Shop Mobile More Submit  Join Login

Similar Deviations
A/N: This first scene starts immediately where the last one ended.

["Tohff...?"]

"Urgh." From her booth, Toph growled with anguish at the butchering of her name over the speakerphone. She clambered around, reaching for her cane, but Sokka got up from his chair before she did. Sokka's meandering one-sided discussion had lulled to a stop at this interruption.

"Heh, chill out, 'Tohff,' I'll get it for ya."

"Meat-Head, I don't need-"
"Blablabla, I know," he spat out rapidly. "Shut up and sit while I get your food. No need to go stubbing any more toes today, Gimpy."

Toph's nose wrinkled at his teasing, but her guts swelled with joy at the comfort in his tone and his own willingness to do something of his own accord for her benefit.

"Fine," she made a huff of it, smirking as she relaxed back in her seat. The couple moments of reprieve gave her a little bit of time to reflect that following Katara and Aang's advice was working well enough so far. Sokka seemed more laid back around her than usual lately. Just a brief reminder of the guy she had become infatuated with in the first place was pleasant. For a little while she had found herself doubting why she'd ever started taking a liking to the buffoon at all. And yet in a mere few moments with just the two of them together the feelings felt reaffirmed.

-Skfff!-

"There ya go, Tohff."

Toph swallowed, blinking wide two times as she tried to wipe whatever stupid look had potentially fallen over her face. She quickly fumbled to sit upright in her seat, carefully reaching for the plate and cup that Sokka had set before her.

"Ha," Sokka laughed. "Man. Tohff. Maybe we should incorporate that one into the rotation of nic-"
["Sohkuh...?"]

There was a pause, and Toph's brief embarrassment gave way to a cocky grin, while Sokka frowned.

"You were saying?" she said, gripping her hands around her chicken wrap with care. She could hear his steps stomping off already, and she bit into her food with satisfaction. When he came back, there was a pleasant quiet between the two of them as they eagerly at for a little while. This was certainly something Sokka appreciated about Toph: the woman knew the value of quiet, eating time. Meals didn't have to be a constant jibber-jabber affair like most women wanted from him.

"So..." Sokka casually poked through their silence after a few minutes had passed and they were both nearing completion. "I heard...-" -Schllllrrrppp!- Sokka waited as Toph slurped loudly through her straw, her cup empty. "Heard that-" -Schllllllrp!- "Uh, heard-" -Ssscchhhlllrrrppp!- "Jesus, woman!" Sokka laughed out. "You're such a pain."

"I try my best," said Toph, flashing out her teeth to give Sokka an idiotic grin. She hoped she was presenting her face the way that she'd wanted to. When he snickered, she knew she had.

"Good on ya," Sokka sighed, humored. "Like I was saying, I heard you h-" -Sschhh-! He yanked the empty cup from her hand and slapped it on the table beside his own plate, and Toph flinched from the motion, but the two of them laughed some more. "Yea. Yea, that's what you get," Sokka taunted.

"Oh man, you sure showed me, Derp-Derp," said Toph with a blubbering accent. "Took my cup and everything. Woe is me." Sokka had to force out his words through more chuckles.

"I heard...that last weekend you met some guy and had your way with him?"

Toph's bright smile slipped away, and she leaned back in her seat with disinterest.

"And what if I did?" she asked coolly.

"Er...I...was just wondering. About that. Like, how'd it happen? What's this guy like?"

"You want to know what he's like?"

"Well, duh. I mean, seriously. What kind of guy could win you over so easily?"

Toph puffed out an amused laugh through her nose, her head bobbed in her slumped back position.

"He was nice," she mumbled simply.

"And...?"

"He was talented."

"Talented? At...like...-?"
"At music."

"Uh-huh."

"And it was just a one-time thing. Just a single date. We wouldn't work out."

"And that's it?"

"Pretty much."

"You did the dirty with this guy that you'll probably never speak to again, if only out of sheer awkward-avoidance."

"It wasn't dirty, shut up."

"You like dirt."

"Yes, but-"
"Dirty, dirty woman."

"So your sister-" Toph cut through his name-calling. "-tattle-tailed on me? Is that how you found out?"

"Ha, yea, basically."

"'Kay. But I already got a mouthful and a half from her, so I don't need to hear it."

"Hear what?"

"Your lecture."

"I don't have a lecture for ya."

"Good."

"Katara called you a 'slut,' though. Made me chuckle."

"Yea, well...What she thinks doesn't really matter, does it?"

"I...I guess not. I just thought it was funny."

"How is that funny?"

"Just...Katara complaining about anyone being a 'slut.' It just...is funny. Her, saying that kinda stuff. Like, just the sound of her voice speaking mean words like that."

"Ah...Heh. Actually, yea, she was in a real pissy mood before, when we argued about it - man, she was like swearing and everything. I found it kind of funny, too."

"Haha. Wow, good job. I can't remember the last time I got her that annoyed."

Toph chewed at the last of her wrap thoughtfully, and Sokka partook of the final bits of his bacon-cheddar burger.

"Is that what you think?" Toph asked after the pregnant pause, her eyebrows furrowed.

"Whuffatt?" Sokka spoke with a full mouth.

"That I'm a slut."

"Oh...Er...-"
"Yes!" Toph quickly decided for him based on his stumbling.
"Nooo! No-no-no. You're just...errm...-"
"You can just say it, Meat-Head. I don't care what people think."

"Assertive. Yea. That's the word."

"Tsh! Ahhh, all right. Sure, I like the sound of that. Smooth recovery there."

"Smooth as butter."

"Silk."

"Silk?"

"Smooth as silk. I mean, you can be like butter if you want, but...-"

"We both know I am way more like butter than silk."

"That's true..."

"Ouch. I thought you were gonna insist I was classier, like silk."

"Nope."

"Slut."

"Whore."

There was a pause between the two of them, both struggling to hold in giggles to maintain the air of mock tension. After barely managing this, Sokka continued, pushing to come off as serious.

"Wh-? Wow, that is...just...uncalled for!"

"Hey, if I'm a slut, you are totally a whore."

"What?"

"Dude. Please. The way you've been, like...pushing yourself out at women these days?"

"Eh..." Sokka shrugged in acknowledgment. "Fair point."

"I'd think you needed to get laid more than I did."

"Rub it in, rub-it-in."

"And I wish I coulda seen the look on your face when you found out that lesbian chick was just trolling you this whole time."

"OH MY GOD, I KNOW, RIGHT?" Sokka exploded, slapping the sides of his head in disbelief. "That was...-! And she just...-! Rrrgagh."

"Heh."

"Well..." Sokka sighed and scratched his nose. "At least me and Suki got to hang out and dance a bit."

Toph's stomach, full of soda and food, wriggled unpleasantly at the thought - but she knew full well that if she was going to defend her right to have a night with Ohev that she had no business criticizing Sokka's evening.

"And...how'd that go?" she asked, keeping herself calm as she ate.

"Eh..." Sokka sighed again. That seemed telling, in Toph's opinion. "It was all right. Like, it was nice, and stuff. We kissed, even."

"Oh?" Toph held in her dissatisfaction. Her brain kept repeating Katara's advice about just...being his friend.

"Yea, it-...Oh! Oh, man." In an instant, Toph could tell he was elsewhere by his vocal pattern changing.

"What?"

"Our booth. Those people left our booth."

"Oh. Well...hell, we gotta go claim what's rightfully ours."

"Right? Let's do it." Sokka scooped up Toph's empty cup, stacked her empty plate under his own, and trashed the lot of waste into a nearby bin. By the time he did this, Toph was on her feet, cane in hand. "Need an escort there?" Sokka wondered with some grumpiness.

"Nah, I'm all good," Toph answered with nonchalance, finding her way around the tables. She almost whacked one student in the knee, and nearly bumped another in the head.

"Uh, actually-! Toph? Hey, wait..." Sokka pursued her through the sea of tables, muttering some apologies as he whipped by folks. By the time he'd caught up with her, she'd already reached the row of booths by the edge of Appa's. She was heading for the wrong one, however. "Right!" Sokka called out, nudging her with a gentle press against her left arm.

"Ohp-! This the one?"

"That's the one."

"Ladies first," Toph teased. Sokka made her jump by applying a light smack to the back of her head. After she heard him sit down, she slid into the booth on the same side as he was sitting. Side-by-side, their backs to Appa's front counter, they faced the restaurant. The booth ahead of them had been emptied out, and the table to their left was about to be open, as well, as the single student sitting near them finished their food.

Toph fiddled with her ponytail, making sure Sokka hadn't messed it up somehow, while Sokka tapped his chin.

"Where were we...?"

"Suki?" Toph flatly replied, her mind still intent on finding out more about that.

"Right! Yea. But, man..." Sokka ran his hand through his hair, which was hung down today. "That woman's just confusing. It's like she wants one thing one day, and another thing the next."

"Ha! Yea, that's women, Pal, better get used to that. With how crazy Katara is, I'd figure you'd get it already."

"Well, give her some slack, here, Katara's having a rough time of it lately."

"So? You said she called me a slut."

"She did. I thought you said you didn't care?"

"That's not the point, she called me a slut because she thinks I can't make good decisions for myself." Toph had ended things on good terms with Katara, sure. But knowing that the woman was calling her bad names behind Toph's back didn't settle well, nor did the concept of Katara tattling about her personal life to Sokka, of all people. In hindsight, Toph was figuring this must've happened before they'd had their blowup, but...still. "She's just annoying, is what I'm saying. Paranoid."

"Uh, yea. That's...kind of her thing. Like, my thing is sarcasm. Aang's thing is...-"

"Being nice?"

"Yea, let's go with that."

"Katara's thing is being all controlling and preachy and yelling at you like you're a kid, and-"
"Hey, whoa, whoa, let's stop that train at the tracks, here, Miss Mud-Slug. All slugging mud around."

"Slinging mud."

"Right, right. Come on, now, though."

"Lemme guess. Now you're going to try telling me that your sister's not as annoying as I make her out to be?"

"Nah, she's...pretty much a pain." Sokka sighed and complained in a meandering manner of speech. "She's always gotta be right about everything, and she gets all bossy, and involved, and...in your business..."

"Chyeah. You said it. Seems like every fuckin' week, sometimes every day, I have to deal with her jumping down my throat, trying to tell me what to do. And then now, with her mood lately? It's fucking ridiculous, she's a walking mine field. Sokka, I don't know how you deal with her sometimes and her control-freak-mode."

"Actually, in a way...I rely on it."

Toph's brain did a double-take. That had not been the answer she'd expected.

"I don't understand," she mumbled dryly. Toph was touched by the way Sokka's voice shifted gears to a somber pitch.

"When our mom died, that was the hardest time in my life. Our family was a...mess. But Katara, she had...so much strength. She stepped up and took on so much responsibility. She helped fill the void that was left by our mom, even though she was hurting just as much as we were."

"Oh..." Toph's stomach churned with guilt from how easily she let herself forget those circumstances of Katara's youth. "I guess I never really...thought about that..."

"It's the truth. It was during that whole time that Katara really...changed. She grew up so much in such a short time. She started caring about things...way more than she had used to. Caring about us - me and our dad."

"She...became like your glue," Toph murmured thoughtfully as a sympathetic smile crept over her cheeks. "She held you together. Just like...she does now. With us."

"Mm-hm." Sokka's face matched Toph's look as the two of them spent a quiet moment of reflection over their mutual connection to Katara. Sokka's eyelids squinted shut, his eyes quivering from the pressures created by the maelstrom swirling within his brain. His heart yearned to let something he'd been holding spill out. He didn't understand why, but he felt compelled to confess this very personal concept with Toph in that moment.

"I'm going to tell you something crazy," he said cautiously, glancing to his side. "I've never told anyone this before," he pointed out with a rare touch of timidness that startled Toph. Her heart pounded hard once or twice at this. He was going to tell her a secret? He had never told her a secret before. Not something with that tone of voice. "But, honestly?" Sokka went on, looking back out to the hum and buzz of the restaurant. "It seems like my whole life...Katara's been the one looking out for me. She's always been the one that's...there. More than anyone else. I mean...sometimes it feels like the entire reason she went to this school is just because I did, like she came here just to stay here to keep taking care of me. And these days, when I try to remember my mom - and I know it's weird - but Katara's is the face I picture."

"But...That doesn't make sense, you have, like...photos of your mom...Don't you?"

"I told you it was crazy," Sokka grumbled with some shame. Toph wished she could swallow up the words she'd just carelessly spat out. He was trying to open up to her for a change and she was being stupidly insensitive. Sokka covered his eyes with his palm, his cheeks slightly warm with embarrassment. "Ugh, see? It's weird. It's dumb, I don't even-"
"No, no," Toph rapidly spat out with an intentionally apologetic tone. She turned her face to his general direction and reached out her arm. It found its way across Sokka's shoulder. She found her own solace in the heft of his meaty back beneath her arm, separated only by his cotton shirt. Her hand clenched down on his bare bicep and she squeezed him with empathy. "I get it. That's...actually very sweet."

"You think so?"

"I do. And the truth is, sometimes - er, a lot of times - Katara does act motherly. But, like...that's not always a bad thing. I know sometimes I can be a real bitch...but she's always there for me, too, just like she is for you when you're a dumbass." Sokka shot her a dark look, and she kept going without skipping a beat or allowing him to protest her insult. "We fight a lot, we piss and moan at each other, I know, but...Katara is compassionate, and kind." Toph swallowed hard, her heart pumping from her contact with Sokka and the swelling emotions of this moment as the reality of just how much she loved the people she'd befriended at this school splashed across her. "And the whole reason she acts the way she does...I know it's because she actually cares about me." Toph's eyes were tearing up and she casually rubbed her left palm up across her cheek. "Ya know...the real me. The prick, the bitch, the...stupid child I am sometimes."

"The 'awesome,' too?"

"Ha, y-yea, the 'awesome,' too...Katara loves me for who I am. All of me. And...and that's...-" She sniffed and exhaled a shaky breath, surprised at her own trembling. "-...that's more than my own mom," she acknowledged sullenly.

A heavy silence hung over the two of them, though the shuffling crowd of students across the restaurant served as a strange but soothing backdrop, like a trickling waterfall of human voices.

"Don't tell her I said any of that," Toph broke the moment, brusquely wiping tears from her face, as Sokka took the opportunity to dry his own eyeballs. Part of her wanted to land a punch of threat right into his side...but the sensation of holding him in her arm was too pleasant to risk breaking it off like that. "I want to tell her myself," Toph added solemnly.

"Hey, my lips are sealed," Sokka answered, shrugging up his shoulders, which were still caught within Toph's arm. "Uh...So, like...you do want a hug this time, or...-?"

Toph's heart skipped, her teeth clenched, and she desperately hoped her cheeks were not as visibly warm as they suddenly felt. She couldn't form a word in reply. Sokka went on, his eyes nervously darting this way and that.

"I know before you said that you'd 'say so,' but, uh...like, I thought you didn't like my 'meaty meat-hands' on you." I hate seeing girls cry and crap, but I remember last time we had a touchy-feely talk and I tried the hugging bit she freaked the hell out. What's up with her today? Must be the estrogen. It's always the estrogen. Mucks up their brains. Yep.

"Umm...Yea, that's-...But my hand is on...you. So. It's different." Oh-god-oh-god-oh-god I'm messing it up messing it up fuck fuck urgh-

"Yea, I...don't quite see your logic. I think all this girl-talk has your estrogen levels overflowing. I can see it coming out of your face. Ha." Wow, what's going through her head? It's like she's all embarrassed that we had a moment. It's cool. I can dig it. The feelings, the talking. See? I can do that stuff. Being all...friendly and having girl-talks. No problem. "So...we should hug it out and call it a day."

"Yes. Sure. That. With the hugging, and being happy." Jesus fucking christ Toph you moron shut up your face.

"Let's just...bring it in, then. Keh-mon." Sokka squirmed his left arm up and around Toph's back, and he twisting his torso. Toph was confused, still swimming in the complex emotions from their conversation, but sexually aroused and elated, all at the same time. She couldn't compute that Sokka was awkwardly trying to hug her for a second of two. When she came to, she immediately tilted her head down, hoping against hope that he wouldn't be able to tell how embarrassed and aroused she was at the warmth of his arms around her, hugging tight. Sokka, likewise, was relieved that his waist was pointed in another direction, because the squishing sensation of her bosoms against his chest, though brief, was alluring all the same.

Sokka made sure to slap her back roughly, and Toph reciprocated the notion, baffled at the past two minutes' events entirely. Sokka cleared his throat and nodded, essentially to himself, as they naturally broke off.

"Yea, see? We can...be all, like...talking about our emotions. And stuff."

"Almost like adults n' shit," Toph sheepishly laughed out.

"Almost," Sokka clarified. Both of them still had an arm lingering across the other one's back. Sokka retracted his awkwardly, and Toph immediately flung her hand from his body, as well.

How had this even happened? How had that gotten...there? It started from, what? Complaining about Katara? And ended like that?

Wow, Sister-Face. Even when you're not here, you're still helping me hook up with your brother. You must really approve.

"So! Yea." Sokka nodded to himself some more, off-put and thoughtful about what that interaction had all meant. "Good talk."

"Good talk. Yep."

"Mm-hm."

"Warm fuzzies all around," said Toph.

"Giving our minds some...mental health."

"Say what?"

"Erm, talking. Openness, and...honesty. Whatever. Like, it's good for you."

"Oh. Uh, right."

"That sure is a thing we just did."

"Sure is."

"I'm...gonna go order a milkshake now."

"Uh...Me, too!"

The next twenty minutes were spent discussing Sokka's network-problem-thinger that had begun the conversation as well as Toph explaining Ohev's amazing sight-reading abilities, all while slurping away at yummy milkshakes. The evening concluded with Toph and Sokka heading out across campus, side-by-side as they had sat, two partners in crime. Sokka didn't offer Toph his arm, and Toph didn't grab for it, either. Both were content with this: each walking their own steps, in their own manner, but each parallel to the other. When they reached a fork in the sidewalk, where one path led to Aqua House and the other down the way to Aero House, the two simply bid each other good night and went off their separate ways.

Sokka felt some relief that he had his friend back. He'd forgotten how fun Toph could be to have around when the two of them were in-sync with each other. Toph seemed to be carrying herself a lot better these days, he could tell. And perhaps more importantly, she just seemed...happier tonight, than in evenings past. More relaxed. It was like she was finally getting over all of that drama from the winter. Sokka was glad for her.

Toph's stomach swirled with butterflies. She wanted to pound out a chord on her electric guitar and shout, rattling walls with her joy and excitement. Every moment had felt right back there. It was invigorating. She really felt like she had a shot with him. The thrill of trying to 'win' at this game of 'capture Sokka's affection' was all-encapsulating.


- Wednesday, April 20th, 2011 -

"Howdy there, folks!" cried the warm, energetic voice of the man behind the post office counter. "What can I send out for you today?" He was a wrinkly man with bright, brown eyes and a grizzled, gray beard. He was wearing a blue cap with the US Post Office logo embroidered across it. Both Katara and Aang were somewhat familiar with the man, since they'd at least pass him by all of the time. The post office of SRU was a square compartment built into the the basement of the campus center, residing on the opposite side of the floor from Appa's. Student post office boxes ran along the length of three of the compartment's four walls, one of which also opened up as the service counter.

"Uh, actually...-" Aang set the laminated red slip onto the counter. "-we're here to pick up a package, Doc."

"Aha!" The man winked at the them, disappearing out of sight for a couple seconds. Katara, familiar with the quirky old coot's routine, rolled her eyes with crossed arms and sighed through her nose. Aang playfully tilted her chin back up, sliding his thumb along her jawline with a pleading smile, hoping she'd cheer up.

The man reappeared, now wearing a red hat where the blue had once been.

"So it's incoming mail you're here for," he said, carrying himself in a somewhat more formal manner. He pointed a finger their way as he scooped up the slip Aang had set down with his other hand. "What's the name?"

"Kesuk," Aang answered.

"Katara," his girlfriend added in her first name for clarification. She figured the loon would have an easier time with that name.

"Just a jiffy, kids!" The spritely man bounded around the room, scoping out shelves out of sight. Aang scratched his hand across Katara's back, her arms still folded. She looked quite tired. He wished he could figure out a way to help her. "And here. You. Are!" 'Doc' gently pushed the small, rectangular box over the counter.

"Thanks," said Aang, giving the man a wave as Katara moved away from the counter, letting the next student in line up front. Aang went to her side, where she was hovering by the recycling bins, examined her new box.

"It's...from my dad," she muttered.

"Your dad?"

"Yea..." Katara rubbed at her eyes, double-checking the mail-back address on the package. Yea, {Hakoda Kesuk}. And that was definitely her home address. She suddenly found herself splashing through a puddle of remorse. Her father had come all the way down here when she and Aang had been in the hospital, and she'd hardly spoken with him since. Life was just so stressful, and she didn't even know what they'd talk about, and...part of it was that in talking with him, that on its own led to some guilt these days.

"So..." Aang rocked up and down on his heels. "What is it?" He reached out and rubbed a hand across her lower back as she stepped over to the nearby recycling bin. She tore open the package and discarded the remains into the blue, plastic bin, which was packed with mail scraps and other pieces of cardboard. Katara was frozen with emotion by what remained in her hands: a leather-bound journal with a single word impressed into the cover: {family}

"Aw...That's really nice," Aang murmured in her ear whilst he wrapped his arms around her waist.

"Yea, it is," Katara agreed, her eyes glazed over. She ran her fingertips over the indentations of the letters on the front cover.

"You can go back to doing that thing you wanted to do," Aang observed, watching Katara flip open the book. She was a little disheartened that it was totally blank. Last time the journal had contained some entries written by her dad. How come that wasn't the case this time?

"I can," said Katara. The firmness of the fresh binding crackling ever so lightly in her hands as she closed the book...it was like music. She leaned back into Aang, nuzzling her temple against his neck as her eyes slipped closed and she tugged the journal to her chest. "I just...I don't know what to write in it to start out now," Katara bemoaned with a bit of a whininess to her tone.

"That's OK, just give it some time. You'll think of something."

"Hm..." Katara looked at the front once more: {family} "Hey. Aang."

"Yea?"

"I want...you...to start it this time."

"What? But...but I'm not your family, Katara, I-"
"Yes you are, don't be silly."

"Ha..."

"I mean it. You know, I think...I really want this to be, like, my whole family, writing in here. You know? That includes you. Especially you."

"O-OK," Aang gave in. "If you insist...I'd be honored to."

"I'm glad."

The two of them were pressed against the back wall, facing the post office's slow trickle of activity. They both took in a moment of respite during this busy school day, each knowing that classes were looming before them.

"Hey, guys."

Katara opened her eyes to see the sharply dressed Zuko standing before her. He nodded to Aang, then Katara. Katara straightened herself out and stood more upright, still enveloped in Aang's loving arms.

"Hi, Zuko," Aang greeted back. Katara just gave a reciprocal nod. She noticed that Mai was now at the desk, a few cardboard tubes in hand as she spoke with 'Doc,' who was now garbed in his blue hat.

"How are things going?" Zuko asked, lifting his Jasmine Dragon cup to his lips to sip from his coffee as he awaited a response.

"Uhh, they've been better," Aang admitted with a nervous shrug. "Just...you know. Surviving."

"I know how that goes," Zuko sighed out, scratching the back of his ear. "Um...So, I forgot to ask at the dance, but...-" He looked clearly hesitant, but pushed through his doubt. "-...how's your back doing, Aang?"

"Oh, it's...-" Aang shrugged with a slight head shake. "Yea, it's fine. Much better. Hardly hurts anymore. It, uh...left a decent scar, but...-"

"Ah, that's-...Well, I mean, I'm relieved to hear it's healing well, but...that's a shame about the scarring."

Aang and Zuko's interaction had carried a somewhat awkward tone ever since the United Republic had burned down. Zuko hadn't outright said it, but Aang could tell that the guy felt guilty, as if he were somehow partly responsible for Aang's injury.

"Actually, I...don't really mind the scar," Aang admitted with an embarrassed smile. "Heh. Adds character, I guess. Besides, it's...like a mark of proof of...-" Aang kissed the back of Katara's head. "-...how much I love this lady here." He grinned stupidly, and Katara's cloud of gloom cleared up at this gesture. "So every time she sees it, it'll be like a...strong reminder that I'm never going to let anything happen to her." The two both leaned their head over Katara's shoulder to exchange flickering eyes of affection for the briefest of moments.

Mai was at Zuko's side at this point, her poster tubes mailed out, and she cast a sneaky smirk in Zuko's direction.

"See, Zuko? I told you scars can be romantic," she told him with that sneaky glint in her eye that Zuko adored. "You just have to-...How was it you put it? The silver lining thing?"

"Take a bite of the silver sandwich," Zuko chuckled out with a face-palm in spite of his own phrase creation.

"That's it," said Mai with a nod, her hands on her hips. "Scars can be romantic, you just need to take a bite from the silver sandwich."

"What?" laughed out Aang, sinking his chin onto Katara's shoulder. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail today, and he could tell it wasn't clean, but that meant that it smelled more like...Katara...today. And he didn't mind that. "What's this about a sandwich?" Aang mumbled out, confused.

"Nevermind," Zuko shamefully dismissed the matter with a flick of his wrist, drinking more of his coffee. "Anyway, we have to get going - I have a meeting coming up soon." Zuko pushed up his buttoned sleeve, double-checking his gold-plated watch. "Uh, but...it was nice seeing you two."

"Yea! We should try meeting up again some time soon," Aang called out to the couple, who were making their way toward one of the staircases that led to the center's main lobby floor.

"Sure! I'll shoot you an e-mail when I have time," Zuko called back, waving them off.

"Bye, guys," bid Mai. "Don't offend anyone with all that PDA stuff, all right? You might want to dial the cuteness down a notch or two."

Aang smirked at Mai's picking, watching the couple vanish. When he looked back down to Katara, she seemed lost in her murk of discouragement once again. He gave her a light shake.

"Hey. Sweetie."

"Mmph."

"C'mon...We've gotta go, we have classes in a few."

Katara inhaled a deep breath through her nose, like a yawn, and broke free from Aang's grasp. Aang kept one hand latched to her waist as they made their way to the stairwell they'd just watched Mai and Zuko go up through.

"Hey. Ms. Eskimo," said Aang, scratching his fingertips along her side. "Come on. What could we do to help cheer you up tonight? Mm?"

"I don't know, Aang," Katara huffed with some impatience. She was starting to get a little tired of Aang asking this every day, and her hardly having an answer for him. She knew he meant well - it wasn't him she was annoyed with, it was her own lack of a proper response to that question.

"You were in a good mood yesterday, right? You told me."

"Well, yes, but...that's because I was helping Toph out with her...boy situation, and...-"

"And you actually helped," Aang pointed out. "She seemed so happy last night. She, like...called me just to tell me about how things had gone well with him."

"Ha. I remember, I was there, in the room with her."

"Oh. Right. Well, but-...See? You helped out a friend, and it made you feel better."

"So, what are you suggesting, Aang?"

"Wh-? I-I'm not sure, I'm just...pointing that out. Like, it might be a good idea to think on that."

"Yea...I guess."

The stairs were surpassed, and the couple traversed outside, onto the campus sidewalk. It was that after-lunch hour, where people were scuffling about to make it to their one o'clock classes. Not far off down the way, but heading in a different direction, Mai and Zuko walked, hand-in-hand. Zuko was in his usual: tucked into his black trousers, a button down shirt of maroon with a golden, satin tie accenting his simple apparel. Mai, beside him, looked entirely different, wearing baggy black goth pants, metal rings lining the sides, her tall, thick-soled boots of black, and a logo-less T-shirt to match the dark color scheme. The pair were like dawn and dusk, their appearances acting like counterweights to each other.

"What's this meeting about?" Mai casually asked, after they'd finished a brief bit of small-talk over the company they'd just encountered.

"Nothing special, really."

"Why do you look worried about it, then?"

"Ah, well...There's one detail I can't seem to figure out."

"What's that?"

"One of our security guards quit last week, and especially with...-" Zuko glanced around them cautiously. "-...how crazy...you-know-what...has been? We really need all the security we can afford."

"Sounds kind of stressful."

"Yes. And the problem is, I can't seem to think of anyone to suggest, and everyone's expecting me to come up with some recommendations since I was the one who got asked to look into it."

"Hm..."

Mai contemplated the matter. A security guard? Did she have any ideas? And then it came to her.

St. Patrick's Day.

Aang's scuffle outside of the United Republic - that racist little prick...She couldn't remember his name. But she could remember Aang's friend, Korra, slamming the guy down with no problem, restraining him with ease.

"What about...Korra?" Mai offered a suggestion.

"What's that?" Zuko mumbled, though he was already processing the concept.

"Korra. I've seen her deal with...violent types. She's actually pretty strong and capable. And she does still need work, right?"

"Mm." Zuko's brows lifted thoughtfully, and he rubbed his chin. "I think so, yea...And, well, actually-" Zuko tapped his index finger to his lips as he remembered some details. "-now that I think about it, I do think she had some relevant training, too."

"Katara's dad is a police chief," said Mai. "I think I remember Korra mentioning that she had originally wanted to get into her uncle's line of work. So...-"

"Hm." Zuko nodded thoughtfully. "I'm a little worried that she might be a little too reckless, but...on the other hand, we don't have a lot options right now. No one's applied ever since we posted the opening, and we need it filled ASAP. So, yea. That's a good idea, Mai."

"Of course it's good - it came out of my brain."

"I expect nothing less."

[link] <-- Part 1
Part 3 --> [link]
[link]<-<--Chapter 1

Gah, these chapters, man! I'm making them so long. xD Here's the second part. I hope you guys like it. I'm personally pretty happy with how the Toph and Sokka scene turned out, I liked being able to finally capture a reinterpretation of their moment in 'The Runaway.'

Thumbnail from this brilliant pic that depicts part of this chapter's final scene:
Show
Add a Comment:
 
No comments have been added yet.

A/N: SRU now has a FACEBOOK page, just add 'WhatILearnedatSRU' after Facebook dotcom. =)

Just want to point out that this chapter picks up right where the last one left off - continuation of that scene, and a week has passed during that abstract montage scene.
</p>

What I Learned at SRU
Chapter 61 - Confused


- Friday, February 11th, 2011 -

"Wow. Shocker," Sokka sighed to his sister sarcastically, shaking his head as they swiped their student IDs to get into the cafeteria. "Putting yourself in the middle of everyone's drama makes your life dramatic? Who-would-have-thunk-it?" He cast an amused glare at her while they grabbed utensils and plates.

"I know, I know," Katara pleaded, cocking her head back in frustration. "Sokka, I'm not expecting you to understand."

"Heh. Good, 'cuz it defies logic. You're a crazy person."

"I just really need to talk with someone right now, and...-"

"I'm the only not dramatic person to talk with." Sokka rolled his eyes as he they entered the line to the main entrees.

"W-well...Yes. I guess so..."

"All right. Lay it on me," Sokka muttered in a tired tone, his back facing her.

"Um...Can we maybe...get our food and sit down first?" Katara requested, miffed by what she perceived to be her brother brushing her concerns aside.

After they'd collected their meals and found a small table, Sokka stared blankly at her for a moment as she fidgeted with her fork, shuffling her mixed vegetables around.

"Soo...?"

Katara blinked up at him, then took a bite, half of the food she'd scooped up falling back onto her plate.

"It's all...bleh. I don't even know where to start..."

Air puffed out of Sokka's nostrils with impatience as he scratched at his scruffy, unkempt goatee.

"Well, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that Freckles has been giving you issues?"

"Agh, yes...Kind of...Did she tell you?"

"Nnnot exactly, but...We do work together, so...I got the feeling. She's not exactly good at hiding when she's in a pissy mood."

"Yea..."

"Tell her to give you some space, right?"

"Pretty much..."

"She's still not over you, huh?"

"No..."

"That's kinda awkward..."

"I know, right?" Katara clenched her hands up at her sides. "I just wanna...like...smack her upside the head, and be like, 'hey, let it go!' Urgh. Ya know?"

"Heheh...I know the feeling."

"And all this bullcrap with Aang and Toph, it's really frustrating. They're both avoiding each other, and I'm stuck in the middle."

"Weren't you the one who suggested they avoid each other in the first place?"

"Th-that's-...I-I guess so, but...but still, it's...aggravating."

"That's what you get for getting involved, Sis."

"Oh, so I was...what? Supposed to just sit and watch them keep fighting with each other?"

"Fff. Hell if I know."

"Exactly. So don't go...all acting like I'm some idiot here..."

"I wasn't, yeesh. Chill out." Sokka frowned at Katara's wide eyes and flared nostrils - tell-tale signs that she was in quite a fussy mood.

"Everything has to be so complicated. It's been like this for...for weeks now. Months? I don't even know...Sokka, why do I keep getting myself involved in all of this complicated junk?"

"Why are you asking me?"

"Because I feel like I shouldn't be, but...but I just keep doing it."

"You know the reason why you get involved, Katara."

"Huh?"

Sokka took a sip of root beer and stared at her knowingly for a moment. She look perplexed. He reached his arm out toward her neck, grasping at it, to which she flinched and leaned back slightly. The motion caused the object Sokka had been grasping to slide up from under her sweater - a smooth piece of round sapphire attached to a band. Her mother's necklace.

I'll never turn my back on people that need me.

"Sis, I'm not gonna tell you to not...be yourself. I know better than that."

"And that infuriating English Professor, and...everything else..."

"Yeeehhp. Sure is school, ain't it?"

Katara, her forehead buried in her fingers at this point, took sighed out deeply.

"You ever miss the old days, when...-" She wiped her sleeve across her drippy nostril. "-...Saturday mornings were the best thing ever?" She laughed weakly in spite of herself.

"Yea," Sokka said with a warm smile. "Dad would cook french toast and we'd sit on the couch with Mom and watch cartoons...And she'd pretend to get all into it with us..."

"Heh..."

"Simple days, simple times," Sokka noted with a slow nod. "Ha." He waggled an index finger as a thought hit him. "What is it Shamrocks says...? 'Little things amuse little minds?'"

Katara smirked, recalling the phrase that Jane would use from time to time - usually in reference to Sokka.

"Yea...I know," Katara muttered with a sniffle. Stupid nose, getting all runny... "We have to deal with bigger...things for...better reward...It's just been...a bit much lately."

"We should go out tonight."

"Huh?"

"Go out, see a movie. Ya know, something we can do together without all the social pressure. Ya get me?"

"Hm." Katara pushed hair behind her shoulder and took a bite of her vegetables. "That sounds like a really good idea, actually..."

"Awesome. Let me get in touch with everyone, then, and I'll get back to you when I've got everything worked out."

"Oh..." Katara stared at Sokka with confusion. Wait, whoa...Sokka was going out of his way to set up a social outing? That was...a nice departure.

"Hm. Prolly shouldn't invite Toph, though, huh?"

"What's that?" Katara muttered, snapping back to her senses.

"'Cuz of how her and Aang are trying to keep their distance and junk. And I mean, c'mon...movies don't exactly do a lot for ol' Dead Eyes, am I right?"

"Yea," Katara agreed, trying to cope with the situation. She didn't like the idea of leaving Toph out of a group activity, but at the same time, it was Toph seemed to want given her actions over the past few days. And Sokka was right - why would Toph want to go see a movie, anyway? Especially when she was sick? The foolish girl was stubborn and insisting on walking out in the cold in sandals - on her own, she claimed to not like the lack of feeling that boots subjected her to. It was probably best for her to stay in and rest up, anyway.

"Then it's settled. Movie night."

"Movie night."

"So, um...Would I be able to get your thoughts on some of the details going on here?" Katara wondered.

Sokka sighed through his nose and bit his lip cautiously.

"Honestly, I'd really rather just stay out of all of this stuff...No offense."

Wha? But...you're my brother, you've always been around for me to bounce ideas off of...What gives?

"O-oh...Sure. I understand," Katara mumbled in reply, perplexed and distraught. She had been hoping she could get Sokka's no-nonsense reassurance and advice on the finer points of these matters.

"Is school going all right, though?"

"Ermm..." She swallowed her personal concerns. Maybe she shouldn't be burdening Sokka with them, anyway. "It's...Y-yea, it's OK, just having a hard time with that Pakku jerk..."

"The more I hear about the guy the less I want to ever meet him."

"Consider yourself lucky that you haven't yet..."


"Man, it's been...forever since we went to a movie..." Aang yawned from the backseat, rubbing his full stomach. He'd eaten a hearty dinner and was ready to relax.

"Yea, like...since Thanksgiving, maybe?" Sokka guessed from the steering wheel as they drew close to Wayward.

"It's good to get together," Aang continued to push out his enthusiasm. Katara couldn't help but smile from the passenger seat at the joy in his voice. She glanced at the mirror above, seeing Aang's eyes glowing with excitement. How could he be in such a great mood, with all of this social tension going on? In the middle of the backseat, Suki was relaxing, and to her left Jane was staring out her side window, dull and unamused.

"Yea, it is," Katara agreed with Aang's statement. "We've all, um...-" She coughed a couple times and wiped her nose. "-...been pretty busy these days, right?"

Silence fell over the car.

"It's good to be at the weekend again," Suki offered up awkwardly, trying to break the ice.

"Hell yes, it is," Sokka agreed heartily.

"Hey..." Jane cast a sly look toward Suki. "How come you're not sitting up front with your boyfriend, anyway?"

"Huh?" Suki replied, jaw slightly agape. Sokka had requested that Suki sit in the back due to "social stupidness," but Suki was not entirely aware of the details. She was just doing as asked.

"What, are you guys avoiding each other, too?"

"Uh, no," Sokka quickly replied.

"Ah, so it's Kat who's the one playing keepaway..." Jane's scowl projected to the front mirror, causing Katara's eyes to immediately avert.

No, no, God, no, not this again...

"I don't see the problem," Jane continued to cast out with passive-aggressive flair. "I mean, I'm sure Twinkle-Toes here would be happier with you in the back seat..."

"What...?" Sokka mumbled, confused and oblivious.

"Oh, is...is there something between you two going on?" Suki probed with gentle optimism to the right side of the vehicle, wiggling a finger between the two.

Aang struggled to act aloof and shrugged.

"Psh," Sokka discounted the theory with an eyeroll. "Sounds to me like Shamrocks here is just projecting her problems out on everyone else."

"Seems like something that's been going around lately," came Suki's stiff words, her eyes closed, lower jaw out. Sokka swallowed hard, drumming his fingers along the steering wheel sheepishly.

"Hey, I'm not projecting shit, I'm just pointing out how when two people date they shouldn't hide it..."

Katara's fingernails dug into her jeans while her nostrils popped open wide.

"I'm not dating anyone!" she growled, glaring at her friends through the mirror as she wiped at her nose. "OK?"

"So all that touchy-feeliness with you two is just me makin' shit up?" Jane retaliated.

"Oh, stop it," spat out Katara, without thinking. Another cough. Words lacking forethought poured out in defense. "Aang's just a good friend. He's like a little brother to me!" She just wanted Jane to leave her alone and push back any suspicions.

In the moment after she said these words, however, she immediately cast her gaze to Aang, who was watching snowy fields pass by. His expression stung with disappointment. The very sight pricked at Katara with a focused, deep needle of regret.

Agh. No. Shit. Grrrahh. I didn't mean that! No, that came out wrong! No, no, Aang, stop pouting. With the pouty face. Awwww...Damnit.

"Ah," Jane nodded slowly, seeming to relish this admittance. "Guess I must be...reading into things, then." She shrugged with nonchalant satisfaction. "My bad..."

"It sounds like all of you are having a problem with assumptions," Suki threw out her opinion with a cautious sigh.

"That's women, bein' sensational for ya!" Sokka jeered with a stupid grin. Maybe if he pulled attention toward himself, they'd all stop being drama llamas on each other?

"That's Sokka," Katara grunted, "being sexist for ya!"

"I'm just joking..."

"That's all you do," Suki sighed from the backseat. Guhhhh, and there it was again. She wouldn't let up...What did Sokka have to do to please her all of a sudden?

"Hey, someone has to try to lighten the mood. Right, Aang? Bro?"

But Aang's attention was lost. Was he even listening at this point? Sure didn't look like it...

"Sweetie," Suki huffed, "Your 'Bros' are not going to help back you up when you're graduated in a few months and don't have a job..."

"Heh," was Jane's commentary to this, an amused smirk on her face.

"Could everyone stop, please?"

Silence fell at Katara's thundering request. She wheezed out a pair of sickly coughs.

"Is it...-? Can we just...not be in a car together without...without all this?" Her voice was cracked, throat beginning to get sore. "I mean, it's so-...Urgh. Toph's not even here, and we're still at it! What's wrong with us?"

"What's wrong with you?" Jane wondered, baffled by Katara's overreaction. "Missing out on your meds lately, or something?"

"Huh? That's...-" Katara shook her head in slight, quick motions as she suddenly realized that she couldn't recall when she last took them. That was a bad sign.

"Fff. Figured as much," Jane's eyes wound around in their sockets. "No wonder you're wiggin' out..."

{Welcome to WAYWARD}

"Maybe this is why we haven't been doing anything together lately, guys," Suki pointed out with a tired tone. "Seems like you all have...things...you need to figure out..." Piercing eyes pointed to the mirror and in turn the driver. "Let's agree to stop this and just watch our movie. How does that sound, everyone?"


"Where are you going, now?" Sokka muttered with confusion as Aang rose from his seat.

"Oh, I...actually need to go to the bathroom," Aang explained in a rush, scurrying out of the chair at the end of the movie theater row and out the double doors. His eyes adjusted to the light and he headed for the bathrooms. His head was still in a panic over what had transpired earlier on the ride over. He hadn't been able to take his mind off of it. The familiar, beautiful bush of brown hair he'd come to admire was instantly recognizable from between the two bathroom doors.

"Katara..." Aang was frowning with disappointment as he stared at Katara's back while she drank from the water fountain. "Did you really mean what you said earlier?"

"Huh?" Katara feinted ignorance, wiping her lips with her sleeve. "Whhhat are you talking about?"

Aang's eyes wandered away from her nervous curiosity. "Back...with the others. In the car, when you said I was just like a...'brother' to you, and you didn't have feelings for me..."

Katara felt like throwing up her popcorn in that moment. The rejection in his eyes was scalding hot against her heart, which was simultaneously sinking like a stone.

"I didn't mean...-! That's...not what I said, I...-"

She was in damage-control mode. Aang knew it all too well - she was just trying to avoid hurting his feelings. Was this why she'd been avoiding him all week?

"So it's true, isn't it?" Aang snapped with quiet bitterness, jamming his hand in his pocket. "We kissed the other day, and...I-I thought that meant we were gonna...be together..." He ran a trembling hand through his hair. "But we're not."

"Aang..." Katara whimpered with a sniffle, latching a hand to her arm with a wistful, sideways glance. "I don't know..."

"Why don't you know?" Aang demanded in desperation, flicking out his wrist.

"Because we're...-" She dropped her arms in anguish, eyes rolling upward in thought. "-in the middle of a lot of stuff right now, and you only just broke up, and...-" Her eyes sneaked off to the side as she dabbed at her nose. "-...we have other people to worry about. This isn't the right time..."

"Well...When is the right time?" he grumbled with an impatient shrug.

"Aang, I'm sorry, but...-" Katara huffed through her nostrils, closing her eyes to avoid her trepidation of looking at his own. "Right now I'm just a little confused..." She tugged at one of her twin braids, stroking both hands down along it with a mixture of anxiety and doubt.

Her eyes bulged open wide as Aang's lips smacked against hers without provocation. She tightened her mouth and pulled away immediately, nostrils open wide with discomfort and irritation.

What the hell? OK, it was kinda cute the first time, but...No. Not gonna work the second time, Bud...

"I just said I was confused!" she snapped through grit teeth. Her eyes flamed out her aggravation at Aang, and she ignored the pain of watching his expression crumble into that shock of rejection again. "I'm going inside," she huffed, whirling around, unable to stand the sight and all the more enraged that it affected her as much as it did. More hacking was forced out as she made her exit.

