Fair warning. Almost everyone involved in this oneshot is naked. And hung over. And also only superficially in-character.
He was very warm. For the first few seconds he decided that he rather liked this. As he began to wake up, though, it occurred to him that he was actually considerably warmer than he usually was in the mornings, and also that he ached in places that did not usually ache.
He decided that he should probably find out why this was.
Hmm. Usually opening his eyes was easier than this.
Oh wow her head hurt.
Eyes blurred. Teeth pinged. Tongue seemed to have been replaced by a malevolent caterpillar.
This was Not How He Usually Started The Day.
Something was draped across her. It was too heavy to be a blanket. Blearily, Katara pushed herself up onto her elbows, trying and failing to blink the heaviness from her eyes.
The bedsprings went gloink as something to her immediate left shifted, and Katara turned her head with the kind of deliberate slowness that only true terror can cause.
A pair of smiling eyes shone at her.
Katara nearly fainted.
He reached his arm up from under the covers, flinging them up and off him with a determination he was determined to feel.
It was then that he discovered the reason that he was so warm.
There was a hand on his shoulder. It wasn't his. It followed that the thing draped across his chest that had been producing the wonderful heat was someone's arm. Not his. There was a leg intertwined with his own. It wasn't his (obviously). Come to think of it, there were long black hairs tickling his nose. Again, not his. He didn't even have black hair.
To Sokka's analytical mind, there was really only one logical solution. There was someone else in the bed with him.
Right. He should deal with this rationally, and calmly, and without even the merest hint of panic; and if he did so, then he could easily figure out a solution to this dilemma. He might even figure out who exactly it was that was in this bed with him, and from there he could figure out whether or not it would be a good idea to make good an escape before she (please, please let it be a she) woke up.
He turned to the left slightly, to better examine the head that was unconsciously nuzzling into his shoulder.
Well. He recognised her, at least.
And she was indeed a she. Two points in his favour.
Her head hurt. She was tired. She was really rather comfortable.
There was no way she was going to be moving around any time soon. She couldn't even raise the brainpower needed to question her surroundings.
It was just as well, one supposes, that she was in no condition to identify the sudden noises as someone very nearby having a minor heart attack.
Okay. Try saying something. You're usually pretty good at that, actually.
"Oh my goodness I am hung over."
Yes. You should say that. It sums up your predicament pretty well, you know.
"Uh mm gdnzz'm hnguvrr."
Not so good. Good thing nobody was around to hear that, champ.
"You don't say."
Aang sat up, terror and adrenaline temporarily allowing him to ignore alcohol's vicious payback.
A figure was sitting at the dressing table in the corner of the room, her back to him, the act of brushing her long hair occupying her full attention.
She was wearing nothing more substantial than her underclothes.
And Aang couldn't help but realise that there was something inescapably familiar about her rear.
What had he done?
Okay. This wasn't real. This was... a hallucination, or a dream, or something along those lines that did not bode well for her mental health but were infinitely preferable to the idea that this was something that had actually happened.
She tried to focus on what she knew was real. Last night. Try to remember what had happened.
And try to ignore the intolerably cheerful figure suggesting that they ring the bell to summon someone from the kitchens to bring them breakfast.
It was important to sort out one fact before anything else.
This was all. Sokka's. fault.
It had been at Sokka's suggestion that they went into the town at all. It had been at Sokka's suggestion that they used what money they had managed to accumulate to rent rooms at the most expensive inn in town. And it had been at Sokka's suggestion that the three of them had gone down to mingle with the other patrons.
Katara couldn't quite remember at what point she had started following Sokka's lead, but she decided that it was a trend that had to stop.
Everything was fine. He was completely and utterly fine. In no way, shape, or form had the situation at any point gotten in any way out of his control.
Well, if you wanted to nitpick, there was the fact that he was lying in bed with Princess Azula.
And neither of them had any clothes on.
And she was starting to wake up.
Azula was starting to realise that something was wrong.
She couldn't remember much of last night.
This was troubling. This was very troubling indeed.
She had to focus. The memories were there, after all, and it would be foolish to proceed without them.
So she concentrated.
This was all her own fault. She would admit that. Oh, certainly, Ty Lee had been the instigator, but she should have known by now that any idea Ty Lee had was guaranteed to be a total, complete, and often incandescent disaster. But for whatever reason, she had allowed Ty Lee to persuade her to …mingle.
