Spoilers for S3 finale, some dialogue lifted from "Avatar Aang" with a few key changes.

Holy crap this made it to the finale. I tried to keep it consistent with canon although there is now one glaring exception. One day the epic road trip to Find Zuko's Mom will happen as a sequel but today is not that day. Hope everyone enjoyed it. Feedback/criticism welcome. Much thanks to everyone who's left feedback along the way. Smuttier version available for those of age at my lj.


Sokka plunked himself down onto the airship's cold metal deck to better give his foot a proper wiggle. With a fresh splint on his leg felt pretty good. It shouldn't have been surprising that the nation that had a habit of crispifying things made sure that they carried a fully stocked first aid kit. He analyzed his toes as they peeked out of the end of the splint, hyperaware of Suki's warning to keeping checking that she hadn't applied the bandage too tightly. The last thing he needed was to have bits of him falling off.

Hello foot. His toes splayed wide in greeting. Congratulations. We managed to help save the world today. Sure, we're heading back in more pieces than we showed up in but everything is still attached which is a plus. Another plus? Not plummeting to a splattery death.

His pinky toe flicked in agreement.

There's one minus, though. A completely insane egomaniacal minus that we're dragging back to the Fire Nation trussed up like a picken ready for roasting.

There was a rumble from his belly at the thought of roast picken. He shot his interrupting organ a look of disapproval. "Quiet you! I'm trying to have a conversation here!" Though a bit of meat would be nice…

What the airship had in medical supplies it sorely lacked in fresh food stores, which was proof enough for Sokka that Ozai must have surely loathed his people.

Ah, Ozai. He directed this thought to his attentive big toe. Aang seems to think the Loony Lord is nothing without his bending but you and I both know that the bastard is about as harmless as a cornered rat viper. Hopefully the Fire Nation has a cell big enough to contain all the crazy.

The splint seemed to swallow his toes as they curled in dismay.

Hey, now, don't worry little guys. We'll get back and we'll meet up with Katara and Zuko and it'll be like old times. But with less of the being hunted and threats of death and all. I know they took care of Azula. They had to. Cause I would know if something happened to either of them. I would feel it. His skull clanged against the hollow metal hull behind him. Right?

His toes declined to answer.

Guess I have at least one sensible body part.

The seconds ticked away, each one dragging more painfully than the last as the airship floated serenely through the upper atmosphere. Each second was marked by Sokka pounding his fist into the deck at his hip, loud gong turning the whole ship into a giant metronome.

Can't this hunk of junk move any faster?

The airship did not appreciate his abuse and sharply listed to one side, forcing him to catch himself on a support beam.

"Sorry! Sorry!" Suki pulled at few levers as she got the ship leveled out again. "Trying to avoid a little turbulence!"

Toph was a remarkable shade of green. "Please try a little harder!"

Checking the horizon, Suki's face blossomed into a huge smile. "Hold onto your breakfast. We're almost there!"

Scrambling to his feet -foot-, Sokka hopped over to join Suki on the flight deck. The rapidly approaching crescent coastline of the capital forced the breath out of him. His telescope appeared and he extended it with a little snap. C'mon, c'mon. Where do we land this baby? Anyone who went around building big fucking ships would build a big fucking dock to put it in and where they were should be pretty obvi- "Whoa!"

"Whoa?" Aang was at Sokka's elbow, his worry radiating from him like a nervous sun. "Is that a good 'whoa' or a bad 'whoa'?"

"It's a fucking awesome 'whoa'." Sokka passed off the telescope to eager hands and leaned across the guard rail, needing his own eyes closer to reassure himself that the telescope had not somehow been lying to him.

It didn't seem possible. A press of bodies swarmed the docks, but it wasn't the usual platoon of soldiers. Instead there were families. Citizens of the Fire Nation without a weapon or a piece of armor among them. Children darting through the throngs, playing tag as their parents simply watched the skies.

Joy warmed Sokka through his fingertips. Katara and Zuko must have done it: taken out Azula. How else to explain all these hopeful, expectant faces? And no soldiers? The return of a single battered and bruised airship probably wouldn't have been cause for Happy Fun Party Time.

