According to Sokka, the only edible thing the cafeteria offered was beef tacos served on Fridays.
Scratch that. Sokka would attest that these tacos were fucking delectable. Their beef was juicy but didn’t soak or drip out of the shell. Despite the usual quality of Sky High’s lunch lineup, the lettuce was fresh and crisp and somehow stayed that way in the warm taco pocket. The cheese was perfectly melted and evenly dispersed, not just coating the top. Perfection in a corn shell. The only justifiable reason for actually eating lunch in the cafeteria.
“Trust me guys,” Sokka said with a mouth full of taco number one, “this is where it’s at. And I’m pretty sure this is the only thing they use actual meat for.”
“Do they have vegetarian options?” asked the bald kid sitting next to Katara, who was rolling her eyes at her brother’s table manners.
“Why would they have that? You miss the best part!” Sokka gestured with the taco still in hand, spilling some lettuce onto the table. “That’s like eating a cheeseburger with no burger.”
“Wouldn’t that just be grilled cheese? That’s still pretty good,” the kid (did Katara say his name was Aang?) continued.
Sokka shook his head and looked at Aang with a combination of horror and concern. “What, do you just eat plain cheeseburgers? No ketchup or lettuce or anything?”
“I don’t-” Aang groaned and gave up on the argument, “nevermind.”
Katara sat her chin on her fists and glared at Sokka. “Could you possibly consider being a little bit sensitive, for once in your life?”
“Sorry,” Sokka closed his eyes and made a show out of enjoying his second bite, “I can’t hear you over the sound of my tastebuds finding enlightenment.”
The girl sitting next to him, who Sokka was pretty sure Katara had introduced as Toph, laughed at Katara’s frustrated sigh. “Oh man, how are you and Sugar Queen even related?”
“You know, that’s a question I ask myself every day,” Sokka mused, setting his taco down to drink some water. If Katara rolled her eyes any harder they would pop out of their sockets, but she really should have expected Sokka to be like this when she invited him to meet her friends. He felt a little awkward being the only junior at a table of freshmen (worse: Hero freshmen), but Toph and Aang seemed chill enough.
That being said, Sokka hated eating in the cafeteria and wouldn’t be doing it again if he could help it. He had half a mind to scarf down his tacos and spend the rest of the hour in Teo’s dad’s room like he usually did on Fridays. A glorious peer-free zone that room was. But he didn’t want to disappoint Katara, so cafeteria it was.
“You’re not funny,” Katara said, squeezing some hot sauce on her own lunch.
“So right you are sister dearest. I’m hilarious.”
Katara flicked the empty sauce packet at Sokka’s face and smirked when it hit his forehead. Aang giggled at Sokka’s affronted expression. Sokka stuck his tongue out and was about to reach out for another delicious taco bite when it happened. Because of course the universe just couldn’t let him have an hour to eat his taco in peace.
All of a sudden, Toph stopped laughing. She put her palm on the table, faced Sokka, and said, “There’s something going on over there.”
Ah. She was a seismic sensor. That made enough sense considering the fact that it didn’t seem like Toph kept anything on her to help her walk around. It figured. She was a hero like Katara, so of course, her powers were something along those lines. Something you could fight with because that’s all they were supposed to be good for apparently.
Sokka didn’t really expect anything extraordinary to be happening, probably some shapeshifter trying to show off and breaking something in the process. He wouldn’t have been surprised if it was some stupid, overreactive couple’s fight. He one hundred percent did not expect to see a crowd gathering around to watch a tall, denim-clad boy lunge towards a shorter guy with a dark ponytail.
Just the fact that it was a fight didn’t phase him. That was bound to happen at some point if you put a couple dozen super-powered teenagers in a room together (a fatal design flaw, in Sokka’s opinion, and one of many reasons eating in the cafeteria was just not worth it); that was normal. But upon seeing who the participants were, Sokka’s ‘oh fuck, this isn’t going to end well’ senses started blaring.
So. Jet had finally got the fight he’d spent the last two years trying to push Zuko into. And it just had to fall on Taco Friday because god forbid we have nice things.
They were a couple tables down from where Sokka was sitting, but he still had a clear view of them. Jet towered over Zuko and shoved his chest. Zuko scowled as he took the hit, planted firmly in his spot. There were some jeers from the students gathered around.
