Author: peri_peteia and ali_wildgoose
Pairing: Mentions of Sokka/Suki and Mai/Zuko
Summary: As much as she intensely dislikes it, Katara understands why Zuko had to join them. What she doesn't understand is why he and Sokka have to spend every waking moment in each other's company.
Notes: Spoilers for "Day of Black Sun."
"No," Zuko said, firmly and for the fourth time. Zuko's eyes were narrowed and Sokka could see a twitch starting in the corner of the good one. "It's stupid."
"You're only saying that," said Sokka, with a confidence that had increased exponentially each time Zuko refused, "because you can't do it." Sokka was unmoved by Zuko's twitch. As far as he was concerned Zuko was still angry and he was still a jerk, and his decision to turn on the Fire Nation only meant that he wouldn't be trying to set Sokka or any of his friends on fire anymore. Which drastically decreased any intimidation factor he might ever have had.
Not that he'd ever had one as far as Sokka was concerned. Certainly not. The very thought was pretty ridiculous.
"Why would anyone want to do something that idiotic in the first place?!"
Sokka shook his head. It had not taken Sokka long to discover that, in addition to his many other flaws, Zuko also wasn't very bright. "You're such a donkeychicken," he said, scoffing.
"I am not!" Zuko yelled immediately. "And this is stupid and I'm not doing it."
Sokka crossed his arms and smiled. "That's all right. I understand. You're royalty. Oh, I'm sorry. You were. Whatever. You're not used to the real world where you don't have servants to do everything for you." Zuko's face reddened, his fists clenched at his sides. "It's fine. Not everyone can be a real man. The world needs scared little momma's boys, too. All part of the natural balance of things."
"Well, you're stupid and your ponytail makes you look like a moron!"
"Uh-huh." Sokka took a moment to stretch, then pinwheeled his arms to loosen up. "Look, since you're so scared, how about you just watch so that later you can actually be useful and tell everyone what I did?"
Sokka strode forward then, not bothering to look back at Zuko, and very deliberately stepped up onto the smooth log that rested on the ground a few feet away. Hands at his waist, he took a moment to admire the scenery, allowing Zuko a chance to see how easily Sokka balanced himself in his precarious position. The log on which Sokka stood was perched at the top of a hill overlooking a river, at the western end of which lay their camp. At the base of the hill was a small patch of brambles that died away right before the sandy riverbank.
"This is going to be one of the most incredible feats I've ever accomplished," Sokka announced. And that was saying a lot. Sokka was a very accomplished guy. "Too bad it's pretty much wasted on you. I guess you can tell your children about it one day. Maybe they'll inherit the courage to appreciate it from their mom."
The log suddenly shook as Zuko slammed his foot down on it. With great effort, Sokka did not throw his arms out for balance. It wouldn't have been manly.
"Move over," Zuko growled through clenched teeth.
Sokka kept his expression steely as he slowly shuffled to the far end. Zuko stepped the rest of the way up onto the log. He wobbled slightly, but his face was rigid with determination. The log creaked and canted slightly to Zuko's side. Sokka ignored it.
Sokka took a deep breath. "Okay, on three. One...two- SHIT NOT YET!"
"Ouch!" Sokka yelled. "Watch how you take those things out, Katara. You might leave a scar."
Zuko snorted. Sokka tried to turn his head to glare at the older boy, but Katara forcefully held it in place as she continued her work.
"Wouldn't that be horrible," Zuko said loudly.
"Hey, I'm the meat and sarcasm guy," Sokka grumbled. "How about you stick to 'whiney asshole?'"
Katara ignored them both. "Would you mind explaining to me again," she asked, schooling her voice into her most ominously disapproving tone, "why I'm pulling thorns out of your face?"
"It's his fault," the boys said simultaneously.
Not for the first time, Katara wondered how, exactly, her life had ended up this way. As much as she intensely disliked it, she understood why Zuko had to be there. She understood that it was his destiny to help the Avatar, that he was going to help Aang restore balance to the world, that he would one day rule the Fire Nation with a firm but just hand and usher in an era of peace. What she didn't understand was why he and Sokka had to spend every waking moment in each other's company.
At first she'd blamed it on their sword training. Sokka had been eager to test out his skills, and once Zuko realized how worthy an opponent Sokka actually was he'd gone along with it slightly less begrudgingly than he did everything else. But that didn't explain how they'd fallen out of that tree, or gotten stuck up on that ledge, or ended up shivering uncontrollably in their undergarments in that river in the middle of the night.
Lost in her reverie, it was a moment before Katara registered that Sokka was now addressing her in lieu of insulting Zuko directly.
"-If Chunky here didn't spend his time eating all my seal jerky, this would never have happened!"
Zuko spluttered for a moment before yelling, a few octaves higher than normal, "Chunky?"
"You heard me!"
"Chunky?!" Zuko repeated, and Katara had to admit that the amount of indignation contained in those two syllables was impressive.
"If it wasn't for your fat ass weighing down your side of the log, my sister wouldn't be struggling to save my face right now!"
Katara considered pointing out that Sokka's face was hardly in any real danger, but that was when Zuko (with one last enraged intonation of the word "chunky") tugged his shirt open and began to demonstratively pound his fist against his stomach. Katara then decided that she wanted as little further to do with this situation as was humanly possible.
"No, I mean, she's really pretty. Actually...beyond pretty. Absolutely beautiful. Knock-you-on-your-ass smoking."
"So's mine," Zuko shrugged, eyes still on the night sky. They were sitting in the grass beside a massive tree, and he crossed his arms behind his head as he leaned back against its trunk.