Could it be? Could the people of the Fire Nation be that ready to start anew? The nation itself had been under the yoke of generations of the power mad. Maybe they couldn't wait for the return of this brand new Avatar, ready to embrace the peace and tranquility that he would bestow upon them the instant he arrived.

Sokka blanched slightly. No pressure. Nope. None at all.

The telescope looked massive in Aang's small hands. He swallowed heavily but couldn't tear his eyes away from what he could see. "I guess word travels fast around here."

"Do I still need to remind you about the 'being blind' thing?" Toph demanded in annoyance. "Somebody's got to tell me why all of you have got your panties in a bunch."

"There's a celebration waiting for us!" Suki's explanation was breathless.

The little earthbender's smile split her face wide open. "Then let's get this hunk of junk on the ground! I love a good party!"

That proved to be a little more challenging than first thought. The hulking great ship had lost much of its fine rudder control so Toph made up the difference her own way, with a flick of the wrist flinging the metal gang plank like a liquid lasso. To the surprise of absolutely no one she was the first to reach land, her arms open wide. "I've missed you so much!" Great big tendrils of earth came up to gently hug her in a rocky embrace, sending a few Fire Nation kids hiding behind their mothers' skirts as they shrieked in delight.

People surged forward, some hoisting a laughing Aang onto their shoulders with shouts and cheers, others quick to relieve Suki of the task of helping deliver Sokka to firm ground. The aura of excitement was infectious.

"Oh, you poor dear!" An old woman set down her basket of groceries and began fussing over Sokka as soon as she spotted him. "Does it hurt?"

"Only a little." He opted to use a judicious amount of lip wibble, taking opportunity to use her distraction in examining his injured leg to discern what delights might possibly be hidden in the basket. He could see little packets of… something. How could it not be tasty? "I am feeling a little weak. If I only had some fire gummies right now I could- OW!"

The woman was too busy rummaging through her things to catch Suki delivering a surgically precise slap to the back of Sokka's head. The sting of rebuke faded quickly once a bag of sizzle crisps got deposited into his lap. "Thanks!" Handful after handful made it into his mouth under the woman's approving gaze. "Theeth ahh deelithious!" he managed while only spraying a few crumbs.

"Anything for friends of the Avatar! My parents told me such wonderful stories when I was a little girl." She leaned in for a conspiratorial wink. "Not all of us were so quick to believe the official history." Her hands went back to the basket which suited Sokka just fine. "Eat up!" she commanded. "There's plenty more. I've been cooking all morning to get ready for the coronation. Prince Zuko will make a wonderful Fire Lord."

Fire Lord Zuko. A wave of shock came crashing down, halting Sokka's feeding frenzy. The concept had been so remote, so unobtainable and now here it was: a future newly born that presented a myriad of possibilities too overwhelming to take in all at once.

The old woman mistook his wonder for worry. "I know it's upsetting dear, but try to have faith." She gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "The royal physicians say the prince is expected to make a full recovery."

Recovery?

The crisps hit the ground in a messy pile as Sokka fought to rise, throwing out demands to be shown the way to the palace before he ever made it upright.


"I can go wherever I want, you useless tin plated clown!"

"Sokka, calm down!" Suki hissed in the irate boy's ear, struggling to support Sokka as he tried to jab a finger at the useless tin plated clown in question.

The Imperial guard's expression was hidden by his helmet, but his tight grip on his spear was clear enough. "No one is permitted to disturb Prince Zuko."

"Oh yeah?" Balanced precariously on one leg, Sokka got right in the man's featureless face. "Well, I'll have you know I've disturbed Prince Zuko more times than you can count!"

There was a creak of a heavy door and a hair-loopied head peeked out of the royal bedchamber. "Sokka!" Alarm at his sister's obvious fatigue was washed away by the familiarity of her reprimand. "For once in your life just. Shut. The. Fuck. Up!"

Accommodating his sister's request, he directed a rude gesture at the guard as he shouldered his way past. Suki shot a look of apology as she followed the way inside.

Sokka was all limbs as he wrapped around his sister, peppering her with kisses. "You're okay!"

