I don’t know how to describe it… he’s my best friend… but maybe I’ve always secretly wanted more.
Zuko sat, twiddling his thumbs and breathing in the clean air around him. The smoke back home never bothered him much but he could still sense the difference between the crisp, cold air of his friend’s hometown. As he looked around, he saw mountains of white, speckled with dark figures dressed in blue. His thumbs began to move faster, impatiently, before gripping at his arms with a huff. He was cold; Zuko was never cold. Suddenly, he felt something heavy and warm drape around his shoulders and turned to see the source of his impatience: Sokka.
“Hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long, buddy.” Zuko realized the heavy something that now wrapped around him was a Water Tribe coat, undoubtedly one of Sokka’s if the just-a-little-too-short arms were any indication. Regardless, Zuko gratefully pulled his arms through the coat, buttoning it all the way up. “I hope you’re not too chilly for some chilling.” Zuko stared at Sokka. “Get it? It’s a joke. We’re about to chill and you’re chill-”
“I got it.” Zuko turned away, feeling the ends of his mouth perk up in a smirk.
“I’ve got a better one. What do you get from sitting on the ice for too long?”
“What?” Zuko’s deadpan expression didn’t budge.
“Polaroids.” Sokka could barely keep from laughing, and busted a gut immediately after spitting the word out. Tears welled in his eyes and Zuko couldn’t help but smile. The boy was so unabashedly and unashamedly himself- something Zuko could only wish to emulate. Once Sokka looked up, Zuko wiped the grin off his face faster than Aang could penguin sled. “Okay, Mr. Grouchy. I’ll crack you before our vacation is up, just you wait.”
“We’ll see about that,” is all Zuko said, all the while melting under Sokka’s smile.
I’m sure he doesn’t feel the same way. Well, actually- why wouldn’t he? I’m the crowned prince of the Fire Nation, I’m powerful, I’m strong, why wouldn’t he want to be with me too?
After spending a week in the Water Tribe, Sokka agreed to come back to spend a week in the Fire Nation. Katara was off at one of the air temples with Aang, leaving Sokka with no one to “lecture, criticize, or supervise” him. As they set off for the Fire Nation, a wave of concern washed over Sokka.
“Doesn’t the Fire Nation, like, really not like the Water Tribe?” When had Zuko seen Sokka this bashful before? “That’s not… entirely true.” Zuko posited.
Sokka gave him a sideways glance. “Which part? The part about the Fire Nation not liking us or the Fire Nation trying to eradicate us? Are you sure it’s safe for me to be coming?”
“Okay, so, maybe the Fire Nation isn’t on the best terms with the Water Tribes but that’s why the initiative Aang came up with is so important. Young people get to travel to other nations and see what it’s like first hand. Young people who will grow up to be the rulers and lawmakers of the four nations. Even my father can’t fight the avatar.” Zuko began to reach for Sokka’s arm, longing to comfort him, before pulling back.
“Well, if I end up in mortal danger, I’m blaming you, Sifu Hotman.”
I told him how I felt…
“Man, it’s hot here!” Sokka was shedding layers as they walked through the palace doors. He coughed slightly at the presence of smoke, a presence he was wholly unused to without being huddled around a campfire, cooking or warming up.
“I can bring you some of my clothes. They’ll be lighter for you.” Zuko left Sokka in one of the many guest rooms and went on the hunt for a change of clothes. Sokka’s clothes were all made of wool and fur and far too heavy for the humid and hot climate of the Fire Nation. As Zuko looked through his room, he noticed someone had been through one of his drawers. His clothes were askew, and Zuko never left his room in disorder. Azula, he thought. Feeling his annoyance grow, he stalked off in the direction of his sister’s room. Why had she been looking through his room?
“Azula, why were you-” Zuko stopped dead in his tracks. His sister and Ty Lee were sitting on Azula’s bed. Together. Playing tonsil hockey. His ears grew hot and he slammed the door and walked away, beyond embarrassed to have seen his baby sister in such a situation. He went back to his room, grabbed the first pair of clothes he could find, and went back to Sokka.
“You got me some cool threads?” Zuko thrust the clothes at Sokka, unable to explain what just happened. “You okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. AKA, me when I walked in on Aang and Katara tonguing.” Zuko immediately looked up, face beet red. “Oh my God, you walked in on your sister tonguing, didn’t you?! Who’s the lucky guy? Not that I think he’s lucky, I meanlucky for your sister but unlucky for you since you’re her brother and what brother wants to see his little sister-”
“Zuzu, it’s so nice to have you home.” Azula’s steady, icy tone cut through the room. Zuko and Sokka turned to see her leaned against the doorway, her calculated smile ever present on her lips. “I didn’t realize you were bringing your little pet home.”
