His wrist band buzzed and he brought his hand up to allow the hologram to light up the air in front of his face.
Get your lazy introverted ass up! We’re going to Lunacy!
Zuko stared at the text with a frown.
He was fairly certain Armani didn’t need to go anywhere for that. The heavy iron crested front door of his Central City condo slammed open so hard there was sure to be a fist-sized hole in the wall. Zuko’s eyes fall shut, a light throb of irritation moving across his temples. He knew he should have installed a Slid-Away door instead of the traditional hinged one.
“Are you getting dressed Bitch!” Armani’s voice had a sort of screechy hoarseness to it. A clear sign he was well on his way to being drunk.
Zuko opened his eyes to glare death at his best friend. Armani stood in the archway that held up his second story loft, like some kind of wannabe Asian rock star. With shimmering white leather pants, a sleeveless black muscle shirt, white Ozaki shades with greenish-blue lens, and his usual choppy, gelled, bleached out platinum blonde hair. Zuko eyed the ‘almost white’ blonde locks with a sneer.
“Where’s Darrien and Caleeci?”
“They’re meeting us there,” Armani answered with a shrug as he came to lean on the other side of the counter. “Now are you ganna get dressed or do I have to make you?”
“And why exactly are we going to this…” he waved his fork with pinched brows, “I assume, ridiculously over the top Cyberpunk club in the Underground,” He continued to eat the Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo pasta he’d made for himself, in nothing but the baggy athletic pants he’d thrown on that morning.
At Armani’s silence, he glanced over to find the most incredulous look on his face.
“Uh, cause it’s your birthday,” the blonde finally answered looking exasperated. “And jokes on you! Lunacy’s in Uptown.”
Zuko rolled his eyes. Like he gave a shit where the club actually was. “I was under the impression that one’s birthday entailed them to do as they pleased. Hence the day off, full of laziness.” Zuko spread his arms out indicating his lack of dress. He fought back a grimace as Armani’s eyes slid over the numerous crisscrossing horizontal scars running down both his forearms.
“Che your birthday isn’t about you,” Armani joked, trying to lighten the somber mood. “It’s about all the fuckers who want to get shit faced on your behalf.”
“You mean you.”
Armani scoffed, crossed his arms, and leaned in further. “Get your ass up and get dressed!”
Zuko grimaced. Why was it that he never seemed to be able to do the things he wanted to do on his birthday! Things that did not evolve going to places infested with ignorant fools who thought they had something to prove. His grimace deepened. He had a very distinct unpleasant memory of last year’s birthday fiasco. Armani had insisted on going to a cage fight in the Underground. Though, he supposed the new scar through his right eyebrow was a pretty cool souvenir.
“Or… I could pick out your clothes for you.” Armani obviously caught the look of horror that overcame his face as a huge manic grin bloomed across his own. “Oh yeah, I’m totally picking out your outfit,” he said as he swung around the banister and up the stairs. His annoying cackles made Zuko wish he was still standing in front of him so he could stab him in the throat with his fork.
“You could have at least closed the damn door!”
Zuko slipped through the mesh of bodies in the packed club like a dangerous predator stalking its prey through the underbrush. His presence didn’t go unnoticed, but one look from dark eyes had even the boldest person turning away.
He’d lost Armani at the door. Cornered by a pair of tatted up Asian girls demanding to know all about the Cheshire cat face and the quote ‘I don’t know if you’ve noticed… but I’m not all there” tattooed up the side of his neck. Zuko had bolted the moment he’d heard. Surprised they hadn’t caught sight of the glow of computer code tattooed in ultraviolet ink down the side of his face. The last thing he needed was some bitch clutching at his arm all night.
He stepped up to the bar and paused, drawing in a slow breath, as he locked eyes with a hypnotizing pair of electric green.
The three thin black interlocking triangles running through the man’s right eye boldly marked him a Triquetra.
Zuko rightfully should have had a similar mark of his own. But the Bastard who’d run his Chapter had cruelly denied him. Calmed the gang owned Zuko. That he wasn’t a member.
