My attempt (and dismal failure) at male bonding. Sokka and Zuko style.
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar. I can barely keep up with the plot as it is.
" Hey, how come its black?"
Sokka looked up, hand frozen in mid-polish, to see Zuko eying his sword with genuine, keen interest.
It'd been years –years and years and years, stretching on into what seemed like an eternity- since Sokka had had a real, decent conversation with a peer. Being the only boy his age in the village to be left behind (stayed behind to protect it, his father had always insisted. Sokka had smiled and nodded and called the lie only when he was alone with no one to hear) had put something of a damper on his social life. Surrounded by the elderly of the village, toddlers barely walking, and a sister two years his junior, he'd spent most of his time practicing and building up defenses and trying (that most definitely being the keyword) to train the aforementioned toddlers to defend themselves.
It took the Avatar to make him realize that he was in serious need of some friends his own age.
(And also that he was really more of an idea guy, but that was another story all together.)
They'd encountered age-mates of course. But none of them had appealed to Sokka. Not girly, sensitive Haru, not vengeful, furious Jet, and of course not that stuck up little jerk who called himself Princess Yue's intended. He'd sat back and watched as Aang and Katara flitted about, making friends and gathering allies, bonding and connecting, as he stayed the silent (well, not so silent) protector, the first to raise the alarm at a potentially corrupting person. His father had charged him with the safety of the village and the safety of his baby sister, and so protecting her was as much a part of his nature as breathing. Aang, bouncy, naïve Aang who'd had friends (actual friends) in the Fire Nation a century ago, certainly needed a more experienced, worldly guy to keep an eye on him, show him that the world had changed while he sat frozen in ice. Toph, for all her toughness and rough exterior, had the same soft, kind, 'heart-of-gold' that Sokka had seen a million times: In Katara, in Aang, in Gran-Gran. (But surprisingly, never in his own reflection, where it shown brightest.) It wasn't so hard to take Toph under his guarding wing. He had one sister. Who said he couldn't have another?
So he watched and protected and let the others run off and make friends while he stayed right where he was, just like his father had ordered him to what felt like a lifetime ago.
And then suddenly, he had a peer.
The only problem was, said peer was the heir-apparent of everything Sokka despised and feared.
Slowly, he put the rag of the floor of the temple, watching Zuko's earnest gold eyes stare at the shifting patterns the flickering firelight they'd had Aang light made on the ebony of the weapon. There was no sneer in the other boy's face, no curl of his lip, and no distaste in his eyes. There was only the honest curiousity and thirst for knowledge that Sokka had seen in his own eyes more often than not. He gaze drifted over Zuko's, and landed on the blades strapped to the ex-prince's back.
And Sokka remembered that Zuko liked swords too.
" The sword? Oh, that's just the way it is."
" I can see that genius." Zuko rolled his eyes, and Sokka felt some weird kind of anticipation build in his gut. " What I meant was what material did you use to make it? I've never seen metal that colour before."
He was staring at the sword with something that might've been fascination and, despite himself, Sokka couldn't help but hold his weapon up proudly, letting the fire illuminate the dark blade.
" That's because it's not made of a metal." He paused for dramatic effect, quite enjoying the look on Zuko's face, half way between disbelief and wonder.
" It's made out of a meteor."
Zuko blinked once, twice, and continued stared at the sword. His eyes roamed over the flickering blade, the gold handle and the glittering gold of the sheath that rested on the Water Tribe boy's crossed legs. Sokka fidgeted uncomfortably under the scrutiny, looking into the flames, the starry sky through the open terrace beside them, the vine creeping up the wall, anywhere but the intense golden eyes that were locked onto his sword.
" Paint a portrait." He snapped irritably. " It'll last longer."
Zuko blinked again, seemed to realize what he was doing, and immediately averted his gaze, faint red dusting his cheeks.
" Sorry." He mumbled, and Sokka was suddenly struck by how different this quiet, helpful Zuko was from the arrogant, prick of a prince who'd been chasing them all over the world for spirits only knew how many months. The Zuko sitting across from him seemed so eager to please, so ready to help. He was polite and soft-spoken and rarely said anything to anyone outside of Aang and more notably Toph, to whom he could be seen describing sunsets and starry skies and the moon. This Zuko didn't like to upset anyone. He tended to apologize whenever he did something that seemed to offend any person in their group. He was adjusting, Sokka reasoned, trying to feel everyone out, learn their boundaries. And he was quick to say sorry when he thought he'd crossed them.
And to his immense shock, Sokka found himself reaching out to this Zuko.
" This is so weird!" He said at length, leaning back on the floor to stare up into the darkness that was all he could see of the ceiling. Somewhere off to his left, Zuko's red shirt rustled quietly.
" What's weird?" A voice, ridiculously unlike the Zuko Sokka had come to know, asked.
