"First date with Suki," Sokka said proudly, looking at himself in the mirror.
"Really? I had no idea," Zuko said.
"How could you not?" Sokka asked, looking at Zuko incredulously. "It's all I've been talking about for a month!"
"I know," said Zuko exasperatedly.
"Oh . . . right . . . sorry," Sokka said, turning red and turning back to the mirror.
"Don't worry about it," Zuko said. "I was the same before my first date with Mai since she got out of the Boiling Rock."
"Why do we both have girlfriends who have been in prison?" Sokka wondered out loud. They both laughed.
"It'll be nice to get out of the palace for a while," Suki said, smiling. "And it'll be nice to be with Sokka when we're not being attacked."
"Personally, I miss the excitement," Toph said.
"We still have fun," Katara said, sounding half-defensive. "Just without the danger of getting killed."
"That's what made it fun," Toph said. "I mean, do you call war reparation meetings fun?"
"No . . ." Katara said uncertainly. "But other than that –"
"Oh, stop arguing, you two," Suki said, turning to face them. "How do I look?"
"Your call, Sugar Queen," Toph said.
Suki had decided to go without her warrior makeup – she always had to wear it to the meetings to establish herself as a Kyoshi Warrior – but tonight she left her face bare.
"You look great, Suki," Katara told her.
"Thanks," Suki said.
"Don't you two go all mushy on me," Toph said warningly.
"Sorry, Toph." Katara said with a grin. "But I'm a hopeless romantic."
Toph snorted and then muttered something that was indistinct except for "Twinkletoes." Katara shrieked playfully and seized a pillow from the couch Toph was lying on and threw it at her.
"While you two work this out," Suki said as Toph hurled the pillow back at Katara, "I'm going to head out."
Sokka leaned against the banister, waiting for Suki to come down. He ran over all of the things he had planned out for the two of them to do in Ba Sing Se, hoping that his broken leg, still in a cast, wouldn't slow them down too much. At least he didn't need his crutches anymore; they would be far too cumbersome.
He heard light footsteps on the staircase and tuned to see Suki walking down. Sokka could only stare. Suki was wearing a green silk shirt that graced her curves, ending just below her hip. Her pants were of a lose black silk that ended just below her knee. Her short hair fell around her face, framing her violet-gray eyes.
As Suki reached the bottom of the staircase Sokka stuttered, "Wow, Suki. You look – you look –" He wished she wouldn't look at him with those eyes! He didn't know why but knew they made him unable to speak. He looked down so he could finish his compliment. "You look beautiful."
"Thanks," Suki said, surprised to find herself blushing. She hoped she wouldn't be this . . . girly throughout the entire date. "Ready to go?"
"Sure," Sokka said, turning and heading for the door, begging fate to be kind and take his life - anything to avoid this awkward silence. Suki fell into step quietly beside him. SAY SOMETHING! He shouted at himself in his mind. DO SOMETHING! DON'T BE AN IDIOT! SHE'S GOING TO THINK YOU HATE HER! TAKE HER HAND – KISS HER – DO SOMETHING!!!
"Where to first?" Suki asked.
"The Jasmine Dragon," Sokka said, seizing on the topic. "You know Iroh makes the best tea."
"I should have known," Suki said smiling.
"That's okay, isn't it?" Sokka asked, horrified. SHE HATES IT! EVERYTHING YOU PLANNED IS STUPID!
"Of course!" Suki said. Sokka breathed a sigh of relief. "I love it there."
"Perfect," Sokka said, pleased with himself.
It didn't take long for them to reach the tea shop, and by that time they were talking comfortably once more – mostly small talk, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. A waiter seated them at a corner table with a vast window on the wall beside it, offering them a view of the city.
"It's so nice we finally get to do this," Suki said.
"Yeah, it is," Sokka said, smiling and reaching across the table to take her hand in his own.
"So, where are we going after this?" Suki asked, and Sokka grinned.
"I guess you'll have to wait and see," he teased. "It's a surprise."
The waiter came over at that moment. He was young – about their age, maybe a year older – and quite good-looking. His green eyes lingered for a moment on Suki before he looked at Sokka and asked, "What can I get you?"
"I'll have a green tea," Sokka said.
"And for you, Miss?" the waiter asked, turning his whole body to face Suki. "What would you like?"
"A cup of jasmine tea, please," she said with a polite smile.
