The escape plan, though there were a few speedbumps along the way, went through quite well. Zuko and Sokka had managed to save not only Sokka's father, but Suki, as well. Even though Sokka was truly in love with the banished Fire Nation prince, he was still relieved that Suki was okay. Yet, he knew that her rescue would bring about difficulties in relationships, but that was something Sokka didn't want to think about. Now that they were back at the Western Air Temple, Sokka just wanted to rest. Zuko, on the other hand, had different plans.

As the rest of the group set up their blankets and sleeping bags for the night, Zuko stood off to the side, amber eyes locked on Sokka. It took the Water Tribe peasant a few minutes to realize this, but when he did, a look of concern crossed his face. He got to his feet and stepped into the shadows beside Zuko, leaving the conversation that had started about where Teo and Haru were (they had been gone all day, apparently).

"What's up?" Sokka asked when he reached Zuko and tilted his head curiously.

"I was just thinking," the other teen replied. "Did you want to spend the night in my room?"

Sokka knew that "spending the night" did not mean that they'd actually be sleeping, and as these thoughts crossed his mind, his cheeks immediately reddened. The teen nervously scuffed at the ground with one foot, his stomach churning.

"S-Sure," he finally replied while casting a wary glance at the group by the campfire.

Zuko smirked upon seeing Sokka's uncertainty, then placed a hand on his shoulder. "They don't have to know," the prince whispered, his breath hot against Sokka's ear. A shudder of satisfaction vibrated down the peasant's spine, and his worry faded in an instant. Even though Suki and the others would probably notice that he was gone, perhaps they wouldn't make a big deal out of it (they weren't too concerned about Teo and Haru).

Sokka smiled back at Zuko, and the two rushed to Zuko's room, for Sokka was already getting aroused. The instant they closed the door behind them, Zuko had pushed Sokka against the wall and had his warm lips pressed to his. Sokka's eyes closed to enjoy the sensation, and he kissed back with as much force as his lover. When he began to run his hands through Zuko's ebony hair, Zuko grabbed both wrists with his own hands and pinned them to the wall above Sokka's head. That was when he lips parted with Sokka's and instead moved to the peasant's neck. Sokka's eyes remained closed with pleasure for the time being, but when Zuko began to undo his guard uniform, they slid open halfway.

"Zuko," he murmured, voice drowsy and slurred.

"Mm?" was Zuko's reply as he continued to kiss at the soft spots on Sokka's neck and worked on removing the teen's clothing.

"Maybe we shouldn't be doing this."

These words brought an abrupt stop to Zuko's loving touches, and he straightened to stare into Sokka's eyes. "What's your problem? You were perfectly okay with it a few seconds ago."

"Yeah, well … I never did get to talk to my dad, plus there's Suki—"

"So? You think I ever get my dad's approval before I do things?" Zuko asked rhetorically, his voice having a slight edge to it. By this point, the prince had released Sokka's hands, allowing them to fall to his waist.

"Yeah, but my dad's not some psycho trying to take over the world. You don't care what your dad thinks because you hate each other. I actually care about my dad … and his approval." Sokka averted his gaze and crossed his arms as Zuko backed away.

"You could've said that you didn't want to before we got started," Zuko sighed as he sat down on the small bed in the room.

"Look, I'm sorry. I just think we should wait to do anything—"

"C'mere," Zuko interrupted him by patting the bed welcomingly.

Sokka stared at his lover for a few moments before obliging. He slowly sat down beside the prince, who smiled in a reassuring way.

"We'll figure something out, okay? But, please … still stay here for the night," Zuko pleaded while pulling back the covers on the bed.

Sokka yanked the ponytail out of his hair and let it fall loosely around his face. He removed the most uncomfortable aspects of the guard uniform (such as the metal plates over his shoulders) while sliding under the covers beside Zuko. "I wasn't planning on leaving," the peasant whispered and delivered a small kiss to Zuko's nose.

"Good," the firebender smiled. He shifted into a comfortable position, then wrapped an arm securely around Sokka. Even though there were worries troubling them both, they still managed to fall into a deep, well-deserved sleep.

The next morning was more awkward than anything else. When Sokka woke up to the bright sunlight beaming through the window, he noticed that not only was Zuko's arm around him, but his legs were entwined in his, as well. The teen felt color rise in his face and he gently elbowed his lover in the stomach.

"Wha-?" came the muffled reply.

