This is Kimberly T. who's been such a great help! and who had the wonderful idea of expanding Sokka and Zuko's road trip to apologize to Song. Warning sillyness and awkwardness ahead!
Sokka had become a light sleeper during the war. He'd used to fall into a sleep deeper than the deepest parts of the ocean as soon as his head hit the pillow, but during the war too many 'incidents' had happened. These incidents always left them bruised and panicked and Sokka as the oldest felt it was his duty to try and watch out for the others. Toph was always good at sensing things coming over land, but after the war ballons, Sokka couldn't sleep comfortably. He found the slightest noise woke him up now. So when he heard the sounds of scuffling coming from the barn and the low moan of an ostrich horse he leapt upright and grabbed boomerang. He crept slowly and saw a figure trying to lead Daisy away. Someone was trying to steal the ostrich horses! Zuko had only just bought those yesterday. He'd been so mad if he woke up tomorrow and found they were gone. While they normally worked in teams, Sokka didn't want to wake anyone else up for this. This jerk could be long gone by then. Sokka was a master swordsman and he figured he could take this one guy. The guy knelt down to attach Daisy's saddle. Sokka seized his moment.
"SNEAK ATTACK!"Sokka cried out and lauched himself in a flying tackle at the jerk. The jerk turned around and made a little shocked noise that sounded like whuuh, but too late. They landed in a heap of tangled arms and limbs. He had boomerang in his right hand and proceed to smack the jerk wherever. That would teach him for trying to steal an Ostrich horse.
"Ooow! What the hell Sokka! You hit me in the ear! " Zuko! He'd just flying tackled Zuko! Sokka leapt off him fast as lightening and reached out his hand to help the other boy up. Zuko got up and started brushing the dust off himself and was standing in that self-conscious pose he used when trying to regain his dignity. Sokka had seen it many times. Oh so many times. There was a sort of shuffling from one foot to the other, a very stiff back, probably a stiff upper lip too.
"Sorry I hit you in the ear." Sokka said, shuffling his feet too.
"Yeah well it really hurt! It was my left ear too! Seriously who hits someone in the ear? I mean really now!"
"Hey I caught you by surprise didn't I, Mr-sneaky-ninja-skills. And you should be thanking me!"
"For smacking me in the ear?"
" No,for trying to protect your bloody ostrich horses! I thought you were a thief, with the way you were being all sneaky like, and if you had been a thief I would've just saved your bloody ostrich horses."
Zuko seemed struck by a dark sort of ironic humor. "You thought I was stealing them? My own horses this time." he asked his shoulders shaking. Was it this? Sokka was confused. Was Zuko …laughing? This was very weird. They'd been hanging out a lot lately and Zuko wasn't what you'd call jolly. It had been just to two of them ever since Katara and Suki had discovered this day spa .
They'd been on the road for ages and the girls said they needed some time to relax. Everyday this week they'd gone and they'd taken Toph, for what they called 'pampering and girl talk.' What happened during 'girl talk' in the hot bed of iniquity often referred to as a day spa, Sokka did not want to know. Zuko was of the same mind. They were both way too macho for face cream and foot rubs.
Aang was not. He'd invited himself 3 days ago, much to the girl's quiet dismay. That really threw a spanner in the 'girl-talk' works. Aang, bless his oblivious heart, kept inviting himself along. Sokka suspected darkly that it was so he could see more of Katara in her bathing suit. Otherwise he had an unhealthy attachment to mud bath treatments.
So for three days it had just been Sokka and Zuko. They hadn't hung out this much since the boiling rock. They'd sparred, Sokka's space sword against Zuko's dao blades, and played pai sho (they were both learning, but Sokka had won nearly every game) and yesterday they'd gone down to the market together and Zuko had bought three Ostrichhorses which seemed rather excessive to Sokka. Zuko had said, a little enigmatically, that he had his reasons.
Sokka and Zuko really got along which had surprised them both in the beginning. They'd discovered they had a lot in common. They were both manly men (obviously-this was why they weren't at the steam pools with everybody else.) They both were pretty skeptical about all the hocus-pocusy things that happened around the Avatar. Sokka and Zuko had twice found themselves saying in unison "there must be a logical explanation." They were both older brothers to highly talented (and in Zuko's case, crazy) sisters. They were both pretty practical about things and Sokka was glad that there was somebody else in Appa's saddle who liked having A PLAN. Sokka loved PLANS. Since they had defeated the firelord , Aang had taken to flying all over the world trying to 'fix' it. WITHOUT A PLAN. This made Sokka very unhappy.