"Sure thing," the waiter said, bowing, keeping his eyes on Suki, before walking away. Sokka glanced at him suspiciously as he disappeared into the kitchen – he'd heard himself use the same tone of voice the waiter had been using – the waiter was flirting with Suki!
"How long do you think all these negotiations will last?" Suki asked, for her mind had strayed back to the war.
"Hey," Sokka chided playfully. "No political stuff. It's our night off." He squeezed her hand gently and looked into her eyes as he said, "It's just us."
Suki smiled. "To think just a year ago you were trying to show off back on Kyoshi," she said. "And getting taken down."
Sokka blushed slightly but smiled. "Yeah . . . sorry about that."
"Don't be," Suki said. "I had a good time kicking your butt."
"Hey, I got you, too!" Sokka said.
"I still got you," Sokka maintained weakly.
"Yes," Suki said with a coy smile. "You got me."
Their moment was ended early by the return of the waiter, bearing a tray.
"Here's your tea," he said as he put the cups down in front of each of them. "And your cream," he placed in the center a miniature pitcher full of it. "And your sugar." A small bowl of sugar cubes joined the table. "Not that you need it," the waiter added to Suki. "You're sweet enough." He winked at her boldly before walking away.
Suki burst into giggles, and Sokka stood up angrily, but Suki gripped his hand and said, "Sokka!"
"What?" Sokka asked. "He was hitting on you!"
"I know he was," Suki said. "And he made a fool of himself, You don't need sugar, you're sweet enough, honestly . . ." Seeing that Sokka was still mad she said, "Please, don't let him ruin this."
"Fine," Sokka said, sitting down, still looking annoyed.
"Think of it this way," Suki said, smiling mischievously. "We can tell Iroh to give him a hard time for a while."
Sokka grinned. "That sounds great."
It was a half an hour later, and Sokka was limping along the best he could with his cast, Suki beside him.
"Sorry I'm so slow," he said. "I wish this stupid bone would heal faster."
"It's fine," Suki said. "I'm just glad you didn't get hurt any worse."
They were walking down a wide, lively avenue, the sights, sounds, and smells of the city swirling around them. Merchants advertising their wares, restaurants with outdoor tables full of gossiping patrons, and the sound of music from a grand hotel's first-floor ballroom.
"You're still not telling me where we're going?" Suki asked as Sokka lead her down the street.
"Nope," Sokka said, smiling. "But I know you'll love it. Everyone says it's the most beautiful place in the city."
They turned a corner and continued walking for several blocks until Suki asked, "Are you sure we're going the right way?"
"Oh, yeah," Sokka said. "One hundred percent positive."
Twenty minutes later, Sokka gave in and decided to ask for directions. For Sokka's sake, Suki feigned deep interest in a stand of jewelry while he asked the cabbage merchant beside the jewelrymaker's for directions. When the merchant had finished, Sokka tried to turn back to Suki, but he tripped and fell, bumping into the cart, which lurched.
"My cabbages!" the Merchant cried as the cart teetered back and forth. Sokka, still on the ground, reached up and grabbed the cart to steady it. As he did so, however, a single cabbage head fell off the cart, bounced off Sokka's head, and rolled away.
The merchant, now practically hopping with anger, shouted, "You have to pay for that!" as Sokka stood up with the help of Suki, who was trying not to laugh.
"How much for the cabbage?" Suki asked as Sokka brushed himself off.
"Two silver pieces," the merchant said.
"No, Suki!" Sokka said as Suki reached towards her pocket. "I mean, don't worry about it, I'll get it." Suki picked up the cabbage as Sokka dug around in his pockets, coming up with only a few copper pieces. Suki saw this and drew two silver pieces from her pocket and handed them to the merchant and steered Sokka away from him.
"I'm so sorry, Suki," Sokka said. "When we get back to the palace I'll –"
"Don't worry about it," Suki said, smiling. "It was actually kind of funny." She looked at the cabbage in her hands. "And now we have a gift for Appa."
Sokka, still annoyed with himself for bumping into the cart, didn't respond.
"Come on," Suki said, elbowing him playfully in the ribs. "It'll make a great story."
"I guess so," Sokka sighed, thinking to himself, as long as nothing else goes wrong.
A few minutes later, once they were back on a major road, Sokka said excitedly, "This is it! We're almost there!"
