He’s never been here before. Hasn’t so much as looked at it in passing when he’s been at the mall before. Had no idea what kind of things they sold here, didn’t want to know. Point is, he’s here now, and he is absolutely clueless. Sokka sidesteps a Harry Potter display into the band t-shirts aisle, jostling a girl with heavy black eyeliner framing dead eyes. She scowls at him.
“Sorry, sorry,” Sokka amends hastily. He feels out of place like a sore thumb in this Hot Topic in his blue hawaiian shirt and loose khaki shorts, can feel their eyes on him for every move he makes. He doesn’t want him to be here either! He has no idea what MCR stands for, he doesn’t find the t-shirts funny, and he definitely does not want to cover his backpack in weird pins, thank you very much.
At least he’s not the only one. A girl in a pink miniskirt and crop top happily sips a bubble tea in the corner of the shop, sticking out just as much as Sokka. She’s rifling through the pins with her free hand, hmm-ing as she goes.
“Look, babe!” she exclaims as she pulls out one with a little cat on it. “We should get matching ones!” She waves the pin in front of eyeliner girl that Sokka had bumped into earlier. Eyeliner girl has long black hair up in two buns, and, now that Sokka notices, a bubble tea to match.
“Okay,” Eyeliner girl says in a monotone. So, pink girl is not alone. It seems like eyeliner girl had dragged her in here, but no one is here with Sokka. Sokka turns another corner, somehow hopelessly lost in this store that was not big at all, and then he finally finds it. The fucking hair dye that he came here for. He eagerly sorts through the dye bottles until he finds purple. Patting his pockets for his phone, he curses as he realizes he left it in the car. Katara had said lavender… but there are three shades of purple in front of him and he has no idea which one it is. They all have names like “Violet Dream” and “Girls Night” and Sokka has no idea which one Katara wanted. He picks “Periwinkle” and hopes it’s the right one. He just wants to get out of this awful store where people won’t stop staring at him and it smells vaguely of body odor and cheap perfume.
He cannot emphasize enough how much he hates being here, but he’s willing to endure it for his little sister. His little sister, who had, the night before, tearfully confessed to him that she liked girls and had worked herself up into a stressed, manic state while she worried about how Sokka and Hakoda would react. His brave little sister who had told him anyways, even though she hated talking about anything when her anxiety was acting up. Sokka had pulled her into a tight hug and then confessed that he was bisexual. Sokka would do anything to let Katara know that he accepted and supported her fully, including going to the mall Hot Topic to buy her hair dye so she can feel more comfortable in her identity.
He practically scrambles for the checkout counter, pushing the dye bottle across the surface and looking up to see--
So, here’s the thing. Sokka has been known to get crushes easily. He had been enamored with Yue for all of freshman year and part of sophomore, coasted into junior year dating Suki, and now was stuck on a new fixation in the form of Zuko Agni from AP Chemistry in senior year. The scar was what had first caught his attention, but what had kept it was his dry sense of humor and unsure laugh. Sokka had been lab partners with him for the gravimetric analysis lab and hadn’t stopped thinking about him since… even if he spilled the calcium chloride everywhere.
Zuko Agni From AP Chem looks up from the hair dye bottle and meets Sokka’s eyes. Sokka freezes, and so does Zuko. He was definitely not expecting Zuko to be his Hot Topic cashier, but he supposes it does make sense given his general style. Zuko fits in at the store in a way that Sokka decidedly does not. Zuko stammers incoherently and fumbles the bottle, dropping it on the floor.
“Sorry!” Zuko yelps, picking it up immediately. He’s bright red and clearly nervous, not expecting to see anyone from school at the Hot Topic. Definitely not Sokka, Sokka knows. Zuko and Sokka continue to make awkward eye contact until someone clears their throat behind them. Sokka turns around to see eyeliner girl rolling her eyes.
Sokka turns back to Zuko and clears his throat, but Zuko beats him to the punch.
“It’s, uh, a nice color,” Zuko says in his gravelly voice that gives Sokka not great thoughts to have in the middle of Hot Topic.
“What?” Sokka asks.
