Oh wow, it's done. It's finally done. This is a little bittersweet. Thank you to everyone who supported me through this fic. It was my very first fanfic and it gave me some trouble at certain parts but the experience I got from writing this was well worth it. I enjoyed writing this and I hope you all enjoyed reading it. :)
Zuko rose from his bed and stood before the balcony of his suite. He did not step out but instead stayed within the close walls of his quarters, far enough inside that he could still feel the residual warmth of the the cocoon of blankets he'd just left but far enough out that he could see the entire expanse of the palace courtyard. The cherry trees were blossoming and sweet, pink petals floated on the morning breeze.
A child's delighted squeal rang out through the air and disrupted the peace. Zuko smiled as a chubby child of three came into his sight, running faster than his short legs could carry him. His momentum pulled him to the ground just by the turtleduck pond and the Fire Lord cringed when he saw two plump pale hands hit the dirt. He waited for the cries of pain to come but the child surprised him by simply sitting on his haunches and wiping the soil from his skin on the oversized powder blue tunic that he refused to take off.
The boy retrieved the little wooden boomerang that he always carried and inspected it for damage. Seeing none he smiled brightly and set about getting to his feet. His mother, who watched him until the boy's bodyguard began his day, rushed to his side with the intent to help but he brushed her off and resumed his play without a second thought. His little black ponytail gleamed in the sunlight as he toddled away from the nurse's helping hands, swiping the air with his Water Tribe weapon and swimming in colors that did not represent the nation he was born to rule.
Zuko sighed, only slightly exasperated with his son's antics, and when Mai caught sight of him and cast him a knowing and exasperated look of her own he waved her off with a smile. Watching the child play made his heart both swell and ache with pride and love. He wished he could get the boy to take proper pride in his heritage instead of spending all of his free time imitating the one man who had ever driven Zuko as mad as his son did but the child was every bit as stubborn as the adults who raised him.
He often regretted taking his son to see a, by law, revised performance of the Boy in the Iceberg since he'd immediately decided that he was not, in fact, the Crowned Prince of the Fire Nation but instead Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe. It had been amusing for a while, however much it may have bothered Zuko to see it, but then the boy had begun refusing to practice his firebending or respond to his given name. The game had quickly lost its charm for Zuko but his son was every bit as enamored with the young warrior as his father had ever been.
He heard movement behind him; his bedmate roused from slumber by the empty void his vacancy had caused, no doubt. Zuko didn't turn even as he heard a few choice mumbled words directed at his back. It brought a warm smile to his lips, a small one just for himself and the little niche of happiness he'd struggled to carve out of the world for himself and his family. His gaze returned to the cherubic face of his child who looked up at the exact same moment and smiled brightly to see his father awake and hopefully, if the gleam in his three year old eye was any indication, ready to play.
"Mmm… Will you come back to bed? It's too early to start being all Fire Lordy."
"I can't. Taro's seen me. He'll be up here any second." Zuko turned to gaze upon the naked body lounging in his bed. "You should probably get dressed. You're his bodyguard. It's your job to watch him and you can't do that naked."
There was a muffled groan of frustration as Zuko's lover rolled away from him and burrowed deeper into the bedclothes. "The little terror's your son."
Zuko allowed himself a small chuckle, knowing that the words were spoken with affection instead of animosity. Taro's bodyguard loved the boy with a ferocity that rivaled his own. He felt an uncharacteristic wave of emotion wash over him as he watched the man begrudgingly rise from the bed and drag himself into the connected washroom.
Toned muscles rippled beneath the caramel skin that stretched across his back and the sight sent a swift kick of lust straight to Zuko's groin. His mouth was moving before he'd fully registered his own thought process, spitting out words he didn't say often and leaving him feeling awkward and exposed.
"I love you."
A tousled head of hair peeked from around the door frame; cool blue eyes regarded him from under a curtain of soft brown locks. Zuko shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny, only relaxing after the handsome face of his lover broke into a wide and lopsided grin.
"Love you too, Jerk."
Sokka stared up at the imposing figure of the Fire Nation Palace, his stomach twisted in knots and his head aching more than a little. He brushed his finger along the edge of the little wooden boomerang he'd carved and felt the tension in his body eased by the reassurance of its presence in his pocket. He took a deep breath and tried to force himself to take the final steps that would put him inside the palace and past the point of no return but his movements felt weighted down with guilt and finality. He couldn't help but picture the most negative of scenes in his head. It was too easy to see himself being tossed on his ass by a contingent of the very same guards that had snubbed his presence in Ba Sing Se.
"Sokka. You came."