Zuko drowsily raised his head and moaned when the striking light of day hit his eyes. He brought his hands up to shade his face, then glanced at Sokka with a small smile. Sokka was sitting up, now that he was no longer wrapped in Zuko's arms.

"We should get up," the Water Tribe teen sighed as he flung his legs over the side of the bed and began to shove his feet into his boots. Zuko stretched his arms above his head while stifling a yawn. He remained sitting in bed while Sokka prepared for the day, staring at him in a longing way, but knowing better than to do anything. Sokka cast Zuko a short glance as he put his hair up into a ponytail, one of his brows raised.

"Zuko, please stop staring at me like that! I already told you that we shouldn't do anything until I talk to my dad about it," Sokka frowned. "And now that Suki's here …"

The banished prince raised his hands up defensively. "Okay, okay. Since when are you so uptight about things?" Zuko stood up and walked over to Sokka's side while running his fingers through his messy hair.

"Let's just go back to the others," Sokka muttered. "With some luck, maybe they never realized we were gone."

But, of course, with their luck, their absence was noticed.

"Where have you two been?" Katara demanded hotly when the two teens returned to camp.

The waterbender was folding up blankets with the help of Suki and Hakoda. The rest of the group had obviously dispersed by now (though, Teo and Haru still weren't back from being gone the day before).

"Er—we were … um …" Sokka stuttered while nervously scratching at the back of his head.

"Discussing some things concerning the whereabouts of the other prisoners that weren't at the Boiling Rock," Zuko quickly lied.

"Oh? And apparently this was something that couldn't be discussed with the rest of us?" Katara responded venomously. It was clear that she still had no trust in Zuko, even though he had saved her father.

"Well, we're here, now, so there's no point in getting so upset about it. Anything we can do to help? Where's Aang? We should do more firebending today."

"Jerkbending …" Sokka murmured under his breath. He hated that Aang and Zuko spent so much time alone. Even though eh knew Zuko would never do anything, it still bothered him.

Katara pursed her lips and glared coldly at Zuko after he spoke. It seemed as though she was about to reply when Hakoda cut over her.

"He went off to train with that earthbender. What's her name?"

"Toph," Katara mumbled, now concentrated on the blankets she was folding again.

It took Sokka a few moments to realize it, but when he glanced over at Suki, a particularly peeved expression was on her face. She continuously looked from Zuko to Sokka, brows furrowed with suspicion. The Kyoshi warrior seemed to know what was going on.

"What can we do to help out?" Zuko asked.

"Well, we need more firewood," Suki replied with a nonchalant shrug.

"Sokka and I can go do that—"

"Actually," Sokka quickly interrupted, "I was thinking my dad and I could go. I have to talk to him about some things."

At first, Zuko looked rather offended that his lover had talked over him, but when he understood why Sokka wanted to speak with Hakoda, he had to restrain himself from smirking. He could feel Suki's gaze burning into his skin, and knew better than to make any wrong moves. Zuko knew she had reason to be upset, but it was also baffling just how much time she was spending with Hakoda. The Kyoshi warrior had been at Hakoda's side ever since they first saw each other at the prison. Perhaps Zuko was just imagining things, but it seemed like she had some sort of "interest" in the older man.

Hakoda lifted his head to look at his son curiously, then smiled. "I figure we have a few things to catch up on since the invasion," he said with a nod. The Water Tribe chief got to his feet and strolled over to his son's side, placing a hand on his shoulder.

"Zuko and I need to discuss some matters, too," Suki announced, and as she stood up, she had a cold glare locked firmly on the firebender.

Zuko returned the glare with one of his own before answering with a blunt, "Fine."

The firebender and the Kyoshi warrior were staring at each other for quite some time and the atmosphere was suddenly heavy. Sokka nervously glanced back and forth between them.

"Well," he exclaimed with a hearty clap of his hands. "Dad and I are gonna go, now. Smell ya later."

He swerved around on his heel and began to march away, Hakoda following closely. Just as they rounded a corner, Sokka shot one last glance at Zuko before they both disappeared from sight. Zuko felt his heart fall into his stomach when he realized that he was now stuck with two girls who hated him.

"You don't mind if I borrow Zuko for a bit, do you?" Suki asked Katara, her arms crossed.

"Go ahead," the waterbender mumbled just as she finished rolling up the last sleeping bag. "I was gonna go looking for Haru and Teo, anyway. The Duke is missing, too."

