kyoshi hold 'em
part ten: string of idiotic mistakes; never dredge up aain

"Okay," she muttered, "just... knock on the door. No problems there." Katara stood very still in front of Zuko's door, thoroughly unable to do anything. Behind her, Toph pushed her forward.

"For the love of... Katara this isn't the scariest thing you've ever done. You faced Azula, didn't you?"


"Yes, you did. And you taught the Avatar how to bend water. You faced down Zuko when he was chasing you. You took on the Fire Nation when it was being ruled by Phoenix King Crazypants. You can do this."

She wrung her hands together. "Yeah, but this is..."

"Shut up and knock on the door before I hit you."

Katara sighed, and knocked, but there was no reply. Toph snorted.

"Figures. You finally work up the courage to knock and he isn't even freaking there. Now we have to do this all over again!"

"Well, look at that!" Katara said, turning to flee, her voice several octaves too high. "I guess it's just not my destiny to - eep!"

"What are the two of you doing?" Zuko asked, having just walked up. His hair was a mess and there were several scratch-marks on his cheek, and he appeared to be exhausted. He also smelled distinctly like flying lemur.

"Helping Aang save Momo from Sokka's rage?" Toph guessed, while Katara turned red and tried to slip away. Zuko sighed.

"Yeah. Jet's off hiding somewhere, and apparently Sokka's screaming sounds like the natural predators of flying lemurs or something because Momo went insane." Something seemed to pass between Toph and Zuko that Katara didn't quite understand, but Zuko stepped forward and ruffled Toph's hair oddly lovingly. "Sorry, Champ," he murmured, but Toph batted his hand away.

"S'all right. I wasn't that serious anyway," she insisted, laughing a little, but it didn't hide her insincerity. Whatever was bothering Toph was serious, and Katara determined to fix it.

Also, it would serve the delightful secondary purpose of getting Toph off her back about the whole tell-Zuko-you-kissed-him thing.

"What's wrong, Toph?" she asked, but the other girl turned on her.

"Nothing. Didn't you need to talk to Sparky about something?" Katara glared, but Zuko turned to her.

"Oh? What about?"

"Something huge," Toph said vindictively. "Super important." Abruptly, she wrenched open the door and shoved Katara in, followed quickly by Zuko, who at least had the presence of mind to look deeply confused.

"All right..." Zuko said, blinking. "What was that all about?"

"Um," she replied dumbly. Zuko stared at her, waiting for this hugely important thing that she needed to talk to him about. "Um."

"Feeling especially articulate today, aren't we?"

She was beginning to wish that she had gone to Suki for help rather than Toph. What had she been thinking? Granted, there was the fact that Suki was busy with Sokka and Mai wasn't currently speaking to her and Ty Lee was wherever Mai had run off to, so she was left with a remarkably small pool of female companions, but still. Gran-Gran would have had better advice, even if that meant explaining to her grandmother that she had gotten drunk and made out with the Fire Lord. She took a deep breath, and then told him.

Except it all came out in a very quiet and very incomprehensible rush. Zuko stared blankly.

"I have no idea what you just said."

"I said," she started, but choked up. Why was this so hard? It was Zuko, it wasn't like he was going to start making fun of her. On the other hand, it was Zuko. At least he was wearing a shirt this time. If not...

"Agni, Katara," he cried, finally losing patience, "just spit it out!"

"I kissed you, all right!" she screamed, and he just looked more confused.

"When was this?"

"Last night, when you were drunk! I - I don't know what came over me!" Mai's advice loomed in her mind - own it - and she dove forward. "But you were - you were shirtless and - and you said I was really pretty - and I just did and then you passed out and didn't remember, and you were getting mad at me for, I don't know, sleeping with someone and not telling you about it because we're best friends and you didn't listen to me when I told you that I didn't sleep with anyone but I couldn't just tell - "

He cut off her desperate explanation with a sudden, fierce kiss.

"Katara," he said, pulling away and placing a hand on either cheek. She froze - she'd had more than a few dreams that went this way. "I just got attacked by a flying lemur. I found out that my ex-girlfriend slept with a cocky freedom fighter whose sole purpose of being here was to piss me off. I am still hungover. Aang and I just spent the last two hours trying to convince your brother not to kill Jet. And to top it all off, the blizzard is finally clearing up and Uncle wants to get back to Peace Summit work tonight. I don't care why you kissed me while I was drunk, okay? Just... next time, I want to be sober."

So... her dreams hadn't quite ended up that way. Unable to react with anything other than stupid relief, she burst out laughing.

Aang and Zuko's intervention had done little to soothe Sokka's fury, which had (unfortunately) transferred somewhat to Mai, who was now taking refuge in the least suspected place she could come up with - Suki's wardrobe.

It was the second time this morning she had crawled desperately into a wardrobe to escape angry, prying eyes, and she was really, really not okay with that. Jet, Sokka, and either Suki or Katara (whoever had let her secret slip) were going to die the moment she got her hands on her knives again.

