Sokka's hand stopped as he came to a certain page. He read the title on the top of the page aloud. "Study Break. Huh." He looked up at his friends. "Anyone interested in a story about Azula getting distracted?"
Zuko raised an eyebrow. "Come again?"
Sokka read the summary to them. "Azula gets distracted...and I'm just hungry as I write this. A simple one-shot! Oh, and there's a smiley face at the end of that last sentence."
"So this summary tells us that Azula is distracted, the author is hungry, and there's a smiley face," Toph concluded. "Well, that tells us a lot."
Katara frowned slightly. "I dunno. Usually the authors in here don't write very well even when they aren't hungry," she grinned as Aang chuckled appreciatively.
Zuko looked thoughtful. "But this does sound a bit interesting. I guess it's because Azula doesn't sound like she'll be planning anything sinister in here, or trying to murder anyone," he smiled.
"So it's a go then? Great." And Sokka promptly began the story.
"Once every hundred years, Sozin's Comet will bless Firebenders with its presence, for this is when we are at the most powerful..."
Azula looked up from her textbook, rubbing her forehead where she had been frowning. The candles told her that she had been studying for three hours straight. She glanced out the window, shooting unseen daggers at her brother, who was playing and shrieking gleefully, oblivious to his sister's attempts to study.
She couldn't fail this test. If she did, she'd be no different from her brother. With a deep sigh, she picked up her book and resumed studying, blocking out the sounds of her brother swishing his fake sword about. He could play all he wanted, and they'd see who'd be sitting on that throne.
Sokka nodded sympathetically. "You sure have a difficult little sister."
"I thought you already knew that?" Zuko asked.
The Water Tribe teen paused. "Oh right, I do."
"So Zuko played with fake swords as a child. That's very illuminating," Katara grinned.
"Yup," Toph nodded. "Hard to picture that happening though."
"Probably because you can't see at all, so picturing things might be hard for you," Sokka said helpfully.
The earthbender shrugged. "Maybe."
"It was named after Fire Lord Sozin, for he had used the Comet to-"
A low, deep grumble interrupted her thoughts. She immediately turned to scowl at her brother outside, but he had quietened down, trading his wooden sword for a Firebending scroll which he was reading intently. The growl couldn't have come from him.
"Wow, Zuko reads," Aang remarked while grinning.
The scarred teen glanced at the Avatar. "And is that so surprising?"
"No. Wish you'd taught me firebending by just reading scrolls though, instead of twenty hog-squats a day."
"Well, it's not like there's an abundance of firebending scrolls at the Western Air Temple, and I certainly didn't bring any with me. Besides, I figured you'd probably get bored in a few minutes' time."
Toph nodded. "Knowing Twinkletoes, that's pretty much what would happen. Aang's got to have all those bending lessons hammered into his head so he can do it properly."
"Uh, yeah," Aang said hesitantly, remembering Toph's 'hammering' sessions with him, which weren't always pleasant even if they were certainly effective.
Katara put an arm around her boyfriend. "Well, I think Aang was a fine pupil. He didn't give me any trouble when I was teaching him."
"That's because he was too distracted by you to make any trouble," Toph quipped, and the Avatar's cheeks went pink.
There it was again; this time, Azula realized that it was coming from her stomach. Azula silently thanked the Spirits that she was alone. How embarrassing it would be if someone else was there to hear her! He stomach groaned a third time, and she knew that she would never be able to concentrate on her work if she did not eat something first.
"So dangerous lightning-shooting chicks do need to eat after all." Sokka nodded wisely. "I see."
Aang shrugged. "They are human after all, even if they're really scary."
"Yup. Just ordinary teenage girls who kill Avatars and conquer Earth Kingdom cities in their spare time," Toph added.
Putting down her book, she stood up and stretched, bringing feeling back into her limbs. A thought entered her mind: she couldn't ask the servants to fetch something for her. If she did, word that she had been eating instead of studying would get to Father. He would think of her as a simple, easily-distracted, undisciplined peasant!
Sokka shrugged. "Well, at least simple, easily-distracted, undisciplined peasants get to eat when they're hungry. If I had to choose, I'd take peasant over royal any day."
"You don't have to choose; you already are one," Toph told him with a grin.
