Zuko props himself up, one elbow digging down into the mattress as he stares over at Sokka, who is entirely absorbed in the book he’s reading. He’s propped up against the headboard, hair loose and falling around his face, a little past his jaw. Zuko imagines he could map out the context of what he’s reading just based on the expressions that flicker across the other man’s face. Sometimes, his lips even twitch, like he’s about to start mouthing along.
Maybe the fire lord should have the decency to look ashamed when Sokka glances over at him, but he doesn’t. “What?” Sokka asks, laughter in his voice.
“Nothing,” Zuko says. He doesn’t bother looking away, either.
“Yeah, okay,” Sokka laughs, saving his place in the book with a thumb tucked into the spine. “What’s up?”
“I told you already,” Zuko says. “Nothing. What are you reading?”
“Oh!” Sokka’s face lights up, just the way Zuko loves most as he explains the book he’s reading. If Zuko’s being honest, it’s not something he would be interested in hearing about in any other context. But anything that makes the man in the bed beside him this excited is more than worth his attention, even if Zuko wouldn’t generally have so much interest in the wildlife that was native to the western air temple hundreds of years ago.
Sokka stops himself, using his free hand to tuck a strand of hair back behind his ear. He looks the slightest bit sheepish, as if he’s gotten carried away. He glances out the window, maybe just now realizing how late it is and says, “Oh. Sorry. Was this your way of hinting that you’re trying to sleep?”
“No,” Zuko admits. “Might just stay up all night and watch you.”
Sokka laughs through his nose. “Cheesy,” he accuses, though he doesn’t seem to mind it. “I’m sure you don’t care as much as I do about sky bison migratory patterns. But--”
“Kinda just like hearing your voice,” Zuko admits. It’s been a few months since all of this started -- enough that the reality of Sokka in his bed feels more natural and less desperate fever dream, but this feels strangely vulnerable to admit.
Only, Sokka’s face goes exceptionally soft. “Huh,” he says.
“What?” Zuko can’t help the anxiety that creeps into his voice. There’s an apology on his lips when Sokka looks away, and despite his tan skin, it’s clear as day that he’s blushing.
“Just.” He sets the book down, face open in his lap. “I dunno. Not sure anyone’s ever said anything like that to me.”
“Oh.” Zuko considers for a minute. Waits until Sokka feels secure enough in the silence that washes over the room to pick his book back up. And then he strikes again. “Also, I care about anything that gets you that excited,” he says. “You could read me back the notes from my longest meeting and I’d still probably be into it.”
Sokka bites his lips together, shoulders shaking with his slight laugh. “You trying to butter me up, Your Majesty?” he asks, though he’s quick to put his arm around Zuko’s shoulders when the firebender shifts over to rest his head against Sokka’s bare chest.
“No,” Zuko defends. “Why? Is it working?”
Sokka gives another one of those little laughs. “Kind of?”
Zuko can live with that.
“You sure you don’t have, like, any official Fire Lord business?” Sokka asks, though Zuko can tell from the way he’s been grinning all through breakfast that the declaration of their first official anniversary as a rare Official Day Off for Zuko has been deeply meaningful for him.
“Positive,” Zuko affirms, not even bothering to look down at his oatmeal. He’s seen it a million times, and though Sokka is fairly easy with his smiles, the ones like this still feel so rare and precious. “Why? Have you got anything going on today?”
“Not a thing,” Sokka says. “Not a thing. But . . . I may have some ideas.”
“I bet you do,” Zuko says. They both know there’s no chance whatsoever that he won’t be going on with whatever Sokka has in mind. And no chance that at least the first part of those plans will take place in the bed across the chambers from the table.
“Hey,” Sokka says as he comes in at the end of what must have been a particularly long council meeting. He yawns, stretching out just a little bit as he pulls his jacket off, and then he seems to notice for the first time what Zuko is doing, planted in the middle of the floor with one of his broadswords and a file. “Oh, shit,” he says.
There are a lot of people in the Fire Kingdom who would be more than willing to do this for him. For either of them, really. But something they both have in common is a particular attachment to their weapons and especially for the proper, careful attention they like to make sure is paid to each one.
“Can you leave that out?” Sokka says. “I gotta sharpen--”
“Please,” Zuko doesn’t look up from his task, though he can’t help the smile that stretches his face at the thought of it even being called into question. “You think I didn’t sharpen her first?”
Sokka laughs just a little, the way he always does when Zuko intentionally beats him to a task like this. Zuko can’t keep his eyes off anymore. He glances up just in time to watch Sokka try to contain his grin. He can’t, of course.
“Should’ve known,” he agrees. “Thank you. You really are the best.”
Zuko rolls his eyes, hoping his bent head will conceal the way his cheeks are flaming. “It’s nothing,” he assures Sokka. Really, it isn’t. He loves this kind of task. And he loves Sokka. And he loves doing things for people he cares about, so since Sokka is the person he cares about the most, he loves doing things for Sokka the most. It’s all very simple.
Just not to Sokka, who always seems taken aback when someone spends more than a single second thinking about him.
“No, it is,” Sokka insists as he yanks his shoes off.
Zuko takes it as a point of pride that Sokka doesn’t even think to double check on the quality of the sharpening job.
Statistically speaking, there is likely no one who would be surprised to learn that both the Fire Lord and his Prince Consort suffer from nightmares. Zuko’s are silent, paralyzing things. Where he’s helpless and frozen, sometimes even after he wakes, usually with his heart pounding and an overpowering need to watch for the rise and fall of Sokka’s chest before he can even begin to think about whether or not he’s safe.
Sokka’s are different. He thrashes and kicks and cries out. And he never seems to wake himself up in the throes of one. When Zuko finally asked about them, Sokka brushed it off, mentioning that they’ve happened since he was a child. Of course they have. Since Zuko’s people raided his village. Took away members of his community. Killed his mother. They’re the reason his father went away, too.
So, though Sokka always melts into his touch in the daytime, Zuko would lay and watch him jerk around in his sleep and he would invent a million reasons why he probably didn’t have the right to touch the other man when this was happening. Until the first night that Zuko’s name fell out during Sokka’s mumbling. He sounded scared, sure. But not scared of him. That night as with many others since, Zuko gathered Sokka up into his arms while he was still asleep and pressed kisses against the crown of his head, his forehead, his cheek bones, his temples. Whatever he could reach until Sokka either calmed or -- more often -- woke up disoriented but mostly fine.
It takes Zuko almost no time at all to determine a key fact about Sokka. He loves to be given things. It’s a distinctly different trait from the sort of materialism that Zuko would resent -- though if he’s being honest, what could he resent coming from Sokka? -- no matter how much he loves shopping.
It doesn’t matter what Zuko gives him. Something Zuko is relieved to realize once he begins to run out of ideas for elaborate gifts fairly early into their courtship, considering. They go on one of their walks and Zuko finds an interesting looking feather and presents it to Sokka, who lights up exactly the same as he did when Zuko showed him the ornate mount he had installed on the wall for his sword.
Zuko forgets all about it until the next week, when he passes Sokka’s dresser and finds it sitting proudly on the top surface. “You kept this?” he asks.
“Uh, yeah.” Sokka seems to think this is obvious. Like Zuko has just asked him whether or not he wants to go find some meat for dinner.
“Huh.” Zuko’s fingers run along the feather lightly. “Why?” he can’t help but to ask. He had assumed it would be thrown away or even dropped by the end of the walk.
“Why do you think?” Sokka laughs. “Because I love you. Dumbass.”