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The Sweetheart Swindle

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It starts with a bad day. 

Most of the important turning-points in Zuko’s life start with a bad day. His banishment starts with an Agni Kai. His betrayal of Uncle starts with the fall of Ba Sing Se. His deflection to the side of the Avatar starts with the Day of Black Sun. 

This particular bad day is, admittedly, less dramatic than the literal war that forged his identity as a teenager. It’s the day after Zuko’s twenty-first birthday, which means he is nursing a headache so strong that he feels just a touch like throwing up at every moment. Zuko’s friends might also be nursing hangovers (except Toph, who is immune, and whom everyone hates for it), but they don’t have to wake up early and rule a nation after a night of celebrations. 

And then, while Zuko is staring at a piece of paper and trying to make the numbers stop blurring together, his advisors smell blood in the water and attack. 

“Since you are now twenty-one, and you have yet to secure the line of succession, we feel it is time for this council to begin the process of making an appropriate match.”

Zuko closes his eyes, breathes very deeply, and then replies: “What.”

Which is how he finds himself back in his bedchambers, surrounded by his closest friends (all of whom look weary and nauseous, except Toph, because Toph is the worst). 

“And that’s when they said they were going to choose a wife for me,”  Zuko snarls, his annoyance so strong that it outweighs his desire to avoid loud noises. 

Suki whimpers. Her head is in her arms. “Please,” she requests. “Angst quieter.” 

“Wait, they’re going to choose you a wife?” Aang asks. He has one palm pressed to his arrow, but aside from that, he seems almost normal. “Just… choose one for you?”

“I’m sure they’ll let me meet them first, get my approval or whatever,” Zuko assures him. And then he shakes himself, because why is he comforting Aang over this? “But I don’t want to marry some appropriate person who’s chosen for me! And how could I ever trust they’re not just saying ‘yes’ because you don’t say ‘no’ to the Fire Lord?”

“We say ‘no’ to you literally all the time,” Toph points out. “It's my favourite thing to say to you.”

Zuko rolls his eyes. It hurts. “Well yeah, but you’re my friends.” 

Katara slaps her hand down on Zuko’s desk. She looks up at him, hair loopies loose and frazzled, and then points a single finger at him. “Yes!” she states, as if that makes sense. “Exactly! We’re your friends!”

Something in Zuko softens. He loves having friends. They’re all the worst, but they’re also the best, and Zuko has no idea how he survived so long without these five idiots. 

“Thanks, Katara.”

“No, you don’t understand,” Katara continues. There’s a concerning light in her eyes. “We’re your friends.” 

Zuko tilts his head.

“Oh no,” Sokka says from his corner of the room. Until now, Zuko thought he was asleep. “I think I see where this is going.” 

“Can someone explain to me where this is going?” Zuko requests.

Sokka looks up at Katara with an air of great trepidation. “This is a terrible idea,” he informs her. “I love it.” 



 

 

Katara 

Zuko starts ‘courting’ Katara three days later. 

Of course, he isn’t actually courting anyone. Katara is in a relationship with Aang, though they have become private enough that most people outside their immediate friends aren’t really sure if they’re still in a relationship. 

But three days later, Zuko’s advisors try to present a list of appropriate candidates for Fire Lady, and Zuko says: “Actually, I’m courting someone.”

His advisors are initially impressed that their young Fire Lord has taken their request so seriously. It lasts as long as it takes for Zuko to name the woman he’s courting.

“She’s not Fire Nation!” 

“Worse,” General Tomio adds, “she’s a waterbender.” 

“Master Katara is a formidable warrior,” Uncle Iroh states. “She is a significant part of the reason the war has ended. Not to mention, she is rather beautiful.”

Ew, Zuko thinks, but wisely chooses not to express this sentiment. Yes, Katara’s technically beautiful in an objective sense, the way that a pretty flower is beautiful, but Uncle Iroh’s tone definitely implies something other than objective-flower-beautiful. And… gross. She’s Katara. 

Uncle Iroh’s support leads to murmurs among Zuko’s advisors. He waits them out, waits for the demand that he consider a more suitable candidate, but… it doesn’t come.

Huh. It worked. 

“I guess I’m courting you now,” Zuko says to Katara later that night, after she and Suki drag him away from his paperwork to throw him at his bed. 

