Author's Note: Thank you all for all your wonderful reviews. I deeply appreciate them all. I hope you enjoy this chapter. It's a little bit… mature. And okay, I understand things are a bit "quick" but here's the thing. They are teenagers. And they are desperate for love and emotion and something NEW. But don't worry, you'll get more detail on their sudden friendship soon.
Zuko closed his eyes, exhaustion settling in behind his lids. "How much more are we going to have to walk, Sokka?" His fist collided with the sight on either side of his nose. Rub it away, Zuko, just rub it away.
"Not much more! It's just up ahead."
Still, they had literally been walking for what felt like all day, and all signs of civilization had disappeared hours prior. "I thought you said you stumbled upon this place," Zuko grumbled.
Sokka separated a dense amount of shrubbery and stepped through. "Here it is." Sokka motioned around them with wide arms.
Admittedly, it was the best camping spot Zuko had ever seen. Quiet and hidden with a creek splitting the darkest green land he'd ever seen, a bright gash in the flat flesh of the earth. "I figured we could spend the night if that's okay," Sokka added, "You know, since we walked all day to get here."
"Sure!" a little too quickly, the affirmative fell from Zuko's lips. "Uh," he mumbled, tucking his hand into the hair at the nape of his neck. "I mean…"
Sokka shook his head and gave a weary grin. "Don't worry about it. Come on, let's catch some fish for dinner!" He dropped his belongings onto the ground and then plopped right down next to the creek. Patting a spot next to him, he watched the water slip over his toes. A few small fish swam by, but he wouldn't waste his efforts. They needed a medium to large size fish to compliment the few things Sokka had tucked in his bag to eat for the next few days… by himself.
He missed Katara. He missed Aang and Toph. But mostly, he missed the assurance that things could and would be alright.
When Zuko sat next to him, Sokka had to fight back the urge to hug him. He wasn't about to spill his woes out on a still-stranger. Especially not Zuko. Even if they had become rather close rather quickly.
Zuko coughed. Still sick, Sokka noted mentally, give him extra fish. "So where are your friends?" Zuko asked quietly, plucking a short knife from his hip.
"My other friends, you mean?" Sokka asked, a cocky sort of grin turning up his mouth.
Zuko flushed. "Yeah, them."
At that moment, a chunky red fish swayed by, unable to predict its untimely death quickly enough as Sokka's spearhead gouged through it. "They're gone." He tossed the fish aside after ensuring its actual death.
Zuko did not ask him to elaborate, somehow he knew Sokka would.
Their tent went up quickly and quietly. Zuko was unsure of how to handle that as he spun the skewered fish around above the flame in his palm.
After it was done, Sokka joined Zuko for their makeshift dinner. "Camping like real men!" Sokka announced as he sat down.
Zuko smiled and handed over a cooked fish. "Yeah. I haven't done this in a while. It's… interesting."
Sokka stared at him for a minute, plucking the meat of the fish from its bones with his fingers. "You know," he stated matter-of-factly, "you look real handsome when you smile." He slid a sliver of fish into his mouth, nodding to himself.
Zuko's gaze drifted off. "Oh, uh, thank you."
"Sure, no problem." A quiet moment drifted between them, and a lazy breeze got caught up in the trees around them. And then, "They were attacked."
Somehow Sokka knew it was okay to tell Zuko in that moment. "Oh," was all the response Zuko could muster.
"I found evidence of a struggle, though I'm not entirely sure what happened. I'm just… I just wish I would have been with them. Maybe I could have helped."
Zuko's stomach sunk. If only he hadn't been with me.
"It'll be okay. I just don't know where we they will go next. I'm the plan guy! I decide. Or at least, I help plan the trips. Now I don't even know where to start."
Zuko nodded, discarding his fish. His hunger faded at the mention of Sokka's regret. "I'm sorry you weren't with them."
Sokka shook his head, a piece of fish poking out from between his lips unflatteringly. "No, don't worry about it. I like spending time with you." His tongue picked up the fish and pulled it into his mouth. "It's no one's fault but my own."
"You can't blame yourself for their being attacked, Sokka," Zuko reasoned.
Sokka looked upset at these particular words. "If your Uncle was attacked when you weren't around, wouldn't you blame yourself?"
"Yes." No hesitation again. Sokka had a way of pulling answers from Zuko's mouth that Zuko himself was unsure he'd even want to answer if it were anyone else. But with Sokka…
"Exactly." Sokka sucked down the last of his fish when he noticed Zuko had barely touched his. "Hey, Zuko, shouldn't you eat? You're still sick."
"Nah, I'm good. I'll be okay."
Sokka narrowed his eyes. "You sure?"
"Yeah, I'm positive. Thanks, though." A yawn registered with his lungs before it did with his mind. "Oh, wow, I guess I'm tired."
"Go to bed if you want. I can clean this up." Sokka gestured to the mess they had made while eating. Fish bones were strewn about randomly, and Sokka actually enjoyed waking up to something clean. Fresh morning, fresh start.
"Thanks." Zuko tucked himself into bed and was asleep before his head hit the sleeping bag he was nestled into.
Of course, when Sokka stumbled in, Zuko stirred.