They were supposed to be searching for the Avatar/her brother, so they could be captured/killed/invited back to the Palace. Or something like that.
Hmm. Perhaps she should have clarified what exactly Father had wanted, exactly. And perhaps gotten a list in order of priority. What if, for example, she captured the Avatar and killed Zuko? Would that be less acceptable than killing the Avatar and capturing Zuko? Perhaps it would be best to persuade Zuko to come home, and help him capture the Avatar so his precious Honour could be restored? Or was it the other way around?
"So," Ty Lee said, interrupting her thoughts. "What do you want to drink?"
"Water," Mai answered, coolly.
"Water," Azula echoed.
Ty Lee huffed. "Fine, be boring," she said, standing up from their table and heading for the bar.
Azula slumped forward. This was a complete waste of time. The only reason she had gone along with this was because otherwise Ty Lee was liable to be miserable for days, and a miserable Ty Lee was an unreliable Ty Lee.
So she would be humoured for a little while. An hour at most.
But really, this was a truly appalling place to... mingle. There was nobody even close to their own age, for starters. The band was terrible. It was too loud. Everything smelled like smoke.
Almost as though she was aware that Azula was starting to complain, Ty Lee returned to the table, carrying three glasses.
Azula stared at the drink that had been set in front of her.
It was violently pink. It also seemed to contain crushed ice. There was some unnecessary fruit dangling off the side. It had three straws. There was crystallised sugar clinging to the rim of the glass.
It was probably not water.
"They were out of water," Ty Lee answered, in a display of lying so transparent it could have been used as a window pane. To her right, Mai removed the tiny umbrella from her own drink, and examined it with the eye of an art critic.
Azula shrugged, and took a sip.
It tasted nauseating; like dipping her tongue into a vat of liquidised sugar. But at least it didn't seem particularly alcoholic.
"So," she said, placing the glass down on the table. "What now, Ty Lee? What is the point of all this?"
"Well..." Ty Lee fiddled with her braid, avoiding Azula's eyes. Mai sighed, closing her eyes.
"Well... I thought you might enjoy it, actually."
For a second Azula thought she was talking to Mai. Surely a sentiment like that could not be directed at her.
"Well, it's different, isn't it? I just thought you might like to, you know, not be Princess Azula for a little bit. So here you can't, you know?"
Azula blinked. Perhaps Ty Lee had the right idea. After all, now Azula had the opportunity to find out something she had wondered about for a while.
Did Ty Lee's ramblings actually seem to make more sense while one was drunk?
He would not panic. He would remain perfectly calm.
He was the Avatar. He was, by a wide margin, the most powerful human being on the entire planet. He was the closest thing in his world to a physical God.
But seeing that neat stack of throwing knives on the bedside table somehow made him forget all that, and did a first-class job of reminding him that he could still bleed.
And somehow the fact that she seemed to be completely ignoring him just made it worse.
What had happened?
Aang was frustrated. When Sokka had persuaded them all to go downstairs for a little mingling, Aang had realised that this, this was his chance. After all, it was practically a date, for crying out loud Well, a date with a chaperone, anyway. Well, as close as he had gotten so far, anyway. If he could just persuade Sokka to go away for a few hours, then Aang was set! He thought.
Except Sokka wasn't taking his extremely subtle hints.
Aang sighed, looking around the crowded room. There had to be something here that he could use to distract Sokka long enough for Aang to officially make Katara his girlfriend.
...There had to be something.
It was at about this point that Aang hit the mother-lode.
Where was her shirt?
Where was her shirt?
NO SHE DID NOT WANT TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE ROOM SERVICE.
Okay. Establish how this had happened. Work out if she had actually realised who he was.
And stay calm.
It was Aang's fault, of course.
Aang had been looking around the room, clearly bored. Sokka was considering asking him what was wrong, when Aang's face suddenly split into an attempt at a devious grin.
"Sokka," he said, slowly, "Over there. In the corner. Look."
Sokka obliged. It seemed easiest. Following Aang's gaze, he found himself looking at a table by the wall, in the corner. Three girls seemed to be seated at it. They seemed... something was off about them. It was almost as though-
"Sokka, the one in the middle has been staring at you for the past five minutes."