"Great," Suki said with a fake grin.

She immediately grabbed onto the sleeve of Zuko's shirt and violently pulled him into the nearest passage into the temple. After dragging him down several hallways, the girl finally let go of his sleeve and instead pushed him up against a wall.

"Woa-hey! What's your problem?" the banished prince shouted, but didn't struggle against her grip.

"I know something's going on between you and Sokka," she hissed.

"I don't know what you're—"

"Oh, come on! You can't be trying to keep it a secret, because if you are, you aren't doing a very good job."

"Well, you aren't doing a good job keeping your secret, either!"

Suki's eyes widened with surprise, but her brows furrowed again and she tightened her grip on the front of Zuko's shirt. "What are you talking about?"

"You and Hakoda."

"What?" the girl screamed, outraged by his comment.

Zuko calmly stared back at her, one brow raised. "I'm normally not one to get into other people's business, but since you're in mine …"

"Yeah, but Sokka is my boyfriend."

"You and I both know that's not true."

Suki's nose wrinkled slightly before she released the firebender and took a few steps back. The girl crossed her arms while exhaling in a heavy sigh. "I knew something was going on ever since I first saw you two at the Boiling Rock. And then Hakoda came along and he likes me for … me. I've just been getting frustrated with Sokka pretending to like me."

"I'm sorry," Zuko frowned in a quiet voice. "We might have to continue to pretend that you two are together, though."

"Why?"

"I'm not quite sure if the group is ready to know about it quite yet. It's a lot to explain," Zuko sighed. He had liked Sokka ever since he first saw him in that small, Water Tribe village. "Perhaps it's just best to keep things less complicated until all of this is over."

"So, you just want to lie to the others?"

"I never said I wanted to. I just think it's for the best. There's just too much going on right now. But, let me ask you something." Zuko brought his amber eyes to hers, his expression completely serious. "Did you ever actually love Sokka?"

"What?" Suki exclaimed with a quizzical look on her face. "Of course I did! Now that you two have something going on, though …"

"I know. I'm sorry. I'm sure he loved you, too. And, I know he still cares a lot about you. You should've seen how excited he was when we found you at the prison."

Suki's cheeks flushed and a small smile curled at her lips. "I know. I care about him, too," the warrior replied. "And since I can see that he needs you, I won't be upset about it. You can have him."

Zuko heaved out a huge sigh of relief that quickly turned into a startled gasp. Suki had wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug, and the sudden gesture had caught him completely off-guard. The firebender awkwardly placed on hand on her back in return. It took a few more moments for her to let go, but when she did, a completely contrasting expression was on her face. She was looking up at him with a threatening glare that made Zuko's eyes widen with shock.

"But if you hurt Sokka in any way," Suki hissed darkly, "I will bring. You. Down."

The banished prince flashed a nervous smile and nodded. This seemed to satisfy Suki, for her face brightened before she spun around and began to walk away. Zuko stared after her, both relieved and happy that everything had turned out okay. Now, the only person left to get approval from: Hakoda. Sokka was handling that, but Zuko was uncertain whether or not things were going well.

"So, what did you need to talk about?" Hakoda asked his son as he bent down to add another log to his armful.

The two men were walking through the lush foliage of the forest beside the temple. Sokka was holding one twig in his hand and was nervously hitting it against trees as they continued. For awhile, the journey had been quiet. Sokka had no idea how he'd tell his father about what was going on with Zuko. Now that it was in the moment, the teenager was feeling sick to the stomach and his limbs were shaking.

"Um, well …" Sokka replied slowly, attempting to draw out things before confessing.

Hakoda lifted his head and raised a brow at his son as he straightened up. There was an expectant look in his cerulean eyes which made Sokka shift uneasily. The teen released a heavy sigh to calm himself, then stared off into the trees.

"Suki and I … we actually aren't together," he murmured.

Hakoda's face revealed nothing but confusion, and there was an awkward silence before the man finally spoke. "What do you mean?"

"Well, I started out liking her, but that was before I figured out that my true feelings were for someone else. I didn't want to hurt her, so that's why I never formally ended the relationship."

"In other words, you are pretending to be with Suki and she is clueless about it? She thinks that the relationship is real? Sokka … by doing this, you're only hurting her even more," his dad replied sternly, a look of disappointment in his eyes.

