A/N: This was written for ceruleanavatar on Tumblr for the Avatar fandom secret santa.
"Pick it up, Zuko! We haven't got all night!"
Zuko turned to glare at Sokka from his place on the ramp that connected his ship to the land. Sokka was entirely unbothered at having the Fire Lord, one of the most powerful people in the world, glaring at him. He just shrugged and made a "hurry up!" motion with his hand in response. Zuko rolled his eyes and turned back to the men who were carrying his belongings past him down the ramp. Zuko had tried to help, but as usual, he'd been denied. Being the Fire Lord should have meant he could do whatever he pleased, but apparently that didn't extend to carrying his own luggage unless he really wanted to put up a fight. The servants seemed so shocked and confused when he'd tried in the past that Zuko had eventually decided it was just easier to let them carry it while he stood there feeling like he should be doing more to help.
They had traveled lightly. They had to leave the day after the wedding for something back in the Fire Nation, so it wouldn't be a long trip. The servants had everything off of the ship in less than five minutes, which made Sokka's continuing noises, loud enough to carry all the way up the ramp of the ship, even more unnecessary.
Several Water Tribe people milled about as if they'd wanted to see the Fire Lord arrive but didn't want to appear too interested in him. This was the first time Zuko had been back here since he stormed into Katara and Sokka's village years ago. He felt a slight heat fill his cheeks as he descended the ramp, eyes down to avoid any awkward eye contact with the people who could potentially still be holding a grudge.
Upon reaching Sokka and Aang, he glanced up. His wife had disappeared with the rest of the women almost as soon as they'd docked. Sokka seemed annoyed that they'd gotten away so quickly while the three of them were still there. He huffed as Zuko approached.
"We're going to be behind schedule," he complained.
"It's fine, Sokka," Aang interjected. He was smiling and was entirely unworried about whatever was plaguing Sokka. "The only goal of tonight is to have fun, right? You're not going to do that if you're being so uptight about some schedule."
Sokka glared at the man who would be his brother-in-law come tomorrow. "If we don't follow the schedule, then we're not going to have all of the fun."
Zuko glanced around at the small city. It was bigger than it had been during the war just by virtue of the fact that all of the small villages had come back together again. Men could be seen everywhere in stark contrast to Zuko's past experience with the Southern Water Tribe, and the amount of young children running around had to be the product of a post-war baby boom. But the Southern Water Tribe was still by no means cosmopolitan.
"What are we even going to do in this place?"
The words were out of Zuko's mouth before he had even stopped to consider Sokka's reaction. Aang cringed, ducking around Zuko to be as far from Sokka as possible. Only shoving Zuko closer to Sokka in the process.
"Excuse me," Sokka grit out, eyes darker than they'd been only seconds before.
He wasn't actually angry. Not at a level that would warrant any worrying on Zuko's part at least. Not too long in the past Zuko would have been panicking that he'd permanently damaged their tenuous friendship. But their friendship wasn't tenuous anymore. Sokka was one of Zuko's closest friends, and Sokka knew that Zuko couldn't be expected to always realize how his words would sound to others before they were out of his mouth.
For that reason, Zuko didn't bother to apologize.
"There's nothing here," he pointed out to a still annoyed Sokka.
Sokka let out a noise of frustration. "Excuse me, Mr. Powerful Fire Lord. Someone had to be off running a nation or something, leaving me in charge of tonight's plans. Some other two people were the ones who decided they just had to get married at the South Pole. I have done the best I could! Especially since I was all alone, so I do not want to hear you complain."
Zuko sighed. "And why are you getting married here again?" he asked Aang. "Why not Republic City? I know the Earth Queen wasn't fond of you getting married on any particular nation's soil, so that would have been a good compromise. Or you could have gotten married at an Air Temple. That would have been nice."
"But this is Katara's home," Aang explained. He sounded passionate, like he'd had to explain himself just a few too many times to other people who didn't understand. "Of course we were going to get married here. It makes the most sense. The Air Temples just wouldn't be the same for me as this is for her."
"There," Sokka said, motioning furiously at Aang. "There's your justification. We're here. We're celebrating Aang's last night before he's a married man. Shut up and enjoy it, Zuko."
"Just one more question," Zuko said. "Why is it only the three of us?"
Sokka's shoulders drooped. "You were the only one I could convince. The other guys are all coming in tomorrow morning before the wedding. Something about not wanting to be here longer than they have to be or something."
"But that's okay," Aang said cheerily. "Because who would I rather spend tonight with than my two best friends who I'm not marrying?" He wrapped his arms around Sokka's and Zuko's shoulders. "Except Toph." His smile dropped into a frown. "I hope she didn't hear that."
"She sees with her feet," Sokka pointed out. "She doesn't have super hearing. Besides, you heard her loud complaints about being blind for the past 48 hours just like I did, right?"
"I did, but those complaints were mostly directed towards you. You've been like her personal punching bag since she got here. I think it's her way of coping."