Jet stepped closer and pushed Zuko again, this time forcing him to take a step back. Zuko’s fists were still at his side, disengaged. Sokka knew how easy it would be for Zuko to just ignite them to get Jet to back off, but apparently Zuko was not interested in doing things the easy way.
The third time Jet made contact with his chest, Zuko sprang into action. He grabbed Jet’s wrist and twisted it just enough to bring Jet down to his height, then released it. Jet stumbled back and caught himself on a table.
Zuko stood still and glared at Jet. The crowd that had gathered was slowly backing away.
It was at the moment when Jet grabbed someone’s lunch tray and threw it at Zuko’s head like a frisbee that Sokka decided that it was time to leave. Because while Jet and his squirrel brain cells might think of provoking a pyropath as a good and sound decision, Sokka and his functioning brain cells had enough sense to see how bad this was going to end. ‘
Sokka swung his backpack over his shoulders and hopped out of his seat. “Come on, let’s get out before this gets out of hand,” he told the three freshmen, their eyes (and seismic sensing) glued to the fight.
“No way, this is the most interesting thing to happen all week,” Toph said, smirking with glee.
“You might be in the mood to get barbecued but I’m not. We’re leaving.”
To Sokka’s annoyance, the others didn’t move and the most he got were confused stares from Katara and Aang.
“I’m sure someone will break it up,” Katara said and then looked back to see the fight, which was rapidly escalating.
Zuko had blocked the lunch tray from hitting him but still wasn’t backing down. He pushed up the sleeves of his hoodie and walked towards Jet. Sokka expected him to start throwing some fireballs any second now.
Zuko said something to Jet that Sokka couldn’t hear and was met with a roundhouse kick to his left side. Zuko stumbled and shook off the hit. He spun around to power up a high kick and missed as Jet dodged out of the way.
And now they were moving the fight closer to the table. Because of course they were.
Sokka grabbed his sister’s shoulder to drag her attention away from the two idiots. “Katara, let’s go,” he ordered. She hesitated, but to Sokka’s relief Katara and Aang stood up, ready to follow him.
He watched the fight continue as the group gathered their things and kept a close eye on Zuko’s hands, anticipating a glow. Jet got a hit in, standing with his fists up and shuffling around Zuko. He punched Zuko in the face, right under his good eye. Admittedly, punching Zuko in the face was something Sokka had fantasized about once or twice, but he still winced at the ‘smack’ when Jet’s fist made contact.
The group of freshmen was ready to go and waiting for Sokka’s instruction. He pointed to the doors but after walking a couple of steps, he remembered something.
His tacos. They were still on the table.
“Wait! Sorry, sorry,” Sokka spun around, about to retrieve them, but he didn’t get a chance. Because apparently the universe had apparently decided it was ‘Sokka can’t have nice things’ time.
Jet hooked his arm to get a hit on Zuko’s blind spot, but Zuko caught him in the nick of time. He gripped Jet’s forearm and flipped his body onto the nearest table, breaking it in half and leaving Jet sandwiched between broken wood.
The table in question was the one they had just been sitting at and Sokka’s heart fell as he watched his uneaten tacos die with the table. In fairness, sometimes superpowered brawls had casualties, but Sokka didn’t see a reason as to why his innocent taco needed to be one of them.
“Stand back,” Sokka said, unsure of how this was going to go and hoping that marked the end of the brawl. He put an arm out in front of Katara and the other kids just in case.
“Shouldn’t we get a teacher or something?” Katara asked frantically, “Someone should have broken this up by now.”
Sokka was still focused on mourning his tacos and thought if there was any justice in the world, somebody would deal with the taco-destroying asshole. But again, this kind of thing happened. And since everyone’s limbs were still intact it wasn’t like it was a dire situation. Some injustices simply went unpunished. That was the harsh truth.
“No, just don’t get involved,” Sokka said firmly. Knowing Katara, she was already ready to unleash her own powers to diffuse the situation, but the last thing Sokka needed was her getting in trouble on his watch.
Sokka watched Jet struggle, momentarily sandwiched between the broken halves of the table before wedging his way out. Most eyes in the room were on Zuko. Sokka shifted his gaze, expecting to see the hothead blazed up and ready to win this fight once and for all. Instead, Zuko was calm. He was turning around, apparently finished.
Jet glared at his opponent, who one minute ago had been on the verge of burning down the cafeteria and was now walking away only looking annoyed at most. Jet, on the other hand, was still furious as he stood up from the broken table and yelled after Zuko, “You’re just going to walk away?”