A light hand landed on his shoulder, the emotional weight of it causing him to slump in shame.
"Hey Aang." He responded softly.
"He'll be happy to see you. You're probably happy you missed the birth, huh? It was pretty intense."
Sokka examined his feet. He felt horrible for missing such an important event in the life of the man he supposedly loved but he couldn't help but feel a little relieved. He didn't like births. That much was a fact that most of his friends were all too aware of. He had to feel some comfort in the knowledge that he would have only been in the way. It was all he had, knowing that he'd all but abandoned Zuko when the young man had needed him most.
"I guess. How is he?" He chanced a look up at the Avatar's still youthful face and was rewarded with the beaming, innocent smile that had instilled so much trust in so many people.
"I haven't seen him this happy in a long time. It's kind of amazing really. Like all of our lives are finally falling into place, you know? I think the baby has given him some stability, something he's never really had before."
The words stung but Sokka knew he didn't have a right to feel sorry for himself. Zuko deserved to be happy. They all did.
"He's probably in the nursery. He's in there all the time when he isn't working. I can take you to him."
Sokka gave him a shaky, grateful smile and nodded. He wasn't sure that he believed Zuko would be interested in seeing him but he owed the firebender at least the opportunity to tell him to leave.
They followed the almost endless winding passages of the palace in one sided silence. Aang chattered mindlessly about everything that had happened in the last few month; the meetings he'd been to, the birth, the presentation ceremony the next week. Sokka listened halfheartedly and tried in vain to keep his heart from pounding out of his chest. When they reached the large double doors that Sokka assumed led to the nursery Aang paused and gave him a half smile of encouragement.
Sokka sighed and smiled back, putting on a brave face. Aang couldn't have any idea why Sokka hadn't come until now or just how difficult this moment really was for him. The boy just wanted to see his friends happy and Sokka couldn't bear to dampen the hope he could see shining in those clear gray eyes. He faced the doors and steeled himself against the crippling fear that was running ice cold through his body. He was going to see Zuko and he was going to get closure and that should have relieved him but he was so sure that Zuko was going to spurn him that it made even the small act of knocking on the heavy wooden door agonizing.
The knock rang hollow in his ears and the amount of time that passed between the sound of his knuckles rapping on the wood and the muffled response from inside seemed like an eternity. Aang gave him one last hopeful smile before realizing that the air around the tribesman was tenser than it should have been. He looked confused for a moment before mumbling something about finding Katara and telling everyone that Sokka had arrived and quickly and awkwardly taking his leave.
Sokka took one last deep breath and pushed the heavy doors open once Zuko's familiar rasp gave him permission.
Zuko's back was to the door, the soft sunlight from an open window casting it in shadow and creating a gleaming golden aura around Zuko's body. Sokka's breath caught in his throat and his steps faltered. The Fire Lord held something carefully cradled in his arms and it took Sokka a moment to realize that it had to be the child. He could see the outline of Zuko's profile, bathed in an ethereal glow, and the soft loving look on his face as he gazed down at the sleeping baby in his arms. Sokka's chest felt tight and his steps stopped when he was only halfway across the room.
"Just give me a few more minutes, Katara. I just got him to sleep. Who knows how long he'll stay quiet."
Zuko didn't turn to look and Sokka was immediately disappointed and a little resentful. Only a few months ago it would have been his presence that Zuko expected and not his sister's. He knew that Katara was better suited to handle the situation than he ever could have been but it didn't make him feel better. His arms ached to wrap around Zuko's waist, to feel the comforting warmth of their bodies pressed together, but he couldn't move.
When he didn't get a response Zuko looked up suspiciously and the look of shock and renewed hurt that washed over him very nearly propelled Sokka back out of the room. He stayed put by sheer strength of will.
Sokka opened his mouth to respond but he couldn't seem to find his voice. His throat felt thick and he found it difficult to swallow. Before he could bring himself to say anything another voice rang out in his stead, effectively destroying the moment and saving Sokka from further embarrassment.
"Zuko! I… Sokka? Oh Sokka!"
Sokka was knocked off balance by the weight of his sister's arms around him, familiar and comforting. A brief look of annoyance passed over Zuko's face and he clutched the child tighter to his chest, watching the siblings' reunion with unease. Sokka wasn't sure if Zuko's demeanor was due to his presence or Katara's but he could guess.
Zuko cleared his throat loudly from his position on the far side of the room and Katara immediately remembered herself, gingerly disentangling her body from Sokka's and blushing as she straightened her clothes.
"Sorry. I'm just so happy to see you." She smiled sheepishly and glanced at Zuko who was staring quite intently at the floor.
