AN: This fic does not go into detail whatsoever of type 1 diabetes. It is a small part of a short fic, but important to me and to Sokka and Zuko. There is a brief section of fantasy world building where I make up how waterbenders can use their bending to check someone's blood glucose. Sadly, that is not how it works in real life.
For Zukka Week 2022, Day 5
Prompts: Soulmates OR Chronic Pain/Disability
If there was only one thing Sokka could appreciate about the Fire Nation, it was their food.
(Technically, he was aware he should really put Zuko—sorry, Fire Lord Zuko—first, but come on. Zuko may have been pretty cool, but a guy had to have priorities.)
The Fire Lord's Palace had changed almost overnight from a dark, burnt-out hunk of stone and wood to a lively, colorful place filled with people of all ages and nations running about in the streets and the hastily renovated palace courtyard. The reds of the Fire Nation intermingled with the greens and browns of the Earth Kingdom, turning the area into a mass of colors; even some blues from the Water Tribes could be seen here and there. Large banners waved merrily in the wind above the cheerful crowd's heads and the wonderful aroma of as much Kamodo chicken, flaming fire flakes, and roasting lychee nuts Sokka could ever hope to enjoy wove its way past hungry noses. He sniffed the tantalizing air.
"Honestly, Sokka," Katara said. "Would it kill you to try acting like you're more focused on Aang and Zuko than on the vendors for just five minutes?"
Sokka waved her off. "Come on, Katara. They're fine! Aang's almost done with his little speech, and Zuko's all ready to stumble over the one I helped him write, and then we can show our nations-wide solidarity by partaking in a few delicious snacks. Yes?"
"Sokka, if anything goes wrong today, the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation could be thrust right back into war—"
"Yes, today is all about the treaties and the land rights and the diplomats and blah, blah, blah." Sokka rolled his eyes, partially to distract his sister from being so tense and partially because come on. Aang and Zuko could handle anything at this point, even without Aang's weird Avatar powers coming into play. The War was over; what could possibly go wrong? "Excuse me for thinking of my stomach after weeks on the run."
"Imagine that," said a familiar voice from behind them. "Sokka, thinking with his stomach?"
Sokka turned just in time to meet his dad's warm embrace. "Dad! You made it!"
"Of course I did," Hakoda said, and roped Katara into their impromptu group hug. "I couldn't possibly miss the resolution of the Hundred Years' War and the signing of the treaty between the Earth King and the Fire Lord, now could I?"
One of the ancient Fire Nation officials gathered behind the VIP stage they stood on shushed them. The back of his robe was caught in his underwear, but the man seemed more preoccupied with glaring at everyone around him to notice his wardrobe malfunction. Sokka tried to withhold his snort—for his sister's sake, of course.
Hakoda released his children and winked. "Besides, the Water Tribes have our own discussions to be made with the Fire Nation under the supervision of the Avatar. Master Pakku made the journey with us on behalf of the North's Chief Arnook."
"Master Pakku's here?" Katara asked.
Sokka frowned. "Wait, the Southern and the Northern Tribe?"
Hakoda nodded, and there was a beat of silence as Sokka and Katara exchanged unhappy looks.
"Our sister tribe has been immeasurably helpful in rebuilding the Southern Water Tribe," Hakoda said quietly. "They gave us food and furs, warriors to stand guard against the Fire Nation, and benders to rebuild our villages and defenses. We owe them much."
"Yeah, and now they want something from us, don't they?" Sokka seethed. "Because saving innocent lives wasn't enough for them."
"Sokka," Katara said. "Master Pakku will treaty fairly with us, no matter what Chief Arnook is really up to. Besides—" she smiled smugly—"Chief Arnook can do what he wants at the North Pole, but Master Pakku has to listen to Gran-Gran if he wants to make it to their wedding."
They all laughed at that, and the sudden tension in Sokka's gut released.
"Never mind the politics." Hakoda ruffled both their hair. "I can't believe it's been just a few weeks since I saw you last. Katara, any more success with those new waterbending moves? Sokka, how has your sugar been?"
Sokka made an unhappy face. "Well, Katara said she'd be more understanding of my 'limitations' now that we're not running for our lives, but I'm going low and she won't let me step away from the speeches to grab a bite."
"What?" Katara smacked his arm. "Sokka! You liar. You didn't say anything about going low; you just wanted to skip the democracy and stuff your face with fire flakes."
"I did too say!" Sokka squawked. "And I do not!"
"Shhh!" the official with his underwear displayed hissed.
