*This is my first attempt at writing ATLA. I like the Zuko/Sokka stories, but there just aren't enough. Eventually there will be slash and smut and all that good stuff.
Summary: Set about a year after the gaang defeated Ozai and the Fire Nation, Zuko is now Fire Lord with Mai by his side. The rest of the gaang is off in all corners of the world. Zuko's brilliant idea of taking a vacation with them all doesn't quite turn out as he expected. But when he finds a way to set up camp, he discovers things about himself he'd never had the time to explore before.
I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender or the characters in it. I make no money on the writing of this story.
The war was over. The nations of the world could finally begin to heal. With Zuko as the new Fire Lord, there was a chance. Ozai and Azula were where they belonged-locked away, never to hurt anyone else. Zuko was the last member of his family in the Palace.
And he was lonely. True, Mai was living in the palace with him. However, Katara and Aang had gone back to the Southern Water Tribe to be with her father and Gran Gran. Toph went to visit her parents to try and mend their relationship. Kyoshi Island was in need of rebuilding, so Sokka went there to help his girlfriend Suki. Uncle Iroh remained in Ba Sing Se to run his tea shop.
With all of his new-found friends, and lone sane family member off in all directions, Zuko was left in the Fire Nation to salvage the leadership his father had left in ruins. Mai, as his only companionship, was always nearby as he worked on treaties and negotiated compensation for damage caused by the Fire Nation during the war. After nearly a year of meetings with ambassadors, Kings and Tribe leaders, Zuko was in need of some down time.
"I need a break," he sighed, resting his head on the large ornate desk in his office.
Mai stood behind him and gently rubbed his shoulders.
"Should I send for some tea?"
Lifting his head, Zuko replied, "I didn't mean that kind of break. I meant a real break, like a vacation."
"I don't think the Fire Lord is allowed to take a vacation," she laughed.
"Ozai never did."
"Yeah, and how did that work out for him? I don't want to end up crazy like my father."
"You won't," she smiled and kissed his cheek. "Why don't you stop working for now, though. It's nearly bedtime."
Mai ordered tea to be sent to the Fire Lord's chambers, the left to change for bed.
Zuko allowed his mind to wander away from official business to the days before he became Fire Lord. He missed training and traveling with the gaang. Though they were preparing for the greatest battle of their lives, in some ways it was less stressful than the past year. Zuko longed to see his friends again.
When he made his way into his room, Mai was waiting in her sleeping gown with a pot of tea and a plate of ginger cookies. He sat down on the chaise next to her and picked up his cup.
"Thank you Mai. What would I do without you?" Even though all she did was order someone else to do the work.
"Ever your humble servant," she joked. "How else can I be of service?" She nuzzled his neck.
Stifling a yawn, he put his arm around her and squeezed. "Can I take a rain check? I'm exhausted."
"You're always tired," she grumbled.
"I know. I'm sorry. That's why we need a vacation."
Perking up a little, Mai smiled. "Really? You were serious about that?"
"Yes. The nations are rebuilding. Trade is getting back to normal. I've met with every leader of every village in the free world. I think I deserve some time off."
"Where should we go? Ember Island?" she asked excitedly.
"I was thinking Ba Sing Se," he answered.
"Oh." She sounded disappointed.
"I miss Uncle's tea," he said, placing his mostly full cup back on the tray. "And there are lots of shops. I can buy you all kinds of pretty things. What do you say?"
She smiled. "Sounds great." Mai was always in the mood for fine new clothes or sparkly jewelry. It was one of the things she liked best about being the Fire Lord's girl. "When do we leave?"
"Let me talk to my advisors first, just to be sure. But we'll try to plan for this Wednesday."
"This Wednesday? I'm going to need more than four days to pack and shop for the trip," she told him.
"Shop? I thought I would buy you things when we get there."
"I can't go on vacation without new vacation clothes, silly. How long will we be gone? I'll need a new outfit for each day. And maybe new shoes. I'll have to have my hair trimmed and my nails done." Mai got up, talking mostly to herself. She went to the small desk in the corner to get pen and paper to write everything down.
Zuko let out a frustrated sigh. "I was hoping to keep it simple, you know. Just play it by ear, wandering around the city until we found a cute little Inn to stay."
Mai didn't hear him though. She was still listing all the preparations she needed for the trip. "Maybe I should get my legs waxed." She looked into the mirror above the desk. "Do you think my eyebrows are getting too bushy?" she asked.
"No," he answered.
"I think I'll have them waxed, too," she said, ignoring his answer.
To himself, Zuko muttered, "I have a feeling this 'vacation' is going to be more work than leading the nations."