Zuko kept his head down and continued walking without looking back, pulling down his hoodie sleeves.
“Come on! Finish the job, isn’t that what he taught you?” Jet taunted. That was enough to make Zuko stop walking, but not enough to make him turn around.
That comment sparked some whispering amongst the freshmen.
“What is he talking about?” Katara frantically whispered to Sokka.
“Uh, I’ll tell you later,” Sokka responded. That one hundred percent wasn’t a conversation he had been eager to have with his sister anytime soon. If he could protect his sister from knowing just who they went to school with for a little longer, he would.
Zuko opted to not respond and kept walking. Jet opted to start using his powers. Like an idiot.
Jet leaped twenty feet in the air, arms and legs extended outward, and pounced on Zuko’s back, taking him down. He pinned Zuko’s wrists to the floor, nails piercing into his skin. Zuko managed to turn on his backside and the two dumbasses stayed on the ground for a bit in an angry wrestling match.
Sokka whipped out his phone and started recording.
“Seriously?” Katara said incredulously.
“What?” Sokka shrugged, “it’s for Vine.”
If he wasn’t going to get his tacos, he was at least going to get something funny he could send to Suki later.
It was pretty funny until Jet scratched Zuko’s cheek. It drew blood. Zuko’s amber eyes turned manic. His response was also to start using his powers. Like an idiot.
He was literally steaming and had apparently heated his body temperature just enough so that Jet would jump off, slightly smoking. Jet should have accepted that now was a good time to call it quits but instead decided to keep the fight going with added powers. Like an idiot.
Cue those fireballs Sokka was dreading.
“Guys get back, now!” Sokka commanded the freshmen, unnecessarily, since anyone without a death wish was backing out of Zuko’s way as he ignited his hands. Jet was not one of those sane people.
“Come on! Show me what you’ve got!” Jet egged him on, grinning like a mad man. Zuko’s face scrunched up and he threw a fireball right at Jet’s head. Jet dodged the fire and jumped onto a nearby table. Zuko flailed his arm to unleash a stream of fire at Jet’s feet. Jet leaped out of the way and caught a ceiling pipe to hang from.
At this point, three tables were fully ablaze. That was the point where Sokka thought most people would realize just how stupid a decision it was to provoke a pyropath— especially when that pyropath was Zuko Li. He’d always kind of considered Zuko to be like a human porcupine. Mostly tame if you didn’t engage with him, but given his first impression of the guy at orientation, Sokka had no doubt he would go feral if provoked. Why that wasn’t obvious to some people was beyond him.
Jet was not in the category of most people. Jet was in the category of some people. His smirk grew as he said “you’re holding back,” in a sing-song voice.
At this point, the collateral damage of melting lunch trays and flaming tables had become a serious hazard. Most students had taken to losing their goddamn minds and were screaming as they ran for the exit.
Underclassmen. Sokka rolled his eyes at the overreaction. It was just a fight. They all had superpowers. The cafeteria was bound to catch on fire at some point and he was just surprised it hadn’t happened sooner. Then again, it was only the first week back.
Something across the room momentarily distracted Zuko from his opponent. Jet took advantage of it and swung from the ceiling pipe to kick Zuko in the face. Sokka and the freshmen he was guarding winced at the contact.
Zuko, apparently not down for the count, got up to keep fighting, revealing a developing black eye. At this point, his face was pretty banged up. Well, more banged up than it already was with the bruises and cuts on his cheeks complimenting his burn scar.
“You want a show? I’ll give you a show,” he snapped back at Jet, who had retreated back to the ceiling.
Oh shit .
Zuko spiked some fire daggers out of his hands, growing them into longer whips. Jet might have had the high ground, but he was very obviously cornered and even he knew it. His powers weren’t much of a match for Zuko’s and his eyebrows shot up above his hair, realizing how bad of an idea this all was just a little too late.
“Sokka, do something,” Katara hissed, panicking at what appeared to be the development of the first student death of the semester.
“What?” Sokka had no idea why she thought he was the person who could diffuse the situation.
But someone probably had to and there were no teachers in sight despite the whole cafeteria-being-on-fire thing. His sister was scared and her friends looked scared too. And as much as he didn’t like Jet, Sokka wasn’t going to just let him get cooked into the ceiling. For the selfish desire to not have the cafeteria decorated with fried-squirrel-mutant-douchebag if nothing else. Sokka looked around the room for any tool that he could grab.