Hakoda patted Sokka's head. "You are looking a little pale there, son. Why don't you take a break to get some of that Watermelon juice?"
Katara rolled her eyes. "Sokka, give me your hand."
"Nope." Sokka folded his arms and stuck his tongue out at his sister. "You checked my blood sugar like an hour ago. I'll be fine once I get some juice."
As always, Katara ignored him and bent a small bubble of her bending water out of her penguin-sealskin bag. Sokka sighed and reluctantly stuck his hands in the floating bubble.
At least this was better now that Katara finally knew how to waterbend. Before they had traveled to the North Pole with Aang, Katara had had to carry around a big dish just for Sokka's hands to fit in because she hadn't been able to both bend the water into the air and get a good reading for Sokka's blood sugar levels. Sokka usually ended up dripping wet head to toe in those days, which he found particularly miserable in the cold of the South Pole. Now, only his hands got wet.
Katara hummed for a moment while she did her magic healing-waterbending thingy. The water glowed around Sokka's palms, then turned a dark blue.
"Watermelon juice, pronto," Katara said, and put her water away. "Do you want me to come with you?"
"I've got it, I've got it," Sokka said. He wasn't slurring his words yet, so he had some time.
Katara turned her attention back to Aang.
"If anyone tries to stop you, just remind them you're a war hero." Hakoda met Sokka's eyes. "If you get lost, just find one of my men. They scattered everywhere as soon as we left the ship, and they all know you need food when you get like this."
"Thanks, Dad!" Sokka worried for a minute he was being too immature, needing his dad's acceptance to leave the treaty ceremony for a cup of juice, but decided it didn't matter. After all, he was a war hero. More importantly, Sokka was a founding member of Team Avatar.
(Also his blood glucose really was dropping. Sokka could almost feel his thought patterns slowing down as his internal sugar supply diminished. Watermelon juice sounded great.)
Zuko thought he was holding up admirably, considering the events of the past few days. Well, months. Actually, the past few years had all sucked, hadn't they? But between Azula going completely feral, Ozai somehow powerless and awaiting trial, and the coronation, Zuko hadn't had a single moment to rest. Fortunately, Uncle Iroh had taken care of the majority of the diplomacy efforts so far. All Zuko had to do today was smile at the right times (he always smiled at the wrong ones and wound up looking as psychotic as the rest of his family), remember the speech Sokka had helped him write (thank goodness Zuko had talked him into keeping it short), and sign a piece of paper in front of several hundred people (he was going to wind up spelling his own name wrong, he knew it).
At least the Earth King looked as bored as Zuko felt. King Kuei hadn't brought his pet bear to the proceedings today, as he had voiced concerns about the bear's stage fright creating issues given the crowds. Zuko was grateful for that, although the bear's absence meant King Kuei had spent the entirety of the day so far staring at different clouds.
Zuko didn't stare at clouds. He stared at Sokka—no. Zuko inhaled and reigned in his focus. He non-obsessively watched Team Avatar, which today consisted of Sokka, Katara, Mei, Ty Li, and Suki in a box seat on Zuko's left. Toph had declined to join, given the risks of at least one of her parents showing up and her open dislike for events like this.
His friends' open support warmed Zuko so much that he found his palms smoking and had to look away from So—from the gang, and turned to look at the cloud that King Kuei found so fascinating.
It looked like a cloud. Zuko didn't see what was so interesting about it.
Aang bowed to the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation officials, and a whoosh of wind followed the Avatar's movements. The front of Zuko's robes flew up and smacked him in the face just as Aang retook his seat.
Oh, great. That meant it was Zuko's turn to talk.
Every eye in the courtyard turned toward Zuko, who reminded himself that nothing was scarier than Azula, and he had already dealt with her. Unsurprisingly, that reassured him enough to not stumble as he rose to his feet.
"Citizens of the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom," he started.
Then he stopped.
Briefly, the world spun and Zuko forgot where he was. He blinked.
Instead of the raised podium he, Aang, King Kuei, and the other presiding nobles had been sitting in all morning, Zuko found himself standing in front of a small, elderly Fire Nation woman holding out a glass of what smelled suspiciously like Watermelon juice.
"I said that'll be three copper pieces," she said.
Zuko frowned. "Who are you?"
"I'm the one with your Watermelon juice, boy. Three copper pieces."
Something was wrong with Zuko's vision; everything seemed bigger and wider than usual, far too much so for a dream. What had happened?
"Three copper pieces," the old woman repeated, "or no Watermelon juice."