Mai was still writing her list when Zuko climbed into bed. Truthfully, he was relieved to go to bed alone. Sex seemed to be another thing that was more work than it should have been. Not that he was usually awake enough for it anyway. But if all he wanted was a body beneath him, he would have simply used concubines. He knew it wasn't Mai's fault that she was less than . . . passionate, being raised they way she was. Her parents had an arranged marriage and never displayed any sort of affection in public. Or in their home, for that matter. That, coupled with the fact that Azula had been one of her primary playmates growing up, made it difficult for her to form close connections with others. The cruel mind games Azula would play on her kept Mai defensive and distrustful.
Zuko understood all of that. But it didn't do anything to satisfy his need for passion. He was a fire bender and his blood burned with desire. Mai only served to cool him to luke warm.
He rolled over in the large luxurious bed, the satin sheets gliding over his skin. He longed for someone to share his bed that could handle the heat he had to give. But he stayed with Mai regardless, having made promises when they were younger. And Zuko was a man of honor.
As the young Fire Lord fell asleep, his mind wandered to his proposed vacation with Mai. His night was filled with dreams of traveling from shop to shop, carrying bags and boxes filled with trinkets, clothing and jewelry for Mai. Actually, they were more like nightmares.
When the sun shone through Zuko's bedroom window, the Fire Lord stirred, feeling the warmth feed his body. He opened his eyes to find Mai on the other side still sleeping.
Gingerly, so as not to wake her, he slipped out of bed and went to the window. The rising sun shone on his city, instantly lifting his mood from the strange dreams had had the night before. A thought occurred to him and he left the bedroom for his office.
Sitting down at his desk, Zuko penned three letters; one for Katara and Aang, one for Toph, and one for Sokka and Suki. He invited all of them to join him and Mai on their vacation to Ba Sing Se. He thought it would be fun to see the gaang again. It had been ages since he'd done anything he considered fun. After sending the messages via messenger hawk, Zuko walked down to the dining room for breakfast.
"Good morning Fire Lord," Shyu nodded. The sage was already halfway through his meal.
"Good morning." Zuko sat down to some komodo rhino sausage and dumplings.
"The Fire Lord seems to be in a fine mood this morning," Shyu commented.
"I am," Zuko smiled. "I've decided to take a vacation."
"Vacation," Zuko answered. "It's when you leave your home and work for a while, to go do nothing."
Shyu laughed. "I know what a vacation is. I'm merely surprised."
"My family took vacations when I was a child. We have a beach house on Ember Island."
"Yes, but your father rarely went. And even then, it was only for a day or two," Shyu remarked, then smiled. "But with new leadership, comes new traditions."
Satisfied that the sage was supportive of his decision, Zuko began to eat. Now, he only had to figure a way to break it to Mai that he had invited the gaang.
Four days after sending out his notes, Zuko received the first reply. Toph sent her regrets, but she had recently opened up an earth bending school and she was far too busy to get away. Zuko was disappointed, hoping at least some of them would come.
"What's that?" Mai asked, leaning over his shoulder.
"Oh, it's a letter from Toph."
Mai scanned it quickly, then realized what it meant. "Did you invite her on our vacation?" Her voice had a ring of annoyance to it.
"Uh, yeah. I thought it would be fun if we all went together."
"All who?" Mai stood with her hands on her hips.
"You know, the gaang-Katara, Sokka, Aang, Toph."
"You invited all of them? I thought it was supposed to be our vacation," she pouted.
"But I haven't seen most of them in a long time," he said. "Maybe we could just spend a couple of days with them. Please? They're a lot of fun."
Mai sighed. "I guess. Then I'm going to invite Ty Lee."
"Sure," Zuko smiled. He wasn't sure how well Mai would get along with the other girls anyway. He figured, the more distraction Mai had, the more time he would get to do his own thing.
By Thursday afternoon, Zuko had heard from Katara, Aang and Sokka. They, plus Suki, would all be there on Saturday afternoon to meet him and Mai at the Jasmine Dragon. So excited to see his friends was Zuko, he didn't even mind helping Mai pick out ensembles and pay for all of her pre-trip beauty appointments.
Saturday, after a lengthy boat ride, Zuko and Mai hopped on the monorail toward the Jasmine Dragon. A small flutter in his belly distracted Zuko of the sights across the city as he grew more and more excited to see Uncle Iroh.
When they finally arrived, Katara and Aang were sitting inside drinking tea and talking with Iroh.
"Uncle!" Zuko left Mai's side and threw his arms around his beloved uncle.
"Zuko. How I have missed you," Iroh said.
"I've missed you too."
Mai sauntered up to the group, two baggage handlers in tow to carry all of her luggage. She rolled her eyes at the sappy reunion.
Both Aang and Katara stood to greet the Fire Lord and his girl. Katara hugged him, while Aang simply nodded. But he took Mai's hand and pecked her on the cheek.