Zuko, who wanted to forge new ties, survey his new kingdom and do diplomatic stuff was all for a PLAN. He'd been with them for a couple of months now. He left his Uncle Iroh back in the fire nation as his regent and they wrote daily, tiring out hawkmessengers everywhere. Now he was Firelord he was entitled to an enormous entourage. Sokka had though it a bit weird at first that Zuko would choose sleeping on the lumpy ground, or in random inns and houses, over an enormous bed. Oddly enough, Zuko would tell him one evening, he felt more comfortable travelling with the gang on Appa, camping out and just chilling out, than he ever had with a fire nation entourage. He still hadn't quite adjusted to being Firelord and tried to travel as incognito as possible. He wore his hair down (to better cover the scar) unless he was doing something official and diplomatic, in which case it was all top knots and shiny clothes. The Zuko that Sokka had come to know was a pragmatic person, not one that was prone to absconding with ostrich horses at 4 am.
"What the hell are you doing absconding with your own ostrichhorses at 4am?" Sokka always asked the blunt question.
"Look, this is something I have to do. Alone. I left a note. I'll be back in the afternoon. " Zuko said apologetically.
"You were going to abandon me to the den of iniquity known as a day spa! Without sparring with you as an excuse they'll make me go." Sokka asked incredulously. This had to be against some kind of bro code.
"Maybe it'll be fun." Zuko offered. They both paused and pondered that for a while. Then Sokka said,
"To hell with that, I'm coming with you."
Zuko tried, he really really tried, to discourage Sokka from coming. But it was like fighting a verbal version of Pai sho. Every excuse Zuko came up with Sokka out maneuvered. It'll be less stealthy with two. We've already lost all stealth, remember being smacked in the ear. It'll be boring, way worse than a day spa. What could be worse than being subject to hours and hours and hours of girl talk. It's easier for one person to move three ostrichhorses. No it isn't. Sokka had gone inside to add his name to Zuko's note and to get more snacks for the journey. He had found Zuko's snack supply sadly lacking in seal jerky.
Why me? Zuko thought. Now he had to revisit the most shameful time in his life with a loud, sarcastic water tribe witness. Sokka was probably his best friend, but he just wanted to do this alone. He couldn't believe Sokka had caught him actually. And that he had thought he was a thief. The irony was not lost on Zuko. Being mistaken for a thief while trying to return something he owned to make up for what he actually stole. He had come to the conclusion that the irony gods, or the spirits, or karma just loved poking, nudging, and tormenting him. Every. Single. day.
There was nothing to do but wait for his friend while he loaded up on snacks. Sokka came out with a backpack and tethered Fearless (the dopiest of the three ostrichhorses he'd bought) to Buttercup and set of at a soft canter. Zuko gave daisy a little kick to catch up.
"Woo hoo! Road trip!" Sokka said with a big grin.
"Sokka I have something to tell you."
"It's not a sneak attack if you yell it out first like that."
"Hey, I still got close enough to hit you in the ear, mr sneaky-ninja-skills."
"I'm trying to find the ideal nickname for you. What do you think."
"No, it's too long."
Two hours later….
"How about Sparky?"
"Sounds a bit…lame."
"Lame? I put actual thought into that one."
"Why do you even want to give me a nickname. What's wrong with calling me Zuko?"
"Because it's what friends do and because Zuko… it's too luuurgh." Sokka made a little noise and gesture to go along with this statement.
"Did you just 'luuurgh' my name?"
"Uuum…Kinda. Don't think on it too much."
"Well what would you know! Zuko's a great name! We should be trying to find a nickname for you because Sokka is so…..so….meh."
"I'll take 'meh' over 'luuurgh', thank you very much. I just want to find a nickname for you that's better than Jerkbender"
"you called me Jerkbender?"
"Sometimes angry jerk too…..just not to your face, obviously."
"when was this?"
"back when you were being a jerk and all full of rage and chasing us and stuff."
"are you being sarcastic?"