"And you're not!' Katara tried getting some space between them to better assess his one legged state, but there was little hope of her escaping the Hug of Doom. "What happened?"

"Broke it." He shrugged off her confusion and looked past her to the ornate bed that felt a million miles away. "How's Zuko?"

"Resting. We just finished a healing session." Katara looked him square in the eye, exposing the beginning of her tears. "Azula had a bolt of lightning meant for me but he intercepted it. He risked his life… to… to save mine." She drew a deep breath, her composure beginning to crack at the seams. "Anyway, I'm fine. With a few more sessions he'll be fine too."

His throat was so dry it was painful to swallow. "I need to see him."

The two girls shared a look but said nothing, simply helping him take a seat at Zuko's side with no more fuss.

How small, how pale Zuko looked, all swaddled in bandages. The rich silks and pillows around him created a sea of red luxury that only made him appear more translucent, more frail. His sleep was fitful, exhaustion digging lines across his face.

Sokka fingered an intricate gold tassel, battling the urge to sweep away the lavishness to clear room to curl alongside the other boy. "You need to get better, okay?" He brushed away a lock of unruly hair from the brow that still looked pained even in repose. "'Cause if you don't I'm going to be really pissed."

The caress had the sleeping boy leaning into it. With a wordless murmur Zuko settled deeper into his dreams.

"C'mon." Katara held out a hand of encouragement to her brother. "Your leg needs to get checked out."

It took a few minutes of Sokka watching the rise and fall of breath under layer and layer of gauze before he relented.

The infirmary couldn't have been more pleased to send Sokka on his way, probably due to him doing everything possible to earn the Worst Patient award. A crutch and a whispered 'good riddance' and they wanted nothing more to do with him.

His sister's attempt at offering medical care fared no better. It had been easy for Sokka to spot her nodding off while the Fire Nation physicians completed their exam. When the Water Tribe siblings were finally alone, he stilled her hand as she reached for her water skin.

"I can heal the old fashioned way too ya know," he said wryly. One unfamiliar step after another let him get closer to her. "I managed to survive all the broken bones I had before all this hocusy pocusy stuff and other people need your help more than me."

Katara pursed her lips, fully aware of which other person he meant. "But.. you-" She tried to collect her thoughts to make her case but the dark circles under her eyes did little to help her.

"But nothing," he said, firmer this time. "You're my sister. I love you. Now go get your ass to bed."

Katara gave a weak laugh but her own body was unsteady as her mind vacillated between the healing she wanted to offer and the rest she desperately needed.

His precarious balance was tested as he raised his crutch in a vague threat. "Don't make me limp over there."

She held her hands up in submission. "You stubborn ass."

His dimples showed up for the first time in what felt like years, a little creaky from disuse. "It runs in the family."

"Yes it does." It took Katara standing on tip toes to deliver a kiss to her brother's forehead. Spirits, they had grown so much in the past year and in more ways than one.

Her earnest blue gaze pinned him to the spot. "I know where you're going now that you've gotten rid of me," she said thoroughly chewing her bottom lip as she wrestled with her thoughts. "Take care of each other. You both deserve it."

Those words. They sounded so easy to say. But to have his sister's approval of someone that had fostered such hate, such bitterness in her-

He could have touched the clouds as they parted ways.


Fuck!

The ability to defy gravity hadn't lasted very long. Sokka shifted the crutch under his arm. Somewhere back at the infirmary there were physicians having the last laugh over the torture device they had given him. One or two wrong turns combined with the Fire Nation's fondness for endless corridors and his armpit would never be the same again.

Why hadn't he asked for a cane? He would have looked completely badass and therefore even more awesome.

He had to be getting close. The route popped up behind his eyelids as he tried to remember. Left, right, another right, second left and ahha! A quick glance around the corner and he spotted the guard at Zuko's bedchamber. You make an excellent landmark, Clowny.

A brisk set of footsteps from behind him echoed off the stone walls. His hampered mobility made it difficult to turn but he didn't need to as a flurry of red and black breezed past him. The pale and pointy figure had him struggling to breath.

Mai.

What happened after Boiling Rock? How… how did she... Why is she…

His heart sank as he watched her speak to Clowny. The guard easily yielded way to her with a brisk little bow with none of the expected harassment.

