The Crow & the Butterfly.
Yay for Maikka drabbles. Will incorporate Maikka Fortnight as soon as it begins.. Will have internal continuity unless otherwise stated, and some form of meta-plot, although the concept of chronological order is the work of the Devil.
Alcohol and Exposition.
It was the perfect wedding. Of course it was. It was for the perfect couple. The social event of the millennium, people were saying. The wedding of the Fire Lord, open only to a select group of guests. The music was perfect, the food was perfect, the guests were happily imperfect, and the booze was, of course, perfect.
It made her want to kill something.
Mai pinched the bridge of her nose, and groaned. She wondered, not for the first time, why she was here.
"...So out of the blue, she says it's not working! I mean, what's she talking about, am I right?"
Mai turned her head, more slowly than she usually would have. It was getting hard to focus on things now, and in another few bottles' time, she might even be in a better mood.
That was very, very unlikely, though.
And for reasons she couldn't quite understand, this Water Tribesman she vaguely remembered as one of his friends was sitting on the stool next to her, complaining about his love life. Why he thought she cared, she didn't know.
"Surely she must have given you some reason or something," she managed.
"Oh, she said I was 'keeping secrets', and 'not really communicating any more' or something like that," he slurred, and lurched alarmingly.
Mai blinked. "And were you?"
There was a flash of what might have been guilt. "...Maybe. But! But- it's not like she ever asked what I was doing, was it?"
Mai couldn't believe she was having this conversation. So she didn't. Instead, she tapped a (perfect, of course, this occasion demanded nothing else) nail on the counter, getting the attention of the bartender. When he looked up, she raised a conspicuously empty glass.
"I really think you've had enough," tried the apparently suicidal bartender, before the front of his shirt was grabbed, and Mai's stony features were inches from his own.
"Now you listen to me. I am sitting here, celebrating this momentous occasion in the best manner I know how. Your only chance is to keep serving drinks until it's possible I might miss when my patience runs out."
The bartender wasn't impressed.
"Ma'am, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave. Now."
She considered for half a second stabbing the guy. But no. She didn't want to cause a fuss. Never wanted to cause a fuss. Without a word, she turned and stalked away from the bar, barely knowing where she was going, not stopping until she found herself outside.
The moon was a sliver in the sky, and the air was warm and soporific. The open windows of the hall wafted soft music onto the balcony. Somewhere in the background, it was almost certain the some small and acceptably non-horrifying insect was chirping laconically.
And then Mai stormed through, carrying with her a cloud of alcohol and black melancholy. The ambiances warred, the warm quilt of nature attempting to hide the porcupine in the bed that was Mai's ill humour.
It was a close call.
The air swirled, trying desperately to reconcile or at least politely ignore this black-clad young woman slumped on a bench, ruining the mood for anyone else who might take a stroll on the balcony. To the trained observer, it might have looked as if there was an ultraviolet fireworks display emanating from Mai, or perhaps that she were made of red-hot iron that had been plunged into icy water. Ty Lee could have written a book.
Assuming, of course, that she had the attention span.
Sokka was trying, with some measure of success, to forget exactly why he was there.
Things had been, from his point of view, ever so slightly gently elegantly fucked up for a while. After everything had ended, after the Comet, after everything, then things had got... complicated. Purely from his point of view, the first thing he had wanted was to go home. So he did.
The South Pole was like a slow death. Everything seemed so restricting, so stifling. Every day seemed like a fight to survive, and no one had the time for much else. Living seemed to be the object, and not the means.
He had left before the year ended. Oh sure, there had been visits every now and again, but he'd never seriously entertained the thought of living there again.
He wondered if he was disappointing his Dad, sometimes.
He'd roamed around a little after that- Suki had been with him, before the responsibilities of her position reluctantly drew her home. It confused him, belatedly, why his first instinct had not been to follow her. He had mainly travelled the Earth Kingdom, stopping by to visit the Machinist for a few enlightening weeks, chasing a wild rumour of a man with a black sword out west, but mainly wondering why he felt the need to keep wandering.
Aang had tailed him, worried that he was unhappy and in need of help. Toph had done the same, although she had gone to great lengths to ensure that he understood that it was simply because she had nothing better to do, and he wasn't too far away, and she felt like getting out of the house.
All in all, he had preferred Toph's company. She had left him some money. And Aang had depressed him.
But Aang had been an interesting source of news, at least. He and Katara had elected to stay with Zuko, at least until his fledgling reign had stabilised, but situations that required his attentions were not limited to the Fire Nation, and the young Avatar was being run ragged.
Sokka had never seen Aang look worn down before.
It was about that time that he had run into Zuko's uncle, brewing tea in a clearing in the woods.
That... had been kind of a weird meeting. It had started with a cup of tea and ended with Sokka being told to memorise a whole list of code words and handed a pai sho tile. And there had been a board game in there somewhere too.
So now he had a legitimate reason to be up and about all the time. The problem was he couldn't tell anyone about it.
Which sucked. He'd thought about resigning, but... at least he had some kind of purpose now.
And they'd given him a new sword. Courtesy of Master Piandao, Iroh had said.