Broken table shards? No. Melted lunch trays? Nope. His eyes scanned the walls and floors for anything useful until he caught a glint of red.
Fire extinguisher. Thank the universe.
Most of the student body had evacuated the cafeteria by this point. Sokka sprinted to the other side of the room, pushing past the remaining bystanders, and yanked the can off of the wall. Across the room Zuko’s flames were closing in on Jet, who was still clinging to the ceiling with nowhere to go. Though he wasn’t exactly Zuko's biggest fan, Sokka would admit that the sight of Jet looking like he was about to piss himself was kind of the highlight of his day.
There was no way Sokka was going to be able to trek the length of the cafeteria in time, so he gritted his teeth and decided: fuck it . If there was a time to use his powers, it was now.
He concentrated all of his energy and visualized what he needed the extinguisher to do for him. Just put out a couple of tables and one angry, flaming jerk. Save the squirrel boy. On the other side of the cafeteria he could see his sister and her friends watching him and prayed that he could actually do this. If for once in his life the universe could be on his side. A faint silver glow covered the can as Sokka aimed at Zuko.
To classify what happened next as ‘an explosion’ would be a vast understatement. The entirety of the cafeteria was covered with expellent. Floor, walls, ceiling‒ everything. Including the few remaining bystanders, including Zuko. Sokka was the only person not covered in white.
All eyes turned towards Sokka. He made a futile attempt to hide the extinguisher behind his back in order to avoid culpability and gave a nervous grin as a clump of white foam fell from the ceiling onto his head.
“Sorry,” he said awkwardly to the small crowd, even though he had technically fixed the whole cafeteria-being-on-fire problem. Now there was just another, foamier problem.
He glanced over to where Zuko and Jet had stopped fighting. With both of them covered in chemicals, Jet decided that now was the time to get down from the ceiling, though he finally made the correct decision to back as far away from Zuko as possible. Zuko was still in shock from the forced chill-out and was flinging his arm around to shake the foam off. The remaining students dispersed, some very vocal about their annoyance over their hair or clothes being ruined.
Sokka decided that now would also be a good time for him to back the fuck away from the situation. He put down the extinguisher and started speed-walking for the exit, glancing briefly at the scene of Zuko shaking off the foam and wringing it out of his ponytail. Sokka had almost escaped the scene of the crime when he smacked right into something tall and pissed off.
Coach Zhao was blocking his way with murder in his eyes. Just to pile onto the growing hill of evidence labeled ‘Proof That the Universe Has it Out For Sokka’.
And sure, it looked bad, but it wasn’t like there hadn’t been more destructive fights at Sky High. This was like a six on a scale of one to ten. Everyone still had their fingers attached to their bodies and everything. But that didn’t change the fact that Sokka was the only person or thing in the room that wasn’t covered in foam and it didn’t change the broken tables or burnt walls.
Sokka met Coach Zhao’s glare with wide eyes, standing still as a statue. ‘This is what happens when you get involved,’ he thought, kicking himself. Of course he was going to get in trouble. Of course this was what he was going to get for trying to be the hero.
“Care to explain what happened here?” Zhao asked in a threatening tone. Sokka did not in fact care to explain the sequence of events —he didn’t even know why the fight had started—and his mouth hung open in the hopes that an explanation would come out eventually.
Sokka ended up just weakly saying “uhhh-” before being cut off by Zhao again.
“Do you care to explain WHAT YOU HAVE DONE TO THIS PLACE ?” With the coach’s use of his powers, Sokka was knocked onto the ground with the sonic soundwave.
Sokka internally cursed the two assholes that started the whole thing in the first place and wondered if the universe just enjoyed causing him strife. He just wanted his damn taco, but Zhao wasn’t looking at either of the jerks, he was towering over Sokka with murder in his eyes.
To Sokka’s utter horror, Katara was the one to come up and diffuse the situation.
“Sokka didn’t mean to do this. He was only trying to put out the fires,” Katara said, pointing to where Zuko was standing, “he was the one who started the fire. There was a fight that got out of hand.”
“So Battery Boy here was fighting with Hothead?” Zhao sneered, smiling at the prospect of whatever creative punishment he was cooking up. Sokka grimaced at the derogatory nickname the coach had pinned on him since his freshman orientation. Katara shook her head.