Aang watched in stupefied silence as she stomped off. Oh, crap, why had he done that? He just couldn't help himself, could he? He pounded at his forehead with his palms and growled out in anguish.

"Urgh, I'm such an idiot..."

A hole in his chest, Aang sighed to himself, disposing of waste in the restroom while his mind burned with regret. Ashamed of causing the disturbance, Aang waddled back to his seat at the edge of the row, beside Sokka, who was leaning forward in his seat, captured by the film. His head sunk between his shoulders as his arms wound themselves across his lean waist, which felt like it was shriveling up.

"Oh, hey," Sokka whispered, completely unaware of Aang's discouraged mood. "Here's what you missed..."

But Aang wasn't paying attention. While Sokka rattled off details, Aang could only be bothered to focus on that lovely mane of hair in the seat just ahead of him, lamenting the notion that he'd never be able to run his hands through it. Gullgh, ah, what was wrong with him? How could he be so selfish? What would Toph think about this? She'd be devastated...And clearly, Katara was uncomfortable. Man, he'd really messed everything up good...And even Jane seemed all flustered - what was up with that, anyway? Probably just defensive about how Toph would feel about this...Agh..Sokka was right: getting tangled up with women led to all kinds of problems.


- Saturday, February 12th, 2011 -

[From: Aang]
[we goin to church tomorrow?]
[Sent: 11:23am]

[Reply]
[To: Aang]
[No. I'm sick. Have a good day.]
[Sent: 11:26am]

Katara groaned to herself as she closed her phone and dropped it onto her bed beside her pillow. Her nose tightened and tickled, eliciting her to frantically grasp for a tissue from her nearby supply so she could sneeze into it.

"Grughhh..." She dropped the tissue in the small trash bin beside her bed, staring up at the ceiling drearily.

Stupid Aang. Making everything complicated. Stupid Jane, being all pushy. Stupid Sokka, not even caring...Stupid Toph, getting all sick and making me sick! Rrrrgh...

"...rRrgHhHaAgHh..."

Speaking of Toph, her snoring had picked up and was practically deafening now. Just great. Katara had lost sleep over Toph's illness-induced snoring and had to wake the girl up a few times to make the noise cease long enough to fall back into slumber.

"Toph," she called with irritation.

Another loud, extended snore.

Katara's fist balled up, she punched at her pillow and she clambered out of bed, sluggishly making her way to Toph's bed. She administered a grumpy shove to her roommate, who was sprawled on her back.

"Zuhfugg...?" groaned Toph before pouring out a foul-smelling yawn.

"You're snoring again," Katara curtly explained.

"ShhhhiiiiIiIiIiIiittTtTt..." Toph slowly rolled onto her stomach as she moaned out the word like molasses. Her stomach gurgled out loudly. "Ullghh..."

"When was the last time you ate?" Katara asked in exhausted words/

"I dunfuggin know..."

"If you don't eat you're not gonna...-" Katara sniffed as she could feel her nose running wet. "-...get better...Guh..." On that note, Katara opened the half-drinken water bottle on her desk and took a few gulps before throwing herself back into bed, face-first into her pillow.

Tok. Tok. Tok.

Both girls could hear the door open up, and Katara rolled over onto her side to confirm that it was, indeed, Jane.

"What is it...?" she asked, her nose stuffy.

"Oh, err...I didn't...know you guys were still sleepin'..." Jane mumbled awkwardly, retreating back to the doorway.

"We're trying to..." Yep. Katara was still pissed at her about yesterday. Expected.

"Oh...'Kay...Sorry..."

After closing their door, Jane shuffled back to her bedroom. Asking Katara out to lunch was clearly not an option. In her empty room, she took a bottle of room temperature Mountain Dew she'd purchased from the snack desk the night prior and opened it up. She took her hormonal medications, washing them down with soda, and checked her phone, considering asking the boys what they were up to.

[From: johnny]
[what did you need?]
[Sent: 11:02am]

Her heart lept with excitement. It had been weeks since she'd heard from her friend, and at this point she was thirsting for some kind of social interaction outside of this group she'd gotten herself entangled in.

[Reply]
[To: johnny]
[hey! just want to catch up. you online? we culd chat?]
[Sent: 11:32am]

She sat in thought for a couple minutes, sipping on her soda as she booted up her computer.

[Calling...]
[johnny]

Oh, he was...calling her? In the blink of an eye, she turned the device on.

"Hello?" she breathed out with her raspy voice.

["...Hey."]

"Hey...What...erm...'Sup?"

["Still on the mend."]

"Yea...Gettin' better?"

["You could say that."]

"...Cool. That's...good."

["What's going on?"]

"Nothin'...I just, uhh...missed you a bit. Ya know?"

["Yea."]

Don't you miss me, too?

"Shit's...kinda whack right now."

["Uh-huh."]

"Uhh...Toph and Aang broke up."

Well, it was some kind of conversation, wasn't it?

["Ah. That's...too bad."]

"Yea..."

["You're holding up?"]

"Pff, yeaaa...I'm fine..."

["Good."]

Jane swallowed a lump in her throat as she wondered if he was struggling with the same mixture of emotions that she was.

"Sooo...Yea. That's been kinda awkward..."

["I believe it."]

"But...uhh...-"

["Mm..."]

"You?"

["Taking it easy..."]

"You're...heh...not in jail, right?"

["No, no..."]

"S-so...that's a good step."

["Yea...I guess so."]

"Uh...Wanna tell me...about how all that went down?"

["Oh, er...Sure..."]


- Sunday, February 13th, 2011 -

Zuko scrutinized the resume in his inbox, still confused by the whole thing. Aang seemed quiet confident in this candidate's ability, but Zuko had his doubts. He checked the time: [3:05pm]. They were late. Not a good sign. He glanced around the empty student office, aware that everyone else was probably taking the afternoon easy. He still had a stack of reading and homework to finish, not to mention some more technical papers that needed his attention. There was already enough he had to worry about without waiting around for-
["...~..."]

His phone went off. He verified the number on his display to match the one on the resume. They matched. He answered the phone.

"Hello?"

["Hey...Is this...uh...Mr. Kurosawa...?"]

"This is he. And this is Miss...-" He stared at the name for a second, bewildered. It sounded so familiar... "-...Kesuk, is it?"

["Yea, that's right."]

"Ah. Good. I've been waiting for you."

["Oh. Sorry, I literally just got in the door, Sir."]

"You can just call me Zuko."

["...Right. Uh...OK, Zuko."]

"So...Korra..." Ah, that was right...This was Katara and Sokka's cousin. That explained the familiar last name. And the distant location of her address. Canada? "I was told that you're interested in the open position we have?"

["Definitely."]

Zuko cleared his throat. "I couldn't help but notice that you're...quite far away from our location. You do realize we're in central Pennsylvania, right?"

["Oh, I know. Got family that goes to school there there."]

"Yea...Katara and Sokka. Correct?"

["Right. You know them?"]

"Yea, a bit...Regardless, you're...willing to relocate?"

["Obviously."]

Hm. Bit of snark, there. Zuko wasn't sure if he liked that or was off-put.

"I see. And...what makes this position worth such a huge move?"

["Uh, well...Keeping college kids in line, small town...nothing I can't handle. I'm ready for serious change of scenery, and being someplace where I can keep my eye on my kin - that's a big plus, eh?"]

"Mm...Well, as long as you're completely aware of what you'd be getting yourself into...Now, I have a few questions I need to ask..."


"Argh, no. Suki..." Sokka shook his head with disapproval. "I really don't think that's such a good idea..."

Suki glared at Sokka with crossed arms and a raised brow of skepticism.

"Oh. And I suppose you have a better one? Since you're Mr. Idea Guy?"

Sokka gaped at her snippiness, unsure of how to reply at first.

"Errr...You could...not get involved...? I'm pretty sure that's the best plan here."

"How can you say that, Sokka? These are our friends. And I'm sorry, but yesterday? That was ridiculous. What's going on with everyone? You seem like you're just trying to check out. And from what I can tell, Toph probably feels like she doesn't have anyone in her corner right now."

"Uh-huh. And...you're thinking that ought to be you?"

"Well..." Suki shrugged, surprised by just how defensive Sokka was being over this. "I don't see you doing anything to help..."

"It's not my business..."

"OK. Fair enough. You know what should be your business? Figuring out what you're going to be doing in a few months..."

"I told you, I'm...working on that."

"You'd better be. Sokka, this is serious stuff. We need to get our act together if we want to not be miserable once we get out of school."

"Right, yea, I know..." Gurgh, he'd heard this already.

"I'm not just going to sit idly by while our friends push themselves apart. I don't feel like there's much I can do, but I do know that I've made connections with some folks downtown - folks who'd be interested in Toph's music. The way Toph talks about it - and the way Katara tells it to me - Toph's music is about the only thing she feels like she has any control over right now. And I want to help her with that. Maybe iron out some of the wrinkles she gets with me."

"All right, I getcha..." Sokka sighed, scratching at his goatee thoughtfully.

Suki smiled weakly at him and placed a comforting hand on his rugged cheek.

"Things are going to fine, Dear. We just need to be assertive." She ran her hand through his hair, which was tied up in a tight, short ponytail toward the top-back of his head. "And you need to shave, and stop wearing your hair in a ponytail," she snickered, untying the band and scratching her hand through the thick, dry hair that fell down.

"It's a Warrior's Wolftail," came a sullen Sokka.

"Of course it is..." teased Suki as she kissed him on the cheek, his prickles feeling funny against her lips. Sokka stretched his arms around her waist as she leaned against him in their corner booth at Appa's, embracing their mouths together.


- Monday, February 14th, 2011 -

["YOU HAVE TWO NEW MESSAGES."]
[~BEEP~]

["Toph, it's your father again. You still aren't picking up your phone. If you aren't going to use it, it's a wonder we ever got it for you to begin with...Your mother and I have been talking, and we-"]
["MESSAGE DELETED. NEXT MESSAGE."]

["Hi, Toph."] Suki? ["Just calling to check in on you. I heard you and Katara are sick? Hope it's not too bad...Anyway, I actually wanted to talk with you about something. I know we've been kind of stalling about playing together as a band, but...I've noticed you still seem hard at work at your own music. Katara showed me your YouTube channel - you've got some nice stuff there. I was thinking maybe I could help you get a small-time show downtown. The Fire Cave is always interested in performers, you know? So...Get back to me. OK?"]
["END OF MESSAGES."]

Toph, sprawled on her back, her phone open on her stomach, yawned a great yawn - it was cut short as she suffered shortness of breath, causing the yawn to mutate into a wheeze. She whimpered at the discomfort. Her fuzzy mind lingered on Suki's offer. Seemed like everyone was turning their backs on her lately - yea, yea, her own fault, blabla bullshit, whatever...So why did Suki want to try and help? What was her angle? Didn't matter right that second, anyway. What mattered was that she needed to take a dump. Which required getting out of bed. Blagh. As she forced her self out of bed, she fumbled her hand over her alarm clock, tapping the familiar button.

["TWELVE TWENTY-FOUR PEE-EMM."]

'Kay. So much for classes today. Fuck...Whatever, she was sick. Psh, like she was learning anything at her classes, anyway...


[Facebook - Korra Kesuk]

[Korra Kesuk is movin to PA, bitchezz!]
[3 hours ago]
[12 people like this.]

[Sokka Kesuk - Wait, say what? O_O ]
[3 hours ago]

[Korra Kesuk - got the job! moving in a couple weeks! you can't escape me MWAHAHAHA!]
[2 hours ago]
[Aang, Sokka, Katara, and 2 others like this.]

[Sokka Kesuk - Holy crap! That's amazing!]
[1 hour ago]

[Katara Kesuk - I'm so happy! That's great! ^_^ ]
[32 minutes ago]

[Facebook - Katara Kesuk]

[Katara Kesuk Dear Life: mind letting up a bit, please? =_= I don't know what you want from me. Regards, Katara.]
[4 hours ago]

[Jane Fitzpatrick - sounds like you need to figure out what YOU want..]
[3 hours ago]
[Mai Chiao likes this.]

[Meng Beifong - HUUUG. hang in there katara. we're all here for ya!]
[2 hours ago]
[Katara Kesuk and Aang Leekpai like this.]

[Facebook - Aang Leekpai]

[Aang Leekpai is such a big stupid idiot! ugghhhh.]
[45 minutes ago]
[Sokka Kesuk and Korra Kesuk like this.]

[Meng Beifong - what happened? :( ]
[41 mintues ago]

[Suki Kyoshi - hey, don't blame yourself just because everyone else is having problems. you didn't do anything wrong.]
[32 minutes ago]
[Meng Beifong and Zuko Kurosawa like this.]

[Zuko Kurosawa - Sounds like you need another round of drinks at the Jasmine Dragon.]
[24 minutes ago]

[Mai Chiao - What my Darling Zuko means is that we're going to be there tonight after 7. You should join us. ;P ]
[11 minutes ago]

[Aang Leekpai - k i'll see you guys there.]
[2 seconds ago]


A/N: The scene at the theater is of course referencing the scene from The Ember Island Players.

[link]<--Previous Chapter
Next Chapter-->[link]

Yay, complications.

(Thumb from an SRU comic PochiMochi did a while back)

Also, love how on DA here the smilies actually SHOW UP as smilies. That's awesome.
Show
Add a Comment:
 
No comments have been added yet.

What I Learned at SRU
Chapter 78 - Perfect


- Friday, March 18th, 2011 -

"Ullgghhhhh..."

"I told you to drink some water last night before bed," Katara snipped with a cranky down, rubbing sand from her eyes.

Toph, splattered across her bed, clamped her palms against her temples and rolled onto her side, her sheets in tangles.

"I don't...remember that," she confessed in a whimper.

Katara began to brush her damp mane, still in her bathrobe.

"I stuck a bottle of water right in your hands," Katara sighed, her tone sharp. "I told you. I said, 'Toph, if you don't have some water, you're going to be hung over tomorrow,' and you said you weren't thirsty and ignored me..."

"Oh..."

Toph felt her heart sink an inch deeper into the mud of regret. Katara was disappointed, clearly, and Toph was feeling the same way.

"Why did you drink so much last night?"

"Mm-mm," Toph ho-hummed. "Dunno...Just, like...heat of the moment, I guess."

Katara frowned at her own reflection, stroking her brush along.

"You were complaining about how Sokka was flirting with everyone," she observed, lifting a brow as she cast a sideways glance at her forlorn companion, who was glad to have her face half-buried in a pillow as it began to burn up. "It was...really weird."

"Heh, y-yea, I...-" Toph grunted as her stomach twisted with discomfort. She couldn't tell if it was the hangover or her fear of being found out about Sokka, "It sounded like he was having a good time...surrounded by a bunch of pretty girls. I mean...for fuck's sake, it sounds like...he even thinks Freckle-Face is cute now, all of a sudden..."

Katara's arm finished off its brushing, and she flicked her semi-tamed mass of hair as things clicked. Jane had gotten a lot of attention the night prior - even Aang and Sokka had made remarks on her appearance - and likewise, Sokka had gotten his fill of flirtatious comments. And, erm...reciprocated, fairly profusely. Ugh. Oogies, indeed.

"Yea, well...Jane really tried to look her best yesterday," Katara pointed out. "I mean...If you really want to try to look nicer, or something...I could help." Katara made the offer out of courtesy, but it was one she had made numerous times in the past, and very rarely had Toph expressed interest.

"It's OK," Toph dully replied, as expected. "One of the good things about being blind is that I don't have to waste my time worrying about appearances." Her rigid apathy deteriorated with each word that came out of her mouth. "I don't care what I look like," she grumbled, brusquely shoving gunk from her sagging eyes as she sat up, still clutching at her head. "I'm not looking for anyone's approval. I know who I am..." I'll never be able to understand this shit, anyway. I wish it just...didn't matter.

Katara sat down beside her and rubbed a gentle hand across Toph's bare shoulder. Whatever had ruffled Toph's feathers last night, Katara could tell it boiled down to the truth behind the lie Toph has just told herself - that she didn't look for anyone's approval. Always hearing about Jane being such a tomboy, and then suddenly hearing guys cat-calling her, and even friends admiring her a bit...It wasn't a surprise that it made Toph a little subconscious. She was a bit jealous of the attention Jane had suddenly been getting from boys - that was the issue. It made enough sense.

Maybe some encouraging words would help alleviate that.

"That's what I really admire about you, Toph. You're so strong and confident, and self-assured. And I know it doesn't matter, but...you're really pretty." The last bit had an extra dollop of sugar on top, but Toph could detect the authenticity of her friends' words.

"...I am?" she muttered before an eye squinted shut and she yawned like a lion.

"Yea," Katara chuckled, pushing some of Toph's bedhead out of the girl's face to observe her pale, round cheeks. "You are."

Katara delighted at the smile that formed across that porcelain skin, and smirked when the girl crawled up out of bed, scratching her rear-end lazily.

"I'd return the compliment, but...-" Toph fussed around with her sweatpants as she waddled to the dresser, still in a daze. "I have no idea what you look like. Thanks, Sister-Face."

Katara got up from Toph's bed and stretched as she waited to have her turn at getting clothes for the day.

"You're welcome...Mud-Slug."

As Toph whirled around, a T-shirt and jeans stuffed under an armpit, she slowly stuck out her arm in the direction her friend's had come from, and her knuckles softly squished against Katara's stomach.

"Pulling those affectionate punches, huh?"

Toph cackled, tossing her head back as she began to wind her porcupine-like hair into a ponytail.

"I got tired of hearing you cry like a baby when I hit ya too hard. Heh."

Katara was a bit startled that Toph was ironically so up-and-at-'em today. Based on her movements and occasional groaning, the girl was still a bit ill-stricken from her heavy drinking, and yet she was forcing herself to wake up earlier than necessary.

"Sooo...How come you're waking up already?" Katara wondered, zipping up her pair of slacks. She was feeling in a 'formal' mood of dress today.

"I don't...even know," growled Toph groggily. "Slept like shit, and...I'm sooo hungry right now..."

"Mmmmaybe that's...-" Katara's face expression turned drab as she fitted herself into a blouse. "-...because you hurled up your dinner last night?"

"...Ohhhh yea," Toph sighed, rubbing her abdomen underneath her shirt.

"I had to...clean your yuck off the edges of the toilet," Katara jabbed with a hint of irritation.

"Heh..." Toph picked some dry wax out from the rim of her ear as she fought back a twitch of shame. "S-sorry about that. I was...pretty damn stupid last night."

"Yea..." Katara sighed briskly through her nostril.

"Thanks for...lookin' after me," mumbled Toph warily, working herself into her jeans. "Like you always do," she squeezed in, her attempt at gratitude. Katara observed the gesture and smiled as she searched for a good pair of flat-top shoes.

"I hereby give you permission to strip me of any and all alcohol the next time I'm in a bad mood and try to get drunk..."

"I'm gonna hold you to that," Katara keenly agreed.

"Good, 'cuz I'm gonna be a stubborn bitch and you just gotta be more stubborn back."

"I think I can manage that when I have a mind to."

"Glad to know you've learned somethin' from me after all this time..."

"You teach me how to be stubborn, I teach you how to act your age."

"Hardy har."

"You coming to get breakfast?"

"Said I was hungry, didn't I?"


"Sure, but I didn't realize you were that hungry," Aang murmured with shock, staring at Sokka's empty plate.

"Not hungry no more, at any rate," Sokka grunted, leaning back in his seat and massaging his belly, which felt to bursting. "Aahhhh...I like banana pancakes," he muttered.

"Heh. Yea, they...uh...sure are good..." Aang stared at his plate, having only consumed one of his trio of delicious breakfast confections. He was staring at his roommate cautiously. Sokka was starting to nod off in his chair. "Sokka."

"Hmmzz?"

"You're falling asleep."

"Tsssshhh..." Sokka waved out his arm lazily, his head still bobbed, eyes still closed. "Just resting my eyes..."

"Uhhh...huh." Aang continued to stare at his motionless friend before sighing to himself and shaking his head. He was conflicted about the night prior. It was good to see Sokka, who he knew was still stressed about a number of things, loosening up and relaxing - even being social with people. But the way he acted around Ty-Lee still rubbed Aang the wrong way. Logically, Aang knew there was no reason for him to feel this way, and it wasn't his right to complain now that Sokka was single, but...somehow it still bugged him. Watching the girls fawn over him - even Jane was, in her own way - made Aang uncomfortable. It had seemed to make Toph irritated, too, based on how she'd kept to herself on the edge of the room, only being social just long enough to get a refill on booze. Aang wondered...

Bah, it didn't matter. Aang had learned to keep all this to himself. He worried that Sokka might lead someone on and someone would get let down, but...it hadn't looked like that had happened yet.

"Sokka. It's almost time for class."

In the meantime, though, the idiot needed someone pressuring him along to go to class.

A sharp inhalation later and Sokka was rubbing fiercely at his face, stumbling up from his chair.

"You are not going to survive class without me," Aang picked before chomping down half of his second pancake.

"Got that right," Sokka confessed, streaking his head across his head drearily. It was slicked back, taught tight into his 'wolftail.'

"Sooo...Sokka."

"Yyyisss?"

"Katara's birthday is coming up..."

"Psh, it's like...three more weeks, man."

"W-well, yea, but-...That's kinda soon. Anyway, like...I was thinking-"
"Ohhhh, no. Nnnnope. Nupper. No, no. Uh-uh." Sokka was vehemently twitching out negative gestures. "I am not getting involved in your oogies, no Sir."

Aang's brows furrowed at Sokka's continuing trend of immaturity in regards to the topic.

"I didn't even finish," he spat defensively, stuffing the second half of pancake number two into his face.

"Heh...That was the point," Sokka joked. But he realized he's touched a nerve at the way Aang's jaws bitterly assaulted his meal. "Erm...But...Nah, go ahead."

Aang swallowed hard, cutting up his final piece of food with the side of his fork.

"No, no, wouldn't wanna make you uncomfortable or anything, because I actually take my relationships seriously while you're content to just lead women on while they're intoxicated."

So much for keeping it to himself.

"Whoa..." Sokka frowned, shocked at his friend's burst of hostility. "Geez, dude, I...I didn't think it was that big a deal. Just had some harmless fun."

Aang's shoulders spiked up in a shrug and he ate some more, noting the time. Sokka attempted to protect his dignity.

"You don't honestly think I was...-?"

One of Aang's downward brows arced up at him.

"O-OK, I admit it: it was nice to be surrounded by girls last night." A sheepish laugh with upward palms. "But it was all in good fun, Aang. Nothing serious. That was the point."

Aang licked his chops, deciding he was done with breakfast now and got up from his seat, mostly empty tray in tow.

"And you're sure no one took last night seriously? No one got upset?" Not even the girl who got sick from drinking too much while she got ignored?

"No way!" Sokka insisted coolly, following Aang's actions. As they weaved through the mostly vacant cafeteria, his brain rattled around what he could remember from last night. Giggles, touches, glances, blushing, drinking...that intense moment when he and Ty-Lee had stared at each other for, like, five seconds straight. Oh, damn, good thing he was wearing a stiff pair of jeans today, or people would be able to see...-

"OK, fine," Aang let the matter drop. "All I'm saying is that I'm getting really sick of you being such a baby about me and Katara."

"You and my sister," Sokka pointedly corrected.

"Me and Katara," Aang specified his particular phrasing. "She's not just your sister, ya know. She's her own person, and she shouldn't-we...shouldn't...have to feel guilty about...us...just because it makes you a little uncomfortable some times. The oogie stuff? It was funny at first. Now it's just...annoying...Especially when you're so hypocritical."

"Whhh-?" Air wheezed out of Sokka's lips, but he caught himself. The guy was right. "Uhh..."

"Anyway, I've gotta get to class," Aang puffed out impatiently, before Sokka could react. "Later."


Bolin cautiously stared at the steaming disc of dough, meat, and vegetables that lay before him. As an employee at the local Pizza Hut in Wayward, he seemed to take his job to be a fine art of some kind, which Korra found humorous. Mako's work Korra knew much less about - only that it involved the press in some capacity. He didn't talk about it much and she wasn't inclined to ask, especially with the way he seemed quite nonchalant to her presence since she'd moved in, as if she were a burden to the household.

Bolin had decided that with Korra working at a restaurant, it was his duty to instill in her the skills of bending pizza to her will in the same way he could.

As a result, this was the second meal in a row in which Korra had prepared pizza for dinner. She had a day off after the strenuous St. Patty's shift, and had dedicated the afternoon to Bolin's tutelage. Bolin had been frank with her the night prior, advising that her sauce lacked pizazz and that the pizza had been a bit undercooked. Thriving from the constructive criticism and eager to impress her roommates, Korra had gotten right to work making a more earnest effort this time.

As she cooked, her mind wandered to that old man's words from earlier.

"Pizza is like a team. You need to make sure you use ingredients that work well together if you want everyone to be satisfied."

It hadn't sunk in at first when the bearded old coot had said this to her, but it had sunken into her head over time, and this practice was only serving to remind her about it.

Bolin slapped her arm with the back of his wrist with approval, leaning over the warm dish while Mako stood idly by, leaning against the fridge behind them. His ever-looming presence with an air of apathy was wearing thin with her patience. Then again, Bolin's boundless enthusiasm in her could have an equal but opposite effect...

Bolin's chunky arm picked up a slice of the freshly-cut pizza and he lifted it in his fat hands with tender care, keenly observing its aesthetic and nodding with approval to Korra. He took a bite, his eyes brightened, and he smiled.

"Wow!" he complimented. "Nice adjustment! You're a natural at this..." He went on to consume the rest of his slice, an intricate blend of meat and veggies tickling his senses. It was much better than he'd expected for Korra's second try. For someone who had very little cooking experience, she had been getting the hang of it quite quickly.

Eager to wipe the disinterest from Mako's face, Korra slapped a piece of her culinary concoction onto a plate from the table's stack and delivered it to Mako, who begrudgingly accepted. After his first bite, she could see it in his face - he liked it. But his voice rang hollow.

"...Not bad," he conceded.

Korra's temper sizzled at the indignity.

"What's it take to impress this guy?" she demanded to his younger brother as she snapped her wrist irritably in Mako's direction. Bolin's expression jerked with awkward tension while he struggled to come up with a neutral reply.

Ever since Mako tried to be social with the girl that day at the gym, he'd been a bit overwhelmed by her desire to get to know him and his brother. Bolin, expectedly, was enthralled by this prospect, while Mako simply didn't understand the pressing need for comradery. He had just been trying to be nice and now it was like she was down his throat like they were supposed to be bosom buddies all of a sudden. Just because Bolin was going to dode on her didn't mean he was.

"What?" Mako sighed as he dropped the piece onto the plastic plate in his hand, still hunched against the refrigerator door. "I said 'not bad," he defended himself.

As he was met with Korra's deadpan glare that judged him as loudly as a silent look could, he choked on a chuckle, shaking his head as he let the matter drop, setting his barely-touched food on the countertop.

"You know what?" he pacified the situation with a hint of impatience. "I'm not really hungry right now. I think I'm going to settle down and watch something. You kids have fun," he patronized casually, weaving past them. He wasn't in the mood for this weird passive-aggressive stuff. Korra seemed hypocritical, complaining about her friends having college social drama while she herself manufactured it within the household, throwing off the careful balance he had worked to maintain with his brother.

No sooner had he left the kitchen had Korra rolled her eyes and puffed out her irate frustration, collapsing at the table and staring at her night's work.

"Your brother's a real piece of work," she snarled with disdain.

"Yea, sorry about that," Bolin shrugged off the whole thing. "My brother just gets real...eh...focused...sometimes."

"Focused on what?" Korra instantly retaliated, whipping her arms toward the living room, from which a sportscast could be faintly heard.

"Ehhh...-" Bolin's eyes squinted from the bottom as he fished for some sort of excuse for his sibling. "Juh...Just kind of in general, you know?"

"Right," huffed Korra with empty resolve, tearing into a slice of her food. Oh, wow. Damn, that was pretty good. She made that? Shit, this was...delicious. Now she just had to start doing this at work.

Korra pulled her phone out of her jean pocket and studied its contents while she ate. She'd by and large ignored the device all day.

[From: JB]
[so i was wondrin..those assholes been givin you any trouble aftr ya beat the shit outta em?]
[Sent: 3:46pm]

[Reply]
[To: JB]
[No way, Shamrox. Havent seen em since! ;D Taught 'em a lesson, eh?]
[Sent: 7:21pm]

[From: Aang]
[sry about last night i dont know what happened. thx for helping. plz dont tell katara i dont want her worried.]
[Sent: 4:14pm]

[Reply]
[To: Aang]
[No prob, Guy. My pleasure to put that jerk in his place. Stay outta trouble!]
[Sent: 7:22pm]

[From: Kitty Kat]
[Hey, Jane seems really worried about you today for some reason. Did something happen last night?]
[Sent: 5:42pm]

Korra sighed at her cousin's concern. Ever since Korra had moved down to Wayward, Katara seemed intent on trying to watch over her from a distance, always worried. Ah, well. At least she wasn't being a control freak like she used to be back in high school.

[Reply]
[To: Kitty Kat]
[LOL no, it's all good Kat. I think it was just about those old farts I kicked to the curb before, but they haven't come around since. ;] ]
[Sent: 7:23pm]

"Somethin' up?"

"Huh?" Korra looked up from her phone to Bolin across the table. "Ha." She set the device back down. "Nuh-uh, just catching up with people."

"Making sure no one else got into any accidents?"

"What...?"

"Like your one friend. The scrawny guy. Out in the parking lot?"

"Oh. Heh. Nah, everyone seems fine."

"Ah." Nodded slowly, and they both chewed on pizza for a moment before a coy grin came over Bolin. "Well, you're here with us, and not with them, which definitely means they're safer right now."

Korra stared at him, and her eyebrow lifted as she tried to piece together what that meant.

"B-because...-" Bolin pointed half-hearted at her. "It's, like, because you're dangerous. A joke?" Nope, she was still glaring. "I'm just picking on how people always get hurt when you're aroun-I mean, no-no, that came out wrong!" By now Korra was just maintaining her dagger eyes to get a rile out of him, entertained by the result. "Th-that's a sensitive topic for you these days, right?" Bolin acknowledged warily, speaking in a slight panic. "Just a joke. Humor. Light-hearted humor. Trying to...change the mood. Change the topic. Changing the topic's a good idea, right? Changing the topic, riiiiight...now."

Bolin's green eyes pleaded with her, his body language during the exchange endearing. Unlike other guys, Bolin wasn't scared of her, she could tell. It was more that he wanted to stay on her good side, but...not out of fear or intimidation. She appreciated that, and consequently, snorted out into a small fit of laughter, and Bolin sighed with relief.

"Just fuckin' with ya, damn," she wheezed out, reaching her arm across the table and shoving him in the pectoral. Pfft, kind of a squishy chest muscle, there, Bowly-Poly. Might wanna follow Big Bro's lead and hit the gym a bit more, eh?

"I knew that!" Bolin squawked, practically mocking himself as he dusted off his shirt. "You say it like I didn't know that."

"You almost shit your pants," Korra teased, eyes sly at him.

"You're mean."

For the next hour or two, they opened up a bit to each other, exchanging embarrassing or bizarre work stories, their upbringing, and slowly working their way through the pizza Korra had crafted.

Mako finally made his way back into the kitchen, looking a bit sleepy despite the somewhat early hour. As he opened the fridge and took out a carton of milk, he glanced at the two of them, who were thumb-wrestling like children. Korra was finishing off a slice of crust with her free hand, eyes burning with competition.

Mako rolled his eyes at them. Just what he needed - another infant in an adult body to encourage Bolin's rowdiness. He poured himself a cup of milk and stuck it in the microwave to heat it.

"Woooo!" Korra squealed, pumping her fists up.

"Maaan, you're stronger than you look!"

"Maybe 'cuz I work out," Korra jabbed sneakily, flicking the strain from her hand.

"I do, too..." Bolin whimpered in weak defense. "It's just...been a while."

"Maybe all this pizza isn't helping?" cackled Korra as she grabbed the last slice - her spoils for her thumb-war victory.

"You're still eating dinner?" Mako deadpanned at their delight.

Korra swiveled her head around and cast unsavory eyes of wrath at him.

"You're still being a dick?" she retaliated.

"Oh-hooo, snap!" Bolin chortled, palm to his mouth. "Ouch..."

Mako and Korra's eyes remained locked for a moment, each trying to read the other's issue. Korra found herself momentarily distracted by the odd arc of Mako's eyebrows - it looked plain unnatural - and teared her gaze away.

[BEEEEP~]

Mako huffed through his nostrils in tired amusement and removed his cup, taking a sip of the thick, warm liquid.

"Good night, kids," he grumbled as he stalked off unceremoniously.

When he'd reached the living room, there was a "Yar-yar-yarp!"

"Quiet," Mako firmly scolded as he passed by. Naga let out a small whine.

The puppy's footsteps padded into the kitchen, and Korra smirked at her dejected pet. Bolin gave her some cutesy-wutesy speech.

"Ohhhh, did nasty Big Brother yell at you? He did, didn't he?"

"Stop doing that," Korra snickered, a snort coming out of her nose unintentionally, which only led to more giggles, and she had to grab her chest to try and settle her breathing. The panting breaths of her adorable animal continued, regardless. And Korra couldn't help but give into those precious, bright blue eyes - like her own.

"Naga," she commanded, "Sit, girl." The puppy obediently did as she was told. Korra leaned down, sticking her hand out. "Pawww..." Naga's fat doggy hand lifted up and landed in Korra's strong fingers. She grinned. "Good girl," she encouraged in a hushed tone, lowering the last half of her pizza slice and letting the pup ravage it.

"Dude, think you could teach me how to get my ferret to do tricks?"

"I guess I owe you from these pizza lessons, huh?"


- Saturday, March 19th, 2011 -

"Yuh-huh..." Toph's tone was empty as Jane rambled on, her raspy voice caught up in a small swell of embarrassed enthusiasm. The two of them had been hanging out, practicing a bit of guitar together, when a passer-by remarked to Jane - in a sheepish manner - how well she had done at their recent performance. It was spurred Jane to spill out her repressed glee on the matter, and Toph had to get submerged in it. Bleh.

"This one guy in the crowd, like, up in the front? Man, he was...kinda cute, but...Jeez, he just kept staring at me, like...like some fuckin' creeper." A giggle escape Jane's lips. Ugh. Ew. Jane? Giggling like that? Yuck. No. C'mon, be better than that, JayBee...Giggling over that crap...Ech.

"Ah..." Toph was sprawled out against a tree stump, sitting in the cool grass.

"It was just...all so damned weird, ya know? I-I don't think it was just my haircut or whatever, though."

"Mm...?" Jane seemed so fucking wrapped up in self-serving that all Toph had to do was mutter a bit and she'd just keep rattling on.

"Nah, like...-" Jane nodded to herself, not even looking at the girl wedged against the tree behind her as she analyzed the situation. "Katara said it was 'cuz I was all, like, 'self-esteemed' or...or some shit. Like I was acting a way that made me seem...-" Jane couldn't seem to get the word to come out. It just didn't feel right to say, out loud, that people had found her 'attractive' or 'hot.' The vocabulary felt wrong for her to say herself about herself. "I mean, it's what you do all the time."

"Yuh-huh..."

"All proud and confident and crap, right? Don't give a fuck what people think, all that stuff. It was that. I was doing that, doncha think?"

"Yup..."

"It's been so fuckin' weird, though! Seriously! Even Sokka was eyein' me up," she said in a hushed, baffled tone as she sat down against the trunk beside her friend. "Like he thought I was a different person or somethin'. Ya know, I still remember, one of the first things he told me when we were startin' to be friends, was to stop sellin' myself short. I finally think I get what he meant."

"Mm-hm," Toph grunted, her nose wrinkling at the subject.

"Suki told me she wasn't surprised, said she knew I'd get more attention if I just stopped pissin' in the corner. Ha. Guess I never thought I had that kinda shit in me, ya know?"

"Uh-huh..."

Jane rested her head against the bark peacefully and breathed out deeply, relaxed. She let her eyelids slide closed as she absorbed the gentle spring breezes blowing past them. She had her hair tucked behind her ears today, and the sensation of air whiffing past the sides of her head tickled in a way she hadn't felt in a long time.

"It's nice out today," she observed bluntly, letting Toph's unresponsive nature roll off her back. She is in too good a mood to let anyone else's apathy bring her down.

Toph bit at dry, dead skin from her bottom lip as she bottled up her irritation. Freckle-Face was supposed to be grumpy loner-chick who people thought was a dude, who sat in the corner, kept to herself, and didn't draw attention away from other, better musicians than her. Hmph. Toph was not liking acting-all-girly-and-stupid-Jane. Not today.

"Fuck!" Jane giggled, slapping her palm to her forehead giddily. "I don't even get it, like...Why the shit am I so happy today?"

Well, she was still swearing like a sailor, so Toph figured at least not all hope for Jane was lost.

"I dunno," Toph sighed, reaching to her side to scoop up her guitar from its case.

Music. Damnit. Music. I need music right now. My drug. My sedative, antidepressant, and stimulant all rolled into one.

She strummed at her comforting wooden device and tried to make herself think she was experiencing a euphoric rush a she did so.

"So what's up with you today?" Jane wondered, working in the precision of her tone to ensure she asked in a neutral way that Toph wouldn't construe incorrectly.

"Nothin'."

"You seem...I dunno. Quieter than usual."

"Meh."

"Am I...annoying you, or...-?"

"No, Chr-...You're fine," Toph caught herself, picking away to create part of the melody she had played a couple of nights ago. After she played through the loop once, Jane sang out the mellow lyrics in her gravely voice.

"~And I'm a one girl revolution...~"

Urgh, what the fuck? My music! Mine! Get out, stop singing, guhhh-you-can't-sing-for-shit-I'm-better-than-you-arghhh-

"~And I'm a one girl revolution...~" Jane repeated her singing, pleasantly rocking her head back and forth. The guitar playing cut to a stop, and Jane smiled to herself, enjoying the moment. She cast a sideways glance at Toph, noticing the girl looked livid beneath floppy bangs.

Jane contained a sigh - she knew full well if she let it slip, Toph would hear and freak out about...whatever her deal was. Jane was trying to be above that baby stuff.

Too happy. Haven't felt this good in a long time. Don't get Toph's problem. Not going to let...what was the name again...-? Oh, yeah. Not gonna let Madame Fussybritches bring me down. Heh.

They sat in side-by-side for a few moments while Toph stewed in her own insecurities.

Rrrrmmmm.

Jane checked her pocket, whipped out her phone, and checked it: nope.

Rrrrmmmm.

"Hey, Toph, I think you're-"
"What?" Toph snapped into her phone, having no clue who was calling and not caring much.

["...So you do answer your phone once in a great while."]

Toph's heart sunk into the pit of her stomach. Jane was freaked by the way Toph's expression drained in an instant from irritation to shock and fear.

["...Toph?"]
["Did she hang up on you, Dear?"]
["No, she's still th-...Toph? Can you hear me?"]

Toph managed to regain her bearings and forced out a cough.

"Duh...Dad?"

["Yes, that's right."] Ugh, he didn't sound very happy, either. ["I've been meaning to get to the bottom of this."]

"Bottom of what?" Toph growled, instantly nonplussed. The few calls she'd actually answered over the past few months had been nonsensical attempts at her folks trying to convince her to come home, quit school, and 'relax,' stop trying to 'force her way' into the music industry, and drivel like that.

Jane grimaced, sliding around the tree's trunk a few feet to give her friend some space, but feeling like it'd be weird and awkward to get up and leave the girl alone. Toph hadn't brought her walking cane eager to hang out (back when she was in a better mood), so Jane was pretty much Toph's means of getting back home, whether either of them liked it or not.

["Toph, if you're going to insist on this ignorant fool's dream of becoming a musician and go against everything your mother and I have done for you, the least you could do is leave your poor cousin alone."]

"...What?" Suddenly Toph's tone lost its blunt force.

["Your cousin, Toph. Your poor cousin that you've been mistreating."]

Meng? What did Meng have to do with this?

"Meng? I haven't even...talked with her lately!"

["After what happened with her father last year...-!"] A disappointed sigh. That all-too-familiar sound. ["You know full well how much Meng looked up to you, and to leave the family in the same manner that-"]
"This is totally different!" Toph snapped, her patience today having been whittled down to a thin twig that just broke. "Don't even fucking compare me to him! Argh, that's just...so much shit. And you know it!"

["This isn't about us, Toph. This is about Meng."]

"Where'd you even hear about this, huh? What the fuck did I do?"

["From what Wu has been telling us, it sounds like you've been causing her a lot of grief."]

"We haven't been talking..."

["My understanding is that you offended her."]

"Well...You're...not Meng. Or me. So...stay out of this. I'm not your little helpless freak of a daughter anymore, so just-"
["Your Aunt Wu asked us to make you see reason, to see how much you're hurting her."]

"Not my problem!" Toph hissed at her father. She instantly wished she could take that back, and rephrase it, but...whatever. "I didn't do anything," Toph clarified. Her face was burning, her eyes stung with the beginnings of tears, but the floodgates did not open.

["It's one thing to abandon the Bei Fong family the way you've brazenly done so, but it's another to mistreat your poor cousin like-"]
"Stop calling her that! She isn't a fucking baby, she's practically done with high school!"

["It just shows how inconsiderate you are toward us - your own family - everything we've done for you. You'd rather run off with that no-name boy and-"]
"We broke up," came Toph's stern correction.

["I see. Well, that's the first good decision you've made in some time, but it far from excuses the way you treat this family when-"]
"I'm not part of this fucking family anymore! OK? I'm...not."

["If that's truly how you feel, there's no reason to bring down Meng with-"]
"I'm done talking about this! We are done now. I don't care."

["We shall make sure to pass that along to your cousin, then, To-"]
Click.

Jane swallowed some saliva, incredibly uncomfortable with the one-sided shouting she'd just heard.

"Uhh..."

"Don't," Toph knee-jerked pre-emptively. "Just...don't. OK?"

"Y-yea," Jane rapidly conceded, scratching her brow with concern as she stared at Toph's face, a dark blend of different fruits of negativity.

Toph dropped her phone into the grass and blew out an 'rrrrrghhh' like steam from a kettle before fussing to get her guitar into its case with great impatience. In her haste, she dinged it against the trunk she was leaned up against. She twitched with fright at the impact, a sharp inhalation of breath swinging in. Frozen in place for a second, she felt her hand along the wooden treasure for any signs of damage. Whew. No dents or anything.

I'm sorry, Grandma.

A tear slid down Toph's cheek, her anguish having finally flowed over top the floodgates. She choked on her pride and coughed it up, causing the other eye to drop its load.

"Whoa..." Jane's hand was suddenly on her shoulder, pressing down against the hoodie she was draped in. Her muscles tensed at the initial contact, but she let them loosen. "Geez, Dead-Eyes, you-...I don't know what to...-"

"So just don't," Toph whimpered in a growl, sloppily rubbing her face in her sleeve. She didn't know where it was coming from - but what the fuck else was new, right? "Let's just...go back," she huffed, wedging her guitar into the case and snapping it shut. Jane slung the guitar she had once again borrowed from Suki - for practice - over her back and stuck out her bee-striped elbow for Toph to latch onto. Perhaps today was the right time to make due on what she had been practicing...


Side by side on Katara's bed, the two of them stared up at the ceiling in relaxation, fingers intertwined over Aang's waist. It was a pleasant quiet for a couple of minutes as their heartrates slowed down and once-tense muscles settled down.

"That was...good?" Aang muttered, seeking approval. "Right?"

"Heh." Katara smirked, scratching her nose lazily. "That was good," she administered a dose of esteem to her partner.

Aang coughed once, cleared his throat, then sighed, letting his head sink into Katara's pillow.

"I'm sorry about...-" He gestured to his abdomen. "-...the pants...thing..." He grimaced in spite of his own seemingly childish neuroticism. He was shirtless, but still in a pair of jeans, Katara like-wise. Katara could tell he'd been specifically avoiding letting his glance fall below her face.