"Sorry!" Sokka uttered after he'd accidentally taken a few steps on top of Zuko's legs. "Tent's a bit small!"
"That's okay," Zuko whispered, closing his eyes once more.
Sokka continued to rustle next to him for a few minutes and then took a deep breath. "Zuko?"
Zuko opened one eye and turned his head to face Sokka. "Hmm?"
"Do you think I'll find them?"
"Yeah," Zuko pulled his arm from the bag and reached out to pat Sokka reassuringly on the shoulder. "and if you don't, you can always come stay with Uncle and me."
"You mean that? I'll hold you to it if you do."
"I do," Zuko promised, a grin hidden from Sokka's view in the dark shadows of the night.
Neither of them could be completely sure of what sparked in the air at that moment. Maybe it was the reassurance, the promise of warmth that nestled itself so deep in Sokka's heart.
Maybe it was a friend, his first true friend that wasn't his Uncle, that made Zuko's face burn like he had said something particularly naughty in front of chaste women.
But whatever the reason, Sokka felt a sudden urge to move forward and press his lips to Zuko's, and this is precisely what he did.
For a second, the heat in Zuko's face registered, that comfort groaning deep in his chest. Sokka pulled back, the brushing of their lips barely more than innocent, but still Zuko was struck. "What was that for?" he wondered aloud, quietly. He was suddenly very awake, very aware of the pounding in his chest.
"I'm not gay," Zuko began rambling, "I like girls! I mean, women! They're beautiful! Sokka I-"
"No, no, stop! Don't say any more. I'm just, uh," he tugged his legs free from his sleeping bag roughly. "I'm going to go… uh…"
Sokka stumbled out of the tent and into the forest. "Not gay! What! I'm not gay, either! I was just showing affection!" He threw his arms up, and then tucked them around his chest. "Hrmph. He should come and apologize." Sokka shot a glare in the direction of the tent and then decided to settle into the crook at the base of a tree. "Whatever. I'll just sit here until he decides to come and find me. Jerk. I'm not gay, either." He settled down against the tree, his eyelids fluttered to a close. "Jerk."
Zuko pressed his eyelids together, forcing his thoughts down, down, down. And in the spot where his thoughts settled, another feeling nestled, this delicious knot just above the region between his legs, a nice, tight little something.
Without thinking too much, Zuko slid his hands back into the sleeping bag. His fingers grazed the skin beneath his shirt, inching lower still, as the tingle from the kiss resurfaced on his lips. What was he doing? Sokka was a… a friend, now. A friend. Nothing more! But still, his body jerked up in response as his touch grazed the most sensitive area yet. Heat flooded through him, a desperate whimper slipped from his lips as his fingers closed around his affliction.
Sokka slid one finger into the waistband of his pants, his eyes still clamped shut around the light of the moon. "Well, who will it hurt?" he asked the night silently, pushing his hands in… "No, not until he apologizes." He yanked his hands free again. A long inhale ended with a loud yawn. Darkness crept up over him and before he knew it, sleep overtook him.
Zuko was only vaguely aware of the name sputtered from his lips as the extreme pleasure weaved through him. Nearly immediately, he too gave over to sleep. Only the animals heard him mutter "Sokka" while he dreamed.
The next morning, Sokka made his way back to the tent. "Wake up! You owe me an apology, Zuko." It only took Sokka a moment to realize the man in the cover of the tent was shaking, breaths perforated and uneven. "Zuko?" The anger of the previous night forgotten, he reached out to feel Zuko's forehead and retracted his hand just as quickly. He hissed, "You're burning up!" to himself.
So he went to the creek for some water and slowly dripped it all over Zuko's skin until the steam was gone and his body temperature was manageable. And then he stripped the sick man down to his underclothes and begged, "Please Zuko, get up!" By some small miracle, Zuko managed to stand and the two boys made it to the water. Sokka submerged him in the cool water, a deeper section of creek that really didn't help that much. Zuko began tugging away from Sokka.
"I'm fine, I can do this alone."
Sokka snorted. "Don't be so stubborn, fire breath. You can barely keep your eyes open. It's not like I want to help you, either, so don't forget that." Zuko nodded, relaxing again into Sokka's arms.
Sokka helped Zuko redress and lead him back to the tent. "Zuko, come on, get under these blankets." He stacked the sleeping bags on top of each other.
"Please no, don't make me. I'm so, so hot." Zuko grasped for Sokka weakly, his arms twitching.
"You have to sweat out this fever, Zuko. You can't do this, you're not in the fire nation anymore, the nights here are cold." And Sokka settled in behind him, letting Zuko's head fall into his lap. He ran his fingers through the boy's hair for a moment, nails scratching at his scalp.
Zuko sweat in his sleep. So much heat radiated off of him that Sokka slept outside of the tent again.
The next morning while Sokka was making tea, he heard Zuko stirring in the tent. When he got inside, just as he was about to press his palm to feel for Zuko's temperature, golden eyes opened quickly and bored into his.
His lips twisedt in distaste. "Hmph. I'm not sure if I should be happy you're awake or not." His hand found the prince's forehead on their own accord and registered a coolness not there the day before. "The fever is gone. I'll bring you some tea."
He was nearly out of the tent when the silence cracked behind him. "Sokka, wait."