“No there was another guy, I don’t know his name but-” Katara pleaded.
“Him,” Sokka stood up and pointed in Jet’s direction, some confidence regained. Not that he’d admit having his sister back him up was helpful. He could handle himself. He didn’t need Katara to come rescue him.
Zhao glared in response, which was admittedly just his default expression. He turned his head to the door where Jet was trying to make a run for it and barked after him. “ FREEMAN. ” The sonic hit sent Jet flying. Zhao grabbed Sokka by the back of his shirt neckline. “You’re coming with me.”
“But-” Sokka started to say.
Sokka groaned and he tried to walk at Zhao’s pace to avoid getting choked by his own neckline.
Sokka was dragged over to where Zuko was standing, having gotten most of the foam off, he was ready to be snatched up too, accepting his fate. All the anger had evidently drained out of his system, his arms were crossed and his eyes were fixated on the floor. While Zhao marched them out of the cafeteria, Zuko stared at Sokka, cheeks reddening against some remaining foam.
Sokka was pissed. It was the first week back and he was being dragged off to some unspeakable punishment for stopping the school from burning down. Thanks to this jerk. It was self defense and he was getting in trouble for it. He thought of his appeal and any chance he had of it getting approved going up in smoke. Sokka shot a glare at Zuko until he stopped looking at him.
After pulling Jet into the lineup, Zhao dragged the boys to a door labeled ‘Detention,’ pushing them in a white room furnished only with some dilapidated desks. “Stay here and sit down.”
None of the boys were stupid enough to disobey. Jet bounced his leg and stared down Zuko, watching and waiting for a wrong move he could jump on. And Sokka was just wishing he still had his damn taco, watching the two jerks and waiting for the shoe to drop.
“Powers don’t work in the detention room,” Zhao said as he started to leave, smirking in a way that made Sokka extremely uneasy, “there better not be any more trouble.”
Sokka did not need this. He didn’t need to be in detention for something as stupid as Jet and Zuko’s rivalry. Okay, maybe that wasn’t the right word for it. Jet loathed Zuko from the minute they all found out who Zuko’s father was and Sokka couldn’t fault him for that in the slightest. But he seemed to be the only one who enjoyed provoking a guy who could shoot fire out of his fists. Sometimes Sokka wondered if Jet had developed some squirrel brain cells when he got bit in addition to his powers.
Zuko had spent the last two years being antisocial as hell and a prickly asshole to anyone who gave him shit about the whole ‘having the world’s worst supervillain as a parent’ thing. Sokka wouldn’t have paid attention to him if his dad hadn’t, well, it wasn’t important. It wasn’t like Sokka could do anything about what had happened all those years ago.
Zuko suddenly found his own hoodie to be extremely fascinating and slouched down in his chair with one hand in his pocket and the other fixated on moving the zipper up and down its chain.
Ignoring Zuko was a lot damn harder when Sokka was stuck in the same tiny room with him. Right now he was trying hard to stare at the wall, but for whatever reason, he couldn’t help but watch Zuko fidget with the drawstring. Sokka kept watching Zuko move the string from one end of the hoodie to the other, rolling the plastic end between his fingers to coil the string.
The aftermath of the fight decorated Zuko’s face. There was dried blood coating Zuko’s bruises and Sokka had this weird, unwanted twinge of sympathy. He had no desire to feel sorry for the guy, but couldn’t help but stare at the swelling of black and purple against otherwise pale skin. There was almost an artistic edge to Zuko’s face. Brown eyes that looked like amber in the fluorescent light. Silky black bangs that covered most of his scar and trailed his sharp jawline. A faint cut on his lower lip.
Snap out of it, Sokka.
Yeah, so Zuko was pretty. Sokka could admit that much. It didn’t change who he was and it especially didn’t change who his father was.
Zuko was enough of a distraction for Sokka to take his mind off stressing over what disciplinary hell he was going to face and just how it was going to affect his plans until Jet made the first move.
Jet stood up and put both hands on Zuko’s desk, leaning over until his mouth was only a few inches away from Zuko’s forehead. Zuko dropped his hoodie string and looked up with his brow furrowed. There was a manic look in Jet’s eyes and Sokka could tell that Jet was far from satisfied with the outcome of the fight. After two years of Jet yelling at Zuko in hallways, telling anyone who would listen that the school was responsible for harboring future supervillains, and egging Zuko on to throw a quick fire blast at him, it was a wonder that they hadn’t had a showdown sooner, Sokka thought. Whatever the reason for Zuko to actually fight back for once to the extent that he did was a mystery Sokka would have cared about under usual circumstances, but he was in detention thanks to these guys and goddamn was he starving.