Nononono.

His brain didn't appreciate the lack of oxygen and Sokka sank to the floor, drowning in a flood of doubt and insecurity. He sprawled out, hoping the cool stone would leach some of the heat from his thoughts.

This moment, this solid-kick-in-the-balls moment had been plaguing him for so long but it still felt too soon. He trusted Zuko, he did- he really, really did- but inner pragmatist Sokka was a fucking bastard echoing his darkest fears.

Shiny new Firelord. Water Tribe nobody.

His eyes snapped shut, a small part of him wishing they were all still sitting around a campfire talking about nothing with danger months away.

"Are you all right?" This shy question from Aang was the last thing he expected to hear.

The boy hovered as Sokka opened himself back up to the outside world. "I'm good. Just taking a little nap."

"I,uh. I've been looking for you." Aang danced back and forth with the agitation normally reserved for those in desperate need to go pee. "I figured you'd be here." His hands fluttered uselessly in Sokka's general vicinity. "Well, not here here but wherever Zuko was kind of here and… aaaand I was wondering if possibly maybe right now is a good time to ask you something?"

It was an impressive string of babble for a novice but hey- the kid had gotten to see the best in action. "You're losing me buddy."

"Katara!" The name was blurted out in a shout. The Avatar who had faced and defeated the monster of his generation turned a bright scarlet as he descended into a frantic mess. "I think I'm in love with Katara and she's your sister and you're one of my best friends and pleasedon'tkillme!"

Oh, for fuck's sake. Sokka stared at the arrow on Aang's forehead, glad to already be lying on the floor or his sudden vertigo would have put him there.

Okay life. Let's try to keep tabs shall we?

Boyfriend fried. Bad.

But not dead. Good.

Sister no longer having murderous thoughts about said boyfriend. Good.

Said boyfriend's maybe not so ex girlfriend shows up. Bad.

Ex girlfriend gets unrestricted access to said boyfriend. Very, very bad.

Little bald whelp with a tattoo fetish who sounded like his balls hadn't even dropped asking for permission to put the moves on his sister-

He wondered idly if there was any possible way for him to successfully beat himself to death with his crutch.

Aang's air of desperation thickened as the silence continued. "Your sister is kind and smart and pretty and wonderful -"

"Okay!" Sokka snapped in exasperation. "Of course she's awesome. She's my sister."

Damn it.

He'd been so looking forward to being the overbearingly protective older brother even if Katara hadn't exactly ever asked for his advice in the romance department. There had been that bland pile of androgyny with poor facial grooming and she ignored him when Sokka had made the right call on the sociopathic forest thug but he supposed that everybody had to learn from their mistakes.

It wasn't like Hurricane Katara needed any help from him if this wasn't what she wanted. If Aang ever pissed her off, the world would be looking for a new Avatar.

"Treat her right," he said finally. Try to not let her crush you like a bug was what he didn't say. "Can you do that?"

The smile on Aang's face grew and grew. "I sure can!" The boy was already halfway down the corridor in his boyish haste. "I won't let you down!"

"I hope so." Sokka's words drifted weakly to the ceiling, too drained in body and soul to move much of anything.


Zuko snapped awake, trying to shake off the fog clouding his mind. How long had he been asleep? Taking a million joules to the chest had kind of put him off his game. The bedroom didn't help either, the feel of it both familiar and unfamiliar making it wildly disorienting. And his dreams-

Fire and sparks and his fractured, fragmented sister.

Even now when he closed his eyes he could see her- torment eating her up from the inside.

Guarding his ribs, he managed to get out of bed to search for his robes. It had been one- no, two - days since the battle and he remembered little of the aftermath after his adrenaline had ebbed away. What he needed now was answers. News had reached him of Aang's defeat of Ozai but was no information on the others. He'd imagined he'd heard Sokka but that had probably been wishful thinking. A twinge from his shoulder as he struggled with his sleeve and-

"You need some help with that ?"

"Mai!" Shit, did he need to sound so shocked? "You're ok!" She looked flawless, unruffled as usual. "They let you out of prison !"