“Hey, you don’t get to talk about him that way!” Zuko’s temper began to flare when Sokka rest a hand on Zuko’s shoulder, as if to say don’t let her get to you, stupid. Which didn’t go unnoticed.
“Hokka, would you mind giving my brother and I a bit of privacy?” Azula’s leveled stare turned to Sokka, who couldn’t lie and say he wasn’t at least a little afraid of her. Zuko knew for a fact that Azula knew Sokka’s name- but she wouldn’t let Sokka know that.
As Sokka walked by Zuko, on his way out of the room, he whispered, “Just let me know if you need anything, okay?” Zuko nodded briefly and then Sokka was gone, leaving the royal siblings alone.
“What exactly did you see back there, big brother?” Azula turned sharply.
“I don’t see how it’s any of my business.” Zuko remembered the disarray of his room. “Just as I don’t see how it’s any of your business what’s in my room.”
Azula tutted. “I just missed you so terribly, I had to keep something of yours with me. It was almost like you were still here while you were off with the Water Tribe boy. Anyway, if I were you, I wouldn’t tell father about what you just saw. And I won’t tell him about what I just saw.”
“What’re you talking about? What did you see? I haven’t done anything.” Zuko thought wildly
back- what could Azula be going on about?
Azula laughed. “Zuzu, we’re not so different after all.”
He says he can’t be with me if I plan to govern the same way my father does. What does he expect me to do, disgrace the Fire Nation’s legacy? My people are my priority, he won’t change that.
A few days later, Sokka and Zuko outside, playing a casual game of fireball. Azula and Ty Lee walked through the yard, Azula shooting Zuko a knowing glance.
“What does she want from me? What does she know? She’s been so annoying these past few days- not that she’s not always annoying but even more than usual! Ugh!” Zuko spiked the ball, accidentally burning it to ash in the process.
“Yep, that sounds like a little sister to me. Trust me, I get it.” Sokka sprawled out on the grass, soaking up the sun. Now that he had proper clothes and adjusted to the weather, Sokka might as well have been in paradise. “Hey, you never did tell me who you caught her with the other day?”
Zuko watched Azula and Ty Lee walk around the fountain. “You’re looking at her.”
Sokka’s mouth dropped to the ground. “Ty Lee?! Your sister was tonguing Ty Lee?!”
“Yep. And then Azula threatened me to keep quiet, except I’m not even sure what she was threatening me with.”
“So? Are you going to tell?” Sokka put his hands under his chin, ready for the gossip.
“No, absolutely not. See, it’s weird for me that my little sister is kissing anyone, boy or girl. It doesn’t really make a difference to me either way. My dad on the other hand…”
“Is a different story?” Sokka offered.
“Yeah.” Zuko sighed. “My great-grandfather, Sozin, was the one who decided same-sex relationships were immoral. Before then, no one really cared.”
“So why did he suddenly make up his mind like that?”
“I don’t think anyone knows. But now, it’s illegal. I would never put Azula at risk like that. I wouldn’t put anyone at risk like that but especially not my baby sister.” Zuko had laid down on the grass, next to Sokka. The two laid in silence for a while, listening to the fountain and the hushed, inaudible whispers of Azula and Ty Lee. The silence was simple, comfortable. Zuko didn’t understand how he could spill all of this to Sokka so easily but something about Sokka made Zuko want to spill all his secrets- every ugly family trauma and childhood embarrassment.
“You’re a good brother.” Sokka broke the silence. Zuko allowed himself one glance at Sokka, so close to him but so far. His plan was foiled when he looked over to see Sokka was already gazing at him. The two young men stared at each other for what seemed like hours but was only moments.
The moment was ruined when Sokka’s stomach loudly grumbled. He stood up clumsily, “I need to get some grub in me. And as for your sister, you know what I always say?”
“What?” Zuko stared dumbly.
“All’s fire in love and war.” Zuko groaned to suppress the childlike giggle that threatened to burst out.
If I can’t have him, no one can.
Later that night, Zuko searched his bedroom, desperately. How could he have misplaced a royal artifact? As he turned his room upside down, leaving chaos in his wake, he heard Azula.
“Looking for this?” Azula waved a dated notebook, over a century old. Seeing his sister, Zuko finally put two and two together.
“That’s what you searched my room for? Why?”
