arms tightened around him.
"You know, I'm not literally going to die on a hill. Please stop thinking about it."
Zuko sputtered, fighting the warmth growing on his face.
"I wasn't thinking that!"
" Zuko .."
Zuko only groaned in response, placing a hand over his eyes.
"I'm not going to die on a hill. Or in general yet. You know that, right?"
".. I know.."
Sokka's breath ghosted against Zuko's neck when he sighed, creating goosebumps all over his arms.
"C'mere." Sokka unclasped his hands, trying to move Zuko.
He complied wordlessly, turning around to the immediate sight of Sokka's eyes. His imperfect vision blotted out everything else with their proximity, leaving only two large blobs of soothing light blue.
Sokka gave him a small smile, resting their foreheads together.
"Just breath, baby."
Zuko looked down at the pillow, as if that could hide his blushing face.
"We'll be fine ." Sokka mumbled, raising a hand to Zuko's cheek. "We worked too hard to lose now."
Zuko hummed, unsure how to respond.
"We'll come back to each other." Sokka whispered. "We always have, right?"
A small laugh escaped Zuko's lips.
"Yeah.." he said. "I guess we have.. Who knew?"
"See? Everything sucked, but despite everything, we're.. Somehow still here."
"Exactly." he kissed the tip of Zuko's nose, his grin overflowing with affection.
"You're a sappy idiot." Zuko muttered.
"Hey, now, I'm your sappy idiot." Sokka snickered. "But I do pity you; from what Katara says, I'm apparently a handful."
Zuko smirked a bit, picking up Sokka's hand and placing a kiss to his palm.
"Oh, you are."
"Wow. Rude ."
Zuko snorted, wrapping his arms around Sokka's waist. Their chests pressed together on cue with a thunder clap, causing Sokka to snort.
"You're lucky I kind of like you." he teased.
And Zuko couldn't help it. All his defenses crumbled away as the seconds passed by— all at this man's smile . Who's the sappy idiot now?
"I know I am." he kissed Sokka ever so softly, trying to memorize as many bits of the moment as he could. "And I'm grateful for it. More than you could ever know."
Zuko's hands were always warm. But they were never usually sweaty. Firebenders usually had dry hands; because, while it wasn't common knowledge, it made the fire harder to create and control.
He dug his nails into his palms, now growing moist with anxious precipitation.
The sky had caught fire.
He felt Sokka sidle up to his left, then his clammy fingers weaving through his own. Zuko squeezed gently.
"None of us could ever be ready for this." Sokka mumbled. "So it's better to just go and.. Do ."
"You've been talking to my uncle."
Sokka hummed. "He is pretty wise. I thought he might have words of advice."
"Oh. For what?"
Sokka only shrugged, the corner of his mouth twitching in a slight smirk. Zuko was starting to wonder if Sokka had asked about him. That would not be favorable.
He turned, looking at Sokka fully.
Sokka's brow was creased in worry. He bit his lip, his hand growing colder against Zuko's warmth.
"I.. This is probably a bad time, but.." Sokka sucked in a breath, as if trying to prepare himself. "Look, I'm glad I met you."
" Sokka— "
" I'm not going to die ." he clarified hurriedly. But his posture sagged, and his tone took a soft dip. "Definitely no plans to do that.."
Zuko reached for his other hand, shivering slightly at the icy feeling. Spirits, he was nervous .
"You look like you have more to say."
Sokka nodded. "I.. I do. I'll try to hurry this up because I'm not sure how much time we have. But I.."
He stopped, hesitating again. He gave Zuko a guilty, almost imploring look.
"I want to say it, but.. Ugh ," he looked down, his heel scuffing against the loose dirt of the coast. "I don't know what's wrong with me, I rehearsed this in my head so many times!"
Zuko frowned at him, opening his mouth to say something. But what could he even respond with? He didn't even know what Sokka was trying to do.
