Sokka was exhausted. Well, maybe exhausted was too strong a word, but he was tired and hot and cranky and so done with this. Looking for Appa was all well and good, but traipsing all over this godforsaken city in this kind of heat was inhumane. He needed food.
“Ka-atara…” he whined. “Can we please stop for a drink?”
His sister turned to glare at him.
“Sokka, if I have to put up with any more of your whining…”
“I’m not whining!” he flopped over onto the nearest stoop, prostrating himself across it to illustrate the depth of his despair. “I just need FOOD!”
“I think you need a kick in the ass,” Toph grumbled. “Want me to give it a go?”
“No!” Sokka yelped. “NO kicking, Toph!”
“Is Baby too delicate?” Toph snorted, leaning over Sokka menacingly.
“No!” Sokka repeated, crossing his arms over his chest protectively. “I’m too tired. And hungry! Did I mention hungry?”
“Only about a thousand times,” Katara said. “Don’t you care about finding Appa?”
“Of course I do!” Sokka said, apparently with enough outrage that Katara’s expression softened a little. “I just doubt I’m any use in my depleted state.”
“Don’t you have anything to say about this, Aang?” Katara rounded on him, hand thrown out to make it clear that the this she was talking about was her prone older brother.
“I think that we won’t be able to find Appa if we aren’t at our best,” Aang said gravely. “How about we leave Sokka somewhere to get some food and circle back for him later?”
“Fine!” Katara sighed. “Where do you think?”
“How about there?” Toph pointed in a random direction, her finger ending up aiming straight down an alley, “That seems to be getting a lot of traffic.”
Katara peered down the alley, her face disapproving, “I think that’s a brothel, Toph.”
“Perfect!” Toph grinned. “That’ll occupy him.”
“I am not unopposed,” Sokka said cheerfully from the steps.
“Uh, no, that’s probably not a good idea,” Aang chimed in, ears going red. “How about there?”
He was looking at a squat, slightly rundown little building wedged in between two much larger shops. It had a sloped tile roof that had seen better days and its warped wooden shutters hung at slightly odd angles. The sign above the door read “Pao Family Tea House”.
“I guess that works too,” Sokka said, slowly pulling himself to his feet.
“Good. We’ll be back for you in a few hours,” Katara nodded smartly and turned away. “Don’t spend all your money!” she turned back around to fix him with a stern look, “And don’t you dare go down that alley!”
“I won’t!” he promised, but he heard Toph snickering as they walked away.
“Bet you Snoozles is gonna have to ask you for a whole different kind of healing when he’s done there,” she was saying, “the embarrassing kind.”
“Huh?” Aang asked.
“Don’t listen to her,” Katara’s voice was dwindling with the crowd. “If Sokka gets syphilis, that’s his own prob—“
Sokka turned away, a little aggrieved that his sister would abandon him to the ravages of disease just to prove a point. He looked at the little shop. It didn’t seem promising, but he had agreed to it, so it was his best option.
Throwing a quick glance down the alleyway, he pushed the front door open.
Inside it was packed. He stared around in disbelief. There were two rows of tables lining the front room and a counter in the back where someone with dark hair was ringing up a long line of customers, his head bowed as he scribbled out a receipt. Sokka’s view was suddenly impeded as a very large man squeezed out from behind the table directly to his left and veered in front of him to join the queue. Sokka took the opportunity, diving for his vacant seat before any of the other patrons had a chance.
He landed on the hard wooden stool, ass both slightly bruised and incredibly happy to be sitting, and picked up the man’s discarded menu.
Excellent. There was a long list of various teas, and, crammed at the bottom, a selection of food items. What has the most meat? He held his menu in front of his face, trying to decide.
There was a dry cough from directly in front of him. He looked up, startled, and saw a wiry man with a very thin moustache standing in front of him.
“I’m Pao,” he said by way of introduction. “Ordinarily I don't serve customers, but as we’re so full today…” he gestured around the room. “What can I get you?”
Sokka ordered some noodles and tea, handed his menu over to Pao, and sat back to people watch. There really was every kind of person here. Even after his food arrived he kept watching curiously as everyone from peasants to Earth King citizens clearly from the Upper Ring filtered through the shop, some stopping in only for a cup, some staying to play lengthy games of pai sho, and some leaving with bulging bags of tea leaves for later.
It was an interesting place, and only managed by Pao and a few workers it seemed. The boy who had been ringing people up was still something of a mystery; he had his back to Sokka now, and Sokka couldn’t help craning his neck to try to get a look at his face. If Sokka was judging from just his body—and being brutally honest—he had to admit that the kid was hot. Really hot.
He turned, a tea tray balanced in his arms, and Sokka nearly dropped his chopsticks. That was not the kind of hot he’d been expecting.
Dark scar stretched across his eye, perma-frown dutifully in place, golden eyes flashing as a customer brushed by him and nearly dislodged a teacup… It was a horribly familiar face.