"Are you sure?" Suki joked. "Or did you get us lost again?"
"I did not get us lost," Sokka mumbled sulkily.
"Oh, cheer up," Suki said, taking his hand. "You know I just like giving you a hard time."
"This way," Sokka said, ignoring Suki's remark, though almost smiling. They walked up one more block, then they turned and saw –
"It's beautiful," Suki said breathlessly.
"Yeah, isn't it?" Sokka replied.
They stood before a great fountain with hundreds of lanterns all around it: in a circle on the outside, lining the basin in the center, and even several floating on the water.
"Like I said," Sokka said proudly. "It's supposed to be the most beautiful place in the city. The Lotus Fountain. There are lots of smaller, imitation ones all over the city, but this one, the original, is the best."
Suki couldn't take her eyes off the fountain. Sokka couldn't take his eyes off Suki.
"I can't believe how gorgeous it is," Suki said, releasing Sokka's and and moving closer to the fountain.
"Wait," Sokka said, catching up to her. "You haven't even heard the best part yet."
"What's that?" Suki asked, turning her eyes away from the fountain and onto Sokka's. He always found himself startled by the intensity of those eyes.
"Step up there," Sokka said, indicating the fountain's rim. Suki stepped up lightly, holding Sokka's hand. They started walking, Sokka still on the ground, Suki about a foot and a half higher than him. "According to superstition," Sokka said as they walked. "If a couple walks around the whole fountain like this, they'll have good luck."
"And what kind of good luck do you think this will bring us?" Suki asked.
"Not sure, what do you think?"
"Maybe we won't die of boredom during the next war meeting," Suki said. They laughed.
"That wouldn't be luck, that would be a miracle," Sokka said. "Luck would be this leg healing faster."
"You heard what Katara said, just another week or two," Suki reminded him.
"Yeah, I know, but it still feels like forever . . . I mean, I wanted to take you dancing, but I couldn't wait another week or two to go out."
"But, Sokka," Suki said, unable to contain a laugh. "You can't dance!"
"I can!" Sokka said, his voice cracking. "I mean," he shifted his voice into a lower register, "I can."
"I'll take your word for it," Suki said, clearly not convinced, but Sokka was determined.
"I can!" he insisted. "Here, I'll show you."
Sokka stepped up onto the rim, taking one of Suki's hands and placing his other hand on her waist (after he'd taken the cabbage and set it down).
"Sokka are you sure?" Suki asked, glancing around. There didn't seem to be much room for dancing; the fountain rim was only about two feet wide.
"Just go with it," Sokka said. "Trust me."
Suki had learned a variety of dances, along with Katara, Toph, Aang, and all the others, while staying at the palace, as they attended frequent balls for diplomatic and charitable purposes. As Sokka was limited by his broken leg, hadn't learned with the rest of them. But as they began moving, it was obvious he'd learned somehow. He lead, stepping carefully, calculating each turn.
"How did you –"
"Aang taught me," Sokka said, smiling proudly.
"You didn't think I'd leave my girlfriend partnerless forever, did you?"
"You're just full of surprises," Suki said. It was then she noticed the small crowd of people gathering, watching them. "Look at all of these people," she whispered. Sokka smiled and started dancing faster, adding more turns and fancy steps, enjoying the crowd's attention. After one particularly tricky turn – for a moment it looked like Suki was going to fall into the fountain – their audience broke into applause.
"I told you I can dance," Sokka said.
"You did," she admitted. "I guess you caught me the one time I've ever been wrong." They were drawing near the point where they first started walking.
"Oh, really?" Sokka asked skeptically. "The one time? Well, let me tell you –"
Sokka's cast caught on an uneven stone in the rim, and he fell backwards, pulling Suki with him, and they landed with a magnificent splash.
"Suki!" Sokka sputtered, sitting up sand wiping the water from his eyes. "Are you all right?"
Suki was already siting up, drenched, laughing. "I'm fine," she said.
Sokka stared at her in disbelief. "What's so funny?"
She shook her head. "I don't know!" she said, still laughing.
"Stop!" Sokka said, slapping the water and sending up a splash. "Will you just stop laughing?"
"What is it?" Suki asked, her face falling.
"It's not funny."
"Everything keeps going wrong," Sokka said. "The waiter, getting lost, the cabbage . . . and now this. I just wanted everything to be perfect. You don't have to pretend it is." He sunk back in the water, laying down as if to drown himself.
