Zuko and Sokka were meant to be. Or that’s what Ursula and Kya felt. The Water Kingdom and Fire Kingdom had founded friendships with the reigns of Hadoka and Iroh. Both men wanted peace and were hardworking and intelligent enough to overcome the differences the two Kingdoms traditionally held. As such, they visited each other every summer. Hadoka bringing his family to the Fire Kingdom, and Iroh bringing his to the Water Kingdom on alternate years.
Hadoka’s family consisted of only his wife to begin with, but soon grew to include two children. Sokka was born first, then Katara. Both grew up visiting the Fire Kingdom every other summer. Iroh’s family on the other hand, went from a wife and son, Lu Ten, in the beginning, to a son, a sister-in-law and a niece and nephew. The loss of Iroh’s wife encouraged an early trip from Hadoka. Then five years later, Iroh, looking greyer than ever, became guardian to Zuko and Azula. The adults never spoke of the reasons, with Hakoda and Kya acting as if the two children had always been there. Sokka and Katara were overjoyed to have playmates closer to their own ages. Both leaders looked forward to the three weeks of summer, and the Kingdom’s both flourished.
But what better increase of friendship than a marriage? Marriages were far more permanent, after all. It was agreed Lu Ten was too old for either of Hadoka’s children, but Zuko, Azula, Katara and Sokka were all born within five years of each other. Any match would work, but Ursula and Kya personally felt Sokka and Zuko would be the match that took. The two boys adored each other, often getting into mischief and exploring. When the boys became teenagers, they were encouraged to stay an extra two weeks at whichever Kingdom was hosting the summer getaway that year, in the hopes it would create a natural love between the two men.
It worked, until it didn’t.
Sokka, being two years older than Zuko, felt at sixteen, he was far too old and mature to hang out with a fourteen year old. His mother had to see his point. While a friendship could overcome such an age difference, she wrote to Ursula to explain her worries. Neither Queen wanted to jeopardise their Kingdom’s future alliance due to teenage sulks and differences.
For the first time in twenty years, only Iroh and Hadoka met that summer, and only for one week. The families stayed apart for four, long summers. Zuko at first felt hurt that he wasn’t allowed to visit his friend, but when his letters went unanswered, his hurt became anger and shame. The two boys became men, who held a fond memory of their summers spent in Kingdoms far away, but regret of a lost friend as they grew up apart.
Our story starts on the eighteenth birthday celebration of Prince Zuko of the Fire Kingdom, it was to be a reunion of the two souls destined to be, but a short one.
“Mother, I thought we had moved on from these tedious visits.” A travel weary Sokka was stretching his limber legs as he glared resentfully at the carriage that had taken him from his home to the Fire Kingdom Palace.
“Tedious? You used to beg to come earlier when you were younger.” The Queen responded, appraising her son with both worry and amusement.
“When I was young. And foolish.” The last part was muttered, in hopes it may be mishead.
“Sokka.” His mother spoke now, instead of the Queen. He stayed quiet, adequately reprimanded as he walked towards the chambers they were provided for their stay to freshen up.
The ball was that night, so they freshened up and got ready instantly. A welcome dinner would be held tomorrow, between the two reunited families, but for now, a ball with all the guests and glory would be held. As the closest royal family to the Fire Kingdom, they were introduced last. Sokka was thoroughly bored by now, having heard almost every Fire noble introduced. Finally, they were next. Sokka was thinking of the champagne most people would have had multiple of by now. Soon, he would be able to indulge himself in a corner somewhere, perhaps find someone cute to indulge with him…
His turn now, to greet the host family and wish the Prince a happy birthday. It was automatic these days he had done so many. He bowed deeply, any deeper reserved only for his father on formal occasions, the Crown Prince Lu Ten, and Iroh himself.
“Happy birthday, Your Highne-” Sokka looked up from the bow, and caught sight of the boy he had spent many summers with. The scar that had been on his right side for as long as he could remember had grown with him. Sokka’s image of the weedy fourteen year old was quickly shattered. Before him, Prince Zuko had definitely become a man. His shoulders were broad, he stood tall and with a confidence the child had never held. Long, flowing hair framed his face and seemed to cover his upper back. Sokka’s mind wandered to the luscious lips, parted in shock, and thought of his own fingers able to run through the man’s hair as his own mouth was able to taste the Prince’s neck which was displayed tantalisingly.