"Aang, it's OK," Katara warmly assured, slipping her hand out of his own and sliding it across his bare stomach. "One step at a time. Seriously. It's fine."

"But...-" Aang sighed in frustration. "But I know you...want...more. Right now."

Katara breathed out slowly, the air passing through her nostrils and against Aang's neck.

"What I want and what we need are not the same thing," she concluded with a properness in her voice.

"I just...-" Aang was interrupted by the tingling of Katara's lips on his shoulder, and his eyes closed as she kissed a second time.

"'You just' what?" she asked, rolling onto her stomach and twisting her head to face him. He flopped onto his side and they enjoyed each other's eyes for a moment.

"I just...want this to be perfect," Aang confessed. "I mean, you're the one, Katara. I just know you are. We can only do this once, I don't want to mess it up like...-"

"Aang," Katara laughed with some bewildered amusement. "The 'one?' I think it's a little early to decide that, don't you think?"

Aang rolled his eyes, a stupid grin crawling across his face. He squirmed a few inches over and kissed her forehead.

"If you're going to demote yourself like that, then...can I at least say that you're special?"

"You can say that as many times as you like, my Penguin, in as many ways as...-"
Aang had stolen a kiss on the lips, and she surely didn't mind this. It was slow, but a single movement, and he pulled back after, smiling at the way her eyes were still closed, her lips grasping out for seconds.

Since when did you become a teasing little jerk? thought Katara with humor in reaction to Aang's mannerism.

"See?" Aang pointed to his chest. "That was me, practicing being proactive."

"A-pfff! Nicely done, Aang," she patronized, lifting her brow with endearment.

"I never want you to think I'm not interested," he explained himself with a touch of solemnity. "Even if...-" His hand wriggled in a circular motion over his body. "...this...seems like it's not cooperating..." He stared at her with all due serious. "I want what we have to be perfect," he reiterated. "Because that's what you deserve." Katara's cheeks flushed at the dire importance he had put into his words, the piercing gaze he'd delivered. She didn't know how else to react other than to bury her face into his chest. Her lips jerked up as she felt him studiously readjust her bra strap, which had come loose a bit in this motion.

"Nothing in this world's perfect," she noted, resting into the solitude of his form. "We just make the best wh-"
The clicking and rattling of the doorknob by the foot of Katara's bed startled them from their tranquility, and was rapidly followed up by brisk triple-knock.

"Juhhhhst a sec~" Katara sheepishly sang out. Aang was already on his feet, popping his shirt back on. Well, there was one benefit to his shyness, at least - for the time being she didn't have to worry about them being caught with their pants down, heh. Aang walked to the door and hovered by the knob, waiting for Katara to work her way into a shirt that had a small penguin woven by the hip. She nodded to him and he unlocked the door.

An impatient, obviously foul-tempered Toph rammed right into him, her face colliding with his shoulder. Wide-eyed, he stumbled backward. Katara knew better - to get out of the way when she opened the door. Poor Aang was not accustomed to this detail. Toph lashed out her palms, pushing Aang another step back.

"The hell, Sugar-Qwoo...-?" As soon as those hands had contacted the familiar chest, in that instant she understood. "Aang?" It was a guy, for sure, so who else could it be?

"H-hiya..." Aang swooped backward, retreating to Katara's side, sitting cross-legged on her bed.

"Oh, wassup, man?" Jane greeted, still in the doorway.

"Hi, Jane," said Katara calmly. Aang nodded and waved his hand to Jane as Toph kicked her sandals off, whipping them into their shared dresser's base before dropping her guitar case to the floor and collapsing into her bed.

"Hey, Toph, what's going...-?" Katara began, but Jane had quickly stormed in, waving an arm out in front of her. In an instant, Katara saw Jane's face, teeth grit with doubt and eyes open with concern. She was slicing her other hand across her neck rapidly, shaking her head in almost a vibration.

Toph was curled up, her back toward them. She didn't reply.

"Uhhhh, hey, Katara, Toph seems...tired," Aang politely acknowledged. "Why don't we...give her quiet, and, er...go back to Aero, play some Mario Kart?"

Katara winced at the prospect of leaving her upset roommate, but Aang tugged at her wrist. Jane slapped her arm and offered a quick, concise glance that communicated, 'I got this.' Katara honestly wasn't in the mood for damage control and at once was very keen on seeing Jane being so...initiative.

"Yea, that sounds...good," she muttered. "I'll be back later, Toph," she called out.

"I'll be..here," Toph growled back.

A moment after the door closed behind the couple, Toph snorted out steam.

"Looks like they're off to go make out somewhere else..."

Jane held back another irate sigh and spun Toph's chair around, sitting in it backwards, facing her distraught friend. She didn't say a word, but simply waited...and listened. A few moments later, and words came out from Toph.

"Why are you still here?"

"I was still in the mood to hang."

"Uhh...Yea? I'm not."

"You want me to leave, then?"

"...Erm..."

"'Cuz if you need space, or somethin'..."

"I don't need space," Toph snipped. 'Needing space' was something over-emotional girly girls did. Hmph.

"OK," Jane puffed out, entertained by Toph's oddness today.

"I...-"

"Yea?"

"I want things with my cousin to be better," admitted Toph begrudgingly. It was the only thing on her mind now - the idea that Meng was so upset and lonely that it was causing ripples in the family or something...It was bad enough to have her parents disappointed in her, but Meng, too?

"Mmm..." Jane had only heard Toph's end of the phone chatter, but things made a little bit more sense now.

"I mean, fuck, I...I have been avoiding her," Toph sighed. Damnit. The tears were coming. In front of Jane, even. Christ, Jane didn't want to see this...

"Meng?"

"Yea..."

"You feel bad about your parents?"

"Wh-? Nooo, no way, I...-"

"You sound like ya do..."

"Mmm...I-I mean, maybe a little..." I've really hurt them. I could hear it in Dad's voice. But...but they've really hurt me. "Ugh, it's like no matter what I do, someone is pissed off at me. Or hurt. Or whatever the fuck. I mess everything up. It all turns to shit, everything I touch. Argh, and even this crap! I stay away from it, right? Still gets fucked up. I'm sick of feeling like I'm this big bitch, and everyone can't stand me..."

Jane smiled with sympathy.

"I know how that goes..."

"My fuckin' Dad, using...my cousin like that..."

"Huh?"

"Trying to guilt trip me. Just an excuse to talk down to me."

"Ah..."

"But...he's right...I mean, Meng looks up to me, and...she's always been nice to me when everyone else looks down on her and...ugh. I really let her down. She was doing all these nice things and I just...fuckin' acted like I deserved it."

"Mm..." Jane was sure that much was true, but agreeing was probably not a good idea at the moment. She was practicing what both Sokka and Katara often did with her when she was upset - this whole 'listening' thing, heh.

"I mean, I get it," Toph coughed out, readjusting herself so she was sitting up against the head of her bed. In that movement, Jane could see Toph was indeed tearing up from all of the thoughts swirling about. "I'm a bitch. I let everyone down all the time...You, Sokka...Katara...my cousin..." She sniffled in a shaky breath, her lower lip quivering. "...Aang. You, too."

"Hey, shit happens," Jane tried to make light of it.

"Yea, it does," snarled Toph in self-loathing. "All the mother-fucking-fuck time, ugh." She pounded her fist into her pillow. "When I'm around..."

Jane was having an increasingly more difficult time containing her sighs and eyerolls. She decided to give Toph a moment to herself.

"That's not true," she casually dismissed. "Hey, listen, I gotta hit the bathroom. Be back."

Jane slipped off to the restroom, and while she was there she sent a text message.

[To: John boy]
[youd be proud im all trying to fix peoples probs n shit lol]
[Sent: 6:10pm]

[From: John boy]

[ :) ]

[Sent: 611pm]

It was astonishing, the relief and confidence a single smiley face could instill. Jane pondered things. She could try again to explain to Toph where she was coming from, and how they related on different things...but Toph wasn't being receptive to words. It was the right time to bust out her trump card.

She popped back into the dorm room, wary of Toph's waterworks faucet being twisted off at her entrance.

"Hey. Back."

"I figured," came Toph's caustic reply.

Jane's eyes went dull with chagrin, but she pushed the reaction aside.

"So, uhhh...-" She glanced down at Toph's guitar case. "Mind if I borrow your guitar for a bit?"

Toph's pasty face boiled with scorn.

"Why?" she sharply spat, leaning forward, her head cocked sideways.

"I just...-" Yeesh. I hit a nerve or something? It's not like I don't know how I use a guitar. Not gonna break it. "-...figured I'd play somethin' for ya."

"...Huh?" Brows bent down, perplexed but intrigued. "I-I'm...not in the mood to practice that song again."

"No, no," Jane quickly corrected. "I meant, erm, a different song."

"Which one?"

"One I've been putzin' with on my own."

"Oh..."

"I dunno, thought it might cheer ya up..."

The hell is up with this? Toph wondered. I can't read Freckles at all today. She's not leavin' me alone but she's not jumping down my throat, either...

"Um...-" Toph considered the prospect of letting Jane handle Granny-Gran's heirloom. It made her rather uncomfortable, and yet...something made her feel at peace about it. "Yea, all right," she gave in, keeping up her aloofness. "But...be careful with it," she pleaded.

"No prob..." Jane gently unlatched the case and took out the instrument, surveying its contours, the worn nature of the wood, the taut strings...It was antiquated and yet clearly more loved than the one she'd been borrowing from Suki.

Toph leaned back against her headboard and wheezed out in mental exhaustion.

"I don't even understand myself these days," she groaned, her face in her palm.

Toph's acoustic guitar in hand, Jane sat down on Toph's bed beside her. The blind girl's face was still red and damp from her recent self-pity party.

"Know what your problem is lately, Dead-Eyes?" said Jane with a smirk. Toph's head spun toward her friend's voice, pale eyes dripping. Jane plucked a string. "You're losin' all that self-confidence and shit that makes you so awesome," Jane decided, smiling with warmth. She knew Toph couldn't see it, but she hoped it could be felt.

"Hmph..." Toph's directionless eyes narrowed, her arms crossed stubbornly around her waist as she twisted her head away.

Jane sighed out peacefully, her smile remaining, and began to strum gently at the guitar. She sung, her raspy voice carrying its unique quality.

+ http:/www(dot)youtube(dot)com/watch?v=Xj1u4vYjFRg +

"~Made a wrong turn once or twice; Dug my way out - blood and fire; Bad decisions? That's all right~"

Toph's brows tilted in confusion as she dabbed her wrist against her wet eye.

"Are you...-?" she mumbled, trailing off while Jane didn't skip a beat.
"~Welcome to my silly life~"

"~Mistreated, misplaced, misunderstood; Miss 'no way it's all good'~"
Jane could feel her freckled cheeks turn red as her mind ignited with the troubled events of her past.
"~It didn't slow me down~"

"~Mistaken, always second guessing, underestimated~"
Through the memories of hardships came the more recent thoughts of the friendships she'd forged this year, and she found herself smiling through it.
"~Look, I'm still around~"

"~Pretty, pretty please...don't you ever, ever feel~"
Jane turned her glance sideways while she played, her expression and singing filled with conviction, and she observed Toph's reaction, which was confused, startled...and appreciative.
"~Like your less than fuckin' perfect~"

"~Pretty, pretty please...If you ever, ever feel...~"
Toph's face was boiling with embarrassment as a feeble hand covered up one of her now watery eyes, a sheepish, toothy smile of gratitude overcoming her.
"~...like you're nothing...You're fuckin' perfect to me~"

Jane's heart burned with what she imagined Katara felt every time Jane had been in Toph's current position.

"~You're so mean when you talk about yourself; You are wrong~"

Toph sighed, flopping her head down and letting her ponytail fall over her shoulder. She felt pretty certain she was right in being mean to herself...

"~Change the voices in your head; Make them like you instead~"

As Toph tugged at her own hair thoughtfully, Jane bumped her hip into Toph's as she continued to play.

"~So complicated; Look how we all make it; Filled with so much hatred; Such a tired game~"

We've all been making things more complicated than they need to be.

"~It's enough, I've done all I can think of~"

I'm sick of it, we should just...stop it.

"~Chased down all my demons, I'll see you do the same~"

Jane's eyes were now trickling out a couple tears, her rough memories getting the best of her.

"~Oh, pretty, pretty please...don't you ever, ever feel...like you're less than fuckin' perfect~"

Toph's eyes closed and she just let Jane's encouragement wash over her.

"~Pretty, pretty please...if you ever, ever feel...like you're nothing, you're fuckin' perfect to me~"

I'm so selfish. Trying to hog music to myself. She's giving hers to me.

"~The whole world stared so I swallowed the fear; The only thing I should be drinking is an ice cold beer~"

"I hear that!" Toph cheered with a grin, wiping leftover droplets of tears from her face.

"~So cool in line and we try, try, try; But we try too hard, 'n it's a waste of my time~"

I'm done wasting my time, Toph - trying to be someone I'm not.

"~Done looking for the critics, 'cuz they're everywhere; They don't like my jeans, they don't get my hair~"

You can never make everyone happy, Toph.

The boys seem to 'get' your hair now, Janey-Jane.

"~We change ourselves and we do it all the time; Why do we do that? Why do I do that?~"

"Why do you do that?" Toph teased in the break between guitar strumming, thinking of Jane's haircut.
"I don't fuckin' know," Jane laughed before instantly jumping back into song.

"~Yeah; Ohh, pretty, pretty please...~"

The two were laughing again, and Jane's singing got choppy until she recovered.

"~Pretty, pretty please...don't you ever, ever feel...~"

Toph was brought back to the thoughts Jane was dunking her in.

"~...like your less than fuckin' perfect~"

She sniffed, wiping her nose with her sleeve.

"~Pretty, pretty please...if you ever, ever feel like you're nothing...~"

Settling her head on Jane's boney shoulder, she dipped her brain in Jane's music.

"~...you're fuckin' perfect to me~"

This wasn't how other's felt when she sang...because it wasn't about them.

"~You're perfect, You're perfect~"

Perfect? Hardly. I've only been singing for myself.

"~Pretty, pretty please...if you ever, ever feel...like you're nothing...~"

Maybe I should follow you, Janey-Jane.

"~...you're fuckin' perfect to me~"

Say with music what I can't say with words: 'I'm sorry.'

Having completed the song, Jane let loose a deep, relaxing sigh and plopped her head against Toph's, plucking out a few gentle concluding chords. This was...weird. Pleasant, but...weird. This was that "girly bonding time" that people like Katara were all about.

"Uhh...-" Jane coughed, lifting herself off of the gentle interaction that had lasted longer than she had felt comfortable with. "So...So yeaaaa...That, uh...How was th-hurrkk." A punch to the stomach. Not too hard, but it was unexpected.

"That was...fucking perfect," Toph said with a corny voice, spitting out her tongue. "Exactly what I needed today...Since when did you get good at...'comforting' people?"

Jane smiled, bobbing her head left and right a she leaned over the bed's edge, setting Toph's guitar back in its case.

"Cheh...Right? Not exactly the norm for me. But...-" Jane's lips slid up with respect, warmth, and gratitude. "Kat's been a good teacher."

Despite not being able to see the particular expression on her friend's face, Toph's own matched it.

"I know whatcha mean..."

"Just figured I'd stop letting her carry all the shit, heh..."

"Yea? Well...Cool. Mm. It's-...Thanks."

"You're welcome."


A/N: DeviantArt user ooamaimomooo (who did the Taang argument strip a while back) is in the process of comic-izing part of that last scene with Jane/Toph bonding time. =)

Song is 'Perfect' by P!nk. A bit of referencing to episode 2 of Legend of Korra (which had an online premiere and will officially start airing April 14th!). And since a number of people have asked, yes, The Toph/Meng situation will finally be approached directly next chapter.

As always these days, there's been more artworks added to the SRU gallery.
destiny-smasher(dot)deviantart(dot)com/favourites/41510260

Thanks again for all of the comments and support as we get closer to the end (chapter 100). ^_^

destiny-smasher.deviantart.com/art/What-I-Learned-at-SRU-77-290899151<--Previous Chapter
Next Chapter-->[link]

Thumbnail from an upcoming comic by :iconooamaimomooo: depicting part of the last scene of this chapter.

Expect to start seeing more blunt and direct Korra references now that the show has started.
Show
Add a Comment:
 
No comments have been added yet.

A/N: Good news for you loyal DeviantArt readers: chapter 86 is going to be SO DAMNED LONG it needs to be split into two halves due to DA's word limitations, so...since the first half of the chapter is done...you guys simply get to read it sooner! Enjoy, and be aware that I have vacation next week, so the second half of this chapter may not show up for a little bit. I literally haven't gone on a vacation in over a year, so I really want to enjoy the time off! Enjoy the first half of the chapter!

What I Learned at SRU
Chapter 86 - Moment


- Saturday, April 16th, 2011 - The Golden Dragon Ball (Spring Formal)

Jane wiped sweat from the bags hanging underneath her eyes as she scraped at the grill. The lunch shift had been somewhat hectic, leaving her out of sorts. Her feet were aching a bit from the constant standing for the past three and a half hours, and her left hand stung a bit from some droplets of hot grease that had boiled up on them when she had been frying like a maniac earlier.

Ding!

The small bell on the countertop at the front of Appa's shattered Jane's moment of respite. She took a tired breath, rubbing at her eyes as she stumbled to the counter.

"How can I hehhh...-?" Her crackly voice trailed off at the sight that greeted her: a glaring Katara Kesuk. Yikes. And her nose was doing that whole...flared-out thing. Ugh. Which was attractive. And it was horrible for Jane to think that, but it had been a while since she'd physically seen Katara, and...-

"I'd like a mushroom swiss burger - medium well," Katara spitefully ordered. Her eyes were sharp, cutting like knives, and her voice was clean and prim, like a rose - jabbing out with its thorns of passive aggression. "Please," she added with a curt, verbal jab.

Jane cleared her throat, completely startled and flustered by this encounter. Her stomach churned with an awful guilt and regret, and she avoided Katara's ice-cold leering as she tallied up the total on the register.

"Th...That'll be...-" Jane mumbled shakily, but Katara slapped down a ten dollar bill with brisk attitude before Jane could collect herself enough to read off the total.

"Yes, I know how much it is," Katara growled quietly. "Five forty-one. I've ordered it plenty of times before. Remember?" It really wasn't helping that seeing Katara with such a sassy attitude was kind of a turn-on. Just really wasn't helping at all. Nor was the fact that she was in a tank-top today. Grughh. The phrase 'distance makes the heart grow fonder,' came to mind briefly while Jane tapped at buttons to tally up the exchange.

Jane took the money and rung the order, slipping when she tried to retrieve the proper change, dropping a dime on the floor in her haste. She quickly placed the bills and change onto the countertop and pushed it toward the girl. Katara slid it off into her cupped hand, sapphire eyes still burning all the while.

"Well, if it ain't Sokka's little sis," came June's voice from behind as she approached the counter, a milkshake in her hand. Jane was scribbling out an order slip. "Where's the gang?" June asked. "I don't see your brother here harassing me."

Jane swiftly took advantage of this opportunity to flee the socially awkward situation with the order slip and set straight to work on it. Katara keenly eyeballed her as she retreated, as if trying to pierce her gaze through the back of the red-head's skull.

"Hello, Miss Hale," Katara greeted courteously, her tone still a bit stiff. "Everybody's getting ready for the dance tonight. I think Sokka's downtown helping Aang get a suit to wear."

"Ah, yea, the dance," June huffed with a slurp. The grill behind her hissed to life as Jane began cooking Katara's burger.. "That thing's gonna be a fuckin' pain. Glad I just have to work during it and not do all the prep shit..."

"Uh...huh..." Katara replied slowly with a blank pair of blinks. "Um...I see. Well, as soon as I'm done with my lunch here, I have to go get myself ready - and then get Toph looking decent."

"Heh. What about Shamrocks over here?" June nodded her head to her fry cook, who sheepishly adjusted her arrowed cap down a bit.

June raised a brow at Katara's quiet fuming, wide eyes staring right at the freckled girl over the grill.

"No, actually," Katara snipped out, hands attached to her hips. "She's apparently not going."

June's eyes rolled around at the obvious hormonal angst on display before her. Ah, crap, and here came a student wanting something. That would require effort of some sort.

"Hey, uh, June?" He was a bulky, bright eyed young man with a dark brown complexion that June knew worked upstairs at the cafeteria here and there. Jane knew him by 'Pipsqueak,' and made a point to pretend she wasn't aware of his presence. Thankfully, he didn't try getting her attention today.

"Hey, Josh. Whatcha want?" June sarcastically sniped at him, as if he were intruding.

"Ha. Just need a to-go box," Josh requested cheerily. Katara side-stepped away politely, as if conceding to their interaction.

"That'll be fifty cents," June advised coolly.

"Whaaat? Aw, come on," Joshua whimpered. "I don't got any cash on me, I-"
"Guy. I was razzin' ya," June smoothly informed him with a smirk as she walked back a few feet to the grill where Jane stood. She bumped Jane's shoulder with the side of her fist as she casually passed by, causing Jane to flinch from surprise.

"Heh. Dances not really your kinda thing, right?" she chuckled at Jane, who shrugged. "Don't blame ya, kid. At least one of us will be spared the misery."

Having retrieved a styrofoam container, June dropped it with nonchalance on the countertop, and Josh scooped it up joyfully.

"Thanks!"

"Yuh-huh." June wriggled her wrist in his direction. "Now beat it."

"Heh. Have a good one!" Josh waved to her as he bumbled away, leaving a still-disgruntled Katara lingering.

"Your food'll be ready in a bit," June told her, a bit perplexed by the girl's insistence on remaining here. "We'll...ya know...call ya."

"Oh, I'm fine," Katara chirped with a plastic smile. The two exchanged glances, and June sucked a large gulp of her strawberry shake before shrugging her shoulders and spinning around, placing her shake on the preparation table in the middle of the room.

"I'm hittin' the bathroom," she explained to Jane. "Don't take any more orders since we're about to close up here."

"Mm-hm," Jane hummed back obediently, flipping Katara's burger and getting a slice of swiss cheese slice set down on it. June vanished through the back. Still looking down at her work, Jane could tell out of the corner of her eye that Katara was still standing there.

Fucking christ, woman. Leave me alone...

"So," Katara piped up stubbornly. "This is how it's going to be? It's just going to be like...we never existed? Is that it?"

Jane swallowed the awful lump that had formed in her throat and rubbed her sleeve against her forehead, trying to clean it of sweat. She offered no answer. What kind of response would do any good, anyway? She could tell from the shakiness of her hands and the weakness in her legs that any effort at speech would turn up idiotic right now, anyway...

"Fine," said Katara with stuffy resolve. "You know, I really believed you were better than this - just running away from problems. That's what Toph is supposed to do, but even she didn't just totally shut everyone out like you are."

"Actually, she did," Jane managed out weakly.

"...What?" Katara balked.

"I said, she did," Jane repeated, trying to bolster her words with some conviction.

"She...She told me what the problem was, at least. Sh-she explained to me what...what was wrong, so that-"
"You could fix it?"

The two young women stared each other down with stern thought as the grill sizzled.

"Did it occur to you, Kat, in all this shit, that I didn't need you to fuckin' fix anything?"

"Umm...I...-"
"That maybe I got problems you can't do a damn thing about? So you should just...back the fuck off?" Jane was careful not to yell, but to make sure she pushed words out with conviction. Katara's eyes burned with indignity at Jane's tone, but she seemed content to let Jane continue - even if Jane was berating her, it was better than the frigid silent treatment. "Just...like...Damn!" Jane puffed out, dropping a bun onto the grill to toast as the burger was finishing up. "You just need-...It's...like you physically cannot leave shit alone. There has to be an answer. There has to be a solution. You gotta fix it. You gotta be in control, 'cuz fuck anyone else who thinks they might actually know what's best for themself, you're the know-it-all, you're gonna be their damned hero and patch it all up, make it all better."

"Jane..."

"Guess what, Katara? Got news for ya. You ain't perfect. Shit ain't perfect. Never gonna be. There's problems in this world you can't do fuck all about. People are assholes. Orphans are...fucking starving somewhere, or whatever."

"That's different, Jane!" Katara protested. "I'm...I'm not expecting to solve...w-world hunger or...or something. I'm just...trying to maintain...my...my friendships."

"Trying to maintain me. Myself. As a human being."

"What? N-no, that's...-"
"Hey, Kat. Once a month? My cunt fucking bleeds. Just like yours. Nothing you do can change that."

Katara frowned awkwardly at Jane's naturally odd metaphor. Jane huffed digging her fingers up into her forehead's skin and furiously rubbing an itch on her eyebrow. She plopped wet pieces of mushrooms onto the grill.

"Does it...-? Am I making sense?"

"I guess," Katara quickly snapped back, staring down at her flattop shoes with crossed arms. The downward angle of her head, combined with the fact that her hair was taught back into a ponytail, served to remind Jane of the still healing marks near Katara's hairline where that glass had sliced.

"Sometimes my problems are mine," said Jane. "And the more you have to get all...fuckin'...psychotic on me? And clingy? All that shit? That's a problem. I already told you: I don't wanna talk with you right now. Back off. Leave me alone. And maybe...if you can stop being a goddamn control freak for a while...let me sort my stuff out...we can be friends again down the road."

Jane could see Katara's eyes quivering, on the verge of tears. It stabbed at her heart, but even if Katara's safety wasn't at risk...she needed to deal with this.

"All right?" Jane sought affirmation.

"N-No, it's...It's fine," Katara sputtered out, holding back tears as her lips trembled with disgust. "You just don't...care...as much...As much as I do. Just...d-don't care. That's-...No, it's-...I get it. We're not...that important. N-not enough to work out...whatever it is...Wh-whatever this is. Must not be worth it to you...Fine."

The pit in Jane's stomach writhed around, but she said not a word. She'd spoken her piece. It burned at Jane's heart, that Katara couldn't let this go. She kept seeing that flickering flame of obsession in Katara's eyes - the same she knew from Jet.

Ugh. I'm sorry, Katara. I need room to breathe here. You're better off hating my guts than...getting hurt again.

"I guess that's that, then," Katara shrugged bitterly, stomping off out of sight as Jane finished cooking her meal.

Jane rolled her eyes in frustration at Katara's grumpy demeanor. That was something Katara and her roommate shared in common: they could both be stubborn and pushy.

Just let her go, Jane. Deal with it later. She'll get over it. You will get over it. Can't go letting every damned issue blow up into drama all the time.

The familiar sound of June guzzling the remnants of her milkshake startled Jane out of her guilt-stricken stupor. June, seemingly oblivious, leaned over the counter, peering out at the fairly quiet setting before her. What had been a bustling setting a couple of hours back was settled and calm by now, with only a handful of students lingering in various booths, on their computers or over their textbooks.

Jane slapped together Katara's burger, dropped it on a plate with a dill spear, and set it on the countertop. She sighed, then pressed down the mic button and spoke into it.

["Katara."]

Moments later, Katara appeared and glared at her plate.

"There a problem?" June sighed.

"I need this to go," snorted Katara.

"I didn't know that," Jane pointed out grumpily from in front of the grill, drizzling a cup of Sprite across the cooking surface to help clean it.

"You didn't ask," Katara growled over the sound of hissing steam the soda created.

June, totally apathetic to the theatrics on display, simply grabbed another container as she had for Josh and set Katara up.

"There ya go, kiddo," she mumbled. "Have a good 'un."

"Yea," Katara huffed back, marching off.

June pulled down the metal gate after this, their closing time here. She sealed off the counter while Jane continued her monotonous task of wiping gunk down the greasy drain at the edge of the grill.

"You and your little girlfriend havin' a fight, or somethin'?" June wondered with that same dull tone as always. "What's with you and that family, anyway? Sokka's slappin' your ass, his cousin takes ya out for drinks, and his sister's, what? The emotional attachment? Heh. Maybe if you stuck all the pieces together you'd have a full relationship." Jane's teeth were clenched together tightly, her tongue held back.

"Anyway, what's the deal?" June egged on. "You got an eskimo fetish I need to know about?"

Jane's head creaked around, her lower jaw jutting out with irritation.

"'Cuz, hey. If that's what gives ya girl-woodies, ya know...That's cool. I don't judge," she continued to play out the teasing. Jane said not a word in reply and went back to her grill cleaning.

"Huh," June puffed out, amused by the girl's lack of reaction. "Must be serious," she deduced, scratching an itch on her sideburn as soda steam sizzled up around her worker. "All right, let's drop it, then. So what did you need to ask me about?"

Jane was almost not in the mood to even look into this crap now, but she knew she ought to. And besides, she'd vaguely brought up at the start of the shift that she had something important to ask her boss about. Might as well go through with it. She scraped bubbling liquid down the grill, finishing her task up while she spoke.

"Err...Something's been eatin' at me lately."

"Mm?" June lifted her trimmed, thin eyebrow up, leaning back against the metal gate behind her.

"Your, uhh...-" Jane tapped at her own upper arm. "-...your tattoo. I've been dyin' to know...what's the story with that?"

June's curiosity shifted into suspicion as her eyelids slide halfway down.

"You made it sound like that dark shit, 'n I've...been dealin' with stuff with my old gang, and so...just reminded me, is what it is..."

"Come on, Fitz, you're a better liar than that," June sighed. "I'm a little disappointed."

Jane rolled her eyes and shook her head at this remark.

"Listen, whatever. I want to know."

"Why?"

"Told you, 'cuz of shit with my old group..."

"What do I look like, your damned counselor?"

"Tell me. I need to know. It's important."

Two shady sets of eyeballs, narrowed and defensive, locked together in short-lived competition of stubbornness.

"Mm..." June broke off eye contact, walking past Jane and to the next room back, where the freezers were located.

"Hey!" snorted out Jane impatiently, to which she received a stern, upheld index that signaled her to wait. June popped through the cramped room with the freezers and into the hallway out back. She glanced down both ways, then closed the door behind her, locking it from the inside.

"C'mere," June grunted, nodding Jane to come into the tight room that contained metal freezers on each side. Jane did as asked, and June closed the other door, containing them both in the small space.

"What...-?"

"We don't need any prying ears," June darkly explained, resting her back against one of the freezer doors. "I know you well enough, girly, to figure you aren't gonna drop this. And I can see it in your eyes that you're deep into some shit you shouldn't be."

Jane sighed, rubbing sweat from under her eyes and pulling her restricting uniform cap and apron off, dropping them carelessly to the floor. She undid her short ponytail, plopping down cross-legged on the floor. There was barely enough space for her to sit this way, so narrow was the room. She rustled her bony fingers tiredly through her now loosened hair as June spoke to her.

"Before I go spillin' my guts out, I want to know what your issue is."

Jane leaned her head back, the cool metal soothing against the skin on her neck.

"Fair enough," she mumbled, staring up at the ceiling. "Short story is...I'm tryin' to help catch the bastard that almost cooked up my 'girlfriends.'"

June nodded slowly to this.

"Figured it had somethin' to do with that. And you seem like the type who'd wanna get some revenge, am I right? Give the guy some payback for slappin' your lady friends around?"

Jane's stomach turned at the idea. Was that part of it? She hadn't really thought much on it, so much as jumped into this for the sake of ending shit with the Freedom Fighters, sticking it to the Rhinos, and most importantly, helping Johnny. But of course, this was exactly the reason Korra was offering to help - for some personal satisfaction and revenge.

And that fucker cut up Katara's head. Left her to burn. Jane couldn't deny that despite how things were between her and Katara that she did not accept the idea of anyone hurting that girl in any way. Letting someone get away with that was...the more she dwelt on it...pretty damned unacceptable.

"There's...more to it than that," Jane murmured, finding herself uncomfortable with these thoughts slipping into the notion of brutalizing the Combustion Man's face with a wrench.

"Sure," June dismissed. "So...What is it, then? You think I'm associated with this lunatic just 'cuz I got a shady past?"

"No, it's because you've got a shady past with the school. And the school is the reason that lunatic is fucking burning people."

June frowned with some contemplation, her eyes wandering to the side.

"What makes you think that?"

"It's what I've heard," said Jane. "Every person that bastard lights up is connected to the school." Jane looked up at her boss with a dim face. "You know anything about this?" Another intense clashing of narrowed eyeballs proceeded.

"Yea and no," June replied with hesitation.

"There's this bunch of bikers in town - call themselves the Rough Rhinos."

"Yea, I know of 'em."

"They all have tattoos of rhinos on them. And the Combustion Man? He had this freaky...whacked out shit on his head. Like an eyeball, or something, I guess. And I remembered that you have a tattoo."

"Seems like a bit of a stretch to assume that makes me associated with those dickwads..."

"That's why I'm asking...So are you? Or not?"

"No, I'm not," June answered. "I mean, sort of, but not really...I was part of a different group. We had our own mark, too." June rolled up her sleeve, showing Jane the coiled snake tattoo. "Called ourselves the Silver Serpents." She shoved the sleeve back down, bobbing her head as she told her tale. "We used to occupy our own little slice of the Big Apple. Called our territory 'The Serpents' Pass.' Pretty slick piece of city, the part I was in. I used to really live it up there. Good looks and skilled hands can get a lady real far in a place like that..."

"Soo...What sorta stuff did the Serpents...do?"

"The Serpents' Pass was this strip of town that people came to when they needed to do business. We offered a neutral place for blackmarket dealers to exchange goods without needing to worry about messes to deal with. And in return we got to take a cut out of dealings that went down. And, well...sometimes when messes happened elsewhere that needed cleaning up, people hired us to deal with it. We didn't have alliances or loyalties. Or at least I didn't."

Jane squirmed in her cross-legged spot on the floor. Having a skinny ass made sitting on hard surfaces uncomfortable.

"I just went where the money was..." June finished her thought after a pause.

"And...?"

"And? And what?"

"And where did the money lead you? How'd you end up here? Working as...a fuckin' burger cook?"

June frowned at Jane's pressing persistence.

"The Silver Serpents were actually a part of a bigger whole. Basically, our bosses worked for...other bosses. The whole chain-of-command nonsense. The tattoos, those you had to earn. They marked which group you worked for. These other guys? The Rough Rhinos? They worked for the same folks my group did, see. And as it turned out, that group seemed to have some kind of score to settle with this school. Namely, people from the school seemed to know about our little organizations and were trying to undermine the whole crime network. Which, of course, meant that they had to be dealt with. That was where people like me came in."

Jane stared at June's rigid profile, not entirely shocked by the idea that the woman had done such violent things in her past, but surprised by the implication that such violent acts sounded similar to what the Combustion Man was currently doing.

"A woman like me didn't have trouble sneaking around the city, putting people to sleep."

"...Killing them?"

"Yea...Painlessly, really. Seduce a man, tucker him out...-" June lifted her hand in the air ambiguously, squeezing her thumb around an invisible object. "-...slip him a shot. Of course, sometimes they needed these people alive, so the injections weren't always lethal - sometimes they just needed to be sedated for transport. I never really cared either way. Life was dangerous and exciting. Risk, reward, sex...Honestly, I couldn't have wanted much more that."

Jane's stomach wrenched with discomfort at the way June spoke about these matters. Very calm and uncaring, with the same casual approach she'd refer to her humdrum work here at a burger joint. Jane was reminded of what the Duke had mentioned before: about fatal injections killing SRU associates in New York City years ago. Now she had some idea of what that had been about.

Jane's face wrinkled up with some frustration as she dwelt on the thought. She was receiving confirmation that her hunch had been correct: that her boss, June, this calm, smooth, unfazed person she kind of looked up to was...a criminal, really. A murderer, even, trying to leave her past behind. Jane at once felt a bit of kinsmanship in a fellow soul trying to get back on the right path, but on the other hand, the look in June's face didn't really sell Jane on this idea.

Jane had murdered, but the motivation for doing so was personal. It was for revenge and self-defense both tied in one. And she looked at that day as when she, Jane Fitzpatrick, became something else: Smellerbee. And now, years later, she was still coping with choices Smellerbee had made and trying to make it all right.

And then here was June, who killed multiple people. No personal reason, just...for the fuck of it. For money, and lust, and just because she could? That was...kinda fucking creepy. And that bizarrely uncaring way June spoke about it all, like none of it mattered, that was disconcerting, too.

"You all right there, kid?" June checked when she noticed Jane's boiling emotions coming through twitches in her expression. "Heh. Ya scared of me now?"

No. Just sorry for you...Because you sound like you had nothing worth fighting for. But I do. We're not quite as alike as I thought this whole time.

"You were...a killer?"

"Eh. Technically, you could say I still am. Just...on early retirement, I guess."

Ugh. That, too. That was...unsettling. June didn't seem to really draw a line between the her that once killed people, and the her that now cooked hamburgers. They were really one and same. But for Jane, Smellerbee was like a separate person, her darker side, something she had been working so hard to run away from.

"So...How'd you get stuck here, then?

"Well, uh...eventually things got outta hand. The lot of us got into a scuffle with the law. Not too surprising. Like I said, I had no loyalties. I was in it just for me. So when it was my head on the chopping block, you bet your ass I ratted people out to save myself. Survival of the fittest. Sometimes that means you gotta be like a lizard - let your tail get chewed off to escape, live another day."

"Not...sure I get it."

"There was this guy from the FBI, Long Feng - at least, that's what he says his name is - swooped in and helped the authorities stop everything from getting out of hand and into public eyes. I actually think he just sorta...does that for a living: makes things 'disappear' and shit. Anyway, he was the one that offered me a deal: spill details, get to start a new life in a quiet town. So I took it. Better than getting ass-raped in jail for the rest of my life..."

"But why the school?"

"Well...the people I helped dispose of, they were connected to the college in one way or another, right? So, they wanted this whole clusterfuck settled sooner rather than later. With my help, it was, you could say. Only way they could figure to quickly make arrangements was to just take me under their own wing. Like I said...I could care less. They figured out pretty damn quick that I couldn't give two fucks about who I was working for. Besides, living here...means I'm under their watch. I slip up, they know it. But I'm also under their protection. Anyone who might come looking for me? Last place they're gonna think to look is here, anyway."

Jane sighed, scratching at her eyebrow while she processed this. No wonder June seemed to have taken a bit of an interest in her red-headed employee: they had some sympathetic commonalities, from June's perspective. But Jane couldn't shake that notion that June just didn't seem to care
about what she'd done.

"It worked out for everyone, really. The cops got the boss they were lookin' for. I got to keep living outside of bars...and the school gets to keep me pinned down doing embarrassing, lowly shit like this." June waved a lazy wrist to the freezers around them. "I'm a murderer and a traitor. But I get to live comfortably enough. Just because I don't like it doesn't mean I get much room to complain, really..."

"Hm..." Jane soaked in this whole story, now understanding just why June seemed so...miserably apathetic. All the time. About everything. She didn't like it, but at least she understood some of June's general attitude to her current life.

The word 'revenge' kept floating around Jane's head like a thick cloud. Was that really why she was doing this? Jumping down this rabbit hole? She recollected Korra's immediate and enthusiastic reaction to joining this effort. Korra was obviously in it for revenge. Jane found herself suddenly uneasy with this. This nagging fear that she would end up like Jet kept pricking at her gut, and it was now combined with a dread of ending up like June: reverting back to 'Smellerbee' and becoming lost in that self all over again.

"So there ya go," June concluded with an exhausted huff, shoving her out of her own thoughts. "And I'm sure you're not a dumb-ass about this kind of stuff, but...let's keep this between you and me, shall we?"

"Er, psh! Yea! Duh."

For the first time in their entire conversation, June and Jane swapped smiles. Even if Jane couldn't comprehend June's coldness about everything, it was still nice to finally know someone that could have some kind of sympathy to the commonality of carrying such heavy baggage.

"So, then..." Jane began, trying to find her train of thought in all of this. "What's...the deal with this shit? Why do people want to...kill off SRU grads?"

"Eh...Well?" June shrugged. "I'm not quite the person to ask, I guess. What I do know is that it has something to do with the higher ups we worked for."

"The bosses of your bosses?"

"Exactly. I never knew much about them - never wanted to, frankly. Still don't give a damn. I'll tell ya what, though: you're serious about looking into this stuff?"

Jane nodded vigorously.

"All right. Well...There's one thing I can think of. The Serpents, when they'd send me out to go off somebody, they'd mention that I was helping bring down people who worked for 'The Dragon of the West.' Sounds like a real big boss-man, right?" June grinned in bemusement down at Jane, whose eyes were wide with intrigue. "He's...actually just a professor here at the school. Pudgy old Asian man with a beard. Kind of a pervert, too, come to think of it...His name's 'Iroh.'"

Jane knew that name. Iroh? As in, 'Uncle Iroh,' as in that cheerful old fat man that Zuko would tell funny stories about?

"Iroh Kurosawa?"

"That's the one," June acknowledged, carefully trodding over Jane as she opened the door back into the main food prep area. "The guy may seem like just a professor, but he's actually pulling a lot of strings around here. If you're really wanting to look into shit - 'cuz I sure as hell ain't interested - my best guess would be to go asking him about it."

Jane still sat on the cold floor, struggling to fathom how that bubbly old man could possibly be involved with any of this.

"So..." June called out casually from the next room. "Seems like you had a rough day and all. Just call it a night, I can finish cleanin' up here."

"Uhh...OK." Jane pushed herself up with a grunt, relying on the handle of the metal door behind her for support.

"And hey, Shamrocks." June leaned over, establishing startlingly serious eye contact with Jane through the doorway. "You didn't hear shit from me. Got it?"


"Yea. I'm free for the night," Korra replied to Bolin's question, plopping herself down at the kitchen table.

"Oh. Awesome. Great. So. Korra..." Bolin leaned over the tiny, metal table, putting on an embellished, smooth-talking tone. "I was thinkin'. You and me, we could go to the dance together, sort of a...date situation? Erm, but, like, a 'as-friends,' kind of date. I mean. Is what I meant. Ahem."

"Bolin," Mako scolded him, peering into the cupboards. "Give her some space. She just got off of work." Korra smirked at this, feeling quite satisfied with the fantasy she had invented in her head that these two brother both vied for her affections. "I don't think she'd be interested in being forced to come with us, anyway." He pulled out a few boxes of macaroni and cheese for their lunch.

"Come on, Mako," Bolin huffed. "Just ignore 'im," he muttered coolly to Korra, a seemingly recurring phrase Bolin whipped out in regards to Mako's downer stiff demeanor. "Anyway, I know you're into girls, and stuff, so don't take it the wrong way-" Korra raised a brow in his direction as he went on. "-but I'm just asking 'cuz me and Mako are going, and we got an extra ticket, aaaaand I just think we'd have a fun time." Pff. Real transparent, here. Just happened to have an extra ticket, right? And what was this 'into girls' remark?

"Into girls, eh?" Korra pointedly checked.

"It's kind of obvious," Mako dully advised, filling a pot with water and setting it to boil on the stove. "Nothing to get worked up over, we're not going to judge you. It's fine."

"Uh-huh." Korra slung her arms across her chest, leaning to the side of her chair. As if she needed his permission to have a sexual orientation.

"Uh. R-right!" Bolin was quick to agree. "Totally not judging. This house promotes all walks of life."

"Bolin just wants a woman around his arm when he goes out in public," Mako picked on his sibling with a smug smile. Korra was relishing the tension in his voice. Heheh. If she took Bolin up on his offer here, she could have a good time with him and make Mako jealous in the process, establishing her dominance over them both.

"Won't be a problem," she declared cockily. "I'm...actually into guys."

Bolin's eyes narrowed and he stared at her aggressive smile.

"...I'm sorry, no-no, I didn't mean to assume," he sputtered out hastily, pushing out his palms in defense. Oh, man. This was fun. Mako was attractive when he was being all passive-aggressive, but Bolin was kind of adorable when he was trying to be polite - and the way his eyes would pop open wide, and how expressive he was? Geez. He was one of a kind. Both of 'em, really, wrapped right around her finger, she thought: right where she wanted them. "'Cuz that-...Ya know, I was just figuring...with your butch-ness, and the whole...everything...you are...that you're a...lesbian...gal."

"Nope, you're right," Korra assured, chin up. "I'm into girls. And guys."
"Mm! Mm-hm..." Bolin rubbed his chin cautiously, his gaze shifting away from her. "I'm very confused right now," he confessed in a mumble.

