The Morning After

An atypical morning after for Zuko and Aang... and their wives.

Katara was still blushing at breakfast: a fact that provided no end of amusement for Aang, because she was incredibly bold when they were alone. In fact, bold was probably not the right word: brazen might have worked better, or wanton. Yes, wanton was a very accurate description.

Not, of course, that Katara would ever admit to it. Aang was sure she had a plethora of beautiful, flowing verbs connected into elegant, gentle euphemisms that she would offer up if ever asked her to describe their physical relationship. He was also sure that none of those words were wanton, brazen, licentious, rough, or bruising – all of which he would have applied at one time or another.

Across from him, Zuko knocked over the salt dish. The tiny white grains spilled across the lacquered edge, and most of them ended up in Mai's lap. The Fire Lady sighed tiredly, shook the seasoning off her robes, and went on eating as if nothing had happened. It was much harder for her to play off the blush that began to spread across her cheeks and forehead.

Katara, who was still an unusual shade of red, cleared her throat to break the silence.

Aang took a good, long look at each of them, and then laid a hand down on the table in what he hoped was a calm, authoritative manner.

"This is ridiculous," he announced to his dining companions in the most adult tones he could muster. "We are all being ridiculous."

What little motion that had been present ceased immediately – Zuko stopped trying to gather the salt from the table and put it back in the dish – and two pairs of eyes, blue then gold, gazed back at him: the blue imploring him silently to let it be, the gold threatening bodily harm if he didn't. Mai kept he eyes fixed firmly on her breakfast plate.

With the two intense gazes now pinned on him, Aang suddenly felt uncomfortable. He had planned to say something along the lines of, "it's perfectly natural for a married couple to want to enjoy each other intimately," but the words seemed wrong. The only person who had ever talked to him frankly about sex had been Gyatso: it had been a rehearsed speech filled with lots of pretty euphemisms about furrows and ploughs and bees and flowers that he'd heard on his eleventh birthday. He could only imagine how other nations taught their children about the act of procreation.

Toph, after a few drinks, had once volunteered the knowledge that she'd learned everything she knew about sex from one of the maids, and not from either her parents or her tutor: she'd accidentally stumbled on the maid and one of the stable hands out in the kitchen garden, and had demanded the knowledge in exchange for not tattling to her father. Zuko's experience was sure to have been a nightmare: Iroh's speech would have been flighty, uplifting, and descriptive. If Ozai had ever volunteered information, it had probably been about dominance, and not love.

"Are you going to talk, or can I go back to pretending you didn't walk in on us?" Mai asked casually when the silence had stretched to an uncomfortable tautness.

Zuko shot his wife a pointed look, as if to reprimand her for even mentioning what had happened.

"I just don't understand why we're all so tense," Aang responded easily. "It's not as if we're keeping some big secret. People have sex. We all know that."

"Can we not talk about this at the breakfast table?" Zuko asked, giving his eggs a sour look before pushing his plate away. "My stomach's churning."

"I'm sorry, darling," Mai said, the pet name at odds with her toneless voice. "I had no idea it was so bad for you."

Aang deeply wanted to snicker on Sokka's behalf, but fought off the urge and watched as Zuko mouthed for words.

"You should have said something," she continued, reaching out to tip the salt dish over, "in between undressing me and climbing on."

"What is wrong with all of you?!" Zuko demanded, slamming a palm down on the table and leaving a scorch mark. "What kind of godless society were you raised in to think that anyone would want to talk about awkwardly interrupted sex over breakfast?!"

"Is it too early for you?" Katara asked with the tiniest bit of sarcasm.

"No!" Zuko shouted, rising from his seat. "It's not too early, because I never want to have this conversation! You see, that's what normal people do: they accidentally catch an acquaintance in the act, and they never talk about it!"

"See, this is what I mean," Aang said, nodding wisely. "Why do people have hang ups about-"

"I don't have hang ups!" Zuko insisted loudly.

"People, Zuko," Katara corrected. "Aang said 'people'."

By this time Mai had gone back to eating.

"I don't care what he said!" Zuko continued. "I'm the Fire Lord here, and as long as we're in my palace I get to make the rules! No sex at breakfast!"

Mai, in an uncharacteristic show of amusement, snorted into her milk, then choked and spent the next few moments hacking and coughing while Aang and Katara tried not to laugh. Zuko turned red, and sat down.

In the silence that ensued, everyone made a valiant effort to finish their meal. Zuko went back to eating with more gusto than was entirely necessary, as if trying to drown the last fifteen minutes in the tomatoes and eggs on his plate. Mai continued to pick at her food, and Aang gave the slightest of frowns when Katara reached for the platter of eggs to serve herself seconds.

"So what were you doing in the linen closet?" Katara asked, and Zuko's reaction – dropping a forkful of eggs in his lap – was enough to draw Aang's stare. The Fire Lord spluttered and mouthed for the proper words to describe his exact feelings (something between mortification and rage), but couldn't come up with anything appropriate.

Instead, he punched the air above the fruit bowl, and the flame that sprang from his clenched knuckles flew straight at Aang's innocent face. The Avatar's quick reflexes were all that saved him from what would have been a terrible mutilation: he dove under the table with a speed and skill that could only have come from being caught in the crossfire of one too many bar fight, in which heavy (breakable, sharp) objects had been thrown.

Something – a fist, probably – smashed heavily into Zuko's right foot. He leapt up with a loud yelp, overturning his cup of coffee (which flowed off the table much as the salt had, right into his wife's lap), and upending his chair with a clatter. He was just about ready to set the table on fire when Mai's palm connected sharply with the back of his head. Katara was hauling Aang out from under the table by the back of his breeches.

Both men were ready to protest their treatment, but Mai's glare was more than enough to silence Zuko, and Katara's cool look sent Aang into stammered monosyllables that sounded vaguely like apologies.

In the blaring silence that ensued, Mai grabbed up her napkin, dabbed delicately at her mouth, all the while ignoring the coffee that now stained the soft gold silk of her undergown and ran down her leg to trickle into her slipper. She rose when everyone had reseated themselves, and bent to whisper something into Zuko's ear. When she glided out of the room a few moments later, excusing herself to bathe and change, Zuko's face matched his bright red robe.

"What was that about?" Katara asked, pushing her eggs around on her plate while looking towards the door through which Mai had gone.

It shouldn't have been possible, but Zuko's face grew even redder. "Nothing!" he exclaimed, waving his hands dismissively. "It – it was nothing!"

When it appeared neither of his guests believed him, all Zuko could do was run. He excused himself with mumbled apologies, told them to enjoy the remainder of their morning, and fled as quickly as possible (without running) through the same door Mai had just used.

This time the silence that settled was much more comfortable, and before too long Katara and Aang found themselves laughing uproariously at what had transpired that morning.

Then Zuko stormed back into the room, and demanded, "Just what were the two of you doing looking in the linen closet?"

Aang choked on his tofu, and Katara gave him a disbelieving look that was so innocent it practically screamed guilty.

Zuko crossed his arms, gave a smug nod, then sauntered out of the room, feeling much better about the entire incident.

AN: Hurray for Avatar crack! What'd y'all think?