"Well, I'm sure Zuko is talking to her about it! It's not like I'll keep it a secret forever!" Sokka explained hastily. It was then that he realized he had just given away who his "true feelings" were for, and the teenager's face suddenly went beet red.

Hakoda surveyed him with a blank, unemotional expression. He seemed to be considering a few things, but finally replied with, "I see."

There was no way of telling what the man was thinking. Sokka's sapphire eyes reluctantly met his and he felt himself cringe. The fact that Hakoda was showing no expression at all was even worse than any other reaction.

"I just … thought I'd talk to you about it. Y'know … before we actually … eh … do anything," Sokka said in a quiet voice as his gaze once again fell to the ground.

Hakoda bent over to place his armful of lumber on the ground, then slowly walked over to his son's side. He placed a hand on Sokka's shoulder and smiled. "Sokka," the man chuckled with a shake of his head, "you are free to do whatever you want. It's your life, not mine. I'm glad you told me, but it's not like you needed my permission."

"Oh," Sokka replied, all the while ignoring a voice in his head that was calling him an idiot.

"Does everyone else know about you two?"

"No … we've been keeping it a secret. I'm not sure if and when we're going to tell them."

"Well, I won't say anything. It's up to you and Zuko to tell them. But with the war and all …"

Sokka nodded to indicate he understood, then flashed a sheepish grin. "Should we head back? I think we've gathered enough firewood."

"You mean I've gathered enough," Hakoda said with a smirk. The only wood in Sokka's hand was a small twig.

"Okay, well, give me some of yours so it looks like I did something," the teen said hastily.

Hakoda laughed lightly before handing Sokka part of his armful, then the two trekked through the forest toward the temple.

By the time the two Water Tribe men had made it back to the temple, almost everyone was gathered in the main dome where they slept every night (even Teo and Haru were back, which was surprising). They were all dispersed, but within sight of each other. Naturally, Toph was the first one to notice their presence.

"Ah—the triumphant return," the earthbender announced from her cross-legged position.

"I'm glad to see you're so excited," Sokka commented sarcastically, which caused a smirk to pull at Toph's lips.

"We all thought you were eaten by a platypus-bear. That would've been tragic—we wouldn't have had any firewood for the night."

"Thanks, Toph."

"No problem."

Sokka cast her a short, annoyed glare (even though it wouldn't do anything), before setting down his haul of wood near the sleeping bags. He spun around just in time to see Aang approaching on his air scooter, a wide grin on his face.

"Yeah! You were gone long enough for Sifu Hotman to give me a lesson!"

Sokka ignored the angered, "don't call me that," from where Zuko was standing and rolled his eyes as Aang wheeled in circles around him.

"That's great," he replied dully.

This seemed to be enough for the airbender, for he soon hovered back to Katara's side. Sokka watched as his dad strolled over to Suki's side, and when he caught her eye, he knew that Zuko must've told her. It put him at ease to know that both Hakoda and Suki were aware. The only issue left was when they were going to tell everyone else. The Water Tribe teen released an exhausted sigh before stepping over to Zuko, who was leaning against a wall of the temple.

"What did Suki say?" he asked and casually stood beside him, his eyes scanning the rest of the group.

"She wasn't happy, but she agreed to keep it a secret. Things will be less complicated for everyone else."

Sokka wasn't quite sure how telling the truth was more complicated than a cover-story, but he chose not to argue. He liked the idea of keeping it a secret for now. When the right time came, they'd tell everyone else.

"So, what about your dad?" Zuko questioned, continuing to stare casually at the rest of the group.

"He … isn't concerned about it. In fact, he said that it was my life and I could do whatever I want. I'm not sure if he's pleased by it, but he wasn't mad."

The firebender lowered his head, his hair hanging over his eyes. He was quite sure Hakoda was happy with it. Now that he knew Suki and Sokka weren't actually together, that gave him the chance to be with her. Sokka seemed pretty clueless about his father's crush, and Zuko was nowhere near telling him about it. That would be Suki and Hakoda's job.

"In that case," Zuko murmured and finally let his amber eyes lock with Sokka's, "it's probably not a bad idea for you to spend the night in my room tonight, is it?"

Just like every other time this was brought up, Sokka's face turned pink. He rubbed at the back of his neck while laughing nervously.

"Er—"

"We didn't really get very far last time."

A lustful smile crossed Zuko's face and Sokka knew at once that he couldn't say no. The Water Tribe peasant let a small grin pull at his lips before releasing a sigh.

