Let's hope I don't get any damn second-day writer's block with this story.
Disclaimer: The only thing I own in this story is the purse that gave the inspiration for the title. And mine's a white knit bag anyway, but I thought Katara could buy a silk one. Besides, she deserves something special.
Zuko had been playing sick ever since that fateful date with Jin. He couldn't bear to see her, afraid she might ask what was so complicated.
A better question was what wasn't complicated. He couldn't get close to the girl because as soon as she realized he was Fire Nation (which he had no doubt would happen), she'd be terrified of him and anyone he got close to was either killed or hurt. Besides, she wasn't even all that good-looking.
Sighing, Zuko rolled off his futon. He couldn't even meditate for fear he'd cause a fire to behave unnaturally. In short, he was bored.
"I can't believe I'm stuck here," he muttered. "And Uncle will probably bring me back some of that awful drink he calls tea."
Sure enough, when Iroh returned to the apartment, he brought Zuko some tea. "You can stop hiding now; Jin no longer comes to the teahouse," he informed his nephew. "Though I don't know why you were hiding from her. You said you had a nice evening with her."
"By nice, Uncle, I meant I wasn't bored. And do I have to drink that tea?" He didn't even ask how Iroh knew he was hiding from Jin.
"No. This is for me!" Iroh chuckled happily as he started making a fire and boiling water. Just as he was about to sit down and drink it, a knock came at the door. "Lee, go answer that please." Sighing again, the teenager got up and answered the door.
Two minor guards were standing there. "Is this the apartment of Lee and his uncle, Mushi?" one asked, mispronouncing Mushi as "mushy"
"Actually, it's pronounced 'moo-shi'. But yes, this is our apartment," Iroh called from his spot. "What can we do for you gentlemen?"
"Apparently some high-ranking guest likes a lot of tea and needs a server and a brewer. Everyone knows that the old man is the best tea maker in the city, and that he wouldn't do it without his nephew. Be sure to pack whatever items you have, as you will not be returning here. So, tomorrow, two of the Dai Li will lead you to your new place of employment and residence. Good night." With that, the two guards left.
"Well, that was abrupt," Zuko muttered, shutting the door. "At least we won't be working in the teashop anymore."
"I actually enjoyed my time at the spa last week. I don't think I'd mind going back." Toph and Katara were sitting out in the yard of their house, just relaxing and enjoying the night. Katara laughed at Toph's remark.
"How about we make it a weekly thing or so, as long as we're here? I didn't think months of sleeping next to a flying bison and two boys who smell like flying bison could make a girl so…icky." The two girls laughed at that.
Sokka came parading out, smug. "You will be happy to know that I got us two tea servers, thanks of the Ba Sing Se refugees. Not just two tea servers, but the best in the city."
Katara smiled and kissed her brother's cheek. "Thanks, Sokka. One, I get to have actual tea again. Two, we get to help out some of those poor refugees."
"Three, we get to have actual tea. The last time I had decent tea was back at the temple," Aang said, popping over the fence.
"Any luck finding Appa?" Toph asked softly. Aang shook his head and sighed.
"Not yet, though the baby rabbiroos are really cute and fluffy. We finally got all the house pets out of the habitats." The young Avatar yawned widely. "Okay, I'm going to bed. Night, guys."
The sounds of various "good-nights" rang throughout the small garden as the rest wandered off to their rooms. Katara stayed out a little longer, looking up at the moon.
"Good night, Mom," she whispered softly before turning in.
The next morning found Zuko and Iroh stuck in a bouncing carriage that had the curtains drawn. "It's hot in here," Zuko muttered childishly.
"I've asked to raise the curtains, but the guards seem adamant on keeping them closed." Looking around to make sure no one could hear him, Iroh whispered to Zuko. "Lower your body temperature."
Duh. Sometimes Zuko got so into hiding his bending he forgot just what he could do with it. Carefully, Zuko focused on decreasing the amount of heat near his skin. Instantly, he felt slightly cooler.
"Here we are." The carriage stopped dead, jolting its passengers forward; the two Firebenders hit heads. The door opened to a beautiful area of Ba Sing Se. "Come on."
Zuko was insanely jealous at the beauty of the inner circle. "Why should all these people get to live so comfortably while there are hundreds of people starving in the lower circle?" he asked his uncle.
"I agree that it is unfair, but that is just how Ba Sing Se is," Iroh pointed out. "I wonder which house is our new employers?"
"This one right here." One of the Dai Li opened the door and looked around. "They're not here." Iroh waddled in after him.
"Hmm. What's this?" He picked up a note left on the table. A bag of gold pieces was lying next to it.