Well. That was probably the one of the stupider things he'd ever said. How else did she get here? Not like he'd done anything to remedy the situation, but admittedly he'd been a little busy.

Zuko made an awkward attempt at a hug, which Mai neatly sidestepped. All of his alarm bells were going off. Her next step was probably going to be something long and sharp wedged neatly between his shoulder blades.

"My uncle pulled some strings." Mai's touch was gentle as she helped him dress. "And it doesn't hurt when the new Fire Lord is supposed to be your boyfriend."

Oh, crap.

Face down lightning; see it coming straight at him, straight at his heart. Try to take it in any way he could with his uncle's warning echoing in his ears. Feel the searing pain, the energy coursing through his veins. All that he could withstand and he'd do it again if he had to.

Breaking the news to Mai though… that he loved someone else- had been in love with another at the very moment she very nearly threw everything away for him?

A knife in the back was beginning to sound more and more appealing.

But he was no coward. They had been friends for so long he owed it to her to be honest. Whatever she felt, he never intended to lead her on. The note he'd left her had been stupid but he'd never dated anyone before, much less broken up with them.

The truth was easy. Sokka was warmth and passion and tenderness and a whole lot of silliness and he never knew how much he needed all of those things until he'd caught a glimpse of them. No. He'd tell her and she had plenty of reason to hate him but it was the least he could do.

He took a breath deep enough to start from his toes. "Mai, I have to tell-"

"It's over."

"-you something and whuh…" His brain almost sprained itself as it contorted in disbelief.

"What do you mean 'It's over'?"

Mai looked cool and calm. It was different from her mask of boredom. She was serene. Comfortable in her own skin in a way that he'd never seen. "You and me," she said simply. "We're over. Or I should say that we never really were anything to begin with."

He swallowed heavily, heart pounding against his ribcage.

"The note you left should have been enough of a sign but it wasn't until I stood up to Azula that I figured it out." Her elegant fingers adjusted the sash at his waist. "You never loved me," she said without a trace of malice.

"Mai-" Zuko tried take her hand, but she slipped from his grasp.

"You left and you didn't bother asking me if I wanted to come with you!" Her temper flashed white hot for a moment then was gone just as quickly. "I was always an afterthought to you." A small hint of sadness revealed itself as she looked him over. "It took my best friend risking her life for me to show me that I was worth more than being second best."

"You are!" In his desperation he reached out to her and it was a relief that she permitted his touch. "You're worth more than I could ever give you." It was a challenge to calm himself. "Real love is…it's amazing and I'm the happiest I've ever been." A tear trailed down her cheek but he chased it away with his thumb. "You deserve to have someone who loves you as much as you love them."

She molded herself to him to give him the gentlest of hugs. "I'm glad you found someone, even if it wasn't me you were looking for."

Zuko delivered a chaste kiss to the top of her head. "So does this mean you don't hate me anymore ?"

"No, I still think you're a jerk," she murmured, words muffled by his shoulder. "But I'll get over it."

He let out a bark of a laugh. "C'mon. I need to find out what's going on in the outside world."


The stone floor wasn't getting any more comfortable but Sokka wasn't quite ready to get up yet. Perhaps he could acquire employment as some sort of carpet or maybe a doorstop.

At least I'd be useful to somebody.

Approaching footsteps should have put him on alert but he couldn't bear to look. There were still plenty of ways this could solidify this day's crown as being the Crappiest Day Ever. Maybe it was his dad turning up to have the Awkward Talk About How Boy Parts Work that they'd never got to have when he was growing up. Having to sit through Hakoda explain where babies come from would just be icing on shit cake.

"Sokka? What the fuck are you doing?"

Zuko.

Sokka canted his head back, overjoyed to see an upside-down Zuko healthy enough to storm towards him. That joy was stomped, kicked and set on fire when he spotted the accompanying upside-down Mai. "Oh, nothing," he said breezily, trying to not to cry. "Just hangin' out. On the floor. It's the place all the kids want to be."

"He's one of the Avatar's friends, isn't he?" Mai leaned over the Water Tribe boy, her delicate eyebrow raising the barest fraction of an inch. "I thought he was supposed to be the smart one."