Zuko grinned. "Sounds like Toph. Violence always seems to get her mind off of things."
"But why violence towards me?" Sokka grumbled. "I didn't drag her here."
"I think it's some weird sort of wedding present for me and Katara, the not beating up on us. You were all she had."
Sokka's frown deepened. "I thought she just liked being mean to me."
Aang shrugged. "That too. That's always true. You should have accepted it a long time ago."
"Yay for me."
"At least you have plenty of ice for the bruises."
Sokka chose to ignore Zuko's jab about the South Pole.
They'd entered was was truly the small city now, ice houses dotting the edge of the road. It was still nothing to rival the North, but the South was something to see now compared to during the war. Sokka's shoulders straightened and he held his head high as the three men traveled along the street. He always felt a sense of pride when he visited his home, and he did so regularly. A part of him wished that he had made his primary home here, but things had worked out differently, which led to him settling for regular visits instead.
"Where are we going?" Zuko asked. The firebender was a little cold even with his firebending to regulate his temperature. Sokka sometimes had to remind himself that not everyone had grown up in this sort of weather. This was a nice summer heat as far as he was concerned.
"Since your stuff has been taken care of, I wanted to kick the fun part off right away," Sokka explained. He stopped in front of one of the ice buildings where loud music could be heard inside. "Welcome to The Ice House, the South Pole's premiere bar."
"By 'premiere' he means only," Aang whispered low enough for Sokka not to hear.
Sokka led the way into the bar, which was warmer inside than Zuko had expected. The place was nearly deserted, but the few people that were there cheered as the trio entered, standing up to greet Sokka and Aang like old friends. They were all chatting on as Zuko glanced around the room. He spotted her then, feet propped up on the table in front of her. Zuko headed towards her table without glancing back at Sokka and Aang.
"Aren't you supposed to be with Katara?" Zuko asked as he sat across from her.
Toph jumped, not used to being caught off guard and let out a few choice curse words directed towards the distinct lack of earth anywhere around her. Then she stilled as if trying to sense things through the air instead.
"Aren't you supposed to be with Sokka and Aang?"
"They're over there." Zuko pointed, not thinking about how useless that was for Toph.
"Well, Sugar Queen is somewhere too."
"You don't know where?"
Toph shrugged. "She wanted a pedicure before her wedding, and letting other people near my feet is the last thing I'll do in this place. I've been punished enough. I had her drop me off here. I think she'll pick me up when she's done."
"And if she doesn't?"
"It's Katara. I'm a poor, defenseless blind girl trapped in a bar. She'll come back. If not I'll just sleep here. Got everything I need."
Sokka and Aang appeared then. Aang was in good spirits, but Sokka frowned down at Toph as if the sight of her was disappointing somehow.
"You're not supposed to be here. This is a guys' night. Where's Katara?"
"I already went through all of this with Sparky." She sighed. "Pedicure. Feet. No. Here. She'll come back."
"But you can't be here," Sokka whined. "This is Men's Night."
Toph didn't even bother to respond verbally, just pulled a face that made it abundantly clear how she felt about Sokka's use of the term "Men's Night." Sokka watched her for several minutes, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet even though Aang had already taken a seat next to Zuko.
"Toph," Sokka tried again. This time the earthbender reached out to grab the fabric of his shirt, her aim remarkably good considering she had lost her sight. She yanked hard enough to force Sokka to sit in the chair next to her. He went quiet but continued to pout. Even though Toph couldn't see this, she seemed to sense it. She smirked to herself as she tipped her glass back to get the last drops of whatever alcohol it was she was drinking.
"Cheer up, Sokka," Aang said from his spot across the table. "This is great. When was the last time the four of us all just sat around and talked?"
Toph's smirk dropped to a frown. "Ew. No. I don't like how sappy that sounds."
"Talking?" Zuko asked.
"With Twinkle Toes, he may say 'talking' but I expect feelings to start getting involved."
The door to the bar opened, causing all of its occupants to turn and watch Katara enter. The same men who had greeted Aang and Sokka also greeted her, and she smiled brightly as she passed them on the way to her fiancé, brother, and friends.
"I thought you three would be here by the time I showed up." She pulled up a chair next to Aang's. "Hi, Zuko. Nice to see you."
Zuko greeted her quickly noticing that Sokka was gearing up to respond as well.
"Seriously, guys!" Sokka said indignantly. "Does no one respect the idea of Men's Night?"
Katara's nose wrinkled. "Not if you're calling it that. Besides, isn't this Aang's night? Or my night for that matter? As long as we're happy, what's the big deal?"
"You two," he pointed accusingly at Katara and Aang, "are entirely missing the point of your last night of freedom."
"Didn't we technically lose our freedom or whatever when we started dating?" Aang asked. "I'm pretty sure I already can't do anything that I won't be able to do after tomorrow. Does that make sense?"
"Yes," Katara assured him, patting his hand. "But you're in luck, Sokka, because Suki, Mai, and Ty Lee are with Gran Gran back at the house, and I don't want to leave them there that long."
