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News Spreads Fast
Chapter information
Series

Lost Without You

Chapter

3

Written by

AvatarBeau96

Release date

August 21st, 2012

Chronology
Last chapter

Chapter 2: Return to the City of Pain

Next chapter

Chapter 4: The Pain Never Dies

News Spreads Fast is the third chapter of Lost Without You. It follows Aang as he goes about his daily life, which now consists of visiting bars and gambling at billiards. There, he meets a patron who claims to understand the pain Aang has gone through, and offers him a way to help alleviate the stress and turmoil.

Author's Note

When I first published this chapter on FanFiction.net, I was met with criticism that depicted dislike towards the idea of Aang drinking and gambling, things he normally wouldn't do. I argued, and am still arguing, that the presence of alcohol and gambling in Aang's life is directly correspondent to the trauma and stress he endures every day of his life. I hope those who read this will understand my reasons for including these factors into the story.

Content

"Come on, Kya. It's time to get your bath," I said as I tried to lead my daughter to the washroom.

"No!" she shouted defiantly at me while smiling.

I hear a giggle come from my wife as she followed closely behind us. "Sounds like we're going through her 'terrible twos'," she stated in an almost mocking manner.

"Remind me, why do they call it that?" I asked her rhetorically.

"Because it's every parent's nightmare. And more specifically, yours," she replied,clearly mocking me even more.'

Kya continued to resist my hold, trying her best to make me release my light grip on her hand. She pulled with all her strength, but her father was just a little stronger.

"Come on; don't you want to get clean?" I tried to reason with her.

"No!" she replied.

A cocked a brow at my wife, "I'm starting to think that she may not be a waterbender."

Katara placed her hands on her hips and scoffed, "Why? Just because she doesn't want to get a bath?"

I shrugged, "Well, from my experience, waterbenders tend to love soaking in their natural element," I stated before deviously adding, "I've seen you do it plenty of times..."

She rolled her eyes at me, "I don't even want to know what's going on in that twisted head of yours right now..." she teased.

"Probably a good idea," I continued to tease her. My face twinged when I felt a sharp sting on my back from one of her sneaky water-whips.

"How did that feel?" she asked me, returning her hands to her hips.

"How did what feel? I didn't feel a thing..." I mocked her as I continued to struggle with Kya.

"I don't want a bath!" she cried out.

I finally decided to deploy my secret weapon. "Would you want to if Momo got one too?"

Suddenly all her defiance stopped as she began to contemplate the idea. I watched as she stared at the floor, trying to make a decision. Finally, she looked up at me and cried, "Momo!"

Victory was mine! Kya always loved having Momo around when she was forced to get a bath. Actually... she loved having Momo around all the time.

In response to Kya's call, Momo flew into the washroom, landing on my shoulder and proceeding to lightly lick my cheek.

"Momo!" she cried out the lemur's name again and reached out for him, trapping the winged animal in her arms. She hugged the lemur tightly against her chest. Katara and I couldn't help but laugh as Momo struggled to break free of her grasp, throwing his arms and legs up in the air frantically in hopes of escaping. But our little toddler wouldn't loosen her grip one bit.

I was able to convince her to let go of our pet lemur before she broke him in two. We proceeded to get Kya into the bath. She had apparently forgotten her decision from earlier and was no longer putting up a struggle. However, she did all the splashing she possibly could. If it hadn't been for Katara's bending, the bathroom would have looked like we were having a flood!

It didn't take long for us to finally get her cleaned up. We wrapped her in a rustic-brown towel and dried her off, then proceeded to get her clothes on. Momo stayed in the room, but he wouldn't remove himself from Katara's shoulder. Kya called out to him, but the lemur just screeched in fear, causing both me and my wife to laugh.

My eyes gradually began to open as I awoke from yet another dream. I sat there in bed—but not my bed. Not the one Katara and I slept in together for ten years. No... I was in one of the Boys' Dorms. I took in my surroundings as my vision cleared from morning blurriness. The bed was placed in the back corner of the room next to a window, and on the other side of the room was a dresser, next to it was a desk with a small book shelf lying on top of it right next to my bag.

I groaned tiredly as I threw the sheets from off my body and swung my legs over the side of the bed, revealing my muscled chest and boxer-shorts. My head was killing me, like my skull was being pounded by gloves of stone. And no... it was no hangover. God, I wish it was... Would have explained my most recent outbreak of anger. They happened every once in a while. I would become totally consumed by my anger and grief that I'd lose all control over it and go hysterical.