"Although he did try to pass himself off as a 'sort of' prince before," Katara recalled. "Surprising what boys can do when they're trying to impress girls they like."
"Must be a guy thing," Toph agreed.
No, she could not let that happen. She would just have to search for food by herself. Mostly, she was just looking for an excuse to leave her textbook for awhile. Thankful for the short break, she quickly bounded out of her room and down the stairs.
As soon as Azula pushed open the kitchen doors, the sounds of shouting, sizzling, chopping and scraping met her ears. The fragrances of baking, grilling and seasoning wafted by, tempting Azula, while the hot, fast atmosphere swept her up. The heat from a nearby oven warmed Azula's skin. She moved about as if in a trance; no long the Princess Azula, but just simply, Azula.
Everyone was so absorbed in their work that no one noticed her presence. She was filled with a strange sense of childish glee; it was rare that she entered the kitchen or was left to her own devices, much less both. She weaved around the cooks gracefully, looking for something to satisfy her empty stomach.
Sokka's stomach rumbled. "Man, all this talk about kitchens is making me hungry. I can almost smell the food."
Katara looked at him reproachfully. "Sokka, we just ate breakfast a while ago!"
"I know! Still..." Sokka trailed off as the image of a steaming hot plate of smoked sea slug arose in his mind...
"Hello? Anyone there?" Toph waved a hand in front of the Water Tribe's teen face before hitting his arm after eliciting no response. Sokka quickly snapped back to reality.
"Ow Toph, that hurt!"
The earthbender sat backwards with a satisfied smirk. "Well, as long as it does the job, I don't care how much pain I inflict on you. Now continue the story."
"Okay, okay," Sokka replied, still rubbing his sore arm.
A packet of Flaming fireflakes sat on the table invitingly. She had never really fancied fireflakes, and disapproved of Mai's love for them. They were peasant snacks, not meant for nobles or royalty, and eating them would mean approving of them. Azula stuck her nose up and continued looking. She would not be caught eating fireflakes.
Sokka huffed indignantly. "And so what if it's fireflakes? Even the Avatar eats them, right Aang?" He looked towards Aang, who nodded enthusiastically at the notion of fireflakes. "So if he can eat it, then anyone can eat it!" the boomerang-wielding teen concluded triumphantly.
"I ate them all the time when I was a kid," Zuko supplied.
Toph shrugged. "Yeah, but considering Azula thinks of you as a poor excuse for a heir to the throne, you're not the best candidate to preach to her about the virtues of fireflakes"
"And none of us would bother doing so anyway," Katara smirked.
The earthbender nodded. "Exactly."
Glancing around, her eyes landed on a tray of steaming warm buns, fresh from the oven. She nearly, just nearly, drooled looking at them. But hadn't Ty Lee told her all about the harmful ingredients and the effect buns made on the body the other day? She had been so serious about it and even made Azula promise that she would never eat another bun again. Not that Ty Lee would know if she ate a bun, but a promise was a promise, wasn't it?
"So Azula the crazy demented firebending prodigy keeps her promises. That's nice to know," Sokka remarked.
"I love buns," Aang said dreamily.
"And seeing as we've all eaten plenty of buns and are still sitting here healthily, I guess we can safely assume that buns aren't so deadly," Katara summed up. "What kind of harmful ingredients can buns contain anyway?"
"Well, the excessive sweetness of the filling might be lethal to potential evil tyrants like Azula," Toph grinned. "Maybe Ty Lee does have a point."
"But since none of us are planning to be evil tyrants anyway, I suppose we're still free to indulge in Uncle's red bean buns," Zuko smiled.
Sokka nodded fervently. "Absolutely."
Azula turned and spotted a bowl of fire gummies. As appealing as they were, they had always been too sweet for her liking. The high sugar content would make her jumpy and easily distracted; she wouldn't be able to study well. Seeing that her test was tomorrow, she had better not risk her ability to concentrate.
Zuko looked thoughtful. "Huh. I didn't know sugar made people jumpy."
"Which is why you always had lower grades than Azula," Toph told him.
"Hey, my grades weren't that lousy! Although I guess they weren't what you'd call excellent either," the scarred teen admitted grudgingly.
The blind girl sat back and crossed her arms across her chest. "Told you."