"Oh I'm so proud! Soon you'll be able to tell a joke that doesn't suck. I know! How about Chuckles?"
Zuko's face went completely blank in shock and horror at the thought of going through life being called something as undignified as Chuckles. Sokka continued speaking.
"See it's funny because it's ironic...because you don't often chuckle."
"We've been riding for ages, where are we going?"
"To visit a girl called song."
"Is she you're secret girlfriend?"
"SHE IS NOT MY GIRLFRIEND"
"Sheesh. Just curious. So why are we visiting her and why are we bring her three ostrichhorses?"
Zuko mumbled something inaudible.
"sorry didn't catch that."
The mumbling increased in volume but not comprehensibility.
"Err, I missed that too."
"I stole an ostrichhorse from her okay! Happy now?"
Sokka was silent for a moment, which Zuko found even more irritating than the nicknamery he'd been subjected to. He was worried it was turning into a judgmental silence. He sensed that more information was required on his part.
"It was after the siege of the North. Uncle and me were refugees and we had nothing. Less than nothing. I was desperate. Song invited us home for dinner and well…we…she showed me…look that doesn't matter….so I stole her ostrichhorse. And I feel really bad about in now. So we're going to give her three."
"why are we giving her three ostriches horses if you only stole one?"
"because I feel really, really, really bad about it."
"So you give back threefold? That's gonna get expensive if you have to compensate everybody the firenation screwed over."
"well not for the whole firenation misdeeds, just my own. Uncle had this theory that if you do something really bad, a real dishonor, then you have to do three things for the greater good to reverse you bad chi and whatnot."
"So for all the bad stuff you did, you need to do something three times as nice to make up for it?"
"Yeah that's about it."
"Wow. You're going to be sooo busy!"
After a long ride in which they had to turn back three times and ask for directions twice they ended up at Song's house. It was actually only about an hour from where they'd started but prince no-sense-of-direction (no, too long) had taken them in the opposite direction of where they needed to go. Zuko hadn't told him much about the girl aside from the ostrichtheivery, but Sokka could tell she'd made a big impression on him. He'd asked Zuko about it later, maybe after he'd had a few sakes and was more prone to divulging stuff. Not now when he seemed so nervous and was about to talk to the lady in question.
Or so Sokka had thought. For the past fifteen minutes the prince had paced and gestured and attempted to knock on the door. One he made it as far as the verandah but beat a hasty retreat as soon as one of the floor boards squeaked. Sokka was looking forward to one of the least apologetic people he knew making a grand apology. But this was taking so long. It was getting ridiculous. He grabbed Zuko by the shoulder and marched with him up to the door and rapped three times on the door quite loudly. He heard someone fiddling with the lock on the other side of the door and gave Zuko what he thought was an encouraging shove. It was meant to be a shove that conveyed –just apologise-already-so-we-can-go-get-lunch. Instead it sent Zuko right off balance and conveyed him right into the door unlocker and knocked them both to the ground. The door unlocker was obviously Song's mother and she made a slight noise of surprise and dismay at having a body come crashing towards her. There was a tangle of limbs that neither party seemed happy with. Zuko recovered first and got up and held his hand out to the lady, blathering so that his words came out as one long smushed together word.
"ohmygoshI'msososorry. Ididn'tmeantobutmyfriend…" at this point the lady was on her feet and looked at Zuko in the face. He eyes registered recognition, then anger.
"What are you doing here? You want to steal another ostrichhorse? Get out!" and with that she gave Zuko a powerful shove out the door and slammed it in his face. The door collided powerfully with his nose and Zuko let out a firenation curse.
"Language!" a voice admonished from behind the door.
"Well that didn't go as well and we'd hoped then." Sokka offered in what he hoped was a reassuring tone of voice. Zuko made a frustrated little grumpy noise and stalked off to pace some more.
They had a lunch of snacks (the best kind of lunch, Sokka said.) Zuko periodically touched either his ear or his nose, both of which had been injured in the making of this apology. Zuko had been practicing his apology on Sokka and it had gotten pretty well polished with the practice. Sokka had put on a high voice and said things like "oh you ostrichhorse stealing brute!" at the start, which was a bit distracting because the real song didn't talk like that. But if he could apologize with distractions then he was ready! Sokka-song had forgiven him everytime and one memorable time he'd thrown his arms around Zuko saying in a high pitch voice that was meant to be Song's "Oh let's never fight again Zuzu."