“How romantic,” Katara responds.

And just like that, Zuko and Katara are officially courting.

It doesn’t change all that much, surprisingly. The older people in Zuko’s court seem to be equally as interested in ensuring Zuko and Katara get time alone together as they are insistent that they spend no time alone together. That part is weird. They end up on a lot of chaperoned walks, as if there’s really a possibility that they’re going to do something scandalous in the palace gardens. Katara has to accompany Zuko to some events. Zuko has to buy her gifts, which Katara finds hilarious. Zuko aims for around half his gifts to be things Katara will like, and around half of them to be garish and awful, just to witness the fact that she has to accept them without throwing them at Zuko’s head. 

Aside from that, their relationship doesn’t really change. But Zuko’s life does change, because for once, nobody is asking when he’s going to take the question of marriage seriously. He uses that time and energy to focus on actually being a decent ruler. It’s a win-win. 

And then, before Zuko knows it, the season has passed and a new problem has arisen.

“I assume you will be proposing soon?” asks Stateswoman Ryoko, and Zuko’s heart leaps into his throat and attempts to make a home there.

“What?” 

“You’ve been courting for a whole season,” she presses. “I understand that it is usual to announce one’s intentions after a period of courting?”

And yes, Zuko and Katara do get away without a proposal for a whole other season, but people won’t stop asking Zuko about it. After a while, it seems to be just as much bother as dodging questions about suitable candidates. 

“Ah, well,” Katara says, “it was good while it lasted.”

“First you break the Avatar’s heart, then the Fire Lord’s,” Sokka comments to his sister. “The good news from my perspective is that nobody is ever going to ask you out again.” 





Suki 

Breaking up with Katara is much easier than beginning to court Katara. 

Zuko’s advisors seem to think that it’s ultimately a good thing, even if they’re disappointed that nobody is going to be circling the wedding fires anytime soon. And they even let Zuko mourn his fake relationship for a while. Though they seem a little confused by the fact that Katara doesn’t really go anywhere.

And then, of course, the gentle prompting about marriage begins again. And, as it is wont to do, it doesn’t stay gentle for long.

“It was such a good idea,” Zuko laments. “If we could have just frozen that in time, I would have courted you forever, Katara.”

Katara bats her eyelashes at him from across the room. 

And then Suki emerges from where she was taking a nap in Zuko’s bed, her hair a messy halo, and says, “All right. My turn.”

Courting Suki should be the same as courting Katara, really. She’s also an inappropriate choice, due to her lack of birthright and her foreign allegiances. But she’s also one of Zuko’s guards, and the guard that Zuko trusts the most, so his advisors immediately latch onto the technical difficulties of a courtship.

“Please just consider allowing us to find you a suitable woman, Fire Lord,” Fire Sage Dai pleads. 

“It will take a complete reworking of the guard,” Guardsman Setsuko laments.

“I think it’s romantic,” Uncle Iroh interjects. He takes a sip of his tea. “A person of royal birth falling in love with a guard? In fact, I believe I have seen that play.” He strokes his beard. “Perhaps, if I recall its name, the pair of you can commission a theatre to play it for you.”

Obviously, Zuko does that. 

It’s the best date ever. Suki is near tears from trying to keep herself from laughing. No doubt, this has something to do with the fact that the play is actually about a guard and a princess. 

Suki also doesn’t court the way that Katara does. Zuko has very limited experience with this, but he assumed that Katara’s tendency to tuck her hand into his elbow and ask him questions about the meaning of life on evening strolls was typical behaviour. But when Zuko tries that with Suki, she gives him a long look from the corner of her eye, and then asks: “If we starting fighting right now, how long do you think it would take for the guards to intervene?” 

Zuko doesn’t realise she means hand-to-hand combat until she’s flipping him over her shoulder. 

The answer is: not very long. Zuko responds quickly, and they’re pretty evenly matched in hand-to-hand, but there’s barely enough time to sweep her feet out from under her before the guards are pulling her away. 

But giving gifts to Suki is a lot easier than it was with Katara. With Katara, Zuko was always either searching for something of cultural value to her, or showering her with jewelry she would not appreciate. Very occasionally, Zuko found something that he thought she would actually like, but he doesn’t really understand her sense of style well enough for it to be reliable. But with Suki, it’s easy. Zuko knows what Suki wants, and it’s weapons that don’t look like weapons. 