"Sokka," Suki sighed, pulling him into a sitting position. "You can't expect everything to go like you plan all the time."
"I know that," Sokka sighed. "I just wanted tonight to be really great."
"It was," Suki said. "No, listen –" Sokka had cast her a skeptical look. "We got to see a waiter make a complete idiot out of himself, we got a snack for Appa on our impromptu walking tour of Ba Sing Se, and we got to dance on the Lotus Fountain." She reached out and took Sokka's hand. "I don't know about you, but this has been one of the best nights of my life."
Sokka sighed again and said, "I just wanted it to be perfect."
"It doesn't have to be perfect," Suki said,moving her and to Sokka's face. "Just being with you is enough."
There was a moment when their eyes – Sokka's sapphire blue and Suki's violet-gray – met.
"I guess you are always right," Sokka said, then he kissed her. Applause, cheers, and even a few whistles went up from the crowd until –
"Sorry to spoil the moment, but swimming in the fountain is strictly prohibited."
Suki and Sokka looked up to see a pair of security guards standing there, bemused.
"Sorry, officer," Sokka said, standing up and helping Suki to her feet. "We kind of fell in the water."
"You didn't seem to be in too much of a hurry to get out," the second officer said.
"Sorry," Suki replied, blushing furiously.
"That's all right," the first officer said. "Just don't let it happen again."
As the two soaking teenagers stepped out of the fountain, one of the guards noticed Sokka's cast and said, "Why don't we give you two a ride home?"
"It's all right, you don't have to," Suki said.
"No, no, we insist."
"And then you just turn left here," Sokka said, and the officer steering the small ostrich-horse drawn cart did so. "And straight ahead, last house on the road."
"Are you pulling my leg?" The officer asked. "That's the palace!"
"That's were we're staying," Suki said.
"Is it true that the Avatar and the Fire Lord are here, too?" asked one of the guards excitedly.
"Wait – are you friends with the Avatar?"
"Oh, yeah," Sokka said, jumping back into the conversation, enjoying the stunned looks on the guards' faces. "The Avatar and I go way back."
"Just wait until we tell the other guys we escorted war heroes home," said the guard who was driving.
They arrived at the palace gate, and Sokka waved at the soldiers guarding it. "It's just us," he said. The gate opened and the carriage passed through. When they pulled up to the massive front doors, both officers insisted on walking them inside. When the doors opened, they saw the whole gang in the great foyer: Zuko, Ty Lee, Mai, Katara, and Aang. The officers were stunned.
"Told you there were people with them," Toph said.
"What happened to you two?" Katara asked as they came inside, still followed by the guards.
"It's a long story," Sokka said, and he and Suki glanced at each other.
"Are you going to tell us why you have a cabbage?" Zuko asked. "Or why you're both dripping wet?"
"Yes, but first, Aang, could you –?"
"Sure," Aang said, and he sent a great wave of air at them, drying them.
The guards, wide-eyed, bowed.
"It is an honor to meet you, Avatar Aang!" one of them said.
"Thank you," Aang said, bowing politely back.
"They gave us a ride," Suki said in answer to the questioning looks on everyone's faces.
"Good, I thought you'd gotten into trouble," Zuko said.
"And if we had?" Suki asked, arching an eyebrow. "What would the mighty Fire Lord have done if we'd broken a law under his watch?"
Everyone laughed, except for the guards, who gawked at Zuko.
Fearful that they might have excitement-induced heart attacks, Suki turned to the guards and said, "Thank you so much for the ride," as she ushered them out the door.
Everyone gathered in one of the palace's many lounges to hear Suki and Sokka's story, which they told in great detail. Afterwards, the group started to divide and go their separate ways until Suki and Sokka were the only ones left in the lounge. Suki stretched out on her couch.
"What a day," she said.
"Day's not over yet," Sokka said, smiling. "We never got to finish our dance." He stood up and stood before Suki, holding out his hand. "May I?"
Suki smiled and gave him her hand, which he kissed as she stood up. They began to waltz slowly in the center of the circle of couches and armchairs. Sokka pulled her close and kissed her gently.
"You know what I said before? About how being with you is enough?" Suki asked, her head resting on Sokka's chest.
"Well, I was wrong again."
"What?" Sokka asked, pulling away and looking at her, confused.
"Just being with you is perfect."