With thick buzz cut blonde hair and a cleanly shaven face, the man didn’t seem at all ashamed by the mark of his status. He held a steady gaze, clearly undeterred by wandering eyes.
Zuko slid onto a bar stool with a seductive smirk.
The Triquetra members up here on Paragon Station where High Command. If he could get some retribution for the way his Chapter Leader had treated him, then it would be well worth the risk of getting drawn back in.
“I’ll have an Old Fashioned on the rocks.”
“Nice to see somebody around here actually has taste…” The man gave him the look-over all bartenders do, that second-guessed their judgment in making him a drink and turned to pull out the ingredients. Zuko bit back a scowl. He wasn’t that young looking damnit. The club was 21 and up, he shouldn’t have to deal with his kind of crap tonight. “So what’s the occasion? You don’t seem too ecstatic to be here?”
“Twenty-seventh birthday.” He put a sneering emphasis on the 27. “And I’m not… My friend wouldn’t take no for an answer.” He tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. “But… Perhaps I can find something to make it worth my while,” he continued with a coy glance down the bartender’s body.
“Perhaps…” the man answered back with a sinfully attractive curve to his lips as he set his drink in Zuko’s hands.
“Happy Birthday,” a deep silvery voice whispered into his ear. He stiffened. His newly acquired drink almost slipped through his fingers.
“Zion!” He turned towards the older man in shock. “You… When?” He took a moment to compose himself. He set his drink on the counter, slid off the bar stool, and threw his arms around the taller man’s shoulders. Zuko felt his eyes burn as Zion hugged him back just as tight. It’d been way too long since he’d seen him. The rich scent of the Eternity cologne, he’d worn since high school, doing wonders to wash away all of his annoyances.
“Who’s this?” The Bartender’s voice was playful, but it had a dangerous undertone that had Zuko’s inside coiling. He suppressed an eye roll as he pulled away.
“My older brother.”
Zion gave the man an assessing look, eyeing the mark on his face, before pulling out his wallet and sliding a Black Card across the counter.
“Open a tab, for the two of us.” Zion indicated himself and Zuko. His lips pulled back into a smirk when the name on the card registered on the man’s face. No one messed with the Kusanagi family.
The only reason he’d gotten tangled up with the gang in the first place, was because Zuko himself had sought them out. Against his family’s wishes. And his Chapter Leader was a psychopath with a death wish.
Zion didn’t have to use words to make it clear he was off limits. Zuko felt a tension he hadn’t even realized was there unlocked. The possessive jealousy of a Triquetra was dangerous and Zuko was done being owned.
“Come on,” Zion pocketed his wallet before guiding them towards an outdoor balcony. “I have something I need to tell you.”
“Zuko! Happy Birthday!” A rollout party whistle was blown in his face before he even had time to registrar the other person’s presence. Zuko cringed, jerking back a step. What the hell was Kosmo Faunus doing here? He caught sight of Caleeci’s gleeful look over Kosmo’s shoulder and scowled. Darrien caught his eye and mouthed an apology before rolling his eyes towards his wife.
“Come, come,” Kosmo grabbed his hand and pulled him off towards the back of the club. His fingers were trembling. Weather from excitement or nervousness Zuko wasn’t sure. Even in the darkness of the club, he could see how red Kosmo’s ears and cheekbones had turned. “I ordered you a birthday cake– Oh, don’t make that face.” He pouted at him. “I made sure they made it more creamy and less sugary. I think it came out really awesome!”
He shot his brother an apologetic look. Zion shook his head, a coy smirk blooming across his face. The Bastard always had liked watching him struggle with the over dramatic affections of any of his admirers.
They came through a door to a private room and Zuko frowned. It wasn’t as bad as he’d been dreading. Even the rainbow-colored ribbon design on the cake. The rest of the decorations, most likely picked out by Caleeci, where a very tasteful silver, black, and green.