" You being so nice."
" Are you saying I can't be nice?" The same voice, coloured with just a hint of sarcasm, asked, and, before he knew what he was doing, Sokka had rolled over to face the other boy.
" C'mon, Zuko!" He sighed in exasperation. " The only way I've ever gotten to know you is as the Angry Jerk."
" The what?!" Zuko squawked, and Sokka found himself snickering.
" That's what I called you when you weren't around. In fact," He rubbed his chin, " I may have called you that when you were around, but you probably didn't hear me." He glanced over at Zuko, who was looking at him with a mixture of amusement and anger.
" What? You always had this ticked look on your face, like someone just stole your last piece of blue seal-lion jerky!" Sokka laughed and eyed his sword, still lying by the fire. He reached for it and stuck it back into its sheath, reveling in the slight 'whoosh' of the metal entering.
" If someone stole my last piece of blue seal-lion jerky, I wouldn't be angry. I'd be murderous."
Zuko's voice, dark and serious, startled Sokka out of his thoughts. He shot a look over a Zuko, expecting to find the customary scowl and knitted together eyebrows that Sokka had come to know as Zuko's usually expression.
What he found was a Zuko grinning a teasing grin, just the barest hint of a sparkle in his eyes. Sokka looked him, looked at the easy going curl of his lips, the warm hue the fire cast on his face, the friendly light in his eyes (both of them. Suddenly, the scar didn't look so bad.), and decided maybe he could see what Aang saw in the guy.
" You'd kill for seal-lion jerky?" The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.
" Of course." Zuko scoffed. " I love that stuff."
" If you like blue seal-lion jerky," Sokka said slowly, eyes widening as though he'd been struck by an epiphany, " then I guess you can't be all bad. No one who's a complete jerk through and through could like blue seal-lion jerky."
" Let me get this straight. My worth is getting judged by my preference in jerky?"
" Well, meat in general, I think. At the very least, you're no vegetarian." Sokka sighed again, gesturing dramatically. " I love Aang, I really do, but how he can live without meat is beyond me. I mean, I tried to give it. I tried really hard, but I just couldn't do it."
" I hear that." Zuko agreed, flopping down onto the floor as Sokka had done only minutes before. " When Uncle and I were on the run, sometimes we were limited to whatever we could forage, and ox-panther ribs don't exactly grow on trees."
" I love those." Sokka agreed. " And hump-backed trout."
" With seamed rice and red peppers." Zuko murmured dreamily. " Covered with onions and thyme from the southern border."
" And sugar-snow with earth Kingdom pink cherry sauce for dessert."
" What about baked clams from the Eastern Earth Kingdom seas?"
" I prefer mussels myself. And garlic shrimp on top of brush rabbit-chicken, grilled over an open fire."
" Stop it, I'm getting hungry. Ever had roasted desert ferret-cobra?"
" What's a ferret-cobra?"
" It's like a furry snake. The skin is used to make hats and gloves and stuff. The ferret-cobra lives underground, in some of the deserts of the Fire Nation. Once skinned, it can be boiled, stewed, fried, pretty much anything. But I like it best roasted."
" Is it good?" Sokka ventured, leaning back on his elbows. On the floor beside him, Zuko snorted.
" Good? It's to die for. It's all crispy on the outside, kinda salty and brittle, and then tender and sorta chewy on the inside. It's served with this mango…papaya…peachy dipping sauce, I dunno, it's fruity. I never really asked what was in the sauce. Anyway, you break off a piece of the cobra, dip it in the sauce, and then it's like…well, I can't describe it, but it's the greatest thing ever. You've got to try it."
" From the sounds of it, sure. But how exactly am I supposed to get a Fire Nation delicacy?" The sarcasm was not missed. For a moment or two, there was silence, and Sokka wondered if he'd stumped Zuko, of if the boy was about to apologize for accidentally offending him. Turning to Zuko, preparing to tell him a 'sorry' wasn't necessary, he was surprise to find Zuko avoiding his eyes, staring into the fire.
" Once we beat my father," Zuko began, tentatively, as if frightened his tongue was about to say something stupid, " and this war is over and done with…you, uh…you wanna come and get some ferret-cobra? …You know, like,…a, um…a dinner party? At the palace? Once my father's gone, all of us, you, me, Aang" (It was the first time he'd heard Zuko call Aang by his name) " everybody can get together and just…just…"
" Party?" Sokka suggested, feeling something weird in his stomach.
" Yeah. Just…just finally get to be kids again. Just forget for a little while that this whole ever happened."
" Sort of a 'The Hundred Year War is Over-Party at Zuko's Place!' kinda thing?"