“We’re not done,” Jet said, shooting daggers with his eyes. Zuko didn’t show any indication that he was listening and just continued to fidget with his hoodie string.
Sokka was done. Sokka was so fucking done. He dropped his head to the back of the chair and let out a loud, aggravated groan. “Yeah dude, I think you kind of are,” he snapped back at Jet, who up until this point had completely disregarded Sokka’s presence in the room. He looked at Sokka like he had just started speaking German.
“He shouldn’t be at this school!” Jet yelled, stepping away from Zuko’s desk. “His father killed dozens of people. He almost destroyed the city. And the school’s just letting his son come here? They’re showing him how to use his powers and you can’t seriously tell me that he’s going to go out there and use them for anything good.”
This was a speech Sokka had heard at least twenty times, from Jet after sharing classes with him for the past two years. And Sokka understood why he hated Zuko more than anyone. It wasn’t like Jet was the only one who had lost family because of what Zuko's father did. It wasn’t like Jet was the only one who got painful reminders of the events of the last five years when they looked at Zuko. Sokka did the work to move past it and to focus on the now, learning to ignore Zuko came with that. But Jet was more the ‘resent and remember’ type.
From Zuko’s mildly annoyed expression, Sokka assumed that he’d also heard this speech at least twenty times.
“Yeah, I know, I’ve heard your whole spiel. Take it up with the school board if it bothers you so much. We’ve all heard it. Some of us would like to not get involved, thank you very much, so could you just drop it?” Sokka bit back.
Jet’s face scrunched up with incredulous rage. “Are you seriously defending him?”
Okay, that was taking it too far.
“No, I’m not defending him,” Sokka glanced over to Zuko who was not so subtly watching the entire confrontation unfold and looked away the split-second after he and Sokka accidentally made eye contact.
“But I shouldn’t be stuck in here when you were the one that probably started the whole,” he waved his hand in the air, vaguely gesturing to indicate the shitshow that had unfolded in the cafeteria, “Whatever. If anyone should be mad it’s me. I didn’t ask to get stuck in the middle of whatever you two started.”
“I had it under control! I didn’t need any help from you!”
“If I hadn’t stopped it, you would be cooked on the cafeteria ceiling right now.”
“Oh yeah, great job with that by the way,” Jet responded smugly. Sokka was on the verge of decking the guy in his smirky, jerky face. “Tell me again, are you really a technopath or do you just blow up anything you touch, Battery Boy?”
“Oh that’s-” Sokka shot up to meet Jet’s eyes, but hit his knee on the underside of the desk and hunched over in pain, “Ow!”
“Leave him alone, Jet,” was the first thing Zuko had said the entire time.
His face was set back to his usual scowl but Sokka caught a quick glance in his direction. It took him a few seconds to realize that Zuko was defending him and he had no idea how to feel about that. He decided he didn’t want it. He didn’t want Zuko, of all people, sticking up for him.
“Hey I don’t need your-”
The boys turned to see Principal MacNamara standing in the doorway. Her pantsuit pressed, arms crossed, and face sullen. Jet slid back into his seat.
“As I am to understand it, there was a fight of some sort?” She raised an eyebrow and panned her head across the room.
Sokka could feel anxiety bubbling in his chest, and hoped her gaze would land on Jet, leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed and wearing a poker face, or Zuko, his eyes still focused on the plastic bit of his hoodie string he was rolling between his fingers. But of course, her glare landed on Sokka. That was just his luck today.
“Sokka, I’m surprised to see you here,” MacNamara didn’t even attempt to hide the disappointment in her voice.
Sokka wanted nothing more than to have a hole open up in the floor for him to fall through. He could not afford to have this smear his record. His appeal was on the line and he could feel the honor student reputation he’d spent the last two years building with the administration slipping away with every second MacNamara spent looking at him. Like she was sizing him up to be the newest addition to the Sky High Shit Starters Club.
And damn it, he wasn’t going to let the goodwill he’d built up get destroyed over Jet and Zuko’s bullshit. Not with his appeal on the line. Especially considering that he hadn’t even been fighting.