“Thank you, Crown Prince Sokka.” Zuko bowed back, it was stiff, as a Prince rarely bows so low, but when he raised up, their eyes caught. “May I have this dance?” Sokka was taken aback and could only nod as the man took his hand and guided him to the dance floor.
“It’s been a while.” Sokka finally managed to get his thoughts in line enough to string a sentence together.
“It has. Why did you ignore my letters?” Zuko asked, bluntly. His eyes bore into the man whose hands were on his waist’s eyes.
“I…was sixteen.” Sokka offered, rather weakly.
“And now you are twenty.”
“And you are eighteen.”
“Good to know we can both count.” Zuko commented, drily.
“Zuko, you’ve really…grown up.”
“That happens between fourteen and eighteen, I’m told.”
“I thought I was meant to be the sarcastic one.” The older man joked.
“I thought we were meant to be friends.” Zuko reprimanded. The grip Sokka had on his waist loosened for a second, then it tightened and he found himself tugged closer.
“Zuko.” Sokka breathed. It was all very improper. They were one of three couples on the floor, the ball barely having begun, and dancing so closely. “Zuko,” Sokka repeated, “you have grown up like a swan. Elegant, beautiful,” the older man spun the younger with vigour and grace, “and a sharp wit to boot. I know our mother’s want us to marry, I know I’ve been such a fool. But may I court you?”
“You can work all that out with one look?” Zuko scoffed. “I never took you to be so shallow, Prince Sokka.”
“I can see your beauty, but I remember our friendship. I will respect a no, Prince Zuko.” Sokka spoke carefully, considering every work and maintaining an aura of respect despite their closeness. Zuko could feel Sokka’s heart beat and was aware his own was syncing up.
“Alright.” Zuko’s eyes softened. “You may court me. But no second chances.” It all seemed so simple.
It was as if the whole world rejoiced that night. Both men found beauty in every corner, the smile of their other half lighting the night. They drank together, ate together, and left each other's side only when they returned to their rooms. It was a fairytale story and both families were incredibly happy.
If only the plot had not just begun.
That night, Zuko fell asleep with a smile on his face, tired out from dancing. When he woke, it was to the sound of rustling.
“Do I not deserve a lie in this morning, Hina?” Zuko asked, yawning and rubbing his eyes. Suddenly, something was placed over his head, his arms held down and panic rose.
“What are you doing? Help! Someone!” Zuko’s panic encouraged his screams, which led to his last memory of feeling a heavy hit over his head, before he sunk into darkness.
Zuko woke to a pounding head, but when he raised his hand, he did not feel a palm on his forehead to cradle the pain away. He felt a flapping breeze, causing him to open his eyes. In doing so, he fell back in shock. There was a wing where he thought his hand should be. Clearly his depth perception was messed up from the…attack. He had been attacked! Where was he now? Zuko looked around, noticing he had been left by a lake. Sighing, he scratched his head on instinct. A wing came into view again.
Slowly, he moved his hand. Except the wing moved just as he expected his hand to. He yelped in shock, except no human-like sound came to his ears. A honk did, however. He quickly rushed towards the water and stared into his reflection. A… swan? He was a swan? How was this even possible? There was a mark over his right eye, painfully similar to the scar his father had given him.
“I never thought I’d see an ugly swan.” Sneered a man who was watching him leaning against a tree. Zuko was shocked and honked in fear. Speak of the Devil. And this man may very well be the devil.
“Hello, son.” Ozai spat with bitterness. An angry honk caused a harsh laugh to come from the man he shared 50% of his DNA with. “I cannot believe my foolish older brother thought you would help cement the relationship with the Water Kingdom. I will not let that happen. You’re useless and soon the Sokka boy will move on, then, perhaps, I’ll let you return. If not, well - the lifespan of a swan isn’t worth dealing with you after that. It is almost poetic to trap you to the water.”