“The hair dye,” Zuko clarifies. “Periwinkle? Just came out.”
“Yeah!” Sokka says, “She did!”
“Huh?” Zuko says.
“My sister. The hair dye, it’s for my sister. She just came out. She’s a lesbian, and yknow I totally support that. That’s why I’m buying her hair dye.” Sokka blurts.
“Cool,” Zuko replies. “Katara, right? What color hair does she have now?”
“Dark brown,” Sokka answers.
Zuko frowns slightly. “Oh, you’ll need bleach as well. That color won’t show up on brown hair; it’s a pastel.”
“Yeah, you can get it at Sally Beauty, it’s just down the road by Target.”
“Thanks for the advice,” Sokka says, “But you would know, huh?”
“Huh?” Zuko asks. Wow, they’re both saying that a lot today. Maybe there’s something going around?
“The hair,” Sokka says, gesturing at Zuko’s red streaks in black hair, “Yknow, the red.”
“Oh,” Zuko says, looking pleased, “Yeah. Do you like it?”
“Yeah! Yeah, it’s a cool, uh, red and black theme. I like it,” Sokka says, tripping over his words. He really does like it. Zuko’s hair is predominantly black, but so dark Sokka thinks it must be dyed. It has bright red streaks running through it, concentrated around the face. Sokka may have wondered once or twice what it would feel like to run his fingers through Zuko’s shaggy hair, although he will never say so.
“Thanks,” Zuko says, and the bright red flush on his face shows no signs of diminishing. Wow, he is really pale usually, isn’t he? “My sister taught me, actually. I could… give you tips? If you and Katara need advice on hair dye?”
“Oh!” Sokka exclaims, “That would be great actually, I’ve been so nervous she’s going to ruin her hair,” he laughs.
“I could give you my number?” Zuko says shyly. Sokka’s heart thumps loudly in his chest, and he’s surprised Zuko can’t hear.
“Yes!” Sokka almost shouts, but it comes out more as a squeak. “Yeah, definitely, I--” He pats his khakis habitually, face falling almost comically as he realizes his phone isn’t in his pocket. He’s forgotten his phone in the car, as well as something else he can’t remember. Oh well, it probably isn’t important.
“I forgot my phone in the car,” Sokka admits. “Here, write it on my arm!” he exclaims, leaning his arm on the countertop. Zuko stares at it, wide-eyed.
“Zuko?” Sokka asks, worried. He seems to have zoned out.
“I can do that,” Zuko says in a very scratchy voice. “Um. Yeah.”
So Zuko writes his number on Sokka’s arm in Sharpie and Sokka grins up at him and doesn’t realize until later that eyeliner girl and her girlfriend have left and probably stole their pins.
“By the way, who’s your sister? I might know her,” Sokka comments, desperate to have something else to talk about.
“Oh, it’s Azula,” Zuko replies absentmindedly as he concentrates on writing his number. “Azula Agni.”
So, here’s the other thing. Katara insists that she does not fall as easily as her brother, but that would be a flat out lie. Katara had a crush on Aang when they were in kindergarten and they held onto that for years until realizing it was just friendship, she had a crush on Suki before Sokka started dating her, and she definitely had a crush on June from driver’s ed. Katara’s latest and greatest crush happens to be Azula Agni, whom Sokka has had the pleasure of hearing about for months now. Sure, Katara didn’t say she had a crush on Azula until last night, but hearing about her infinite accomplishments gave Sokka a bit of a hint. Last night, Katara had gone on an hour long monologue questioning if it was ethical to date Azula since Katara was swim captain and Azula was on the team. Sokka doesn’t want to hear it.
“Azula Agni?” Sokka asks, voice cracking. His arm tenses under Zuko’s hand and Zuko goes cross eyed. “Azula Agni? Captain of Quizbowl and Science Olympiad? Won the state science fair? Went to Istanbul for International Chemistry Olympiad and got a perfect 60 on the national exam? On the swim team? That Azula Agni?”
Zuko drops Sokka’s arm. “Yeah,” he says tersely, “Your total is $12.84. Do you want a bag?”
“Yeah, sure,” Sokka says. “Is Azula here? Do you know where she is?”
