Chief Hakoda watched as Bato placed the final piece on his pyramid of empty shot glasses. All six belonged to the dark-haired warrior. More were sure to come before the night was over.
"Ya know what the problem with women is?" Bato asked without taking his eyes from his creation. "They care too damned much about the little details. Mess one of 'em up and..." He yanked one of the glasses from the bottom, sending them crashing to the table. "Everything goes to shit. They'll never let it go."
Not again. Hakoda hated seeing his best friend like this.
He glanced around at the other tables, thankful the majority of them were empty now that the orchestra was playing. The ball guests had migrated toward the dance floor, the only other souls present in the back of the throne room being Fire Lord Iroh and four senior members of the White Lotus. Judging from the amount of empty glasses at their table, all five men were as inebriated as Bato, thank the Spirits.
But Hakoda knew his friend would be flagged tonight regardless of where they happened to be sitting. If Bato wasn't trying to drown his past between a woman's legs, then he was drowning it in drink.
Hakoda cleared his throat. "Maybe you should lay off the vodka for the rest of the evening."
"I mean, what'sa big deal about a name, anyway?" Bato went on, ignoring him as he started construction on a shot glass tower. "They're justa buncha letters, am I right?"
Ah... his date.
Bato's woman of the week had canceled on him a half hour prior to the ball, the reason being he'd accidentally called her by the wrong name. By the way she'd raced out of the guesthouse with her hair in disarray and her clothes disheveled, Hakoda had a good idea what they were doing when the name was spilled. Not the first time Bato had come down with a case of foot-in-mouth with a woman in his bed.
Bato still hadn't come clean over what name he'd called her. He never did.
Hakoda only hoped it wasn't Miksa's.
Bato frowned as he placed the final piece on his shot glass pyramid. Six drinks and all they'd gotten him was twenty bronze pieces lighter.
"Ya know what the problem with women is?" he asked his friend of thirty-four winters. "They care too damned much about the little details. Mess one of 'em up and..." He yanked a glass from the bottom, sending the rest to the table with a satisfying crash. "Everything goes to shit. They'll never let it go."
Hakoda remained silent, but Bato hardly expected him to spout off an agreement. His chief crawled into a hole the day their wives died, cutting himself off from feeling anything for another woman. Hiding his pain under the mantle of leadership.
Bato wondered how Hakoda even came up with his Operation Procreation, Project Broodmare, or whatever the hell the plan was called. It all boiled down to whipping it out for the good of their tribe. Sounded easy enough.
Too bad it would never work, at least not for Bato. Not if he had to get married to do it.
Hakoda cast a nervous glance at the table of old fart White Lotuses--probably embarrassed now that he was a big shot world leader--and cleared his throat. "Maybe you should lay off the vodka for the rest of the evening."
Riiight... not gonna happen.
He wasn't nearly drunk enough. It was still there. The emptiness.
Needing a distraction, Bato started stacking the glasses one on top the other. M... I... "I mean, what'sa big deal about a name, anyway?" K... S... "They're justa buncha letters, am I right?" He crowned his creation with a fifth glass.
The most important letters of his life.
Not a day went by when she didn't haunt his mind, but the images she left him weren't the ones he'd wanted to remember. Hollow blue eyes fixed in permanent horror at an invisible attacker. An abdomen ripped open, spilling blood on their bedroom floor. Their child lying lifeless beside her, the cord still attached to its mother...
Both of them... gone.
Bato's vision blurred as he spotted a tray full of freshies moving their way.
Nope. Definitely not gonna happen.