Mako sighed, shaking some salt into the water before him as it barely began to bubble up.

"You're a bisexual, and I'm an idiot," he concluded. Korra smirked his way.

"Both...are...true," she jibed.

"So...so you're gonna go?" Bolin prodded, still wide-eyed and just a bit pleading. Korra laughed that closed-lip giggle that Bolin adored. How adorable. She just divulged a very personal fact and it didn't faze him at all.

"You wanna take me out on a date?" she wondered, perplexed. It seemed fairly obvious that she was not putting out for him or anything - it was like he just...wanted to take her out for a good time, even if nothing came of it. It was kind of weird to consider, from her perspective. "I'm a bit of a loose cannon, Bo - not exactly the 'date' type."

"Are you kidding me?" said Bolin, giving her back a gentle slap with his broad hand. "You're the smartest, funniest, toughest, buff-est, talented-est, incredible-est girl in the world! What guy - uh, or girl - wouldn't want to take you out to dinner?"

Korra's impulsive reaction to Bolin's compliments was another humming laugh, and she could feel the edges of her cheeks warming up a bit at his cheerful, excited face and energetic eyes, staring right at her own.

"You really feel that way about me?" she muttered with some embarrassment. Guys didn't try...flattering her. Or complimenting her. They usually tried impressing or intimidating her. It was just a change of pace, especially with Bolin suddenly being more...forward about it, as if suddenly realizing there was a shot at going out with her ignited some renewed determination within him.

"I felt that way since the moment I saw you!" he breathlessly puffed out. "What are you even talkin' about? You're fun," he murmured in mock exasperation. "So whaddya say? No, uh...no obligations, no commitment, here. Just an innocent evening together."

"Hm...It's on pretty short notice...I dunno." Korra hummed and hawed, bobbing her head left and right. Bolin was an open book, his chubby nose wrinkling up nervously. Clarification: He was an open book she found amusing to watch read itself. "Besides, isn't this a college dance?" she inquired doubtfully. "Aren't we...a little old?"

"Whaaat? No way!" Bolin tossed his hand out. "It's being hosted by the school, sure, but it's for everybody. There's like a charity event thing, some rich people are gonna be there, yadda-yadda..."

"All right, I get ya," Korra shrugged. Still sounded a bit odd, kind of stuffy. It might not really be her kind of party, but...-

"Trust me, we are gonna have so much fun together," Bolin insisted. As he said it, a certain kind of confidence rang through, reverberating to Korra's very core.

'Fun.' Bolin was 'fun.' She was so stressed and tired, trying to find consistent work, babysitting crazy kids, worrying about this crazy pyro criminal to take out. And when was the last time she went out, and not to a bar? She couldn't remember.

"Ya know what? I could use some fun," Korra decided. "OK, sure." She nodded in agreement to Bolin's proposal, lazily slinging an arm over the head of her chair. She delighted in the way Mako seemed to glare over his shoulder at them. Jealous much? Damn right he was jealous, just as she wanted.

"Yes!" Bolin was oblivious, pumping his fist and pounding Korra's back with his hand, like a proper 'bro.' "Who's the luckiest guy in the world? Right here. Bo-lin!"

"Do you even have something proper to wear?" Mako dubiously remarked. Heh. Oh, Mako, ever the pessimist, right? What did he care, anyway?

"As a matter of fact, I do," Korra answered with snark. "I have exactly one dress, and it looks damn good on me, I'll say."

"One dress?" Bolin mumbled aghast. "I'm not sure if I should be shocked that you're a girl who only has one dress...or be impressed that a girl like you has one dress at all."

"Er...Thanks?"

Mako even bothered to give her a confused look, and shared his two cents.

"You, of all people, hardly take anything with you when you move to another country, and yet even you still bring a dress. That you never seemed to plan on using." A flat, sarcastic stare. "Somehow, that makes perfect sense."

"I'll take that as a compliment, City-Boy," Korra replied cockily to his observation with some ferocity in her eyes.

"Oh, man, this is gonna be so great," Bolin rambled. "Mako, can you even remember the last time we went out on a double-date?"

Korra's heart skipped a beat. 'Double-date?' As in...Mako had a date? When in the fuck did Mako find some girl to go out with? This was...not to Korra's liking. It inherently meant she was clearly not the center of Mako's attention, despite obviously deserving to be.

"Mm..." Mako's face arced with remembrance while he dug up a wooden spoon to prepare for the ensuing stirring of the macaroni. "Wow. You're right, I can't...I can't even recall. High school, maybe?"

"Freaking high school, man," Bolin confirmed. "Aw, man. This is just-...I am so pumped." Bolin began sprinting through the living room. "I gotta get ready! Gotta style my hair, and...and get my suit all set, and...-" His voice trailed off as he bounded upstairs. The ruckus caused Naga to wake up from her nap on the floor and start barking, scuttling up the stairs after him.

"Jesus, he's...more of a woman than I am," Korra laughed to herself.

"He sure is," sighed Mako. "Probably should watch out, wouldn't want any of that to go rubbing off on you, right? You have a reputation to keep."

Korra was slightly off-put by Mako's collected assertion. A 'reputation,' huh?

"Yea. I guess I do," she verbally agreed with him in an stubborn mumble of indignation, while her mind raced to try and read his real thoughts.


["Aw, mannnn...I'm so freakin' jealous!"] Meng frowned with envy as she watched Katara brushing her cousin's hair on the side of the video chat.

"Eh," Toph pushed off any enthusiasm. "Not so sure it's gonna be all that great...I don't even have a date."

Katara raised a brow, slowing the brushing of her friend's hair to a stop. Toph was at least taking the knots like a champ, hardly flinching, much less complaining. That's what she got for letting her hair grow out, not cutting it, and not taking proper care of it. It was a wonder the girl didn't just toss it up in a bun and call it a day, or get it hacked off altogether.

"I didn't know you...wanted a date to the dance," Katara mumbled, her lips curving down slightly with some guilt. "I mean, who did you want to go with? I could've helped-"
"Nah, don't...-!" Toph immediately snapped, her shoulders popping up with tension as she could begin to feel the rushing of blood to her cheeks. Better stop that train at the tracks before something slipped. "It's...fine," Toph mumbled. "Just, ya know...a bummer, is all. Dances are kinda more fun when you've got...ya know...someone to dance with?

["Why didn't you ask that Douglas boy?"] Meng inquired.

Toph's glazed over in a fleeting moment of remembrance of the bizarre but brief romance they had entangled themselves in. A shallow puddle of affection, a flame of attraction that burst alight and was puffed out by the wind just as fast.

["I mean...He seems pretty cute,"] Meng mumbled, clicking sounds echoing from her side of the line. Toph knew Meng enough by now to figure she was probably double-checking for photos of the boy on Facebook. ["Grahhh, Tophie, why do all of the boys at your school have to be so hot? And seriously, why not ask this guy out?"]

Katara's expression frowned slightly from disapproval, but she didn't butt in with any words on the matter.

"Uh...No, Meng," Toph grumbled out in a sigh, her teeth gritting as Katara worked out a knot with the brush. "Me and him don't...talk...anymore." Meng's face drooped with sympathy at this information. They hadn't discussed Douglas hardly at all since, well...Hm. Meng couldn't remember.

["Oh..."] Meng's sad-face remained attached, though her glance wandered back to her Facebook window, where she was looking up information on this adorably attractive little blond guy. Hm...His profile seemed pretty scant, unfortunately.

"He's, um...He's playing in the band at the ball, anyway," Toph entirely blew off the possibility. She certainly hadn't asked, but being his neighbor in the music building, it would've been nigh impossible to not have overheard it mentioned any of the numerous times she'd found out. Part of her was bothered, on a childish, stubborn level, that all evening she'd be listening to him playing on violin, and be reminded of her careless, shallow mistake of the recent past.

["He is?"] Meng intently wondered. ["Doesn't he play, like...violin, or something?"]

Toph huffed out quite audibly, hoping her cousin would take a hint to drop this subject.

["'Cuz, like, I'm just sayin', violin is the-sexiest-instrument-ever,"] Meng prattled on in a rushed murmuring under her breath, ogling her screen.

"Huh?" came Katara to Toph's ear.

"She's got a bit of a musical fetish, I think," Toph dubiously remarked.

["Ha! Like you don't?"]

Toph smirked at that counter remark.

"Yea, but...it's different. I find the sounds a musician can make attractive. You just think it's hot to watch their hands move around all complicated like." Toph went so far as to sloppily wriggle and flop her wrists around for the camera. "Sight and hearing: two different things, Meng."

["Pff. No way, it's the same thing: the skill. That's what's attractive."]

"Yea, I find the way that Aang gets so into his work really cute," Katara chimed in her own thoughts. "Like, he gets this intense look on his face sometimes when he's drawing-" She pushed down her brows and directed her fingers to her face for Meng to see. "-and it's, you know..." She smiled dreamily. "It's pretty sexy, seeing him so passionate about his work, so confident and dedicated."

["Yea,"] Meng breathed out peacefully. Toph figured the girl's mind was probably slipping into some fantasy about one of those animes she was always watching. Oh, brother. ["See, Toph, maybe that's what you need to do if you want to get a guy's attention,"] Meng decided. ["Show off your music skills, ya know? You know it goes both ways. Guys find that stuff hot, too."]

Toph face contorted with insecurity. She fought it, but the thought still popped into her head: playing music for Sokka. Would that impress him in some way? Would he even give a fuck? Sokka didn't seem the musical type...But then again, neither did Aang, and she recalled very specifically that the entire reason Aang had thrown himself out there to meet her was because he found her talent at the piano so attractive.

"Meng's got a good point, Toph," Katara agreed. "I, uh...-" She shrugged sheepishly. "There's been a couple of times boys tried flirting with me after we'd play a song in the band. And remember that attention Jane got the last time?"

"Mmph..." Toph did remember all the encouragement Jane had received, and Toph herself had gotten a cat-call or two that night, too. Not that it mattered, really. What good was that, guys just stupidly lathering you with attention, and probably staring you up? Not exactly something she could relate to or appreciate, what-not with the lack of sight and all.

["Flaunt what ya got, haha."]

"If music's a big part of who you are, probably wouldn't hurt to be more...open with it," Katara casually presented the notion. She remembered Toph's little coffee shop kareoke trips, and had noticed that Toph hadn't been going to them lately. Maybe it was someone that would come to the coffee shop that Toph was thinking of? Someone who was falling for her music? "Maybe try making more friends when you play out in public? Or even just playing more out on campus, or something? You never know."

"It's...whatever," grumbled Toph. "It'd just be nice to have someone to go to the dance with, I...I never asked for a boyfriend or something, it's-FFFFF-agh." Toph had flinched, caught off guard by a hard stinging and her head being tugged from a nasty clump Katara has loosened. "Shit, that one was bad..."

"Heh. Sorry..."

"You're all good, Sister-Face," Toph sighed. She was admittedly grateful that Katara was helping her in the first place, given the mood the woman had been in. It seemed like this dance was giving Katara a bit of an escape, a purpose, which inherently was putting her in a better mood.

["I'm sure there'll be something good at the dance for you to do."]

"Meh. At least it'll maybe have some good, old-timey music."

"See?" Katara mumbled, pushing the brush with haste. She needed to get this done soon to have time to fix both Toph's and her own hair up. "Looking at the bright side of things."

"I don't look at the bright or dark sides of things," Toph stated, as if she were bragging. "Can't be swayed by that sorta stuff when you're blind and none of it makes a difference to ya."

"You know what I mean," Katara sighed, smiling at Toph's way of verbally fooling around. "All right, well...Sorry, Meng. We actually should get going, I've gotta make...this-" She lifted up clumps of Toph's greasy, frizzy-edged hair. "-look decent tonight. Just because Toph might not have anybody to impress, doesn't mean she's allowed to embarrass the rest of us."

["Heh. It is going to be a big fancy ball, right? Ya never know, Tophie. You could meet the perfect man there if you keep your eyes open, hahaha."]

"Whore," Toph replied with a flat smirk. What followed led to a few snickers between the three girls.

["Just be on the lookout for the right guy. You could fall into his arms. It would be love at first sight. No! No, wait...Tonight will be a...a real blind date."]

"Fucking christ!" Toph giggled out, being lifted from her desk chair and whisked away. "Someone make my brain stop hurting."

["Have a good time tonight, guys~"]

"You have a good night, too!"
"Talk to you later, crazy jerk!"


youtube(.com)/watch?v=kThPknH8o-o

City Hall was aglow tonight, its main chamber lit up and smattered with ornate gold and black decor: balloons, ribbons, banners, flowers, paper lanterns...The Golden Dragon Ball had a mystical 1920's aura to it, and yet a bit of eastern flair. A small stage was set up at the back of the hall, where a band of students from the college were performing old-time rag, swing, and jazz tunes to set an appropriate mood. An open space was left between the band and the various tables strewn about the hall. The tables were decorated with a number, some flowers, and were gradually filling up as attendees arrived.

A table near the front, off to the side, was reserved for special guests and benefactors of the charity event. While technically being hosted by the school and promoted to college students, the Golden Dragon Ball was truly an event serving as a means of joining figures from the town of Wayward with school officials to discuss matters of politics and money. It was also serving as a charity gala of sorts, with various organizations represented.

The table that contained the leading figureheads of the event was only partially full at present, with some members off mingling with guests, students, and faculty. Azula Kurosawa, however, representing her own company, was finding herself utterly bored from this elderly hum-drum. It was a blessing that she wouldn't be stuck here much longer. The actual business end of things had been sorted out earlier, so this was just for publicity and formality's sake. Which was, of course, a complete waste of time, in Azula's opinion.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of, Mr. Bumi," insisted the portly man with round glasses and a graying comb over. He was dressed in an ornate, era-appropriate suit with red and gold accents to it. "Saint Roku University is simply running into a bit of a...financial stumbling block. It's the state of the economy. Many schools are dealing with the same difficulties you are."

"True, true," said President Bumi quietly. The bald, crazy-eyed man muttered, hands folded together on the table. "I suppose you're right, Hiroshi."

Bumi's neighbor continued while Azula sipped her coffee, her expression keen with observation on this man, who sort of reminded her of her own father in some ways. Hiroshi Sato, in his early 50's, was an energetic businessman of Japanese descent, just as Ozai Kurosawa had been, and spoke with a similar pride and idealism that was reminiscent of Azula's father - and Zuko, for that matter.

"Besides, I've already told you: I am eager and excited to help. You know well that my wife - rest her soul - was a happy alumna of this school. I assure you, I'm honored to support her memory and help benefit the growing minds here. SRU is a unique organization that has something most schools do not: heritage, my friend. Heritage, tradition, loyalty, and equality. These are traits that this country needs to embrace, and what better way to do that than through helping reinforce these ideals through the education of the next generation?"

Azula was not quite sure she was sold on the way this man kept gushing out billowing clouds of positivity. Then again, she was ever the critical pessimist. Better safe than sorry. Well, at least it wasn't her that was signing any agreement with the man, which was for the best. As he spoke, a few more of these elder figures settled back at the table.

"Why, " Hiroshi extended his arm to Azula, his neatly trimmed chin tilted up slightly. "It was this school that helped mold this headstrong lovely lady into the shrewd young CEO she is today."

Bah. Nonsense. Complete foolishness. I have attained my status from my own inherent skills and lineage.

"When I was your age," said Mr. Sato with a knowing smile, "I was a mere janitor in an office complex, but I had a fascination with office machines. I would tinker with them when they were broken, you see. All I really had to my name was an idealistic idea of starting a company that would produce refined office technologies as an affordable price - a way to make the world a more efficient place, and equalize the playing field for smaller businesses. Now, I was fortunate enough to meet someone who believed in me and my work ethic. He gave me the money I needed to get my own business off the ground. The entire empire I have built in the years since was all a result of one selfless loan. You see, this is how I look at the world: when generosity is given to someone, it is the natural order to pass it along. Call it karma, call it good will...I simply believe that when you promote ideals of equality and kindness, the world repeats that sentiment and becomes a better place.

What an ignorant, idealistic imbecile of a man...

"But you, Ma'am," he redirected his attention to Azula. "Look at what you've accomplished at your age. You are the next generation, tasked with continuing to shape this world into a better place. We're all expecting great things from you, Miss Kurosawa."

"Oh, indeed, as you should be," Azula slyly replied, which elicited some laughs from the table. Simpleton fools. That wasn't a joke.

"Father?"

The attention at the table was redirected to a beautiful young woman with sharp, sultry eyes, porcelain skin, and thick, luscious locks of raven hair. She was garbed in an elegant dress of red.

"Ah!" Hiroshi stood up from his seat and gave the woman a hug. "Everyone, this is my daughter: Asami."

"Oh, um...Hello," Asami courteously greeted them with a light bow. A slender man with defined eyebrows, serious eyes, and a pointed jawline was at her side, and they clasped hands. He was looking rather dapper with his combed neatly. The two of them looked like a Disney prince and princess, side-by-side. "I hope everyone is having a good time," she said to the lot, who nodded and murmured in agreement.

"What is it, my dear?" Hiroshi asked her quietly, under the rumbling of conversation that was bouncing off of what had just been said.

"Mako and I are going to go spend time with our double date now - I just wanted to know that I'd still like to dance with you before you leave tonight. We'll be at table number four."

"Oh, of course, Sweetie. Certainly, certainly." He gave her a warm smile.

Azula, who was sitting in the seat closest to this interaction, wanted to turn away from that despicable smile: that glowing pride and fatherly affection. And yet she couldn't. She was compelled to vicariously absorb it.

"Now, then, Mako," said Hiroshi with a cocked head. "You show my daughter a good time tonight, but not too good a time, mm?"

"Dad!" Asami chuckled.

"Y-yes, Sir."

The couple waded away from the table of suits and ties and elderly men - Mako was puzzled as to who the one girl was there. Seemed out of place - and Mako was relieved to be out of the path of social danger for now. He could make out his brother off by the chocolate fountain, though a fedora was covering up that normally easy-to-catch duck-tail hairdo. Bolin was wearing a snazzy suit with green undertones, while his date, Korra, was dressed in a unique blue dress with some white fur trimming. He couldn't deny that Korra looked quite uncharacteristically pretty tonight. It was almost unnatural how attractive such athletic arms looked when jutting out of a dress.

Mako was still uncertain about this girl's motives regarding his brother, but...his brother did look pretty happy, and Korra was very pretty, so he couldn't deny Bolin's interest. It was no surprise that as they approached, he could tell that the two were gorging themselves on chocolate-covered strawberries. Korra even had traces of chocolate around her lips.

Jeez, Bolin. She's just as much of a pig as you are...

"Eyyy! Mako!" Bolin immediately leaned forth, hugging his brother tightly. "Aha!" he extended his arm to Asami. "And Miss Sato, Ma'am." He gave the back of her wrist a princely peck before stepping back to Korra's side. "And how are you two beautiful folks doin' tonight?"

Korra had an odd look on her face as she measured herself up to this 'Miss Sato' chick. They exchanged brief glances of unfamiliarity before Mako resolved the social tension.

"You met Bolin earlier, but, erm...this is Korra, our room-...housemate."

Korra weakly lifted up her hand, twitching a few fingers in meek introduction.

"It's lovely to meet you," Asami said quite politely with a nod of her head. "Mako told me so much about you."

"Really?" said Korra, intrigued by this. They seemed pretty comfy with each other, their arms all locked together and such. "Because he hasn't mentioned you at all," she said with plastic courtesy, shooting a narrow, brief glare at Mako that he didn't seem to catch. "How did you two meet?"

Bolin leaned over and spat out her answer.

"Asami bumped into him and spilled his coffee all over."

"...What?" Korra blinked at Bolin, perplexed.

"My father recently became a patron of SRU, and we met while he was conducting an interview with the local newspaper."

"Ruined my shirt from the coffee," Mako chuckled, lifting a brow her way.

"I bought you a better one to replace it," Asami coyly reminded him, running her finger across his chest.

"Sounds like you, uh...come from a rich family...?" Korra guessed, displeased with their flirty little...whatever. How could he have not told her about this woman sooner? And why were they so chummy and shit? How did that all happen?

"Her father is an engineer in New York City," Mako explained with an uncharacteristic smile on his face. "He runs a software company."

Hmph. You seem in a cheery mood, Mako. It's not like you...

"Uh-huh." Korra was making a point to express her complete apathy.

"Have you heard of Sato Mobile?" Asami teased with a waggle of her index finger. Gullghh. Too much pep, girl.

"Can't...say that I have," Korra mumbled with an indifferent shrug.

"Whoa, wait up," Bolin cried, practically pounding his arm around Korra's shoulder and leaning over on her with nonchalance. "Sato Mobile? The phone company? Like, they make apps, and smartphones, n' stuff?"

"That's the one," Asami confirmed, with pride. "Hiroshi Sato: he's my father, the man that started up that company. We don't just do phones, but...that is what we're most famous for."

Bolin was slack-jawed at this, while Korra was still getting over the physical proximity. Bolin was normally pretty loose and outgoing with physical affection, but...something about the setting and the particular way he was doing it tonight, it was...different.

"I have a Sato phone," Bolin said with self-realization. "I've been playin' this driving simulator they made recently," he mumbled to himself, aghast and in shock, rubbing his chin. Korra didn't much care for all of the pleasantries, but she couldn't complain with how casually Bolin was acting with her, his chunky arm wound around her. He really seemed pretty comfortable, and when he spoke, just his laid-back mannerism and tone of voice put her at ease. "It's fun, you tilt the phone to steer and everything..." Bolin cupped his hands in mid-air to create a steering gesture. "Wow, your dad is the guy behind all that?"

"Sure is!" chirped Asami, beaming with those sparkling teeth. Blech. Gag me. What a prissy little geisha princess...

"That is so cool," complimented Bolin. "Can you believe that?" he nudged Korra, shaking her slightly.

"Uh...Heh. Pretty...interesting," she muttered sheepishly. There was an awkward pause in which both Mako and Bolin seemed to notice how off her game Korra was with all of this formality.

"Well...Anyway," said Bolin, patting Korra's muscular bicep with vigor. Damn, woman. Are you sure you didn't steal that arm from a dude? Mm-mm. "It looks like dinner's getting served up soon!" He pointed out the tuxedo-clad folks buzzing about with trays. "I dunno 'bout you, Kor, but I am hungry."

"Oh, man, me, too!" She was quite eager to leave this weird social situation. And food sounded damned good right now, too.

[link]<--Previous Chapter
Part 2 ---> [link]

[link]<-<--Chapter 1

Man, this chapter kicked my ass. <_< It's easily the longest chapter by far so far, clocking in at a total of 25k words, meaning I actually had to split it in three parts on DA due to size limits.

I'm honestly not 100% happy with every scene in this chapter...but hopefully it was worth the wait, and manages to do all of the narrative dealios it needs to.

This chapter in artwork:
Show
Add a Comment:
 
No comments have been added yet.

A/N: A bunch of SRU artworks have been added to the gallery, including a fantastic preview pic of a future scene with Jane and Korra.

http:/destiny-smasher(dot)deviantart(dot)com/favourites/41510260

Anyone following the SRU Tumblr account got a preview of this chapter, so those more dedicated folks out there can feel free to keep an eye out, I'll probably keep doing that.

http:/saint-roku-university(dot)tumblr(dot)com/


What I Learned at SRU
Chapter 76 - Chance


- Monday, March 14th, 2011 -

"Right. See? You've got it," Aang encouraged, rubbing his elbow against hers, his hands occupied with the game controller in his hands.

"Uhhh...-" Katara's voice was shaky as she was trying to keep up with the pace of what was on screen. "S-so, like...-"

The on-screen vehicle leaned heavily into a turn, the little mushroom-man in the driver's seat twisting the wheel fiercely. Katara immediately reacted, flicking her control stick left and right. Sparks began flying from the wheels of their car before it boosted forward. A childish squeal popped out of Katara's lips.

"I've got this," she chirped, her tone regaining its confidence.

"OK, so you also gotta watch out," Aang cautioned as a box in the top corner rotated through items. "'Cuz you're also in charge of the items, too..."

An alarm began beeping at them, and the pink-dressed princess in the backseat held up a banana peel.

"So, like, right there, it's a red shell, so you...-"

But Katara had already dropped the banana peel, cancelling out the oncoming attack.

"I remember how to play Mario Kart, Goofus," she teased. "This one's just...different."

Aang had introduced Katara to Mario Kart a while back, but this was the first time she had ever played Double Dash! before. It was quite enjoyable, both of them playing as characters in the same kart. He had figured she'd find it endearing and...about as romantic as Mario Kart was capable of being. When they won the first race and she kissed his cheek, he knew he'd made a good choice. A few grand prix sessions passed by as they both got into things. Aang was charmed by how cute Katara was as she was taking this somewhat seriously, interested in learning how to play effectively.

"Looks like penguins and Eskimos make a good team," Katara announced as their characters celebrating earning another trophy. She was endeared by how Aang had come up with his own activity for them to do together, and pleasantly surprised by how much she was enjoying it. Mario Kart had previously proven a bit crazy for her to comprehend in the past with all of the items flying around, but letting her boy take the wheel while she learned how to shoot shells and deflect attacks was making things easier to take in. He was easing her into things one step at a time this way.

After their victory, Katara's arms wound up snugly wrapped around Aang's waist.

"Hey, Sweetie..."

"Yea?"

"I was playing as Princess Peach, but...how come you played as Toad?"

"What's wrong with Toad?"

"Nothing." She laughed through her nose and ruffled his hair. His scalp was super dry, his hair almost like hay today. "I just-...I dunno, I figured you'd play as Mario."

Aang shrugged and dropped a small smooch on her shoulder.

"Mario's...like...the hero," he muttered. "But Toad's the royal retainer. He looks out for the princess and does anything she needs for him..."

Katara frowned slightly at this, a bit perplexed.

"But Mario saves the princess..."

"W-well, yea, but...you don't need saving," mumbled Aang with a sheepish grin.

"I guess not," Katara agreed coyly. A curious explanation from a curious young man. She was fascinated by his mindset, and he was tickled by her questions, always seeking to understand him.

She ran her fingertips beneath his shirt along his hairless stomach.

"You lost some weight over the past couple of months, didn't you?" she noted. Just because they hadn't been dating earlier didn't mean she wouldn't notice this kind of thing.

"Heh..." Aang shrugged timidly, but she read him easily. 'Yea, I did.'

"All that jogging, right?"

"Mm..."

She leaned herself against him as he clicked the game to go back to the menu screen.

"Weren't you doing all that running to try and get on the track team?" she asked, suddenly reminded of his previous goals.

"Oh, uhh...-" Aang swallowed hard and shrugged half-heartedly. "Yea, I...I was..."

"'Was?'" She rubbed her head against his twice, opting not to put him on the spot with eye contact. His hands set his own controller down and rested on her arm.

"Yea, I didn't get in," he clarified. "Things, uh-...Well, my priorities changed," he explained with warmth, reaching to his side and rubbing blindly at her jaw with his thumb.

"Ah-haaahhh..." Katara's eyes slid closed and she kissed his neck lightly. He was wearing a different cologne today than usual. Whatever it was, it was working. Still sitting, they awkwardly pressed abdomens together, hugging tightly as Katara left kisses like raindrops across his neck. She could tell he enjoyed it, and he reciprocated afterward. As he did so, the back of her mind juggled the question, 'Is he comfortable? How come it seems like I'm always initiating? Am I maybe messing something up here?'

They made out for a minute or so and she tried to let the lingering doubts go...But they kept hold. After they broke apart, arms still across backs, she whispered a question.

"Is this all OK?"

He nodded slightly, and rubbed her nose. She distracted him with more kissing, and clasped at his wrist. She knew Aang well enough to understand that with some things, she'd have to show him it was OK in order to get him to know he was fine initiating in these matters. She planted his palm against her chest, and it lingered there, motionless. A moment passed, and then the hand quickly retracted at the sound of the door opening. Lips leapt away from each other, chins tucked on shoulders, and hands went back around waists as Sokka walked in, only to freeze in place two steps into the room.

"Gyughhh," he shuddered. "Oogies in my bedroom?" he seethed, eyes narrowing at Aang, who smirked up at him.

"It's his bedroom, too," Katara quipped back cheerfully, not even turning to look at her brother, who huffed through his nose at the remark.

"Yooouuuuu guys..." he growled at them, index finger quaking in the air as he stomped over to his side of the room, unslinging his backpack. "You're lucky that I've got a meeting to go to, or I'd...-" He pulled a folder out and tucked it under his shoulder.

"Go to your meeting, Bro," taunted Katara. Aang grinned widely, and Sokka pointed at him with silent accusation before heading back out. Closing the door behind him and walking down the hall of Aero, he smiled brightly to himself with relief that his sister and his roommate both seemed to be so enamored with each other. It was reassuring, in a way - two wonderful people he loved finding some happiness in people who could give it back to them. It was a beautiful thing, he had to admit.

A beautiful thing he remembered all too well.

He wondered what he'd have to do to find such fortune once again.

Was there even a chance?


Sokka was floored by this proposition. Was this for real? He realized his jaw was agape when Piandao cracked a smile at his stare, and he wiped his clammy palm across his face to sober himself from the excitement.

"I had a hunch you might feel that way," said Piandao knowingly. "Which is why I'm not taking 'no' for an answer."

At this, Sokka allowed himself to smile and a baffled laugh escaped him.

"I don't even know what to say," he breathed out, staring down at the folder in his hands. He swallowed hard, then looked back up with a hurried, "Thank you!"

"Don't thank me just yet," chuckled the professor. "It's not like this is set in stone - you have to impress my friend first."

"R-right!" Sokka sputtered, fumbling with the folder and sticking it across the desk to Piandao's extended hand.

"Let's have a look at what you've got here," the man muttered to himself as he opened the contents onto his desk. Sokka watched Piandao adjust his external USB camera. Piandao was waiting for the video connection to start up - the video chat Sokka had no forewarning about.

Sokka's mind raced with possibilities. A shot at a paid internship? This could be exactly the kind of opportunity he'd been looking for. The professor had advised Sokka to bring some samples of the ideas they had discussed off and on in their conversations so he could take a look at them. The goal, Sokka had just been informed of moments prior, was to compile these works into a portfolio Piandao would endorse to his personal friend - the one who worked at the trading card company - in the hopes of landing Sokka an internship there. While it was highly unlikely that he'd be doing something like designing their cards, any kind of experience in that sort of creative kettle could prove valuable - and with some luck, he was told, he might be able to find a job within the company.

Piandao's theory revolved around Sokka's fascination with history, wars, battles (and the tactics employed), and mythology - all the kinds of ideas that went into designing the kinds of strategy games his friend's company worked with.

With the idea - the possibility - now planted into his head, Sokka's mind was reeling, and he was swimming in a quickly flooding state of creativity when Piandao cut off his thought.

"We're all set up?" Piandao was speaking, seemingly to no one. Then the computer speakers replied.

["Yea, we're all good here."]

"Great. So, I have my friend Sokka here - that student I told you about - I just figured I'd have him show you some of his ideas, just to give you a feel for what he's about."

["Sounds good, let's see it."]

"Sure thing."

Sokka's hands were tightening around the edges of his chair. Who was this man on the other line? The monitor was pointed away so he couldn't see, and yet...arghh, nooo...Piandao was rotating the spheric camera around to face Sokka, who sheepishly waved and nodded to it.

"Sooo...What's this, exactly?" Piandao asked him with a perplexed look, flipping around a print to him.

+ http:/destiny-smasher(dot)deviantart(dot)com/art/Wangfyre-Dovahkiin-279642450 +

Sokka shrugged, his face flushing pink briefly as his professor flashed it before the camera.

["Wow, that's pretty solid work."]

"Oh! That! Yea." Sokka's intestines were crawling. "That's, uhhh...something my friend drew up for me," he explained, hoping to draw focus away from the image. He'd tossed that in more to show Piandao in a personal setting, not...this. "I designed it, it's just...I can't draw, and so...-"

"But what is it?"

Sokka's brain danced with mischievous thoughts of the fantastical story his mind had crafted to tell the tale of the warrior presented in the picture. A great bearded oaf with a magic sword who saved the innocent and nobly slayed the dark dragons that plagued the mystic lands, belting out words of magic to cause...mystic...magic...stuff...to transpire. And such things.

Yes, the character did look startlingly like himself - but with a much more luxurious beard (handsome devil!). Yes, aspects of the design were borrowed from somewhere else. And OK, yes, the more he thought about it, the more it was a somewhat blatant self-insert of himself into a fantasy world of a video game he was anticipating a lot and...-

Oh God. What hell hath I wrought? I'm no better than Katara and her Harry Potter fanfiction. How have I not seen the error of my ways until this moment?

"Yea, it's-...W-well, my friend and I, we kinda like, made a version of...of me, but like...in this fantasy world and...and I dunno, it's...just a design. I just thought it was cool."

"I see," Piandao mumbled, eyeballing the picture, then Sokka, then the drawing once more. "As I'm looking through these, it seems a number of them are drawings..."

["Yea, lotta neat creature designs in there."]

"Yea, that's right," Sokka nodded, hoping the particular print Piandao had brought up would fade in with the rest.

["But you just said you don't draw."]

"Th-that's true, those are pictures I designed, I had him put them together. Like, the concepts, I meant. I came up with a lot of the concepts."

["You got the files for these?"]

"Huh?"

["Digital. Do you have digital copies of this stuff?"]

"Yeaaa, yea, I can...ya know...e-mail those to you with the application."

["Great."]

Piandao nodded thoughtfully in response to this brief exchange as he continued to scroll through the stack, making sure to show the images to the camera to give an impression.

"So you coordinated with your friend on these images?" Piandao checked.

"Exactly. Because, like, I'm an 'Idea Guy,' you know?" Sokka rambled on, hoping he was making sense. "It took some work to coordinate those designs, and...and like, I've got docs in there that lay out the mechanics and lore of the world, so...-"

"It looks like you...already have the concept to a strategy game laid out here," Piandao noted, intrigued.

"W-well, yea, I guess I just thought it might...I-I dunno, be a good way to...-"
"Run us through it."

["Yea, what's the hook to it?"]

Sokka blinked at him, wide-eyed, his stomach emptying. All of these personal, generally private ideas he'd been brewing over the past year with Aang in his spare time, laid out on paper in words and images, and here he was being asked to explain it? He hadn't prepared for this.

"Err..." He gawked, jaw slightly agape, pointing dumbly at his own project.

As Piandao slid the folder across his desk his student, Sokka began fumbling around, trying to remember what parts of his concept would make the most sense to start with. he was having difficulty with that prospect.

"W-well, as you know...this idea that my roommate and I came up with...f-for a strategy game. I mean, I know you know that, because - apff - why else would I be here, showing it to you? Ahehhhhnyway!" Sokka went to scoop up one of the images but dropped it, and the paper floated downward, dodging his clumsy hands as he fumbled to pick it up. He grabbed it from the floor carefully and quickly dropped it back onto the table, his brain degrading with worry and self-doubt, his stomach empty and gurgling.

"So, this world we came up with-" he began, his stupid hands hastily sifting through the jumbled pile - Piandao had rearranged them, argh - to find the correct drawing. "-the map for that's right here. No-uhh wait-uhh wait-uhh wait-it's here." He stabbed his finger into a very rough drawing of a map. He was talking a mile a minute by this point, caught on the spot. "So the world's made up of these four different races and they each are able to use different kinds of powers and they're been at war for like a hundred years and so that's bad for them but it's good for us because it sets up this place for all of these battles to happen right?" He wasn't even looking at Piandao at this point, just rattling out words incoherently. Sokka interrupted himself with a long-winded huff. "I'm sorry. Let me start at the beginning." He bobbed his head for a moment of recollection before bursting out a rapid-fire string of narrative that had Piandao concerned yet bemused.

"Katara-and-I-met-Aang-last-school-year-now-I-didn't-like-Aang-at-first-but-I-grew-to-love-him-over-time-and-then-my-sister-really-grew-to-love-him-more-recently-but-I'm-getting-ahead-of-myself-and-so-anyway-Aang-and-I-became-roommates-and-so-we-spent-a-lot-of-time-together-and-"

Piandao tuned him out for a few moments, carefully observing the concepts laid out in his bullet-point documents - and a crudely drawn flow-chart - complimented by rough sketches of various stylized figures using the 'powers' Sokka must have been referring to. It seemed like it had some potential, and at least wasn't so stereotypically Tolkien-esque in its design, which he was admittedly expecting after hearing about the lad's interest in such fantasy worlds.

"-got-the-idea-from-how-the-campus-has-the-four-dorms-with-the-four-elements-theme-going-on-and-so-it-just-made-sense-to-turn-them-into-"
"OK." Piandao thrust up his palm , growing nervous himself, hoping to ease Sokka down. "Sorry," he apologized to his friend. "I put him on the spot here - this was an impromptu thing," he advised. "But we can get all of the digital files sent to you later to look at it in detail. But Sokka," Piandao eyeballed him sternly, hoping Sokka would get his act together, as this wasn't the best first impression. There'd have to be a little damage-control afterward. Perhaps this hadn't been such a great idea, to spring it upon the poor kid on a whim. "Just explain to us the basic ideas of how it works."

Sokka's eyes were wide, his heart thumping fretfully, fingernails digging into the wooden arms of the chair he rested in.

"Y-yea, I can try and do that..."


- Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 -

Aang was concerned. Sokka had seemed discouraged all day. Aang knew his meeting had not gone well, as Sokka had briefly explained it, but he hadn't discussed any details. As Aang sucked down his water through a straw he stared at his roommate, his worry refusing to lift. Sokka was nibbling at a Philly cheese steak, reading a text book to make up for time he should have been studying the night before, drowning his cares in video games.

Toph was complacently by Sokka's side, eating her twin-set of fries (curly and steak-style, respectively) without much to say. The others were elsewhere, unable to partake in an extended lunch on this day. Eventually, though, she ended up speaking up through their quiet meal.

"What's the deal with you guys?" She received an awkward glance from Aang and a cold shoulder from her booth neighbor. With furrowed brows, she nudged Sokka's arm with her palm. "Huh? Not nappin' over there, are ya, Snoozles?"

"Wha...-?" Sokka snapped out of his trance.

"Tch, what's up? I don't need to see to tell that you're all gloomy."

Sokka puffed out a sigh and cast his gaze to Aang, who was offering a curious look. He shrugged, seemingly drained of all mental strength, and gave in to their prodding.

"I had a meeting last night with my professor - the guy helping me try to find a job I actually care about?"

"Piandao," Toph recollected his name effortlessly, having been quite attentive when Sokka had been rattling on about their friendship a few days prior.

"Right. Well, so...last night, I went to his office, and he had me do, like, a sort of informal interview for an internship."

"Whoa..." Toph didn't know what else to say, knowing little about what kind of internship it was, or what this even entailed.

"Yea. It would've been a great opportunity..."

"...Would have?" Toph knew this wasn't going anywhere good, but hell, Sokka deserved some good luck at some point, right?

"I messed up, Toph..."

"...What?" Sokka? Messing up? He was the idea guy. He wasn't supposed to 'mess up.'

"Going for that internship was my moment of truth - and I completely flopped it," he groaned with self-aggravation, his voice cracking. "I just...fell apart."

"Sokka," Aang sighed out, insisting on speaking up now that it was out in the open. "That meeting wasn't your moment of truth. That was just public speaking, and...nobody's really good at that."

"Katara is," Sokka countered, offering Aang a disparate look.

"That's true," Toph was quick to agree.

"It wasn't even public speaking," Sokka further contested, glaring down at the remnants of his lunch. "It was just two people."

"Look," Aang adamantly pressed, slightly cutting one hand through the air while he stabbed a cherry tomato with the other. "Your moment of truth isn't going to be in front of a webcam talking to some stranger. It's going to be out in the real world, doing what you love."

"But..." Sokka's glance rolled away from his friend. "I don't know what I love..."

"Wait, wait...A webcam?" Toph interjected.

"Guh, yea, it...-" Sokka snarled out in frustration, rubbing his forehead tiredly. "-...was this really unofficial kinda thing, just like a video chat, and I just...blew it."

"Sooo...It wasn't actually an interview, then?" Toph checked.

"No, but...-"

"Then...make sure you nail the actual thing, right?"

"But I've already made a bad first impression," Sokka grouchily dismissed. "I just look like an idiot now."

"Fuck that," Toph was quick to spit out with a tint of disgust. She lightly slapped at his shoulder, practically scolding him for his lack of zest. "I don't know if remember this, with that Meat-Head of yours and stuff, but I used to be the master of bad first impressions."

"Used to be?" Sokka taunted. Toph's heart sparked with glee at that hint of the Sokka she knew well, and she made a point to turn her head his way and project a frown, lifting an arm quickly to make a shot - her elbow ended up banging against the hardwood top of the booth and she flinched, retracting her assault as he snickered.

"Smart-ass," she seethed, rubbing her elbow - shit, must've hit the funny-bone. Argh. "My point is that just because you screw up at first doesn't mean you can't make it right. I mean...-" Her insides squirmed with a touch of awkward memory, a tingle of longing as she dwelt on the past. "Tw-...Aang over here still managed to win me over even when he pissed me off at first..."

Aang grinned at her analogy, acknowledging how true it was, but fed Sokka his take on things.

"I think what she means is that she was a total jerk at first but that we still ended up as friends..."

Toph crossed her arms over her lap and gave an "Mm-hm" of concurrence. "Even fuck-ups can make things right if they work for it."

Sokka hummed and hawed over their encouragement, taking a couple bites of his meal, and the others did as well.

"Yea," he finally admitted. "Maybe I can just...make sure everything's totally in order for the application."

"And-and-aaaand...-" Toph forced in an amendment, leaning into his side. A-ha. You're wearing a T-shirt today. Bingo. Oh, don't mind me, just appreciating my arm touching yours, heh, that's all. "-...if you give it a solid try even after looking like the goofball we know you are, maybe you'll trick them into thinking you're...I dunno...determined, or something..."

Sokka shot her a snappy glance of indignation before easing her off of him and shaking his head, a smirk coming through.

"Toph's right," said Aang. "You can't just give up before you even try."

"OK, OK," Sokka gave in to their positive spirits. "I get it. Don't count your rotten eggs before they're chickens..."

"...Uhhh...-?" Toph's confusion melted into a giggle. "Yeeeaa, that...didn't make any sense."

"It did in my head," Sokka huffed, the lack of energy in his brain getting the better of him.

"Sounds like you need some coffee," Toph advised.

"Or some Red Bull," Aang chimed in.

"Uh, yea-no," Toph curtly disagreed, readjusting in the booth with care, foxily arranging herself under the guise of shirt-realignment so that the edge of her leg was just barely brushing against Sokka's. She coyly slipped an arm across his back, squeezed, and jabbed an index finger into his shoulder. "We gotta keep this guy away from that stuff or else he'll go runnin' around nekkid again."

Sokka was non-plussed by their proximity but amused at her bringing that situation up - again - and he shook her off him gently.

"Ya know, I don't get why you would care," he retorted. "It's not like you're capable of appreciating my exquisite physique." He slapped his own beefy palm against his arm. Toph could detect just by the sound that it was more flab than fab, but it was endearing to let him think highly of himself like that, and her mind wandered to the gutter ever-so-briefly, contemplating how incorrect his statement was: she could appreciate such things, but eyes weren't the tools she had to use...

"Oh, right," she scoffed. "I think you must be deaf, 'cuz I said we wanted to prevent you from de-clothing. I'm already blind, we don't need anybody else losing their sight, too."

"I'm sorry," Sokka flatly rebutted, "I can't hear you over the sound of how awesome my muscles are." He flexed his arm repeatedly in front of his face, evidently for his entertainment, but Aang found it amusing in some capacity. He was joking, at least, so that was the right direction to go.

"Whaaaaat?" Toph called him out with disbelief. "Aang, tell it to me straight: 'muscles?' Really? I'm not buyin' it..."

Aang's mouth was full, and he shot Toph a bewildered look, but he didn't have time to respond. Sokka's face pouted for a split second, his ego dampened, and he grabbed Toph's hand carelessly, latching it onto his half-heartedly flexed bicep.