Zuko puts the dye in the bag with a little more force than necessary. “Yeah, she’s probably at H&M right now,” he says, and all the cheer from his voice has vanished under a tense customer service voice. “Have a nice day,” he says flatly as he holds the bag out to Sokka.
“Coolgreatthanks I’ll text you!” Sokka calls as he flies out the door. If he can get to H&M on time, maybe he can get Azula’s number for Katara! And he gets to text Zuko later, even if he seemed to be in a bad mood when Sokka left.
Azula isn’t at H&M, which Sokka knows for sure because he searched the entire store for her. Cutting his losses, Sokka trudges back to his car that has spent hours baking in the hot sun and freezes when he sees the note stuck to his windshield.
wtf sokka you just forgot about him? i drove aang home please never go near him again -- suki
Alright, so maybe Sokka left Aang in a hot car. In his defense, Aang could have gotten out pretty easily and just waited in the food court. Besides, the mall is a dangerous place for a good-natured kid like Aang. Look! Zuko was there! And Zuko used to bully Aang in middle school until he apologized freshman year because his uncle made him but he never did it again, so there. Aang shouldn’t go to the mall because he could meet Zuko.
Sokka returns to the house triumphantly and presents Katara with her much-anticipated hair dye. “Got your fucking hair dye,” he announces, dropping it onto her bed.
Katara gasps. “Ohmygod you actually did thank you so much!” she exclaims gleefully, examining it. “Thank you thank you thank you-- wait, what’s that on your arm?”
Sokka puffs out his chest proudly. “I got Zuko from Chem’s number,” he boasts. “He’s super hot.”
Katara stills. “Zuko Agni? Azula’s brother? AZULA’S BROTHER??! WHY DIDN’T YOU OPEN WITH THAT?!” she screams.
Sokka winces. “Geez, okay, calm down, yes Azula’s brother. He said she was at H&M so I went there to get her number for you, but she was gone.”
Katara exhales gustily. “Thank god she was gone,” she breathes. “That would’ve been so
, what the hell, Sokka?! Who does that?”
“Hey, I’m just trying to help!” Sokka defends himself. “Hey, I wonder if it’s too early to text Zuko…”
“Hey, Azula!” Zuko yells as he slams the front door closed with a little more force than necessary. Oops. Uncle Iroh is probably still at work at the tea shop, though. That’s Zuko’s other job, but working at Hot Topic gets him a discount, so it’s not a bad second job. Zuko and Azula’s relationship has been… rocky, to say the least, but they get along better now that they live with Uncle Iroh ever since their dad went to prison.
“I’m busy!” Azula yells back. Zuko follows the sound of her voice to the upstairs bathroom, where he finds Azula meticulously trimming her bangs. “Ugh, I told you I’m busy!” Azula seethes as Zuko hovers in the doorway.
“Just thought you should know that Southwater kid has a crush on you,” Zuko says, nonchalantly leaning against the doorway. Azula shrieks and accidentally clips a chunk of her bangs off.
“KATARA SOUTHWATER?!” Azula screams, whirling to face Zuko.
Zuko pulls a face. “No, Sokka. He was at Hot Topic buying hair dye for Katara because she’s a lesbian, though.” Zuko resolutely does not mention how he thought Sokka was flirting with him and even gave him his number. Azula doesn’t need to know all that.
“KATARA IS A LESBIAN?!” Azula screams again, and Zuko covers his poor abused ears.
“Why didn’t you open with that?!” Azula hisses.
Zuko shrugs. “I don’t know? I didn’t know you liked her.”
Azula colors. “I don’t!” She catches sight of herself in the mirror. “Fuck, I messed up my bangs! I’m gonna look like I have terf bangs now, UGH! What if Katara doesn’t like me because she thinks I’m a terf? HOW DO I LET KATARA KNOW THAT I SUPPORT TRANS PEOPLE?!”
“They’re not that short, you can still fix it,” Zuko placates. “And I’m sure she knows.”
Azula glares at him.
“Anyways, I told him you were at H&M.”