"If none of us are here when you arrive with the two servants we hired, just tell them to get accustomed to the house. If you absolutely need to find one of us, check at either the new animal park, the weapons district of the market, or the spa. If none of us are at any of the aforementioned places, chances are we are returning.
"Please have some tea ready by three.
"Lady Bei Fong."
Servant. That's what I've resorted to being. A servant, Zuko thought disdainfully. Iroh reread the letter.
"Hmm…is there a market stall anywhere nearby that sells tea supplies?" he asked one of the Dai Li. The solider nodded.
"Three blocks away."
"Would it be acceptable for my nephew to go there?" The Dai Li nodded.
"Yes. We trust he will behave himself." With that, the two left. Zuko sighed.
"What do you need me to get, Uncle?" he asked, grabbing the purse.
"Hmm…jasmine and green tea leaves. Best go with the basics until we learn more about these people. I will try and find a kitchen in this house." Zuko rolled his eyes and left the house.
The market stall stood out like Zuko did at a Pai Sho match. The aroma of freshly brewed tea permeated the air for what seemed like miles.
"Do you have any jasmine or green tea leaves?" Zuko asked when he approached the stall.
"Yes. I also have some white tea. If you buy two pounds of the green, you get two pounds of the white free." Zuko paused. From the few bargaining lessons Iroh had given him, since white tea was typically more expensive than green tea, getting two pounds of it for the price of two pounds of green tea was a pretty good deal.
"Fine. Two pounds of green tea, and five pounds of jasmine." The merchant cocked an eyebrow.
"It's not for me. I have an uncle who is very fond of it and ginseng."
"Well, your uncle is in luck. I have too much ginseng. I'll give it too you for five silver pieces, added to the three gold you owe me already."
Zuko paused again. He knew exactly what ginseng was used for at times and he did not need his uncle going on a binge. "How much do you have?"
"'Bout four pounds more than I can sell," the man shrugged. Zuko sighed.
"Fine. I'll take that too." Zuko took out some of the gold and paid the man.
"Lemme guess. Just hired?"
"Does it matter? And how would you know?"
"It doesn't matter; I'm just asking. Most people know what tea they're looking for and don't ask about another kind. Only recently hired or fickle-minded people ask." Zuko took the proffered tea bags.
"Or people looking for cheap prices on good tea," he pointed out. I can't believe I'm actually saying this.
"Thank you." The merchant bowed. Zuko bowed slightly in return and headed off.
Deciding to get a general idea of what was around, Zuko took another path at a fork. He could hear the sounds of a river and smell the perfume that usually accompanied spas. There were several shops around this area, all catering to women's needs. Dress shops were many, as were beauty supplies and curio shops. There was a shop entirely devoted to handbags.
Two girls around his age came out of said shop. One, the shorter of the two, had black hair and pale skin; the taller was slightly darker and brunette. They had obviously just come from the nearby spa.
From where he stood, Zuko could not hear the conversation, but it seemed one of the girls was accusing the other of lying and saying she looked good. The taller (the blamed) obviously found this funny and shook her head before grabbing her friend's hand and leading her off in the same direction that Zuko was in.
A young man bumped them before they reached Zuko and didn't even apologize. "How rude," the shorter girl said. The other rolled her eyes and reached for her new bag.
It was gone.
Instantly, Zuko knew what had happened. Some desperate soul had resorted to theft. Before anything could be said, Zuko ran off after the thief. When he realized someone was chasing him, the man sped up.
"Stop that man!" one of the shopkeepers apparently had seen it and was pointing at the thief. Zuko sped up, hoping to reach him before he gave the slip.
Thankfully, the idiot tripped over a pygmy puma tail, causing the owner of said tail to pounce. Zuko reached the man and pulled the puma off. "Go on. Get out of here," he muttered, shooing the animal. "And I think you have something that doesn't belong to you." Zuko turned to the thief.
Scared witless, the bumbling oaf handed over the white silk handbag he had stolen. "Here." Zuko took it and dropped the man.
"Idiot," the Firebender muttered as he ran back to the girls. "Here." He was thankful it was windy and he had thought to get a hood. Zuko pulled the hood down to cover his scar.
The owner smiled and bowed to Zuko. "Thank you," she said. "Here." She tried to reward Zuko, but he pushed her hand.
"No need." The girl smiled and thanked him again. As the two girls walked away, Zuko frowned. Her voice sounded so familiar…
Chances are that you'll get the alert but won't be able to read it just yet. If you can read it, then please review. (And tell me if this is a good way to get Zuko and Katara to interact first chapter.)