Oh. Oh really.
Well that was interesting.
Azula nearly choked on her drink as several facts assaulted her at once.
She had been staring at the same boy for the past five minutes.
He was now staring back.
And now he was grinning.
AND TY LEE WAS GIGGLING.
Azula scowled as she felt Mai glance towards her, seemingly without judgement. She grit her teeth as Ty Lee continued her display of amusement. And murder danced in her eyes as the boy she had been... examining deliberately pushed back his chair and ambled over towards the bar.
She would show them. She would show them all.
With a sudden determination, Azula grabbed her drink and downed the entire sickly concoction in one go (it seemed fuller than she remembered). That accomplished, she stood, and strode over to the bar.
Once she had left, Mai sighed.
After all, it wasn't like she had wanted her drink (not in the slightest), but it would have been polite of Azula to at least ask.
Aang blanched as the pink figure sitting across the table giggled again.
And things had been going so smoothly too. Sokka had been (although he did say so himself) masterfully distracted, and the door was wide open.
Of course, then he had stalled, just a little. It was okay, just feeling a little nervous, he'd be fine, after all he wasn't in any kind of rush now and besides Katara seemed to be enjoying herself, in a quiet way. So him sitting in silence for three minutes wondering what in the name of Himself he was going to do next wasn't such a big problem, really.
And then things had gotten out of hand.
Those two girls- the ones who had been accompanying the one Aang was mentally referring to as Sokka's Distraction- had come over. The One In Pink had been leading The One With Black Hair over almost by the hand, and had sat at their small round table- right next to Katara- as though she had been invited. The One With Black Hair had merely sighed, and deposited herself next to Aang.
And then, and only then, had The One In Pink actually explained herself.
"Well, since your friend looks like he's stolen our friend, we've got two sets of incomplete Friend Groups sort of, you know, whirling loose, and we can't really have that, you know. Somebody might get hurt. So in the, you know, interests of safety and all, I figured we should all sit at the same table, and besides, I like meeting new people, don't you like meeting new people? And also your friend has a very pretty aura." At this, she turned to Katara, while Aang's jaw tried desperately to close. "It's really rather pretty. Most people don't try to take care of their auras, you know."
Katara was clearly not entirely sure how to respond. Aang figured he should step in and save her form the social awkwardness, but was unfortunately prevented by a bad case of Not Knowing What The Hell To Say.
"Um, thanks?" Katara tried, gamely. The One In Pink beamed.
"No problem! I could talk about auras for hours."
"She thinks she's joking," The One With Black Hair chimed in. "She's really not."
"Sooo..." Aang began, but was cut off almost instantly by The One In Pink.
"So, South or North?" she asked Katara, who blinked.
"Pardon?" Katara had the look of one who is trying to work out whether or not what they just heard was actually a euphemism for something depraved.
The One In Pink sighed.
"South or North? Which tribe are you from?"
Katara tried her best to look unaffected.
"What makes you think I'm from the Water Tribes?"
The One With The Black Hair answered for her friend.
"You sit like one. Very languid. Sort of like an uncoiled spring. Generally nobody's that at ease unless they've got weapons close to hand, and, well,,," she gestured to the table, where there sat about eight glasses, in varying states of emptiness.
"That's it? That's what you're going on?"
"Well, that and the fact that you're dressed in blue. And you've got a Water Tribe pendant hanging around your neck. And you've got a water-skin hanging off your belt. And-"
"-Actually", The One In Pink interrupted, almost... bashfully? "I was looking at your eyes."
Katara started, while, unheard by anybody but Aang, The One With Black Hair muttered "oh".
"My- my eyes?"
"Yeah. I mean, they're blue, and that's a Water Tribe, um, trait? Isn't it?"
Katara's eyelids fluttered, probably for a want of anything else to do.
"Yes," she said, and there was something really strange in her tone, Aang thought. Like she was just on the verge of understanding something. Which made one of them, Aang reflected.
Katara stood up far too quickly.
"You know, I think we need some more drinks. Don't you agree? I think I should go get some more drinks for everybody. I'll be back in a second."
"Good idea!" The One In Pink exclaimed. "I'll come with you, and help you carry them. After all, it's not like you've got four arms, is it?" The One In Pink found something about this idea incredibly hilarious, and started giggling again. Katara looked as though she was trying to find a polite way to get her to go away (Aang thought), but couldn't find one in time.