Zuko felt his heart stop in horror for a second. What it possible to have a heart attack this young? Was it possible to die from just sheer frustration? Possibly. He knew he would spontaneously combust from rage and grumpiness if Sokka utilized Azula's nickname for him. He hated being called 'Zuzu.' He'd take 'Jerkbender' over 'Zuzu' anyday. He'd been adamant that nobody ever call him Zuzu ever again. Except for Azula because... he couldn't get her to stop. They sat down and Sokka began to disperse what he imagined to be sage advice.
"you're over-thinking it. Just speak from you heart. Girls love that shit!" Sokka said.
"Riiiight." Zuko looked at him disbelievingly. All the times in his life Zuko had spoken from his heart had ended up in an injury of some kind.
"No really, a heart felt apology is like 10 times better than a rehereased one. I've had to apologise to Suki like 60 times. I'm an old pro at this! Sokka said serenely. "Oh! It's like flower giving theory." Sokka said with a guesture.
"What's flower giving theory?" Zuko was genuinely intrigued.
"Well Suki says that if it is here birthday and she outright tells me that she wants flowers and then I get them, those flowers are worth less than ones that she's only dropped hints about wanting. But birthday hint flowers are worth way less than surprise flowers." Off Zuko's questioning look, sokka continued.
"Surprise flowers are flowers that you don't even know that she wants or needs but you just give them to her because."
"because why? Flowers can be super inconvenient gift, you have to find a vase for them and they get all wrinkly."
" Because you love her and want some nookie? " Sokka said raising his voice up at the end in a questioning manner. He clearly didn't have a firm grasp on flower theory yet. No wonder he had to apologize to Suki all the time.
" Suki explains this way better. Look hinty-flowers mean that I just want to give her flowers, but she wants me to want to give her flowers without hints because it shows that I want to be the sort of dude who wants to give. Surprise flowers show that I was thinking about her and wanted to give her something unprompted. And so that's why they are worth way more." Sokka explained with lots of had guestures to compensate for his limited grasp on flower theory. Zuko looked incredibly confused.
"I don't under stand. Are you saying I should get Song some flowers?" he asked
"No, according to Suki the flowers aren't the point of flower theory." Sokka added.
"What! Girls are crazy!" Zuko exclaimed. On this one Sokka was inclined to agree.
"Yeah, I know right. But look my point was your apology should be like surprise flowers. Surprise flowers are a heartfelt gesture and heart felt gestures are always worth way more in girl world."
Just then they saw Song walking up the path with a bundle of groceries in her arms. She was sweet looking in a yellow dress. She paused when she saw them. Sokka waved in an enthusiastically and Zuko waved much more shyly. She walked up until she was standing with them. Her eyes narrowed a little in her pretty face.
"What are you doing here Li?" she asked in a tired voice.
At that point Zuko's well practiced apology left his brain. Leaving nothing. Nothing! he didn't speak for a moment but just gaped a little at Song. What had Sokka said? Speak from the heart? It was worth a try. They hadn't come all this way for him to just stare silently at her like a weirdo. Zuko started talking and once he started he just couldn't stop.
"Hi Song! I'm really sorry for taking your ostrichhorse and I wanted to thank you for everything and say sorry and maybe don't hate me, so I got you three different ostriches horses…." At this point he guestured at the ostrichhorses they had tethered to the fence." For you know saying sorry and thanks and don'thateme , but those aren't their names. There names are daisy, buttercup and fearless" that would have been a fine enough apology. It wasn't the eloquent one he'd practiced but it said pretty much what he wanted to say. His brain or his mouth had other ideas and just kept talking long after Zuko knew he should've shut up.
"….and I just wish I'd never done it. But it was partly your fault for inviting strangers into your home. We could've been like serial killers or something. But we weren't! And..and we'd never hurt you or your mum! And I felt really bad about what you told me about the firenation hurting you because I've never liked to see people get hurt and I'd never really seen the other side of the war until I met you. I thought you were really pretty but I wasn't meant to think you were pretty because you were an earthnation peasant. But you were so nice to us and nobody else was and you were so pretty but then you showed me you legs and you're legs were all burned and I was thinking 'wow her legs are burned for sure.' Like really scarred. Like my face! Only not like my face because the burns were on your legs. Obviously. And did it take forever to heal? You know because my face hurt for ages and it still does sometimes. Anyway I felt so bad about you being burned and then so mad at you for making me feel so bad and it was just a mad-bad feeling and…. madness. Madness over took me and that's why I stole the horses. So sorry…for that.