He didn't even like Watermelon juice. Still, he didn't want to upset the vendor. Zuko reached down, hoping that he'd thought to bring money—any money—with him in his ceremonial robes when he realized he was wearing Water Tribe clothing.
Spirits of the Islands. Zuko knew of only one thing that could cause someone to switch bodies.
Zuko met the old woman's eyes, and he realized, suddenly, why everything seemed so out of proportion: Sokka had two working eyes. "I think I just switched."
She stared back at him. "Congratulations. I don't care. Three copper pieces or no juice."
Zuko stared at the juice and tried to think why Sokka had left the palace courtyard. Sokka had written most of his speech for him—why wouldn't he want to be there to see Zuko deliver it? Especially for Watermelon juice instead of flaming fire flakes, which Sokka ate every chance he got?
Zuko reached a hand out for the juice, and it felt like he was moving in slow motion. Sokka must have been having a…what did he call his diabetic episodes?…a 'crappy blood sugar thing.' Zuko was certain Katara had an actual name for it, but Zuko couldn't remember. He was stuck with Sokka's brain, which had no power at the moment.
The old woman jerked the juice away, and Zuko watched some of its deliciously red contents spill over the side of the glass. What? Since when did he crave Watermelon juice? Oh, wait—Sokka had explained one of the blood sugar issues could cause hunger pangs, although Zuko couldn't remember which one. Zuko hadn't believed that was the only reason Sokka enjoyed food so much at the time, but he hadn't understood 'cravings' meant 'physical cramps.'
"Money first, or no juice!"
Zuko huffed and searched Sokka's pockets. Sokka had a lot of weird stuff in his pockets—strips of parchments covered with his abysmal attempts at doodles, a pouch of stale lychee nuts, several pieces of cut string. No money.
"Ok, then," the old woman said. "No juice for you! Have fun finding your switch. Goodbye."
"Not so fast," someone said. "Give Captain Crankypants his juice. I've got your copper."
Zuko spun around, and the disorientation from having two functional eyes again almost made him throw up. "Toph!"
The vendor snatched the procured coins from Toph's outstretched fingers and practically threw the juice at Zuko. "Here you go! Now get out of my customer line."
Zuko staggered away from her cart, noted no other customers were waiting, and tentatively sipped at the juice.
"This actually tastes good," he said, surprised.
Toph tilted her head in his direction. "Yeah. It's Watermelon juice. It's alright."
"No," Zuko said. "I don't like Watermelon juice. But Sokka does, and now I know why."
"What are you talking about? What are you doing away from the fancy finger stuff, anyway? Is your sugar low again? I thought Katara told you to bring something with you so this wouldn't happen."
Zuko slurped down his juice. The flavor was completely different from any Watermelon juice he remembered—it might as well have been a different drink. "I'm not Sokka. I'm Zuko."
"Hah hah." Toph scowled and kicked the ground, sending tremors through the street and spilling juice over the old woman's cart. "Wait. You're not lying. What happened?"
"I'm not sure. I think we switched."
She was quiet for a long moment, and Zuko grew more anxious as he finished his juice. His heart raced. He looked down at his clothes again, at the palms that didn't belong to him and at the way everything looked with two eyes, to confirm this was really happening. Zuko had switched, and it was with Sokka. He didn't know what to think.
Toph finally spoke. "I think Sokka would have told us it was his birthday."
"Hold on. If you're Zuko and you're here," she said slowly, "then where's Sokka?"
With Toph's help, Zuko made it to the Palace courtyard in a few minutes with minimal tripping over feet and legs that didn't belong to him.
"Sokka's gonna kill you for scraping up his knees like this," Toph told him.
"Yeah, well, I'll kill him if he starts another war with my face," Zuko said angrily.
She laughed. "Ok, I believe it's you, Zuko. Wow."
Zuko had thought the crowd looked big from his previous spot on the podium, but now, standing within it, it looked impenetrable. "Toph, can you help me get to Katara?"
Toph muttered something rude under her breath, then took a stance and earthbent. Zuko always marveled at the tiny girl's power. Even with something as simple as knocking people out of their way in a single file path, she was a sight to behold.
The crowd went to move in behind her as soon as she pushed through, so Zuko jumped and got elbowed in the gut as he followed her. He tried to peer over people's heads to catch a glimpse of Sokka on the podium, or to hear what he was saying, but Sokka's body was too short and Toph's bending too loud.
Eventually, they made it to the VIP box Zuko had ordered specifically for Team Avatar. He barely noticed Chief Hakoda standing behind Katara.
"Katara!" Zuko called.
She turned around and frowned at him. "Sokka, be quiet! Zuko's almost done with his speech."