Beside it was a plate of mochi, or rice cakes. But mochi would make her too full, she decided, and she wouldn't be able to finish dinner. Father would inquire about it, and he would find out that she had stopped studying to snack. No, definitely not! She could not let that happen!
"Your dad must be some sort of scary discipline officer to you kids," Katara commented.
Zuko shrugged. "Something like that. He was rather strict back then."
"Not to mention evil," Sokka added.
"Guess that's where Azula got her personality then," Aang concluded.
Toph rolled her eyes. "Yeah, we already figured that out before Twinkletoes. The family trait was a bit obvious."
Azula sighed, realizing that she would never find something to eat. It was either too hot, too cold, too sweet or too filling. She shuffled dejectedly to the door, back to her room to continue studying. Her stomach would just have to wait for dinner, then.
Just as she was about to leave, a jade teapot caught her eye. It was set presentably on a tray, filled with hot, savory tea, an equally decorated teacup beside it, as if waiting for her. Tea was good; it helped her concentrate. And since it was already there... she approached to retrieve it. Who cared if she constantly sneered at her uncle Iroh's tea addiction? No one would know, anyway.
"Except the kitchenful of cooks," Sokka interjected. "But I'm sure they won't mind."
"They were too absorbed in their work to notice anyway," Zuko added.
The Water Tribe teen looked at his firebending friend. "So you remembered the text from earlier on? Looks like you're finally really listening to these stories."
Zuko shrugged. "Well, I actually don't mind stories like this one, where no one is paired with anyone they're not supposed to be with and there aren't weird girls making every male who crosses their paths fall for them."
"Yeah, those are rather nice, even if they're a bit rare," Katara agreed.
As luck would have it, a bowl of delicious, ripe, dark red cherries sat beside the tray. They were perfect for filling Azula's stomach! With a grin, she grabbed a handful of cherries and placed them on the tray. Balancing the tray expertly, she left the kitchen, the doors swinging shut behind her. She eagerly made her way back to her room. Studying would be so much better when she had cherries and tea to enjoy.
Sokka frowned thoughtfully. "You know, this whole thing actually makes Azula sound... more human. As if she's just like any of us, who gets bored of studying and likes a nice snack break every now and then."
Aang nodded. "Funny how a decent story can turn someone like Azula into just another ordinary person, huh?"
"You mean like how they can take perfectly regular people like us and make them out to be freaks?" Toph asked.
"Like how Kara always describes me as a spoiled brat," Katara huffed, for she was never going to get over that.
"The power of words, I suppose," Zuko concluded.
Unknown to her, Iroh had been making his way to the kitchen, wondering why his tea was taking so long. He stopped in his tracks as her saw Azula emerge from the kitchen doorway. Chuckling lightly, he watched as his niece gripped the tray with his teapot and a bowl of her favorite fruit on it, rushing up to her room.
He didn't mind going one afternoon without tea, as long as someone was enjoying the tea. He returned to his study, a small smile on his face.
Zuko smiled as well. "Now that sounds like Uncle."
"So he doesn't hate Azula's guts?" Sokka enquired.
Toph snorted. "You really think Iroh's the hating type? Honestly, I'd have thought you'd known by now that he usually won't hate someone without a good reason for doing so."
"You're really fond of him," Katara observed.
The earthbender shrugged. "Well, he did offer me tea right after I'd knocked him on the tailbone. I don't think I'm able to dislike the guy."
"Or his cooking," Sokka said sniffing the air eagerly. "I think I can smell red bean buns cooking now."
Aang grinned. "Must be your imagination then, because he said during breakfast he was going out for the morning. Actually, I wouldn't mind going out around Ba Sing Se for a while."
Toph bounced up on her seat. "In that case, I predict we'll be having lunch at Wan's Noodle Shack this afternoon."
"Let's see if you're right," Sokka told her as the Gaang left the upstairs lounge, leaving the Companion on the low table as usual.
Just spent half a weekend rewatching the last few episodes of Legend of Korra and fangirl-squealing every time Zuko a.k.a. General Iroh II's voice is heard onscreen. What can I say? I'm in love with Dante Basco's voice. Anyway, credits to PrincessWraven for her permission to use her oneshot, which has now gotten me hungry as well. See ya!