"Ow, son of a - " a voice directly to her right said, as she folded herself into the wardrobe.

"No," she breathed. "Please, no."

"Tell me that's not who I think it is," Jet said, voice slightly muffled as though from his face being buried in his hands.

"Oh, fuck," Mai whispered, and almost burst out of the wardrobe, but sounds in the room beyond stayed her hand. Sounds like Suki and Sokka returning to her room, Suki finally having convinced her boyfriend not to kill Mai and Jet.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"Shut up," she hissed, hitting him on the arm. He retaliated by lashing out blindly, landing directly across her right breast. She took a deep breath to control her temper and snatched his arm just as he was pulling it away. "You are going to get us found out if you don't shut up now. Understand?" He growled, but otherwise stayed silent, and tried to wrench his arm out of her grip, but failed. She figured that, if he started to annoy her, she could just dig her fingernails into a pressure point and that would get the message across far better than a scolding.

A few horrible moments later, it occurred to Mai just how Suki had managed to get Sokka's attention away from killing Jet.

"Oh, no..." he whispered, horrified. Mai bit back a frustrated growl. Really, this would be her luck.

"Shh," she hissed. If there was anything that would make Sokka want to kill them more than he already did, it would be finding them hiding here now.

"I know," he replied testily.

"Apparently not."

They fell into a tense, angry silence, broken only by the incredibly uncomfortable sounds coming from the bedroom. "You know," Jet whispered, apparently hoping to drown out the noise, "you shouldn't be such a bitch."

"And you should shut up."

"I'm serious," he replied, refusing to back down. "You're not a bad person - and you're hilarious when you're drunk and convinced that Longshot is a polar leopard - " she winced; that was a memory she was quite glad to forget, " - but you make it really hard to like you."

Mai snorted. "I don't care whether or not people like me."

"Liar," he whispered, "I think you care a lot. That's why you go ahead and disappoint people before they can judge you."

"Who made you the authority on my mind?"

Jet shrugged, surreptitiously trying again to remove his arm from her vice-like grip (and again failing). "I've lived on my own since I was a kid, and I pulled together the Freedom Fighters. To a lot of them, I was the closest thing to a parent they knew. You pick up things."

"And this has led you to believe that I'm really just an insecure girl who acts like a bitch to protect her heart?"

"Yeah, actually," he replied, refusing to be shamed into changing his mind.

"It never occurred to you that, maybe, I'm just a bitch?"

Jet peered through the darkness, trying to get a look at her face, but her hair - left down since mid-way through the game last night - had fallen forward and hid her from him. "I don't think so. If you were, why would Ty Lee be your best friend? And why would Zuko have dated you? No, there's something more to you, I know it."

"Maybe Ty Lee and Zuko just like bitchy friends."

Jet snorted, and then hastily covered his mouth, praying that Sokka and Suki hadn't heard. Evidently, they hadn't. "Zuko, maybe," he conceded, trying not to burst out laughing. "But Ty Lee?"

She made an annoyed sound at the back of her throat. He was, in some ways, correct about her - and the thought that Jet, of all people, had figured her out was a truly horrifying one. Even worse than that terrible moment when she woke up this morning and realized who she was in bed with.

"Fine, you've got me," she snapped. "I'm a fragile little girl who's so afraid of criticism that I pretend to be heartless."

"See, that's what I'm talking about," he said. "Stop being such a bitch and admit that maybe I'm right about you."

"You're not right about me."

"I'm on the right track, at least. The fact that you're so mad about it just proves me right."

She opened her mouth to respond, but realized that he actually had her there. Stupid. She was already planning to write this whole trip off as Series of Idiotic Mistakes; Never Dredge Up Again, and considering what it would take to swear Ty Lee to secrecy about the entire thing. Maybe she could run off to Ba Sing Se and become a bounty hunter. Supposedly, there was a cool bounty hunter operating somewhere out in the Earth Kingdom who used a Shirshiu. That could be interesting. She'd never ridden a Shirshiu before, although Zuko didn't speak too highly of it.

Bounty hunting would be fun, and it had the added bonus of really annoying her parents. She made a mental note to look into it.

After escaping this awful situation and ever having to speak with Jet again.

"I'm right," he confirmed, after a moment of silence. "You're not as mysterious as you think."

"I can kill you."

"You won't."

She released his arm. In spite of everything, he was right again - he was annoying as hell, represented everything she stood against, found her embarrassment terribly funny, and commanded legions of incredibly obnoxious children - but she didn't hate him. She didn't particularly like him, no, but he had an odd sort of charm.

"How much longer d'you think they'll be at it?" he asked, rubbing his arm and testing for obvious bleeding. "I mean, they can't be too much longer, can they? Unless Sokka's better than I expected..."

"Please don't say anything like that ever again," she replied, making a face.

He started mimicking the sounds Suki was making, in an exaggerated falsetto, and even though she shuddered, she hid a small smirk. It was a terrible impression, but it was better than listening to the real thing.

"Stop that," she whispered. "They'll hear you."