Zuko's stomach plummeted. "No! Katara, I'm Zuko. We switched."
"Excuse me?" Chief Hakoda leaned forward. "Did you just say you switched?"
Katara's mouth dropped open and she turned to her father. "La's fins. I completely forgot today is Sokka's birthday."
Chief Hakoda moved toward Zuko, and Zuko abruptly stepped back, his heart pounding. Hakoda raised his hands peaceably and frowned. "You're saying you're not my son."
Zuko tried not to die on the spot. He could handle Azula (sort of), so he could handle this. "I'm Zuko. We have to delay the speech and treaty signing until we switch back. Can you cause a disturbance and get Sokka—I mean the Firelord—in here?"
The crowd erupted in front of them.
Toph cleared her throat. "Calm down, fire breath. It sounds like Sokka's a hit."
Zuko turned just in time to see his own body give the most ridiculously over-the-top bow he had ever seen. Zuko thought for a brief, panicked moment Sokka would lose his balance and break Zuko's nose on the podium floorboards, but Sokka caught himself and gave King Kuei an equally ridiculous bow. Which King Kuei returned.
"What am I seeing?" Zuko asked.
"I dunno," Toph asked. "Why are you asking me?"
"He's not asking you," Katara snapped. She pushed a finger against Zuko's chest. "You're telling me you're Zuko and that's Sokka?"
"Flying hog monkeys." Katara looked back at Sokka, who was chatting merrily away with King Kuei. "How long has it been?"
Zuko racked his brain. "I'm not sure. At least ten minutes. I think."
Toph shrugged. "Sounds about right. How long is this supposed to last? I've never experienced anyone switching before. I kind of thought it was an exaggeration."
Hakoda rubbed his face. "It lasts for sixteen minutes—one minute for every year the younger partner has been alive. Four minutes for each of the four elements, for equality and balance in the match."
"What did Sokka say?" Zuko demanded. "Did he follow the speech?"
"I mean, he wrote it, didn't he?" Katara said. "I don't know what he was supposed to say, but it sounded all right. He did stutter a lot at the beginning…I guess that's when you switched?"
The group on the podium finally disbanded, and Aang and Sokka made their way over.
"Hey, guys!" Aang said. "That went great, don't you think?"
Zuko stormed over to Sokka and pointed angrily at his face. He tried not to focus on the scar; he'd never seen it from this vantage point before, and he'd be happy to never have to again. "You! This is all your fault."
"My fault?" Sokka asked. "What are you talking about? I'm the one who had to remember the speech you memorized!"
"You wrote it! And it's your sixteenth birthday. You didn't think that might have been important?"
Sokka scoffed. "Well, excuse me for being so busy helping you get adjusted that I forgot about my sixteenth birthday. Yeah, this is totally not my fault."
"Enough, both of you!" Hakoda snapped. He planted a hand on each boy's shoulder and pushed them apart. Zuko and Sokka glared at each other.
Sixteenth birthdays were always important, no matter which nation you came from. For some, it was the only chance they would ever have to find their soulmate. Zuko supposed he was lucky he hadn't wound up with a stranger on the stage with the Earth King.
The thought made him soften, and he offered a hand to Sokka. "You're right. I'm sorry for getting angry. Just…don't leave me with your bad blood sugar again. Please?"
Sokka paled. "Oh, flying hog monkeys, please tell me you got the juice."
"I got him the juice, Sokka," Toph said. "I know what you're like when you're low; we don't need a repeat of the mushroom incident."
The rest of Team Avatar collectively shuddered as Zuko frowned, confused.
Sokka straightened up and shook Zuko's hand. "Don't leave me stuck with patronizing a bunch of fancy-pants gasbags again."
"Can't promise that," Zuko said. "Considering, you know. We switched."
"Oh well." Sokka shrugged. "I guess you're ok the—"
"—en." Sokka stumbled as the world spun. Again.
Strong hands caught him before he fell. When he looked up at Hakoda, it was with two eyes. "Hi, Dad."
Hakoda exhaled. "You're you again?"
Zuko coughed, and Sokka's attention was abruptly stolen from his dad.
"Zuko," he said. "You ok?"
"Yes. Just—just thirsty."
"We should get you some Watermelon juice," Sokka offered.
"Um—I think I'm good, actually."
Sokka shrugged. "Suit yourself."
Aang looked back and forth between them, his head rotating like one of his marble tricks. "So...what did I miss?"
Zuko straightened his crown. "You missed this," he said, and pressed a kiss to Sokka's lips.