Her smile faltered but she saved it gracefully, only letting on slightly that she could sense something was wrong. She raised her hand and squeezed her brother's arm once in reassurance and quickly crossed the room.
"Here Zuko, let me put him down."
Zuko's grip tightened almost imperceptibly and he took a slight step back.
"No… no I can do it."
"Zuko." Katara's voice was stern and Sokka almost wanted to laugh at the familiarity of it. Zuko set his jaw as if he were going to fight her and then seemed to realize that it would be a losing battle. He relinquished his death grip on the baby and passed him over into Katara's arms with extreme and obvious reluctance. "Go talk to him." She commanded, jerking her head in Sokka's direction.
Zuko's eyes flashed to Sokka's face almost in a panic and Sokka tried to smile but he could feel it fall flat. Katara didn't know anything concrete, he could be sure of that because he would have certainly heard from her if she did, but she'd always been too good about getting into other people's business and he could tell she suspected a rift between them. And she'd been in the Fire Nation for months, months that Sokka had spent feeling sorry for himself in the South Pole, he knew she had to have some ideas.
"Go." She said, a bit more firmly and Zuko hung his head in defeat.
She turned back to her brother and smiled brightly before focusing her attention on the baby. Zuko strode across the room with determination, his heavy robes trailing on the ground behind him. Sokka hesitated before following him out of the room but Katara scowled at him and mouthed 'go' when he didn't immediately move. He realized that he didn't need a lecture from her on top of this already awkward confrontation with Zuko and quickly bolted out the door and into the hall.
Zuko was silent and Sokka couldn't think of anything to say. They only walked a little ways to another grand set of doors, imposing and intricately carved, and Sokka felt his heart begin to pound again. Zuko pushed them open and crossed the threshold with only a quick glance back at Sokka. He looked as unsure as Sokka felt.
The doors led to a grand set of rooms that Sokka immediately assumed to be Zuko's own. They entered into a plush sitting room and Zuko stopped, back to the tribesman and shoulders clearly tensed. Sokka cleared his throat in an effort to find his voice.
"I'm sorry I didn't come earlier." He finally managed after a few awkward moments.
Zuko shook his head and turned slowly, golden eyes brimming with repressed emotion. "I didn't think you were going to come at all."
Sokka winced at the hurt in Zuko's voice but forced himself to take a step forward and put less distance between them. "I wasn't… at first. I was scared, I guess. I've been kind of a shitty friend, huh?"
"Yes you have. But I understand. I can't say that I would have reacted differently had our situations been reversed."
Sokka felt what little wind was left in his sails die down at the formality of Zuko's words. He really didn't know what he'd been expecting; anger, yelling, tears and professions of love, he didn't know, but he hadn't been prepared for this uncomfortable distance between them devoid of emotion.
"Zuko I… I'm sorry. I just didn't think I was ready."
Zuko gave him a little smile. "I didn't think I was either but he's- my son- he's amazing. I can't explain it."
Sokka could see the raw love in Zuko's eyes as he spoke of his child and he felt happy for the man but it hurt all the same. Zuko had looked at him like that for a brief moment in time.
"I'm happy for you." He breathed, his throat constricting. He thought about leaving the room, fleeing the situation, but once again his body wouldn't obey his brain. He was rooted to the spot by his own depression. Then he remembered the little boomerang in his pocket and pulled it out. He held it close to his body and stared at it for a few long moments before holding it out. "I made this… for your son."
Zuko's eyes widened and he stepped forward to retrieve the piece of carved driftwood. His fingers brushed against Sokka's and lingered, sending a shock of electricity through the tribesman's body. He coughed and dropped his arm, his cheeks coloring. Zuko examined the boomerang, turning it over in his slim, pale fingers.
"Thank you." Sokka almost didn't hear Zuko's whisper of gratitude but the emotion in it made it ring clear and he felt his face heat even further.
"Well… Okay. I'm just gonna go then." He couldn't bear to be in this room any longer. Nothing was going to get resolved and he was too much of a coward to push it.
"Don't. Please." The anguish on the Fire Lord's face made Sokka pause and his heart ache. The emotion in his voice made Sokka step forward, like a magnetic pull. Zuko grimaced and rubbed his face with his hands. "Why is this so hard? I've thought about this for months, about what I'd say to you when I saw you again and now you're here and I don't know what to do! I've missed you so much but I told myself that I wouldn't pressure you. I thought you weren't going to come and I wouldn't have to see you for years and by then I'd be over you. But I'm not. I'm not over you and I… I just…"
"I'm not over you either." Sokka spoke softly but it was enough to make Zuko freeze and stare at him with a glimmer of hope in his eyes that was enough to break his heart. He couldn't stop himself from closing the distance between them and for once he wasn't at all unhappy that his body was acting ahead of his brain.