Even if Zuko could talk, he had no idea what he would say. Couldn’t his father just kill him? Or tie him up? Why turn him into a swan? At least he could move about, he supposed. Ozai left without another word, and Zuko returned to his mourning.
Zuko was always a night owl. Or, swan, he supposed now, a dry chuckle leaving his beak in the form of a suppressed honk. Or the swan equivalent, he supposed. He glided on the lake, enjoying the beauty of such a space. It hadn’t even been a full day since he’d woken up, as it had been only this morning. He drifted across the water as his mind attempted to come up with plots to get his body back, when he found himself in direct moonlight. The moon was beautiful tonight, as every night, he thought.
“Thank you.” A woman’s voice in his head.
“Um, you’re welcome?” Zuko attempted to honk, looking around, trying to see who spoke.
“I can’t help much, Zuko, but I can give you help whenever I can touch the lake.” The voice informed him.
The glow was beautiful and blinding, it threaded itself around his body and elongated along with his body as his wings were covered in sparkles. He looked down to see his human form, his hands moving when he intended. The joy of opposable thumbs had never been so apparent.
“Thank you, so much!” He had his voice back.
“You’re welcome, Zuko. I only have so much power. Each night, when your wings are touched by my light on the lake, you will turn back to your original form. But as soon as I leave the lake, the curse will turn you into a swan again.”
“I…think I understand, but what do you mean by the light?”
“I am the moon, Zuko, I was once called Yue, but I gave up my humanity to merge with the moon and give her power once more.”
“Thank you Yue, you are truly selfless.” He stated with admiration.
“You must find a way to break the curse permanently, though. Love usually works in these matters.” Then the voice went silent.
Zuko was alone, and if love worked, he would probably stay alone. Zuko had thinking to do, he sat in seiza, the way Uncle taught him, and began to clear his mind.
Meanwhile, Sokka was out of his mind with worry. He had spent the whole day searching the palace and city, along with the Fire Kingdom guards. He had woken with a smile on his face and exited the chambers to chaos. Everyone was running around, worried. Lu Ten had come up to him and his heart was shattered. Zuko was missing, his chamber guards had been found unconcious. Sokka had only eaten because it was placed directly in front of him, he only drank water because he knew he needed to be hydrated to search for Zuko. He had finally found his best friend again, only to lose him just as he had begun to fall in love. It was cruel, and felt like unusually unkind karma, reminding him that he himself had pushed the boy away.
He knew Zuko wasn’t in the city, but a feeling told him he was near by enough. He resumed to go searching tomorrow morning and that plan let him sleep, finally. The next morning, he did just that. Packing his bags and hunting gear and leaving the castle at first light. He left a message with a servant for his family. Sokka was out of the city by the time the sky had exploded into bright oranges and warm pink. The sky had hope that Sokka himself could not muster.
He had no luck all day. He didn’t even know what he was searching for, after all, but he never gave up. He rode further and further from the capital.
Sokka was tired and grateful for bringing camping equipment with him, he had searched all day, going further and further into the forest and finally came to a lake he could use to boil water. It was quiet and in another time, Sokka may have found beauty in the willow trees and slow movement of the water. Instead, he saw only failure in finding his Prince. A swan floated onto the lake and he watched it as it swam in graceful figures. It looked up and seemed to double take, staring straight into his eyes. It was a trick, surely, the man thought. Swans didn’t recognise humans. The swan flapped away to hide behind a rock and Sokka shrugged as he finished setting up camp before nightfall.
The moon was beautiful tonight and provided him light, so he kept his fire small. The swan came back out, hesitantly swimming closer. The bird came into the light of the full moon and no sooner had Sokka registered the vague beauty of such a bird in moonlight, it started. Sparkles and light that could only represent magic, engulfing the bird and growing to the height of a man. Not just any man, suddenly, the person Sokka had been searching for for the last two days stood before him, tears falling down his face.
“Zuko?” Sokka had dropped the pot he was holding, unable to move, unable to believe what was happening before him. The pure luck of stumbling across whatever was happening. Surely it had to be a trick?