Last night... that was nothing. Remember how I said that I once considered suicide? Well, it was at that moment I was having one of my eruptions. I wanted to end it all, so I stood atop a building during a lightning storm and begged for one of them to just strike me. Just like last night, not one came close to doing anything even remotely related. But I didn't want to stop, so I tried creating my own lightning. I ended up creating an explosion right in front of my face that sent me flying off the building. I woke up, just like this morning, with a splitting headache.

I thought back on the dream from last night. I could have sworn that it was real. I wanted to believe it was real, that fate was taking me into an alternate world where that tragic night never became tragic at all. Alas, all I could do was hold onto those dreams, because that's all they'd ever be: dreams.

I slowly rose to my feet, making my way to the bag on the desk. I dug through it and took out a change of clothes, similar to what I had worn the night before. I wasn't just going to stand around here. I wanted to get off this island for as long as I could. As soon as I was dressed, I grabbed a fedora and some fingerless gloves and slid open the doors to the room and headed out, closing them behind me.

I didn't know what I was going to do or where I was even going to go. I just wanted to get away from here.

Inconveniently, I ran into Anil in the hallway just as he was heading out as well with a newspaper under his arm.

"Morning, Aang. You heading down the the Dining Hall? Breakfast was mighty good this morning!" he told me as I just walked past him with my hands placed casually in my pockets.

"No, I'm fine. I'll get something while I'm out..."

"Oh, you're going out? Well, why don't you come with me over to City Hall? I'm sure Councilman Sokka will be glad to know that you are back home."

Sokka, the name echoed in my head... the name of the brother of my deceased wife...

"No, thanks... Maybe I'll stop by there later," I lied. I didn't want to see Sokka. I left this city for almost five years, with the impression that I'd be back in simply two weeks. I left Kya in his care that long for a reason. He and Suki were more capable of taking care of Kya than I ever would be. I couldn't raise her, not by myself. And I wasn't going to let the Acolytes help me in raising her either. Besides, she deserved both a father and a mother, even if they were her uncle and aunt. I knew I could trust them, and that they would come to treat Kya as their own. For all I know, she could be convinced that they are her mother and father. It wouldn't matter anyway. I practically fell off the face of the planet nearly two years ago.

Anil walked beside me down the hall, "Okay, but don't come too late. You know how busy it gets down there near quitting time. And I'm sure you won't be interrupting his work. He may be the chairman, but he always has time for his friends and family. Just ask his father!"

"You don't say?" I said, pretending to be amused.

"Yes; in fact, I think the chief stopped by just a little over a week ago. Too bad you weren't here; I'm sure you and him would have liked to grab a drink or something together.

"A...drink?" I questioned, worried that Anil had somehow learned of my addiction. If he found out, I'd never hear the end of it.

Anil let out a loud laugh, "Got you, didn't I? I know you don't drink. The only time you've ever consumed even an ounce of alcohol was at your wedding, but that was years ago!"

I faked a chuckle to hide my relief. "Yeah..." my fake smile disappeared into an ashamed frown, "...years ago..."

I wasn't ashamed to be drinking, just so you know. It was the only way to ease the pain. I was ashamed about having to lie about it. I should have just blurted out to the entire temple that I'd become an alcoholic. Wouldn't have changed anything; they had no jurisdiction when it came to my health. I could do anything that I damn well pleased, and they couldn't do anything to stop it.

"Oh, by the way," he began, stopping in place and taking an envelope from a pocket inside his robes, "Since you've been away for some time, I assume you may be short of a few yuans." He handed me the envelope, and I had a pretty good idea as to what was inside. I proceeded to open it and found a nice allowance of about 300 yuans divided into a collection of tens. I sent Anil a look of surprise.

"I'm hoping this didn't come out of your own pockets," I said in concern.

He let out a light chuckle, "Of course it did. It's not much..."

300 yuans is 'not much'? Now he's just being modest...

I closed the envelope and handed it to him, "Anil, I can't take this. You earned this money; there's no reason why you should just give it away."

He shook his head in denial, "I want you to have it. I won't let you walk around the city with only 2 yuans in your pocket. Please, just take it..." he urged reluctantly.

I sighed. I knew I couldn't get him to change his mind. He was pretty stubborn when it came to things like this. Then again... so was I.