"See?" he insisted. "Muscle."

The pressure was on now - Toph's innards were tingling and she could feel the blood seeping through her face, though she frowned with a plastic disapproval to mask it while the very kinds of thoughts she was trying to keep out were wrestling with her logic. OK, yea, he did have some muscle in there somewhere...

"Tssh, yea, maybe a bit underneath the flab, dude..."

"You could work out a bit more," Aang passively tossed out advice from his own recent experience.

True, Toph's mind conceded, But then he'd be a bit less squishy, and...he seems fine as a squishy sack of meat, I think.

"Meh," Sokka blew off the idea. "Too much work. Ya can't force perfection."

"Don't we sound a bit full of ourselves?" Toph teased.

"Oh, please," Sokka retaliated. "Like you don't act that way when it comes to music."

"Obviously. That's because I am perfection when it comes to music." She grasped her hand from his arm to his neck to his head - upon locating it, she administered a condescending pat. "You, though? You're just delusional." He swatted her hand away, his lower lip sliding sideways in embarrassment.

"Hey, that reminds me," Aang cut into their moment of banter. "Are you actually playing on Thursday?"

"Say what now?" Toph spat out, barely recovering from her flirtatious encounter as she played innocent, pointing her head toward Aang.

"For Saint Patty's Day? Aren't you guys playing at the concert thing?"

"Oh! Duuude, yea, we are," Toph declared. "For the first time in...a while. Right?"

"Holy crap," Sokka gasped, smacking his own forehead. "It's Saint Patty's Day on Thursday..."

"Yea," Aang slowly went along with him as Sokka stared at him, jaw agape. "Aaand...this means...-?"

"We gotta drink," Sokka blurted out in a hushed voice, as if he were stating the obvious.

"Fuck yea," said Toph with a smooth smirk. Aang shrugged at this. He wasn't opposed to alcohol in a social setting, but he was technically underage for such things. The United Republic was having a local band concert to keep college students occupied, and no booze was going to be present, so Sokka's scheming was a bit disconcerting.

"Well, there's...not going to be drinking at the concert," Aang tossed out the fact calmly, indifferent to the matter.

"We'll figure something out," Sokka assured. "Maybe pre-game it, or something."

"Uh, but how is it pre-gaming if you're not gaming when you go out?" Toph pondered this ever-pressing question. At this moment, anything Sokka said was ever-pressing in her ears.

Aang had to hold back his objection - namely, the fact that the girls were supposed to be performing as a band, and that alcohol wasn't a keen idea before such a task - but he held it in, deciding there wasn't a point and that they'd end up concluding that on their own in time.

Sokka shrugged fiercely at Toph's muttered inquiry.

"I don't frickin'...know. I didn't make up that phrase."

"So maybe it'll be more like post-gaming," Toph decided, acting like she hadn't heard a word he'd said.

"Whatever 'gaming' it ends up being," announced Sokka, fanning his hands out, "I'm gonna make sure it's, like...multiplayer. Co-op. Something. 'Cuz drinking's no fun when you do it alone."

And there Toph's mind went, back to those insatiable thoughts. There would have to be some 'Number 3' in the bathroom tonight. Fuck, now the idea was in her head, and nothing to stop her from acting on it...And by the way, what the shit? Where was this even coming from, anyway?

"Sokka, you're talking about something bad, aren't you?"

Toph's heart skipped a beat at the sound - it was Suki's voice.

"What? Poppycock," cawed Sokka, puffing up his chest. "I am a proper gent, milady."

"As always," Suki sighed with amusement, rolling her eyes. "I'll have to look forward to seeing this 'gent' come out at some point."

"Oh, how it will," Sokka hissed defensively. "The naysayers and the doubters, they will eat their crow."

Suki snickered at his over-acting, and Toph bit her lip with impatience. The fucking hell was this? What did Suki want?

As her laughter faded, she cast her eyes to Toph, who's leg was jittering up and down from her toes - barely touching Sokka's with each motion.

"I heard you crazy people from the other side of the restaurant, but I just wanted to check in with you, Toph: I never heard back from everyone, but is tomorrow night at six going to work?"

"Six is too early," Toph answered briskly, happy to protest with passive-aggressiveness. "Need time to eat before the cafeteria closes."

"Seven, then?" Suki rolled along, not minding one way or another.

"Sure, that's fine," Toph mumbled.

"Great, I'll double check with the others, but if you see them, would you let them know for me?"

"Would if I could," Toph snipped back, her agitation bubbling over at the girl's presence leeching away Sokka's attention. She tilted her head to the side, pushing back her heavy bangs and pointing to her own face. "But I can't 'see them,' so, umm...-"

"Sorry," Suki sheepishly blurted. "Uh, but...if you run into them, it'd-"
"Which is more likely, given that, again, I can't see-"
"Right!" Suki whimpered, whacking her own forehead with her wrist. "Sorry again. But if-...Yea...Let them know, would you?"

Toph didn't respond to this, though, but Suki was bidding her farewells.

"Catch you tomorrow, Toph. Have a good one, guys."

"Yea, see ya, Suki," Aang managed to work out after gulping down the last clump of his salad. He'd been consuming it as fast as he could, suddenly aware of the time and his need to head out.
"Tootaloo," Sokka coolly waved her off, much to Toph's chagrin.

A silence fell over them, and Toph was using the last of her fries as a distraction.

"You and Suki still seem pretty...OK with each other," Aang observed quietly.

"We are," said Sokka, nodding to himself with satisfaction. "I mean, it's just technicalities that weren't working out, we didn't have some big blowup, like...-" He caught himself and zipped his lip, but before he could manage to recover his train of thought, Toph brought to attention the elephant in the room.

"Like me and Aang?" She puffed out a disgusted gust of air at her bangs, tussling them about.

"Well, I wasn't-...But...yea, I mean...basically." Toph could hear him swallow hard from shame. Heh, that's right, better watch that mouth around me, Buster.

"Hey, it...is what it is, right?" said Aang, down-playing the entire situation and trying to move on. "What's past is past. Just because you break up doesn't mean you can't still be friends, right, Toph?"

"Right," Toph rigidly acceded.


A/N: What a coincidence, we're about to hit chapter 77 (lucky number!) which will be about St. Patrick's Day, and what holiday is about to transpire? I don't think I could've planned this myself if I'd tried. Tidbits in this chapter were based on tidbits of the start of the episode Day of Black Sun.

[link]<--Previous Chapter
Next Chapter-->[link]

I would -assume- it's probably obvious to Avatar fans reading this, but Toph's sudden attraction to Sokka and his obliviousness to it are directly inspired by the show.

Thumbnail by :icondaughterofthestars:
Show
Add a Comment:
 
No comments have been added yet.

A/N: With the Legend of Korra finally on air and us meeting new characters and new themes - many of which are actually lining up with stuff I already planned for SRU (go figure) - expect to be seeing more Korra stuff referenced within SRU context, where appropriate. As in the past, I'm obviously taking artistic liberation with characters to suit the purposes of a modern-day setting in which they all can co-exist. With that in mind, some more side-characters will show up that have some kind of role to play in what I have planned.</p>

What I Learned at SRU
Chapter 81 - Bend


- Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 -

The lobby was desolate and depressingly quiet. The silence was unnerving to Toph as she squirmed in her uncomfortable seat in the corner. Her eyes hung heavy, and she'd nodded off a couple of times now. By this point she had no idea if it was midnight or 3am or...whatever. It was late, though, she could say that much - if she had the gall to cut through the heavy silence that hung over the trio. They hadn't stuck around to see what efforts the fire department had put into trying to salvage the building. From what Sokka had said on their way to the hospital, it was a lost cause, and from all of the sounds and smells she'd experienced - not to mention his dark tone when he'd said it - Toph was sure he was right.

They'd been assured by the doctor that their friends would be fine. The physician had seemed stunned that the injuries seemed relatively minor given the context, and had expressed that everyone involved was extremely lucky to be in the shape they were, coming out of such a situation. Away their friends were whisked, and they'd been waiting ever since. None of them really thought on why they were all waiting until after one of Korra's roommates showed to pick her up and take her home. She had been quite stubborn and refused to stay at the hospital any longer than needed. With a bandage around her head and her arm in a sling, she'd eagerly retreated the facility as soon as she'd had the chance.

+ http:/destiny-smasher(dot)deviantart(dot)com/art/SRU-Sketch-Jane-Smellerbee-Fitzpatrick-287780400 +

Jane was standing now, having spent a good deal of time letting her ass get rather uncomfortable from this damned hard seats. Leaning up against a wall in the pale, desolate lounge, she had drawn her hood up over her head from the chill she was feeling in this cold building. She had been exchanging text messages with Douglas earlier, after they'd first arrived, making sure he was all right. He had no idea of what had transpired, as apparently everything had been fine when he'd left. After Doug had gone off to sleep, Jane had then started swapping messages with Johnny, who had been surprisingly talkative tonight - as talkative as he ever got with texts, anyway.

She was missing him so fucking much tonight. She was practically staring at her phone in anticipation of each reply, because during the down times between texting exchanges...the self-doubt would creep in.

You choked. You did nothing. Weren't you supposed to be the tough one? Katara was in danger, and you just stood there like a fucking bump on a log. Pretty damn sad.
Could've done more. Could've...-

[From: John boy]
[You don't know that. Don't think like that.]
[Sent: 1:06am]

His text tripped her up, bringing her back into that pool of remorse.

Fuck. Shit-ass-fuck-cunt-sucker. The Rhinos. Had to be them, right? Course it was.
Which makes me involved. Makes this part my fault.
Katara got a face full of glass and almost burned to death because of what me and Jet did.
Korra got her head cracked a couple times because of the shit we used to stir with that gang.
Aang got his back fried to hell saving their asses. Shoulda been my back. My head. My face.
This whole fuckin' mess is because of me.

They're all in danger.
Because. Of. Me.

"Sokka...?"

Jane's attention was derailed, much to her relief, by Toph's sleepy groan from the corner of the room.

"Yea, Toph?" Sokka sighed out tiredly, lowering his PSP and rubbing his eyes as he glanced to the chaired immediately to his right. He'd pulled his gaming device out of his car when he realized just how long they were going to be waiting, and it was helping him keep his sleepy mind away from the negative thoughts threatening it.

"What time is it?" Toph wondered, her head hung low, her eyes closed.

"Uhh...-" Sokka checked the device in his hands, accessing up its clock. "A little past one."

"Rrmmm," Toph gurgled out with dissatisfaction, squirming in her seat. She yawned, sliding her drooped head to her left. It plopped onto Sokka's shoulder, and her throat tightened.

Is this OK? I'm tired. I'm pissed. Katara's OK, but Aang had to be so fucking stupid. Better than me, anyway. I'm a useless pile of shit who can't even walk in a straight line by myself. Rrgh.
I'm selfish. All I want right now is to hold Sokka. Be close. Ugh. Damned hormonal bullshit. I should be more concerned about Katara and Aang.
I
am concerned, though. Super worried. Afraid. I'm sure they're fine, but...I'm still scared somehow. Can't stand it. I'm so useless! Grr.
Focusing on Meat-Head here makes all that...go away.

"Sleepy?" Sokka muttered to her, letting any discomfort from Toph's physical proximity slide from his conscience.

"Mmmfh," was Toph's grunt of a response.

Observing the oddly vulnerable look on Toph's face, Jane was left baffled. Toph had been acting kind of weird tonight, being clingy to Sokka. Why? Sokka was all insensitive and uncaring with offering comfort and shit. Meh. Whatever. Jane would've figured that Toph would be more interested in her and not Food-For-Brains, but...whatever.

His shoulder now burdened with an undesired weight, Sokka bent his head down to look back at his device's screen. Guilt snuck up on him as he tried to focus on the game.

Your family was in danger, and you stood on the sidelines. Coward. You make fun of Aang for not being manly...but when the time came, he was the real man. You were a child.
No, no. Running into a burning building is stupid and foolish. Aang is lucky.
He was also brave. And what about your sister? Since she was pulled out you've avoided her.
It's too hard to see her like that, she had blood all over her face, and...-
But playing your video games here, that's just fine.
I took everyone here, to the hospital. Everything is going to be fine.
If Aang hadn't been there, Katara and Korra would both be dead.

Sokka noticed the doctor that was looking after their was comrades approaching. She was a quaint enough looking lady with her brown hair tied back in a bun, but all night she'd had a very stressed demeanor to her. On her way toward the students waiting in the lounge, she was stopped by the stout woman working at the desk.

"Pema?"

The short, exhausted doctor slowed to a stop, a thickly stacked clipboard tucked in her arm.

"Yes?" she sighed out, running her hand along her temple.

"Your husband left a message for you - he just wanted you to know that he's been delayed by a day or two, but that he still expects to be here this weekend for Jinora's birthday."

The doctor's jaw seemed to slide with restrained irritation.

"Called the office instead of my personal cell. Hmph. Somehow that doesn't surprise me," Pema sighed with a shake of her head, carrying on and letting her disappointment fade into the background of her mind.

"Doc?" Sokka stood up, much to Toph's dismay - she squeaked with shock, catching herself from falling as Sokka walked right to the doctor. "Are they all right?" he pressed before she'd even reached them. She nodded tiredly, adjusting her thin-rimmed glasses before taking another look at her documents.

"Surprisingly, yes," she brushed off his concern. "Your sister's forehead has been stitched up and should be fine soon enough. The other one, his back was burned pretty bad. It's going to scar, but he's going to be quite all right."

Sokka puffed out air with relief. In all of the commotion of getting them to the hospital and the blood he'd seen on them, he'd sworn it had been worse. Thank goodness he'd been wrong.

"Can I...see them?" he wondered, running his hand over his head.

Pema paused with some disgruntled exhaustion that she contained as best she could.

"It's...really quite late, and they both need their rest." When she saw his flicker of hope wither, she explained, "The two of them are passed out, they're dead tired. It'd be best to come see them in the morning."

Sokka nodded, running his hand along his scruffy jaw.

"Yea, OK," he conceded, recalling that Hakoda would be around by then, anyway.

"You all should get some sleep, as well," Pema advised. "They're in good hands, I promise. They'll be here waiting for you in the morning."

Sokka nodded to the physician and turned to his friends. Toph was slumped in her chair, eyes half open as she rubbed at her nose with her wrist. Jane tucked her cell phone into her hoodie's pocket, both hands wedged inside as she shrugged to him.

"We can come back tomorrow," Sokka explained with a heavy breath. He lazily pulled Toph up to her feet, catching her as she wobbled about. "I'll call you guys in the morning as soon as visiting hours are open."

"Yea," Jane mumbled with an agreeable nod.

"Mmkay," was Toph's barely audible answer. As Sokka tugged her along, she grasped her arms around his. His arm was comforting and secure, though her attachment was causing the opposite reaction from Sokka, who opted to ignore his discomfort for his friend's sake. She was shaken up by this whole situation, no doubt. They all were.

Not another word was spoken between the trio on the ride back to campus, aside from an exhausted set of 'Good night' grumbles.

Maybe things would look better in the morning.


Iroh sighed with grief, shaking his head to himself as he sipped at his morning coffee. Just that fact alone had Mai concerned - that Uncle Iroh was drinking coffee instead of tea. Iroh practically never drank coffee, except when he was stressed. The news this morning was...deeply stressing.

"Why didn't you call me?" Zuko grunted in frustration.

"Because it was...one in the morning and I thought you'd be asleep," Mai defended with a sharp shrug, hoping to get him off her back.

The fact was, she herself had been half-asleep at the time, exhausted from editing her work for a project due the next morning. She'd finished it, thankfully, but toward the tail end of it, Ty-Lee had started freaking out, citing that Sokka had just texted her about the entire ordeal that had transpired down town.

"You could've tried!" insisted Zuko, wiping his palm over his greased back hair. Mai felt stung by the way his amber eyes pierced through hers. She rubbed sand from her eyelids as a ploy to avoid his gaze.

"I'm...sorry," she muttered, doing her best to strip any spiteful tone from her voice. "It was late, and...I just figured it wouldn't do you any good to lose sleep over it."

"People were almost killed and you're worried abou-?"
Zuko's building rage was cut off by Iroh's solid hand clamping down upon him. Mai was grateful for the elderly man's presence.

The trio was huddled on a couch near the front end of the Avatar Campus Center, watching the morning news on the large, public flat screen TV propped up on the wall, as they sometimes did in the morning. Iroh had been tipped off by President Bumi not long after waking about the situation, which had led to arranging this particular plan for the morning - watching the news report on it and trying to stay calm.

"Zuko." Iroh waited for his nephew to drop his tense stance and relax in his seat before letting go. "There was nothing you could have done last night. Better that you are well-rested to deal with this situation."

"Hmph..." Zuko didn't like that answer, but at least he was conceding to some reasoning - a trait Zuko didn't always have when he got this worked up. His passion would get the better of him now and again - that same burning ambition and idealism that had worked its way into Mai's heart and pulled her out of her cocoon of indifference; however, it would, in increasingly rare circumstances, burn too hot, forcing her to retreat.

With Zuko apparently pacified for the moment, the lot of them were able to focus on the press conference being played. A stern woman in a gray police uniform stood at attention with hands folded behind her back. Wavy, pale hair matching her uniform's color, her rigid face accented by a sharp jawline and decisively icy eyes of green. She spoke into a collection of microphones, her voice firm, steady, even unpleasant.

["-received an eyewitness account by one of the battery victims - the manager of the establishment. She confirmed that this was, in fact, an attack, and the evidence we've dug up so far does suggest that it could be linked to the...-"] Her expression wrinkled ever-so-briefly with disdain. ["-...'Combustion Man,' as the media has taken to calling this menace."]

Cameras flashed, some commotion stirred, and then reporters began piping up.

["Chief Jia, with the Combustion Man loose in Wayward, what is your plan for keeping the citizens safe?"]

["I did not say that this incident was connected with that case, but I will not deny the possibility. We are looking into it. Wayward is not a bustling metropolis by any means,"] she pointed out with a hint of resentment, ["so if the culprit sticks around, we're sure to find him sooner rather than later."]

["Are there any leads? Any suspects?"]

["At this time, we have no clear suspects, but yes, we do have leads that we are already investigating. We'll be interviewing the victims of last night's incident thoroughly, I can assure you. If this is indeed a 'Combustion' case, then these may be the first survivors to have seen his face."]

["Chief, you said this was an 'attack'. Do you interpret this as an act of hostility against the college?"]

["We have no reason to believe it is. If this is another 'Combustion' case, such a notion is highly unlikely, given the widespread and varied backgrounds of the victims and locations observed thus far."]

["So the Combustion Man is still out there."]

["Again, we cannot confirm or deny if this is directly related to the recent fires occurring across the state, but-"]
"Why are we sitting here doing nothing?" Zuko burst out, his hand tightening around his coffee cup. Mai noticed this slight gesture and drew in a quick breath through her nose while Zuko fizzled out air through his own.

"Zuko, it's OK," Mai tried to assure him, carefully plucking the still-hot liquid from his grasp and setting it on the table before them - it was a coffee table, after all. "Like Iroh said, there's nothing you could've-"
"I told you this would happen!" Zuko snapped, ignoring Mai's efforts and directing his rage at the old man. "This is on our hands! We need to go downtown right now, and tell Lin what we know about this."

"Uhh...Lin?" Mai poked in, hunching over in an attempt to redirect Zuko's rage. She'd rather he took it out on her instead of poor Uncle. She could barricade herself to his rage - it was part of her job, really, right? But Iroh was such a soft soul, she hated to see this. "Who's 'Lin?'" she wondered.

"Lin Jia," Zuko sighed, as if Mai were some child he was having to explain old-news to. "Her, the Chief of Police," he grumbled dismissively, tossing his arm up to the television screen and the embittered officer still answered questions.

"You know her?" Mai did a double-take.
Why would Zuko know someone like that?

"N-no," he quickly explained. "I don't know her..."

"But I do," said Iroh tiredly, taking a long sip from his drink with a sniff. He scratched his wrinkled nose as he set his cup beside Zuko's. "However, I am not sure that would be such a good idea, Zuko..."

"Why not?" Zuko snapped. His eyes flashed with rage before he sucked in a deep breath and exhaled, rolling his head back onto the couch's spine. "Why not?" he repeated with a hushed tone. "If we don't say something and soon, who's to say it won't happen again?"

Mai's stomach was churning with doubt and fear. She had theorized that all of the hush-hush concerning the Kurosawa family had been something bad, but...some kind of serial killer? That couldn't be connected to Zuko. Her Zuko. He was hers, she knew him. He would never get himself involved in something this...this-...Ugh. He just wouldn't, that was the entire reason he was here at the school, to escape getting pulled into this kind of thing.

"Zuko, you need to calm down," came Iroh's words, like a brick dropped into his nephew's lap. "We should...-" Iroh's eyes wandered to Mai, who was still hunched over, her eyes trembling with doubt and confusion. "-...discuss this matter in private."

"No." The word came out calmly, without any hesitation.

The startled faces of Zuko and Iroh stared at Mai's icy resolve in a tense moment as her lips tightened.

"Zuko," Mai sighed, slipping her lanky fingers through his weathered palm. "I understand that your family has its skeletons hiding in...practically every closet in Los Angeles, but I'm getting really tired of ignoring them. Now, there's...some kind of pyromaniac murdering people across the state, and it's sounding a lot like you two know what this is about."

Zuko's jaw slid uncomfortably to the side, and he cast a hesitant gaze to Iroh, who snorted air dubiously.

"Kind of," Zuko confessed sheepishly, his face twisted with worry. Mai continued.

"Fine. 'Kind of' enough to feel the need to be speaking with the authorities?" she spat out rhetorically. She shrugged and bit her lip expectantly. "Does this kind of have to do with why your mother moved from LA to Connecticut when you were in high school?"

"N-no, this is-...That was different," Zuko shakily insisted with a flick of his head. Mai watched him swallow hard, and she couldn't quite determine if he was lying or honest - meaning it was some kind of area gray enough where it might as well be black.

When they'd met at the tail end of high school, Mai hadn't thought much of it when Zuko had told her that his parents had divorced. He'd said that life in California had been rough on them all, and that his mother wanted to move back to Connecticut, where she had been raised. While Mai couldn't deny that she was eternally grateful for this move - she never would've met Zuko otherwise - the more she had garnered from passing conversations of Dear Old Daddy Kurosawa, the more she had begun to question the actual cause of the divorce. It had sounded less than pleasant.

When Ursa - Zuko and Azula's firm but nurturing mother - disappeared halfway through their college careers, it had caused quite a divide between Zuko and his sister, who had always been on less-than-stellar terms, anyway. The event practically tore them apart, as Azula had seen it as a time to return to Los Angeles, help their father cope with the loss, prepare to take the reigns of Kurosawa Industries...and Zuko let her talk him into this for a summer, in which he swiftly realized he was disinterested in associating with his father's company.

That summer had been rough and Mai and Zuko's relationship. They'd been a country apart, their long-distance talks always stressful and uncomfortable. Mai always knew that Zuko was burdened with some heavy knowledge, but...some kind of assassin, or...whatever this guy was? That had never been something she'd considered her Zuko to be connected with. For nearly two years, she'd been casting a blind eye to this familial conflict, telling herself that Zuko was leaving it behind, keeping it at bay, and now...this. People she knew, personally, had gotten hurt because of this. It was the last straw for her.

"Of course," Mai pushed through Zuko's wall with dry, bitter sarcasm. "Your mother being kidnapped and murdered is totally unrelated to this serial killer you somehow kind of know something about."

While Ursa's fate had never been officially discovered or documented her ex-husband, Ozai Kurosawa, had been imprisoned the prior autumn under allegations of fraud and violent activities. Zuko had already assumed that Ursa's disappearance was Ozai's fault, so his arrest only served as nails on the coffin. Ozai was dead to him, and he couldn't comprehend Azula's lingering sympathies for the man.

"Mai," Iroh pleaded with concern. "I can appreciate your suspicion, and I assure you that my nephew and I will explain this, but...-" he jerked his head over the back of the couch, to the slow trickle of early morning students heading upstairs for breakfast. "-...this is not the right place for such a discussion."

Mai, her eyes quivering on the verge of tears whose source she couldn't comprehend, clasped her palm over her mouth and hung her head down. She contained her jerk reaction to this ineffective conversation as best she could. She accepted that there had to be a rational explanation, and that this was an inappropriate time and place to talk about it. In an instant, she repressed these fears with the swiftness granted from years of doing so. She'd hidden every emotion under the sun during her upbringing, so this was practically instinctual. Logic insisted that everything would be OK.

"All right," she agreed with a slight nod. "But promise me - Zuko, promise-" Her fingers still locked over his, she squeezed. "-that you're not going to leave this hanging."

Zuko swallowed again, that big lumpy gulp Mai recognized, and he nodded.

"Of course. This week," came his hasty assurance. "Before the weekend's over. I promise. You, me, Iroh...we'll all talk this out." Zuko leaned over, his hand reaching around Mai's back, and pulled her into a kiss.

"OK," Mai acknowledged with some relief.

"I love you."

"I love you, too, Zuko. And I'm worried."

"I know. It's not what it looks like, I swear."

Zuko's amber eyes stared at Mai's with hope and vulnerability, and she smiled weakly, scratching her fingers through his neatly combed hair. Her smile widened as she watched him fuss as he always did, flattening his hair back in order.

"I believe you," she told him quietly, as Iroh pushed himself up from the couch with his elder groan.

She had to believe Zuko. They had to be telling the truth, that there was an explanation. Nothing else was acceptable.


["So are we just making ourselves dinner again tonight, or...-?"]

"I should be home by supper time, Jinora," Pema replied to her daughter. "I'll make something when I get there. But there's some leftover casserole in the fridge if you guys get peckish before then."

["Yea, all right..."] The girl on the other line sounded dissatisfied. With how the week was going, Pema wasn't surprised.

"And your father says he should be showing up tomorrow," she pointed out.

["Mm...That's what he said yesterday. And the day before that..."]

"Yea...I know, Dear. I'm sorry. But he'll be here for your birthday this weekend."

["Mm..."]

"Uh, speaking of...I...got those books you asked for."

["Huh?"]

"For your birthday present."

["Oh."] A layer of confusion underneath Jinora's intrigued tone.

"They're, umm...tucked away in my closet - they're wrapped, should be easy to spot. You can open them today, if you want."

["Y-yea...OK, but...how come you're letting me open my present early?"]

"You're...almost sixteen, dear. And you've been really helping out lately, so...I just thought it'd be nice to treat you a bit early, I suppose."

["Mm-hm. OK. Well...thanks, Mom."] Some warmth and gratitude. It was becoming increasingly hard for Pema to extract that from her daughter, but she savored it every time.

"Just make sure your brother stays out of the fridge today, I can't-"
[Brrrrrinnnng!]
["Oh, um...That's the bell, I should get to class now."]

"All right, Dear. I love you. Have a good day."

["Love you, too."]

Pema tucked her phone away, exiting her minivan and heading into the hospital. Within minutes, she was on the hospital floor, ready to get to work. She was quickly directed to her patients from the night before, and their room was full of guests - the three college kids from the night before. She was greeted by a middle-aged man with rough, dark hair and weary eyes. She could guess who he was immediately by his facial structure and skin tone, and she reached out her hand to him.

"Ah, you must be...-" She double-checked her clipboard with her other hand. "-...Mister 'Keh-suck?'"

The man laughed through his nose and shook her hand with his wrinkled, stony fingers.

"It's 'Kay-sook,' actually, but yes. I'm Katara's father."

"Nice to meet you, Sir," Pema clearly recited her routine. "I'm Dr. Rabten."

Hakoda was a bit surprised. The woman looked distinctly Caucasian for having such an eastern-sounding last name. Then again, he'd noticed that a lot of this town, especially the college itself, seemed to be very eastern in its background. Kind of peculiar for some place in the middle of Pennsylvania, when he thought on it. In either case, the woman was quite likely married to someone from the area with a name like that. She was probably just as intrigued by his uncommon nationality as he was by her name, anyway.

"Thank you for looking after these two." Hakoda glanced through the open doorway to the awkwardly quiet red-head standing in his line of sight. She glanced up at him curiously. "I understand you stayed late to make sure everything was OK. I'm surprised you're here so early."

Pema shrugged with humility, shaking her head slightly.

"It's part of the job," she gently dismissed the praise. "I'm just relieved the injuries weren't as severe as they seemed at first."

"Would you mind running me through the details?"

"Of course." Pema lifted her clipboard up before elaborating on the situation.

"What's goin' on out there?" asked Sokka, calling Jane's attention away from the discussion just outside.

"Huh?" Jane twisted her head back to her friend, who was sitting in a chair inbetween Aang and Katara's hospital beds. "Oh, erm...The Doc's talkin' with your dad."

"That's really sweet of your old man," Toph pointed out from another chair by the window, beside Aang. "Coming all this way so fast? He's pretty awesome."

"Yea," Katara hoarsely groaned out, her face groggy. She had stitches tying together skin at the top left of her forehead, around her hairline. "Our dad is...really good like that..."

Sokka smiled and reached his hand up to Katara's side, squeezing her hand tenderly, taking care not to unalign the tube connected to her arm.

"He sure is," he agreed.

Katara sighed audibly with some relief as she lay on her back, eyes unfocused on the ceiling. She turned her head to the right to look over at Aang, but she couldn't get a look at him from her current angle.

"Is he-...? Is Aang...still OK?" she mumbled out sleepily.

"Mmfgh?" was the sound that escaped Aang's mouth. Jane, standing at the foot of his bed, watched Aang's eyebrows lift with curiosity, his eyes closed. He seemed pretty exhausted - no surprise. Aang wasn't wearing a shirt, bandages wrapped around his abdomen, his blanket pulled down to his waist to allow space for his body.

"He's fine, Kat," Jane assured her with a weak smile, trying to keep her raspy voice pleasant but her eyes locked on Aang. It was somehow easier to see Aang in this condition than it was Katara. Maybe because Aang had known what he was getting himself into, or...maybe because she didn't feel the same way about him...? Either way, it was just...easier. Besides, Sokka was giving Katara his attention.

"That's good," Katara breathed out, nodding to herself.

Hakoda walked inside, his hands in his jean pockets. He slowly worked his way to the left side of Katara's bed and leaned down, planting a kiss on her cheek.

"How's my girl doing?" he asked calmly, his eyes holding back tears. While it was difficult for Jane to see Katara with a wounded head in a hospital bed, the discomfort didn't compare to Hakoda's. It was a two-fold kind of pain: seeing his daughter in this situation, but the sight of her also fixating his mind on his wife the night she passed, years ago.

"Mm fine," Katara hummed, relaxed at the warmth of her father's hand against her cheek. She reached up and grasped at his palm.

Jane felt jealousy stirring in her insides as she witnessed this - Katara clasping her brother and father's hands both at once. She would never be able to have that. She squashed this envy, berating her own selfishness internally before casting her eye to Toph, who looked a bit bored and disinterested, herself. With her hands tucked in her back pockets awkwardly, Jane shuffled over to Toph, and leaned against the windowsill at her side.

"They're taking good care of you?" Hakoda asked Katara softly.

She smiled sleepily and nodded.

"Mmm..."

"You're comfortable? You're not in any pain, are you? Is there anything I can get you?"

Katara giggled weakly, her eyes half closed.

"Mm fine, Daddy. It's good. Mm OK..."

Hakoda face flashed with some mild embarrassment intertwined around relief.

"This'll be quite the entry for that journal, won't it?"

Katara's face quivered with some shame and she whimpered slightly.

"Nooo," came her gentle groan. "The...Dad, it was-...The journal got burned..."

"Oh..." Hakoda's lips curved down a smidgen. "That's too bad," he said simply.

Katara puffed out a sob, eyes squinted shut.

"I lost it...I lost it...It's gone..."

Sokka and Hakoda exchanged sympathetic smirks, both amused by her reaction in the way one might be over a child crying over spilled milk.

"It's OK, Sis," Sokka insisted, rubbing his thumb over her wrist.

"We can replace that book," Hakoda agreed, bending his head over to look her straight in the eyes. "But you can't be replaced."

Katara nodded, water build up at the bases of her eyes. She pulled her hand from her father's briefly in order to wipe the dampness onto her sleeve in a sluggish manner before accepting his grip again.

"Sooooo...How's your back?" Toph muttered to Aang.

"Yea, man, is-...H-how bad is it?" Jane asked, recalling how nasty it had looked the night prior.

"They said it...something..." said Aang with a yawn. "Meh. 'S gonna scar or-...No. Yea, that was it."

"Ah," Jane replied, eyes wide at his relaxation about the topic.

"Damn," Toph mumbled. "Well, if it makes ya feel any better...You still look fine to me."

"Heh..." Aang lifted his eyelids enough to observe Toph's grin staring blankly through the air over him, and Jane's slightly entertained smirk.

Hakoda's presence had moved around the room and he now stood over Aang.

"You know, Aang, the police and staff here are speaking pretty highly of what you did last night."

"Oh..." Aang shrugged sheepishly. "That's...That's cool, I guess."

"Fucking bad-ass, is what it is," Jane encouraged.

"The doctor told me that there's some people that have been trying to speak with you two," Hakoda explained. "Some press, the police...But she hasn't let them because, well...She wants to know if you two are OK with that."

"I don't...really want to do that," Aang winced, a bit guilty at even turning down the prospect.

"No, I...I don't, either," Katara agreed. "We didn't-...Aang didn't even see anything, but...-"
"Ha, anything but...fire," Aang chuckled to himself, his eyes opening as he spoke, but sliding back closed when he was done.
"Hee. Right, exactly. And...Korra got a better look at the man that...attacked us." Katara swallowed the built saliva in her throat. "She already said last night she'd talk with people..."

"Mm," Hakoda nodded. "Yes, your cousin seemed all too eager to talk to people on her way out, from what I heard. Hm. Anyway, that's fine. I understand your situation, and as much as I want to see whoever did this be brought to justice, I think Korra's help is enough. And I don't want to make you uncomfortable. Either of you."

Aang laughed through his nose and pushed his eyes open when Hakoda's solid palm grasped around his bicep.

"By the way, I haven't given you a proper 'thank you' yet. Brave, foolish...I don't care what anyone calls it. You saved my daughter, and my niece. That's all that matters to me. As far as I'm concerned, you're already a part of this family." He let go and gave a solid but easy pat before withdrawing his hand. "Don't forget that. I know I sure won't forget what you've done for us. So...thank you."

Aang, his face bashfully flushed, bobbed his head down in acknowledgment.

"Yea, you were...fuckin' incredible," Jane added, in awe as she recalled his exit from the flames.

"You were the man, Twinkle-Toes. Just...like...don't ever do anything that crazy ever never ever again."

"I'm gonna...thank you with sooooo...many kisses," Katara announced, rubbing her eyes. "Once they let me outta this bed."

"Yea, just give me enough time to leave the room before ya do that," Sokka chuckled, getting up and looking over Aang's head beside his father, whom he slapped on the back. "Seriously, Aang, like...I don't even...-" Sokka tossed his arms. "I'm not allowed to ever question your macho-ness, like...ever. I hereby grant you permission to hold me to that."

"Do we get to hit you anytime you do?" Toph gleefully threw out a rule.

"Err...Aang does," Sokka replied with a sneaky glare at the girl, who looked all too eager.

"Aw," Toph pouted with a small frown.

"But...No, for real," Sokka insisted more solemnly. "What you did was...awesome. You saved my sister."

"And your cousin," Hakoda added.

"Pff, don't remind me," Sokka joked, nudging Hakoda with his elbow. "Thanks, Aang. I'm in your debt, Brother." He stuck out his enclosed hand for a fist bump, which Aang lazily reciprocated. Sokka noogied Aang's head with the edges of his knuckles. During this gesture, there was a loud gurgling that erupted from the center of the room.

"What the hell was that?" Toph asked, surprised.

"Oh..." Hakoda rubbed his abdomen. "That was me," he explained.

"Sounds like we have a problem, and bacon is the solution," Sokka proclaimed.

"Haha! You may be right," admitted Hakoda. "Katara, Aang...Do you mind if I take these guys out for breakfast? Give you both some time to rest?"

"Shhhuuurrre."
"Mmm."

"All right, then. Let's head out."

"Ohhhh, Sokka, wait," Aang called out, before anyone had time to stir. "Can you, uhh-...Could you stop by the dorm and...get my DS?"

"Eh?" Sokka did a double take.

"My DS," Aang repeated. "With Mario Kart?"

"Ohhhh," Sokka nodded. "Yea, sure thing, Bud. I can bet it gets boring in here."

"Heh..." Aang shrugged.

"That-...Yea, that reminds me. Jane?"

As the group began to shuffle across the room, Jane gripping Toph's hand for guidance, they paused at the foot of Katara's bed.

"What's up?" Jane eagerly asked, happy to help.

"Would you mind...bringing me a book? Maybe two?"

"No problem. Which, uhh...ones?"

"Anything," Katara answered with a smile. "Anything from the shelf over my...-" She swallowed drearily. "-...over the desk. Just not a textbook. Hee. Obviously..."

"Ha. Obviously," Jane grinned, her heart warm at the moment in which they both smiled at each other from this exchange. It was replaced by guilt as Katara coughed before releasing a shaky sigh.

The Kesuk men headed out of the room.

"We'll be back soon!"
"See you in a bit, guys!"

"Umm...Can...Can I do anything for you guys?" Toph wondered, scratching her earlobe.

"Mm-mm," Aang peacefully shook his head.

"I think we're OK, Toph."

"Right. 'Kay." Toph felt her arm tugged forward, slightly unnaturally, by Jane's seeming eagerness to leave. "Whhhheee'll catch ya guys later, then!" Toph called out as she was whisked away.

"Byeeeee."
"Later..."


- Thursday, March 24th, 2011 -

["May-May fone."]
["Haha, no, Thomas, that's the computer."]
["Ffffone talk. Hiiiii May-May! Hiiii!"]

"Heheh..." Mai chuckled at her young sibling's efforts to wave at the screen, his eyesight off due to his lack of understanding that the camera was up above the screen. "Hi, Tom-Tom!" She looked directly at her own camera and waved brightly, widening her eyes in a manner unnatural for her.

Her brother gasped and giggled, batting himself in the face with amusement.

["May-May! Silly! Silly!"]

Mai stuck her tongue out sideways and curved her eyeballs up with wrists wrenched up like a zombie. Another toddler snicker storm ensued.

["May-May!"]
"Tom-Tom!"

["All right, Buddy, you can talk with your sister in a minute. Mommy and Mai were still talking."]

["'Kayyyy..."]

Mai watched her sibling scamper off screen and start making monkey noises.

"Errr...Wow," she muttered dryly. "Sounds like he's a real handful today."

["Every day,"] her mother sighed. ["Now, then. Where were we?"]

"Oh, erm...-" Mai's inside squirmed and she held back a grimace - once again, that practice keeping expressions in check was to her benefit. "It was just, you know...the stuff with the restaurant burning down, and...-" Mai shrugged. She had originally intended to mention Zuko and Iroh's suspicious reactions, but...here in the moment, she was opting against that.

["Goodness, that's right,"] her mother interjected her concern. ["That friend of yours, you said he was sent to the hospital?"]

"Yea..." More upset stomach - Mai hadn't taken the time to go visit Aang and Katara yet. Should she? Or not...? Would it be awkward or...-?

["Is he all right?"]

"Oh, it was-...Yea, him and his girlfriend, they made it out OK, but...-"
["Certainly not OK OK, or else they wouldn't be in the hospital."]

"Uhh...Yea, that's true. I mean, the doctor says they'll be just fine, nothing serious."

["Gracious. That's a relief. That boy's such a sweet lad, it'd be a shame for anything to happen to him."]

Mai smiled sheepishly and shrugged. Her mother always seemed to feel so very involved despite her lack of knowledge on things. But it sure beat her father's stern, no-nonsense attitude. Mai's mother used to take on a similar tone, but once Mai had left for college and her mother had birthed another child, the stern attitude had seemed to melt away. Mai was a bit envious of Tom-Tom in that way: like he would get to grow up with Mom 2.0. Maybe he'd be a happier kid than she had been...

["And Zuko? How's that poor young man doing in all of this?"] Her mom knew full well of Zuko's dedication and involvement in the situation.

"Oh, he...isn't doing so well," Mai confessed. "But...he's got me around," she declared calmly with a dedicated nod. "We'll get by."

["You two always seem to."]

"Yea," she agreed. A rare spark of bright warmth flickered over her face as she thought on her history with Zuko, and all of the hardships they'd worked through together.

"Hey, Mai?" Ty-Lee's voice intruded from behind. "Oh, ehhh...Sorry to interrupt," she said quickly and with a peppy shrug. "Just heading down to the snack desk. You want me to get you anything?"

"Hm. Um...H-hold up a sec, Mom."

["You're fine, Mai!"]
["Eeeeek. Eeeek. Ook-ook-raawwwwrrr."]
["That's not a monkey sound, Tom-Tom."]

Mai fished for a couple single dollar bills from her duct-tape wallet and passed them to her roommate.

"Would you mind picking me up-?"
"An apple juice and a Mars Bar, right?"

"Heh..." Mai stared up at Ty-Lee's seemingly air-headed smile with some surprise.

"How'd you guess?" Mai didn't always get the same thing when they snacks at the desk.

"Because, silly goof, you're stressed," Ty-Lee stated with ease. "You always get apple juice at mealtimes when you have bad days, and you always get Mars Bars for snacks after you've had a fight with Zuko."

That gradually turning knot in Mai's insides was rotated a full 360 degrees, her eyes snapping open wide with embarrassment as her lips hung slightly open. She hadn't told Ty-Lee about her little spat with Zuko earlier that day, as he hadn't been answering his phone or spending any time with her since the morning before when they'd watched the newscast and had breakfast together. How did Ty-Lee know about that?

"Me and Zuko didn't have a fight, though," Mai lied through her teeth to Ty-Lee with a simple shrug. Ty-Lee raised an eyebrow at her roommate, glanced at the computer on her desk, and nodded simply. In that exchange, it was communicated without a word that Ty-Lee's suspicion of an argument was confirmed, and Mai's desire to keep this unknown to her mother was understood.

"Oh," Ty innocently spoke out. "Sorry, I just assumed, from...-"

"No, it's fine. Here." Mai stuck out her handful of money, and Ty-Lee accepted it.

"'Kay. Be back in a jiffy."

"Yea, all right." Mai took a deep, stiff breath as her friend left.

["What was that about?"]

"Just...Ty-Lee being...her, heh." Mai shook her head and flicked her fingers. "You know how she can get kind of weird some times. Zuko and I haven't been talking like usual - he's so busy doing damage control with this whole mess, you know? - and she probably just figured it was because we were fighting, but...we're fine."

["Oh, good. Well, at least she does seem to know what's up some times."]

"Wait...Huh?"

["The way she knew about your eating habits."]

"Uh...Oh."

["I remember when you were all in high school and they'd come to visit she'd always remind me when I'd go to make dinner what kinds of food Azula was allergic to, or...-"] She shrugged. ["Just lots of little silly things like that."]

"Mm." Mai shrugged. "Yea, she...sure is odd like that."

["Ook ook ook. May-May I monssirrr RARRR!"] Mai's brother had invaded the camera space, flashing a snotty nose close to the screen with angry eyes and a mouth still sticky with peanut peanut butter.

Mai spit a laugh through her teeth, covering her face with her hand.

["Nooo!"] Tom-Tom growled with irritation. ["Monssirr, May-May! Skehwee! MONSSIIRR!"]

"Oh, er, oh, no! Watch out, Mommy! It's a monster!"

Down the hall, Ty-Lee was flicking through her smartphone.

[From: Godzula]
[I just don't understand why he insists on blaming me. I've told him in as many ways as I can fathom possible that this had nothing to do with me. He is utterly infuriating.]
[Sent: 8:24pm]

Ty-Lee still wasn't aware of the details concerning what Azula was talking about. Azula had been venting today, but...very indirectly, avoiding any actual explanations. Ty-Lee had figured out from Mai that Zuko was upset over the UR and that he somehow felt Azula was connected - the specifics, however, were still shrouded, which was really concerning. Ty-Lee's imagination wanted to run rampant with crazy conspiracy theories.