Zuko looked stunned but when Sokka wrapped his arms around the firebender's regal neck, he didn't push him away and Sokka took that as an open invitation. He pressed his lips to Zuko's with an eager need that had been eating away at him for months. He didn't wait for Zuko to respond before he was tracing the seam of the firebender's lips with his tongue, begging for entrance. Zuko immediately gave it, opening his mouth and wrapping his arms around Sokka's waist in a fierce embrace.
There was a fire between them that they'd both nearly forgotten in their separation and it burned their flesh and their hearts. Zuko moaned into Sokka's mouth and slid his hand down the tribesman's back to cup his ass. Sokka broke the kiss with reluctance to allow them to breathe and buried his face in Zuko's neck, panting.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." His voice was muffled by Zuko's skin but the Fire Lord heard him and his heart melted.
Zuko chose to respond by sliding his hand beneath Sokka's tunic and gripping his growing erection through his pants. Sokka moaned and bucked into Zuko's hand.
"Yes. Zuko, yes."
Sokka grappled with the neck clasps of Zuko's robes, desperate to feel Zuko's bare skin against his own once again. He nearly squealed with excitement when the clasps came loose and he was able to slide the robes from Zuko's shoulders. Zuko relinquished his embrace of Sokka's body to allow the heavy garments to pool on the floor. He wore only a thin pair of silk pants beneath his formal wear and Sokka nearly salivated at the sight of Zuko's bare chest beneath his fingertips.
It took only moments of fumbling fingers and heavy breathing for their belts to be discarded and their pants dropped around their thighs. Sokka gripped the back of Zuko's neck and crushed their mouths together as Zuko wrapped a callused hand around both of their erections. Sokka moaned loudly and covered Zuko's hand with his own, completing a circle of warmth around them as their skin rubbed together and sent thrills of delicious friction through their bodies.
Sokka felt the telltale signs of his impending orgasm first. He bit hard on Zuko's bottom lip and cried out as he came, collapsing in a heap of jellied limbs into Zuko's arms. The added pressure of his body against Zuko's pushed the firebender over the edge soon after. They dropped to their knees, gasping for breath but unwilling to let go of each other.
Sokka stared into Zuko's eyes and relished the look of love he found there, the love he thought he'd lost.
"I want to stay. I want to stay with you… if you still want me to." He whispered, half afraid he'd still be rejected but too sated and in love not to risk it.
"Of course I do." Zuko smiled widely and captured his mouth again, holding him close and kissing him softly, both of them happier than they'd been in years.
Zuko could have sworn that not even a minute had passed since he'd sent his lover to get dressed before his son was running through the doors of his room and launching himself onto the bed where the Fire Lord now sat. He found himself with an armful of giggling three year old and a smile on his face.
"Daddy, come play?" The boy looked up at him with hopeful gold eyes. Zuko smiled and kissed his forehead, gathering him up and hugging him tightly. "Please, Daddy?"
"Yea please, Daddy?"
"You do not get to call me Daddy." Zuko grimaced as his son struggled to get out of his embrace and bound into the arms of his bodyguard, his shriek of happiness ringing in Zuko's ears.
"Sokka! Make Daddy play!"
Zuko was faced with two sets of big, sparkling eyes and no willpower to stand against them. He set his mouth in mock resignation and held his arms out for Taro, who clambered into them eagerly and buried his face in his father's neck.
"I think we got him, Terror. The big bad Fire Lord is no match for our combined forces of cute."
"He's cute. You're not cute."
"Yea, you're right. I'm more handsome."
Zuko snorted into Taro's hair and rose from the bed, shifting the boy in his arms to sit against his hip.
"I am handsome! You don't think I'm handsome?"
Zuko's smirk softened into a smile as he watched Sokka's discomfort from over Taro's head. He sighed and pressed a chaste kiss to his lover's lips.
"I think you're handsome, Idiot."
Sokka smiled smugly and grasped the back of Zuko's neck, dragging him into another, more powerful kiss that lasted until the child's impatience to play broke them apart.
"Alright Terror. C'mon, let's go."
Sokka followed Zuko and Taro out, a wide grin plastered on his face as he prepared for another day by the side of the man he loved in the nation he used to fear. It wasn't the life he'd expected but he couldn't remember ever being so happy and he couldn't see himself anywhere else.