" Yeah. It could be fun, right?" He looked up, grinning that teasing grin again, and Sokka returned it in kind. " I-I mean…if you guys…want to…" He quickly averted his eyes. " It's the least I can do…it's my people doing this…"
" But it's not you specifically." Sokka reasoned, trying to remember a time when he'd seen Zuko as he saw everyone other person in Fire Nation clothes: Evil, sick, and violent. When had it altered? When had Zuko, in the few weeks he'd been here, possibly in the span of their conversation, had Zuko stopped being the enemy, the 'angry jerk' and started being…started being…
" Tell that to your sister." Zuko muttered, and Sokka's train of thought petered out.
" Wha?" Was the intelligent reply.
" I don't think she like me very much." Was the mumbled, barely heard response, as Zuko had both turned over and leaned his face against his elbow, effectively muffling his own speech.
" Whatever gave you that impression?" Sokka asked sarcastically.
" The fact that she mocks me at every given opportunity, goes out of her way to make me feel miserable, constantly reminds me of my messing up in Ba Sing Se." Zuko rolled back over and looked directly at Sokka. " And then there's the fact that she threatened to kill me if I 'give her any reason to think I'll hurt Aang.'"
" She…Katara…death threat…what?!"
" That was my train of thought!" Zuko groused, throwing his hands up in the air in frustration. " I mena, I can see where she's coming from, but that doesn't mean I have to like it, right?"
" She threatened you?"
" Didn't I just explain that?"
" My baby sister? Katara?"
" I hate to be the one to break this to you, but your sister is scary."
" Oh, like you're one to talk!" Sokka huffed to the ceiling. " You little sister is the queen of scary!"
" No arguments here. Azula is scary."
" Beyond scary."
" Way beyond scary."
" Downright terrifying."
" Absolutely terrifying!"
" Makes-you-want-to-run-away-screaming terrifying!"
" Hey, you've only known her a few months! I've had to live with her practically my whole life!"
"…Point taken. Hey, does that mean you've known the two weirdoes that hang around with her for that long too?"
Zuko rolled over to look at him, annoyance clear on his face.
" One of those weirdoes is my girlfriend."
The world stopped turning as Sokka's mind processed the information.
" What?!" He choked, staring at the prince like he'd grown an extra head. Never, not once, had it occurred to him that Zuko could be in a relationship with someone. It's never struck him until that very moment that Zuko was just as capable of falling in love as anyone, was just as easily attracted as Sokka himself to a girl. It hit Sokka suddenly that Zuko was every bit as human as he was. Zuko, the Fire Prince who'd chased after them and hunted them down. Zuko, who'd been a jerk and cold and stubborn in all the time Sokka had known him. Zuko, who was related to the Fire Lord they had to defeat.
Zuko, who'd come of his own free will, to join them, and put an end to the war.
Zuko, who was proving, more and more, to be thoughtful and kind and helpful.
Zuko, who somewhere along the way, had stopped being Sokka's enemy…
…and started being his friend.
The truth struck Sokka harder than any blow in any fight he'd ever been in. It stole the air from his lungs and swept thoughts from his mind in one, well-aimed punch. Zuko, the boy he'd scorned and hated and jeered at and made fun of, was his friend. He was the Angry Jerk anymore, he wasn't even the Fire Nation's prince anymore. He wasn't the guy who chased after them in his ship. He wasn't the guy who was always trying to capture Aang, the last hope their world had. He wasn't dressed in armor anymore, and he wasn't firebending to attack anymore. He wasn't a jerk, wasn't angry, and without a shadow of a doubt, wasn't the enemy anymore. He was his friend.
The first real friend his age Sokka had ever had.
Despite himself, Sokka felt a grin break over his features.
Evidently Zuko did not share in Sokka's discovery and subsequent 'fuzzy feelings', as the scowl on his (admittedly pink) face only deepened.
" Alright then, if you're so great, what about you?"
" What about me what?"
Zuko let out a snarl of frustration.
" You're love life, you water-logged idiot! You keep laughing about me having a girlfriend, but the only girls you've ever been in contact with are your sister and Toph!"
" Hey!" Sokka stated indignantly. " I'll have you know I kissed Princess Yue at the North Pole! And I'm in a relationship right now!"
" With who?" Was the incredulous, disbelieving question.
" With Suki!" Was the furious reply.
" One of the Kyoshi warriors you're witch of a sister captured!"
Zuko blinked, comprehension dawning on his face.
" The fan-girl?" He whispered in shock. " You actually managed to get someone like her interested in you?"
" What's that supposed to mean?!"
" That she's waaay outta your league, my friend."
" She made the first move!"
" Oh, this I gotta hear."
" Fine! It started when we landed at Kyoshi, because Aang wanted to ride some big fish or something…"
The next morning, when Katara came walking out onto the terrace, stretching her arms and yawning, she found Zuko and Sokka clashing blades, sweating slightly, and grinning for all they were worth.
And there you have it.
I hope you've all enjoyed this.