That bothered him, for some reason he couldn't define.
It was a nice sword, and he had made a point of thanking Master Piandao the next time he had stayed with him, but it was still a sword.
Some part of Sokka had been optimistic, and hoped that he really wouldn't have to use a sword again. At least for a while. The rest of him knew that was a stupid thing to think.
Oh, it hadn't all been bad, these last couple of years. There had been that time he'd stopped that attempt to assassinate Zuko, that had been kind of fun. Zuko had known, too (well, it was kind of Sokka's fault, there. But then how was he to know that the guy was going to charge that way? You'd have thought from the way some people had talked that Sokka had meant to dive out that window with the assassin and disrupt Zuko's little procession.). And Katara had known.
At the time, he had merely been overjoyed to see Katara again. It had been months, and although he had kept in contact with letters to her, it was good to actually talk to her again.
But she had a strange air about her, and he found himself asking after Aang, and not noticing the flicker of her eyes as his name was mentioned.
He'd left before he could get embroiled. Besides, he had stuff he had to do.
Of course, being engaged in a subtle game of checks and balances with the fate of the terrifyingly fragile peace everyone had sacrificed so much for on the line was absolutely no excuse to avoid a little domestic drama. He could see what was coming, and he wanted no part of it. Perhaps he was being cruel, perhaps he just had a low tolerance for that sort of thing, but Katara was a strong girl, and smart enough to make her own decisions.
Besides, by this time he was having problems of his own.
He knew it wasn't his fault. She knew it too, really. He did visit every chance he got, but the problem was that he got very few chances, and he couldn't tell her what he was doing.
In a kind of fit of desperation, he had asked Iroh if there was no way Suki could be inducted. Nope, she was partisan. Too closely connected to Kyoshi Island to make the right decisions.
Sokka had asked about Bumi- after all, wasn't he a king?
Bumi, apparently, was a special case.
Sokka took that to mean he was completely and utterly mad. Tired of all this deception, Sokka announced his resignation from the Order, flung his tile at Iroh's enormous head, and made a beeline straight for Kyoshi Island.
Okay, that's what he should have done. But he didn't. And next week he helped track down a serial murderer in the Fire Nation Colonies.
And, well, Suki eventually got tired of it. The worst part was all Sokka really felt at the end was relief.
It had hardly been surprising, a few weeks later, when Katara caught wind, that she demanded he come home. What had been a little surprising though, was that she was referring to the Fire Nation.
At least that had given him some advance warning when Aang burst into his little camp a few weeks later, in what Sokka had heard referred to as 'emotional distress'. That hadn't been fun.
Aang had said a lot of things, not all of them coherent. Sokka was good at incoherent, though. Aang was clearly hurting, and hurting badly. He needed a rest, or a holiday, somewhere were no-one was asking him to fix the world all by himself.
He didn't get the luxury. He left for Ba Sing Se three days later, to help calm a dispute over the price of bread. Bread for crying out loud.
Sokka sent a letter to Toph, and hoped that would do some good.
A matter of weeks later, and Katara was sending him another letter asking why he hadn't visited yet. Sokka was running out of excuses.
So he had gone, unwillingly, to the Fire Nation. He really, really didn't want to. He didn't want to know, because if he knew he'd have to care, and if he cared, he'd have to pick a side, and then everything would be wrong.
It would have been easier if there had been someone to blame. No one, no one could say Aang was the bad guy here, and Sokka was getting wound up to punch Zuko in his stupid scarred face the next time he saw him, but...
They'd been happy. Really, truly happy. Sokka knew Katara had never meant to hurt Aang, and Aang had loved her like crazy, but everyone wanted something from Aang, the poor bastard, and he just couldn't stay in one place, not now, not in the foreseeable future, and, well, he had kind of ditched her in the Fire Nation while he rushed around like a waiter trying to carry an enormous tray of plates on an overwaxed floor.
But that didn't stop there being Words. Oh yes, he and Zuko had Words. To his credit, Zuko had hardly flinched.
It had seemed unfair to bring up Aang, but Sokka was getting his punches in while he could. Better to have this out in private than leave it until it was too late. Zuko, to his credit, had the decency to be ashamed, but it didn't stop him. Sokka left it at that.
It didn't occur to him later to ask- didn't Zuko have a girlfriend last he checked?
Too late to ask, though. The Talk had been Talked. There would be no second Words with Zuko.
So the months passed, and Sokka left the palace to train at Master Piandao's estate. It had been a nice change of pace.
Of course, then Zuko had to ruin everything and track him down and ask him for permission.
Permission. To marry Katara.
Why couldn't he have asked a difficult question? Like, "which kneecap do you think you'd miss least?"
But in the end, well, he was here, wasn't he?
Sokka realised far too late that he had utterly failed to forget why he was here, and was, as a direct consequence, very sober.
"Screw this. I'm going outside."
Not enough Zutara stories consider what a massive kick to the balls the pairing would be to both Aang and Mai. Seriously, consider how much emotional investment they put in their canonical significant other. Now imagine that person turning around and apolagetically telling them that it's just not working out, and they've found someone else.
People. Consider the angst. Why are you avoiding this? Zutarians love angst.