"Trials of the Emperor"

Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: the Last Airbender – it belongs to Nickelodeon. I am making no profit from writing this fanfiction.

Warnings: Yaoi, Profanity, Angst

Summary: A sad one-shot telling of the pain Zuko and Sokka feel because they know their relationship must come to an end. Zuko has duties to fulfill as the new emperor, and they both have women waiting for them.

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Moonlight filled Zuko's room through his window, causing his eyes to flutter open slowly. He could feel him, his lover, feel his body on his own. Sokka lay sleeping on top of Zuko, resting his head on the firebender's strong chest.

Zuko took in the scene: Sokka's long hair was unruly – a result from their actions a few hours earlier. Sokka had been amazing, sending jolts of energy through Zuko that he wished would last forever. Sokka's body moved up and down every time Zuko breathed. Before joining the Avatar, Zuko would never imagined himself falling for another man, but he had allowed the young warrior from the Water Tribe to steal his heart.

Reaching out carefully, Zuko ran a hand through Sokka's hair softly; he remained that way for a few moments, a few precious moments. Finally, Sokka began to stir.

The smaller boy's eyes opened, and he stared into Zuko's passionately. "Hey...jerk..." he said playfully.

Zuko smirked. "Hello to you too," he said. "How do you feel?"

It was Sokka's turn to smirk. "I feel fine. In fact, I feel too good. If I'm able to walk straight in the morning, then you've didn't done your job right tonight!"

"You don't have any decency, do you?" Zuko groaned out in reply to Sokka's perverted joke.

"None whatsoever," Sokka replied. "Aww Aww, hey!" Sokka cried out indignantly, raising his hands in defense as Zuko gave he a series of nuggies, ruffling his hair in a playful fashion.

"If you really want, I can see to it that you don't walk straight for the next week," Zuko warned, grinning.

"MMMMM, as... exciting as that sounds, I have to do some traveling this week, so I'll have to pass."

With a quick movement Zuko flipped Sokka over, placing himself on top of the smaller boy. "Can't handle anymore, huh?"

"I didn't say that," Sokka said, look at his paramour lovingly.

Sokka reached a hand up and caressed Zuko's check. The two stared at each other for a couple of seconds, and finally they moved together in the deeper embrace of a kiss, a kiss both of them desperately wanted to never end, but it would only live on forever in their memories...

Zuko knew, he knew it was coming very soon. Their relationship could not last, and that knowledge was more painful than when his own father had permanently scarred him. His father, who was dead now, ending the war that had devastated the world for so long, left him with the title of Fire Lord. And that was why he knew it was coming, the time when he would have to end his affair with the water tribesman.

Iroh had learned of his nephew's liaison with Sokka, and had explained to him the responsibilities of the Fire Lord. Iroh told Zuko with a heavy heart that if he was to rule over the Fire Nation, he would have to take a wife to carry on his royal line. Furthermore, it was going to be a long and difficult road to recovery between the Fire Nation and the other Nations, and discovering the Fire Lord in any awkward situations, like having a male lover, would only make things harder.

The newly appointed Fire Lord couldn't help but feel anger towards his Uncle. Even so, he could not stay mad at the old man, as he was only imparting wisdom and truth upon him. And Zuko could see the evident pain in Iroh's face, and hear it in his voice, as he explained these things to him. All Iroh wanted for Zuko was to be happy, and taking away anything that made him happy caused his uncle pain. Zuko knew how much his uncle cared about him, and was grateful for all he had done for him.

The meetings with the other Nations would begin next week, meaning Zuko had to tell Sokka before he left in the morning. The stress was beginning to wear Zuko down. Thankfully, the night with Sokka relieved much of that. Still, the deed needed to be done.

Zuko broke his meaningful kiss with Sokka and looked down at him sadly.

Sokka wore a look of confusion upon his countenance. "Something wrong, Zu-zu?" he asked, using his nickname to try and lighten the mood.

Zuko smile melancholy. "I thought I told you not to call me that."

Sokka grinned. "So? I don't take orders from you, Lord Zu-zu," Sokka stated, boldly sarcastic.

A morose sigh was released from Zuko's body. "Sokka," he whispered.

"Hmm?" Sokka responded, though he not really paying attention. Sokka put his arms around Zuko's neck and raised his head up. His tongue lashed out, licking Zuko's chest.

Zuko shuddered in pleasure, and jumped in surprise when Sokka took a nipple into his mouth. "So...Sokka..."

Sokka moved his head back and forth forcefully on the nipple until he licked a trail across Zuko's chest to his second one.

"Sokka," Zuko said, struggling to fight the pleasure.

Sokka was having fun, he usually did, when he made Zuko squirm like that.

"Sokka," Zuko moaned, "SOKKA, STOP!"

The shout caught Sokka off-guard, making him stop abruptly, and he fell back beneath Zuko's body.

"What's wrong?" Sokka asked, sounding worried.

"Sokka, we...we have to talk."

