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Jan 20, 2020 12:50 PM
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In a certain city of the Fire Nation, there is a massage parlor. Some would refer to it as a "massage parlor," cordoning it hygienically between quotation marks, but that's not entirely fair; only some of their business is prostitution. Most of the rest is, in fact, perfectly licit massage.

The fraction that remains is illicit massage, a much more complicated proposition.

Effort is put in to keep the secret to Ai-Li's massage a genuine secret. He practices his craft in a dark room, filled with candles and incense to cloud the mind, and it doesn't hurt that his typical clientele are less interested in the massage than what comes after. All things considered, there's very little reason to suspect him of being a secret waterbender.

If someone were to pay attention, though, the Full Moon Ten-Yuan Special might be something of a red flag.

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On the night of the full moon, Ai-Li has a new customer. A very nervous looking new customer, who stares at the floor and manages a word that might be hello.

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(The floor's covered in a carpet of some kind, soft without being absorbent. If it has a pattern, it's not visible through the haze of incense.)

Well, this is kind of adorable. Probably got pressured into it by friends, or something. Ai-Li isn't gonna worry about it; if he rabbitchickens out before the end it's no skin off his back.

"Hello, sir. If you would remove your clothes and lie in the tub, I can begin your massage."

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He does so. This does not make him any less nervous.

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Well, no. That's his job. 

He climbs into the tub. The water, as he steps into it, does not splash, just admits him with barely a ripple. He surveys the task at hand.

Ai-Li is very, very good at his job. He can learn a lot about someone by seeing them without a shirt on. Judging by the tightness in his back, the boy in front of him is under more stress than the lower half of the walls of Ba Sing Se. 

"What do you do?" he asks, semi-rhetorically, as he begins to press his fingers between Zuko's shoulderblades. "You're, what, sixteen? The last time someone came to me with this much tension between his shoulders he was forty years old and worked in a quarry."

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"I guess you could say I work for my father. He's, uh, demanding."

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"I suppose it's better than working for a father who isn't demanding, in some ways. No one can accuse you of nepotism, certainly."

As he gets into the massage proper, the water in which Zuko is submerged almost seems to act on its own. The tub has its own currents, running gently along the bumps of his spine. It feels almost like an amorphous hand is stroking him like a cat. (It's very soothing.)

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He gives a little jolt when the water starts massaging him, but relaxes into it more than he relaxes into Ai-Li's hands.

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Huh. Touching is maybe not this guy's favorite thing in the world. Which is kind of unfortunate, because he paid for a massage and Ai-Li can't do that with just waterbending and still maintain his cover. (He so wishes he could do a full-bending massage. Goddamn Fire Nation.) Even so, he increases the water's strength a little bit closer to the border of believability. This guy deserves a break.

Talking would probably be a good idea, to distract this guy from the supernatural activity occurring in the region of his spine. It's a pity Ai-Li is so shitty at talking.

"So, what brings you here today?" he tries. "I don't get the impression you do this a lot."

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"My sister thought it would be a good idea."

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"Your sister recommended you a whorehouse?" Ai-Li coughs. "Massage parlor, sorry. Slip of the tongue."

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"She's an... unusual person. And she thought it'd be good for me I guess."

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"I suppose I don't have room to judge; I've got an unusual sibling too."

There is at this point a faint luminosity to the water. It could easily be explained away by refracted candlelight, if one were unfamiliar with the soothing warmth of waterbender healing. And didn't have any small abrasions on their body to abruptly vanish. 

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Zuko notices, but he doesn't say anything.

"You do?" he asks.

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"My brother. He works here as well; he actually got me the job in the first place. So I really don't have any room to judge."

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"Do you..." he stops in the middle of his question and takes a while to finish it, "like it?"

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"Yes, quite a lot. I'm good at this. As you may be able to tell."

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He tries to respond to that and can't quite get the words out.

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Ai-Li is content to work in silence. 

Eventually comes the moment of truth. For his own amusement, Ai-Li puts a bit more seduction than usual into his voice when he says "The massage is complete, sir. Would you like any additional service?"

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"Like what?" Zuko asks, clueless. 

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...that's adorable. Ai-Li almost feels bad for corrupting this innocent turtleduckling. 

Almost.

"There are... other services I offer. I am well versed in the arts of pleasure."

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"Other services?" he sounds vaguely curious, still not getting it.

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By the light of the Moon, he still doesn't get it.

"The arts of pleasure, sir. ...I'm asking if you'd like to pay extra to have sex with me."

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"Oh, oh."

Zuko blushes bright red. 

 

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"Rather. Not to upsell myself, but I'm very good at it."

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"I... I..." he stutters, "I don't know if I should."

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