"All right," I said in defeat, placing the envelope in my jacket, "but don't expect me to not pay you back," I told him with a firm eye.

"Ha-ha, all right..."

We eventually made it out the dorms and into the courtyard. I thought that this was where we'd finally part ways, but then I remembered that we were both getting off this island right about now. We'd probably have to take the same ferry, too... That is, if I don't fly into the city? Nah... I didn't feel like it. I wanted to keep as unnoticed as I could in this city, and flying over it would definitely not go unnoticed. Moreover, everyone would immediately know it was me. How many other airbenders in the city were there? I was the only one...and I always would be. I wasn't going to go and have sex with some woman just so I could continue my race. There was only one woman in the entire world that I'd want to continue my race with...but she was gone...

Finally, Anil shut his mouth when we boarded the ferry. I thought he'd never stop talking. While Anil may have been a politician, he was definitely a talker. If you tried, I bet you could carry on a conversation with him for hours. Luckily for me, I never tried it myself. But Sokka sure did. I'm pretty sure Katara and I went to bed somewhere in the middle of one of their conversations, and I'm not even sure if they fell asleep talking, or completely talked one another into blissful sleep. All I know is that we found them both one morning with their heads collapsed on a table, snoring their heads off.

It didn't take long for us to reach the harbor. This would definitely be where we'd part ways, unless Anil had the intention of following me around all day. If it came to that, I'd just have to ditch him the best I could. It would be fairly easy... It might bring some attention, but it'd be better than being followed around. I'd just simply have to use earthbending to drill into the ground and tunnel my way to an alley or something.

Fortunately, it didn't come to that. He said his "farewells" and grabbed a taxi-carriage. I breathed a sigh of relief and proceeded down the streets, scouring for a decent cafe to fill that pit of mine I called a "stomach."

Eventually, I found a small family restaurant. I had come here a few times before. Whenever Katara and I had some type of disagreement, I'd usually come here for a pot of coffee and a place to think. It wasn't exactly my favorite place to find a meal, especially considering that she was no longer around, but I just shrugged it off. I didn't feel like going anywhere else. I just wanted a bite to eat...

I pushed open the clear, glass door as I removed my hat from the top of my head. I took a moment to look around. It hadn't changed much. It still had that blue and purple layout. It was actually a cafe that served Water Tribe cuisine. Go figure, huh? The one place I went to after an argument was a cafe that served food similar to that of her own culture.

I took a seat in a curving corner booth and proceeded to pick up the menu, which hadn't changed much either.

"Good Morning," a sweet, cheerful feminine voice spoke.

I raised my head to see a waitress in a blue tunic and white apron. She was cute, I had to admit. I could tell by her features that she was definitely from the Water Tribe. She had these sparkling purple jewel-like eyes. Her brown hair was braided into a long, tail-like whip, and she had a betrothal necklace on, so I assumed she was married, or at the least, engaged. She had in hand a small notepad and pencil, ready to take my order.

"What can I get you, sir?" she asked in a tone so nice that is was shocking.

I broke my gaze to take a quick peek at the menu. "May I get a coffee and, uh, just some seaweed noodles, please?"

"Sure thing," she replied as he scribble in her notepad. "Anything else?"

I took another look at the menu to see if there was anything else I required to fill my growling stomach.

"No, thank you," I eventually replied.

"All right, so a coffee and a bowl of seaweed noodle, correct?" she asked to confirm as she looked to me with a bright smile.

"Yes, that's right," I replied, smiling back.

The waitress then headed into the kitchen to add my order to the rack. Now I just had to wait. My eyes wandered around the restaurant aimlessly in an effort to pass the time. All of a sudden, my ears were shattered by the sound of an infant crying loudly. I was quick to discover the source. A small family a three was sitting at one of the booths lined up along the wall. The father seemed to be a dockworker judging by the overalls he was wearing. I assumed that the mother was a housewife and that the small family had decided to have breakfast together before the father had to go back to work.

The mother and father tried to quiet the fussing child, taking turns rocking him in their arms.

Before I knew it, the waitress returned with my coffee and noodles. The first thing I did was take a sip of the coffee, my eyes not removing from the small family. I wondered, What must that be like? I myself would never know... Without Katara, I couldn't raise a family on my own. It wouldn't even be a family then... Just a father and daughter, cursed by the Devil who took she who was most precious to the father.