"My, you've grown up," Mai said to him. At fourteen, he was nearly as big as Zuko.
"This was a great idea," Aang said. "We haven't been to Ba Sing Se in almost a year. It was getting awfully cold down in the Southern Water Tribe."
"Yes," Katara agreed. "I'm glad you sent your note. We wanted to visit you in the Fire Nation, but thought you were too busy."
"I have been," Zuko said. "But things are getting back to normal."
Mai plopped herself down in a chair. "Do you think we could get some tea here?"
The others looked at her, then sat down around the table as well.
"Of course," Iroh grinned. "This is a tea shop. What kind would you like?"
"I don't care," Mai replied. "It's all the same anyway."
Iroh scowled when he turned around to retrieve more green tea for the table, making sure Mai didn't see. How could she think all teas were the same? She had no appreciation for the subtleties of tea making.
"Where are Sokka and Suki?" Zuko asked.
"Right here, buddy," a voice called out from the entrance.
Suki and Sokka strolled in and were nearly knocked over by Katara, who ran to hug them both.
"Talk about growing up," Mai commented, almost to herself. "How can this man be Sokka?"
Zuko was surprised himself how Sokka had changed. He very much resembled his father, Hakoda.
"Whoa, Katara," Sokka said, trying to keep his balance. "It's not like I didn't see you last month."
"I know," she replied. "But I was used to seeing you every day."
"Yeah, it is weird for us all to be apart sometimes. Hey, where's Toph?"
"She couldn't make it," Zuko told him. "How have you been, Sokka?" He held out his hand to shake.
Sokka shook the hand and answered, "Great, now that I have someone to fish with," he grinned.
They pulled up a few more chairs to the table, and Iroh brought more tea and some finger sandwiches. Each of the friends talked about what they had been doing lately, which was mostly rebuilding.
Kyoshi Island looked as though Zuko had never invaded and destroyed homes. Katara noticed Zuko's face flush at the mention of it. Four babies had been born in Sokka and Katara's village, one of whom Katara helped deliver. The entire Fire Nation government had been restructured. Zuko forced many of his father's former generals and advisors into retirement, and replaced them. Zuko also told the others about Toph's new earthbending school.
Before the gaang knew it, they had spent hours catching up and eating, much to Iroh's delight.
Mostly quiet up until then, Mai said, "When are we going to our hotel? I'm tired and need a good night's sleep if we're going shopping all day tomorrow."
"Oh, I thought we'd stay here with Uncle Iroh."
It was quiet enough to hear the crickets chirping as Mai just stared at Zuko.
"Or, we could see if the Lotus Inn has any rooms," he suggested softly.
"That's better," Mai said. "We wouldn't want to inconvenience your uncle." It was an excuse, and everyone at the table knew it, including Iroh. Uncle Iroh held his tongue for his nephew's sake. But Aang and Sokka exchanged glances, surprised by the former prince's compliance. They never knew Zuko to be a pushover.
"Yeah, we're pretty tired too," Katara said. "Aang and I are staying a few buildings down. How about you, Sokka?"
"Suki and I are at the Ba Sing Se hotel. We dropped our bags off already."
"We'd better get going I guess," Zuko said. "Why don't we all meet here for breakfast in the morning."
"Sounds good to me," Sokka smiled. "I'm always up for breakfast."
"Oh, goody," Mai said sarcastically.
She and Zuko left to catch a litter to the Lotus Inn. Of course, there was a room for the Fire Lord. Being a national leader had its perks. The Lotus Inn was the most luxurious hotel in the city.
"You could have been a little friendlier," Zuko said in passing as he unpacked his bag.
Giving him a bored look, Mai replied, "They're not my friends, they're your friends."
"But I want them to be our friends. If we're going to be together-"
"What do you mean if?" she cut him off.
"I didn't mean anything by it. I'm only saying that I want us all to be friends." He walked up to her and put his arms around her waist. "I don't want to argue. It's really romantic here." He pulled her close and tried to kiss her, but Mai turned her head.
He looked her in the eye and knew it was a lost cause. It was his punishment for saying she wasn't being friendly enough. Zuko sighed and released her. He thought perhaps they would be able to find the passion that had been missing, while relaxing on vacation. "Okay, tomorrow night, then?"
"Mmm," she answered noncommittally.
That night, Zuko dreamt of an encounter with a girl he'd never met before. In a way, she reminded him of Mai-slender, tall, with few curves. But the girl in the dream was dark and mysterious. And aggressive. She seduced Zuko into an alleyway somewhere in Ba Sing Se. He pushed his dream girl up against a wall and lifted her skirt high, up to her waist. He entered her forcefully and thrust over and over. Rather than protest, the girl countered his movements and panted into his ear in a husky voice, egging him on.
