The Upside of a Hangover

Part I: The Cold Dish

Late one early autumn night, in an unobtrusive public house located in one of the less-war-torn quarters of the first ring of Ba Sing Se, five certain Masters of a certain Society quietly convened a well-deserved (albeit, much-delayed) celebration of their mutual exploits in liberating of the Earth Kingdom capital/restoring of the world to peace, harmony, balance, etc.,etc., ad naseum.

"Hee hee hee, well, took you long enough to escape the baby-sitting duties and join us, Grand Master Iroh!" Bumi joshed at the far end of the bar, taking a swig of his rock-crystal-laced Martini Esoterica.

"My guests include not only the Avatar and his teachers, but also the current Firelord, Your Majesty," demurred Iroh (seated two stools down from the mad king) with ill-feigned modesty, "I consider it an honor, not a chore." He sipped his Rising Sun with an air of satisfaction.

"Is it wise for your neph-, I mean, Firelord Zuko to be absent from his throne at such a critical time?" Jeong-Jeong, at the other end of the bar, next to Iroh, asked. He narrowed his eyes at his still-smoking B-52, as if considering to relight it. "Although Ozai is deposed, he is still alive, him and his daughter both; they will provide invaluable rallying points for any internal opposition, if they did not already make preparations for such an eventuality. Such is the way of tyrants and their ilk. No offense."

"None taken," Iroh replied lightly. He was about to add a more substantial answer to his old comrade's question when he was abruptly cut off by the resident waterbender, seated on the other stool beside him.

"Don't worry about sh- stuff like that!" Pakku exclaimed vehemently, thumping the scarred wooden counter with an emphatic fist, nearly toppling his (fifth) rum highball. "The lynch mobs'll take care of whats-his-face... OSAI! Yeah, that'll teach 'im." Oblivious to the rather mortified expressions of his drinking companions, Pakku seized his shot-galss and slung its contents back into his throat. "Awful nice of the *hic!* bald kid... Avatar... thingy... to let the mob have their day of jussssstice..."

"I doubt very much that was what Avatar Aang had in mind when he refused to execute Ozai," Piandao, occupying the stool between the thoroughly sozzled waterbender and the (at least) half-intoxicated King of Omashu and feeling rather put-out regarding the seating arrangement, said somewhat sharply. He caught Pakku's arm before his old friend could flag down the bartender. "You have had enough for the time being."

"Blah, you nag worse than my new wife," Pakku groused, his ice-blue eyes narrowing blearily at the swordmaster. Suddenly he leered, making a sound that other patrons, wholly unconnected to the party, would, to a man, call a "giggle." "At least she makes up for it later..."

"HAW-HAWW-HEE-*SNORT*-AHAW-HAW-HAW-HAW!!!" Bumi guffawed at the witticism, after dousing the mirror and wall opposite with a generous spray of mixed liquor, "Nice!" He reached across the increasingly distressed Piandao to heartily slap Pakku's outstretched palm, was returned the favor, whereupon both men bumped knuckles and gave each other a "thumbs up."

"Ought you be returning to your wife with haste, Pakku?" Iroh mentioned cheerfully, wishing there was someway to record Pakku's unrestrained behavior in all its glory for the sake of posterity (or at least, Pakku's much-abused pupils).

"Naw, not until my new grandkids decide to stop hanging around and show her they aren't missing any limbs. You know how women are: won't believe something until they see it," Pakku dismissed slurringly.

"Oh, but they have plenty of ways to..." Bumi started in on what would inevitably some sort of double-entendre that would lead to more sophomoric demonstrations of avidity, if Piandao did not once again step in.

"Gentlemen," he interrupted sternly, "There are more serious matters at hand. Leaving at present Pakku's marital and avorial concerns, Master Iroh..." here he turned to the sanguine Grand Master, "Surely you are concerned for the welfare of the Fire Nation!"