Sokka sat at his desk in his office at City Hall with a mountain of papers stacked on the sides. His office was pretty large, but was mostly empty. It was tinted blue with a crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, and behind Sokka's desk was a bookcase containing a series books and scrolls. Along the walls were various paintings and yin-yang scrolls. On his desk was a lamp and a few picture frames.

Sokka was always hard at work, forced to look through various documents until the day was out. He was just waiting for something else to come up so that he could get out of his office for at least some period of time. He was always first to arrive in the morning, and usually the last to leave at night.

He heard a knock and raised his head to see Anil in the doorway.

"Morning, Anil," the chairman greeted as his gaze returned to the documents, "You need something?"

Anil made his way into the office, "No, not really," he answered, taking a seat in the chair placed in front of Sokka's desk. "But you won't believe who showed up on the ferry last night..."

Sokka chuckled, "I bet it was my father again, right? He sure likes to drop in all of a sudden..."

"Actually, for once... no," said the Air representative.

The chairman raised his head, "Zuko?" he asked quizzically. "Huh, I'd think he'd come in one of those airships of his..."

He shook his head, "Nope, not the Fire Lord."

Sokka put down his pencil and placed his elbows on the desk, intertwining his fingers and resting his chin on them, "Then who was it?"

"It was our long-lost friend Aang himself..." Anil announced with amazement in his voice.

Sokka's eyes widened in surprise, "Aang...?" he questioned. "Aang's back home!"

He nodded, "Yep. Arrived last night around ten."

Sokka's gaze turned to one of the pictures on his desk. It was of him and I smiling widely with our arms around each other's necks, hugging one another tightly. He smiled lightly and turned back to Anil, "It's been almost five years... and here I thought he'd never come back."

"Me too. I was quite surprised myself, especially when I saw that bouquet of flowers in his hand."

Sokka quirked a brow in question, "Flowers? What would he need flowers for?" he asked himself before the realization hit him. He groaned loudly, practically banging his head against the desk. "How could I forget?" he asked himself with a voice of shame. "It was their—"

"Fifteenth anniversary..." they both said in unison.

Sokka groaned again, "How could I forget? Every year those two would test me and see if I remembered! By now, I should be able to remember it on my own!"

"Well, something tells me he wasn't exactly in a happy mood about it," stated Anil mysteriously.

Sokka raised his head in curiosity, "What do you mean?"

Anil sighed, "The moment he got back on the island, he went to their old room. I don't what happened in there, but later on in the night, I heard him screaming something. He seemed to be angry at someone, too. All I know is that before he went in their, he requested complete silence," he explained.

Sokka's eyes drifted off to the side and his voice quieted, "He must still be upset about what happened..."

"I imagine so... I ran into him this morning and asked him if he wanted to stop by here sometime later."

The chairman shook his head, "He doesn't have to," he said before an idea came to him. "Actually, I think it might be better if I invite him over for dinner tonight. I'm sure he'll be surprised as to how much Kya has grown."

Anil agreed with a nod, "I'm sure he will. I bet you two have a lot to catch up on."

"Yep, that we do," he chuckled. "If you wouldn't mind, ask him to come around six, okay?"

Anil stood up from the chair, "No problem, but, uh, Sokka?"

Sokka looked up at the representative, "Yeah?"

"I think he's changed a bit... He's let his hair grow out, and doesn't even wear his Air Nomad attire anymore," explained Anil with a tone of worry and concern.

"I'm sure he's fine..." he lied, knowing full well that I wasn't.

Anil shrugged in an unsure way, "If you say so..." he said as he headed out of Sokka's office.

Sokka kept the appearance that he had continued work, but the moment Anil left his office, he put down his pencil and looked off to the side where, next to the picture of him and I, was a picture of Katara and I from our wedding day. However, Sokka wasn't necessarily looking at me, but at his sister. Tears developed in his eyes as he looked back on that night where the both of us were more afraid than we had ever been in our lives. He tried his best to muscle up a smile while his eyes stayed locked on her.

Sundown had come, and my evening temptations rose to the surface. I went out and found a pool hall not too long ago. Right now I sat at the front counter on one of the bar stools with a glass of whiskey in my hand, watching the other patrons gamble their money foolishly. Some of these people were complete idiots, betting at least five yuans each game. The most anyone had won was fifty yuans. About an hour later they lost it to some hustler. I had seen it coming... Anybody with a full-functioning brain could have seen it coming.