“Happy twenty-seventh!” Armani shoved his way in-between Kosmo and him, slung an arm around his shoulders, and held out a gigantic lime green margarita.
“Well,” Zion slid past them, “I suppose this means we need to light your candles and sing you happy birthday.” He stepped up to the cake and pulled out a lighter.
“Oh God, please don’t.” Zuko raised an eyebrow at the lighter. Had he started smoking? His brother had been suck a health freak back when they were still in High School. Always on his case about his own bad habits. He fingered the Zippo and pack of cigarettes in his pocket.
“Okay, guys!” Zuko cut in, stepping up to grab Zion’s arm and pull him away from the cake, and the nightmare that was unfolding. “Thank you for the cake, Kosmo.” He held back a grimace at the man’s blushing infatuation and ushered Zion to the door. “But, before you drug me in here, my brother had something he needed to discuss with me, so...”
“Finally going to tell him?”
Zuko paused, turning to stare at Amani with pinched brows. What? Zion's shoulders stiffened and he turned his glare on him. His brother was giving Armani a betrayed look. Zuko glanced between the two with raised eyebrows.
“Okay, what the hell?”
“Oh, oh, he’s upset,” Armani grinned, pointing an accusing finger at Zion, “because he thought I wouldn’t tell you the embarrassing truth that everything,” he waved his arms in front of his face for emphases, “he’s about to tell you he tried to do so in a fucking message.” Amani stepped up next to him with another evil grin and slapped a hand down on his shoulder blade. “Luckily I found it first and erased it. Before letting his dumbass,” Armani was literally the only person he’d ever known to get away with calling his brother any version of the word dumb, “know that wasn’t something you tell someone in a goddamn message.”
Zuko sucked in a breath. His heart rate picking up speed. What the hell was his brother about to tell him?
“And,” Armani continued, “you would never in a million years agree with what he was wanting to ask you unless he was actually here to give you them big puppy-dog eyes.”
Zion shoved past Armani, grabbed Zuko’s arm, and pulled him out of the room.
“It’s not what you’re thinking,” he shouted over the music as he led him through the crowd to the balcony he’d been headed for earlier. “It’s not bad…”
Zuko raised an eyebrow at him, biting the inside of his cheek and forced his emotions into a box. A look he’d never seen before came over his brother’s face. A stupid lopsided grin that creased his eyes and revealed his shallow dimples.
“I… I’m getting married.”
Zion fidgeted and Zuko’s eyes widened. Married? He was getting married? He stiffened. His diaphragm locking up. Something he’d only agree to if Zion was here to beg. Oh god! No. He could not ask him that. He couldn’t…
“And I… I want you to be my best man.”
Zuko stared at him.
“You… You can’t seriously be asking me that.”
“Zuko, come on. It’s my wedding. My wedding!” He waved his arms out, his eyes wide, with that stupid grin sill on his face. “I… I never even thought I’d actually be saying those words with any kind of happiness?”
Zuko felt pain bloom in his chest. He knew very well the eventual plans their parents would have had for Zion. For him as well if he hadn’t flushed himself down their proverbial toilet.
“So it wasn’t an arrangement?”
“No.” Zion sighed, running a hand up the back of his hair. “God no. You should have seen the look on their faces the day I introduced them to her.” His grin became wicked. Zuko hadn’t seen it since before high school. When Zion and his group of friends were into mountain biking and death-defying leaps over rocky canon valleys. “I could tell right away they didn’t approve.”
Zuko frowned. “Then how is the wedding even happing?” His frown deepened. Unless they were just giving into Zion’s endeavors, because he could do no wrong in their eyes, like always.
“Don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what?”
“They didn’t just give in Zuko.” He moved over to the balcony’s rail, pulling out a pack of cigarettes. So, he had started smoking. Zion caught the pinched look on his face and shrugged as he lit one. “It was your thing back in high school, no matter how many times I told you it wasn’t the best habit to have.” He blew out a cloud of smoke and studied the cigarette in his hand. “Guess it was a kind of a passive aggressive way to get back at our parents.” He tilted his head with a grin. “Kim thinks it looks hot.”