"Whatever do you mean?" returned the older man warmly, "Surely you do not doubt the ability of Avatar Aang to stave off any uprisings against Firelord Zuko's reign?" He glanced sidelong at Piandao, who took as somewhat hasty interest in the speared olive in his half-empty vodka martini. "Or perhaps you doubt my decision to support his accession in the first place?"

"None of us here entertain such doubts in the least, Iroh," Jeong-jeong stated with leaden tones, glaring at the three other men, who had varying expressions of hesitation writ large on their faces. He rapped the bar, and another B-52, topped with blue and orange flame was deposited in short order by the over-qualified bartender. "However..." He swallowed the drink, flame and all, before fixing Iroh with a somewhat wary stare. "I myself can't help but think you have an ulterior motive in this."

"Hm?" Iroh was the picture of offended innocence as he raised his eyebrows.

Jeong-jeong gaped. "I knew it!" he blared, jumping to this feet and knocking over his barstool, still staring at Iroh in wonderment and awe, intermixed heavily with dread.

"Take your seat before someone calls the night watch to have you arrested for public disturbance," Piandao muttered into his hand, after glancing over his shoulder.

("Wouldn't be the first time," noted Bumi with a snicker into his Tequila Matador, "Ah, youth...")

"Eh, what? What's got your tunic in a twist now, Jeong-jeong?" Pakku wanted to know. He had skillfully procured another highball whilst Piandao had been distracted, and was thus regarding his fellow Society member's antics with benevolent puzzlement.

"You... he... " Jeong-jeong sputtered, hauling his stool upright and passing a shaking hand through his disordered white mane as he resumed his seat. He took a deep, cleansing breath, and, ignoring Iroh's patently false expression of bemusement, spoke to his baffled companions. "If you recall... I was rather disheartened by Master Iroh's decision not to require some act of good faith on his nephew's part to exhibit the sincerity of his repentance, in order to make amends for the grievous in..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know, you wanted to smack the brat silly for putting Iroh through hell, get on with it," Bumi urged, aware that his friend was about to launch into one of his long-winded tirades regarding honor, morality, etc.,etc.,ad naseum.

Jeong-jeong glared, but continued. "Imagine it gentleman, if you will, and I am certain I need not paint too lurid a picture for your benefit: the Great War brought a curse of a century of men's worst acts against men, exercised by the madness, I am shamed to admit, of the rulers of the Fire Nation. The breadth of suffering cannot be comprehended, not if we were to live another hundred years. And now... now, with an Avatar who is still young, and a Firelord who is untried, the victims of the all nations will seek redress. They will DEMAND it. And who now, will they demand it of?"

Pakku snorted. "Well, the Fire Nation, of course."

"Of the Firelord," Piandao corrected, eyes widening as he caught hold of Jeong-jeong's intent. He too gaped at Iroh.

It took some seconds more for the slightly addled processes of the other two to catch up, whereupon they stared at the Grand Master.

"Well, I am certain my abdication will be remarked on far and wide as a vote of confidence..." Iroh began.

"You're throwing him to the bat-wolves and you know it!" Piandao exclaimed heatedly.

Jeong-jeong, having sufficiently recovered his composure, grinned into his hand. "There's a reason he is a Grand Master, you know..." he remarked, his expression rather wolfish itself.

"Sheer genius," affirmed Pakku cheerfully, merrily raising his shotglass in Iroh's direction.

"My hat's off to you... if it hadn't already been confiscated by the barmaid," Bumi added.

"I maintain I have no idea as to why you all see fit to libel me so," Iroh sniffed, sounding quite injured, but for once unable to conceal the smirk that had been threatening since the conversation began.

"... you're evil," Piandao remarked after a space. He shrugged. "Oh well..."

Thus resolved, the party continued long into the early morning hours.

A/N: I wrote this fic wanting to exorcise some of my disappointment over the lack of WLS action in the finale, and also because I cannot get over how perfect the revenge Iroh managed to exact on Zuko by abdicating the throne of the Fire Nation. Sheer genius. :3

I dunno why I chose Pakku to be the silly drunk, but it was fun to write him that way.