Across the room I heard a bunch of guys groan in defeat. Apparently they had just lost a game, and apparently a good bit of money. I made a wry chuckle and pulled out a carton of cigarettes that I had bought earlier. I placed it on the tip of my lips and snaps my fingers, creating a small flame on my thumb that lit the paper-wrapped stick of tobacco. After letting it smolder for a moment, I inhaled the tobacco for a good moment before blowing out a cloud of smoke from my nostrils.

I put the carton back in my jacket and gulped down the rest of my whiskey before getting up off my ass and heading over to an empty pool table. I must have played at least two games by myself before one of the other patrons approached me just before I started my next game.

"You seem pretty good," he complimented with a crooked look on his face.

"If you aren't any good, what's the use of playing?" I shrug to him as I light another cigarette.

"My point exactly. So listen, what's to say you and I play for a little cash?" he asked as he separated in hand a couple ten yuans.

I puffed out a cloud of smoke as I contemplated my response. "That depends: how much you got?"

He smiled and nodded, knowing that I was into the idea. "How much you got?"

I quirked my head to the side in a shrug, "Enough..."

"Same here," he responded. "So how much you wanna play for?"

I chugged down some simple beer before responding,"Fifty each; winner takes all..."

He looked to me with question, "You must have some confidence to risk that much."

I crossed my arms and a grin of competition rose, "It's like I said: 'If you aren't any good, what's the use of playing?'"

We were both game. We took out our money and set them on the edge of the table. I gave him the first move. I couldn't really explain it, but there was a familiar look in his eye. Like me, on the outside we both seemed like normal gamblers who bet all their money on billiards and then wasted it on booze, but I could tell from the look in his eye that he wasn't just here to pass the time. He seemed to have some alternate motive; like he had also gone through some tough times.

As the game went on, we both seemed to be equally matched. I took the solids while he took the stripes. He got in at least four stripes before he finally was unable to pocket one of his own. I took my position, lining up the cue stick with the cue ball with one eye closed as a cigarette smoldered on the tip of my lips. In a quick motion, I jabbed the cue stick forward, sending the white ball on a collision course with my orange 5-ball. I had predicted it would smack against the bright-yellow 1 ball and that both would be sent into separate pockets. The 1-ball made its way into the upper-right corner pocket and the 5-ball into the right-middle pocket. I heard him groan in dissatisfaction and I looked up at him and smiled wryly. I then proceeded with my next shot, which would pocket both the brown 7-ball and the blue 2-ball, and with any luck, the red 3-ball. Unfortunately, I was only able to pocket my 7-ball.

After failing to pocket my next shot, my opponent took his shot. While he did, I purchased another whiskey on rocks. I won't go much farther into the details. Partially because that was about the time I stopped paying attention to the game. All I can be sure of is that I won the game my pocketing the 8-ball into the bottom-left pocket. He didn't seem to be too disappointed. He gave up the money he bet with no regret.

"You played well," I remarked, suddenly finding an urge to get to know him better. "Why don't I buy you a drink?"

"With my money, no less..." he replied as we made our way to one of the small tables on the other side on the bar.

As a waiter proceeded to pass by us, I called out to her, "Get us both a shot of tequila."

She nodded in response and took off. "I don't believe I caught your name," I said to the man sitting across from me.

"It's Kazuto; what's yours?"

I wasn't stupid enough to give him my real name, so I just gave him the same alias I gave everyone else, "Kuzon," I answered as the waitress sat down our drinks. I tipped her with a few yuans before she left.

"So how long you been playing pool?" he asked me.

"About four years now. I played almost every night when I lived in the Fire Nation, but I left there a little over a year ago."

"No offense," he began, "but you really don't seem like a guy who hangs around a bar all night."

I shrugged as I picked up my small glass of alcohol and threw it down my throat in one quick motion. I sat back in my seat, "I didn't used to..." I responded.

"Me neither," he stated, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it with a match. "You know, you remind me of myself," he placed the paper-wrapped tobacco in his mouth.

I raised an eyebrow, "How so?"

He pointed at me, "That look in your eye every time you sip a drink or puff a cigarette. I doubt anyone else notices it, though."

I continued to eye him quizzically, "What are you talking about?" I questioned.

He chuckled, "You got that same look I got—the same look I've had for about ten years now. Plus, I can just tell by your actions, Kuzon."