Presently, Aang and The One With Black Hair were left alone at the table. Well, Aang was left alone with The One With Black Hair and The Feeling That He Was Missing The Point, actually.
"So", The One With Black Hair said, breaking the silence. "You're the Avatar. How's that working out for you?"
"What? Who? What's an 'Avatar'? Why would you think I'm an Avatar? Certainly you can't have any reason to accuse me of being an Avatar-"
"Your arrow's showing."
Aang knew he should have invested in a more substantial hat. Or at least a headband.
So. She knew he was the Avatar. That wasn't necessarily bad. After all, it wasn't like she was Fire Nation or anything.
"Well? What's it like?"
Aang suddenly felt a little dizzy. The alcohol was reasserting itself after the adrenaline boost.
"It's- it's kinda like being an inverse psychopath."
Aang nodded proudly. "Yup. The voices in my head tell me to put out fires."
And then he waited for her to laugh.
Maybe she didn't get it.
"'Cause, you see, sometimes previous Avatars will talk to me, and they tell me I've got to stop the Fire Nation."
"Oh. Oh I see. I did not know that. I thought you just wandered around beating guys up for kicks."
"Yeah, I realise that now."
Damnit. He'd spent ages thinking up that one.
In a moment of quiet, Aang suddenly heard Sokka's voice floating over from the bar.
"... And then the barman looks from the rabbit-weasel to where the drunk and the piece of string are sitting around the table. Throwing his hands up into the air, he cries 'I"m trying to run a business here!'"
Unlike Aang, his joke was apparently well-received, from the way Sokka's Distraction suddenly choked on her laughter.
Katara couldn't remember much more. There had been loud music, and more drinks, and talking, and more drinks, and ...a dance? and more drinks, and warm breath on her ear and -and -and
and so somehow she had ended up sleeping with the circus freak.
AND SHE COULDN'T EVEN REMEMBER IT. Much.
Oh Yue save him.
Hmm. Actually, he'd prefer it if Yue didn't hear about this one, actually. She might think that he had a thing for princesses.
But he could really use some divine intervention right now, and it could come from Koh for all he cared.
Because her eyes were open.
Well, a voice echoed in her brain somewhere. Well, that explains why you're so warm, at least.
There's maybe half a second's worth of open-mouthed confusion.
And then she catapulted away from him, wrapped up in the blankets as she fell with a thud onto the floorboards, all tangled up in the blankets which were saturated with sweat and-
ICK ICK ICK ICK ICK.
Sokka snatched his clothes from the floor as quickly as he could, hopping into his trousers and hoping against hope that Azula was too busy having a panic attack to notice him.
Aang was mortified. Horrified. Stunned.
He was Pretty Sure this sort of thing was prohibited by the Avatar code. Probably had its own section in the Avatar Handbook. Under "D", for "Don't do it. Dumbass."
And he had. And now he had to deal with it.
This wasn't going to be easy. Especially since it meant he couldn't just jump out of the window and pretend this had never happened.
However, he had made his bed, and he would lie in it. No matter how uncomfortable that saying made him feel right now.
He cleared his throat. Perhaps it got her attention, perhaps it didn't. She just sat, looking into the mirror, brushing her hair.
She had been brushing her hair for a while now, actually. Although she did have quite a lot of hair. And Aang had no idea how long brushing one's hair took anyway.
Anyway, she had been alerted. Whether or not she was alert was no longer up to him.
The hairbrush stopped.
"I said I'm sorry, okay." She was just making this even more awkward than it already was.
Aang was flushing now, and spluttered as he gestured to the room.
"For- for this! I- I-"
She finally turned around, looking mildly confused.
"You you what?"
"I- I took advantage of you!"
Mai dropped sideways off the stool. And started to laugh; the kind of breathless, choking laughter that starts shakes throughout the entire body and is one degree removed from outright cackling.
Huffing, he folded his arms. What was the point of being penitent if she wasn't going to take him seriously?
"I like you," she managed, once she had got her breath back. "You're silly."
"You know what I'm just gonna go now."
"Have fun. I'm sure I'll see you around."
"...Pardon?" What was she talking about?
"Well, I suppose it's more or less inevitable that we'll run into one another again some time soon."