“Don’t be obtuse, Zuzu. I deserve to know our family history as much as you do.” Azula dangled the notebook in his grasp, without handing it over.
“Azula, I wasn’t done with that, give it back.”
“Or what? You’ll never know if you can make it work with water boy? Spoiler alert, brother, it doesn’t have a happy ending.” Zuko finally snatched the notebook out of Azula’s hands; or had Azula finally allowed him to grab the notebook? “We all know how it ends. Why so eager to finish?”
“I can’t want to know more about my family?”
“Zuko, there’s no way Father had this just laying around. If he knew it existed, he would’ve destroyed it. Why do you have it? Does the eroticism of our great-grandfathers really do it for you? It’s that important?” Azula taunted. A few years ago, Zuko may have snapped back at her but now he felt the phantom touch of Sokka’s hand on his arm, calming him.
“Why was it important enough for you to break into my room?”
“Ever the drama king. What can I say- I’m nosy. And…” Azula easily walked around the room, finally finding a place to sit on Zuko’s bed. “I think you know why I’m interested.” Azula flipped through the pages of the old notebook. She began to read aloud, “If I can’t have him, no one can. If Roku won’t be with me, I’ll make sure he can’t be with any other man in the Fire Nation.” She set the book down and looked at Zuko. “That’s it. That’s why. Have all your questions been answered?”
“Barely.” Zuko took in a sharp breath. His guilt behind his feelings for the boy a couple rooms down, his sister’s secret relationship, their father’s prejudice, could all be traced back to- what? A lovers spat? Did ‘lovers spat’ even begin to cover it? Sozin and Roku had been lovers, that much was true if Sozin’s diary was to be believed. Roku wanted to end the Fire Nation’s reign of imperialism and terror while Sozin wanted to expand the empire and see just how far their power could reach. Roku had threatened to leave and ultimately did. Since Sozin hadn’t held onto his happiness, anyone else like him was forbidden to have their own.
“As thrilling as all this was,” Azula yawned, “I’ve got better things to do. Goodnight, brother.” Azula waited in the doorway, turning slightly, “Do you want to let Roku win?” and then left.
I don’t know how I came to love Roku but I did. I do. But I must end him before he ends me.
Sokka turned to see Zuko waiting in the doorway of the guest room. “So the crown prince graces a lowly water tribe peasant with his presence, oh happy day!” Noticing something’s a touch off, “What’s wrong?” Sokka watched Zuko shift, awkward and uncomfortable but somehow simultaneously relaxed and focused.
“Nothing’s wrong, nothing’s…” Zuko zoned out momentarily, letting the information he’d just learned marinate.
In an effort to break Zuko out of whatever trance he seemed to be in, Sokka asked, “What did the waterbender say when they saw firebending for the first time?” Zuko quirked an eyebrow, seemingly enough of an answer for Sokka to continue, “Holy smoke!” Sokka laughed at his own joke, as he always did, except this time he was shocked to hear Zuko’s voice join in on the laughter. “Woah, are you sure you’re okay, man? You never find my jokes funny.”
Zuko stopped cold in his tracks. “What’re you talking about? I always find your jokes funny.”
“Could’ve fooled me. Every time I make a brilliant comic discovery, you’re all,” Sokka pulled a dramatic frown.
“No, Sokka, you’re… you’re the funniest person I’ve ever met. I just know I can’t laugh because…” Roku doesn’t get to win. I won’t let him win, Zuko thought. “Because it’ll show how I really feel.”
“Uh, and that is?”
“I feel… good things. Towards you.” Zuko ears burned.
“Yeah, bud, that’s called friendship. One normally feels good things towards one’s friends.” Sokka still hadn’t grasped the weight of this conversation.
“No, I mean- better than good. Really good.” Now it wasn’t only Zuko’s ears that were hot, it was his whole face, burning as red as his scar. “And by really good I mean I- I- I like you. I have feelings for you. Of a romantic nature. I like you and have romantic feelings for you.” Sokka stared at Zuko. Zuko stared back. Oh my God, what have I done?, Zuko worried. “I didn’t- I mean I get that you don’t- I wish I hadn’t said-”
Zuko stopped. It was hard to keep talking when someone was kissing you. Sokka’s hand brushed Zuko’s cheek, Zuko’s hands instinctively gripping at Sokka’s clothes. The kiss deepened more and more until the two had to come up for air.
“I don’t- what was- does that mean? Maybe you? Also like me?” Zuko gasped.
“About time you noticed.” Sokka could barely finish his sentence before Zuko had grabbed his face and was kissing him fiercely once more.
Roku didn't win. Not this time.