Zuko rolled his eyes, but inside he felt elated. For a time there it had felt as though Zion was becoming their parent’s perfect little puppet. If nothing else he was glad his disownment had frayed some of the strings.
“You know, they may have made it seem like everything I ever did was perfect and exactly to their liking but they put just as much pressure and restrictions on me. I just happen to work better under stress than you do.” He shrugged again, dropped his half-smoked cigarette, and stomped it out. “No, they still dislike everything and anything there is about my fiancé. The feeling is entirely mutual too. But well, they can’t really turn down one of the richest heiresses on Centari now can they.”
Zuko gave him a look. Unimpressed with his dramatics.
“Kimberly Larkin,” Zion said with a smirk as Zuko’s eyes widened. “Or rather… Kimberly Larkin-Knightly. Heiress to parts of both the Larkin and Knightly estates. Including the Larkin-Knightly hotel chain.”
Yeah, there was no way their parents would turn that down. Though, they probably tried. Went looking for a better, more malleable option. But honestly, there wouldn’t have been many options available better than the Larkin-Knightly fortunes. And when push came to shove their parents where all about the money.
“So what do you say little brother, you going to be my best man?”
Zuko groaned and pitch the bridge of his nose. “Why aren’t you asking Ontario this? I thought the two of you were ‘best friends forever’.” He made air quotes with his fingers and rolled his eyes.
“You’re my brother…”
Zuko turned away. Unable to look him in the eye.
“I almost killed you.”
“And I forgave you! I forgave you the moment I saw your awareness come back and guilt bloom across your face. You were high and messed up and I made you angry. You didn’t mean it. You didn’t mean any of it!”
“Yeah, well you’re the only one. The rest of the ‘family’… they hate me. I bet they wouldn’t even attend my funeral. What the hell do you think they’re going to say about me even being at your wedding, let alone being your best man?”
“Fuck what they have to say!”
Zuko stared at him. His brother did not curse. Or get upset like this. Or lose his temper.
“I… I can’t Zion.” He swallowed hard and ran a hand over his face. “I’m finally in a good place. Finally, for the first time in my life, not shrouded in the abyss of depression and self-doubt our parents constantly drowned me in. And what, you want me to just throw all of that away?”
“No!” Zion stepped forward, reaching out to grip his shoulders. “No, of course not. I have never, nor will I ever want you to feel that way. But Zuko,” he ran his hands down Zuko’s arms, dropped them back to his sides, and straightened up. “Why do you let them do that to you? Why do you care what they have to say? About anything! When so much of what they say is utter bullshit!”
Zuko turned away, his eyes burning.
“Come on Zuko,” Zion pleaded with a look of frustration. “This is a onetime deal. I’m not doing it again! You’re really going to refuse to be there?” He huffed, rolled his eyes to the sky, and turned away from him. “At least one of us has a chance at a happy relationship,” he muttered.
Zuko bit the inside of his cheek and slammed the door on his emotions. His muscles tensed as a cruel calm overcame him.
“Oh please… Your only wedding?” He tilted his head with a sneer and a humorless laugh. “If you’re happy to marry this woman then, going by your current record, she’s most likely a high-class bitch. And, also going by your record, they don’t ever seem to last very long, do they?”
Zion clenched his fists, the same burning look in his eyes as that infamous night five years ago. The night Zuko ruined his own life. He felt electricity shoot up his spine. It was a look he knew very well, no matter how rare it was to see it.
“I… I’m not,” he forced down a chocked breath, moving away from Zion. “I’m not doing this again.” Flashes of his brother, cut up and bleeding, bones sticking out of his arm, a piece of the metal rail through his side. He hadn’t meant to hurt him. He’d just snapped. And Zion… Zion always knew just the right thing to say to get him there.
He could hear the remorse in his brother’s voice but refused to look at him. To see the guilt in his eyes. How the hell could he ever feel guilty over any kind of upset he caused, after what Zuko had done to him?