“Sokka!” The man rushed forward, his ankles soaked with water and flung himself into his lover's arms. “Sokka, I couldn’t believe it when I saw you here. I didn’t know if I was ashamed you had to see me or grateful you chose to stay here overnight, but most of all I knew I was so pleased to see you.” Sokka wrapped his arms tightly around the slightly shorter man and held him tight.
“Zuko, what happened?”
“It was my father.” Zuko’s voice was bitter, “he kidnapped me and put a curse on me, but the moon, she spoke to me and said she can reverse it, but only when her light touches the lake.”
“Let us go and find a way to break the curse.” Sokka offered his hand, and they began to walk away from the lake.
They walked for a mere half an hour before having the luck to stumble upon a library, it was opened but no one stood guard or sat at the desk inside. It felt like fate. They began searching for books, never straying more than two metres from the other, unwilling to be parted but aware of the importance of their mission.
“We’ve not been looking long. We’re bound to find something soon.” Zuko enthused, as Sokka shut what felt like the hundredth book. Suddenly, there was a flash of light curling around his body and Sokka was no longer looking at his human form.
“You’re a swan again.” Sokka pointed out, slightly redundant. “Oh, Zuko, I just don’t know how we’ll fix this, you should go back to the lake, incase your father comes…” Zuko was pulling on Sokka’s sleeve, tugging him towards the pile of books they had yet to read.
“Fine. We’ll finish this pile.” Sokka had resigned himself to no results, he personally felt it best to go back and get the Palace researching on this now… but then..
“Zuko!” Sokka gasped. “Zuko, I’ve found it. Look!” He showed the bird the book. “I, uhh, am unsure if you can read as a swan? You can understand us so… but, it says a vow of everlasting love will destroy any transformation spell. I, guess it’s a good thing we’re here. If this had happened the night before, we wouldn’t have found each other again.”
“Fine, fine. Zuko, I love you and vow to love you for longer than forever.”
The two lovers waited in silence. Nothing happened. Sokka looked down at the book again, reading on.
“The vow of everlasting love must be made in public… oh for crying out loud.” The Water Kingdom Prince cursed, but he continued, “the vow of everlasting love must be made in public, when two will become one and love conquers all. If you had shown me this a week ago, my eyes would have rolled to the back of my head.” Sokka was wise enough to reflect on his change of heart. “They’re going ahead with the summer ceremony tomorrow, last I heard, they want to keep your kidnapping under wraps, would it work if I made one there?” A quieter honk and a beak on his arm told him Zuko understood. “Wonderful, I’ll see you tonight where we can plan tomorrow properly. I love you. Now get back to that lake, in case Ozai catches you.
Sokka had a long ride home, he knew it would take him most of the day and his almost forty eight hour absence would be worrying his family.
Sokka’s horse jumped, but the angle of the cliff and the cut saddle wasn’t enough to allow Sokka’s momentum to keep up. He slipped off, right above the sandpit. He gasped as he felt himself sinking quickly.
“Help me,” he pleaded, looking up at the man who had been trying to kill him. It was in vain. Ozai turned, laughing, and left. Sokka knew if he moved, he would sink faster. He desperately tried to hold still while searching around. A vine hung, he flopped to it, but the sand was already at his waist. It blocked his normally agile movements, as he grasped desperately for the vine that was his lifeline. His horse was neighing in fear as it looked down upon him, sinking faster and faster.
His final thoughts were of Zuko, as his head became engulfed, his last breathe of air allowed him to think of the man who he desperately wished to marry, and love, with all his heart. The darkness of the sinking sand was heavy as his heart, as it broke inside his dying chest.
Suddenly, he felt a sharp feeling in his right shoulder. He cried out automatically, losing his remaining oxygen and filling his mouth with sand. He opened his eyes in shock, to find they were no longer covered in his grave, but able to see the shining sun and the beautiful bird who had saved him. It wasn’t just any bird, but a swan, and the swan was his to be husband. “Zuko!” Spluttered Sokka, pushing the sand distastefully out of his mouth. “You saved me.” He thought he saw Zuko’s eyes almost roll - he supposed he had developed a habit for redundant points as of late. He grasped onto Zuko’s swan form as he used the vine his lover had used to save him.