But it pained him. Sokka, who was usually so sure of himself, looking so.. What, helpless? Afraid? Twelve different emotions seemed to cross his face, none Zuko was able to pin down. Finally—
" I like you ." Sokka croaked. "Well, you know that but.. I care about you, Zuko. You have no idea how much, and.. And I'm not sure if I should say it. Not right now, not when—"
His breath caught in his throat, and he swallowed sharply, shivering. Now Zuko felt helpless.
".. It would be wrong of me if I gave you that as a last word to hold on to, if I don't come back. I'm sorry I brought it up."
Zuko leaned forward, resting his forehead against Sokka's. He felt his face begin to burn, especially under Sokka's surprised stare. He pressed on, trying to ignore the fact that they were in public. Sokka needed this .
"You can tell me that after we win." he mumbled. "You can tell me anything you want to after we win."
Sokka bit his lip, whining at the back of his throat. Zuko could hear it through the sheer uncertainty in his tone. But what if we don't?
"Hey. You were the one who kept saying it— we are going to make it back. No matter how much the world tries, it can't separate us. Not for long."
Sokka was quiet for a while. Then he mustered a weak smirk, raising a hand to pat Zuko's cheek.
"Look at you.. Trying to make me feel better."
Zuko straightened, rolling his eyes with a smile.
"It's kinda working though, don't worry." Sokka laughed. He hesitated, then wrapped his arms around Zuko's waist, pulling him in an embrace.
Zuko gasped softly, his arms held out in front of him awkwardly. After a beat, he wrapped his arms around Sokka's neck, toying with the short hairs behind his head.
"Thanks." Sokka mumbled.
Reluctantly, Sokka pulled away, his gaze steely.
"Coming back. Coming with me."
Then why does it feel like one of us is leaving again? Zuko couldn't ask, because Sokka spoke up.
"I guess I'll be content to leave it at that." he tried for a smirk, then winked. "For now."
Zuko gave him a frantic look, gesturing vaguely at the White Lotus tents not-so-far-away. Sokka only rolled his eyes.
"Pshh. You're the one who went ahead and did the forehead thingy."
" At least, that's not decidedly romantic! " he hissed.
Sokka's laugh was cut short when they heard Toph's shouting.
"Hey, dunderheads, we need to leave!"
Sokka groaned, his shoulders sagging in disappointment.
"That's your cue.." Zuko muttered.
"Yeah.. Oh, well." Without warning, he placed his hands on either side of Zuko's face, pulling him in for a brief kiss.
Zuko's mind went absolutely blank. He didn't even register when Sokka pulled away, giving him an almost regretful smile. Not until he turned his back and began walking away.
Why was this familiar?
Then it clicked. The fiery color of the sky painted the grass, tinting them in red. His feet were rooted into the ground, wind whispering gently in his ears.
"Come with me!"
Next thing he knew, he was running up the slope without any other thought in his mind, heart pounding out of his chest, calling Sokka's name.
Sokka turned around at the edge of the hill with a raised eyebrow. But he made no protest when Zuko grabbed his face— a mirror of his previous action— and kissed him.
"You can do this. Come back to me." Zuko rasped. " Please ."
Sokka smiled, a thoughtful glint in his eye. Was he remembering what Zuko was remembering? He hoped he was. Sokka kissed him again. "I will."
Sokka poked his cheek, just below the scar, his smile as warm as the heat growing on Zuko's face.
" Go ."
" Going ."
Zuko climbed up on Appa shortly after, his mind swirling with everything that could go wrong. But in the cluster of dark, there was a single, hanging thread— the thin shred of hope that they could succeed. He grabbed at it desperately, clung to it like a lifeline.
He never let go. Not even as lightning hit; a glass knife in his chest, then shattering inside of him. Not even as the world around him turned ashy and grey and lifeless for that agonizing fraction of a second.
Because Sokka was coming back. So would he.
Zuko pulled out his royal hairpiece, shaking his hair out with a sigh. Tufts of his hair fell just above his eyes and over his ears.
His hands lingered on the curtains, not quite ready for the day to end yet.