[Reply]
[To: Godzula]
[gosh zula that stinx. :( sorry. hughughug. zukos really tired n scared u no? this stuff w/UR must be makin him freak out. omg it freaks ME OUT too! but i believe u.]
[Sent: 8:25pm]

When she approached the snack desk, she noticed it was oddly devoid of its cashier. Figured that they were on a restroom break, Ty-Lee continued to exchange texts.

[From: Godzula]
[At least someone can see how reasonable I'm being here. I'm investigating this on my end and keeping things from getting too out of hand. What more does he expect from me? Nothing is good enough for him. Like mother, like son.]
[Sent: 8:26pm]

Grrrr, what are you investigating, Azula? What's going on? You never tell me what's really going on, like I'm some stupid baby.

[Reply]
[To: Godzula]
[ya but..like no offense zula but nothings ever good enuugh for u either. must run in ur family. just saying.]
[Sent: 8:26]

[From: Godzula]
[I suppose you're right, Tylee. Perhaps it'd be prudent to try and show him my perspective on this.]
[Sent: 8:27]

[Reply]
[To: Godzula]
[no um. zula. i think its bettr to just leave him alone 4 now he is rlly grouchy lately.]
[Sent: 8:27pm]

[From: Godzula]
[Really? This has him THAT bent out of shape? How pathetic. How typical. Always dissenting over that which he can't control. Perhaps if he was here doing his family duty like I am we wouldn't be in this mess.]
[Sent: 8:27pm]

What mess? What are you talking about? You never explain things to me!

Ty-Lee sighed at her phone, groaning "Azulaaaa," to herself in frustration. She scratched her head with contemplation as the student employee at the main lobby desk of the dorm showed up, apologizing for her brief absence. After purchasing her snacks, Ty-Lee continued the conversation, lingering in the empty lounge area for a few minutes. She tried to think of what to say. Azula had been telling her about the situation, but not really the details. It seemed like whatever it was, it was likely just some kind of misunderstanding between the two. That kind of thing had been an issue in the past.

[Reply]
[To: Godzula]
[i dunno zula. from wut you told me sounds liek its not your fault or his. no blaming. blaming = bad. bad bad. i no. u should go out for nce. trt urself nice. go to a club. bet w/ur $$ its easy peasy to find some hot guys. lololol. but srsly im here for ya. anything i can do?]
[Sent: 8:29pm]

[From: Smexy sokka]
[Thanks for asking! It went OK. They're doing a lot better today. Doc says they should be out really soon. Maybe even tomorrow. You should come with us when they get out! We could all go out and relax together!]
[Sent: 8:30pm]

Ty-Lee grinned wide at her phone, running her hand across her cheek bashfully as she pondered how to reply. The last time Sokka had used that phrase with her - 'relax together' - it had lead to a pleasantly flirtastic evening on St. Patty's Day, full of drinking and hips touching and playful pushes and-...mweheheh.

[From: Godzula]
[Oh, please, Tylee. You know that nonsense sickens me. No, there's nothing you can do right now. It's all a futile effort when it comes to my brother.]
[Sent: 8:32pm]

Ugh, but Azula had to be such a stick in the mud. Why couldn't she lighten up a little? For being so apparently smart she could be totally clueless some times.

[Reply]
[To: Godzula]
[kk. i can always listen or talk if u need to talk. i dunno all what goes on but u can trust me. srsly tho u should just chill tonite.]
[Sent: 8:33pm]

[Reply]
[To: Smexy sokka]
[thats like SO AWESOME that their ok. srsly. i was worried. thx for lettin me no! and YES YES YES we tly shuld get togethr! gimme deets man!]
[Sent: 8:33pm]

If Mai and Zuko were going to have their weirdness and Azula was going to keep her at a distance than she'd just find attention elsewhere.

[From: Godzula]
[Very well. You're right, I should relax. I'll simply retire to my study for the evening. Zuko can pacify himself with delusions of my masterminded, evil conspiracy plot. Good night.]
[Sent: 8:33pm]

By the time Ty-Lee had returned to their bedroom, Mai was wrapping up her video chat. Good-byes were exchanged, and Ty-Lee gave Mai her juice, candy bar, and two quarters change before opening her bottled water and breaking into the granola bar she'd just acquired before plopping herself down on her bed, adjusting her long, braided ponytail and yawning up at her N' Sync poster - the one Zuko often chastised her for owning, to which she would counter by citing his childhood interest in Pokemon.

Ty-Lee found that thinking about 90's pop-culture was much less depressing than thinking about Azula, or Mai, or Zuko, and all of the drama clouding up what had once been a group of friends.

"How did you know that Zuko and I had a fight?" Mai asked after a few moments of quiet had passed. She carefully twisted off the cap to her bottle with a loud 'Pop!'

Ty-Lee perked her shoulders up, pushing down the edges of her tight T-shirt as she squirmed in her bed, half a granola bar hanging from her lips.

"Mmm-mm," she 'I-dunno'd'. When she caught sight of her roommate's stone-dry stare, Ty-Lee rolled her eyes, biting off a second chunk of bar and swallowing as she sat up in her bed. "I could just tell, Mai. You've been acting weird, and you two didn't talk on the phone last night, or today, and you complained about how busy he was, and-...It just made sense."

"Ah." Mai nodded simply, clicking her fingernail against the glass container in her hands.

"I could tell you were lying when I said it, though."

"Oh, sure," Mai sarcastically dismissed.

"No, really, I could. You were pretty good, I admit, but it was like you were too steady. If you were being natural, your face would've done something but it was like a statue."

"Hmph," Mai snorted, amused by this. Ty-Lee and her face-reading was a trend that wasn't going away.

"Besides, your eyes weren't quite focused, and you...-" Ty-Lee let her face-analysis drop. "Is everything OK?" She wondered sternly, eyes narrowed with doubt. "You can talk to me when stuff is wrong. I'm, like...your best friend. Right?"

"Uh, well...yea," Mai agreed, somewhat uneasy by Ty-Lee's tone. "It's...just that - honestly? I don't know what's going on, Ty. I really don't. That's the whole point. Something about what happened at the UR has Zuko pissing himself, and...I can't do anything about it."

Ty-Lee's lips curved down.

"Yea, that...really stinks, Mai. Can...I do anything?"

Mai shook her head and sipped some juice.

"No. Thanks, though. Zuko just needs to let me in. You know what I mean?"

Ty-Lee nodded begrudgingly, checking her cell phone - no new messages. She stared with some regret at the photo background, a picture of her and Sokka from the party a week back that she'd sloppily snapped herself. It had previously been a shot of her and Azula and Mai on one of the forest trails near campus. Azula had even been smiling that sexy smile of hers. But looking at the picture was too difficult lately with how divided everyone was.

"Yea," Ty-Lee acknowledged Mai's statement after her moment of distraction, dropping her phone onto her stomach as she laid back down. "I think all those rules about keeping secrets is, like...a totally retarded thing with their whole family."

"Uh...What?"

"The Kurosawas, I mean. I'm beginning to think maybe it's time to start bending some of those rules, if people are gonna get hurt because of it."

Mai ran her fingers up her sideburn, pushing some hair strands over her ear carefully.

"Yea. I think you're right, Ty-Lee," she said with dark, serious tone.

"Wow, really?" Ty-Lee squealed with excitement, clasping her hands up to her chest. "You said that all cool and stuff, like I just had some, like...deep moment. Was that it? Like, like, like a...'That's DEEP, man' moment?"

Mai's solemn expression flat-lined into perplexation.

"...Y...Yea, Ty. That's-...Yea. Sure."

"Sweeeeeeet~"


- Friday, March 25th, 2011 -

"Um...Well, it was nice of Chong and Lily to come visit," Katara offered up a change of topic.

"Yea, it was," Aang agreed with an awkward nod. "Those two are...different," he laughed. "But it was good to see them."

"You think they miss you?" asked Katara.

"Nah," said Aang with a shrug. "Those two are free spirits, they just go with the flow, not much really gets to them, I don't think."

"Hm." Katara nodded. That was fair enough.

"Ha, I just remembered," said Aang with a smirk. "At least you won't have to worry about that essay for a little while longer.

"Ha! Yea, right, Pakku's going to chew me out so much," Katara sighed with humored apprehension. "'Oh, you almost died?'" she mocked. "'So what? Where's that essay that was due today?' Pff."

"I'm pretty sure that as long as you have the right papers from the hospital about staying here, he has to cut you some slack," Aang pointed out, still sprawled on his bandaged up back. Katara was sitting in the chair beside him. She was pretty much prepared to go, it was just a matter of waiting for her brother to arrive to pick them up from the hospital this morning. She was planning on going to class, but Aang was going to take it easy until Monday at her stern insistence.

"I know," she conceded. "He's just so...annoying sometimes."

"Well...Yea, I mean, he's getting ready to leave the school and everything, so maybe he's just decided it's easier to stop caring? I don't know..."

Katara did a double take at Aang's theory.

"Wait...What do you mean?"

"Huh?"

"About Pakku leaving."

"Oh, you know - retiring. I mean, he's old enough to retire now, and the school might need to make, like, budget cuts or something soon. If he retires then that's less trouble for everybody."

"How do you know about th-...Oh, was it Zuko?"

"Yea, I hear about things once in a while..."

"Mm." Katara nodded, pondering the situation. "So you heard Pakku's leaving for sure?"

"Yea, that's what I heard."

"Well...Where's he going to go?"

"I dunno. I'm sure he's got some place in mind. Why?"

"No reason, it's just...weird to think about him leaving work and...spending time with his family, or something. If he even has one...Heh. It's weird to think that he has a family in the first place, I guess."

"Ah..." Aang shrugged off the matter. He could appreciate Katara's humor, but the way she'd put it had hit close to home. She'd meant nothing by it, of course, so he would just let it slide here. Besides, he didn't really care one way or another - Pakku sounded like a tightwad, so all the power to him. He could retire and relax, and that was one less grumpy teacher Aang had to worry about potentially needing to deal with.

There was a bit of silence as Katara checked the clock on the wall. Almost 9am. Sokka would be here soon. Katara scanned the room for something to pass the time, and her eyes fell on Aang's Nintendo DS, sitting by the remnants of his breakfast on the small, wheeled table beside his bed. She scooped it up and stared at its white, scuffed up surface.

"Hey, Hun...Why don't you play more Mario Kart while we're waiting for Sokka?"

"Huh?" Aang pushed himself up with his elbows, carefully sitting up straight. Katara leaned over, kissing his forehead cautiously before handing the device to him.

"I liked watching you play it yesterday. You're really good."

"Pff." Aang raised his brow at her. "It's just Mario Kart..."

"Just Mario Kart, he says..." Katara smirked, running her finger over Aang's earlobe.

"Why don't...you play?" Aang meekly suggested, passing the handheld back to her. He wasn't up for playing it, she noticed, but Mario Kart had become like an odd, endearing activity for them. "Give you more practice, haha." Aang's sly look sold her, and she booted the device up.

"Me? Needing practice? No way," she facetiously replied as she waited for the game to start itself up. From his position on the bed, Aang reached his hands around her waist. She had been able to change into shorts and a t-shirt that Sokka had dropped off the night prior, though Aang was still garbed in a patient gown. With a snug grip around her stomach, he rested his head on her shoulder and watched her play.

+ http:/www(dot)youtube(dot)com/watch?v=VDBpQVhCMb8 +

"Love you," he said quietly, pressing his cheek into her shoulder.

"Love you, too," she replied, shrugging her shoulder up and touching his head with her own.

~You be my Princess, and I'll be your Toad; I'll follow behind you on Rainbow Road~

Aang rubbed his palms against the skin underneath her shirt.

~Protect you from red shells wherever we go, I promise~

Even though she was here, and safe...he was still a bit shaken. He couldn't lose her.

~No one will touch us if we pick up a star~

The sensation of their locked lips.

~And if you spin out, you can ride in my kart~

Discouragement relieved by comfort.

~When we slide together, we generate sparks~

Fingers laced together...

~In our wheels and our hearts~

...forming a fabric of safety.

~And the finish line~

[1st]

~Is just around the bend~

"Hey, good job."

~I'll pause this game~

"Thanks. I've been getting better, huh?"

~So our love will never end; Let's go again~

Between races, Katara twisted her head around to kiss Aang's forehead.

~The blue shell is coming, so I'll go ahead~

Running through flames to rescue her.

~If you hang behind, it will hit me instead~

Flaming wood puncturing his head.

~But never look back, 'cause I'm down but not dead; I'll catch up to you~

Pushing it off. Picking her up. Carrying her safety.

~Don't worry about Bowser or DK~

Katara fusses about her stitches.

~Just eat this glowing mushroom, and they'll all fade away~

Aang assures her of her beauty, regardless. He kisses her head in return.

~And the finish line is just around the bend~

"You need to start playing as Mario now instead of Toad."

"What? Why?"

~I'll pause this game so our love will never end~

"Ha. Isn't it obvious?"

Katara paused the game, administering a kiss to Aang's cheek.

~The finish line is just around the bend~

"You're not just my Penguin anymore, Aang."

~I'll pause this game so our love will never end~

"You're my hero now, too."

~Let's go again~

Aang's face went red.

~To the Mushroom Cup~

Kind words over the past year.

~And the Flower Cup~

Tender gestures shared over that time.

~And the Star Cup~

Aang kissing her off-guard that night.

~And the Reverse Cup~

Katara finally reciprocating the kiss.

And now, in this hospital, Katara's game becomes gradually distracted more and more by Aang's warm presence.

She eventually sets the device down, spinning round and hugging him gently, careful not to hurt his back.

~Walu-walu-walu-walu-wah~

Eskimo kiss.

~Walu-walu-walu-walu-Waluigi~

"Freakin' oogie!"

They both flinched at Sokka's voice, skulls bumping together. A short giggle fit ensued, to which Sokka rolled his eyes, dropping a pair of jeans and a T-shirt at the foot of Aang's bed.

"OK, OK, you two. C'mon, now," he sighed to them with embellishment. "Get some pants on, Aang, we're checkin' you two outta here. Doc's already cleared you and all that, right?"

"Yea. Did you bring my hat?" Katara wondered.

"It's in the car," Sokka nodded. "But, uh...-" He gawked at the stitches along her hairline. "-...I-I don't think you should wear it for a little while..."

"What? But...it's the hat you got for me, wouldn't you...-?"

"Kat, aren't stitches supposed to be left exposed to the air? Dry? And stuff?"

Katara frowned and her bottom lip pouted out. She crossed her arms stubbornly and glared at Sokka with puppy eyes while Aang pulled off his patient's robe and got into normal clothes.

"I'm not stoppin' ya," Sokka defended. "I'm just saying...It's not good for you."

"And walking around with...with a gash in my head is?" She jutted an irritable index finger to her forehead.

"Stoppit," Sokka flatly scolded her. "You look fine, don't be a drama queen."

"I look like Frankenstein," Katara whimpered, carefully touching the uneven formation of skin that had been tied together.

Her brother's dull eyes stared at her with a dry lack of sympathy.

"You're alive," he pointed out as Aang, now fully dressed, snuck behind her with a hug.

"And you're beautiful," Aang insisted, kissing her neck.

"And his opinion is the only one you should care about," Sokka matter-of-factly dismissed Katara's self-conscious doubt, jabbing his finger at Aang with a nod.

Katara smiled half-heartedly, closing her eyes and enjoying the feeling of Aang's lips pecking her neck another few times.

"Uhhhkay-yea-all-right-that's-enough," spat out Sokka frantically, looking away. "Time to take that PDA elsewhere."

The three of them packed up and filed out, heading for the desk to finalize their check-out.

"So, um...-" Katara started, twirling a finger through her hair as she grinned stupidly. "I know I already gave you all those kisses, and all, like I said...-"
"We can stop with the kissing and the talking about kissing," Sokka interrupted, a few steps ahead. He was ignored.
"-...but I haven't actually said it yet."

"Huh? Said what?"

Katara's eyes flickered with joy, half closed and complimented by her grateful smile.

"Thank you, Mr. Hero." She clamped her hand around his, swinging his arm to and fro a bit. Aang shrugged wildly at the passionate spark in her eyes and he squinted his own eyes in embarrassment. "I always knew you had a lot of courage in there," she poured out her admiration, sliding her index. "I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for you."

Aang nodded, letting his eyes open - nope, she was still staring at him with that burning desire, and his nether were starting to tighten. He jammed a hand in his pocket and made a few awkward steps to align himself.

"I just...I, uh...-"
"You just, you uhhhh-" Katara spurt out in mischief. "-...are amazing, that's what."

"You are, too, Katara."

"Well, I've got no excuse not to be if I'm going to keep you happy, right?"

"Yea, yea," grunted Sokka, wriggling his wrist behind him. "You love each other. I get it."

"Also a big fan of the 'being alive' part, Sokka," Katara added with some enthusiastic snark. "Which you won't be, if you rain on my PDA parade."

Leaning against the desk, waiting for the woman behind to get things in order, Sokka rotated around, facing his two friends. Katara and Aang looked groggy and tired, but their eyes sparked with electricity. They had almost died, Aang's back had been ripped open, as had Katara's head. Yet they rolled onward and upward, hands latched together, seemingly unfazed. Like they could take on the world together.

Sokka scratched at his goatee and nodded contemplatively.

"Carry on, then, sister. Let the...PDA parade mosey along."

[link]<--Previous Chapter
Next Chapter-->[link]

Pema, Jinora, and Lin are all Legend of Korra characters I've taken liberties with in adapting for SRU, and I am considering incorporating some others into my current plans. With less than 20 chapters left, there's only so much room for development, but since a lot of SRU's projected plans line up with the kind of direction Korra's been going in, I think it'll work just fine.

Show
Add a Comment:
 
No comments have been added yet.

A/N: It's been a big month for SRU - lots of big chapters lately that focus on themes that have been building for a long time. The first issue of The Promise, and some leaks of Legend of Korra (which you can be sure have played their part in inspiring this chapter. There's been a lot of great new SRU artwork as well, and I've also received a lot of support of all kinds, a bunch of you guys crawling out of the wordwork to say 'hi' and leave some feedback, and I've been the recipient of much generosity from some of you superfans, for which I am quite grateful. Thank you so much - you guys know who you are and are humble about it, too. ;) I'm extremely grateful.

I put together a video blog analyzing the main characters I write about within the series. I plan on doing a Part 2 that is SRU focused later. Feel free to e-mail any questions to D3stiny(dot)Sm4shergmail(dot)com and if I get enough questions I'd be happy to do a Q&A vlog for you guys. =)
http:/www(dot)youtube(dot)com/watch?v=mljzVVerD4s

Also, guys, SOPA. This shit is serious. If you still haven't sat down and looked into it and why you should be concerned. DO SO. If SOPA passes things like FF dotnet may not be able to exist anymore.
http:/www(dot)youtube(dot)com/watch?v=9h2dF-IsH0I
http:/www(dot)youtube(dot)com/watch?v=EBy7yooz3MM


What I Learned at SRU
Chapter 71 - My Town


- Saturday, March 5th, 2011 -

Korra took in a deep breath, eyelids heavy, muscles sluggish and unresponsive. She rose from bed - a laborious task - and stretched. She scratched at her rear end through her plaid-patterned boxer shorts and trudged to her dresser. She was thankful to even have a dresser. The last person here had just left it, apparently. One man's trash was another's treasure, and all that, right? Pulling a T-shirt over her sports bra - the white one with the Canadian maple leaf on it - reminded her of how sore her shoulders were. Likewise, putting on a pair of sweatpants served to reiterate her aching muscles. She spent a few minutes stretching to help work out the kinks, then made her way downstairs, lumping her hair into a single ponytail rather than the style she normally fussed it into.

Being a Saturday morning, the house was quiet. Korra wondered if anyone was even still home sleeping, or if people had gone off to work. As she stumbled into the kitchen, she noticed the full sink of dishes that had accumulated over the past couple of days. She ignored it, opting to fix herself some sunny-side-up eggs and toast for breakfast. Peering into the fridge, she observed that the orange juice she had purchased a couple of days ago was already gone. Grah. She'd only had one glass of it, too. Whatever cockbite had drunk it all would get a fist in their jaw if she found out. Maybe she'd mark her name on it next time...

After consuming a rather unceremonious and quiet breakfast, Korra couldn't stand staring at the sinkful of dishes. What the fuck? Did she have to do everything?

Halfway through this task, her attention was pulled from the voice of one of her roommates.

"Oh...Morning, Korra."

It was Bolin. Rubbing sand from his eyes, he was in a bathrobe. Looked like he'd just taken a shower.

"No wonder the water got cold so fast," he mumbled, glancing at how Korra had the sink trickling out hot water while she scrubbed at the dishes.

"Yea, well...nobody's been doin' this shit and I was sick of lookin' at it," she snipped, taking his comment as some complaint toward her for actually doing the menial chore.

"Err..." Bolin raised a brow at her back, struggling to not stare at the way her brown sweatpants hugged her hips. "I was going to do them before I left for work," he meekly put out.

"Yea, well...-" Korra trailed off grumpily. She was tempted to call him out on this, dubious as to this idea. Bolin didn't seem to contribute much to the house chores, she'd concluded over this week.

"Seriously," insisted Bolin, scratching his stomach with a yawn as he pulled out a box of Captain Crunch cereal from the cupboard. "Don't worry about the rest, I'll do 'em."

Korra finished off the spaghetti-stained plate she'd been working on, wondering to herself if it was a good idea to give him the chance to be lazy and not finish the task.

"Nah, I've got it," she concluded after a moment's thought. He'd just fuck it up, anyway.

Bolin laughed through his nostrils as he poured his breakfast out into a bowl.

"You don't have to do everything around here," he told her. "It looks like you haven't been sleeping good...Isn't today your day off?"

"I haven't," Korra bluntly confessed. "And it is."

"Then geez, woman, take a break."

Back still to him - she had yet to establish eye contact with him - her expression twitched with some irritation. She didn't take breaks. She got shit done. No 'stopping partway through' nonsense.

"Listen, uh...Don't you have work to go to?" Korra muttered. "Don't waste your time worrying about me. I'm fine."

Bolin frowned a bit at her put-off. She'd seemed to be getting increasingly more foul-tempered since she'd moved in. It was disconcerting. He couldn't help but wonder if she was the same way to his brother.

"It's still a little bit before I go to work," Bolin noted, chomping down a spoonful after he'd settled at the small, two-chair kitchen table. "I could do the rest of those dishes, really. It's no big deal."

"I've got it."

"'Kay..." Bolin shrugged, shaking his head a bit as he continued to eat. Korra finished her task after a few minutes of silent work and retreated back to her room.

[To: Kitty Kat]
[Yo. You said something about us hanging today?]
[Sent: 10:48am]

In her nearly empty bedroom, Korra rolled her head around her neck a few times. Damnit, so sore...

Knock-knock.

"...Yea?"

The door creaked open, and Mako's unassuming gaze scanned across her room briefly.

"Good morning," he greeted, seeming perplexed for some reason. "Have you eaten breakfast yet?"

"Yea," she grunted out, rotating her arm around its shoulder socket. Pop-crackle-snap. Ow...Awgh...

"Ah...So, what are your plans for today?" The hell was this? These guys all wanting to get in her business - what was up with that?

"Uh, whatever, I dunno," she sputtered out. "Gonna go hit the gym for a while, then I'm supposed to meet up with my cousins later..."

"I see," Mako nodded calmly. "Good to hear you're getting to see your family. Let me know when you're leaving to workout. I need some exercise, myself."

"Er...-" But he'd already left and closed the door behind him. Had she invited him to come with her? Yeeea-no. She hadn't. He's just gone and invited himself. Well, whatever.


Pap. Pap-pap. Pat-pap. Pap.

Korra's taped fists battered at the bag with swift motions. She lifted up a leg and struck it with a clean kick. Again. Again. Again. Then back to the fists.

The black bag dangled around from its chains, swayed slightly with each strike, her partner in a graceful, forceful dance which she led.

"Kickboxing, huh?"

Her stream of energy, her flow of physicality, was cut off by his voice. Breaths heavy and arteries pulsing, she adjusted the red sweatband on her head as she turned to face him. She nodded in reply, her ice-blue eyes on fire from the fuel of adrenaline. She'd been missing that feeling, having not had a proper workout in weeks due to everything involved in the move.

Mako was lifting handweights as he nodded back in approval.

"Good way to workout," he acknowledged. Like she gave a fuck what he thought about it. They blinked at each other for a moment, both faces glistened with perspiration, before Korra continued. She rotated around a few feet so he was out of eyesight while she went on to whaling, intentionally offering him an opportunity to observe her womanly figure in motion, which he obliged. Korra was fully aware that she had figure and muscle, and had no problem asserting that over any men nearby. In a way, it was her means of sticking it to them - taunting them was her method of establishing dominance when causing black eyes and bloody noses wasn't a reasonable option.

Pap. Pap-pap. Fssph.

"You seem pretty fit to be working as a restaurant manager."

Korra paused and swallowed saliva, lungs growing weary.

OK, yea, thanks, pal. Didn't ask for your commentary. If you're gonna admire my ass at least do it silence, eh?

Mako seemed to take the hint - maybe he'd seen the subtle scowl that had formed on her face during that brief moment of awkward silence - and settled himself onto a cycling machine nearby. The gym got busier as lunchtime drew near, and Korra was relived to have time to practice without worrying about socializing.

After finishing up and showering, Korra waited near the entrance for her roommate to head out. Her hair hung heavy with water over her shoulders, which Mako laughed at when he arrived, only for her to snipe at his own hairdo and how it was the first time she'd seen it free of a pound of hair gel.

"-so it's refreshing to not feel like my eyes might get gouged out by your forehead."

"Heh, I see..." Mako went to open the door for Korra, but she scurried ahead quick enough to catch it first and see him out. A curious glance later, Mako picked on her in retaliation for her jibe at his hair while they exited. "So you're going to mock my sense of fashion when you wear three ponytails on your head all of the time?"

Korra smirked at his competitive sarcasm, ruffling at her damp hair, which made her head even chillier in the still chilled weather, the last remnants of winter still adrift.

"Touche..."

"And besides," Mako dryly prodded further, "I don't think you have any business ridiculing anyone's dresscode when you insist on looking like the Fonz all the time..." He tipped his head subtley to the leather jacket she always wore.

"Phss," she scoffed while they walked along the sidewalk. She studied his coat and the long, winding decorative scarf he had around his neck. "You're one to talk, Doctor Who."

"Huh?"

"Doctor Hh-...-" She could tell by the look on his face he had no idea what she was referring to, and rather than embarrass herself over such a nerdy thing she wasn't even interested in, she let it drop. "Nevermind, you just...look like a moron with that scarf."

"Hm-hm," Mako laughed gently, shaking off her attempt at an insult while he straightened the article in question. He bobbed his head up, directing Korra to observe the nearby restaurant, a local sandwich shop. "Up for grabbing lunch?"

Korra sighed out in response to the exercise exerted thus far today and nodded with a moment's hesitation.

"Yea...Sure, all right."

Standing by the counter in the small shop, they had a bit of time to burn while waiting for their orders to be completed. An overhead television was playing the midday news.

["-was a forty-seven year-old accountant who lived alone. No eyewitnesses have turned up in the investigation of this most recent incident in what has become a series of arson-related crimes being attributed to 'The Combustion Man,' and authorities have not divulged any information regarding the motives or identity of-"]
"Glad we never have to worry about that kind of thing around here," Mako pointed out, drawing Korra away from the news report. "Guess that's one of the advantages of living in a small town - crime's hardly a problem, you know? Everyone knows everyone...that sort of thing."

Korra considered that notion - that Wayward was a small town - and couldn't deny that she had experienced more difficult people in a single day at her own job in the city than she had all week at the United Republic.

"Ah, good," she said with some facetiousness. "Guess I don't have to worry about being raped on my way home from work out in this town, huh?" She flexed an arm with a cocky eyebrow to Mako, who glanced at her, seemingly unamused.

"I suppose not," he agreed with a twitch of the shoulder.

As Korra looked at the ashen ruins of what used to be a house on the screen above, she pointed at it and expressed her opinion.

"See, problems like this? It's 'cuz cops gotta people down on shit, not be afraid to put on a little pressure, ya know?" She smacked her fist into the palm of her other hand, and Mako cast her a slightly befuddled sideways glance. "Not just sit around waiting for guys in uniforms to do something about it."

"Erm...I...suppose," he muttered.

"Sometimes ya gotta fight fire with fire," Korra insisted. She realized the irony of the statement, given the burned building on the TV. "Uhhh...like, I mean...as a metaphor," she hastily mumbled. "But, like, maybe sometimes not, if there's literally fire. Like maybe this guy...-" She waggled her hand off toward the television as she let her sentence hang.

Diggin' myself a nice fuckin' hole here, guy probably thinks I'm a loon.

Mako was relieved when their sandwiches, wrapped and ready to go, were set down on the counter, and he quickly took the opportunity to interrupt the conversation before Korra could try to pick it back up, take his food, and start to leave, thereby implicating Korra to follow suit.

"What do you think, dude?" Korra wondered as they left.

"I think that what you're proposing sounds a bit like anarchy. Vigilantism."

Korra huffed as she unwrapped her cheddar tunafish melt, its aroma tickling her nose like a lover on a Sunday morning. She chewed into it and savored the flavor - it was quite delicious, and the place wasn't as expensive as the ones she had been used to.

"What's wrong with that?" she asked, curious as to Mako's reasoning. "People standin' up for themselves, I mean," she jabbed in extra words, hoping to dilute the notion she was some whack-job.

"That's...-" Mako's expression twisted with disbelief as he shot a sideways glance. "Korra, listen to yourself. You're suggesting utter chaos. Citizens attacking criminals?"

"Survival of the fittest."

"We don't live by that kind of law in modern day society." Mako sighed as he pulled the wrapping off the edge of his six-inch turkey sub and chowed down.

"Probably why so many people are fuckin' blobs who can't take care of themselves," scoffed Korra, taking two large bites and filling her mouth. They both walked side-by-side, swallowing their respective morsels of lunch.

"It's not our job to take the law or justice into our own hands," Mako asserted. "That's what the police are here for - to maintain order."

"Fuck the police," Korra grumbled.

"...Didn't you say your uncle was a cop?" Mako grumbled, quite annoyed with her dismissal.

Korra frowned in spite of her own lack of foresight, swallowing another clump of fish and cheese. While Mako was confused and impatient with her temperament, he had to admit - at least to himself - she looked quite endearing with her childish pouty eyes, cheeks puffed up with food. Making herself look like an idiot had its own charms despite her wild claims. He sincerely hoped it was hyperbole, merely for the sake of discussion.

At last, Korra swallowed, having given herself an ample set of seconds to contemplate.

"Canadian cops are...different," she deduced, eliciting a laugh from Mako.

"Mm-hm. I see...Because...Canada is so well known for its...aggression."

Korra lifted a fist of threat.

"You talkin' shit about Canada?" she jibed in exaggeration. "I'll fuck you up." She glared at him, pressing all due serious as her lips jittered, barely containing a laugh. "Foh rizzle," she concluded, the edge of a snort falling out.

"Uh..."

"My nizzle."

"Heh, um...N-no, that's-...You can stop now," Mako assured, off-put by her mock-gangster words.

Mako cleared his throat through an awkward moment of silence, and while Korra finished off her sandwich, she took pride at what she interpreted to be a smirk on Mako's face - an achievement with this guy, as far as she was concerned.


"Shit, man, it's...like I gotta do everything around here," groaned Korra, emerging from the backroom and setting herself back down at the round, wooden table full of guests. The United Republic was humming with steady activity this afternoon. The recreation room - the one lined with wall art Aang had spent so much time getting up - was busy with billiards and chess and foosball played by SRU students, a dartboard in a corner of the main area was occupying a trio of elderly gentleman, and a few others were enjoying some beverages and food around the group.

"OK, whoa, hey," Sokka said, flashing out his palms at her. "If it's your day off, shouldn't you stop working?"

Korra groaned, slapping her forehead while her other arm popped up.

"It's not my fault no one knows what the hell they're doing," she defended the meddling she'd just partaken in. An official assistant manager hadn't been hired on yet, and the one that the college had intended to take the position bailed out, leaving Korra to rely on a more experienced student worker till fill in as keyholder for her days off. She didn't like it.

"Whoever's lookin' after the place today seems to be doin' fine to me," Sokka put off her worries, sticking his hand out to the peaceful, satisfied setting around them.

"Yea, place look like it's up and running good," Jane observed before slurping on her tall glass mug of orange cream soda.

"Food's good," Toph offered a compliment from her edge of the table as she groped her hands around the second half of her club sandwich. and chewed into it.

"Yea, this stuff's all right," Sokka put in his enthusiasm while stabbing a fork through his Cesar salad - it was healthy for him, and all, right? He wiggled his fork toward his bowl of soup while he chewed and added afterward, "And that French Onion? Daayyyummm."

"Yea, guy who's on today makes a mean soup," acknowledged Korra, kicked back in her chair.

"Place has a cool vibe to it," Jane muttered as she looked around at the various odds and ends that littered that wooden walls. It was perplexing to her, in a way, to see what had once been the Treetop Pub transformed into a place full of photographs and artwork and signs and all manner of paraphernalia. "Like what ya guys did with it..."

"Yea, it's...got, like...a 'homey' feeling," concurred Toph in-between bites, a hint of timidness hanging on her words.

"A lot nicer than it used to be," said Katara, smiling as she looked around, as well. She scratched Aang's back with affection as she pointed toward the room he had worked on. "And the art you did is so beautiful."

"Yea," Toph piped in. "It's...yea, it's...really cool."

She received a few perplexed glances at this remark, and while she couldn't actually see this, she could feel their presence at her own lack of thought before she'd spoken.

"Uhhh, that you...did it, I mean. It's...probably nifty-looking. And stuff...I bet..." Toph practically shrunk into her seat with embarrassment. She was going a bit overboard with the compliments, huh? Especially when they were one she couldn't physically mean. Katara smiled sheepishly with some pride at her friend's efforts and slipped her an encouraging gesture beneath the table by patting her on the leg.

"Yea, it really is," she insisted, refocusing attention back on Aang and sparing Toph more social awkwardness. "It's...so wonderful that you had the chance to do that," Katara continued to gush. "I mean, it's so pretty, and it's going to be there for...like...years. You know? I'm so proud of you, Sweetie."

"Omph," Aang reacted, his mouth full of pizza. His eyes squinted with pride as he swallowed. "Thanks, Sweetie."

"Bleh," Sokka groaned out, quite audibly, from beside Aang.

"Stop it," Katara scolded in a quick snip, leaning back to shoot her brother a glare behind Aang's back.

"I'm just saying," Sokka protested, arms flapping with aloofness. "If I'm gonna have to put up with you guys and your oogies all the time, you could at least put a little effort into petnames. Eh?"

Toph snorted out a laugh.

"What's with you and your goofy names for everything?" she picked on him with a smirk glinting from beneath her well-combed bangs that insisted on veiling her eyes tonight.

Sokka was not pleased with her jibe - he was still angry at her over everything that had transpired, most notably what she had said the last time they'd interacted. She was still on his shit list right now, and her weird efforts at trying to be all...polite, and bubbly? That wasn't gonna fly with him today.

"It's a gift," he replied, his voice heavy with sarcasm accented by a scowl that Toph could feel just from his tone. "You're one to talk, anyway, hypocrite."

"Heh, dude's got a point," Jane was quick to agree from her seat in the middle of them. She wasn't pleased with Toph, either. As far as she was concerned, Toph still had some making up to do before she could go acting like nothing was wrong anymore.

Toph's face jerked with a frown at their negativity - Come on, gimme a fuckin' break guys...Please? - but she heaved out a breath through her wrinkled nose and a moment later, the grump melted away.

"Fff...Yea, guess you're right," she conceded their point. "I do like my nicknames..."

"Uhh," Katara forced out the sound before an actual thought had processed - she simply didn't want to see the familiar cycle of cynicism disrupt anything. Toph had been acting pretty deliberately polite this evening, being the first time she'd been with the entire group in some while. During their long evening of realization and bonding, Toph had asked Katara for advice on how to work at getting along with everyone better, and based on how she was acting tonight, Katara was led to believe that for a change something had gotten through the girl's head. "No, we...we've got other names," she hastily spat out, pushing a loose lock of hair behind her ear.

"Such as...?" Sokka seemed entirely too interested, his attention hanging on Katara's words as he gulped down a spoonful of brown soup and cheese.

"Umm...-" Katara's face heated up with embarrassment. This was...suddenly very strange. She had spent a few times together with Aang now since they had started dating, and everyone present now already was aware of it, but...this was the first time Aang and Katara - the couple, the boyfriend and girlfriend - had been in a group setting like this, with everyone here and openly knowledgeable about the relationship.

"She's my Eskimo," Aang chirped with a dreamy grin as he ruffled the back of her head gently. They exchanged glances and for the briefest of moments, it was just the two of them at that table. That childishly innocent smile, those sharp eyes...She hadn't grown tired of them yet, and she wondered if they'd ever really go away. "And I'm her Penguin," Aang explained with some goofy pride, beaming as he put a mushroom-studded slice into his mouth.

"Oh, God," Jane chuckled with a pitying head shake.

"Uhhh yeaa," Sokka sighed, looking a bit confused. "That's...-" His head was tipped to the side, chin tucked in a tad. Katara was scanning his every gesture, trying to get a read on his reaction. "-...uh, well...At least you have proper nicknames, then," he scoffed with a shrug, closing his eyes in arrogance. As he went back to his food, though, Katara's watchful gaze noticed a small, teeny-tiny smile, like a speck of glitter, pass over him. He was pleased. He thought it was cute, but that wasn't 'manly' to think, of course, so not one had to know. Having reached this conclusion from her observation, Katara smirked and

"Ya know, Sister-Face," Toph offered from the left, "I, uh...I could maybe help with those nicknames...In case you're...ya know...lacking inspiration." She said it with a joking implication that the ones in question were horribly lame, but Katara didn't care. She nudged Toph in the shoulder as a means of slight retaliation, and they both shared a giggle.

"I think your nick-namer must be broken, Dead-Eyes," Sokka flatly expressed. "'Sister-Face?' Kinda lame. And lazy."

Katara saw Toph's lips curve down at Sokka's dismissal and she in turn shot him a frown in scolding.

"I like it, and it's my silly nickname, so that's all that matters, Mr. Meathead," Katara defended, keeping her voice sugary but making clear Sokka saw her irritation.

"Well..." Bemused, Korra decided to cut off whatever odd social undertones were flowing around. "I think you guys are all idiots for obsessing over that shit, haha."

"It's our...stupid names n' crap," Jane told her with a warm, dry tone. "It's part of this crowd, Kor."

"And the humdiddles," Sokka pressed eagerly. "Don't forget the humdiddles."

"And my axe!" Toph bellowed.

"Hey, that's my line," Jane quipped, a bit relieved to see some kind of humor coming from Toph, at least. That was better than her fumbling over herself to be all polite and crap.

"Yea, yea, OK," Korra cut them off at the pass. She wasn't in the mood for their weird in-jokes right now. "That's great and all, but-...C'mon, guys," said Korra with some humor, stretching her arms out and flicking her fingers inward. "Tonight's supposed to be all about me, right?" She received some laughs and grinned with satisfaction.

Some time passed, and the building emptied a bit while Korra spun yarns of her move, getting acquainted with Wayward and her job, and some stories from back in Toronto. Eventually, a trio of men - middle-aged, it looked like - shuffled in. They were dressed up in leather and denim, a stereotypical 'biker group' of sorts, complete with tattoos and raggedy facial hair. Sokka was enamored - very manly, big buff guys, with motorcyles, no doubt. That stuff was pretty cool.

Jane, however, felt her innards lurch at the sight. She recognized these men. One, a thick, barreled Caucasian, had a balding head but a thick, bushy mustache and a beard to match that was tied at the bottom. The second man had bulging, muscular arms protruding from a sleeveless vest, fierce mutton-chops over his Hispanic face, and his hair slicked back into a rat tail. The third was a Native American man, slender and lean, his hair in a topknot. In particular, the third man sent a shiver down Jane's spine, as she immediately recognized him by the tattoo over his face, a rhino's head curving over his left eye. Likewise, the bare-armed man had similar body tattoo on his right bicep.

Jane felt her head shrinking into her neck, heart skipping a beat as soon as she identified who these men were. It had been a while. She had hoped they had disappeared after the big shootout incident the semester prior.

"That's why you always keep a Russian man in your corner," concluded Korra in regards to her most recent story. "They've got your back."

"I feel like you've told us this story before..." muttered Aang, trying to recall if this was in fact the case. Toph smirked at this comment.

"That's 'cuz she did Tw-...Aang. Haha."

"Did I...?" Korra scratched at her head. She easily lost track of these things given that she was used to working in a place where she was interacting with new people all of the time.

"Hey, you," bellowed the burly bearded man from across the room as the small gang approached. All heads at the table twisted around toward the entrance beside Toph, who merely tilted her head in interest. "You the manager here?" The man had a smooth voice despite his rough appearance.

Korra got up from her seat with a casual sigh, hands on her hips.

Jane's heart had woken back up and was pounding now. What were the Rough Rhinos doing here? Whatever it was, she was certain it couldn't be good. Her head bobbed, hands clenching around her knees, she hoped they wouldn't notice her.

"What's goin' on?" Korra asked with her stern authority.

"Are you Korra Kesuk?"

"I am."

The three men all studied her bold, impatient expression for a second or two, trying to make a read from a distance of about twenty feet.

"Uhhh...-" Her eagle eyes narrowed as she caught their stares. The fuck was up with these clowns? "Can I help you guys with anything?"

The rat-tailed fellow snorted out a laugh.

"This is the new mask they're hiding behind, huh?" he scoffed at her, shaking his head. Korra didn't even have time to express her perplexation at this remark as the next one spoke.

"Nice hair," picked the top-knotted man, to which Korra flashed an indignant look.

"Yea, you, too," she reciprocated, annoyance at the edges of her words.

The entire table behind Korra was tense and silent, practically motionless aside from Jane eating her soup quietly, head down.

"There a problem?" Korra reiterated her impatience. "Somethin' you guys need?"

"We came to deliver a message," announced the bearded one. Korra rolled her eyes at this.

"For Chrissake," she sighed. "What? You one of these gangs I've heard about?" she dismissed. "For fuck's sake, cut the theatrics. What's your deal with me, eh?"

"The Rough Rhinos just want to make sure you know your place in this town," said the furry-faced man in a calm, quieted tone.

"And what place is that?" Korra replied, crossed her arms around her chest with some intrigue.

"Anywhere that's out of our business," he clarified.

Their eyes clashed together like two swords, sparks slipping out from the friction. She didn't know what these punks were on about, and she didn't give a shit, either. People weren't just going to be sauntering on in her and giving her crap, she wasn't going to tolerate that. Maybe she couldn't go and throw idiots in jail out there, but in here? This was her house, she was in charge, and she would resort to what she needed to in order to keep undesirables but asserting otherwise.

"Look," she snapped. "I don't know who you clowns are, or what you're here for, but I don't want none of it. So maybe you guys oughtta be staying out of my business, out of my building, if you're just here to pick a fight."

Katara was grimacing with worry, while Toph beside her was grinning with some excitement. Jane's gaze had finally lifted up, her olive eyes wide with shock at Korra's bold attitude. Was she retarded? Did she have any idea what she was dealing with here? These were the guys who had been causing the Freedom Fighters problems for a good while, the ones who had practically killed Jet - who had almost killed her...

"Korra," Sokka whispered from his seat, trying to get her to back down a bit. "What are you doing?"

But she ignored him, her glare steady and solid on this man. Some...what? Biker thug who was trying to establish his 'turf?' Nuh-uh. No way.

"Don't play dumb with us, girl," said the dark-skinned man with the facial tattoo. "We know who you work for."

Korra shrugged her shoulders incredulously.