Sokka felt that Zuko was being unnecessarily stubborn with regard to this issue. He didn't know why Zuko insisted on pretending he wasn't impressed by Suki's innumerable charms, but it was getting old.
"I'm talking burn-down-this-entire-forest-with-a-look,
"Uh-huh," Zuko grunted dismissively.
"I get it," said Sokka. "It's actually decent of you to be loyal, you know, to pretend she's the best even when you know that there are other girls who are superior in every way." Sokka nodded sagely. "I'm sure she'd be very happy."
"My girlfriend could kill you," Zuko said, with lazy satisfaction. "Before you even drew your sword, if she wanted to."
Sokka sighed. "You are completely missing the point of this conversation."
Zuko turned his head and gave Sokka a pitying look. A look that clearly communicated his belief that it was, in fact, Sokka who was missing the point.
"She carries fifty-seven knives," he said. "On her body."
Sokka was incredulous. "You're making that number up. There's no way."
The corners of Zuko's mouth turned up in a smirk. "I counted."
Sokka stared at him for a long moment, opened his mouth, and then closed it again as he formulated his response. "...Really?" he heard himself asking.
Zuko leaned forward conspiritorially and Sokka leaned in as well, but when Zuko spoke he didn't whisper. "She only sleeps with ten, though."
Sokka sat upright again, back straight. "Yeah, well, Suki and I- this one time we kissed. A lot. For...it was- had to have been over an hour."
Zuko made a strange noise and Sokka glared at him when he realized that it was a snicker.
"That's very...nice," said Zuko, in far too kindly a manner. "Did you hold hands afterward?"
Sokka started to answer in the affirmative, but suddenly realized that the question might be something that he shouldn't dignify with a response. The moment stretched out, and persistent questions nagged at the back of Sokka's mind. Sokka tried to keep them at bay by sheer force of will. He disapproved quite heartily of how smug looked on Zuko.
All in all, he managed to hold out for over a minute. When he spoke, he was pleased with the level of casual apathy he managed to infuse into his tone.
"So, it, uh, must have been pretty hard to get some time alone. You know, with all the servants and courtiers and everything."
The smirk widened. "She had her own house."
"You have to be-" Sokka stopped short, allowing himself moment to regain his composure. "Really?" he asked, trying for indifference.
Zuko nodded. "Every morning I'd get up, take my palanquin to her house, she'd make me some tea, and then we'd-"
There was a sudden, loud thrashing in the bushes that separated them from camp. Before they even had a chance to reach for their weapons, a bleary-eyed Katara emerged with a desperate expression on her face.
When she spoke, her voice was stricken with some mixture of rage and horror.
"Either go to sleep...or keep. Your. Voices. Down!" she ordered. A command that Sokka found highly ironic, considering the fact that she was yelling. He and Zuko gaped at her, neither wanting to chance a response. She glowered at them for a long moment, then turned with a wordless snarl and disappeared back into the foliage.
They stared after her in silence until the bushes ceased rustling entirely.
"So, you're saying that you..." Sokka asked, leaning in again.
"Yes," Zuko answered, with more than a little adamance.
"Seriously? ...Every day?"
"Well, sometimes we'd go on picnics," Zuko offered.
"...Oh." Sokka felt a sort of disappointment. A very odd sort considering his intentions when he began the conversation.
"You have to be really careful to stay on the blanket or else she-"
"I CAN STILL HEAR YOU!"
Katara shifted the basket of clothes in her arms, trying to arrange it so that the handle didn't poke into her ribs. She knew that Aang was busy with his Firebending lessons, and that as the only other Waterbender it made sense that she'd end up with laundry duty. But she sometimes wondered at the fact that, even after a year spent fighting to save the world, she was still washing her brother's disgusting socks.
She had just spotted the glow of their small campfire when she heard voices in the underbrush nearby. Male voices, lowered conspiratorially.
"I don't really remember her anymore, actually," Sokka was saying. "I guess...I don't know. It's been a really long time."
Katara sighed and turned away. She wasn't sure she could stomach another of these conversations.
"I remember everything," said Zuko, and something in the quality of his voice made Katara pause. "She was really pretty. And tall, maybe as tall as I am now. And she always smelled nice." He sighed. "Sometimes I wish I didn't remember. Maybe it'd be easier that way."
"Don't be stupid," said Sokka. "Of course it's a good thing that you remember your mom."
"I thought she was dead," said Zuko quietly. Katara found herself holding her breath, straining to catch his words. "I didn't even realize how sure I'd been until Dad told me she was banished...that she might still be out there somewhere."
"Do you have any idea where she is?"
"Uncle thinks he might, but...nowhere near here." He paused, and Katara drew a breath. "I know there isn't time right now, but maybe...maybe when all this is over. Maybe then I can look for her."
"You should," said Sokka. "If there's a chance you might get to see her again...you have to go, right?"
"Tell you what. You help me bust Suki out of prison, and I'll help you find your mom."
Zuko snorted. "Who said I needed your help?"
"Of course you need my help. I'm the idea guy. I concoct daring but brilliant plans. It's my thing."
"I think I can figure this out on my own."
Sokka chuckled. "You can't be serious."
"You're the shittiest planner I've ever met in my entire life."
"What?! I...FUCK YOU!"
"Like when you kidnapped Aang and got yourself trapped in a cave in the middle of a blizzard-"
"I WOULD HAVE FIGURED SOMETHING OUT."
"And when you went chasing after us in a fucking BALLOON with ONE SANDWICH."
"I WAS IN A HURRY."
Katara rolled her eyes and hefted the basket again. Sokka had always wanted a brother, after all. Perhaps this was for the best.