The sky was red again. But rather than being the beginning of destruction, the red of the sunset was calm and peaceful— but the day couldn't end yet. Zuko just didn't know what he was waiting for.
Sokka, probably .
He hadn't really seen the other boy the whole day, other than a brief exchange of eye contact during Zuko's speech. He had faltered out of nerves, then their gazes met. Sokka had smiled. Zuko smiled back, his confidence growing anew and the gentle warmth blooming in his chest.
Other than that, there was nothing. It made their promises feel somewhat empty. He knew they weren't, of course. Today had been a big day. He should've expected this.
The sky began to grow purple, and Zuko sighed again, finally closing the curtains. Tomorrow would be another big day. Politics and laws and meetings. He couldn't afford to stay up and be tired.
A sharp knock threw him out of his reverie. Zuko straightened as a guard walked in, his bow low and stiff. Zuko would probably need to help the staff relax for his first act as Fire Lord.
"Fire Lord Zuko, someone broke into the palace."
The guard paused. "Well, not so much as broke in, but.. Somehow, he got past us. He's demanding an audience with you. We told him to go, but—"
" What ."
The guard flinched. Zuko put a hand over his face, sliding it down with a groan. But he'd be lying if he said he wasn't slightly amused.
"Of course, he would." he mumbled.
Zuko gave him a slight smirk.
"Let him in. I think I know who it is already."
Sokka poked his head in through the door with a grin, no doubt having been eavesdropping.
"Hey, Jerkbender." he put his hand up in a wave.
The guard flinched beside him, sparing Zuko a brief glance to see how he would react.
Zuko suppressed a smile, then failed.
"You're, um .. You're dismissed." he said. "He can stay."
The guard looked at Sokka, then Zuko, clearly wanting to ask. But he nodded.
"Yes, Fire Lord."
"He's a friend." Zuko added.
The guard nodded again, bowed, then left.
Sokka shut the door behind him, leaning on it rather than simply pushing it.
Zuko crossed his arms, grinning.
"Water Tribe citizen sneaking into the Fire Nation Palace." he sighed. "I haven't even been Fire Lord for a day yet."
"Citizen, huh?" Sokka pushed his arm against the door, trying to stand straight. "Not peasant this time? Not even commoner?"
Zuko's eyes fell to Sokka's foot— bandaged.
"Huh?" Sokka looked down. "Oh. Forgot about that. Long story short, I fell off an airship—"
" You fell off an airship?! "
"— and landed badly, on another airship. Very close by ."
Zuko grabbed his shoulders, eyes wide.
" Are you okay? "
"I'm fine!" Sokka squeaked, nearly falling over. He placed an arm around Zuko's neck, then pulled their faces close so that their noses were touching. "You going soft on me?"
Zuko rolled his eyes, scoffing. " No ."
"But, seriously, are you okay? Did you get injured anywhere else?"
Sokka snorted, tilting his head so he could press a kiss to his lips.
Zuko returned the kiss immediately, sliding an arm around Sokka's waist to hold him up better.
Sokka pulled away first. He rested his head on Zuko's shoulder, lowering his voice to a whisper.
"We really did it, huh?"
Sokka's arms wrapped tighter around his neck.
" We did it ." he laughed softly.
"I can hardly believe it either."
Sokka giggled again, and Zuko felt something wet stain his shirt.
"Do you want to sit down?"
Sokka nodded vigorously, hopping on one foot to further his argument.
Zuko kept his arm around Sokka's waist while he hobbled over to the bed, plopping down on the edge of it. His legs dangled lazily over the floor. He looked at Zuko with a watery smile.
"Oh, man, I still can't believe it."
Zuko smiled softly. He laid himself down with his head next to Sokka's, putting them in an L arrangement.
And they just laid like that for a while. Somewhere in that time, their hands and brushed. Sokka giggled when Zuko intertwined their fingers. So Zuko laughed a bit too.
Then Sokka turned his head.
"What about you, are you okay?"
"No broken legs, that's for sure."