“I-” Sokka started to say, once his anxiety let up enough to allow him to speak.
“Ms. MacNamara, I can explain the whole thing,” Jet said, cutting Sokka off.
His casual tone boiled Sokka’s blood. Jet cocked his head to look at Zuko as he spoke, “I’m sure you’re aware of who he is, who his father is. I know you don’t seem to think that it’s a big deal to teach the Phoenix King’s lackeys. But I think you’ll see now that’s not in anyone’s best interest.”
MacNamara didn’t change her expression, crossed her arms, and exhaled deeply through her nose. “I take it you didn’t have anything to do with the current state of the cafeteria then, Mr. Freeman?”
“Last time I checked I’m not one for ‘accidental’ arson,” Jet did air quotes and pointedly looked over in Zuko’s direction.
In the corner of his eye, Sokka could see Zuko’s eyes narrow and his mouth tightening. He was a ticking time bomb of rage so long as Jet kept talking.
“Really? Several witnesses seem to think you were a full participant.”
Sokka appreciated the exasperation in MacNamara’s voice that she wasn’t bothering to cover up. He could also appreciate the fact that the current ratio of People Who Were Tired of Jet’s Bullshit to People Who Weren’t was three to one. Not that he wanted to lump himself in with Zuko in any way.
“I was defending myself,” Jet asserted.
Sokka couldn’t help but laugh hysterically at that, “What?”
“I’m sorry but,” Sokka took a breath to stop laughing so he could continue, “did the definition of self defense change in the last hour or something because last time I checked, you totally attacked him.”
“He attacked me,” Jet said with utmost sincerity.
“Really? ‘Cause uh, I’m pretty sure I saw him walking away when you started using your powers,” Sokka shrugged sarcastically, “But hey, I was just there. Watching. With my eyes.”
“He started it!” Jet exclaimed, “I’m not lying, you have to believe me!”
“That’s enough!” MacNamara snapped. Jet shut up but the scowl remained on his face, “Mr. Li, care to speak?”
Her voice was deadly calm and she didn’t look Zuko’s way.
Zuko looked up, eyes widening from the glare and settling on something resembling fear.
“No ma’am,” he said just loud enough to be heard.
MacNamara glowered at him. Zuko had given the right answer. It was abundantly clear that his input wouldn’t amount to much in this situation. Partially, Sokka knew, because it would take weeks for them to repair the cafeteria from the fire damage, but also because the school’s administration was about as thrilled to have Zuko at the school as any average student was. His enrollment was still a hot topic in the PTA.
“Sokka, tell me what happened,” MacNamara’s tone suggested that she hadn’t lost faith in him after all, but he wasn’t going to breathe normally until he was out the door with a clean record.
Sokka regained some confidence and recapped. His nerves caused him to ramble for a bit and he couldn’t stop fidgeting, but he got the main points across: the smashed table, Zuko walking away, Jet attacking him; Zuko retaliating, and his attempt to defuse the situation. The short video he caught on his phone was a nice cherry of credibility. Sokka didn’t care so much about what happened to the other two taco-killing jerks, but the truth was important to him, mostly the part of the truth where he hadn’t actually done anything wrong and should not be sitting in detention.
“So you see I really didn’t have anything to do with this situation and I know that fire drills aren’t the easiest thing with some of our exits leading to, you know, the sky. But if we really think about it this kind of thing could happen at any time and at the very least there could be-”
“Fine. You’re free,” MacNamara said, sporting a face that screamed ‘I need a drink.’
She grabbed a sticky note pad from her pocket and scribbled a note. “Go to class.”
Sokka felt the oxygen return to his lungs. “Thank you.”
He reached out for the pass and figured he might as well ask, since MacNamara was here and apparently thought his word was good enough to trust him as a witness, “Um, Ms. MacNamara?”
“I was just wondering if you could tell me anything about my appeal?”
She blinked a couple of times, “I’m sorry?”
Sokka shifted uncomfortably, acutely aware that Zuko and Jet were still in the room and could hear everything. He wished this conversation didn’t have an audience, but with the radio silence he was getting from the admissions board about whether or not he could enroll in Honors Technology: Weapons and Diffusers, he needed an answer ASAP. It was a time-sensitive matter now that they were a week into school and every response to the emails he kept sending was a variation of “please be patient as we debate your appeal and we will get back to you once a decision has been reached.” He had been plenty patient with them for months, but they were a week into school now and “we will get back to you” wasn’t going to cut it anymore. This was his future and Sokka needed to do everything he could.