Toph pushed her chair back from the table, enjoying the loud screech it caused. "Into the fray I go," she announced. "Lead me away, Sugar Queen."
She stuck one of her palms out for Katara to take. Katara rose quickly and took the offered hand before wrapping an arm more securely around Toph's waist instead. She moved Toph several steps until they were next to Aang again.
"Have fun tonight, sweetie. See you in the morning." She kissed his cheek before everyone else exchanged goodbyes.
The guys could hear Toph going on about how "digging up the snow to get to the dirt couldn't be that difficult of a thing to do here" as she was led out of the bar.
"Now then," Sokka declared once the girls were out of sight. "Let's actually get things started."
He held his hands up high as if revealing something exciting. Zuko just stared in derision while Aang took a sip of his drink, some unusual sort of thing that neither Zuko nor Sokka had ever heard of. It might have even been non-alcoholic, which was why Sokka kept shooting disapproving glances at the glass.
"So," Zuko paused for emphasis, glancing around at their unchanging surroundings. "Things have started now, huh?"
Sokka's shoulders drooped. "Just get drunk and shut up."
As it turned out, Sokka wasn't that great at holding his liquor.
"I should have seen this coming after the cactus juice incident," Aang mumbled as he and Zuko guided the other man along the street.
"He only had, like, two drinks," Zuko complained. "He has to be faking this."
Zuko, on the other hand, hadn't even finished his first drink due to Sokka's choice words and some angry glares in their direction. Aang had went through three drinks of his own, but Zuko had become increasingly sure that there was no alcohol in those.
"I told you this would be fun," Sokka slurred in Zuko's ear. He let out a loud cheer for no reason at all.
The passerby all seemed to recognize the three of them, and many of them were giggling into their hands as they passed. It was remarkable how Aang continued to wave at them as if nothing strange was occurring. Zuko didn't even know these people and had turned a light red.
"So much fun," Sokka continued to mutter in different variations and repetitions. There was slobber dripping down his chin, and Aang pushed the man closer to Zuko to avoid it.
"Yes," Zuko grunted. "Fun."
Even Aang seemed to have mellowed out. A pensive look was on his face as they maneuvered through town.
"You'll have lots of fun in bed, Sokka," Aang said.
"No," Sokka moaned. "Not bed. Not home."
"Yes, home," Aang said. "I'm not toting you around all night. Besides, it's late."
"It's eight o'clock at night," Zuko pointed out.
He motioned to the sky, which was still light thanks to their proximity to the pole in the middle of the summer.
"Don't want to be tired tomorrow," Aang admitted.
"What were you planning to do when Sokka was going to drag us around everywhere tonight?"
"Oh, his only plans were the bar. He couldn't come up with anything else. As soon as he suggested that I figured something like this would happen. I suggested penguin sledding, but he refused that right away. We would have had so much fun, Zuko!"
Zuko may have been giving Sokka a hard time earlier about this being Aang's night and therefore meant to please him and not Sokka himself, but he was actually quite happy that Sokka had taken control of that one. He shuddered to think about getting on one of those things.
"And you didn't think to warn me that we'd be dragging a drunk Sokka through the street?"
Aang shrugged as much as he could with one of Sokka's arms around his shoulder.
"Didn't see you alone before it all happened."
"Aang, do you remember the night before my wedding?"
They'd reached the residential part of the Southern Water Tribe. Things weren't as hectic here as everyone was either where they had come from or inside with their families. Significantly less people were wandering down the streets and staring at them.
"Of course I remember." Aang sounded much brighter than he should have been carrying Sokka around. "We sat around and played Pai Sho with Iroh all night while Sokka complained."
"Yes, well, this is why I did that."
"Pai Sho actually doesn't sound that bad. You want to play a game when we get back?"
"I don't care what we do. I just want to get Sokka off of me."
"Love you too, Zuko," Sokka mumbled. He'd been blathering on the entire trip, but Zuko and Aang had become good at tuning it out.
"Yes, we all love each other," Aang allowed as they approached the house he seemed to be heading for. "Now let's get you inside and all of that."
Sokka recognized where they were immediately, and he threw himself onto the couch, grinning as he drifted off to sleep. Aang was quick to pull out a Pai Sho board, setting it up on the low table right in the middle of the front room. Sokka's snores quickly faded into background noise as the two men played.
Their night went on like that for several hours until the room became oddly quiet. It took Aang and Zuko several moments to realize that it was due to the lack of Sokka's snoring. They turned to watch the man fully wake up.
Sokka froze as he took in Aang and Zuko sitting around the Pai Sho board. "Oh, no. No, no, no. This isn't happening. Not again! We swore never again!"
"You swore never again," Zuko pointed out. "Want to play the winner?"
Sokka pouted for several minutes before he finally answered, "Fine, but we're doing something else when it's my turn to get married."
"Okay, Sokka," Aang allowed, not glancing up from the game board where he was deciding his next move.
Sokka continued to mumble angrily to himself for the rest of the night.