"Fine, but we'll have to wait for everyone to go to sleep first. That way, they won't notice that we're alone together."

"Believe me, the fact that we could get caught makes it all the more fun."

"Pssst … Zuko, are you in here?" Sokka whispered through a crack in the door that same night.

"No, I just told you to come because I wasn't going to be here," a sarcastic voice replied from the darkness of the room.

"I was just checking! No need to get your hair all tangled up."

Sokka sidled into the room and closed the door behind him. He blinked a few times to get his eyes adjusted to the darkness, then realized moonlight from an open window was pouring onto the bed where Zuko sat. Just enough light was hitting the firebender's eyes to give them an almost devilish glint. He was sitting in a position with his legs spread apart and a smirk pulled at his lips.

"Well? What are you just standing there for?" Zuko asked with a tilt of his head.

The peasant felt his skin grow hot and he slowly stepped over to the bed. Immediately after reaching it, Zuko wrapped his arms around him and pulled him down onto the blankets. He reached behind Sokka's head and tugged out his ponytail. The Water Tribe teen's sapphire gaze locked with Zuko's for a short moment before the two pressed their lips together lovingly.

In the middle of their kiss, Zuko ran his hands down to Sokka's shoulders, then began to pull the teen's tunic off. He didn't once falter throughout the process, and as soon as he had slid the tunic down to Sokka's hips, he pushed him onto the bed below him. The firebender allowed his lover's limbs to be free for the moment, giving Sokka the chance to take off the rest of his clothes himself. Zuko wasn't at all patient, though; he was already kissing at the peasant's chest now that it was bare.

Sokka rotated his hips slightly while attempting to discard his tunic, then used a free hand to fully take it off. All that was left on the Water Tribe teen was the undergarment covering him. Zuko halted in his loving touches to glance down at the cloth, then smirked.

"Nice underwear," the teen snickered teasingly, then returned his kisses to the base of Sokka's neck.

This was a particularly tender spot, for a shudder tingled down Sokka's spine and he released a soft moan. As he felt one of Zuko's hands trailing down toward his undergarment, he suddenly became aware that he was almost naked while Zuko was fully clothed. A voice in his head, once again, called him an idiot.

Thankfully, Zuko's clothes were loose and easy to deal with. As Sokka used one hand to untie the belt around his lover's waist, he hooked the thumb of his other hand on Zuko's pants and pulled down slowly. Because of this, the firebender's hand came to a stop right at Sokka's belly. He was giving the Water Tribe teen some time to undo his clothing. It seemed only fair for them both to be naked at the same time.

Zuko went back to kissing at the soft spots on Sokka's neck, yet wasn't as fervent as before. He had to give the peasant enough room to finish what he was doing. Sokka had almost succeeded with removing his man's pants, then moved to Zuko's shirt.

The Water Tribe teen used his hands to tug the shirt upward, and thankfully, Zuko cooperated by sitting upright with his arms in the air. Soon, Sokka had managed to pull the shirt up over Zuko's head. He flung it onto the floor, then leaned back again. Without hesitation, the firebender continued with his work, this time kissing Sokka's lips.

With his arms wrapped around Zuko's neck, Sokka returned the kisses just as lovingly as before. The two teens were both only covered with their undergarments, but, of course, Zuko didn't let that happen for very long. His hand was already creeping back down Sokka's stomach, fingers trailing over the peasant's soft skin.

Sokka felt his muscles get tense at the feeling, but that wasn't even the beginning of it. As Zuko skillfully worked at removing his underwear, his entire body was shivering with mixed feelings of uncertainty and delight. The firebender seemed to notice this, for he allowed his lips to part with his lover's for a short moment.

"You aren't going to back out of this like last time, are you?" Zuko asked, his eyes reflecting in Sokka's.

For a moment, the two simply stared at each other, but soon enough, a smile crossed Sokka's face. He let his own hands reach for Zuko's underwear, and upon discovering its location, pulled the clothing down in a fluid motion.

"I'm all yours," the Water Tribe teen murmured in a hushed tone.

Zuko offered a small smile that was also devilish—in it's own way. He finished his previous task of removing Sokka's clothing, then took another short break to look right into his sparkling blue eyes.

"God, I love you," the firebender breathed.

The two lovers joined together with another emotional kiss that seemed to last as long as it took for them to truly be together. What had started out as an indifferent acknowledgment was now turning into a love that would last a lifetime.