Aang blinked, slowly.
Mai clutched at the bridge of her nose, and closed her eyes.
"You're the Avatar. I'm following Princess Azula around. Princess Azula is hunting the Avatar. Therefore, odds are we'll run into one another sooner or... you seem to have gone very pale. You might want to see a doctor about that."
Aang seemed to have gone all limp from shock.
"You're- you're one of Azula's friends? And... she's here?"
Suddenly Mai found herself all alone in the room, as Aang departed at speeds normally reserved for speeding bullets.
Katara stumbled into the hallway, with ...the circus freak (whose name was Ty Lee, actually) following close behind.
"I think your friends should be around somewhere. I don't think they should've gotten too far." Katara simply nodded, mutely.
"So... um... I guess... I'd ...best get going?" Katara managed, still wrapped in a haze of disconcertion. "Um... I'll be seeing you?" Damnit, what was the proper etiquette in this situation?
"Sure! You know... you're always welcome to drop by if you're ever in the area."
"Sure," she said, slowly. "That sounds like fun."
And then there was the rush of wind. And a scream.
And something was wrenching her arm nearly out of her socket and dragging her down the hallway with force that nearly lifted her clear off the ground.
"Where's Sokka?" Aang asked (for it was him).
"I don't know!"
"Oh well, we've got to get out of here; every man for himself!"
Sokka tapped his foot, looking up at the inn with distracted agitation.
He had been waiting for nearly five minutes now. What was taking them so long?
On the other hand, he had yet to notice any blue flames in any windows, so that was a plus.
Appa's head pricked up suddenly, and Sokka looked around scant seconds before Aang burst through a side door, dragging Katara by the arm.
"Took your time," Sokka admonished, while musing on the fact that they might have gotten out sooner if Sokka had actually bothered to tell them that they were leaving. But since it had all worked out, he decided to leave that one be.
"Sokka!" Aang cried. "How did you get out before us? And why is there all this glass in Appa's fur? And what's wrong with your arm?"
"Never mind all that, we've got to get out of here, quickly, before Azula shows up."
Aang nodded, and started helping Katara onto Appa. Then he blinked.
"How did you know about Azula?"
"How did you know about Azula?"
Aang turned red right to his ears and stared at the ground. Sokka for his part tried to busy himself with the reins.
He coughed, awkwardly.
"Alright then, yip-yip, and such, I guess."
Appa sprang into the air, and Sokka exhaled in relief.
So. If Aang knew about Azula being in the inn, and Katara seemed unsurprised as well...
Sokka glanced at his two companions. Aang was whistling as loudly as he could, while Katara was sitting in the back, staring at nothing.
Sokka glared at both of them at once, a feat that should only have been possible with an extremely lazy eye.
"We never speak of that night again. Agreed?"
"Agreed," echoed back at him, in two-part harmony.
Azula was faced with a dilemma.
Clearly, all of her clothes had to be burned. There was no doubt about that. They stank of sweat and alcohol and besides they had been in the same room as that boy. But all her other clothes were in fact in her room, on the other side of the inn, while she was in his room.
Dilemma number one.
Wrapped in a towel she had found in the bathroom, one she could reasonably hope was uncontaminated, she puzzled this over, and came to the conclusion that Mai or Ty Lee was bound to find her eventually.
No, wait, that was unacceptable. Neither of them could be permitted to know what had happened.
So, how was she to escape?
Out the window and over the roof. It was still early enough to get away with that, she thought.
Right. Problem solved.
Now. Second problem.
That boy had to die. Soon. The problem was that she was fairly sure that if she ever saw him again, she would self-combust from shame.
She was not blushing. She was flushing, and that was something entirely different.
Mai felt rather content, she reflected, as she drew herself a bath. It was nice to get out in the evenings once in a while.
It was a good thing she didn't drink, though. Otherwise she might have done something stupid.
Ozai sighed to himself.
He really wished it hadn't come to this. But Azula had brought it on herself, really. Her bizarre refusal to even return to the Earth Kingdom was forcing his hand, and nothing he tried could convince her to even explain why she had retreated in disgrace. There was only one course of action left open to him, as distasteful as he found it. He had nobody else to turn to.
He sighed again, and sat at his writing desk. Selecting a brush, he drew a scroll towards him and began to write.