“My appeal. I sent one out in July about taking Weapons and Diffusers. I still haven’t heard back.” Sokka wanted to die a little when his voice cracked mid-question.
The initial sigh MacNamara let out did not fill him with confidence, “Oh, that.”
Sokka glanced over to where Zuko and Jet; both were avidly watching the conversation unfold. Sokka prayed to whatever universal force was listening to give him a break just this once. Just this once, he hoped, this could go right for him. If anyone had reached out to him in the last two months he wouldn’t have had to have this conversation in front of these two, but Sokka had never been lucky. He wasn’t sure why he thought that might change now.
“Yeah so…” Sokka felt a lump growing in his throat and he wasn’t sure if it was a product of anxiety or frustration.
He set himself up for disappointment but let some hope creep into his voice, “Did you ever decide?”
MacNamara’s expression, which Sokka had never not seen on hard bitch mode, softened a little bit. She looked over to where Zuko and Jet were sitting and commanded, “stay seated,” before walking to the doorway and indicating to Sokka to follow her.
Sokka had a feeling that detention would be preferable to whatever news he was about to receive. He tried to ignore Jet’s quiet snicker as he walked out the door to face MacNamara. She didn’t pull any punches.
“The board has opted to deny your appeal.”
He didn’t think he could classify it as a disappointment if he wasn’t surprised at her answer, but right now Sokka was glad he hadn’t had lunch. He felt like throwing up. Or hitting something. Maybe throwing himself off the parking lot.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Sokka. I’m sure,” her hard expression returned. “Allowing you to take that class would present a hazard to your safety.”
Sokka gaped at her, “You’re kidding, right? Please tell me you’re kidding.”
She raised an eyebrow and spoke slowly, “I assure you, I’m not.”
“How exactly would I be in danger? I’m a technopath. That class was made for me.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong but our records indicate that you are a level three technopath.”
Sokka winced at the acidity in her voice and couldn’t tell her she was wrong.
“If your display in the cafeteria shows any indication of your powers, I think it’s fair to say that we made the right call.”
MacNamara reached for the door handle, ready to leave Sokka in the hallway with nothing but a hall pass and a blow to his self-esteem.
Sokka blinked a couple of times, his mouth still hanging open. Unable to sift through the feelings boiling in his chest, “That’s not-”
MacNamara paused and didn’t open the door but kept her grip on the handle. She gave him a look, daring him to finish the sentence.
“This has nothing to do with fairness. It’s just our policy. The admissions board is doing what is in the best interest of our Hero Support.”
The callousness of her tone made Sokka’s place very clear. She looked away and pushed the door open. “Get to class.”
The closing door echoed in the empty hallway and Sokka was left to stew in disappointment. His throat tightened up and all the anticipation and anxiety settled in his mind. Every jittery feeling was replaced by a weight of failure that felt like a rock in his stomach. A technopath who wasn’t even good enough for a weapons class. A sidekick who couldn’t power up a fire extinguisher without screwing up. There was a part of Sokka that wanted to not believe those things about himself, but right now all the evidence was pointing to a big neon sign that read ‘face the facts, Battery Boy.’
He looked down to see that his flannel was still sporting stains from the fire extinguisher. For some reason, that was the icing on top of the fucking cake. Sokka didn’t need a reminder of everything wrong with him. He didn’t need a reminder on a good day that he was a low-level sidekick with useless powers, but right now the stains were just overkill.
He could have had a moment. One moment of having something go right. One moment of being the hero, but he didn’t get that. He never could. No one had ever really thought he could.
There were only ten minutes left of fifth period and there were two options.
Option one presented the scenario where Sokka would walk into Modern Superhero History where it would be open season on the idiot who blew up a fire extinguisher. The technopath who could barely use his powers. He could be met with the degrading nickname he’d been stuck with since freshman orientation that even the other sidekicks used against him--Battery Boy. Because unlike most of them, Sokka wasn’t ready to accept that he belonged there.
Option two was finding the nearest bathroom and sulking in a stall until the bell rang. And that, Sokka decided, was infinitely more appealing than facing the music.
He closed his eyes and hung his head back, willing himself to move. His shoes were still soggy from the chemicals.
Fuck you, the universe.