"I doubt they're listening," he responded, rolling his eyes. "We could probably walk right out of here and they wouldn't notice."

"Don't you dare."

Jet smirked wickedly.

"Help me find Mai," Ty Lee said, "and I'll give you chocolate."

Smellerbee raised an eyebrow, but the Duke looked interested. "How much chocolate?" he asked, pretending to be a discerning customer.

"Lots of chocolate. I have a whole bunch of it that I've been saving for a special occasion." She shrugged. "As far as I'm concerned, this is a special occasion."

The two children looked at each other. Beside Ty Lee, Longshot closed his eyes and prayed for escape. "Okay," Smellerbee said. "We're in."

"Hey, Twinkletoes," Toph said, leaning back in her chair and propping her feet up on the table. Aang, exhausted (and, she noted, also smelling strongly of a barn), sat down across from her.

"I'm starting to wish I'd listened to you."

Toph laughed. "Of course you are. I'm always right, you should know this by now."

"Not always," Aang said petulantly. "You weren't right about, um..."

"Whatever," she said, waving him off before he could come up with anything. "What brings you here?"

"Ty Lee has comandeered Jet's friends to help her find Mai. I think she has plans to recruit me as well, so I can't hide in my room."

"So you hide here?"

He made an odd sound. "It's safer than anywhere else." Partly because Toph was here, and Ty Lee didn't dare anger Toph. Which, as far as Aang was concerned, meant that he should attach himself to Toph's legs until the danger passed.

"So..." she started, a little awkwardly. "Jet and Mai, huh?"

Something in her voice made him look up, and dismay settled hard in his gut. "Yeah," he said, swallowing, "apparently. How weird is that?"

She laughed, but it came out fake, "No kidding. Who would want to sleep with Jet, anyhow?"

"Right," he said, disappointed. Really, Toph? he thought, but didn't say it aloud. It might come out too honest, and the last thing he wanted was for her to feel guilty because he couldn't keep his feelings to himself. She deserved better than that.

"Anyway," she said brusquely, "we're much cooler than those losers."

"Yeah," he replied listlessly, "sitting around and eating porridge is much cooler than, um," he froze, realizing where that sentence was going. Toph also noticed, and burst out laughing.

"Go on, Twinkletoes! What's much cooler than eating porridge?"

"Nothing," he cried, a little desperate. "Nothing at all! Porridge-eating is the most fun I could ever have!"

She cackled. "When you're eating porridge with me, that is, of course."

"Of course," he replied, rolling his eyes. Trust Toph to take an awkward situation and turn it around. It was part of why he liked her so much.

Ty Lee burst in the room then, followed by a very harrassed-looking Longshot. "Have either of you seen Mai? She totally owes me, like, seventy stories, but I can't find her!"

"Nope, haven't seen anyone," Toph replied easily, and Ty Lee growled in annoyance, and then caught on.

"Oh... Um, sorry, Toph. Have you, uh, heard Mai?" she corrected, wincing. Aang swallowed a laugh.

"She hasn't been this way," he told her. "We'll let you know if she does."

"Right," she said, and then her eyes widened, and she backed out of the room hastily, a grin spreading across her face, grabbing Longshot by the shirt and pulling him with her as she went. "I'll just... leave you two here, then."

Aang blinked, and Toph tilted her head in confusion.

"That was weird," they both said.

"Okay - " Ty Lee began, but was cut off by a very loud, very angry scream from the direction of Suki's room, followed immediately by Jet and Mai fleeing the premises (Jet laughing hysterically), the Duke and Smellerbee hot on their heels. "Oh," she squeaked, and she and Longshot joined the exodus while Suki - clad only in a blanket, hastily wrapped around her body, and hair askew - shouted obscenities at them.

They reached the kitchen at full pelt, and Longshot slammed the door behind him and leaned against it with Jet, who was still cackling. Mai gasped for several breaths, and then turned to Ty Lee.

"So, you and I are going to be bounty hunters in the Earth Kingdom. Sound good to you?"

"We are?" she asked, trying to catch her breath.

"Yes," Mai confirmed, "and we are never coming to another peace summit."

"I don't want to know," Katara muttered, and snuggled closer to Zuko.

"I was here the whole time," Aang said, eyes wide, watching the procession pass them by. Toph nodded.

"'Course you were, Twinkles. Just stick with me, it'll all work out."

Three hours later, the Peace Summit officially re-started. Gran-Gran looked around at the assembled group - Zuko and Katara were sitting awfully close together, Suki was being forcibly restrained from attacking Jet, who was hastily attempting to assemble his crew and escape the enraged Kyoshi Warrior, Aang and Toph were sitting together and studiously ignoring the chaos around them (although Aang kept shooting sympathetic glances at Jet), Mai and Ty Lee were nowhere to be found, Sokka was sitting next to his sister and was being held in his seat by a copious amount of ice - and everyone else seemed to be just as confused as she was.

"I think," she said to Pakku, "that we missed something."

Her husband glanced at the younger generation and shook his head. "No," he replied, "I think we're better off not knowing."