Sokka snorted. "Seriously."
Despite the fire-lit room, Zuko still felt as if he was standing in that courtyard. A cutting flash of blue, arching right towards him.
"You.. You spaced out."
Sokka gave his hand a gentle squeeze. "What.. happened with Azula?"
Zuko pursed his lips, eyes falling towards his chest, covered in the crimson robe. In the light of the candles and lamps, it gave him an eerie reminder of blood.
Sokka propped himself up with his elbow, following his gaze, then reaching forward. He stopped just above the cloth, then looked at Zuko, silently asking permission.
Gingerly, Sokka pulled away the edge of the robe, opening his wound to the warm air.
Zuko looked away, trying to divert his attention towards a candle. The window. Anything. Just not his scar. Not another mark from another member of his family. Not another reason for him to doubt himself.
"Tui and La." Sokka muttered.
"It would probably be worse if Katara wasn't there," Zuko said. "Azula tried to attack her, I stepped in, and.."
Sokka brushed his thumb over the raw skin. Zuko stiffened.
"In the end, Katara took her out. So, really, you should thank her."
"And where were you?"
Zuko shrugged, trying to sound casual. "She hit me with lightning.. Happens all the time."
" What ." Sokka's voice cracked, making Zuko cringe. "You.. You mean you— She.."
"I'm fine now, don't worry about it." Zuko looked him in the eye and flinched at the tears running down Sokka's face. His eyes were wide, afraid , as if Zuko was still in the Agni Kai, dying on the ground.
" Don't ." Sokka shut his eyes, grip tightening on Zuko's hand. A lump grew in Zuko's throat. "Sorry. Just.. Just let me process."
Zuko nodded, forgetting that Sokka couldn't see that. His eyes stung.
"I'm sorry." Sokka opened his eyes, blinking out the tears. "I.. I don't know why I'm crying, I just—"
"I get it."
"We promised.. A-And I almost lost you, and.."
"Well, I couldn't die yet," Zuko said. "Even while I was on the ground, I kept thinking of you. I.. Just couldn't go yet. Not when you were counting on me."
He propped himself up, placing a hand on Sokka's cheek. Carefully, he wiped a tear away with his thumb.
"You're crying too."
Zuko breathed a laugh. He shrugged.
Sokka pulled the robe back over the scar, placing his other hand over Zuko's.
"It's not just that either." he said.
Zuko frowned. "What?"
Sokka didn't look at him. "Me and Toph.. We got separated from Suki. We were being cornered, I did what I could with a sprained ankle, but.."
Sokka laughed dryly. "I thought . Zuko, Toph fell . All she could hold was me , she can't see , and I kept remembering you, and.."
Zuko let his hands go, wrapping Sokka in a hug. Sokka accepted it, letting out a shivering sob into his chest while Zuko rolled onto his back. He pulled them closer to the head of the bed and sunk into the pillows.
"M'sorry." Sokka mumbled.
Sokka moved his head, placing his ear over Zuko's heart. "I'm just a mess, is what I'm trying to say.. This— being safe, being fine— It doesn't feel real. Not after that. Especially now that I know both of us might've—"
Zuko inhaled. It came back out with a shudder.
"But we made it, right?"
"Together." although weak, Zuko could hear a smile in his tone.
Sokka sighed contentedly, nuzzling the warmth of his chest. Zuko traced nonsense along Sokka's back, a small smile pulling at his lips.
"So your almost dying thoughts were of me?"
Zuko looked away, shrugging. "Yeah."
"You're dumb. Yours were too."
It really hadn't been long since they'd held each other like this. Not even a full day. But Zuko still clung to Sokka like everything was an illusion, ready to fade the second he let his guard down.
"I was supposed to tell you something." Sokka muttered.
Zuko looked at him. "Right. Yeah, you were."
He felt Sokka inhale deeply, his chest slowly filling. He could feel the anxious heartbeat drumming against his chest. He moved up his hand to play with Sokka's hair.