Honestly, it’s a lot more familiar to Zuko, because it’s like courting Mai all over again. 

And it ends the same way that courting Mai ended, and the same way courting Katara ended: with conversations about marriage. 

It lasts a little more than a season. Zuko even gets to join Suki for the Kyoshi Festival, because courting is a good enough excuse for it to be allowed into his plans. But the more comfortable the court becomes with Suki, who is strong and brave and will apparently be a good mother one day (a comment that gives Zuko a worse headache than his post-birthday hangover), the more people ask her about being the Fire Lady. 

And while Fire Lady Suki starts as a really, deeply funny sentiment, it clearly starts to weigh on her. So Zuko cuts their courtship short, even though they would probably have managed another season before anyone really pressed them for a decision about marriage. 

“First you date my sister, then my ex-girlfriend,” Sokka comments over their group lunch. It’s technically a working lunch, and they’re technically supposed to be talking about international politics, but Zuko assumes that it’s an open secret that their ‘international politics’ lunches rarely bear political fruit. “I’m pretty sure I owe you a stern talking to.” 

“Consider me talked to,” Zuko allows. 

Sokka leans over and steals food right off Zuko’s plate. Zuko makes an attempt to stab him with his chopsticks, but Sokka is too fast for him. Somehow, Zuko can't control his smile when he looks at Sokka.

“Okay,” Toph says from across the table. “When’s it my turn?” 




Toph 

It is a terrible idea already, without adding the chaos that is Toph Beifong. 

Zuko allows himself until the next suggestion of matchmaking before he sighs, weary and wary, and says: “I’m courting again, actually.” 

His advisors don’t seem to mind that he’s courting Toph. They have had two unsuccessful courtships to deal with the issue of a potential Fire Lady being from a foreign nation, and Toph is technically the least problematic of all of Zuko’s recent relationships. She’s a Beifong, after all; she’s of noble blood. 

The fact that Toph is technically not a terrible match briefly distracts them from the fact that Toph is definitely a terrible match. 

For a start, unlike Suki and Katara, Toph has very little patience for accompanying Zuko to parties with dignitaries. Neither Katara nor Suki particularly enjoyed these events, but they didn’t complain about being dressed up, and they smiled and charmed the right people. 

The first time Zuko attempts to have Toph accompany him to an event is also the last time. In Toph’s defence, literally everyone should have seen that coming, including the general who ended up with caramel custard in his hair and stone encasing his shoes. 

(Also in Toph’s defence, nobody prepared her for how much she might have to pretend that someone didn’t belittle Zuko to his face.)

They don’t go on evening walks, or go to see bad plays together, but Toph and Zuko fall into a pattern of sneaking out of the palace and giving Zuko’s guards the slip. It drives Suki crazy, which is an added incentive. And it’s nice for Zuko to see Caldera as an anonymous stranger again, and not as its lord and ruler. 

This time, it doesn’t end with a conversation about marriage. 

It ends with a conversation about Azula. 

“She’s doing all right,” Zuko explains as they wind down an alleyway. Toph’s feet are ensuring that they’re always out of reach of Zuko’s panicking guards. “I’ll visit her again soon, I think.” 

“I’ll go with you if you want. I always kind of liked Azula.”

This is news to Zuko. “Really?”

“Well, you know, I hated her after the whole trying-to-kill-Aang thing, then the whole trying-to-kill-you thing. But hey, she was my first real crush - a girl never gets over that, even if her crush turned out to be evil.” 

Zuko stops in his tracks. 

“What?”

Toph stops with him, but her face is tilted away from Zuko. 

“I never told you?”

“That you had a crush on Azula, or that you had a crush on a girl?” Zuko asks, and then doubles back and says: “Well, no, you never told me either of those things.”

“Oh.” Toph shrugs. “Well, I don’t think it’s a big deal. Don’t worry, I am not looking to court your sister.” 

Zuko allows himself a moment to consider what that would be like, and then decides that the answer is: disastrous. Just completely disastrous. 

“I meant…” He trails off, because he isn’t really sure what he means. “That’s, um. So you’re not looking to… with a man? You’re actually…?”