I rolled my eyes. This guy didn't know what he was talking about. He didn't know what I was going through.

Kazuto snorted, "Yeah, go ahead and roll your eyes," he leaned forward, "Look, I didn't join you in that game just to see if I could gain a couple extra yuans. I wanted to get to know you—find out what your problem is."

"Your out of your mind," I rolled my eyes again, "I don't got a problem..." I said firmly. "But if you claim to have one, let's hear it."

He sat back in his seat as he chugged down his shot of tequila and sighed, "If that's how you want it... Ten years ago, I worked a full-time shift at the docks unloading cargo from ships. I usually didn't get home till about seven at night. My wife and I had been married for only two years, and we were expecting our first child. But one night, while I was at work, a waterbender broke into our apartment..."

I didn't like where this was going. I started to think, Maybe we have something in common.

He broke eye contact, "When I got home that night, I found the apartment torn up. All our valuable possessions were gone. We'd been robbed, but that wasn't the worst part. I found her body in our room, covered in blood. He had killed her; slashed her throat open..."

I remembered that murder. Sokka mentioned it one night when he got back from work. He said that they found the guy, some lowlife in need of money living in an alley not far from there.

My eyes drifted to the side, "I lost my wife about five years ago. She wasn't murdered, but..." I couldn't bring myself to say the rest.

"A lot of bastards in this city don't get it, do they? They think that our methods of coping are irrational."

I thought back on my last week in the Fire Nation, when Zuko discovered my addiction. He said that I was being unreasonable, and that I was throwing my life away. What life? I had no life without Katara. If it hadn't been for her, I would have never mastered the elements, I would have never became a fully-realized Avatar, and I never would have helped create the United Republic of Nations.

"You're telling me," I retorted before ordering another whiskey. "I left the Fire Nation because one of my 'friends' tried cutting me off from alcohol, and now I'm trying to avoid my brother-in-law. "

He shook his head in displeasure, "Alcohol is your only resort?" he questioned.

I shrugged, "The nicotine in cigarettes helps a bit, too. There something wrong with that?"

"No, I just thought that by now you would have heard about the other resorts available in this city," Kazuto began to lead the conversation.

I eyed him curiously as I lean forward, "What other resorts?"

He cautiously looks around for a reason I couldn't fathom. He reached into his coat pocket and took out his carton of cigarettes. I continued to eye him quizzically as he took out a small stick that looked like a normal cigarette, but the tips were pointed, like it had been twisted. He casually slid it towards me.

"What is this?" I demanded as I put my hand over it, catching the impression that this wasn't a public product.

He leaned towards me, "It's got a couple street names, but I like to call it an 'antidepressant'," he whispered softly.

I immediately caught on to what he was referring. My eyes widened slightly in shock, "You carry around drugs? You know that's illegal, don't you?"

He scoffed, "Illegal to those who don't understand how helpful it is. I tried to commit suicide last year, but thanks to this stuff, my life's become five times easier."

Easier, I questioned. Maybe... maybe this stuff will make the dreams go away? I contemplated as I thought back on the pain-inflicting dreams. But the island is full of Acolytes. What if someone found it? If they were as honorable as I believed them to be, they wouldn't hesitate to turn me in.

I slid the drug back over to Kazuto, shaking my head. "Sorry, Kazuto... But I don't do drugs."

The man rolled his eyes, "Look, why don't you just take this one as a trial run, no charge whatsoever. If you are sure you don't want anymore, no problem. But if you do, just say the word," he tried to persuade me.

All of a sudden, I saw our waitress come forth with more of our drinks. Without giving it anymore thought, I quickly snatched the drug out from the middle of the table. What was I thinking? Was I seriously considering to become a drug addict? Maybe I just didn't want Kazuto to get caught with it... Either way, I was now in possession of an illegal drug.

"Here are your drinks," the waitress says as she sets down two glasses of whiskey on rocks.

"Thanks," I responded as I proceeded to take out a couple yuans from my wallet.

"I got it," said Kazuto, handing the woman a twenty. "Could you also get us a couple shots of vodka?"

"Right away," she responded.

Once I was sure she wasn't within distance to hear me, I turned back to Kazuto, "Before I even consider lighting this thing at all, what the hell is it?"

"Cannabis..." he answered.

I was blank. I'd never heard of a cannabis. I continued to gaze at him with no change of expression, signaling that I needed further explanation..