“I’m sorry… Okay,” he seemed to choke on his words. “You don’t want to go, you don’t have to go…” There was defeat in his voice and Zuko loathed himself for it. Even laid up in the hospital with a broken arm, a hundred stitches, and a cracked pelvis, he’d still been trying to talk sense into him. Not that he’d needed to at that point. Zuko had seen the light.
“Well! Did you say yes? Are we going to Terraria for the wedding!” Armani called, having slammed open the balcony doors.
Zuko drew in a breath of air, his pulse still beating heavy in his ear.
“We tried to make him pace himself, but Dios mio, you know how he gets with tequila,” Caleeci said with an eye roll as she moved over to him.
“Don’t worry about it, I’m fairly certain he was plastered to begin with.” He kept his voice low, trying to fight down the quivering in his muscles. Caleeci looked him over before turning a glare on Zion.
His brother gave her a sheepish grin, trying to look cute while simultaneously looking apologetic. And oh my god was it actually working? That look never worked on Caleeci. Zuko huffed and gave Zion a glare of his own.
“Come on Nino back inside.”
Zuko’s glare transfused to her and turned withering.
“Don’t you worry baby! The rain will go away tomorrow… Everything will be okay tomorrow…” Armani sang, drunkenly dancing around them. Having picked up on Caleeci’s insult.
Zuko rolled his eyes.
“Why am I friends with the two of you again?”
“Because you love us!” Armani grinned. Practically nose to nose with him as he pulled his face forward with a warm grip on both his cheeks. Zuko sighed. He couldn’t exactly contest that accusation. He was fairly certain if anyone but the three people out there with him ever subjected him to this kind of treatment they’d get, at the very least, a swift shove from his person.
“Wait. While we’re out here I might as well give you your present.” Zion pulled a small, slender box from his jacket’s inner pocket and tossed it to him. He opened it to find a set of BMW keys.
Zuko frowned at this brother. “You bought me a car?”
“Not just any car…” Zion trailed off with a smirk. Zuko stared at him blankly before realization hit and his eyes widened.
“Zion! You didn’t.”
Zuko rushed passed them to a set of stairs that led down to the parking lot. He clicked the key fob as he stepped off the bottom stair and froze.
The son of a bitch really did it! He’d bought him an 8i! One of the very few car models carried over from Earth. And it cost a fortune.
He pivoted on his heel to glare at his brother. “What the hell Zion! I know you’re rich, but you’re not that rich. And I also know for a fact our parents would throw a fit if they found out you used any of the family money to buy me that car.”
Zion had a weird mix of amusement and caution on his face as he fidgeted in… not hesitation… anticipation maybe. Armani and Caleeci were surprisingly quiet as they held back to watch the exchange from the stairs.
“Yes, yes they will.”
Zuko stared at him, feeling a pressure build in his chest.
“My final ‘childish act of rebellion’ for them disowning you,” he said with a shrug. “Well, actually, my final act was…” he glanced at him, this time in defiant hesitation, “the wedding. But Kimberly can handle that herself,” he continued quickly. “She has so many plans.” He starred off into space, that stupid grin back on his face.
Zuko scowled. How the hell was he supposed to argue with his brother about being stupid when he already looked so stupid.
“I want to dive!” It seemed Armani had used up all the restraint he could possibly muster. Though, it was kind of impressive considering how absolutely smashed he was. The three of them turned to give him incredulous looks.
“You’re fucking drunk!” Caleeci rolled her eyes and shoved past him. She grabbed the key fob from Zuko and unlocked the car. “And this mess,” she waved a hand between Zion and Zuko, "was your idea. So you can stay and console the person you gave a guarantee to. And Zuko and I can go on a joy ride,” she said with a grin before slipping into the passenger seat. “Come on Primo, let’s roll!”
Zuko hesitated, before shrugging at Armani in apology and moving to take the driver’s seat with a sigh.