Toph’s mouth lifts up in a smirk. “You know, for the Fire Lord who repealed the anti-homosexuality laws, you are really awkward about saying the word ‘homosexual’.”

“Sorry,” Zuko says, tugging at his hood. Why is this so weird? This shouldn’t be weird. “I didn’t know. That’s all.”

“Well, now you do.” Toph shrugs. 

Zuko’s spine stiffens as he realises what this all sounds like. “Which I am fine with! I am fully supportive. And I love you, and that’s never changing.”

“Ugh.” Toph’s nose screws up. “Gross. I know you don’t have a problem with it. You hounded the Fire Sages for a year until they created a same-sex wedding ceremony, Zuko, I know you don’t hate me for thinking your crazy sister is kind of hot.” 

Zuko watches her for a moment. “Hm. I think we shouldn’t court anymore.”

“What?” Now Toph does look pissed off. “Because I’m gay?”

“Well. Yeah,” Zuko admits. “I don’t want you to have to pretend to be something you’re not. I mean, it’s fun, but it’s also stopping you from being able to wake up tomorrow and decide you’re going to tell everyone.” The silence stretches out for a moment, and Zuko hastily adds: “Not that I think you have to do that! Just that, I think you should have the chance to.” 

There’s another stint of quiet, and then Toph punches him in the arm, hard. 

“Ow.” 

“That was an affectionate punch,” Toph states. 

“I know. I can tell the difference.” Zuko rubs his bicep. 

Toph starts walking again, and then elbows him. “Hey. I love you too, fake-boyfriend.” 






 

That should be the end of it, because Zuko has run out of candidates for his ‘sweetheart swindle’, as Toph puts it. Zuko doesn’t think he can get away with circling back to courting Katara, so he assumes that this period of calm is over. 

That is, until they’re all involved in a meeting in which General Tomio declares that he’s found Zuko’s next match.

“She is the niece of a high ranking officer, and of noble blood,” General Tomio insists. “I’ve been told she is quiet and well-mannered. We agree that she is a viable match.” 

Katara slams her hand onto the table. “She’s a viable match because she’s quiet and well-mannered?” Katara asks, loudly, and with little care for proper conduct. “Since when is that Zuko’s type?” 

“It is not about types,” General Tomio responds, putting enough feeling into his words to make it seem like Katara’s objection was absurdly immature. “We are looking for a Fire Lady, Master Katara, not simply a dalliance.” 

And Zuko knows that this is intended to be an insult to Katara, but their relationship being fictional means that it doesn’t land. Katara’s scowl is born from her desire to protect Zuko, not offence at her own status in court. 

“Katara’s right,” Aang points out, holding out his hands in a calming gesture. “Who Zuko marries is a matter for Zuko to decide, not any court or council.”

General Tomio doesn’t glare at the Avatar, because it would be scandalous, but he gives off a distinct air of being severely unimpressed. 

“I beg to remind you, Avatar, that the Fire Lord is not at leisure to remain unwed forever.” 

“That’s not actually what this meeting is supposed to be about,” Zuko protests, pinching the bridge of his nose. 

“He should be able to remain unwed all he wants, because he’s a person,” Katara insists, her hand wavering worryingly close to her waterskin. “You can’t force someone to get married, that’s-- that’s--”

“And anyway, Zuko’s courting again, so it’s a moot point,” Sokka interrupts. 

Quiet falls across the meeting room. 

“Ambassador Sokka,” Uncle Iroh says, his voice pleasant and welcoming, as if this meeting isn’t falling apart over the question of Zuko’s nonexistent love life. “I must say: I do think this is a good match.”

“What?” Zuko asks, looking from Uncle to Sokka. Sokka blinks a few times, clearly as confused as Zuko is by Uncle Iroh’s words, and then realisation dawns on his face. Sokka’s smile is as blinding as it is unexpected. “Sokka?”

“You see, generals, ambassadors, Fire Nation important folk,” Sokka declares with a sweep of his arm, “the Fire Lord is currently courting me.” 





Sokka 

Obviously, chaos breaks out. 

Katara laughs so much that she falls off her chair. 

There’s a lot of yelling.