Wow. There's heartfelt apologies and then there's just letting-it-all-hang-out apologies. Zuko had opted for the later. It was like watching a kayak crash. There was that horrible inevitable feeling. This apology was going down! Abandon ship! Abandon mission. Abort abort abort. It was just word vomit. Or word soup. Just words kept coming. As soon as Zuko said the words 'serial killers' Sokka had started making frantic silencing gestures to no effect. Time to shut up now! The words 'serial killers' should never show up in a heart felt apology. That was possibly the very first rule of heart felt apologies. Zuko ran out of word steam talking about mad-bad feelings and claiming that madness had taken over. Sokka had to agree. He had never, in his life, seen anyone dig such a huge hole for themselves so quickly. Dig up! Dig up idiot.
Sokka had watched as Song's serene face went from "pleasantly surprised" to "incredibly irritated" in the space of two minutes. Her expressions detoured past shocked, angry, embarrassed, flattered, back to angry, surprised, bashful, before finally settling on incredibly irritated.
Song didn't say anything and just gaped and Zuko like he had grown a second head. Zuko didn't say anything and just stared at the ground as if mentally willing it to swallow him whole. Sokka didn't say anything for a minute because, he too, was a bit surprised at how bad an apology could be. This was hands down, the dorkiest, most embarrassing thing he'd ever seen Zuko do. The silence stretched on for at least a full two minutes. Two minutes of uncomfortable. Two minutes of embarrassing silence. Two minutes of painful awkwardness. This had become a giant awkward sandwich with embarrassing sauce on top! What was Zuko waiting for? Song looked like she was debating whether she wanted to slap him or kick him. Who'd stay for that? Unless Zuko's embarrassment had frozen him in place! What else was Sokka here for but to help his friend out in times of strife and embarrassment freeze. He marched forward and grabbed Zuko by the shoulder.
"I think what my friend is trying to say is that he's really sorry for pinching you ostrichhorse and he's brought you some replacements. And now, oh look at the time! We've got to go. Bye!" At the this he pulled Zuko along with him down the path away from the house while whispering "let's get out of here." They'd walked about three minutes down the path before they realized that they'd given away all their transport. For two people who loved having A PLAN, they hadn't thought of this eventuality. How long was the walk anyway? Song had come of foot with groceries so it could be too far. Would it be better to walk? Sokka was feeling a bit lazy and a bit cheeky.
"We could always go back and ask if we could borrow one just for the ride back into town?" he ventured
"We can never go back there! And we can never speak of this again!" Zuko wailed. He was red faced with embarrassment. "Did you see what I did back there? I just went bleeerh!" Zuko made a word-vomit gesture incase Sokka misinterpreted 'bleerh.' "I talked about serial killers. We can never go back."
"Nah I think you did okay." Sokka lied, because there was no point in saying 'that was a catastrophic excuse for an apology.'
"Don't patronize me." Zuko grumbled.
And that point they could both here the sound of soft swift feet running down the path. Song appeared at little way off. 'Li wait.' She called out. By the time she'd caught up with them. Zuko was in full-on trying-to-maintain-my-dignity pose. Song caught up with them and gave them both a shy smile.
"Look I'm sorry for not saying anything back there. That was rude. I was just so…." Song searched for a diplomatic word. "Surprised! That was an…unusual apology. But er….thanks, I guess, for the ostrich horses I mean." At this she seemed a little torn about what to do. Shake hands? Give him a peck on the cheek? In the end Song made a little earth kingdom bow in their direction before adding.
"I never hated you anyway Li." Zuko smiled his dorkiest smile yet and bowed back to her in fire nation fashion. She seemed a little surprised by this. She'd probably always assumed he was an earth kingdom refugee if she called him Li, which was the fake name both Sokka and Zuko had used at previous points in their life. She looked like she was about to say something else, but then thought better of it.