“Everyone, if I may make an announcement, I wish to make a public vow. Many of you know Zuko and I grew up close friends and have experienced distance in the last few years, but I am pleased to say we have overcome this.” Sokka smiled at the man next to him, who silently smiled back. Sokka continued, “I love this amazingly strong person stood next to me,” he stated, firmly, to the whole Fire Kingdom invitees. “Zuko, will you marry me?”
The joyful silence that often took over after proposals did not move into the joyous clapping and cheers as it so often had in Sokka’s time at court, instead, an evil laughter came not just from a man in the crowd, but from his own lover. Two cackles, turning the ball attendee’s blood to ice.
Suddenly, a harsh light encompassed Sokka and Azula was stood there, dressed in the Prince’s robe.
“I’d feel sorry, but honestly I’m just glad I won’t need to marry you,” she spat at his feet.
“Brilliantly done, my daughter.” Ozai’s glamour fell and the Palace guards instantly were at attention.
“Do not attack.” Iroh took control of the situation instantly, “where is Prince Zuko?” He demanded, “Princess Azula, why would you betray your brother like this?”
“Third in line before children? How boring.” Was her only response.
“Zuko?” Ozai grinned. “Zuko is there.” He pointed up at the window where a swan was desperately pecking at the glass. Sokka took off instantly, running outside where a weakened swan flew down to him.
“Zuko!” Sokka gasped, “what’s happening?”
“You made a vow of love to another.” Ozai smirked, having followed the desperate Prince outside. “His spirit was tied to love, and the potion Azula had you drink did the same. You cannot live apart, but your vow means you cannot live together.”
Remembering the wine the Zuko who was really Azula had insisted he drink, his insides went cold, and not from fear, apparently. Sokka felt his heart clench tightly, it didn’t unclench. He gasped, holding on to his chest as he moved to hold on to Zuko’s hand. His energy to stand up gave in and he ended up collapsing with an arm over the swan, eyes closed, chest still as his heartbreak manifested physically.
“Two for one.” Ozai smirked, “both the heir of the Water Kingdom and spare for the Fire Kingdom. What a tragic day.” He mocked, looking at the ruling families of the two Kingdom’s. “I’d feel sad for my son, but clearly he got the weak genes. Now do you really want to fight, Iroh, or will you just pass the crown over to the man who clearly has what it takes to rule?”
“Never.” Iroh stated, calmly despite the hurt in his eyes as he looked upon the tragic scene.
Suddenly, before any movement could go beyond the words exchanged, a glow interrupted. The swan form turned back, leaving an unconscious but beautiful Fire Kingdom Prince lying under the Crown Prince of the Water Kingdom. A tragically alluring sight of the two handsome men. Another, softer glow sparkled and both men began to wake slowly. While no one in the future could quite work out what happened, Sokka - ever the thinker - recalled the joint heartbeat he woke to. His heart in sync with his soulmates, their chests pressed together, their love true even on the brink of death.
Had they returned to the library in the woods, they would not have found it, for it only appeared when needed, but had they found it? They would know true love came in many forms, and a public vow too. Their love had broken both the curse and the potion. But Sokka would never have believed in such thing.
To the audience of the many peers of the realm, the Princes merely glowed and awoke. In the future, the story would cite a love so powerful to overcome death. It wasn’t too far from the truth.
Ozai, never one to accept defeat, yelled in frustration and drew his sword. Iroh was quicker. Using a bow from a nearby guard, he pierced Ozai’s hand, causing his younger brother to swear and drop his weapon. Taking the lead from their King, the guard’s surrounded the former Prince, taking him in quicker than he could react. Lu Ten himself saw to Azula.
“She should be treated kindly, there is a reason she felt the need to follow her father, we must give her the opportunity to repent.” Iroh told the court. “My brother will not be granted such leniency. Banishment was clearly too kind a fate for a man who injures his own son.”
The ins and outs were irrelevant to Sokka and Zuko, who had woken, and only had eyes for each other.
A happy ending for the time being, but with the promise of many new adventures followed. A long engagement allowed them to travel and explore, both each other and what their new relationship meant for their Kingdom’s.