"So.. We've known each other a year, right?"
".. Define 'know each other'." Zuko grimaced. "Am I supposed to count the first quarter of it, or..?"
Sokka considered it. Then shrugged. "We can leave that ambiguous for the time being."
"Okay.. So what are you getting at?"
Sokka cleared his throat. From where he was, Zuko could see his ears reddening.
"I know it hasn't been.. Long , since we actually got to talk and really know each other after the.. Cave thing." his voice seemed to grow more sheepish by the second. "But I meant what I said back there.. When the comet first arrived, I really care about you Zuko."
Zuko blinked at Sokka while he readjusted his position, putting them chest to chest, unable to avoid eye contact. Sokka let in a shaky breath, then continued.
"Maybe I'm dumb.. And maybe it's too soon for you, I don't know. But whatever this feeling is supposed to be, I've never felt anything like it."
Zuko stared. Sokka blushed.
"I love you."
But it was Zuko who said it. Instead of a statement however, it was a realization. That's what he was trying to say yesterday. That's why he was so nervous, and—
"I.. love you too." Sokka whispered.
Zuko gasped, remembering where he was. He gripped Sokka's arms, a wide, pink-faced grin growing on his face.
" I love you ." he did it with more power this time. He knew it. He meant it.
"Yeah, I love you too." Sokka snickered, poking Zuko's cheek. " Jerk . You interrupted my speech. I worked hard on that, you know."
Zuko laughed, his chest filling with warmth and light, and he felt like he could fly .
He kissed him, slow and sweet. His whole body trembled in sync to his rapid heartbeat. Then they pulled away, grinning despite being out of breath.
Zuko felt light-headed. He could see stars spinning in Sokka's bright blue eyes. It was calm, and it was vigorous. Soft, but powerful. And Zuko wanted to relive this feeling again and again, and again until it hurts.
Sokka pushed himself up, pressing their foreheads together. He still couldn't stop smiling.
"I'm mad at you."
"You steal the first kiss, then the 'I love you', and what does that leave me, huh?"
Zuko giggled. "Uh.. I'll just let you decide that one."
Sokka's pout failed, unable to clash with his starstruck expression. His eyebrows raised slightly after a beat, meaning he had an idea.
"Alright. Wanna go on a date?" he paused, considering. "A real date. A normal one. Like, noodles.. Or something."
Sokka grinned again. "Great."
Zuko was about to kiss him again, until an intrusive— absolutely unwanted— thought hit him. His smile fell.
"Do you think they can hear us?" he mumbled.
"Who? The guards—" Sokka frowned, pulling his head back ever so slightly. " Oh . R-Right.. You told me about this."
Zuko nodded, swallowing sharply.
"But.. You're the Fire Lord now, right? What can they do?"
Zuko shook his head. "It's not that simple."
"I think it is."
"It is simple." Sokka repeated. "Just.. Difficult."
Zuko's eyebrows raised. He hesitated, then nodded.
"You can make a decree."
"There will be backlash."
"There will always be backlash." Sokka cupped Zuko's cheeks. "But I'm willing to bet a lot of Fire Nation citizens had their own thoughts of Sozin's law."
Zuko pursed his lips. He looked down uncertainly. It would be difficult. But it couldn't possibly be as simple as 'make a law', could it?
Sokka placed a gentle peck on Zuko's scar.
"You should think about it. But personally, I wouldn't mind bragging to the rest of the world about my Fire Lord boyfriend."
Flustered red stained Zuko's cheeks. Boyfriend.
"I knew you only wanted me for my status."
Sokka snorted, rolling off of Zuko and onto his back. "And you say I'm dumb. You're so woozy you need sleep."
Zuko snickered. "Right. Politics tomorrow."
Zuko raised his arms before Sokka could encase them in his embrace. He let his head go into the crook of Sokka's neck, while a hand rested against his chest. A smile pulled at his lips. His boyfriend's— his boyfriend's— heartbeat thumped against his palm .
"Love you." Sokka said.
"Love you too."