"Well…thanks again and goodbye." She said as she turned to walk back down the path she'd come with her back straight and a slight spring in her step. Song was lovely, Sokka mused. Shame Zuko messed up so badly with her. He really needed a girlfriend to teach him things like flower theory and how not to trip over his words.
"Bye" the boys called out and started in the opposite direction and the long walk back into town. Zuko was grinning like a giant dork. Zuko often tried to act all badass and Ninja but the truth of the matter was the he was a giant dorky dork from dorktown, dorkmania. Zuko shouldn't be the firelord, he should be the dorklord! Suddenly Sokka saw with perfect clarity to best nickname for Zuko.
"I have it! The prefect nickname for you! Your dorkiness"
"Think about it, your dorkiness, it sounds official and appropriate, but it's so true."
"But I'm not even that dorky."
Sokka coughed emphatically.
"You trying to apologise to Song was the dorkiest thing I've ever seen!"
"Hey there were extenuating circumstances!"
"That's true, your dorkiness."
At this Zuko made a grab for Sokka's head and tried to give him a noogie. Sokka retaliated in turn and the whole thing degenerated into a joint noogie-giving inelegant struggle, with limbs all akimbo, which lead to many counter noogies and sneak attack noogies and affectionate noogies on the way home.
The boys got home, to the little house that a friend of Aang's had lent them, just after dark. The girls (and Aang) were already waiting. They had been waiting and waiting and waiting and one member was getting slightly worried. The worrier was certain the boys had not gone fishing. What were they up to? She saw them coming up the path and felt a wave of relief. Both their hair was a frightful mess and Zuko's ear was bleeding slightly and he had a fresh bruise on his face from today.
"Where have you been!" said Katara as she came up to them and looked at them accusingly as she held up a note that said.
Gone fishing- I'll back by lunch. Zuko.
Me too, sokka.
"Eeer, fishing?" Zuko offered.
"Well, where are your fish?" Katara countered, hands on hips as she walked right up to him.
"I'm not very good at it?" Zuko really needed to stop making his lame excuses sound like questions. Sokka stepped in.
"I was trying to teach him, but yeah he's pretty terrible at it." Sokka offered diplomatically
"What happened to you're ear then?" Katara asked with concern as she rounded on Zuko. Zuko felt that familiar tongue-tied feeling he got when he was put on the spot. Katara was also looking exceptionally beautiful this evening and had gotten all up in his personal space and it was really, really distracting for him. He raked his brain and only found the truth.
"errrrr….aaaah…Sokka hit me with boomerang?" damn you questioning tone Zuko thought.
"SOKKA, why would you do such a thing?"
" To teach him to fish better?" Sokka offered. Damnit, the lame excuse question tone was catching. And Still Katara wasn't done.
"I know you guys didn't go fishing!" they looked around guiltily at the ground, trying to think up an even lamer excuse.
"Weren't there three ostriches horses here yesterday?" Katara asked. And suddenly an idea came to Zuko that would explain everything.
"Oh yes, I… err… set them free…. They were being cruelly caged… at the market and all so I wanted to …..released them back into the wild. Sokka came too. And one of them..ah…kicked me! It kicked me and Sokka tried to scare it away with the boomerang and hit me in the ear instead. So you're right we didn't really go fishing. We were just looking for a nice area for them away from people. So they could..run free?" Spirits who would believe that rubbish! Zuko thought darkly to himself. It was perhaps the lamest excuse he'd ever come up with. But surprisingly the girls did believe his rubbish. Suki and Toph said "aaaaawww" nearly in unison. Though Toph said it with a lot more sarcasm.
Katara looked at him like he was new puppy who was just navigating its feet for the first time. Cute but hopeless.
"Sit down, let me heal that ear and that bruise for you." Katara said giving him a huge smile. They sat on the porch and Katara knelt down next to him and put her cool hands on the side of his face. Suki smiled at Sokka widely. "Notice anything different?" she asked, her voice full of expectation. Now it was Sokka's turn to look like a deer in the headlights.
Suki's smile dropped a fraction.
"No, guess again."
"Your nails?" Suki's smile dropped completely.
Sokka kept guessing, much to Suki's dismay. The correct answer had been her eyebrows. They'd be 'shaped'. It took a long time for Sokka to guess this. Zuko knew with certainty that someone was getting surprise flowers tomorrow.