"The fucking college?" she growled out, frustrated at whatever games they were playing. "Yea, soooo intimidating," she mocked, wriggling her wrists around. "Grow the fuck up, people. This ain't some damned turf for you to cop a squat at." She adjusted the collar on her leather jacket, seeming to be flashing her attitude with it. "Not some hideout for thugs or biker gangs. Get me? This is a place for everybody. And it's my place. So if you've got some beef, you take it with me - right here, right now." She stabbed her index finger down toward the wood paneling below her feet.

Sokka was scratching at the back of his neck with some fright at the situation, while Aang, too, was observing with great concern at what he hoped wouldn't break out into violence.

"Hey, Korra," Sokka called out, more loudly this time, rising up from his chair and going to Korra's side. "Ya know...I don't think these guys are really here to pick a fight or anything," he hastily spat out with some sheepishness. "They're...probably just here to scope out the place." He shrugged to the men with a nervous smile. "Sorry guys, this ain't a bar anymore, heh. I mean, they've got some stuff on tap and all, but...-" Korra elbowed him in the rib, and he stumbled back a step and a half.

Then, the moment Jane had been dreading happened. The bearded man - the one she knew by name as Kahchi, as she'd had some bad run-ins with him in the past - noticed her due to Sokka's activity, as she had been sitting beside him. Their eyes crossed paths with a dangerous glint, but Kahchi saw a fear in the red-head's eyes she had never possessed before in his presence. It was unsettling to him, as was this entire situation. He recognized some of these kids - that meddlesome Smellerbee that had caused him quite a stir some time ago...Jet's squeeze before he had met his rather...unfortunate fate. And these other kids, they were ones that Smellerbee had been corralling around lately. And here they all were, with this woman - Korra Kesuk. This couldn't be a coincidence. Mongke, their boss, would certainly not be pleased to hear about this turn of events.

"You don't seem to be comprehending what we're trying to tell you," Kahchi warned, his lips spiced with threat.

"Uhhh, no," Korra objected. "See, the point is...I don't care. If you boys aren't here to relax like everyone else, then you can go ride your little scooters off to some place else and play make-pretend over there. OK?"

Kahchi's teeth scraped together, his jaw sliding to the side. So this was the kind of game they were playing still? Had Jet's death not been a bold enough message?

"Just what do you think you are?" Kahchi snarled.

Korra's eyes glinted with some ferocity as she advertised her fearless intentions, cracking her knuckles while an audacious smirk emerged.

"Why don't you come and find out?" she dared with a cheeky spark in her words.

+ http:/www(dot)youtube(dot)com/watch?v=4fj5iIkQ-YE&t=1m48s +

~When the sun goes down, the stars come out like the ghosts of yesterday~

Korra had dealt with enough bullshit back up north, people questioning her authority, her strength, her determination.

~So drink 'em down, 'Cause some things never change~

Not anymore. This was a fresh start, and that shit wasn't gonna fly.

~Baby, sing and get loud~

Some old cronies thought they were hot shit?

~We ain't gonna fuck around~

Ha. That was funny.

~When the sun goes down, let me hear you say~

Kahchi accepted her challenge and lunged forth, pushing out his fat fist.

~This is my town~

Korra captured his knuckles in her palm, letting her arm slide back to absorb the impact.

It's my town!

A counterpunch to the face.

It's my town!

A twist of the arm.

It's my town!

A knee to the groin.

~This is my town~

She landed a swift kick to his head.

It's my town!

Tumbling to the side.

It's my town!

Head colliding with a table.

It's my town!

Body collapsing to the ground.

~This is my town~

Gasps of shock, a yelp from the blind girl.

~The streets you walk give you a reason~

Getting into scraps every week growing up.

~'Cause it's all you got, and that'll never change~

Never backing down, a bully toward bullies.

~So keep singing that song and we can live forever~

Excelling in physical education, undertaking training programs.

~One little laugh for the ones who passed away~

Scumbags on the street took people like Aunt Kya away.

~When the sun goes down, the stars come out like the ghosts of yesterday~

Anytime she saw creeps like that, she wanted to beat the hell out of them, rob them of any chance of doing that.

~So drink 'em down, 'cause some things never change~

There'd always be assholes in the world - she'd just be a bigger asshole and wipe them off the map.

~Baby, sing and get loud~

"Korra!" Sokka cried out from behind her. "What are you-?"

~We ain't gonna fuck around~

The hispanic man came next, and she was ready.

~When the sun goes down let me hear you say~

Before he had been able to draw too close, she'd stuck up her foot, letting his own momentum combine with her kick and stun him in the stomach.

~This is my town~

She shoved her shoulder at him, pushing him away.

It's my town!

Fumbling backward.

It's my town!

Crashing over a chair.

It's my town!

Arriving on the floor.

~This is my town~

The one with the facial tattoo came next.

It's my town!

A knife.

It's my town!

She charged head on.

It's my town!

Through his panic, she wrenched it from his hands.

~This is my town~

She pressed it to his neck, her teeth flashing with sinister pride at her actions. They'd underestimated her. She relished the embarrassed astonishment in his eyes for a moment before tossing the knife to the floor and grabbing him by his coat. She spun around, pulling his lean body around in a circle with all of her might as she let out an angry roar of empowerment. She let him fly, and he crashed through a

"Woohoo!" she hollered with gratification as she thrust her fists up, her breathing heavy. "Suck on that, bitches!"

No one else was cheering, though. In fact...wait...

"Aaaaghhh..." Sokka's voice, howling in agony.

Korra whirled around. Why was Sokka laying underneath the table?

"What the fuck just happened?!" Toph shrieked out, hunched over in her chair, hands clutching at her stomach.

Katara was on her knees, inspecting her brother, who was curled up, hands on his head.

"He hit his head," Katara explained, trying to quell all of the commotion. "He's OK, just a bit bruised."

"And in pain!" Sokka whimpered dramatically. "Pain! Very much! So many of the pain. All the pain."

"How'd that happen?" Korra demanded, perplexed.

"You swung a person into him," Aang accused, pointing his hands out at her in disbelief.

Korra's mind reeled. Sokka had been nearby, but had he really been that close? She'd...knocked him over when she'd spun that guy around...? That didn't even-...No, how could-...?

"Damnit," Sokka hissed, his forehead covered by his hands. "Agh, damnit!" he repeated, letting his sister slowly ease him up.

"The fuck's wrong with you?" Jane roared across the table with raging fingers digging through her hair, infuriated at Korra's display. This could be very bad...

What was the deal? Sokka had gotten in her way, what had he been expecting, huh? She had just protected them from a bunch of creepy thugs who'd come messing around - it could've been so much worse if she hadn't stood up to them. Right? How could they be so ungrateful? And Jane, what a fucking hypocrite, like she'd never had to deliver a beatdown to anyone...

"Seriously," Toph seethed, trembling in her seat while Sokka continued to bemoan his minor injury. "The hell is going on?"

Katara, seeing that Sokka was all right, immediately placed a comforting hand on Toph's arm.

"Our cousin's acting like a psychopath," she sighed out, flashing Korra a rather disapproving glare.

As Korra scanned Aang and Jane, she realized they were all giving her the same look - and for that matter, the few others who were still in the restaurant were just as flabbergasted and appalled.

The defeated men were struggling to get themselves out, befuddled by Korra's strength - she was buffer than her hairstyle would lead one to believe. Her victory was kind of a flop at this point, though, and she couldn't really congratulate herself much when her cousins and new friends were all pissed off at her.

"I was...-" She tossed out arms to the grumbling men who were seeing their way out. "-...protecting you guys...from...-"

"Thanks for the protection," Sokka flared out at his cousin. He wobbled into his seat after Aang had realigned it, and Aang administered a back pat. "I get that you love finishing bar fights and everything Korra, and good on ya, but this isn't a bar."

Korra was feeling shame sweep over her, and she hurried to the furniture that had been toppled, correcting it as a means of avoiding guilt for a few fleeting moments.

Sokka was right: this wasn't a bar. This wasn't Toronto, or anywhere else she had lived before. Maybe trying to take charge and establish supremacy with fists really wasn't the best option here.

Fighting fire with fire was pretty fun, but as much of an idiot as Sokka was, Korra wasn't too proud with having bumped him in the head.

"I'm so fuckin' sorry, dude," Korra oozed her apologies over him after she cleaned up the mess. As she approached, she was puzzled. Should she...touch him? Like Aang and Katara had? Nah...No, that didn't seem right. "I didn't know you were so close, and...-"

"Why'd you even do that?" Sokka grumbled with a sharp inward gasp as another pang of pain shot through his skull.

"What?" Korra grunted, baffled at the accusing sting of everyone's looks and words. "They came at me."

"Why'd you start shit with them?" Smellerbee demanded. "Those were some of the Rough Rhinos - the people who killed Jet? Those are not the people you want on your bad side..."

Korra's ice blue scratched against Jane's olive green for a moment.

"They came in here, in my place, stirrin' the pot. I was just defending what's mine."

"This place isn't yours," Aang sighed. "This is everyone's. That's the whole point..." Man, even Aang was ticked at her, huh? That was unsettling to her. She didn't like that. Aang didn't get pissed very easily, but then again, he really didn't like violence, right? No wonder he'd be upset with her.

"O-OK, you're right," she confessed with a shrug as she sat down. "I'm sorry, all right? Guess I...overreacted."

"You think so?" Katara quipped with sarcastic irritation. She stood up from her chair. "I think we should probably head out for the night," she mumbled, taking Aang's hand as he followed suit.

"We're leaving?" Toph eked out, still startled by what she'd heard. Katara gently took her arm and eased her up.

Jane slurped down the last of her soup as Sokka, still grumbling inaudible things to himself in a daze, put his coat on.

Katara offered her cousin a disappointed stare for a few seconds, letting some empathy out with her frown.

"We'll see you later, Korra," she said with a more gentle tone. "Have a good night."

"Bye," Toph bid, still a bit confused as she was pulled along.

"Night," said Aang.

Sokka gave her no farewell - she knew she didn't deserve one from him.

Jane lingered a bit. This was disconcerting. What business did the Rough Rhinos have with Korra? What was the deal? Likely not good. It made her worried.

"Yo," she huffed out in a hushed voice while the others made their way out. Korra hung on her words, desperate for any kind of resolution. "Those guys? Bad crowd. Watch your back."

And with that, Jane scurried along after the rest.

Korra moaned to herself, elbow on the table, cheek squished by her wrist.

Damnit. What's wrong with me? No fuckin' restraint. And what was with those guys. 'Watch my back...?'


A/N: "Fuck the police": http:/30(dot)media(dot)tumblr(dot)com/tumblr_lp0wiwzme21qe1ntwo1_500(dot)jpg

And yes, I paid reference to Episode 1 of Legend of Korra, since there's been some leaked footage.

Song is by Hollywood Undead.

Thanks for being such awesome fans, guys, I appreciate all of your support.


<noad><div align="right" style="height: 10px; border-top: 1px solid rgb(205, 205, 205);">
[link]<--Previous Chapter
Next Chapter-->[link]

The recent Korra clips inspired me to start developing Korra's role a bit sooner than I originally planned, but hey...now's good timing for it, anyway. ;)

Show
Add a Comment:
 
No comments have been added yet.

A/N: As I continue my journey of trying to make things work out in California, I seem to be running into a never-ending wall of resistance, and yet things continue to work - just barely enough to squeeze by. Writing about people getting ready for Christmas only serves to remind me that come Christmas, it's not looking like I'll have anyone at all to go see. But, with some luck, I'll be finishing this story about then. I'm dealing with a hell of a lot of feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt right now...I really hope life can start changing that, because after a couple of years it gets to be a bit much. In the meantime, I guess I can always show those feelings to other people through these characters.

What I Learned at SRU
Chapter 44 - Survived


- Thursday, December 16th, 2010 -

"Yep. Done. Fucking doooonnnne."

["Wow. Nice~ Must be a big relief, huh?"]

"You bet your ass it is..."

["You sound better than last time, Tophie."]

"I am better than last time, Cuz. Way better. My hands can finally take a damned break. Hours of slamming piano keys and plucking strings and rolling over braile...poor girls need a rest, ya know?"

["Heehee."]

"Looks like we're heading out tomorrow. Christmas break. Argh, can't wait..."

["Finally get to relax with Aangy, right?"]

"Yea...I do."

["Should be good for you guys. Things have been pretty rocky, I know..."]

"Mm..."

["They gotten better?"]

"Uh...Y-yea, a little..." Toph caught herself biting at her dry lip.

["Ah. That's good. Looks like you've been too busy to do any new videos lately."]

"Oh, um...Pff. Yea, been way too crazy..."

["You should take some time to do that during vacation. Maybe do a Christmas song or something."]

"Huh...Yea, I...guess I might be able to do that..."

["You still have the camera, right?"]

"Yea, yea. I do. Naw, I'll...get around to it. You're right, I need to work more on that stuff."

["I noticed what you've got up so far has gotten a few views."]

"Oh, yea?"

["Yea, you've hit about a hundred or so on each vid so far. It's a start. But we both know you can do better...Heehee."]

"Hell yea, I can."

["Ah, shoot...I've got to be somewhere in five minutes...I've gotta go."]

"See ya, then, Meng."

["Bye, Tophie!"]

Toph closed her phone and stuffed it in her pocket, taking a deep breath as she found her way to her keyboard at the foot of her bed. She unplugged the headphones and ran her fingers across its surface, finding her 'home' and testing out a few chords. She set to work figuring out the opening parts of "Carol of the Bells" as a means of practicing a song to record later but also to take her mind off of her own self-doubts which were quickly crawling to the surface with schoolwork out of the way.


- December, 2010 -

Aang carefully studied the way Toph's fingers glided across ivory bars, creating a melody akin to a chorus of melancholy bells. It was a familiar Christmas tune, though not his favorite. It struck him as a bit too sad for Christmastime. As Toph finished, however, she smirked.

"That's my fav," she told him. "There's a lot of sappy Christmas songs, and that's all good, but that one's the best Christmas song."

"Hm..."

"For the longest time, I hated Christmas songs. Never thought I'd find one I'd get along with." She chuckled, playing the main melody by itself slowly with one hand as she went on. "And then this song came around. It called out to me. I couldn't ignore it even if I wanted to. Just...latched itself right into my brain and wouldn't let go. It's different than other Christmas songs."

"Ah."

"By the way, I'm making allusions to you, Dude."

Aang paused, uncertain of how to respond.

"I've been keeping to myself at this school because I know what it's like to get burned by people, and I don't want to leave myself open like that again. Somehow...you seem to be clawing your way in, anyway. Relentless bastard," she snickered.

"I have a habit of breaking through walls," Aang tried to boost his confidence and ego in her presence. "I try to, anyway," he added, his humility prodding at his conscious.

"That so?"


- Thursday, December 16th, 2010 -

Katara guzzled down the last of her juice in a large gulp, scooping up her tray and bolting to drop it onto the washroom's conveyer, Jane following suit.

"We'll meet up at the guys' room and figure out a plan from there," she explained, continuing their conversation concerning plans for celebration.

"Ah, OK. I'm gonna be a little late," Jane advised.

"Huh? How come? Aren't you done with finals?" Katara stopped to grab a banana from the fruit baskets on their way out.

"Yea, I am," Jane calmly replied. "I've gotta go take care of something before we head out tomorrow."

"Huh?" Katara shot her a suspicious expression as they traversed down the stairs to the ACC's main lounge area. "Not something...Freedom Fighter related, right?" she checked with a bit of sharp concern.

Jane stared her straight in the eye and quickly replied, "No. Definitely not something with them." She frowned, expressing disgust at the idea. "I haven't heard from them in...a while." She scratched at her brow while she spoke. "Nah, I have to hunt down a student I lent my textbook to so I can trade that back in tomorrow morning before we leave."

"Oh, shoot," Katara gasped, slapping herself in the forehead lightly. "I still haven't returned mine. Thanks for reminding me."

"Heh, no problem." Jane shrugged with relief. Had Katara not yet heard the news about the group? No-doubt she had been so frantic with finals that she had missed the latest White Lotus issue.

"Another all-day car ride for us, again," Katara lamented. "Ugh...Maybe we'll have more fun this time."

"As long as you bring that box of Christmas cookies, we can always stuff those in anyone's face once they start bitching."

"Not if I eat them all first."

"Tsh. You wouldn't. You'd get so fat."

"And full of cookies and happy."

"And fat."

"Yea? Well...Maybe all the more reason for me to let you eat some with how skinny you are."

"Hurr-hurr." Jane rolled her eyes. "Jealous..."

"Not about your cup size," Katara devilishly picked.

"Wow, that was low..." Jane mock whimpered, folding her arms and pushing out her lips in a fake pout.

"You started it," Katara cast off with a prissy tone and a shrug. "Don't dish if you can't take. Right?"

"So some of me is rubbing off on you, too..."

"Bleh."

"I know. It's horrendous."

"Blehhhh."

"It's not that bad."

"Buulllehhhhh." Katara's expression had evolved into an exaggerating gag, tongue flailing about.

"Fine. You win. Jerk."


[Facebook - Katara Kesuk]

[Katara likes The Flamey-O's.]

[Katara Kesuk If today was your last day, if tomorrow was too late, could you say good-bye to yesterday?
Would you live each moment like your last, leave old pictures in the past, donate every dime you had?]
[3 hours ago]
[Aang Leekpai likes this.]

[Sokka Kesuk - Uh oh. Someone's breaking out the song lyrics...Nickelback? Really? Wow, must be a bad day...]
[3 hours ago]

[Katara Kesuk - Shut up. =/ ]
[3 hours ago]

[Jane Fitzpatrick - you really do care a lot about making each day count huh?]
[2 hours ago]

[Katara Kesuk - Lately I wonder why I even bother...]
[2 hours ago]

[Aang Leekpai - hey dont think like that! we need our canadian eskimo glue to keep everyon together,m remember?]
[2 hours ago]

[Jane Fitzpatrick - i meant that in a good way -_- ]
[2 hours ago]

[Katara Kesuk - Thanks guys...]
[2 hours ago]

[Sokka Kesuk - I'll insult your bland taste in pop music any time. ;) ]
[1 hour ago]

[Katara Kesuk - Not you. =O ]
[1 hour ago]

[Sokka Kesuk - Yikes, someone has a case of the Grumpies today, huh? ;( Need that pudding medicine?]
[53 minutes ago]

[Jane Fitzpatrick - wtf?]
[41 minutes ago]

[Sokka Kesuk - Oh snap, I'll need to tell you that story later. xD ]
[32 minutes ago]

[Katara Kesuk - =_= ]
[Moments ago]


Jane simply sat, staring at his peaceful state for a few minutes. He slept in a way she hadn't seen him sleep in a long time: completely relaxed. It was relieving to her to see him in such a state, and brought back that old stirring sensation that wouldn't seem to disappear. Except for when...-
"Unh...-?"

Oh, he was waking up.

"Hey, Johnny," she sighed out. She was hunched over in a chair by his bedside, her back to the winter evening outside the window, the pale orange glow of street lamps below.

"Agh," Johnny acknowledged in a grunt. "She's back for Round 2..."

Jane face melted into a mess of briefly-lived despair she couldn't control, tears rapidly building. She managed to control the fire before it could spread and took a deep breath.

"Fuck yes, I am," she insisted shakily. "You can't just...get rid of me..."

"Leaving isn't the same as 'getting rid of.'"

"Rrgh, don't say shit like that, man..." Jane's knees bobbed up and down with impatience, her hands tucked between her legs.

Johnny's brows slid down slyly.

"We both know it's not me," he bluntly advised.

"Wha...-?" Jane was baffled by what came across as an accusation.

"It's not me you should...-" He shuffled his head across his pillow. "-...be sticking around with..."

"The fuck...-?"

"They seem to do much more...good for ya...Bee."

"You mean...the guys?"

Johnny's eyes searched up to the side for a moment as bobbed his head a tad.

"Made you change. Change in ways...I knew ya could...but could never get to happen myself..."

Their eyes remained locked for a silent moment of contemplation.

"Heh." Johnny smiled coyly. "I see it in your eyes..."

"See...See what?" Jane mumbled, on edge. What was with him?

"There's someone else," Johnny muttered. The instant Jane's eyes widened and her lips cracked open, he quickly blurted, "Nah, nah...I get it. It's OK. Probably better for you, anyway..."

"How-...? Johnny, don't...say this shit again. Like I'm...running off with someone else..." Her cheeks flushed from the awkward discussion.

"No, no...Last time? I was lying..."

Jane's brows tilted at this nonchalant admission.

"With Jet, we're talking about," he clarified. "Right? When I broke up with you? Oohhhh..." He shook his head slowly. "I knew it wasn't like that...I said that to drive you off. Had to be...convincing. Get under your skin, make you not want to come back..."

"How could...-?"

"We were no good for you. I hated seeing you...stuck. And look right here." He nodded his head to his arm cast and chuckled in spite of himself. "Got you outta this, didn't I?"

Jane's teeth ground together, but she understood. She'd been played, in a matter of speaking. He really was taking the fall for everything they'd done, wasn't he?

"Fuck," she groaned in frustration, eyes averting to the tiled floor.

"I was sick of how Jane had...disappeared. And all I was seeing was Smellerbee. I had to...do something about that...Psh." His eyes rolled up as he recalled things. "Had to let them do something, really..."

"Johnny, you don't need to...fuckin' break off like that..."

"Jane, Jane, Jane..." Johnny huffed. He sure was a bit more talkative than usual tonight. And kind of odd, altogether. She fancied it must've had to do with his injury and all the drugs he was likely loopy on. But at least she was getting the truth from him. "It's done. Don't you get it? I'm not going to be coming back to school after this...But you will. And so will all those other kids, like Pipsqueak and The Duke..."

"Oh, so...so you get to be some God damned martyr or some...some bullshit?"

"I don't...know. Whatever you want to call it, I'm just...glad it's done and over with. And...if you can't let it go, and keep...going down this new path of yours?" Johnny's eyes pleaded with her, though his words were steady. "It'll make this all worth nothing. You can't do that now."

Jane's emotions were swelling with intensity from all of this coming out. It sounded like he was relieved to be rid of her. What an ass. She'd trusted him with everything. More than anyone else in her whole-...Well, almost anyone else, anyway. More than any other man, that was for fucking sure. And look where that had put her: same fucking place as always. Hung to dry once again.

She slammed her fist into her thigh in aggravation as the reality sunk in - this might be the last time she'd see Johnny.

Fucking lying bastard...playing games with her.
But he had been doing it to protect her.
Still fucking lied.
As if she hadn't been lying herself lately.
He was just going to completely abandon everything they'd built.
But it was because he loved her and wanted something better for her.
That wasn't his choice to make.
But he'd already made his choice, and she'd already made hers.

"It's not like...I'm gonna disappear off the face of the planet...ya know."

Jane was rubbing snot from her nose with a nearby napkin, unused from Johnny's dinner. She was at a loss of what to make of all this.

"Still got my...cell number, 'n...ya know..."

"Right, 'cuz...you're such a...conversationalist," Jane tried to joke through her tears.

"Hmph," Johnny breathed out a laugh.

Knock, knock, knock.

Jane was startled by the nurse. No, no, no. Not yet. They couldn't. She needed more time.

"Miss Fitzpatrick...?"

"Uh..."

"It's five past eight, we really do need to get you out of here..."

Jane's face began burning with embarrassment as the nurse approached. She was holding a snot-filled napkin and her face was wet.

"I'm sorry," the nurse offered her sympathies.

"'Kay..." She nodded, taking in a deep breath and slipping into her winter vest. She glanced down at her friend with remorse. "Will you...still be here when I get back?"

"Can't say," Johnny honestly admitted.

Jane shook her head and leaned over to give him a hug as carefully as she could. It was insult added to injury, not even being able to give him a proper hug. She was tempted to kiss his lips as she drew her face away, but refrained. It would've made it that much more difficult to break away, and they didn't need that. And besides...they were still broken up, anyway. Stupid idiot...bastard.

"Guess I'll...see you around," Jane choked out as she followed the nurse out, looking back over her shoulder.

Johnny managed to lift his free arm to his head and pinched his thumb and index just before his forehead, giving a slight nod and a wink. A weak smile found its way onto her face as she could see the invisible cowboy hat on his head that he was tipping to send her off.


[Facebook - Aang Leekpai]

[Aang Leekpai is sooooo glad that finals are done. ^^ ]
[2 hours ago]
[Sokka Kesuk, Katara Kesuk, Mai Chiao, and 4 others like this.]

[Sokka Kesuk - DAMN STRAIGHT. Time to party! You ready to party?]
[2 hours ago]

[Aang Leekpai - i got da sonic if you got da boom!]
[2 hours ago]

[Jane Fitzpatrick - plz tell me da boom is that cactus stuff.]
[1 hour ago]

[Meng Beifong - CONGRATS! :D :D :D ]
[1 hour ago]

[Sokka Kesuk - Jane Fitzpatrick Yea, I've still got a few bottles left over. ;) ]
[1 hour ago]

[Katara Kesuk - I thought we were going to the Midnight Breakfast...]
[45 minutes ago]

[Aang Leekpai - ohhh yesss we have to go! im in the mood for pancakes]
[42 minutes ago]

[Korra Kesuk - way to go, little man! have fun. see u soon!]
[39 minutes ago]

[Aang Leekpai - im not little...:'( ]
[37 minutes ago]

[Jane Fitzpatrick - Katara Kesuk i'm in. Ill take cinnamin buns over booz any day.]
[34 minutes ago]

[Sokka Kesuk - Jane Fitzpatrick You're just full of surprises, Freckles. :P ]
[32 minutes ago]

[Korra Kesuk - Aang Leekpai you have yet to prove that. ;P ]
[30 minutes ago]

[Suki Kyoshi - me and sokka will meet you guys at the acc in 15 minutes?]
[28 minutes ago]

[Aang Leekpai - sure! Katara Kesuk do yo know where toph is?]
[27 minutes ago]

[Katara Kesuk - She's taking a nap but I'll wake her up. ^_^; ]
[24 minutes ago]

[Mai Chiao - we're already here, you guys are welcome to join us if you want.]
[20 minutes ago]

[Mai Chiao - if you can FIND us...]
[20 minutes ago]

[Zuko Kurosawa - Good luck, it's crazy down here.]
[19 minutes ago]

[Tylee Moretti - omg omg french toast stix cannot wait! :3 ]
[17 minutes ago]

[Tylee Moretti - ===SRSLY FRENCH TOAST STIX!1! =^_^= ]
[16 minutes ago]

[Aang Leekpai - wow uh...you really like frnch toast sticks huh?]
[Moments ago]


- Friday, December 17th, 2010 - Last day of the semester

"Good God," Sokka drooled. "This is possibly the best idea this college has ever had..."

"Hash browns," Aang teased Toph, wiggling her head around. "Haaaassshh brrroowwnnnsss~"

"Yea, yea," she smirked, arms crossed, wobbling a bit from her balance being tossed about.

"You see those other guys?" Katara wondered tiredly, stretching her neck to try and look through the line as students filed out, their plates full of breakfast food. It was a mystery, where they'd gone off to by now.

During the last night of the semester, SRU celebrated a most curious event: Midnight Breakfast. Some students were still studying for that last final of the week the next day, some were getting ready to head home...No matter the case, the college used Midnight Breakfast as a way to help relieve tension, congratulate a semester well done, and give students a great opportunity to mingle one last time before break. The faculty helped serve the food, so it was also a nice chance to see the staff outside of class, at that.

"I forgot all about this," Suki pointed out. "My other school never did this kind of thing."

"That's because this school is better," Sokka concluded simply.

As they flowed through the line - which was moving at a good clip, full of exhausted college students ready to eat and go to bed - Katara observed the professors who were serving. She recognized the one at the end of the line, an elderly man with a long goatee, hair white as snow. She found it curious how the top of his head was bald, but some hair trailed down in the back. She didn't find it terribly flattering, but his bushy white brows and the blatant wrinkles on his forehead further sealed tight her notion that he wasn't one to care much for appearances. His frigid eyes were sharp like knives and he seemed to always be scowling anytime she passed him by on campus. This evening was no exception.

Her attention was diverted as Sokka poked her in the rib quite invasively and grinned.

"When we get back out, I need to tell Ginger about The Grumpies," he taunted.

Katara's eyes narrowed at him.

"Don't," she grumbled.

"Aw, come on," Sokka picked, tugging at her shoddy ponytail.

"Stop," she grunted at him, brows arced in a plea.

"OK," Sokka calmly conceded, backing off and retreating to Suki's side in front of her.

"What are The Grumpies?" Suki asked.

"Heh, tell ya 'bout it when we find our seat."

Aang seemed all too eager to help Toph load up her plate, his eyes glowing with anticipation of eating himself, though Toph appeared too sleepy to be so excited.

She held out her plate, accepting the food that each professor was hand-serving. She greeted them all with courtesy, and as she got to the end, the elder with the white hair and the grouchy look placed a cinnamon bun on her plate.

"Could I actually get an extra, please?" she requested with all politeness.

"Only one per student," the man firmly replied, passing one to the next student, who walked around Katara.

"Ah, right, it's just that my friend out there just wanted one of these, and-"
"Then she should have waited in line."

He immediately dismissed her at that and continued to serve. Katara controlled her frown and gave up, heading over to where her friends were filling cups with orange juice and milk.

"What was that about?" Aang asked, immediately seeing the remnants of her irritation.

"Oh, just...I couldn't get an extra one for Jane."

"Guy sounded pretty protective of his buns," Toph muttered skeptically. Katara figured this was supposed to be humorous, but it seemed to fall flat.

"Yea, well...-" Katara trailed off, huffing. "That's Professor Pakku," she groaned. "From what I hear, he's...like that."

"Oh, snap," said Sokka, having just gulped down half a glass of orange juice. He went to refill it. "Isn't that guy the prof you have two classes with next semester?"

"Yes," Katara begrudgingly replied, her jaw tight. "The other English majors don't seem to like him much, either..."

"I'm sure he can't be that bad," Suki tried to lessen the idea as they exited the serving area and entered the bustling cafeteria. For being past midnight, it was even more busy than an average meal.

"A lot of students say otherwise," Katara bemoaned.

"You're a tough girl, you can take 'im," encouraged Sokka. "Besides, I'll bet he's not as bad as the math professor I had for Calculus."

"Who was that?" Aang asked.

"Uh...Jeong? Jeong, yea," he nodded. "Man. That guy was...intense."

"Oh," Aang shakily sighed.

"Heh. Got him in the spring?"

"Yea..."

"Have fun with that..."

Aang gave a nervous laugh and Toph slapped him on the back.

"What's the worst he can do?" she said. "Fail you?"

Aang's face drained a bit.

"I-I'm no good at math," he whimpered.

"Yea, well, you were no good at kissin' 'til I had my way with you," Toph teased cockily, sliding her hand down to his rump and grabbing at it briefly. "Sometimes a teacher who kicks your ass is how ya learn."

"Girl's got a good point," Sokka agreed. "Man, I did bad at first, but...By the end, I really picked up my grades. Guy's a good teach if you stick with it."

"You'll be fine, Aang," Katara added encouragement as they filtered through the tables to the one Jane had found for them. "We'll both deal with our grumpy teachers together."

"Aha!" Sokka cried triumphantly. "Speaking of grumpy...-!" He set his food down to Jane's right, who seemed off-put by his commanding presence.

"God," Katara puffed out, palming at her pink face as she sat to Jane's left.

"'Kay. So." Sokka jammed a sausage into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. He gruffly cleared his throat and told the story to Jane. "When we were little kids-" He pinched his fingers in the air. "-my sis had a serious problem with temper tantrums."

"Tssh, really?" Jane seemed rather amused.

"Oh, yea, it was bad. She used to get into so much trouble when she was little."

Jane turned to Katara with an entertained and curious look. Katara's eyes shut briefly and she shrugged.

"Yea, it's true," she admitted, barely holding back a devilish smile.

"So our dad used to say whenever she was throwing a fit that she had been infected with The Grumpies."

"Heh." Jane smiled, imagining tot Katara with an exaggerated scowl across her face, screaming in tiny baby words at her brother.

"Like it was a disease. And so Katara - I mean, she was...pff...what, like, five? Or something? She actually thought it was a real illness, right? So it was...Aw, man, it was the funniest thing. She'd go from, like, yelling her head off like a banshee to, like...terrified that she was gonna die from this...-" Sokka was beginning to laugh along with those around him. "-...this disease. And so Dad would-...He'd tell her that he always kept medicine for The Grumpies. And he'd...-" Sokka stared at his sister with elation, entirely humored, and Katara, arms crossed, lip bit in a sheepish smile, shook her head at him. "Well, he'd give her pudding, tell her that was the cure. So it became this thing where whenever she was acting up real bad, as soon as she was told she had The Grumpies, she'd remember about it, and bam, she'd get all worried and start asking for pudding."

The table chuckled, Katara struggling to contain her own snickers in spite of her previous self. Jane shot Katara a sly smile, admiring her friend's flushed face - it wasn't every day that Katara had reason to feel so embarrassed, after all, she Jane relished seeing this side.

"Pudding's is the damned cure," Toph agreed, rolling up a dry pancake with her bare hands. "Pistachio, man, all the way."

"You done?" Katara checked, brows raised at her brother as she readied her counter strike.

"When she was six, our mom had to finally tell her one day when we didn't have any pudding in the fridge that she wasn't gonna die, and that she just needed to be a good girl. It took, like, fifteen minutes to convince her to calm down."

"Yea, yea, OK," Katara wormed her way through his story. "I was a toddler. What about you and that time you and Dad went camping and you couldn't sit right for a week because you wiped your butt with poison ivy? Oorrrr-" She jabbed out her finger at him before he could speak. "-why don't you tell them about the day we went ice fishing and you got two fish hooks stuck in your thumb? Huh?"

"Haha, wow, the gloves are coming off," Suki announced, thoroughly intrigued.

"Now it's on like Donkey Kong!" Toph jeered.

"Two hooks?" Aang asked, bewildered.

Now Sokka was the one smiling with red cheeks and shaking his head in shame.

"He tried to get the first hook out with another one," Katara explained matter-of-factly and with great satisfaction. A chortle burst out of Aang's mouth and he slapped the table.

"Wow, way to go, MeatHead."

"He was fifteen, by the way," Katara made sure to point out.

"Boys will be boys," said Suki, kissing Sokka on the cheek.

"My, my, we seem to be enjoying ourselves at this table!" came the warm voice of Professor Kurosawa, a pitcher of orange juice in hand, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit. "Quite the rambunctious crowd!"

They said their hello's to the Professor and he topped off their drinks.

"It is quite a relief to be done with your schoolwork, is it not?"

"Like you wouldn't believe," Toph grumbled.

"Yea, it's great," Aang agreed.

"It is always important to take time to be merry and remember the old days," Iroh advised in his slow, thoughtful tone. "Holding on to those sweet memories reminds us of how to make new ones like them." The group mumbled their agreements and he nodded to them. "I hope you all create memorable stories during your time away. Enjoy your vacation, and have a Merry Christmas - all of you."

"Merry Christmas!"
"You, too!"
"Merry Christmas, Professor!"
"And to all a good night!"
"Suit looks good on you!"

As Iroh sauntered off to the next table, the group shared a moment of peace, eating their food and soaking in the atmosphere. They'd survived another semester. It was a wholesome feeling.

"Oh, hey, Jane," Katara muttered, having finished her scrambled eggs. "Take my cinnamon bun. That's the only thing you wanted, right?"

"Oh, nice. Yea, thanks..."


[Facebook - Katara Kesuk]

[Katara Kesuk And would you call on friends you never see, reminisce old memories, would you forgive your enemies?
And would you find that one you're dreaming of, swear up and down to God above that you'd finally fall in love?
If today was your last day...]
[1 hour ago]
[Jane Fitzpatrick, Aang Leekpai, Hakoda Kesuk, and Korra Kesuk like this.]

[Korra Kesuk - hey chin up, you're done. xmas break! also, you'll totally find the right person some day no sweat.]
[49 minutes ago]

[Hakoda Kesuk - Sweetheart you do live every day like your last and we are proud of you for that. I know your mom is, too.]
[Katara and Sokka like this.]
[45 minutes ago]


A/N: Midnight Breakfast is this thing my college did during finals week. Actually, as I recall, we had ours at the start of finals week, but I like it better having it be at the end here.

Nickelback's "If Today Was Your Last Day."

Youtube(dot)com/watch?v=lrXIQQ8PeRs

I know that at some point in the past I have literally used those song lyrics for my own Facebook status. ^_^;;

Obviously, this chapter continues my efforts to progress time along, show you some things about how the characters are dealing with stuff, and make lots of references to the show and allude to some of what's to come.

Katara being all polite and caring now but a terror when she was a tiny kid is...exactly how I turned out, it seems. =P Apparently I was a monster before the age of 6 but as it turns out I've become quite a gent, so my parents say. Anyway, a lot of things from this chapter are little nods to my life and to Avatar, though I'll give you a free pass and point out that the basic idea of the fish hook story was borrowed from the show. ;)

[link]<--Previous Chapter
Next Chapter-->[link]
[link]<-<--Chapter 1

And thus the first semester comes to an end.
Show
Add a Comment:
 
No comments have been added yet.

Sweat trickled down Korra's forehead, her eyes sharp and focused. She nimbly pushed the ball down, dribbling it with skill. It felt right at home, its bumpy texture against her fingertips. Push, release, and it came right back to her hands, back under her control. That's how everything worked in Korra's world, didn't it?

Mako leered over her, his arms stretched out to prevent her from shooting the basketball. For a guy whose job involved reporting sports-related news, Korra had to hand it to him: he at least worked out to earn some credit in that realm. He was no slouch. But she was better.

She weaved around him, lifted the ball up to fake a shot, then slipped by when he'd reacted to it. She tossed the ball up, watching with glee as Mako flailed his arm at it, only to miss. It danced on the rim before falling into the basket.

"Hell yea! In your face!" Korra taunted, jamming both pointer fingers at Mako as she marched past him. He puffed out an exhausted breath of defeat, hunching over on his knees.

She pulled off the blue sweatband she'd had over her forehead and dropped it by the duffel bag on the cement by the bench. Her hair was bunched all into a ponytail, bangs messy and damp from the workout. Mako, likewise, wiped sweat from his eyebrows - such weird-shaped eyebrows, almost like they hooked up. Korra caught herself gawking at the stupid things, entranced by the way his bare arms glistened in the dusk's dim light from the bodily fluid encasing them. He tugged at his white tank top, flapping it in and out to relieve some heat, and Korra admired the view, watching his lean body make its way toward her. She slouched back, letting her head lull back on the bench's edge, her spine arcing up to perk her bosoms out a bit. She was in a black tube top of sorts that cute off just above the waist, showing off a bit of Korra's abs. Mako had been finding this distracting the whole time, and Korra certainly noticed the glances he'd stolen.

The two experienced yet another sexually tense moment of eyes checking out bodies, and avoiding other eyes, as Mako went to sit down beside Korra. That kind of chemically captivating moment had occurred multiple times over the past hour or so since they'd started drilling and playing. The sweat and heavy breathing was really not helping stop either of them from staring at each other, either.

"Uh..." Mako cleared his throat, still wheezing a bit. "We were...really connecting out there...today," he managed out between puffs and gasps.

"Yea," Korra agreed, staring out through the chain link fence they were walled within. "We've, erm...really been...getting along better...lately."

"Err...Y-yea, sure," Mako half-heartedly acknowledged. He wasn't entirely sure what she was getting at - back at home they'd both been learning to keep each other's tempers at bay around each other, but it almost seemed more like it was for Bolin's sake, since he hated watching them grumble and bitch each other out. Every week since Korra had moved in, though, the two of them had gone to the gym to work out, and since the weather was cleared up more recently, they'd been paying trips to this street court together, as well, for some one-on-one basketball.

"Soooo..." Korra reached into the duffel bag and pulled out her water bottle. It the local college 'Sky Bison' team logo emblazoned on it. Sokka had given it to her when she'd moved out here. "I was thinking, it's been a while since we hung out together." She tilted the metal container up and took a big gulp of water. "We should go do something."

"We've been...doing a lot together," Mako carefully pointed out, a bit confused and uncomfortable. They worked out, played some sports together, hung out at home...what more did the woman want? Mako had thought Korra didn't have an interest in much else.

"I mean, outside of the gym," Korra pointed out with an awkward shrug. "And not, like...watching sports on TV, or...playing sports, or-...I don't know." Her eyes were beginning to shift around a little nervously. "We spend so much time doing sports stuff, I just...feel like we hardly know each other still."

"Uh..." Mako swallowed, his throat dry. He retrieved his own water bottle - an orange, plastic one with no logo. Both of them took a swig. "I-I don't know," Mako muttered in hesitation, looking out to the evening street to his right. "Asami and I...-" He trailed off, suddenly realizing what he might've been indirectly implying.

"What does Asami have to do with anything?" Korra asked, raising a sly brow.

"Uh, it's...just that I'm not sure if she'd be...comfortable...with-"
"Ah, so she's the jealous type, eh?"

"What? No, I didn't...-"
"Nah, I get it." Korra smirked, stretching her arms up. Mako had to pull his eyes away. "Girls get jealous of me a lot, ya know? Comes with the territory."

"Listen," Mako deadpanned back to her. "Asami doesn't have any reason to be jealous of you, and I'd like to keep it that way."

"Uh-huh. That why you're trying to avoid spending time alone with me?" Korra said with snark, leaning forward and observing his profile. She sucked down more water. "Afraid something might...happen?"

"What?" Mako shot her a glare. "No, I would think we're both...adults here," he grunted.

"Sure. Adults," said Korra with a devilish twinkle in her eye. "We can act like adults."

Mako pushed past her insinuation.

"And besides, I'm not avoiding you, I'm spending time alone with you right now."

"OK, but not alone alone with me. You're just going through the motions. You could workout or practice B-ball on your own. We haven't really done anything...meaningful together."

"Well...that's...-" Mako was incredibly uncomfortable with the way she kept looking at him, with that dark sparkle to her smile.

"We do enough arguing, of course," Korra spitefully amended, crossing her arms around her waist. "Like right now."

"I'm sorry, Korra, but you can just...be so infuriating sometimes." Mako's fists clenched over his knees.

"It's all right, Cool Guy," Korra cockily calmed. "Don't get your Abercrombies in a bunch."

"What is even the point of this conversation?" Mako bemoaned, dropping his head and clamping it between his palms. "What are you getting at?"

"I'm just saying...The two of us could, you know...get to know each other better." A cocky, sultry waggled of Korra's eyebrows confirmed Mako's suspicions of Korra's intentions.

"We already know each other plenty. We live in the same house. And I don't think either Asami or Bolin would like the idea of us being alone together doing stuff like...-"

"Like?" Korra pressed, playing ignorant and intrigued.

"Like-...I don't know! More...intimate things."

"More intimate things," Korra repeated dubiously. "Talking?" she spat out rhetoric. "Actually fucking knowing something about each other? And...ya know." She shrugged, glancing down at her feet. "I mean, so what? If something happened...it's not like your girlfriend would need to know about it. We're roommates, we're both...physical people. I mean, it's natural we'd be, ya know...comfortable around each other, right?" Her tone carried this constant air of sneakiness through the whole conversation, and it was really beginning to bother Mako.

"Korra. I'm with Asami."

"Are you convincing me of that? Or are you repeating that for your own health?"

"And you are with Bolin."

"Excuse me?" Korra gave Mako a stink eye.

"Well...Aren't you?"

"Um, we went on one date," Korra clarified.

"I think you left a bit of an impression on him, then," Mako pointed out, his mood rapidly getting defensive. "Ever since last weekend, the way he's been talking about you...-"

"What?" Korra pressed for more. Bolin swooning over her, Mako getting envious. Heh. This was entertaining shit. And of course they'd both get worked up over her, that's what all guys did.

"You've got him all in a tizzy but I'm not sure if you have good intentions."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Korra, don't even try playing innocent, I know what you're getting at here. First you go frolicking around with Bolin, when he obviously is into you, and act like you have no obligation to his feelings. And then you're...what? Hitting on me, now?"

"So what if I am?" Korra protested. "And me and Bolin? We're just...having fun together, that's all." She frowned, narrowing her eyes. "What do you care, anyway?"

"I'm looking out for my little brother," snapped Mako. "I don't want to see his heart get broken."

"Wait a second." Korra narrowed her eyes at Mako, pushing out her palms. "You're not worried about him. You're jealous," she cockily decided with a pointed finger.

"Pff. I'm not going to be part of your self-manufactured soap opera, Korra."

"Whatever. Admit it. You like me, too."

"No. I'm with Asami."

"Oh my god, you keep saying that! I know, Mako! I'm not a fucking retard. I heard it the first two times."

"We're dating now," said Mako sternly.

"And you're so worried about spending time with me. Know what I think?"

"Not sure I want to know."

"I think the problem is that when you're with her, you're thinking about me, aren't you?" Her eyes narrowed at him with arrogant suspicion. This was fantastically entertaining, watching him squirm.

Mako lifted his head back up and stabbed a dagger glare at her.

"Get over yourself!" he growled in disgust.

"I'm just being honest!" she protested.

"You're being childish. What's your problem?"

"I see the way you look at me, Mako! Don't fucking deny it."

"Grrffmm!" Mako fizzed out some bridled aggravation, digging his fingernails into his sweaty hair. "All right." Mako took a deep breath, his eyes closed. He loosened his fists, his hooky brows furrowed. "Here's the deal. You are attractive," he explained as calmly as he could. "You're...beautiful. And you're fit, and strong, and...-"

"Tell me something I don't know."

Mako's veil of solemnity immediately melted away.

"But you're cocky, arrogant...self-centered. You're rash and immature. I don't like you."

"Uh-huh," she said with oodles of sarcastic doubt.

"I'm being serious. I like Asami."

"You just like her for her money."

"I like her because she's the opposite of you. She's a woman who actually has class."

"Ha! We both know that's not what you really want. You want a real woman who takes charge."

"Listen to yourself! Do you realize how conceited and self-absorbed you sound? And you're trying to play me and my brother against each other, or something? Urgh, this kind of crap is exactly why I told Bolin a girl roommate was a bad idea..."

"It really gets under your skin, eh?"

"What?"

"That I haven't committed to Bolin. That I'm keeping my options open and calling you out on your shallow 'relationship' with this girl you barely know." She waggled air quotes.

"Asami and I have talked a lot already," Mako insisted. "And what bothers me is that you're obviously leading Bolin on, but here you are, trying to force yourself on me, when you know I'm already dating someone."

"Yea, and I'm sure you have never weighed your options like that."

"Tss. Maybe in another universe, Korra," Mako scoffed. "But I don't play it loose like you do. When I make a decision, I actually try to stick with it."

"I haven't made any decisions!"

"That's my point! Look at yourself, Korra! You're babysitting some kids, purely because of some coincidence, instead of actually looking for real work. And then you're leading Bolin on, getting him all riled up, and-"
"Whoa, whoa. I'm not leading him on."

"Bolin likes you, Korra. You know it."

Korra's eyes rolled around and she shrugged.

"And I can tell you like him, too," Mako added, to which Korra looked down at her lap thoughtfully. "And what you're doing toward me right now?...Whatever this is...It's disrespectful to both him and Asami. I'm not interested in...whatever it is you have in mind. I've been trying to be comfortable with this situation the way it is."

"Yea, I bet it's so uncomfortable to keep staring at me all the time." Korra wasn't really listening to what Mako was saying. It was kind of passing through one ear and going out the other. She was feeling too stubborn and competitive to really care about what he was going on about. This was too much fun, anyway.

"Will you stop that?" Mako snapped, his nostrils practically steaming. "You know damned well what you look like, and you flaunt it. You want me to stop looking at you? Stop dressing like that," he huffed, gesturing toward her. Her shirt was accented by some cleavage, her stomach was exposed, and her shorts were rather tight - and rather short, at that.

"This is my fault, now?" she countered with offense. "Gonna play that shit card on me, Mako?"

"No, it's not-...Grrmmm. I'm saying that the way you carry yourself, and especially the way you talk to me lately? It's like you're asking me to...to kiss you, or something."

By now, Mako and Korra's faces were inches apart, both sets of cheeks burning from the physical attraction at play.

"Is that what you want?" Korra asked, practically daring him to do so.

"No. I don't," Mako seethed.

"Yea, you do," Korra egged him on with the same cocky tone she'd been carrying throughout the conversation. Right under her thumb, just like Bolin. Mako just required a more aggressive tactic to pull in. The thrill and exhilaration of the tension was overwhelming her, her arousal psyching her up for some action. Logic wasn't even a part of the equation right now. She was having too much fun, and watching stiff, grumpy Mako writhe around was an empowering delight.

"You're crazy," Mako hissed.

"You're a liar," Korra countered.

Mako rustled his spiked up bangs around in frustration. Part of him did want to indulge in that physicality. Korra was incredibly attractive, he wouldn't deny it. Hell, he'd just confessed it. But he knew full well that the two of them were too short-tempered and hot-headed to get along in in a intimate relationship. It made more sense to go for Asami, anyway. And he wasn't about to go flip-flopping on some friends-with-benefits nonsense, which seemed to be what Korra was playing at. Korra's body enticed him, he couldn't deny it. But she was a loose canon. She was bringing out his own bad temperament, something he'd been spending years to learn to keep in check. It simply wasn't a good idea, all around. And besides, he had his brother's feelings to take into account, too.

If this were his high school years, he probably would've given into temptation - as he had, once upon a time. But he wasn't a teenager any more, which meant that the time for putting his physical desires in front of what made sense was long gone. Korra was a beautiful woman, and their prolonged moment of silent tension only made that thought more prominent.

But Mako's life wasn't about to turn into a soap opera just because of Korra's teenage mindset, fixated on whatever sexual flight of fantasy she was considering forcing into reality.

"Korra," he broke the heated quiet. "I'm not interested in you like that. I'm in a committed relationship, and I'm happy with how it's going. You're an attractive woman, but I-"

Korra had cut him off, leaning her head six inches to her right, planting her lips into his. He immediately pulled back, spitting them out and physically shoving her back by the arm.

"What is your problem?" he squawked, his cheeks beet red while he wiped his arm over his mouth. "What did I just say?"

Korra's face, likewise, was incredibly flushed, her eyes wide. She had honestly expected he was going to kiss her back.

"I...I thought-"
"No! You didn't think!" Mako growled, taking his water bottle and violently chucking it into the open duffel bag at his feet. "That's the entire issue here!"

Korra's grimaced with shame, and she lifted her fingertips to her temple, avoiding Mako's glare. The chemicals that had been stirring within her like a mad tornado had been spilt all over the concrete. It felt like she was a dog who'd pissed the rug, and Mako was sticking her face in it to scold her.

"What did you plan to do if I'd said 'yes?' If I'd...kissed you back? Convince me to start cheating on the girl I just started dating? Try and start some...friends-with-benefits bullcrap with you?"

Korra's stomach churned. Now that her brain was turned back on, she had no idea how to respond to that.

"Do you want me to go back to the house and we can just...have at it? Under the same roof as my brother?"

"I...I wasn't...thinking...that far ahead," Korra shakily confessed. It was a bit mind-shattering, her ego being blasted apart by rejection. That look in Mako's eyes, when he'd shoved her back: he looked so disgusted with her. It was jarring. No guy - or girl - had ever not kissed her back before. She'd always been able to get away with it in the past. Like it was...a game. "I was...just having fun," she weakly explained.

"Exactly!" cried Mako, his voice elevated with rage. He slapped his forehead. "You never think things through! This is exactly why you're in this situation right now! You just moved from one country to the next on a whim, and once that job didn't pan out, you had nowhere to go!"

"I would've figured something out!" Korra defended herself, thumbing her chest.

"No!" Mako berated. "If you hadn't met that doctor, and she hadn't pitied you, you'd be without a job! And even as it is, you're barely able to afford your share of the bills, much less groceries, or anything else."

Korra and Mako's eyes seared at each other. She had no ammunition to retaliate with at this point.

"I'm already having a hard enough time taking care of one kid," Mako sighed. "But with you pulling crap like...that? I don't think you're a good influence on my brother."

"That's bullshit, Mako," Korra grunted back, suddenly swelled with a defensive edge at Mako's implication. "Maybe right now I'm a babysitter, but that's 'cuz someone wants me to be one. Bolin never asked you to be his babysitter."

"He didn't need to, I'm his brother. That's what I'm here to do: look out for him when he doesn't know any better. I wouldn't expect you to know what that's like, because you're only ever looking out for yourself."

Korra's jaws were clench, her fists were tight, and she wanted to just...roar at him.

"Now you're going to go to Bolin, and you're going to tell him what happened just now."

"You're not my fucking babysitter, too, Mako."

"Listen up." Mako slung the duffel bag over one shoulder, pointing at Korra with his free hand. "This game you're playing? Drop it. I'm not interested. I'm not going to be interested. There's no logical reason for me to play this crap with you, and I have a girlfriend already. I won't be part of this high-school drama you want to steep yourself in. Cut it with the flirting, and the flaunting, and showing off, and trying to rile me up. You tell my brother what happened tonight, and you end this bullshit, or you can consider our friendship over, and you can find a new place to live."

With his impatient, hot-tempered threat tossed out in the open, Mako stalked past Korra, leaving her to stew in thought. Her 'fun' was spoiled, her arrogance was thwarted, her body ached, and her eyes stung with the beginnings of regretful tears of confusion.

"Mako...I'm sorry," she called out to him as she heard him open the chain-link fence door, letting himself out.

"Korra," Mako sternly said to her from the other side of the gate. "It's time to stop living like a teenager and grow up. If you really are sorry...if you really do want to change, prove it with your actions, not just your words."

With that somber note played, Mako sighed to himself and trekked off down the sidewalk. The walk home wasn't too far, and he expected Korra would catch up with him if she really wanted to. There was still enough sunset light left to walk home.

Korra watched Mako's form slowly fade away. Ugh, fuck, why did he have to be so good-looking? Gragh, and she could never have it. She hated losing, she hated being belittled, and she really hated feeling like she couldn't have something she'd been wanting for so long.

She had this awful pit in her stomach, just like when she'd hurt Sokka in that bar fight. Her inconsiderate, rash actions born from impulse had hurt someone.

She buried her head in her palm, huffing in anguish and self-loathing. She slammed her fist into the bench, shaking her head to herself.

"Well played, Korra..."


- Thursday, April 21st, 2011 -

Katara took a deep breath and sat in silence for a couple of moments after Toph had left the room. She'd even brushed at her own hair and added her fluffy cotton-ball earrings before she'd left - Katara had played dumb, but she knew where Toph was going: open-mic night.

All day, Katara had been thinking to herself, 'What if Toph goes and plays her music at the coffee house?' Dwelling on the notion of trying to get Sokka to 'notice' her roommate gave Katara's busy mind something to do that was optimistic - rather than let it slip into the pessimistic crankiness she'd been wallowing in lately. Reading had been helping a lot, too, though it wasn't fail safe. Certain pieces of text would trigger dark thoughts and doubts and it would sour the experience, forcing her to come back to the book later. But this - worrying about trying to 'match' Sokka and Toph together, that was something she could dwell on, free of any self-awareness.

But Katara's run in with Mai and Zuko the day before had eventually spurred her to catch up with Mai in spite of her moodiness. This has consequently reminded Katara of the knowledge Mai had shared: Toph's mic-night visits to the Jasmine Dragon. Toph hadn't seemed to be going to those as much lately...and yet here she had just left the dorm, guitar in tow, dressed up (well, for Toph's standards), on a Thursday night, seeming fairly open about how her mind was swimming in infatuation of Sokka.

It had hatched an idea that Katara was compelled to act upon, so she'd called her brother up right away.

"Sokka?"

["Hey, Katara,"] Sokka sounded confused. ["What's...going on? I thought the whole point of Thursday Night Study-Time was so...we'd all study. And not call each other."]

"Umm...W-well, I was wondering if you might be interested in taking a little break."

["A break?"]

"Yea. I mean, it's not smart to work yourself too hard. Dad always says that, remember? You work too long without a break and you become less productive."

["Uh...Yea, I get that, but spring break's just around the corner, and I've got this paper due tomorrow that I'm three pages out from finishing, and...-"]
"All the more reason to get some coffee!"

["...Is everything OK? Is something wrong?"]

"No, I'm fine."

There was a strange break in words as Sokka tried to analyze the situation. Katara had a tint of nervous, awkwardness to her. Maybe something was up with all of her grouchy mood-swinging lately. He could afford a short break, and she was right that it would do him some good, anyway. If it would help keep his sister from being down in the dumps, well, that was two birds with one stone. Only, like...in a positive, not-killing-birds kind of way.

["Uh, OK. Well, erm...-?"]

"Want to just come meet me at the ACC? In the lobby?"

["When?"]

"Now? I-I mean, if you wait much longer, the Jasmine Dragon's going to close up, so..."

["Ah, right."] Rrmfh. Not really in the mood to...move...right now. But, blah. She sounds weird, I'd better make sure she's all right. ["Uh, well...Sure. Gimme, like...ten minutes? I should be there then."]

Katara bit her lower lip, checking the time on her laptop's screen: [8:22pm] Toph had just left, but Katara hoped that it would be a few minutes before she started playing. Probably an 8:30 slot, she'd signed up for? Argh, they had to get moving.

"Sure! Y-yea! OK! Let's do it, see you there!" Katara immediately ended the call after her hurried confirmation, sticking the phone in her pocket and heading out the door. With a silly smile on her face, she made her way across the evening campus with anticipation. She sang softly to herself as she walked.

"~Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match~Find me a find, catch me a catch~"

She reached the campus center quickly, but Sokka wasn't to be found. Eager and impatient, she paced around the front entrance. After a couple minutes of waiting, she noticed Haru approaching, pushing Teo's wheelchair along. They rolled up the concrete ramp, designed specifically for this kind of situation.

"Hey, guys!" she greeted with a wave. They both reciprocated as rounded the 180 turn in the ramp. "Have either of you seen Sokka?" she wondered. Haru shrugged and Teo shook his head.

"Sorry, Kat," said Haru.
"Haven't seen him all day," said Teo.

"Ah." Katara checked her phone: [8:28pm] "All right, well..." She snapped herself back to the social situation before her. "I'll...see you guys around," she said with a smile.

"Later!"
"Good night!"

As they went to enter the glass double-doors, Katara jumped to attention, opening a door and skittering to the side to make room.

"Oh, thanks."
"Thank you."

"Yea, no problem!"

A toothy smile of pleasantry dissolved into a nervous grimace as Katara following them in, her brother nowhere in sight. She was getting worked up and worried - vicariously, perhaps? It didn't matter. Would it really be a big deal if they missed Toph's performance? Likely not. But she was still nervous somehow. But she wasn't upset with herself right now, or her own personal issues, and that was the important part.

A floor below, in the Jasmine Dragon, Toph was getting up on stage. She was dressed in a tank top, shorts, and sandals. On her right arm was a bracelet of cold, dark volcanic rock, her Christmas gift from Sokka. On her left leg, an anklet of seashells, the respective present she'd received from Katara. Both were very much on her mind tonight. She wanted their strength physically present and represented. The rough texture on her right wrist and the smooth texture on her left ankle were sensations that helped sooth and relax her. Aang's wooden ring rested in her pocket for some extra luck - wearing it would hinder her performance, however. Still, though, they were all present and accounted for. Well...almost.

The scuffing sound of that familiar old friend, the wooden stool, brought Toph back to her senses.

"I'm, like, so happy you finally came back for one of these," Ty-Lee's voice whispered with giddy glee as she arranged the stool and the microphone stand.

"Err...Yea," Toph replied awkwardly. Oh, jeez, she'd forgotten that this girl was the one who worked here these nights, now that they'd had those strange, tense moments around Sokka. A minor weirdness; she'd get over it quickly. This wasn't about Ty-Lee. This was about Sokka.

Toph kicked off her sandals after she heard Ty-Lee exit the tiny stage, and she set her feet down on the stool's support.

What was there to say? Nothing. It was time to play. She began to pluck at her strings.

+ youtube(.com)/watch?v=9EYN4s4j_Xo +
(Christina Perri: "Arms")

Upstairs, Katara finds Sokka casually strutting into the building.

"Sokka! What took you so long?"

"~I never thought that you would be the one to hold my heart~"

"Wha-? Nothing, I just-"
"C'mon! Hurry up!"

"~But you came around and you knocked me off the ground from the start~"

Katara, tugging her confused brother outside, heading for the proper stairway.

"~You put your arms around me~"

Toph, eyes closed, singing on stage.

"~And I believe that it's easier for you to let me go~"

Mai, sitting at the back of the room, smiling at the girl's expressive vocals.

"~You put your arms around me and I'm home~"

Sokka and Katara, flying across the sidewalk.

"Sis, what-?
"We don't want to miss her."

"Huh?"

"~How many times will you let me change my mind and turn around?~"

Toph would do such dumb shit; and he'd always let her come back.

"~I can't decide if I'll let you save my life or if I'll drown~"

The spring formal; arguing within herself about her infatuation.

"~I hope that you see right through my walls~"

Katara, fleeing down the stone steps, Toph's muffled song in her ears.

"~I hope that you catch me 'cause I'm already falling~"

Sokka, in hot pursuit, eyes furrowed with recognition at the voice.

"~I'll never let a love get so close~"

Katara, pushing open the glass double doors.

"~You put your arms around me and I'm home~"

Sokka, stumbling in behind her, the music's volume bursting through his ears.

"Wh-?" Sokka points a vague finger at the stage.
"Shhh!" Katara shushes him, pulling him to the counter. "Two coffees please!" Katara orders cheerily.

Sokka twists his head around, intrigued by Toph's solemn performance.

"~The world is coming down on me and I can't find a reason to be loved~"

A winter full of mistakes and regrets; pushing everyone away.

"~I'd never wanna leave you but I can't make you bleed if I'm alone~"

Could I really make you happy, Sokka? Or would I just cut you down like I did to Aang?

"~You put your arms around me~"

Katara's arm around Sokka's shoulder.

"~And I believe that it's easier for you to let me go...~"

Katara whispers, "Good, isn't she?"

"...Yea."

"~I hope that you see right through my walls~"

Sokka's eyes don't leave the stage, captivated.

"~I hope that you catch me, 'cause I'm already falling~"

He watches her eyebrows tilt down, her lips form words.

"~I'll never let a love get so close~"

He observes the rhythm of her body strumming the strings.

"~You put your arms around me and I'm home~"

Her head bobs, eyes covered by waves of black as she sings the rolling note.

Katara smirks at the way Sokka's jaw is slightly agape at the sight of Toph in motion.

"She's real pretty tonight, huh?" notes Katara quietly. Sokka hesitantly nods.

"~I tried my best to never let you in; to see the truth~"

I didn't want to like you. I knew it was retarded. But...-

"~And I've never opened up; I've never truly loved~"

You just make me feel comfortable. I can be me around you. All of me.

"~'til you put your arms around me~"

The guitar stops. She leans toward the microphone, eyelids half-closed as the words flow forth.

"~And I believe that it's easier for you to let me go~"

Hair trickles over her face. She flicks her head to push it back.

Strings start back up. Katara giddily accepts two coffee cups and passes one to her brother.

Side by side, they watch Toph's solid strums, her body rigid and stout, each chord like a swift strike. Toph is so lost in music, drums are pounding in her head like a heartbeat.

"This...doesn't seem like a very 'Toph' sorta song," Sokka whispers his confusion.

"Heh. There must be more to her than you think, Sokka."

"~I hope that you see right through my walls~"

Sokka's brain begins clicking the pieces together.

"~I hope that you catch me, 'cause I'm already falling~"

That longing in her arced eyebrows, the passion in her voice...

"~I'll never let a love get so close~"

He's lost in realization, unable to get his cup to his mouth.

"~You put your arms around me and I'm home~"

She smiles sneakily - the same way she smiles at him.

"~You put your arms around me and I'm home~"

She was singing about...him?

Toph gracefully pushed out the last trail of notes in a slow, elegant chord, and the song ended. Enthusiastic applause echoed through the shop. Ty-Lee hopped up and down from behind the counter with a tiny squeal, to which Katara hummed out a laugh. When Katara turned around, she noticed Mai was mere feet away to their right, waving them on as the clapping slowed down.

Sokka finally took a sip from his coffee, and his eyes bulged open wide from the steaming, bitter liquid. As he choked on the drink, he kept watching Toph as the girl's feet found their way back into her sandals. She slung her guitar over her shoulder, retrieved her cane from the edge of the stage, and began to make her exit. Katara watched Sokka's eyes widen, his mouth open, and his finger lift, but she flicked his wrist down, shushing him and pulling him to the table where Mai was.

The three of them all carefully watched Toph find her way out, a serene smile on her face, her eyes closed with peace. The door's bell jingled as Toph left, and Katara caught her brother gaping a bit at their friend's rear end disappearing up the steps ahead.

"I was beginning to wonder when I might be seeing her here again," said Mai dryly, a smirk on her face. She eyeballed the Kesuk siblings. "Or any of you guys for that matter."

"That was...-" Sokka finally pried his glance from the glass double doors. "-...Toph."

"Ha! Yea. That was Toph," Katara patronized him. "Good job, you can recognize your friends. I'm very proud of you."

"But...but it wasn't Toph," Sokka spat out, eyes narrowed. "It was...-" He lifted up his hands, contorting them with confused frustration.

"A side of her you've never seen before?" said Katara.

"Yes. That. She was all, like...-" He shrugged wildly. "It was just weird."

"She's really talented, though," Mai confidently ascertained, eyebrows popping up as she sipped at her tea.

"Isn't she?" Katara agreed. "I mean, of course she is and everything, we've played band together, but...she is very different when she plays alone like that."

"She is very different," Sokka was quick to repeat, getting up to go add some sugar and cream to his coffee from the table just behind their own.

"It's like she has two sides to her, isn't it?" said Katara with a strongly insinuating tone. She twisted her torso to her brother. "Like someone I know."

"Heh, we all have two sides, little Sis," Sokka insisted, using his stir stick to weave the mixture in his cup around. He stuck the top back on and sat back down. "Mine are 'Sarcastic' and 'Smart.' Yours are...-" He scratched his chin hairs, and took a drink of coffee. "-...'Compassionate' and 'Judgmental Prude.'"

"Hey!" Katara snipped. She slapped his arm with more sting than Sokka had been expecting. Mai smiled at the two of them.

"Does that make mine 'Meh, Sure' and 'Don't Give a Damn?'"

Ty-Lee's chirping piped up from nearby as she adjusted the table full of coffee condiments, wiping up the traces of spilt sugar Sokka had just left behind.

"OH OH OH mine are totally 'SQUEE' and 'OMIGOD!'"

Sokka frowned at the sound of her voice, and Katara smacked him again, with less severity this time. Mai's eyes narrowed slightly, and her lips tightened as she stared at the back of Ty-Lee's head for a brief moment of what Katara perceived to be contained hostility. What was that all about?

"Anyway," sighed Sokka, after no one responded to Ty-Lee. "I guess I see your point, Katara. It's just weird, seeing her all...emotional like that."

"Make her sound like a cold-hearted jerk, why don't you?" Katara retaliated with some snark. "She gets her emotional moments, too, you know."

"Yea, yea, I know." Sokka's glance wandered up to the empty stage briefly as he envisioned that telling smile on the girl's face. That smile he knew so well, the one he'd only ever seen her give him. "She is a woman," Sokka suddenly mocked with a cocky tilt of his head. "So acting unexpected and random because of all those lady chemicals is what I'd expect, really. I guess Toph's just better at hiding it." He savored the grouchy glares he received at this.

"It's probably because she knows better than to show idiots like you her soft side," was Mai's flat counter remark.

"Yea, you know, Sokka...-" Ty-Lee's sweet, seemingly ignorant voice cut into their conversation again while the girl finished tidying the table. "-...maybe if you were more understanding of a woman's feelings, you might have better luck with your relationships."

Sokka's face exploded with irritation, though he made no sounds. Katara held in a giggle.

"She's right, you know," Katara insisted with a sage nod. "We're just looking out for what's best for you."

"I'm not," said Mai with her dull rigidity, and the laugh Katara had bottled in was dumped out.

Sokka huffed at whatever was going on here. It was some kind of set-up. Some dastardly, girl-gang set-up. He just knew it. That was what women did, they connived against guys. Right? This was that.

"Glad to hear it," he grumbled out, gulping down some coffee, now that some cold half-n-half had brought its temperature down a bit. "Anyway, what's this all about, eh?"

"Huh?" Katara feigned innocence.

"What's with dragging me down here all of a sudden in such a hurry?"

The two siblings exchanged telling glances with each other, and Katara shrugged, clasping her warm cup in both palms on the table.

"I wanted you to see Toph play," Katara replied simply.

"Why?" Sokka asked slowly, oozing suspicion.

"Because," said Katara firmly. "I've been worried about you lately. You're going to graduate soon, and you've been acting all strange. I just want you to see that if Toph can find a way to...you know, to be herself, do what she loves...that you should be able to do the same."

Mai casually nodded at this, though she had no idea what the subtext of the conversation was.

Sokka's head bobbed left and right, conceding to her reply. There was more to it than this, he could just tell. Was Katara trying to, like...set him and Toph up, or something? It was something Katara would do, knowing her.

"Ah. I see." He rubbed his and on his neck as he expressed a thought. "I think I get you on that, but...you've been acting pretty odd lately, too, Sis. Seems weird that you'd be all focused on me, with what you've got going on." He rose from his seat and gave her a pat on the shoulder, while Mai raised a brow at this comment. "It's nice of you to be thinking of me and stuff, but, hey." He stared her straight in her exhausted, baggy eyes. "Don't let the Sugar-Queen neglect her own kingdom, huh?" He gave her a weak, somewhat worried smile, then nodded to Mai, who looked a bit confused by this interaction but waved back as he stepped toward the door. "It's been fun, ladies, but Dr. Sokktagonapus has a big paper to write up for tomorrow. So...peace out!"

He took his leave, ignoring Ty-Lee's exuberant cry of "Bye~" as he did so.

Mai blinked with narrowed slits for eyes as she watched him bound out of sight.

"What an idiot. Did he just...call himself...-?"
"He sure is. And he sure did," Katara sighed, a far off grin on her face. "I swear, those two really are made for each other..."

"Huh?"


A/N: Thanks again for your guys' patience and support as I gradually whittle away at this story, drawing closer to the end. The support you guys send - whether a comment on DA, a review here, or a like on the FB page - it all helps keep me motivated to keep writing at a steady pace when I know there are people out there interested for more.

[link] <--Part 2
Next Chapter-->[link]
[link]<-<--Chapter 1

Fuck you, Makorra. I didn't like you at all in the show (so far?). >_>; You're amusing to WRITE but as a relationship you just don't make any sense to me! ^_^;

And at long last, this scene happens with Toph and Sokka!

Thumbnail from this brilliant pic that depicts part of this chapter's final scene:
Show
Add a Comment:
 
No comments have been added yet.

"Anyway, so what took ya so long, Azula?"</p>

"You know how those stuffy old men can be, Ty-Lee. It took entirely too long to shake them off."

Azula had been obligated to spend time going through the motions at the party's outset with business partners and college faculty, but as soon as they had all split up to meet and greet, Azula had bee-lined for her car to swoop by and grab her date. Ty-Lee liked being fashionably late, anyway, so it worked out. Ty-Lee had immediately gushed over Azula's short-skirted suit of black and eagerly pranced through the parking lot. When Azula caught up, Ty-Lee was fussing with her bright red flapper dress as they reached the front of the building. Ty-Lee adjusted her tight-fitting crimson hat, seeking approval.

"Does the hat look good?"

"Yes, Ty-Lee. It's fine."

"You really think? 'Cuz, like...I'm not a hundred-percent sure the ribbon and the flower match..."

"It's quite adequate," assured Azula as they walked up the large, stone steps of the hall together. "There's no need to concern yourself over it."

Ty-Lee pouted ever-so-slightly.

"Adequate...?"

Azula noticed Ty-Lee's quivering lower lip and sighed.

"All right. It looks...'pretty,'" she mumbled awkwardly.

"You really think so?" Ty-Lee squeaked, adjusting the round flapper hat on her head and tucking her bangs neatly to the side.

"Yes, it...is quite era-appropriate, and...-" Azula felt light-headed at Ty-Lee's beaming smile of excited pride as the girl leaned in expectantly. "-...your outfit is entirely color coordinated."

"You like it?"

Azula cleared her throat as they hit the plateau at the top of the steps, the warm light of the hall's interior greeting them.

"Yes," Azula confessed with a smirk, her cheeks barely changing hue. "You look...nice." Ty-Lee could see a flash of joy in her friend's eyes and knew Azula was telling the truth.

"Awww, thanks, Azula~" Ty-Lee giggled. Winning over her cold-hearted friend's compliments was a struggle and a challenge that Ty-Lee adored. It made Azula so much more fascinating to interact with than silly boys who threw themselves her way.

They hit the entrance and were greeted by a couple of guards. Azula flashed her golden paper bracelet, while Ty-Lee presented her ticket and ID card. Ty-Lee then received a matching paper bracelet, indicating her legal age to drink, and the two of them were let into the cloud of vibrant life, evocative of years gone by.

+ youtube(.com)/watch?v=1U40xBSz6Dc +

As the band wrapped up and set aside their instruments for a needed break, the speakers lit up with a scratchy, antiquated recording of 'Rhapsody in Blue' to fill the background noise of the hall. With Ty-Lee latched playfully onto her arm, Azula strode with confidence into the hall. Together they waded through the gathering flocks of partygoers. Some of the same people Azula had been previously sitting beside at the table - stuffy, older businessmen - sent confused, baffled glances her way, and she delighted at this. It was kind of like giving them the finger in a respect.

Azula Kurosawa was not binding herself to the confines of expectation that had been set up around her. It was energizing. She was instantly injected with a buzzing feeling that made sense of Ty-Lee's rambling of 'being yourself' and some such.

The two of them found their way to a packed table toward the front of the hall, near the small stage. And here, again, more expressions of intrigue and confusion. Chin held high, Azula marched toward the table. Mai was giving the two of them a coy, knowing smile from her seat, while beside her, Zuko's mouth hung open a bit when Ty-Lee made a point to stand up on tip-toes and peck her date on the cheek. A flock of unfamiliar faces rounded the circular table.

Ty-Lee gave the group a flaunting flick of her wrist, flapping her hand their way and beaming. She noticed Sokka, dressed in a blue suit and fedora, his eyes popped open and jaw dropped low. With an amused look on her face, Katara popped his mouth closed, shaking her head slightly at his rudeness.

Azula led Ty-Lee to one of the two empty seats at the table - next to Mai - then walked over to her brother, who was clad in a pin-striped suit and matching fedora of his own. His hair was shaggy and loose, which Azula found rather fitting for the setting of this event. He still appeared cantankerous as he usually did in her presence, though. This she did not appreciate. After the effort of traversing an entire country to see him after all these months, she'd expect a more warm welcome rather than an off-put grimace.

"Hello, dear Brother," she greeted with a loud voice, giving him a slight bow. He fussed with his hat, tugging it at an angle down over one eye and bashfully nodded in her direction.

"Azula," he muttered. Mai administered a sharp slap on his knee beneath the table, and he cleared his throat in reaction, presenting Azula to the group. "Everyone, this is, uh...my older sister, Azula."

Azula, eyes narrowed with bemusement, offered the lot of them a raised hand of introduction as they all greeted her.

"Zuko, it has been too long," Azula put on an air of pleasantry toward him, watching his nose wrinkle a tad in response. "We really should catch up a bit before all of the dancing starts, wouldn't you agree?"

Zuko's amber eyes slid cautiously to Mai, who raised her eyebrows at him, expressing an insistence that he play along.

"Er...Right, I suppose we...should," Zuko agreed, rising up from the table.

"Please excuse us," Azula politely requested of the group, leading her brother off. "We have family matters to discuss." With this, Azula pressed her hand into Zuko's back firmly, edging him along, away from the table.

"I didn't think you did parties, Azula..." grumbled Zuko as he pulled forward and away from her grip.

"For old time's sake?" chirped Azula. "I'd do anything for family, Dum-Dum."

Ty-Lee admired Azula's peacock strut from behind, biting down on her lower lip with childish glee, peering over the back of her seat.

"OMIGOSH it's GodZula!" she whispered to Mai giddily. "Teehee! Mai, look! Isn't she so pretty?" She jabbed an index finger through the air as they walked off.

"Ugh." Mai rolled her eyes at her friend's obvious gawking, and eased her neighbor to rotate back into a proper sitting position. "A-all-right, Ty-Lee, I think they need some family time together, come on..."

"Sooo..." Sokka was hunched forward over his plate of food, eyesbrows lowered. "That's the person who asked you out? Zuko's creepy sister?"

"She's not creepy!" Ty-Lee pouted, bottom lip propped out as she crossed her arms. "She's...misunderstood."

"Sokka, don't be so rude," Katara hissed quietly into her brother's ear. She was fitted into a one-strap dress of white - nothing complex, leaving one shoulder open and exposed. She had pushed some of her hair up over the bare area.

"You look nice," Aang complimented Ty-Lee, attempting to walk clear around Sokka's disdain for the situation. He was in a black suit with a white undershirt and tie. In Katara's memory, it was the first time she could recall in which she'd ever seen him fully dressed up, or at the least certainly the first time since they'd started dating. "You look really, like...in-character? I guess?" Aang scratched his ear as he watched Ty-Lee fiddle with the plastic necklace of beads hanging over her chest. "Like a flapper girl. It looks great."

"Thanks!" chimed Ty-Lee with a glowing smile.

Mai gave Ty-Lee a gentle pat on the back with a dry smirk. She was wearing a sort of goth-lolita dress, all black and gray, complete with a lace-rimmed bonnet. Ty-Lee had seen Mai wear this one once or twice in the past. Perhaps not entirely era-appropriate, but...it worked well enough.

"The color," Mai remarked on Ty-Lee's bright red outfit, poking her fork at some sweet peas. "It...really pops."

"Heheheh..." Ty-Lee snickered with mischief, studying her plate full of food that had been waiting for her.

"Uh, yea," Sokka squeezed in, at once frustrated and enraptured by the girl. "Really bright. Eye-catching. Just...eccentric. Really."

"Sounds like her kind of style," Toph mumbled with a tint of displeasure from her seat between Sokka and Azula's currently unclaimed chair. She was chowing down on mashed potatoes, generally tuning out the conversations around her. Sokka was pretty disgruntled by this discovery, however. She could easily tell by the tone he'd used, and by the sounds of him shuffling uncomfortably in his seat. He'd stopped eating, for one, which itself was an indicator that his attention was occupied.

Toph was wrapped in the tight, strapless green dress with golden flower accents that she had worn to the Homecoming dance the fall prior. She had decided that if no one was going to take her to the dance that she'd simply stick with what she had. Katara had found this decision dubious - wearing the same dress twice in a row - but Toph had insisted that she could care less, and that she wasn't there to impress anyone. Katara had helped clean up Toph's hair, which hung loose over her back, with a pair of braids hanging over her collarbones from behind her ears. She'd taken caution this time around and wore her green sandals rather than even attempting those awful high-heels she's tried at the last dance. She'd also made sure to bring her walking cane with her so she could explore on her own if need be.

She was getting a strong impression so far that that need would be pretty soon.

"So! Ty-Lee!" Katara piped up. "You, um...How long have you and Azula been...-?"

"This is actually our first date together~"

"Oh! Wow. Did she come out all this way to see you?"

"Well, like...uhhh...kinda? So, like, she had to be here already, 'cuz of the whole fancy-schmancy charity stuff, n' like...I dunno. She asked me out."

"Ah. So, you...-" Sokka vaguely gestured in her direction. "-...swing a different way, then? 'Cuz I mean, I dunno, I was just under the impression...ya know...that you, uh...-" Fumph! Katara's heel stepping down on his toes.

"Oh! Heehee~" Ty-Lee immediately went for the dessert before her meal - a cheesecake slice with a cherry on top. She plucked the cherry with her fork and popped it into her mouth, coyly avoiding his question.

"What Sokka means to say-" Katara jumped in, "-is that we don't judge here, and that we are happy to see you finding something special in her."

"I think it might be a bit hard for people around here to accept it," Mai gave her input. "But I'm glad you two are being open with it. I think that's healthy."

"I know, like, right? That is so totally what I told her, too! See, like, she was a little scared - she won't admit it - 'bout this whole thing, but, like...I totally convinced her to be chill with it. I told her, 'OK, Azula, baby, I-"

Toph was already pushing herself up from her seat, and groped at Sokka's shoulder, yanking up on the fabric of his suit. Mm. Pressed clean. She could practically detect the dry-cleaner after-scent from it.

"Meat-Head, c'mon, let's get some drinks," she grumbled into his ear.

"Huh?" Sokka allowed her to tug him up.

"Walk with me," insisted Toph under her breath, feeling her hand around his arm and looping herself around it.

"Whaddya-?" huffed Sokka. Toph pulled him just a couple steps away from the table but paused. What was her deal? Why'd she bring her stick if she wasn't gonna use it?

"Hey," Toph called back to the group in a louder tone, interrupting Ty-Lee's story. "Me and the idiot here are gonna go get some drinks. Anybody want somethin'?" To her relief, everyone at the table mumbled out a chorus of 'no, thanks.'

"I could use a drink," Sokka sighed to himself. "We'll be back in a bit," he assured the others.

"'Kay~ Have fun!" Ty-Lee eagerly waved them away before going right back to her winding thread bound together by ample quantities of the word 'like.'

Aang leaned back around Katara's shoulder to study Sokka and Toph meander off into the crowd.

"Aang? What is it?" Katara wondered beneath Ty-Lee's over-enthused monologue.

"Huh? Oh, nothin'," Aang replied coolly with a subtle head shake. "Just, uh...worried those two might get into some kind of trouble."

"Heh. Good point. Hopefully they won't get lost."


"Oh, please, Brother. Is it truly that upsetting to you?"

Zuko shrugged pensively as he watched Azula accepted her martini glass from the bartender. Azula frowned at his silence, staring down into the red liquid before her. It was just the slightest bit hurtful, his judgmental eye-rolling and head shaking, and all of the passive nonsense. Did he really disapprove that much? Of all of the people at their table, did her brother have to be the one to be uncomfortable and awkward about this coming out?

"I'm not...-" Zuko paused, looking down. He rapidly gathered his thoughts and turned back up. "It's not upsetting, Azula, it's...a bit surprising. That's what it is."

"Mm..." Azula's frown didn't change, and she took a prim sip of her drink. They both walked together toward one of the building's side exits. The evening air was pleasantly chilled, a break from the clamoring heat of the indoors. Zuko leaned back against the short wall that ran the length of the stone walkway. Azula hunched over it, facing outward. Her brother broke the silence that had fallen over them.

"I would've thought you'd...tell me...about something like this."

"Oh, yes, of course," Azula snipped. "Because you are ever so caring and interested in my personal life..."

Zuko snorted out in disdain at her attitude.

"What?" Azula balked, setting her glass down. "It's not as if you could be bothered with me and my intimacies. You and Mai have done quite a job at keeping at me at a distance as of late...And Uncle seems to have forgotten that I even exist. I'm a proper black sheep now, am I?"

"Azula, that's-!" Zuko whirled around, an agitated hand raised. He calmed himself again, slipping his hand into his suit's coat pocket. He spoke firmly but with a steady tone so as not to show aggression. "How do you expect us to react, given the choices you're making lately?" The two exchanged fierce glances, and Azula put out a mentally drained huff.

"Really? This is still about the Clan? Zuko, that is business. This is family I am struggling to discuss with you. But in your simpleton world the two seem one and the same. That's hardly fair."

"The Phoenix Clan is not just business," Zuko dismissed her claim. "That was Father's work. If you'd look at the logistics - especially given recent events - you'd realize what a failed effort it is."

"The Clan may have fallen in recent times, I admit..." Azula sighed, staring out at the parking lot before them.

The group in question was an organized group that had once been managed by Ozai Kurosawa, Azula and Zuko's father. It was the shady goings on that this group participated in that had helped Kurosawa Industries attain the level of financial stability it had in the past couple of decades. It was the connection to this group that had caused the rift within the family. Zuko had refused to participate in coordination with the group, and since Ozai's arrest, they had seemed to assume new management on their own, breaking off most ties from the company.

Azula, however, had been stirring the pot, attempting to reassert the Kurosawa family as the dominant force behind the group. It was her father's prized project, and she was determined to restore it back to what it had once been.

"But it's the Phoenix Clan, brother. They've fallen before, and risen back up. That's precisely what they're fated to do, is it not?"

"No, it's...not," Zuko grumbled, stuffing his hands in his coat pockets. "You need to leave all of that behind. Look at where it led our Father."

"That's because Father gave in to weakness," Azula snorted. "He let Mother get involved, and it was his downfall. But I...I will succeed where he failed."

A burst of doubtful air puffed from Zuko's nostrils.

"Right. So you say. I'm willing to bet Father felt the same way at some point. It's his fault that Mother is dead because he let his pride get in the way."

"Hmph..."

"The Clan is out of control, Azula. I know you think you're so cunning that you can wrap them around your finger, but I'm telling you - it's not going to work."

"I have learned from Father's error. I will not give in the way he did."

"You say it like it's entirely up to you how this will go."

"That's because it is, Zuko. It's my purpose - to restore order to this chaos."

Zuko sighed, pressing his hand to his face in frustration. It was taking all of his willpower not to explode at her.

"Azula. Listen. The Phoenix Clan is not something you can just...control...anymore. Father is in jail. Mother is dead. The Combustion Man, he's sending a message, and that message is, 'Stay away.' Does...does that not mean anything to you?"

Azula's nose scrunched up and her lips quivered with a mixture of deep-cutting emotions. She gulped the rest of her drink down at once.

"ZuZu," she chimed with a narcissistic smile. "You...are a coward. You and Uncle both. Kurosawas do not flee from trouble. They run headlong into it, and pierce through it like a spear."

She grinned at her brother's deadpan sideways stare and continued, her head already buzzing from the quickly ingested alcohol.

"A true Kurosawa is a mighty dragon that burns down the countryside and all who oppose it."

"And then you dive into your volcano nest for the evening, and call it a day?"

"Indeed."

"Hm. Well..." Zuko raised an eyebrow, gazing up at the night sky from under his hat's rim. "Your dragon is going to have a bunch of angry villagers and knights on its case soon enough. I think I'd prefer to bide my time in my cave, collecting treasures or...something..."

"Only to be slain by a greedy hero with a magical sword, his head dragged back to the nearest kingdom and displayed like a trophy while his body is left to rot in his cave, for he let his strength wither away whilst he hoarded over his jewels." Azula shot him a snarky smirk with narrowed eyes.

"Errr...I...kind of leave the metaphors to Uncle, usually." Zuko adjusted his fedora, tilting it up higher on his head.

"Hmph. Sooner or later, Dum-Dum, you're going to have to stop letting Iroh fight your battles for you. You can't hide behind his flabby facade forever, you know."

"Yea...Guess I can't argue with you on that." He turned his head to face his sister, who had tucked loose strands of hair neatly behind her ears. They both stood, side by side, their bodies facing opposing directions, but their glances locked for a moment of silence while they exchanged doubts. "But then, sooner or later, you are going to have to admit that he's right about the Phoenix Clan."

Azula scowled, staring at her empty martini glass. She clutched it delicately, her elongated fingernails tapping against its fragile surface.

"I don't let old men tell me what I can and cannot do," she insisted. "If I did that...then we wouldn't be here, now would we?"


"Nah, nah, I'm not gonna taunt ya like that," Sokka assured, grabbing a pre-filled glass of punch from the refreshment table.

"Good," Toph snorted, her arm stubbornly intertwined with his. "'Cuz that would suck...You'd just act like a retard, anyway." They had just discussed Sokka's decision to refrain from alcohol from the evening. