Few things to note; first, I disapprove of how The Search comics ended, so I made a slightly more tolerable alternative to Ursa's fate. Secondly, Azula is mentally more stable and slightly mellower in this fic, though she's still rather unhinged; I tried to keep her and everyone in character but haven't had much success. Thirdly, Azula and Sokka forging their partnership will seem rushed but I didn't feel like dragging out redundant, repetitive debates with Zuko and Katara as this is only a short 4-5 chapter fic. Lastly I aimed to make Sokka and Azula feel intelligent, but characters are only as smart as the person writing them, and I ain't very smart at all, or much of a writer for that matter, so don't expect anything intellectually earthshaking; mediocrity is the best you can hope for here.
Now, to the story.
Some several months following the climax of a century long war, life had settled down, though even with peace declared and the Fire Nation's tyrannical ambition doused, trust remains a hard foundation to lay with so much carnage colouring history. Yet the world was managing, primarily thanks to the joint efforts of its saviours who operated as one even when scattered abroad to help where help was needed. However, those saviours had their own hardships to confront, and not all of them strictly impersonal...
The new Fire Lord had a history of childhood tragedy haunting his dreams with painful memories left unresolved, and none more crippling than the mystery of his mother's disappearance. Ozai taunted and mocked his son's pitiful maternal neediness even as he rotted in his filthy prison cell, powerless since his defeat, something Zuko reminded him of whenever interrogating him about his mother's whereabouts; yet Ozai never spilled fourth the truth Zuko coveted, rebuffing only with scorn and repudiations no child should ever hear from a parent. Finally, in desperation Zuko turned to Azula, visiting his Semi-crazed sister in her gloomy Asylum prison where she'd been confined...until now.
Azula's recovery proved a rocky prolonged affair, her mental state was delicate in those first few months, she'd withdrawn into a deep dark well of depression, broken by both her defeat and her father's abandonment. It was a terrible thing, seeing those golden eyes once so full of fire, passion and life hollow and void of all the she was. Zuko tried talking to her but she never heard him for nothing existed beyond the desolation of her own personal hell. Alas, eventually Azula remembered herself; essentially she was the same cold manipulative perfectionist, but the realization their loveless father only saw her as an expendable weapon had left its scars; scars that bleed still.
Even with her depression quelled and her self-worth restored, Zuko could tell she'd lost some vital piece of herself; not her Firebending, Aang had allowed her to keep that, under strict conditions; no, her loss was etched as deeply in the past as his own, only she shied from the emotion, buried it, believing such human flaws diminished her somehow, and Zuko recognized her anguish as surely as he himself felt it, two wounds one in the same.
Perhaps Azula also acknowledged their common grievance because after much debate she resolved to help him figure out the mystery haunting their childhoods and persuade the heartless father she now despised to spill his guts, but shrewd and intuitive as Azula is, it was still Ozai who'd tutored her in all that makes her great and he only divulged the information after blackmailing her into an undesirable agreement, which in secrecy she accepted, and so through this twisted series of events, the journey to find their mother began.
Coincidentally, the rest of Team Avatar happened to be visiting the Fire Nation at the time and got a real shock learning about Azula's probation when Zuko asked them to join his search to ensure the princess behaved while Iroh sat the throne in his absence. Naturally they had their reservations, but as the team had their own less urgent business out that way anyway, Aang agreed. The tension and mistrust between the princess and the gang was overwhelming, and trouble wasn't five minutes in following when Azula almost roasted Sokka for arrogantly waving a boomerang in her face which caused the others to react quite forcefully in defence of his stupidity; and so marked the beginning of a very unpleasant journey.
Their trip to the Earth Kingdom was long, Azula caused no outright grief but she was the furthest thing from fun company, never letting up once with her biting insults and harsh critique of their faults as if she had none of her own. Naturally her bellicose attitude immediately dragged a pride wounded Sokka out of his shell with verbal fists flying, eager to avenge his earlier embarrassment at her hands. Azula also feuded with Katara, though not nearly so often as with Sokka, and mostly Katara just harped on about what a terrible person Azula is, which soon bored the princess and she'd resume bating Sokka since he was much more challenging to one-up than his whiny self-righteous sister. For virtually the entire trip they duelled, both matching their ever sharp wits, strategic minds and maddeningly potent sarcasm against eachother in articulate and oddly eloquent verbal warfare. Occasionally even Toph contributed her dry humour and blunt criticisms to the wordy violence, altogether creating enough racket to give everyone headaches and aggravate the usually friendly Appa to the point of almost dumping them all in the ocean and flying off to find solitude.
Oh Azula tried ignoring him, telling herself bickering with peasants was beneath her, yet every dumb comment he made usually set her off. The old Azula wouldn't act this way she kept reminding herself, she'd erase him from her worldly perception, or even existence altogether; but the old Azula had been broken and left twisting in the wind, and the reality was that she simply just –needed- something to fight, and the tribesman was just quick enough of tongue to challenge her. She could tell he loathed her more openly than the others and he was more than happy to oblige her a good argument anywhere at any time of day, or night, much to the others chagrin. Still, despite Sokka and Azula's constant slew of veiled insults and double-bladed banter, a grudging respect for one another's intelligence had developed over those uneventful days of Ursa searching.
"It feels strange flying around without killer Firebenders breathing down our neck." Aang reflected aloud the night before touching down for supplies in a small west Earth Kingdom city settlement called Niskata.
"I'd happily oblige you a little nostalgia, Avatar." Azula offered curtly, obviously joking but even so, it made everyone very uncomfortable which in turn made Azula very happy, thus her comment's aim.
Most of the time it was just Azula and Zuko following up leads on their mother in every village and town they visited while Aang did his -peacekeeping- with Katara and Toph, though not Sokka, he declined those trivialities in favour of stuffing his face at every food joint he could find, sometimes even audaciously presenting himself as the Avatar's personal food critic to get free meals whenever Katara refused to fund his gluttony. Aang had re-plotted their course to match Zuko's own agenda, that way they could reunite when their respective business concluded. Aang's appearances weren't necessarily scheduled, but they'd always been on his to-do list anyway, so it all coincided quite well.
Their search took a long time, but Azula and Zuko finally found their mother, only they weren't ready for the truth that confronted them, specifically the new life and family she'd built for herself, a family without them, and her rejection of their attempts to reconnect with her cut the siblings more deeply than either would ever admit to anyone, including eachother. And so, with a mystery of heartache cracked open into even greater heartache, they left, wordlessly boarding Aapa, leaving all the gang's flung queries and curiosity unsatisfied in their grim depression. For the remainder of the trip Zuko distracted himself by helping in Aang's Avatar duties with an unhealthy enthusiasm; Azula though, well, she contented herself pretending the whole thing didn't bother her, burying the emotions deep.
That was two days ago, and now the gang found themselves visiting a quaint little back-country town called Jin-Sing situated outside a large spread of woodland, relatively young in its longevity but boasting a prosperous population of friendly, unassuming people whose only suffering in the war had been the odd raiding party, so Aang's presence wasn't so much required here, but they welcomed him and his group with open arms and generous spirits, much to Azula's distaste.
Once the rabble returned to daily life, Katara had gone about gathering supplies from the market with Aang and Toph; Zuko wondered off somewhere for some alone time, Sokka vanished to scout for worthy restaurants he could later con out of a free meal, and Azula, unsure what to do, just sat on the edge of a simple white-stone fountain, glowering at passers-by. Half hour later the group reunited where Appa had landed in a stone paved clearing just inside the city gate where the humble two story homes and shops of wood and rock neatly lining the hilly bluffs around them, their chimneys releasing gentle plumes of smoke into the beautiful tangerine sky of sunset above. And so here, among the ambiance of life and fresh air, begins the story of two bounty hunters.
(Jin-Sing's Northern town gate : Mid-Afternoon.)
"Hey Aang, look, there's a call for bounty hunters to help exterminate the bandits and other bad guy infestioners around here, like this guy," Sokka squinted at a poster tacked on the large wooden billboard "This guy looks pretty scummy.".
"And ugly, his beard looks like a birds-nest. Wonder if he's hiding any eggs in it?" Aang laughed, staring at the artist's sketch of a burly, unkempt man with bushy black hair distorting a bearded weather beaten face brandishing green oval shaped eyes filled with menace.
"Hmm, a beard pantry, I like it." Sokka mused, then started reading "Name, Bogar the bandit; take caution, extremely dangerous Earthbender, raider, robber and murderer of considerable ability; sounds like a real nice guy," Sokka muttered, continuing "Believed to be hiding among the rocky rises of the Crovine Slopes, a harsh barren landscape of rocky ledges, sharp drops and inhospitable weather just beyond the Scar-Shard woods lining Jin-Sing's western border; reward, ten gold pieces if captured alive, six if delivered deceased." An enthusiastic Sokka turned, grinning broadly "Sounds like fun huh? Come on, what do ya say Aang, wanna be bounty hunters?"
"Yeah, that does sound like fun;" Aang said excitedly; then his face fell "Aww I can't, I've got three more appearances to make; maybe some other time."
"You can't be serious Sokka," Katara snorted "How do you expect to find a crook in hiding when you can't even find your own underwear?"
"Hey! It's not that I couldn't find them; they were hiding from ME!"
"And with good reason I'll bet." Toph quipped, unheard.
"They were on your bed in plain sight Sokka." Katara argued.
"Camouflage, its nature's craftiest trick," Sokka stated like it was the most logical explanation in the world "Blue fabric on blue blankets, undergarments are sneaky that way."
"So basically you're admitting you were outsmarted by your own underwear." She shot back.
"Well they are –my- underwear, so it's only logical they'd absorb some of my genius and...Actually, I'm not talking to you anymore." Sokka turned to Zuko, pretending Katara wasn't there "So what do ya say? You up for some bounty hunten?"
"No thanks, I got my fill hunting you guys all over the world and am now -officially- retired." Zuko answered, bemused.
"Oh, yeah, forgot about that...Well Toph, guess it's just you and me, the most awesome members of Team Avatar." Sokka declared, punching the air and flexing.
"Nah, you're on ya own Snoozels, but thanks for recognizing my awesomeness level, you're not half dorky yourself..."
"But, what, I'm not...BAH! You're all a bunch of sissy girls; I never wanted you to come anyway!"
"But Toph and I -ARE- girls, and -we never wanted to go anyway-." Katara mimicked in falsetto, giggling."
"Yeah Snoozels, and I resent being called a sissy." Toph grumped, then as an afterthought, added "Although I can't speak for your girly-girl sister here on that one." Sokka just huffed.
"I'll go bounty hunting with you peasant," Azula whispered right in his ear, grinning wickedly as he whirled in surprise; Sokka wished she'd stop doing that "Truth be told I could use the distraction, and watching you make a fool of yourself might be just what I need."
Zuko felt compelled to object about that "Uh, I'm not sure that's such a good idea Azula, you just got released, and if people see you Firebending, they might, uh, get the wrong idea."
"Don't be silly ZuZu, I'm not actually going to help him, I just want to be there for the laughs when he fails, and he will fail, I mean look at him, the simpleton barely knows how to put one foot in front of the other."
"I can walk!" An irate Sokka shouted then more moderately, added "I can run too."
"That's wonderful, you should be very proud of yourself peasant," Azula congratulated sarcastically "In fact I'm sure it won't be long now before your reciting the alphabet to us as well; all the way from A to B."
"Actually," Toph piped up "He already knows his Alphabet, it's drawing a straight line he has trouble with; he can't even write his own name yet." The others laughed and Azula smirked.
"How would you know? You don't even know what my name looks like!" Sokka blurted.
"Maybe not, but I -can- smell it." Toph quipped, entirely unfazed by his heated ill-thought comment "Every time I smell sweat, burned meat and cinnamon shampoo, I think -SOKKA-." Toph wriggled her fingers for emphasis.
"Cinnamon shampoo," Katara teased "So all the times I smelled sugar-cakes, it was coming from Sokka's ponytail?"
"Yep." Toph nodded, grinning "I just didn't say anything cause I didn't want to embarrass him."
"For the millionth time, it's called a Warrior's -Wolf Tail-, and there's nothing wrong with wanting to keep it clean and shiny! Now if you'll excuse me, Bogar The Bandit awaits."
"Careful," Katara warned "Bogar might mistake your shiny ponytail for a silver sugar-cake and try to steal it." She jabbed playfully, not really thinking he was serious about seeing through this silly bounty hunting escapade.
"That's it, I'm going! See ya's in a few days!" Sokka stormed off, Katara and Aang called after him to come back but he ignored them.
Toph just sighed "Rats, I probably shouldn't have given him such a hard time."
"Well, like our precious little bunny hunter said; see you in a few days." Azula remarked, making to follow after Sokka, but Zuko placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Wait a minute Azula, we haven't finished discussing this yet."
"Yes we have, I said I want to be a bounty hunter, you said it wasn't a good idea, I said it was a marvellous idea, you said no, I said yes, you said people won't like me roaming about unescorted, I said I don't care, you forbad me to go but I went anyway...oh wait, that part hasn't happened yet."
"Look, Sokka going is one thing, the guy's crazy and has no self-control," Zuko stated, not really meaning it "But the both of you together, I'm not sure that's such a good idea."
"We already covered that part." She said, her slender hand circling with impatient elegance "Get to the point already."
"Fine, hypothetically, say I let you go. How do I know you'll come back?"
"You don't, not that you have anything to worry about, all of father's supporters are either dead or in prison, and even If I wanted your worthless throne to rule over a bunch of traitors who loathe me, which I don't, wouldn't I have a much better chance sticking by your side week in and week out, nosing into all your affairs, waiting for the right moment to plunge the knife of betrayal deep in your back?"
"You're not helping your case, sis." Azula wrinkled her nose at the informal slang.
"Sis? Really brother, we must reenrol you in social etiquette classes, you've spent too much time exposed to these primitive cultures and your dialect is atrocious, even I'm starting to worry its catching."
Katara chortled at that "You're worried about catching bad language habits, yet you're perfectly willing to gallivant off with my brother who is about as articulate with words as he is with a paintbrush." She prodded, oddly unoffended by Azula's derision, though her repressed hatred of the Princess remained evident.
"It is the fever." Azula quoted ironically then faced her brother "Besides ZuZu, your one track mind friend looks like he has a knack for attracting trouble, so the least I can do is go along to make sure he avoids said trouble, and save his worthless hide should he find it."
"Fine, you can go, just keep in touch, if I don't hear from you in four days I'll find you and drag you back to the palace myself." He warned "And remember; you're the responsible one, so prove to us you've changed by watching Sokka's back when he comes up against other benders."
"Your confidence in your friend is heart-warming, and not that I'm defending the idiot, but he is very talented with a blade; hard as it is to admit, he had me back when we fought on the Boiling Rock's cable cars. He's probably as good at swordplay as either of us, and I always beat you at swords. Remember? Just like I beat you at everything." The Princess needled.
Zuko's jaw tightened "Ugh, just go before I change my mind." He groaned, waving her off.
"Thank you kindly for granting me permission to exercise my own freedom, brother." Azula drawled, slightly irritated "If you feel the need to apologize for your attitude, I'll be in the markets collecting supplies with the Water Savage."
"OK, have fun shopping." Aang said cheerily, interrupting Zuko's unvoiced response to save further arguments "And tell Sokka we'll come say goodbye before we leave." Azula just sneered at Aang's spirited cheerfulness and strode gracefully away.
"It'll be nice to get rid of Sokka for a while, he's become a real nuisance lately; I swear half the Earth Kingdom's restaurant owners he's conned free food out of are howling for blood; if he keeps behaving like that he may end up collecting a bounty on himself." Katara joked.
"It's the only bounty he has a hope of bringing in," Toph put in more seriously "I mean, no offense to him, but he's not a bender, and benders are exactly who he's gonna be hunting."
"What about that Jun lady we hired to find Uncle Iroh? She's not a bender." Zuko argued, defending his friend.
"True, but she's a giant mountain of awesome with an equally awesome pet; Sokka's just…Sokka." Toph shrugged, trying to hide her worry "Maybe I should go with them, keep him from getting hurt."
"I'm surprised it's you who's taking this seriously Toph, normally I'm the big worrier of the group." Katara laughed "Besides, I know my brother, he's not actually serious about this; he's just throwing a tantrum because we laughed at his idea."
"I don't know Katara," Toph murmured ominously "He has that whole intense steady heartbeat thing going, I've felt it before, he only gets like that when he's serious about seeing something through, I think he's actually going to do this," Katara looked sceptical, but Toph didn't budge "Look, our teasing aside, he's a big boy and could probably take care of himself if he still had Space Sword, but he doesn't and peacetime's softened him up too much; I'm just," She sighed irritably "I'm just worried he's going to get himself hurt, or worse...Sparky, why'd you let your sister off the hook so easy, especially after you dragged us along to guard against her psycho problems?" Toph accused, scowling at Zuko.
The subject change took Zuko off balance "Honestly, I don't know, I guess I thought since she's been showing signs of improvement it might be good for her to get out and gain a new more positive perspective on the wider world and learn to accept other people and cultures the way I did in exile."
"That's a pretty big what if, even by my standards." Toph muttered.
"I have to agree," Katara added "This could have disastrous consequences."
"I'm not so sure Katara, I mean she hasn't given us any real trouble lately," Said Aang, trying to put an optimistic spin on the debate.
"Minus the verbal abuse," The Waterbender grumbled.
"That part I don't mind, shows she's got spunk;" Toph chipped in "It's her superior –I'm queen of the world- attitude that pisses me off; she ain't even queen of her own sanity, but that don't stop her looken down her nose at everyone, I swear she's even more stuck up than you Sugar Queen."
"Come on guys," Aang cut in before Katara and Toph could start one of their infamous shouting matches "I know a little trust is a big ask where Azula's concerned…"
"Yeah, Biiiiiiiiiig." Toph echoed sarcastically, arms extended wide.
"I'm with Toph," Katara repeated, The Earthbender's teasing already forgotten "She should be locked in the asylum where she's no to danger anyone, like my brother." Now Katara was worried Sokka might just be serious about this harebrained career move after all.
"Maybe," Aang sighed wearily "But everyone deserves a second chance, including Azula. So if not now, when?" Katara had no positive or polite answer to give "And besides, Sokka'll be okay," Aang continued, trying to lighten the mood "He's a smart guy, I mean he's always boasting about his ginormous brain," Aang threw his arms wide, as if measuring "Well now he gets to show it off to the world, and we can always help him out if he gets in a tight spot."
"It's not that simple Twinkle-Toes, he'll be all alone out there and Hawky's his only emergency backup plan and we haven't heard from that smelly squawker in two days."
"I wouldn't exactly say he's alone," Zuko amended "I know they argue a lot, but he should be fine while Azula's guarding his back." He consoled, only catching the craziness of his statement too late, Sokka and Azula bickered constantly, if they couldn't stand eachother now, a long term arrangement would have them killing eachother, or more realistically, Azula killing Sokka.
As if hearing his thoughts, Toph murmured "That's what worries me Sparky." Then she walked away, leaving the others behind exchanging troubled looks.
(Jin-Sing Merchant Street : Mid-Afternoon.)
After storming off in a huff, Sokka marched by the bounty board, pulling down and pocketing the Bogar poster in passing to discourage other perspective hunters, though it's weathered parchment suggested it was old news anyway. Even so, Sokka trundled along the cracked pavers of a nearby street brimming with merchant stores built variably of wood straw and stone; no high and low class societies here. A few seconds in and he found what he was looking for, a woodsman's camping and survival store which he burst into, still upset at his sister's doubting his ability to handle a mere Earthbending bandit.
The door slamming open made the proprietor jump then glower, not the best first impression Sokka could have made, he'd have to apologize when he made his purchases.
Stalking the isles, he sought out the basic essentials, he needed a new tent and some other camping stuff; a tinder box, tent-pegs, a cooking pot and med-kit, oh and a backpack to carry them in. Most of this stuff he already had, but it wasn't here with him, what with the journey being to spread Aang's grandiose presence about in the name of peace and fluffity-fluff. Sokka also got some rope, a waterskin and one suspicious looking compass. Naturally he couldn't afford the best stuff, only having coppers and a couple of silvers in his belt-pouch, but that's what bounty hunting's all about, starting poor and getting rich on adventures, then coin after adventures, starting wealthy defeats the purpose.
Suddenly a slender feminine figure in red and gold materialized silently beside him; Azula, he hadn't even heard her enter, a reoccurring theme. She began browsing the various hunting knives on the rack with judgmental interest "What are you doing here?" He squeaked, still freaked out she'd foiled his expert hearing.
"Forgotten already?" Azula jeered, not looking at him "It seems retroactive memory-loss is another shortcoming you primitives suffer from; it's any wonder the Southern Raiders virtually expunged your people."
"Funny;" He grumbled, gritting his teeth, refusing to react as she wanted; rehabilitated or not Azula was still a cold hearted bitch; so Sokka smirked instead "I thought you were only teasing your brother about going bounty hunting with me, I never expected you'd get off your pampered backside to follow through, didn't think you had it in you." He baited with only partial success.
"Learn this peasant, I always follow through, and you'd be wise to broaden those expectations of yours, lest my constant defiance of them drown you in your own veneration." She said, teeth bared dangerously in a crocodile smile that rattled his nerves, though he didn't back down.
"Your more like to be blinded by my dazzling brilliance and epic charisma first, Princess Of None." He jabbed, referencing how her own people despised her and sighing when she again didn't rise to his scorn "And just letting you know," He added "If you can't keep up, I'm leaving you behind, and remember, Bogar The Bandit-man is mine, your just an unwanted observer, got it?...good!" He snapped, not letting her answer.
Azula scowled, she hated being cut off, so accustomed to everyone hanging off her every word, it didn't sit well with her and by the time her mouth opened with a scathing rebuttal notched and drawn, the idiot had already sauntered to another isle, perusing the gloves on offer. Azula shrugged it off and went about gathering her own supplies, purposely getting in the peasant's way whenever she could, even tripping him over at one point then apologizing with a leisurely "Sorry, didn't see you there." He just glared up at her, rose and dusted off as the mousy shop keep frowned disapprovingly at them, but one icy look from Azula sent him scuttling away into a back room.
Sokka couldn't say he was pleased with Azula's purchases; the little cheat had a purse full of gold and silver from the palace. Hadn't she ever heard of ruffing it? Still, she seemed to know her business and what to buy, probably even better than he did. Sokka's own survival training applied more too arctic climates, but the woods and mountains can't be that different. Right?
Sokka browsed and chose a suitable yet versatile square of netting a little bigger than his opened sleeping-bag which he'd have to retrieve from Appa later. The net was perfect for weaving leaves and foliage through to make a rain resistant camouflage blanket for stealth and stakeouts. He was taken aback to see Azula doing the same, her choice of net was slightly different, thinner weaves but better quality, hence pricier. Still, he had to comment.
"I know you're miss perfect and all, but I didn't expect you to be trained in jungle survival and all that other nitty-gritty stuff."
"We had various such instructors at the Fire Nation's Academy For Girls, but most of it I learned when father assigned me to an elite special forces squadron of Firebenders when I was seven, I joined them on covert operations deep in enemy territory to learn all I could from them; infiltration, assassination, espionage, subterfuge. I did it all" She murmured, gazing into space "And my mother never even noticed I was gone..." She laughed bitterly
"Seven," Sokka whistled, hating her just a little less for the confession "Damn your old man was mean."
"Perhaps, but given the opportunity, I wouldn't change a thing as I'd not be who I am today; if my father did nothing else, he made me strong, not weak like you and your pitiful bleeding heart band of rebels."
"We were strong enough to kick your butt, Princess, and ya old man's too." Sokka simpered, looking smug, his disdain back on full; Azula just ignored him and moved on to the next isle, but he kept talking "In fact I'm not sure I want to bounty hunt now that you've decided to come along and ruin it with all your...horribleness."
Azula gave him a searching sidelong look, masterfully she schooled her face into a mocking smile "Why the lack of optimism?" She cajoled "I thought you liked beating up the bad guys?"
"Sure I do, but not with a bad guy helping me."
"Bad girl, don't you mean?"
"Bad princess." He corrected, chuckling ill-humoredly.
"That's the spirit, see, you're already having fun, so lighten up would you."
"Yeah, fun, fun-fun tons-o-fun, tons and tons of fun-fun-fun, dun-dun dun-dun-dun" Sokka sang sardonically, shaking his head with his awful melody.
"Although if you continue singing like that, you're going home short a tongue, which might work out an improvement I think." Azula chortled.
Sokka wasn't rattled, he just grinned as they browsed the first aid shelves "Fun-fact princess." He said, raising a finger "If you don't tell people what you don't like, they can't use it against you, and I know lots of Water Tribe drinken songs I'd be happy to share." Azula shot him a -don't you dare- look that could've burned his hair off, but she didn't respond otherwise, she knew he was right "And just so you know," He added "I don't trust you,"
"No, really?" She drawled sardonically.
"Really." He nodded seriously.
"Well I'd be disappointed if you did." She remarked as they both approached the unmanned counter.
"Real great customer service they've got here. Where'd that clerk run off to?"
"Don't look at me." Azula deflected, all innocence, as if the storeman's sudden departure weren't her doing.
Impatient, Sokka started abusing the little service bell on the counter, pointedly ignoring the attached –press once- sign.
Azula spied the mousy looking man from earlier poking his had around the doorway to the backroom, she narrowed her eyes and gave him a mirthless toothy smile "It's not polite to keep paying customers waiting." She coaxed in a deceptively gentle tone "Yes, I see you there; Come on out now." She crooked a finger, a predator's come-hither gesture if ever there was one, and the timid little man limped to the counter with greatest caution and set to work tallying their purchases respectively, one eye trained warily on Azula the entire time.
They were still tormenting each other even after they paid for their new gear, Azula's purchases being substantially dearer than Sokka's, they left the camping store and briefly split up to fulfil the rest of their respective shopping lists, Sokka specifically sought plates and good dinner cutlery for cutting the toughest chunks of carnivore's choice. Bogar wasn't the only game he'd be hunting out there tomorrow. He also ran into Azula several more times before they were both adequately provisioned, or virtually broke in Sokka's case. Most hindering though was the discovery none of the shops they searched sold even basic rock-climbing equipment; that would complicate things if Bogar was holdup on the slopes and not camped in the woods, but they'd manage.
When Aang caught up with them outside a general goods store an hour later, he blinked at the two versatile medium sized packs of differing quality containing their purchases, then informed them Katara and the other's had returned to Appa to load their supplies; so they lifted their loads and followed him back to the town gate where farewells weren't readily coming or overly pleasant.
Zuko was reluctant, but Katara was loudly against this ridiculous bounty hunting venture and was in fact surprised to see both Sokka and Azula were indeed serious, their backpacks stating as much; and so two separate yet equally relative arguments ensued, one short and to the point, the other emotionally harsh on both sides.
(Jin-Sing's Northern Town Gate : Late Afternoon.)
Zuko had already granted her permission to go, but it didn't stop him repeating his earlier warnings "There will be no attacking innocents, I'm serious Azula, behave yourself;" Zuko said, stony faced "And no harm is to befall Sokka no matter how annoying he gets."
"Don't push me ZuZu, I'll abide by your precious rules, the only exception will be the criminals we hunt, they get everything that's coming to them."
Zuko actually felt sorry for the outlaws on those bounty boards, if only they knew "Fair enough," He agreed "But turn them in alive if you can; murdering defeated opponents isn't honourable, even despicable criminals like this Bogar guy deserve a little mercy."
Azula sighed "You and your honor Zuko, I swear you've spent far too much time fraternizing with these clowns you call saviours, they've dolled your instincts, made you weak...well, weaker..." Zuko wasn't moved
"This isn't negotiable Azula; no, senseless, killing."
Azula feigned hurt "Senseless killing? ZuZu, what kind of monster do you think I am? If live prey rewards us more coin, certainly; but otherwise," She smirked wickedly "I make no promises."
"This is going to end badly, I just know it." Zuko groaned, massaging his temples after handing Azula a wrapped bundle containing her nightgown and her share of the food rations which she promptly slipped inside her new backpack.
"My brother, ever the optimist;" Azula teased "Your new friends are a bad influence; but don't worry, your little sister's back now to even the tides."
"Wonderful," He grumbled, climbing aboard the bison's saddle, then once safely in, called down "Make sure you stay in touch, I meant what I said about the four day rule." Azula's sour face was all the answer he needed. That covered, both waited impatiently for the others to conclude there farewells.
Azula heard a heated argument escalating between the water peasant siblings, but she dismissed it when the blind girl's shadow fell over her. Unlike that emotionally insecure Waterbender now screaming at her brother, Azula secretly respected this one, though blind, the girl was a prodigy in her own right and displayed an admirable inner strength, strength proven in her current steely expression "Hey, Loony-Toon, just wanted to let you know that If you hurt one hair on my best pal's ugly mug, I'll personally teach you a whole new definition of both crazy and painful. Comprende?"
Loony-Toon? Azula's eye twitched at that absurd, nonsensical nickname, it was almost certainly meant to insult her, but what really piqued Azula's curiosity was the subtle undercurrent of, something, in the Earthbender's threat, as if she cared more deeply for Eskimo Boy than she let on; most curious. An exploitable weakness perhaps? Azula filed it away and smiled coldly "Oh spare me your hollow bravado and go find some dirt to play with, brat."
Azula turned, started walking, but instinct kicked in just in time for her to sidestep an ankle-high chunk of earth rising to trip her. Azula glared promises of fire back at the smirking Earthbender
"Go on, try it." The girl goaded "I'd love a chance to throw your psycho butt back in the slammer." Instantly Azula calmed down, the Earthbender's provocation was clear, if Azula reacted now, her freedom would be forfeit; but if she didn't react, thereby proving self-control, she'd both win confidence from Zuko and leave the Earthbender looking the fool, and better yet, what if she...?
Azula stood straight, non-threatening, offering the Earthbender a respectful nod "No significant harm will befall your peasant, you have my word." Azula reassured, years of Fire Nation politicking had taught her false sincerity and it worked for her now. Azula caught Zuko's smile of misplaced pride and the blind girl, though mistrustful, relented and headed wordlessly to farewell Eskimo Boy.
Watching as the other wretches boarded the smelly hairy beast to join Zuko, Azula puzzled why it'd been the Earthbender making threats and not the Waterbender; one would think that self-righteous drama-queen would jump at the chance, Azula certainly felt the girl's murderous hate and distrust beneath her false courtesy and strained smile whenever they interacted. Perhaps the argument with her brother had erased all other concerns, hence the blind Earthbender speaking on her behalf.
Meanwhile, Katara was taking Sokka's decision pretty hard…
"So you're really doing this?!" Katara asked harshly, glaring as Sokka retrieved his sleeping-bag and rations from Appa's saddle "Of all the stupid, hairbrained ideas you've had...does it even occur to you that you'll be facing benders, and that you're not a bender? Nooo, of course not, you never think anything through, you just jump in and either sink or swim!"
"Why are you yelling at me!" Sokka yelled.
"Because your being stupid, that's why!" She yelled back.
Sokka didn't understand why she was so mad, but he wasn't taking it "I don't see the problem, Master Piandao isn't a bender, and he whooped a hundred Firebender's by himself when they tried to arrest him..." He argued, jumping off Appa.
"He's a master of the blade and uses his brain, whereas you are a thoughtless bonehead with a boomerang, and you're not half as good with a sword as you think." That was only half true, he'd lost Space Sword during the Airship Slice and his replacement blade he dubbed -Not Space Sword- wasn't nearly as competent an alternative; an alternative he'd not even bothered bringing along on Zuko's mother finding mission.
"What would you know?" He snapped, harsher than he intended "You couldn't win a real fight without all your fancy, Woooo-waterbending pow-weeeer." He howled, waving his arms about in crude imitation of her technique "Why do you feel the need to shoot down all my aspirations? The world does that well enough without you helping it." Their shouting drew mixed glances of irritation and curiosity from passers-by, but seeing the arrow headed Avatar fidgeting to one side, they politely shuffled on.
"Sokka…" Katara pleaded, exasperated "You're my brother and I love you dearly, but your crazy ideas cause me endless stress; please, won't you take a day to think this through?" The concern on her face guiled him into feeling like a chump, and embarrassment always made him ruthlessly defensive.
"Would you stop babying me? I can take care of myself and don't need you constantly patronizing me! You're not Mom and you never will be, so quit acting like it! She's gone! Why can't you just drop the act and get on with your life?!" Screw regretting that later, he regretted saying it now, the hurt and rejection on Katara's face tore his heart to shreds; she turned away, hiding her face and walking toward Appa, he had to do something, say something "Katara wait..."
"No Sokka," She murmured, stopping, shoulders hunched "Your right, your old enough to make your own decisions; I-I don't mean to, to...I just worry about you is all." He could tell she was on the verge of tears now, but she looked over her shoulder and forced a smile "Stay in touch, Ok; good luck Sokka...oh and give old Boagar a good kick in the butt for me eh." She quipped weakly, trying to offer him a reassuring smile but managing only an awkward grimace that made Sokka wince as he watched his sister climb shakally into the saddle to sit staring at the sunset with Zuko, holding back tears and stubbornly refusing to look at him again.
Sokka closed his eyes, exhaled "Ah man Aang, what did I just do?" Aang gave him a supportive pat on the shoulder
"Don't worry too much about it, I'll talk to her."
"Thanks," Sokka said glumly as MoMo leapt onto his other shoulder "Well Momo, guess this is goodbye for a while," MoMo chittered when Sokka petted him, then without warning the lemur bit his finger "OW!" Sokka yelped "Thanks a lot buddy;" MoMo chittered again, pointing an accusing paw in Sokka's face with a comical scowl; Sokka had to agree "Yeah, guess I deserve that." MoMo leapt from him to a laughing Aang who leapt straight into Appa's saddle on an air-current as Toph came up to him and grinned "What?" He asked.
"Aw nothen Snoozels, you're just growing up so fast." She teased
"Ah shucks." Sokka mumbled, and they both fidgeted for a moment before reluctantly hugging farewell.
"Your sister'll come round," Toph whispered "And ignore what I said earlier, you'll make an awesome bounty hunter; maybe as awesome as I am an Earthbender."
"Nah; but you can dream." Toph snorted and Sokka couldn't help but laugh too "See ya soon Snoozel's, be sure to write a detailed recap of Bogar's big butt-whooping in your next letter so Twinkletoes can read it to me."
"Will do; and keep an eye out for Hawky, uh, I mean ear." He said, knowing Hawky would return to him soon, thereby allowing him a means of distant communication.
"Oh-Ha-Ha." Toph deadpanned then catapulted herself up to the saddle with Earthbending, leaving behind an ugly protrusion in the cracked stone pavement.
"Aw; why do farewells always suck?" Sokka grumbled to himself as Appa took off.
(Jin-Sing Streets : Late Afternoon of Sunset.)
Sokka and Azula stood there in the middle of the road, holding up an angry wagon driver as they watched Appa fly off into the sunset, Sokka waving and hollering like a maniac for them to come back after it finally sank in who they were leaving him with; fat lot of good it did him. Resigned to his fate, he and Azula moved to the roadside, the wagon driver making a rude gesture as he bullied his ostrich-horses with a whip and took the road out of town, Sokka returned the gesture as he passed, but Azula's glower obviously impacted the driver far more prominently.
Huffing, Sokka gave the Princess a sidelong glance before returning his gaze to the distant spot of Sky Appa vanished into and said "I've gotta hand it to you Azula, that whole spiel about us partnering as bounty hunters was real convincing, and going that extra mile buying all that gear, genius, you even had me fooled for a moment there."
"I wasn't lying." She stated, making Sokka scoff.
"Yeah right, Princess Azula the pathological liar telling the bare bones truth, that'll be the day;" He chortled, wiping away a fake tear "Oh your too much...now go on, your free of Zuko like you wanted, so off with you, be about your evil business and let me be, I've got a Bogar to hunt." He ranted, the rolled up bounty poster scrunched in hand.
"Now don't be like that peasant, I meant what I said about joining you, now we can either work together, or compete against eachother, and trust me, you don't want the latter."
"Huh, figures." He Scoffed "I mean forgive my scepticism, but I still don't believe you."
"Mmm-hmm." Azula hummed absently.
"Uh-huh," Sokka echoed "Yep; and I -still- don't trust you either;" Sokka said, waving his finger suspiciously at her "You're up to something, I just know it."
"You'd be surprised -peasant- how little I care about your opinion." Azula sneered "But for the sake of candour I will admit my decision is entirely self-serving; as you know I've been locked away in that degrading cesspool of an Asylum for months, and if Zuko had his way I'd spend the rest of my days confined to the palace where everybody detests my presence and questions my every action; it's scarcely a step above imprisonment."
"Ah man, not a sob-story, and from you of all people." Sokka complained.
"I'll give you a sob-story to tell if you don't shut up," She warned.
"Sorry," Sokka gulped "Go on."
"Well the short of it is I have a lot of pent up frustration to work off, and taking it out on the dregs of a primitive society might be just the therapy I need."
"So basically, you're using bounty hunting as an excuse to take your rage out on people who deserve it without fear of legal or ethical intervention."
"Exactly, it's a win-win arrangement, I get to crack a few skulls which in turn makes the world a safer place and supports your Avatar's –precious- peace effort; not to mention you wouldn't last ten seconds against this Bogar character's Earthbending abilities without my help." Sokka ignored her last comment and scratched his chin, mulling it over.
"Hmm, you make a good point, so yeah, I guess I'm down with that." Was he crazy? Had his better judgment gone on vacation and taken his finely tuned instinctual compass with it? Perhaps; but Aang and Zuko believed she'd changed enough to earn a shot at probation. Sokka mayn't share their blind optimism, but he respected their over-optimistic opinions and for their sake repress his suspicion that she was playing them like musical thingies; actually, this arrangement might work better than he'd like to admit since of all Team Avatar he was the most qualified to suss out her true motives and head off betrayals. So yeah,, crazy or not, he'd cut Princess Prissy some slack, you only lived once after all...but if he got it wrong; well, you do only live once, after all.
Azula must've read his mind because she seemed just as puzzled over his easy acceptance "What, just like that? No objection, no accusations, no interrogations or intellectual pissing contest? Are you feeling okay peasant?" She inquired, sounding almost let down by his easy acquiescence.
"Fine and dandy, couldn't be healthier." He chirped, causing her brows to knit together as she scrutinized him with suspicion, clearly unable to interpret his sudden change in disposition.
"What are you up to peasant; I hope you don't think you're somehow out-maneuvering me?"
"Wouldn't you like to know." He smirked, smug as the kid who stole the cookie jar; damn, if he could confound her this easily by acting Un-Sokka like, she'd better prepare herself to meat an army of weird and wonderful new Sokkas "So, are we partners or what." He prompted to cover how uncomfortable her penetrating stare was making him.
Azula frowned, seemed to reach a decision and gave a slight not "Partners."
"Alrighty then, bounty hunters we are; oh and please try to remember you can't kill –every- bad guy we find just for the sake of –stress relief-, they might be worth more alive."
"I'm not without common sense peasant."
"Good, otherwise we'd just be playing an endless game of good bounty hunter bad bounty hunter."
Azula smirked "Indeed; and I'd be the..."
"Yeah-yeah, you'd be the bad bounty hunter, big surprise." He waved impatiently
"Actually," She amended "I'd be the good bounty hunter seeing as you don't seem to be good at anything you do."
"Unfair!" He objected "I planned the whole invasion of the Black Sun, single-handedly;" He half-lied "Me, Sokka."
"So I heard...oh wait, how did that work out for you again?" She prodded, Sokka grit his teeth.
"It wasn't my...you...King...leaked the plan that...YOUR A POO HEAD!"
Azula flinched back slightly, mouth agape, thoroughly dumbstruck by the infantile pettishness of his outburst, all she could do was stand there staring wide eyed as he stalked away. Azula was disappointed; usually his articulacy with caustic remarks and sharp repartee almost equalled her own. Perhaps his argument with his sister had dolled his wits; hopefully he'd be cannier tomorrow, because lacking a semi-competent verbal sparring partner to torment, this bounty venture would quickly lose savour "Hopefully?" She murmured "There's a word I've never placed much stock in. So why now?" Azula sighed, archiving the subject for later assessment while striding after the moody twit before he got himself lost.
When Azula caught up she found him leaning against an old rock wall, watching the pink and orange streaked sunset, lost in thought. She joined him though kept an unobtrusive distance. Almost ten minutes they leaned there, neither spoke, there was nothing to say. Despite their harmless word fencing contests he still mistrusted her, and she disdained his arrogance and funny-man attitude, but even so, Azula had developed a subtle, grudging -very grudging- respect for this raggedy savage, and she sensed a similar respect in his demeanour toward her; it made her uneasy. Fear Azula was used to inciting in those beneath her, but to respect and be respected in turn, it felt so, wrong, so, equal...Azula hoped, it was all in her imagination "There's that word again...hope."
"What?" The peasant mumbled.
Azula started, she hadn't realized she'd spoken aloud. Had she fallen so far as to lose control over her own tongue? Sometimes it felt like she was losing more and more of herself with every passing day. Everything was different now, unfamiliar, even frightening. This peacetime, it was making her soft, weak, pliable; her life had changed, and not for the better she reflected. Conflict made her strong, overcoming any challenge the war threw at her; through conflict she tested herself and her power grew, but in isolation; stagnation and...and hopefully, this bounty hunting venture would help remedy her twisted identity crisis "Hopefully...pah; Hope the disease, hope the cure, hope the deceiver."
"What?" The fool repeated, more irritably.
"Nothing;" Azula muttered, pushing off the wall "Now if your quite done sulking, come and let us find a suitable inn where we may stay, you can find your own accommodations if you wish but I suggest we keep to the one venue, I don't want to waste time chasing you down later."
The prospect of food diluted Sokka's sulkiness, perking him up some "Good idea, I can't wait to ditch this pack and get something to eat, a good steak would go down perfect about now; I'm –soooo- hungry."
"Is stuffing your face all you ever think about; one would swear your brain resides soly in your stomach, and since that's always empty..."
"Nothing wrong with a healthy appetite," He said, not rising to her half-hearted baiting "But your right about using the same inn, I don't think there's too many around this side of town anyway, all I saw was that three story place back near where we bought all our stuff, looks comfy enough I guess." Azula had to agree about ditching their packs, it'd take a while accustoming herself to the weight, they weren't exactly large or heavy but they'd certainly hamper her Firebending in an unexpected pinch; but bridge crossing and all that.
With prospects of a warm meal they headed off to the inn they'd spotted earlier, encountering few other people on the streets as they walked. With night falling people were likely supping, or getting drunk out of their skull, as the woo-whooing racket of raucous male laughter drifting from a nearby local bar suggested; the place stank of puke and ale even out here and was so rundown it matched its patrons seamlessly. Even so, it was a pleasant stroll in the fresh country air, a cool evening breeze brushing across their faces as the stars grew visible in the darkening sky. Azula felt relaxed for the first time in ages, and she didn't like it, relaxed meant unguarded, vulnerable, so she resisted the ambient lull and perked to her usual refined state of alertness; her idiot companion though merely sighed in contentment, smiling torpidly up at the rising moon "Oscitant moron."
The fool must've felt her disapproving eyes on him, because his voice took on a soft, lilting, almost sing-song cadence when his repetitious declaration of "Still don't trust you." Drifted harmonically away into the cool night air; Azula couldn't fault his distrust. How could she? When she could no longer even trust in herself?"
(Jin-Sing, The Churl March Inn : Evening Past Sunset.)
The Churl March Inn was a clean enough place; plain wooden exterior, serviceable shuttered windows, triangular roofs, no dilapidation, relatively well maintained in all. Inside, pictures and cheap yet suitable tapestries decorated the candlelit taproom and dining area walls, not bad for a primitive culture of dirt dwellers Azula thought.
Entering, Azula got some wary looks from the other patrons who recognized her signature Fire Nation outfit and Royal hairpiece; her reputation had reached even this backwater it seemed, but wisely nobody started anything. The war hadn't hit these people hard enough for outright aggression, although that won't be the case everywhere they travelled chasing bounties, and she used the term -they- very loosely, unsure whether or not she'd part ways with the peasant after catching this Bogar creature. Food for thought that.
They both designated a cloth covered wooden table, dropped their packs beside the chairs and sat, Azula displaying a refined feminine grace unlike Sokka who just plopped down and signalled the waitress; he ordered the biggest stake on the menu and Azula got some weird chicken and vegetable combo. Strange, Sokka'd always pegged her as some stuck up vegetarian. He considered needling her about it but decided they'd argued enough today; apparently Azula thought the same as neither spoke until their meals turned up, and even then it was just to order beverages.
When the food came, Azula scrutinised her meal and mug of water, perhaps checking for signs of poisoning. Sokka couldn't blame her, being one of the most despised people in the world wouldn't be a picnic for anyone, she even heated her cup of water to sterilize the provided cutlery. Even so, she appeared satisfied with the results and dug in.
Their meal also proceeded silently, except for Sokka's slurping, lip-smacking and wolfish growling as he mauled his deliciously juicy rump stake, drawing not only a disgusted look from Azula as she picked daintily at her food, but also some not too appreciative glances from other diners, but the bald burly cook in the open faced kitchen seemed happy, grinning broadly at the enthusiasm with which a customer devoured his meal, he even roared with laughter when Sokka burped loudly, though that particular indiscretion earned him a bruised shin from Azula who kicked him hard under the table, her cheeks flushing slightly with embarrassment before her usual cold mask of unemotion saved face.
After their meal, they walked, or limped in Sokka's case to see the guy behind the bar about renting a room each. The curly haired barkeep first looked at Sokka, then at Azula, then back to Sokka wearing a big poo-eating grin. Sokka knew what the man was thinking but he barely opened his mouth to deny it when the barkeep said they had only -one- room available on the top floor even though Sokka could clearly see the other unused room keys on the rack. But when the guy mentioned it was their best room with a view of the sunrise and offered a discount, Sokka relented. This didn't appease Azula at all however.
"One room, what kind of flophouse is..." Azula started but Sokka cut her off before she offended someone, knowing any other possible boarding options were too far into town for their needs.
"If it's all you've got, it'll do, thanks buddy" Sokka amended and almost did a double-take because when the curly haired barkeep handed him the key, the cheeky bastard actually winked at him, as if to say -have a niiice night-...the guy had no idea; this was no kindness. What's worse, Azula also caught the unspoken exchange and a very angry embarrassed red colour slowly crept into her cheeks, her lip quivered with scarcely contained indignation. Sokka suspected the only reason she didn't incinerate the man or argue about the room was to keep from making a public spectacle of it. Still, Sokka hustled her off upstairs just in case she changed her mind and slew everyone in the taproom who'd witnessed her blushing, including him.
All the way up the two flights of spiralling stairs Azula simultaneously scolded Sokka's table manners and raved about how she would kill that obnoxious barkeep for his insolence, but Sokka figured she'd have already done that if she didn't care about making a seen.
Sokka grumbled to himself about having to share a room with her and Azula wasn't all that keen on the idea either, but short of threatening the innkeeper or tossing the occupants of a second room out the third story window and claiming the free accommodations on the recently vacated's coin, they had to make do.
Their third floor room was of generous size for an inn, candlelit, well furnished, even with its own refresher room, bath and privy included, the only problem was the double bed, which was the only bed. Sokka just stood there gaping, but Azula bustled past, spared it a cursory glance, shrugged as if she already knew she'd be the one sleeping in it and went straight into the refresher room, saying something about a bath before the door clicked closed behind her.
For some of the time she was bathing Sokka thought he heard the princess humming one of those depressing Fire Nation folk songs, maybe Blue Dragon's Lament, he wasn't sure, but he refrained from any teasing jabs when Azula left the bath twenty minutes later, an urge that became difficult to repress after she rudely commented about his body odour and demanded he take a bath at once. Knowing she was right about his stinkiness, he sullenly agreed and entered the refresher, glad to see Azula hadn't contaminated the plain bathwater with soapy crap, a natural scent for a natural setting is a law of hunting, and smelling like a basket of fruit and wildflowers would only piss off the spirits of stealth and sneakiness. Even so he took a good long Soak, wishing all the while it was Suki here with him and not this psychotic Firebending misanthrope.
"Meh, at least she was considerate enough to heat the water for me." Sokka silently amended, trying to at least think one kind thought about the Fire Princess as he leaned back and relaxed in the blissfully steaming hot water, eventually getting out only after he nearly fell asleep. They really shouldn't have soft headrests in these wooden tubs; it's too much of a temptation.
When Sokka finally emerged from the bathroom clean and refreshed, he almost had a heart attack at seeing Azula in that red nightgown she'd brought with her. He'd never seen her wearing it before; he'd just assumed she slept in her normal clothes like everyone else. The gown fit well...too well; oh, and she had her hair down, something else he'd never seen and suddenly he couldn't think straight; she was so beau..."Ahh! Don't go there Sokka, just, don't!" Awkward, he looked away.
Azula tilted her head, lips quirked in mild amusement "Something wrong?"
"No," He lied.
"Good, make sure those filthy eyes stay where they are, away from me; unless of course you want me to gouge them out and turn them into dream catchers." She smiled sweetly, confusing the hell out of him.
"Don't flatter yourself," He blustered, ignoring her threat "I already have a girlfriend, and frankly, you're not that attractive anyway." He lied again, smirking when Azula raised a delicate eyebrow at him "But if you're so self-conscious about it, maybe you should sleep in your normal clothes, it's what I'm doing."
"Yes, you will be, and on the floor too;" Azula corrected, throwing a pillow at Sokka which hit him in the face "Unlike you uncivilized types, I prefer to sleep in comfort."
"Um, excuse me;" Sokka blurted, hands on hips "I'm the oldest here, and the rule is the oldest always gets the bed, so..." He threw the pillow back, trying to hit her in the face, but she caught it effortlessly, a very dangerous look burning in her hot amber eyes, daring him to challenge her claim to the bed; and he did.
A short heated debate over who got the bed and who got the floor was decided in quick fashion with the obvious outcome presiding. And so five minutes after Azula doused the candles with a mere closing of her fist, Sokka lay on his back in the quiet darkness staring at the ceiling, a nice warm blanket covering his body, a soft fluffy pillow cushioning his head...and a hard wooden floor grinding against his spine while Azula slept in luxury on the big bed, "I'm too gentlemanly for my own good;" Sokka chastised himself, swearing "Next time, I get the bed."
"Pst; peasant...are you awake?" Azula whispered out of the darkness some minutes later, voice deep, sultry and disturbingly beguiling.
"No." Sokka squeaked, cracking an eyelid, now fully alert and very disquieted.
"Just checking..." Sokka shivered, imagining a toothy carnivorous grin parting her full red lips; he didn't dare close his eyes again, Azula might eat him while he slept, he couldn't let that happen, he was too young to be eaten, so he lay there in the dark, his undivided attention focused on Azula's breathing, tensing every time she shifted on the bed; she must have heard him because she suddenly hissed "I can smell your fear!"
"Eeeep!" Sokka squeaked, Azula just giggled
"Go to sleep peasant."
"Easy for you to say," Sokka whined "You don't have to worry about cannibalistic princesses picking your bones clean the moment you close your eyes." He hissed back, clearly disturbed.
"Goodnight Sokka." Azula drawled, her voice husky and ominous, filling his sleepless quaking mind with images of very sharp teeth.
But twenty minutes later he heard Azula snoring softly above him. He considered giving her grief about the snoring tomorrow, but she'd only deny it in predictable fireball throwing fashion; and besides, she'd shown surprising generosity letting him have a pillow, oh and the blanket too as Firebenders produce their own warmth, so he'd let the snoring slide, mostly because his own way louder snores would be sufficient payback anyway.
With that final thought to lull him into sleep, Sokka closed his eyes and nodded off with a truly absurd grin on his face to dream of sweet, sweet Suki.
Admittedly my life is somewhat busy but I'll do my best to update soon; Chapter 2 is mostly written, I just need to do a little patchwork. I realise I have no writing style or skill with plots and keeping character true to themselves; nevertheless I hope you enjoyed this, and though I wrote this for fun and don't require much feedback, reviews are always appreciated.