“But I’d never set foot in H&M in a million years,” Azula says, blinking. “You know I don’t shop at the mall.” Ah, yes, Azula’s expensive tastes would never change, even after losing Ozai’s fortune.
“I know,” Zuko assures her.
“Oh,” Azula realizes, “Thank you. Gay/lesbian solidarity.”
Azula sighs. “Well, I’m going to fix my bangs now, no thanks to you. Go do whatever it is miserable emos like you do,” she says with a dismissive wave of the hand.
Zuko snorts. “Sure, Azula. I’m going to Piandao’s in a bit, tell Uncle where I am if he gets home before me.” Azula doesn’t respond, instead turning to the mirror to scrutinize her bangs. Zuko takes a while to play Animal Crossing in his room, glancing at his phone every so often to see if Sokka has texted. When it lights up, he scrambles across the bed to seize it, but it turns out to be Mai informing him that she and Ty Lee stole some pins while he was flirting with Sokka. Zuko rolls his eyes and goes back to his game. After about half an hour, he decides to stop staring at it and just go to Piandao’s.
Zuko usually goes to Piandao’s first thing in the morning, before school begins; it sort of prepares him to face the day and relieve some stress. He knows some of the other kids at their school train with Piandao also, and the last thing he wants is to see someone he recognizes. Despite being in Ba Sing Se with Uncle for three years now, he doesn’t really know anyone here. Mai and Ty Lee are really Azula’s friends, and not in his grade anyways. To tell the truth, he’s had a crush on Sokka for some time. Even though Sokka is more of an engineer than a chemist, and Zuko’s had to explain acid-base titration three times to him for a lab, he can’t help but be taken in by his sharp sarcasm and carefree laugh. Sokka makes up for it by explaining physics to Zuko, who is absolutely terrible at it. So yeah, they interact sometimes.
They’re seniors this year, and Zuko is anxious to get out of Ba Sing Se and hopefully start over in college. He had been painfully awkward freshman year, with a fresh scar and the words of his father still ringing in his ears. That seemed to put everyone off from him, and he hasn’t really hung out with anyone other than his sister since. He doesn’t participate in extracurriculars except his training with Piandao and his position as concertmaster of the school orchestra. His stand partner is a decent violinist who goes by “Longshot” and they get along just fine without having to talk except to discuss bowings. So, he’s fine. He doesn’t need to go out with Sokka or make friends with anyone else.
Zuko enters Piandao’s fencing studio and, to his eternal misfortune, spies Sokka practicing alone on a dummy. This is why Zuko doesn’t come here in the evenings, but the severe drop his self esteem had suffered when Sokka had turned his affections to Azula had prompted a fencing session. Zuko briefly considers just sprinting out as soon as he can before Sokka sees him, but Sokka spots him and drops his sword to wave.
Zuko waves back shyly as Sokka jogs across the studio to greet him. “Hey, man!” Sokka says jovially, panting slightly from exertion. The thick black numbers on his arm are a little smudged with sweat, but still clear. Zuko tries to repress his bitterness at not being texted.
“You didn’t text,” Zuko says flatly. Well, that didn’t work. Great job, Zuko, way to make a friendly connection.
Sokka’s wide grin falters. “Oh, well, Katara is planning on dyeing this weekend,” he explains.
“There’s prep,” Zuko counters. He just cannot stop digging himself into a hole, can he?
“Oh,” Sokka says. Zuko avoids eye contact and instead stares at their feet. It’s been what, an hour, maybe? He was probably just busy. OrmaybehehatesZukoandneverwantstoseehimagain--
“So, how’s your sister?” Sokka asks. Oh, great, just what he needs. To be reminded of Sokka’s crush on Azula.
“Still a lesbian,” Zuko says, “So she won’t date you.” When Zuko is bitter, he is very bitter. He’s also tired of fending off drooling boys from his little sister who wants nothing to do with them. He still remembers the time Chan tried to kiss her while she was at his house for a school project and how Azula had come home furious , so of course Zuko showed up at Chan’s house with a sword. Purely for dramatic effect (but Chan didn’t know that.) Respect lesbians or die by my sword is NOT just a meme to Zuko.
“Oh, I wasn’t--” Sokka starts but Zuko cuts him off.
“It’s fine,” he says. “I’m used to it.”
“Hey, wanna spar?” Zuko asks, desperate to get Sokka to stop talking about Azula.
“Um, okay,” Sokka says. Zuko realizes his mistake when Sokka pulls off his ratty tank top and pulls his sword up off the floor. Zuko turns to get his dual dao and hopes that his face is at least not as red as it feels. This is it, this is how he dies, in a huge gay spontaneous combustion.
Zuko has been training with Piandao for years. As a friend of Uncle Iroh’s, Piandao had always been happy to train Zuko during his summers with Iroh, and now that Zuko lives in Ba Sing Se full time, Piandao’s studio is like a second home. Sokka? Zuko has never seen him there before. Probably because Zuko never goes in the evenings, but Zuko maintains that he was not prepared for this.
Sokka must have been training for years though, that was the only explanation. Sokka is good , way better than Zuko expected, and he keeps him on his toes. Zuko can’t get in the right headspace for sparring because every time he tries, his eyes catch on Sokka’s chest or his arms or god forbid his face , and then everything goes to shit. The worst part, though, is that Zuko keeps staring at his own phone number on Sokka’s arm. It’s like it’s saying that’s me ! and Zuko is embarrassed at how pleased he is to see a mark of his own influence on Sokka’s arm.
Zuko loses concentration again, and Sokka disarms him, pinning him against the wall with his own sword under Zuko’s throat. It’s very homoerotic.
“Ggh,” Zuko says. His eyes flicker to Sokka’s arm again, and he can’t help it from slipping out. “Hey, um. Did anyone ask about it? The number?”
Sokka flushes, to Zuko’s surprise, and looks away, the sword slackening from its place against Zuko’s throat. “Um, yes? I kinda… showed all of Piandao’s other students. And Katara. And Aang. And… I texted Suki about it. So she probably told the whole volleyball team.”
Well. Zuko hadn’t expected that. A little blossom of pride wiggles in his heart and he tries to restrain a smile. Maybe Sokka was bi and liked Zuko too? That was okay; he’s long since been used to being second best to Azula. “So, what did you say about it?” he asks, trying to sound at least a little flirtatious. He hasn’t practiced flirting since… since Jet, but he broke up with Jet because he was obsessed with conspiracy theories that there’s been a secret war going on for a hundred years. Seriously, Jet? How could an entire city not know about a war?
Sokka seems to pick up on it, because he looks back up at Zuko from under surprisingly long eyelashes. Zuko is suddenly very aware that Sokka’s sword is hanging from his side and they are still chest-to-chest while Zuko leans against the wall.
“I said that the hot guy at Hot Topic gave me his number and it was a total score,” Sokka admits. Zuko’s heart is hammering wildly in his chest as Sokka gives him a hesitant grin. He’s sure that he is stupidly grinning as well, until he remembers.
“What about Azula?” Zuko asks, because he has to know. Has to know if Sokka is just settling for the scarred brother, or if there’s some other explanation for his obsession with his sister. Maybe Sokka wants to join Science Olympiad?
“Oh yeah!” Sokka exclaims, “Do you think you could give me her number?” Zuko’s smile drops off his face. He shouldn’t have gotten his hopes up. Sokka must flirt as much as he breathes with how easily he’d flirted with Zuko to get Azula’s number. Anger and shame rise up in him like Azula’s very first baking soda volcano and he pushes Sokka off of him.
“I don’t get you!” Zuko snarls as Sokka staggers backwards, his face the very picture of confusion. “I thought-- I thought you were into me at Hot Topic, and then you ask about Azula, and then I thought we were-- I don’t know, you’re the one who called me hot! And then you want Azula’s number? What do you want? You’re literally the definition of mixed signals!”
“Oh, fuck dude, I’m so sorry,” Sokka groans, wincing and slapping his forehead. “Um, first of all, it’s definitely you.”
“It’s you,” Sokka says, clarifying nothing. “You’re the one I have a crush on.” Oh. Huh.
“Huh?” Zuko asks.
Sokka is definitely blushing now, and he rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. “I’ve kinda liked you for like… all of senior year? Also, I know how acid-base titrations work. I just… like your voice?”
“Hggh,” Zuko says.
“So the thing is, Katara has a huge crush on Azula. She just came out, and I’m trying to be supportive, yknow? And I thought that it might be helpful to get Azula’s number for her? Wow, why do I keep phrasing everything as a question? Oh, that was one too, um. So. You said earlier that Azula is a lesbian so… wanna set up our younger sisters?” Sokka finishes his explanation with two finger guns pointed right at Zuko. Oh, Zuko thinks , he’s bisexual .
“We can definitely do that,” Zuko agrees. “It’s… it’s a date?”
Sokka practically lights up, nodding furiously. “Yeah!” They stare at each other for an amount of time, completely unmeasurable by human standards. They jump as a door opens.
Piandao exits his office, raising an eyebrow at the two of them. “Zuko. Sokka. Didn’t know you two knew each other.” He strides across the room, pausing at the exit. “Zuko, you’ve got the keys. Go ahead and lock up when you two are done,” he says as a means of goodbye. Zuko manages to voice his assent. They stay still as Piandao walks across the parking lot, starting his engine, and finally driving off.
“Hey,” Zuko says. “Wanna make out?”
“You’re such a genius,” Sokka breathes.
“I told you, I don’t want to go on a blind date!” Katara grouses, but follows Sokka out the door anyways.
“Trust me,” Sokka says, “I think you’ll like it.” He checks his phone before starting the car, chuckling at the snap from Zuko that shows Azula frowning fiercely behind a widely smiling Zuko. can you believe that she doesn’t trust her favorite brother’s judgement??? It asks.
“Fine, let’s get this over with,” Katara grumbles. Sokka innocently whistles a tune as he pulls out of the driveway. She leans over to glance at his phone. “Who are you texting, anyways?”
“It’s a surprise,” Sokka sings.
“Do you have a new girlfriend?” Katara guesses. Sokka shakes his head. “Boyfriend?” Sokka just grins. Katara leans back in her seat and crosses her arms. “You’re telling me all about it when I get home,” she warns.
“Of course,” Sokka promises. Katara spends the rest of the car ride in silence staring out the window, occasionally asking about her date. Sokka refuses to give out any information other than the fact that she’s pretty, smart, and goes to their school.
“We’re here!” Sokka announces as he parks in front of the Jasmine Dragon. Katara levels a suspicious stare at him.
“Doesn’t Azula’s uncle own this place?” she asks.
Sokka simply shrugs.
“Hey, wait! No way you’re babysitting me on a date ,” Katara protests as Sokka follows her in.
“I’ll be out of your hair soon enough,” Sokka soothes her. “As soon as I-- Zuko!”
“Hey,” Zuko says, coming out of the back room. “She’ll be another minute; she’s fixing her lip gloss in the car. Don’t tell her I told you that. Ready to go?”
“Yeah,” Sokka answers, holding out his hand for Zuko to grab as he slides over the counter.
“Um,” Katara says.
“Enjoy your date!” Sokka calls as he leads Zuko out. Katara doesn’t have time to yell at him, because she turns around and Azula steps out of the back. She’s obviously dressed up a little nicer than usual, and Katara can definitely appreciate the extra effort with the lip gloss. Azula’s bangs are a bit shorter than the last time she’d seen her, but not short enough to be terf bangs. Katara is glad; she could never date a terf.
“Hey,” Katara greets her. “I’m Katara.” She winces. “Um, but you know that.” Of course Azula knows her name, they’re on the swim team together!
“I know,” Azula echoes. "I like your hair."
Katara reaches up to touch it self-consciously. "Oh, thanks." She had just dyed it yesterday.
They sit down, and an old man brings them tea.
“Um, I didn’t order--” Katara starts, but the man waves it away.
“On the house,” he promises, “My favorite blend of jasmine. Anything for my niece and her date!”
Azula buries her blushing face in her hands. “Go away, Uncle,” she hisses.
The old man just laughs, but follows her wishes and disappears into the back room.
“So,” Azula asks, “Do you listen to girl in red?”
Yeah, they’ll manage.