He rolled his eyes in slight annoyance, "It's marijuana; you know: pot, weed, reefer, whatever you wanna call it."

I made a contemplative sigh, "All right, I'll give it a try..."

He smiled in satisfaction, "Good... but if you get caught..." his expression changed and his face tightened firmly with a serious look in his eyes, "...you better not sell me out."

I became a bit uneasy as I nodded in agreement and hid the joint in my cigarette carton. Since that seemed to be the ideal hiding place for Kazuto, I considered it one as well. But still... This wasn't just a bottle of liquor. This was an illegal product being smuggled in from all sorts of farms in the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation. Moreover, Sokka and the rest of the Council weren't taking this stuff lightly. When he first heard of all types of drugs appearing in the city, he put together a special task force to stop people from distributing them. But then again, that was about eight years ago, and for all I know, they haven't come any closer to stopping it.

Moments later the waitress returned with our recently ordered drinks. I got to know Kazuto a bit better. He'd been living in Republic City since his honeymoon with his wife ended. They used to live in Makapu Village, and apparently it was Aunt Wu who had introduced them about sixteen years ago.

We drank our shots of vodka, and I immediately noticed the strong buzz it caused in me. We ordered another couple shots of vodka, becoming overwhelmed by the alcohol content. By now we were sure to be completely intoxicated. I don't remember much after that. God knows whatever Kazuto and I did. Before I even knew it, I was sitting alone at the front counter with a bottle of whiskey in my hand. My head lay there on the counter, whereas the rest of my body just slumped forward. My arms were completely motionless. I thought that maybe I had passed out and that I was just now waking up.

I heard the dropping of footsteps approach me. I couldn't hear anything else besides that. The room was completely dark other than a couple lights hanging just over the counter. I assume it was closing time, but I couldn't move a muscle in my body. If I tried, I could probably sleep here all through the night and not even realize it till morning.

Now the footsteps stopped, and a shadow of darkness swept over me and a female voice shattered the silence. "Sir? Sir, are you awake?

I might as well have been passed out. All those drinks had drowned me in a pool of fatigue and nausea. If I even tried to get up, I'd probably fall flat on my face.

I heard another voice enter the room. "Pardon me, but I'm looking to see if my friend is here."

I recognized that voice, but my extreme drunkenness made it impossible to match it up with the owner's face.

The footsteps began again, but this time they were leaving. "This may be him over here, but I can't be sure."

"Thanks," the voice said and the patter of footsteps began again.

Each and every sound made my head ache. I decided that if I went to sleep right now, I wouldn't have to endure it any longer.

"Hmph... Haven't seen that arrow in a while," the voice said as its owner loomed over my body, "Long time no see, buddy."

I must know this person. Not only had the voice become more familiar, but even the woman who had been trying to deduce whether I was passed out or not didn't even notice the arrow on my forehead.

I didn't want to be bothered, especially by someone I knew. I managed to gain some control over my empty hand and proceeded to stick out my middle finger.

"Not the response I was hoping for..." he murmured. "Come on, Aang. Is that really how you greet your big brother-in-law?"

Big brother-in-law? I questioned in my head. Oh, God no...

It was Sokka. Now the match was definite. Out of all the people in the world, why'd it have to be him? I managed to pick my head up from off the counter.

He crossed his arms, "You know, I invite you to dinner and hope that you would at least say you couldn't make it. Instead you have Anil search the entire island only to deduce that you're nowhere to be found, and then he has to come to my house to tell me so. And then I have to miss out on dinner with my own family to scour through dozens of bars just to find you."

You're own family? All you got is a wife who can't have children...

"I was busy..." I managed to respond.

I didn't see it, but I knew he was rolling his eyes, "'Busy...' Well, I didn't know that getting drunk was such a time-consuming activity."

"Screw you..."

He sighed, "Alright, come on. Let's get you home," he said as he removed the bottle of alcohol from my hand and proceeded to throw my arm over his neck, pulling me onto my feet. Like I said, I could barely move my body, so most of the time we were wobbling from left to right from the difference in balance.

Eventually we made it outside, where Sokka sat me inside an ostrich-horse-drawn carriage. I found myself laying down across the seats, while fatigue and nausea overwhelmed me. Just moments later, my body jerked backwards as we took off. The world grew darker and dead silence took over. My aching head and exhaustion finally took the controls and I fell into a deep sleep.

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