"Yeah but sometimes he's a complete moron." Upside-Down-Zuko looked adorably grumpy. "What are you doing out here? You're hurt!"

Sokka scrambled to sit up. "So are you!"

They began talking over each other, neither more than half listening.

"What did the physicians have to say about your leg? Is anyone else hurt?"

"Everyone's fine. Katara said you could have been killed!"

"You did let the doctors look at it, right? I bet you were a giant pain in the ass to them."

"You know what the doctors said? Princes who get electrocuted should still be in bed!"

"Knock it off!" The roar from Mai had the boys wilting into silence. The glare she shot at them was as lethal as anything up her sleeve. "You assholes are perfect for each other."

Without asking, she hauled Sokka back to vertical in one easy tug. Her scrutiny was intense, making him squirm under her gold gaze. "He says you make him happy," she murmured softly. "You're lucky." Once she retrieved the crutch, she extended a slim finger back in the direction of Zuko's bed chamber. "Now both of you idiots: Go!"

Without another word, Mai herded the two to some much needed rest.


Bed.

Luxurious bed.

Sokka let his hand sweep over silk sheets beside him and found the space cold and empty.

Luxurious bed with no Zuko.

He scowled.

One thing he hadn't expected from the Fire Nation was that they knew how to build an amazingly comfortable bed. Soft in all the right places, it was a thing of beauty to the lazy man. And Sokka was a certified expert in Lazy. If he could figure out a way to store some seal jerky in the headboard after the coronation, he would barricade the royal chamber doors from the inside and the Fire Nation would have to do without its spanking new Fire Lord for a few days.

This idea was nowhere near as appealing if there was no new Fire Lord to spank.

Prying his eyelids open, Sokka made a bleary pass of the room. There was a vaguely Zuko shaped outline, pacing in a Zuko-like manner beside the bed. Occasionally, this Zuko figure would pause in front of an array of robes and vestments that waited patiently for the ceremony that would turn the heir apparent into a freshly made lord. Pale hands would cautiously trace the heavy brocade, before this Zuko figure would start this pattern all over again.

Stretching out to his fingers to his toes, Sokka let loose a full body yawn. "Mornin'."

This got no response.

The cycle continued. Pace. Turn. Pause. Pace. Turn. Pause.

He tried again. "Everything okay?"

"'Everything okay?'" Zuko said flatly as he continued staring at the carpet that marked his path. Pace. Turn. Though now when he reached for the royal robes, his hands would flail as if an invisible barrier blocked his touch. "Everthing's not okay!"

"Your coronation is today." Sokka sat up and gently shifted to let his legs dangle off the edge of the bed. "It's supposed to be a big party, right? It'll going to be awesome."

"A party?" A note of hysteria edged into Zuko's words as he took great big gulps of air. "Representatives from all nations will be there and I have to give a speech!" His tongue tripped faster and faster, voice pitched higher and higher. "In front of people!"

The crutch came up, forcing the bundle of panic to halt in his tracks.

Sokka spoke softly. "Just say what's in your heart and you'll be fine."

"You know how awful I am at this! And this is really important! One wrong word and I could totally screw everything up! Right back at a century of war. All of our hard work would-"

Grabbing a handful of dressing gown, Sokka dragged the neurotic mess in for a kiss. He took his time, keeping it slow and languorous until he could feel Zuko start to come down from his frenzied state.

"You-" he murmured directly into the spot under Zuko's ear. "Need-" Soft bite to tense jaw. "To relax." Lick along curvature of neck.

The firebender was panting still, albeit now for a very different reason. "I'm not so sure this is going to get me to relax."

Careful with his splint, Sokka hooked his legs around the other boy's waist and reeled Zuko in. "Sure it will." His smirk was pure evil. "If you do it right."

It was easy to feel Zuko firming against him with the thin dressing gown the only thing between them. So Sokka arched into him.

Friction of hip against hip. Hardness against hardness with only the slip of silk in between.

So simple, yet just right.

Zuko was in a daze grinding against him. "I see your point and think this merits further investigation."

"See!" A laugh erupted from Sokka that he had no desire to contain. "You're already talking like a politician!"

-fin-