“-- isn’t appropriate for you to court a man, and certainly not without express permission from--”

“-- rebellion breaking out--”

“-- unnatural--” 

Zuko buries his face in his arms for several moments. He kind of wants to throw something at Sokka, preferably a fire-ball, but it would probably be interpreted as Zuko declaring war.

Zuko finally looks up, wishing that today could just be over already, to find that Toph is scowling.

Toph is scowling… as Zuko’s advisors and ambassadors and military professionals are shouting about how awful it would be for the Fire Lord to date a man. And yes, Toph doesn’t need anyone to protect her - let alone Zuko - but a flare of affection and concern lights up within Zuko.

“Quiet,” Zuko requests. Hush falls around the table. It’s one of the strangest things about being the Fire Lord; they all treat him like a child, but the right facial expression and tone of voice, and all these men quadruple his age will wait for his declaration. “What is inappropriate is the conduct in this room right now.”

Zuko lets the silence seep in as he thinks.

“I have been nothing but clear with you that my courtships are my business. And we have spent years undoing the damage Fire Lord Sozin did to the health and happiness of our citizens. I will not hear anyone in this room speak ill against the idea of me courting a man, and I certainly won’t hear anyone speak ill of Ambassador Sokka in my presence.”

Uncle Iroh beams at Zuko. “We wish you all the best in this courtship,” he says, which is definitely not true for the majority of the people in the room.

Zuko notices a few moments too late that he never actually denied courting Sokka. 

So… that becomes a thing. 

Zuko’s fake-ex-girlfriends seem to think this is the best thing to ever happen. Only Aang is sympathetic to Zuko’s predicament, but even then, Zuko catches him trying to smother a grin when Sokka opens Zuko’s door for him and says: “Prince of my heart.”

“‘Prince’ is a demotion,” Zuko points out, stomping past Sokka.

His five best friends, who are also the bane of his very existence, pile into the room after him. 

“So!” Katara sits on Zuko’s desk. “This is why we didn’t work out, Zuko? Because you were pining after my brother?”

“You’re all the worst,” Zuko responds. “I hate you all. Especially you, Sokka. What was that?”

Sokka gasps melodramatically. “Light of my life! How could you speak to me like this?” 

And so they go forward. 

In private, Sokka seems to think that their courtship is the best joke anyone has ever told. In public, they’re not so different from how they usually are. It’s partly an attempt to avoid causing too much of a scandal, but it’s largely because Zuko… doesn’t know what it looks like to court a man. 

At least Sokka is easy to buy gifts for. Sokka appreciates pretty things, and he appreciates useful things, so Zuko doesn’t have to worry too much about it. His advisors are not interested in having Sokka accompany Zuko anywhere, so the whole public element is basically removed from them.

It’s kind of nice, actually? Zuko likes spending time with Sokka. Sokka is probably Zuko’s favourite person in the whole world. The added time with him is hardly a hardship, especially since his advisors aren’t watching their every move. 

(It takes Zuko an embarrassingly long time to realise that they’re less concerned about leaving Zuko and Sokka alone, since it can’t result in a scandalous premarital pregnancy. When Zuko shares that thought with Sokka, Sokka laughs so much that he actually cries.)

They don’t go on dates. 

At first, Zuko thinks this is fine. Courting a woman was different; there was a public spectacle about it, and there were expectations about what it should look like. But nobody really knows what to do with Zuko’s newest courtship, except leaving them alone when they spend time together. So they spar, and they talk about work, and they share gossip. But they don’t date.

Until Uncle Iroh starts asking about it.

See, here’s the thing: Zuko has managed to go through three courtships with his friends without ever directly lying to Uncle Iroh. He says that he’s courting, and that’s true; it’s technically a courtship each time, even if they both know it won’t end in a wedding. Uncle asks “how is the beautiful Katara”, and Zuko answers honestly. 

But then Uncle Iroh lifts his cup of tea, looks thoughtfully into the distance, and says: “I notice you and Sokka don’t seem to be courting in a traditional sense.”

And Zuko’s heart picks up. 

“Uh, yeah,” he stumbles. “It’s… different, courting a man, I think?”

Uncle Iroh hums. “I don’t see why it needs to be so different. Ignore the elders of the court, nephew; they are behind the times. This is about what you wish.”

Zuko thanks him for his advice, which also isn’t a lie, and then realises that Sokka being a man means that Zuko needs to be more convincing in this courtship. This is the fourth of his friends he has ‘courted’. It would be easy, at this point, for someone to see through his plans.

“Well, it doesn’t really matter,” Suki insists. “So what if they think the courtships aren’t real? What are they going to do, accuse you of fake-courting your friends to get them off your back?” 

“We can go on a date if you want, sugarplum,” Sokka says, throwing an arm over Zuko’s shoulder. “What do you want to do? Go on an adventure? Oh, we could go see the dragons; you love the dragons.”

Zuko does love the dragons.

“I want to come!” Aang insists, raising his hand like he’s in class.

Sokka looks thoughtful. “Well, it’s not a date if you come too, is it?” he asks. “Or: double-date with Katara?”

Katara rolls her eyes. “Going to see the dragons isn’t a date, it’s just something we do. If you want to appear to be courting, you need to be seen spending time alone together. Go for walks together in the evenings and look at the flowers.”

Zuko meets Sokka’s eyes. They both screw up their noses in distaste. 

But Katara’s suggestion is the closest thing to public courtship that Zuko can think to do without actually taking Sokka somewhere public. And while Zuko thinks that those who were objecting to the courtship were being awful and offensive, he also recognises that they might not be totally safe in public without a lot of preparations. So they go for a walk in the evening, and Zuko takes Sokka to the turtleduck pond, only to find a picnic basket has been placed there.

Zuko looks to Sokka with a raised eyebrow.

“You barely ate dinner because your meetings ran over,” Sokka points out. “So I thought we could eat out here?”

Sokka sets out a blanket for them to sit on, and then pulls out foods and sweet wines. It’s all Zuko’s favourite things, which Zuko finds really touching, even if he thinks it might be embarrassing to point it out. 

They talk about Sokka’s latest inventions over dinner, and then lie back on the picnic blanket to look at the stars.

“They’re different here to back home,” Sokka points out. “There were all these stories I knew because of the stars at the South Pole.”

“We have star stories, too,” Zuko responds. “Do you want to hear some of them?”

And so they stay out far later than appropriate, as Zuko points to constellations and tells Sokka what he remembers of their myths. He probably gets a lot of it wrong, and there are obvious holes in the narratives, but Sokka doesn’t seem to mind. He counters with stories of the stars of his childhood, and then turns his head to look at Zuko and says: “I’ll take you there and tell you the stories properly sometime.”

Zuko looks over at him. They’re kind of close, he realises. They hadn’t seemed that close when they were shoulder-to-shoulder, pointing upwards. But now, with Zuko’s hair spilling out on the blanket underneath them, with their heads turned toward one another, Zuko realises that they’re so close that he can just about make out the faint freckles across the bridge of Sokka’s nose.

Sokka looks beautiful in the starlight. Zuko's eyes can't seem to get enough of looking at him. The colour has been sapped from everything by the darkness, but his eyes still seem bright and warm and blue. Zuko didn’t know that blue could look warm until Sokka. 

And then Sokka’s eyes dart downwards to Zuko’s mouth, and it takes a moment for Zuko’s mind to catch up with the way that his heart has started pounding. 

This is when Zuko should pull back, should make a comment about how late it is, should leave and shake off the strange pull of want that is coursing through his body. 

He doesn’t. 

After a moment, Sokka props himself up on his elbow. It puts him above Zuko, changes the angle and casts his face in shadows, and they’re technically a little further away now than they were before, but… but it feels closer. Zuko reaches up and presses his hand to Sokka’s chest, and he should push him away. 

Instead, Zuko grasps at Sokka’s tunic and pulls him in. 

When Sokka kisses him, there’s only a moment of confused hesitation before the walls come crumbling down. Zuko tries to pull him down, overwhelmed by the need to be as close to Sokka as possible. Sokka deepens the kiss for a moment, and then draws back to let his gaze rove over Zuko’s face. 

Zuko doesn’t know what he’s looking for, but apparently he finds it. 

If it’s a secret at all that fake-courting Sokka has turned into… whatever this is, the ‘secret’ only lasts until the next morning.

Zuko really needs better friends and better guards. 

Zuko wakes with the sun, as always, but for once he decides to stay in bed. Sokka is sleeping next to him, his arm thrown over Zuko’s waist, and Zuko isn’t sure he’s ever been more comfortable. So he lies there, half-dozing, allowing himself to be happy-- 

Up until the moment that his door bursts open.

“We booked you for a breakfast meeting!” Aang declares, and then stops in the doorway. 

He jolts a few times as Katara, Suki, and Toph all walk into his back. 

“Um.” Zuko tries not to panic. “Um?”

Sokka shifts, coaxed into the waking world by the disturbance. “Hmm,” he hums, not opening his eyes. He presses his face into Zuko’s neck. “You feel good.”

“Company!” Zuko squeaks as Sokka’s hand starts to drift under the covers. “We have company!” 

Sokka looks up through the curtain of his loose hair. For a moment, he stares at their friends in the doorway, eyes not really fixating on anything. 

“Um,” Sokka says, eloquently. 

“Oh shit,” Toph comments, delighted.

“We… will come back… later?” Aang suggests. 

Zuko tries to agree, but all he manages is: “Um.”

And then their friends are gone, and Sokka’s hand is kind of still on Zuko’s bare thigh, and Zuko might die of embarrassment. 

But when the confusion of being caught in Zuko’s bed fades from Sokka, he just nuzzles back into Zuko’s neck and says: “Well, I guess that awkward moment saved us an awkward conversation.”

And just like that, Zuko is actually courting Sokka. 

It should be weird. But somehow, it isn’t. 

Zuko should be freaking out over the fact that Sokka is male-shaped, but honestly, he thinks this might explain a lot about Zuko’s previous attempts at liking girls. And all the other pieces - the ‘but is it reciprocated’ piece, the ‘will we ruin our friendship’ piece - they’ve been taken care of already. Zuko knows that Sokka likes him and wants to court him. And they’ve already made the hasty decision to fall into bed together, so whatever bad repercussions are waiting for them can’t be avoided anymore anyway.

Plus, Sokka has already announced his intentions to Zuko’s court.  

They kind of accidentally set themselves up for success. 

“Actually courting,” Katara repeats later that evening, looking back and forth between Zuko and her brother. “Not… Fake courting and faking it for us, too?”

“Actually courting,” Sokka confirms. 

Toph throws a pillow at Zuko. “How come you didn’t tell me you were gay?” 

“I didn’t know!” Zuko insists, and then deals with five incredulous expressions. “I didn’t know until Sokka kissed me!” 

“Aww,” Sokka leans over to ruffle Zuko’s hair and then kiss him on the temple. “That’s flattering. And kind of hot.”

“Ew,” Katara comments. 

Aang draws a deep, shuddering breath. “I’m so happy for you!” He gestures to both of them. “I love you both so much, and you’re in love, and I love that!” 

Sokka and Zuko both freeze. They avoid each other’s eyes, but Zuko can see that his blush is reflected on Sokka’s face. At least this is awful and embarrassing for both of them. 

“But,” Aang says, and then clears his throat. Zuko looks up again to find that Aang is pouting. “But this means that I won’t get a chance to court Zuko.”

“Hands off, buddy,” Sokka insists.

Aang’s pout deepens. “It was going to be my turn next!” 

“I tell you what, Aang,” Zuko says, “if it doesn’t work out between me and Sokka, I’ll court you afterwards.”

Sokka ruffles Zuko’s hair again. “You don’t get to say that!” Zuko laughs, trying to duck out of Sokka’s grasp, only to find that Sokka overpowers him and clings like a koala sloth. “Nope! This one’s for the long haul, hotman, just you see.” 

Zuko hides his grin as the others express their distaste. 




 

And Not Aang

When the seasons start to turn, Zuko’s advisors begin to look nervous. 

Zuko asks about this, and Uncle explains: “Ah. You see, nephew, your courtships never seem to last very long. And your advisors have picked up on a pattern.” 

“A pattern?” Zuko asks.

Uncle Iroh hides his smile behind his teacup. “See, some of the advisors have been preparing for the international incident that might occur should you declare that you are courting the Avatar.” 

Zuko huffs a laugh. “I don’t think you have to worry about that.” When Uncle tilts his head, Zuko adds: “I think… Me and Sokka.” 

“Oh?” Uncle asks, and doesn’t hide his smile this time.

Zuko nods. “Yeah.”