Those were not words Sokka was happy to hear. "Oh no, don't tell me you're going to launch another invasion and continue the war," Sokka said, still being facetious to try and cut through the rising tension.

Zuko smiled, but Sokka knew him well enough to know that it was an empty smile, meant to cover up some anguish he wanted to hide.

"What is it," Sokka sighed, suddenly serious.

"We, we..., this..., our relationship, it has to end," Zuko finally chocked out, in the most awkward manner.

"What are you talking about, Zuko?"

Zuko got off of Sokka and sat on his side of his large bed, resting his back on the wooden headpiece. "Sokka, I'm the Fire Lord now, meaning that..that..." he trailed off.

"That you need a wife to rule with you as Empress," Sokka finished for him, now sitting up in the bed too, though looking down at his lap.

Zuko looked at Sokka's face. "You don't seem surprised by this," Zuko observed.

Sokka drew his sheeted legs to his body and wrapped his arms around them, assuming the fetal position. "Yeah, well, I had kinda figured that much out after Aang won the war and you became the new ruler."

Zuko looked amused. "Not a big surprise – you're a smart guy."

"I'm not the 'plan guy' for nothing." Although Sokka was telling another joke, the pain was clear in his voice.

"I'm sorry, Sokka."

"I understand. It's all right."

"No, it's not! All my life the things I care about have been taken from me. My mother, what I once thought was my honor, half my face, and now, even with this war over, I'm losing you. It's not fair, it's not fucking fair!" Zuko shouted, hitting the wall with his fist in his rage.

Sokka could swear that he saw a couple of sparks fly off of Zuko's body during his outburst, and silently hoped he wouldn't catch the room on fire.

"You haven't lost everything, Zuko," Sokka said, putting a hand on one of the lord's arms to calm him. "You have the throne, and you have Mai to rule by your side."

Zuko didn't reply.

"I know you love her, too, Zuko, and that's okay. I understand the way you feel, because I also love Suki."

Zuko's face twitched a little, but he stayed silent.

"Before we realized the way we felt about each other, both of us had already committed to someone else. Don't you think it would be unfair for us all, especially them, if we just dropped them out of our lives?"

Zuko looked like he was having an internal struggle, but he finally spoke. "Yes...I do still care for Mai."

"You love her."

"...Yes..." Zuko confessed, hesitantly, but truthfully.

"And even if we can't continue on like this, we'll still be together as much as possible, Zuko...as friends."

Zuko felt himself unable to say anything, but then he felt a sudden weight in his lap. He looked down to see Sokka's head resting there. Zuko felt a warm wetness where Sokka's face was: tear. 'Has he...has he been crying this whole time?' the firebender thought. He found himself incapable of looking at his lover during their conversation, so he was unsure.

It was clear now, as Sokka was sobbing into Zuko's lap. Zuko looked down at the younger boy sorrowfully, compassion feeling his soul. Yes, he had Mai, and Sokka had Suki, and they loved them dearly, but even so, fate was a sadistically cruel mistress to pull the two of them apart during the height of their happiness.

Zuko placed his hands on Sokka's head, stroking his long locks of hair. "Please, don't, Sokka," Zuko pleaded, not knowing how to respond to this.

He was unsure if Sokka heard him, because the boy continued to sob, water flowing as freely as a river from his eyes. Unexpectedly, Zuko felt a warmth at his own cheeks. He raised one hand to his face and felt tears pouring from his own eyes, though he refrained from sobbing. He could not remember the last time he had cried, but he didn't fight it. There was no reason to. This was the last truly intimate moment he would spend with Sokka, and he would not allow anything, including his pride, to destroy it.

And that was how the two of them were for a long stretch of time. Eventually Sokka calmed down, and they both fell asleep together again.

When the morning arrived, the two boys awoke together for the last time. The Gaang, would be coming today to get Sokka. Zuko and Sokka bathed together, completely engrossed in their loving ritual. After they both had gotten dressed and eaten breakfast, they waited outside the castle for a sign of the flying bison.

"So, I guess this is goodbye," Sokka asked nervously, looking at the ground.

Zuko stretched out his had and grabbed Sokka's chin, lifting his face up to look in his eyes. "Nah, it's more like a 'see you latter' to me."

Before Sokka could say anything Zuko crushed his lips against his own in their final passionate yet ephemeral kiss. When they released each other their was a look of longing in their eyes, but also an unspoken understanding of what could no longer be between them, separated by the trials of an emperor.

Both of them caught a glimpse of something in the corner of their eyes and looked up, seeing Appa high in the sky and beginning a descent.

"See you around, Sokka," Zuko said.

Sokka grinned. "I love you too, Zu-zu."

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This one-shot was done in preparation for my upcoming Zukka fanfiction, "Lying in Ashes", which is a dark and violent love story between Zuko and Sokka, with plenty of lemony scenes! Keep an eye out for it!

So, what did you all thin of this piece? How was it? Please let me know, and thanks so much for reading! Have a happy holiday, everyone!