Zuko came with a moan loud enough to wake himself up. Quickly realizing that the orgasm that had felt so real in the dream actually was, he carefully slipped out of bed. Trying his best to keep the mess in his pants and off the sheets, he got up and made his way to the bathroom.
The dream had left him a little flustered, almost as though he had cheated on Mai in reality. As he took off his clothing and filled the tub with water, he thought about the girl in the dream. Her body was taut, her skin smooth and dusky. He never did get a look at her face, just the impression of angles and hair falling about her face. But mostly, it was the way she fully participated, acting like an equal, sexually. Unlike Mai, who expected Zuko to have his way with her as she lay waiting, his dream girl whispered naughty things in his ear. Mai barely offered a hand, much less her mouth, and she would never use crude language. She presumed the mere sight of her to excite and arouse him enough to please them both.
By the time he finished bathing, Mai was awake, seemingly unaware of Zuko's wet dream.
"Is the bath still warm?" she asked.
"Oh, sorry. I emptied it," he told her. Though she probably wouldn't have known the difference, the thought of Mai bathing in his semen laced bath water was disturbing to him. "I can refill it for you."
"Thanks," she said, not moving from the bed.
He went back in, drew a new bath, and warmed it for her.
"All yours," he smiled, hoping she would be quick. He was anxious to start his vacation with friends
Mai took longer in the bath than Zuko expected and they were the last to arrive at Iroh's tea shop Sunday morning. He tried to remind himself that they had a whole week to enjoy themselves.
The others were finished eating, but remained to drink tea with them. Apparently, they had also planned out an itinerary for the day without Mai and Zuko's input.
It was decided that the group would take the monorail to the Middle Ring and work their way through the area to the Middle Ring Restaurant for a meal.
"All we're doing is shopping?" Zuko asked.
"Well, most of us will be browsing," Katara said. "I don't have that much money after paying for the Inn for a week."
"What's the fun in that? Looking without buying?" Zuko scratched his head. "I'll buy you whatever you need."
"Just because you're the Fire Lord, and rich, doesn't mean you have to buy us stuff," said Aang. "I don't really go for material things much anyway."
"But I invited you," Zuko said. "Let me at least pay for your rooms."
"It's not necessary," said Katara. "We all came to spend time together, not buy things."
"Oh, you should just let him," Mai said, spreading sea slug caviar on her toast. "He's good at spoiling those he cares about."
"I don't need to be spoiled by Zuko to be his friend," Katara said defensively.
Mai glared at her for the insinuation about her relationship with Zuko.
"Okay now. No one is saying that you do, Katara. Let's just have a nice meal," Sokka said, taking toast from the pile.
Katara rolled her eyes. Sokka caught Zuko's glance, then rolled his too.
Trying his best to suppress a smile, Zuko addressed Katara. "I'm not trying to spoil you, but I did invite you all here. Please let me provide a place to stay."
Katara was nothing if not stubborn. "Thank you for the offer, Zuko. But we can take care of it ourselves."
The matter was dropped and the six companions left Iroh's shop to follow the plan for the day. Zuko still didn't understand the concept of 'browsing'. If he needed something, he bought it. If he wasn't looking for something specific, he didn't shop.
In nearly every store, Mai found something she liked. All she had to do was mention that it was pretty, and Zuko gave her the coins she needed. By the time they reached the Middle Ring Restaurant, Zuko was carrying two large bags, each with several smaller packages inside.
While the girls all got up to use the restroom, Zuko, Sokka and Aang sat, exhausted.
"This is more tiring than running the Fire Nation," Zuko complained.
"Yeah," Sokka agreed. "I mean, I like shopping as much as the next guy, but I'm starving."
"Well, I hate shopping," said Aang. "I was hoping we would go to the zoo."
"I was hoping to go fishing," Zuko chimed in. "Lake Laogai is supposed to be a great place to fish. And there are all sorts of animals to hunt outside the inner wall."
"Then let's go," Sokka grinned. Then he paused. "But it can't look like we're ditching the girls. We need a plan."
Zuko stroked his chin in thought, but the girls came back before the boys could discuss any more.
"You boys look like you're up to something," Suki said playfully, ruffling Sokka's hair.
"Hey, you're messing up my wolf's tail," Sokka complained. He took the band holding his hair out and shook his head. "Help me put it back up," he said to Suki.
"You're worse than a girl," she giggled, then proceeded to put Sokka's hair back into a ponytail.
Zuko did a double take, glancing at Sokka. He had seen Sokka with his hair down before, but there was something odd about seeing him that way just then. The thought was pushed away when a waitress came by to take the gaang's food order.
For the rest of the afternoon, Zuko wracked his brain to figure out a clever, unsuspicious way to get out of the 'vacation activities' the girls had planned for the week.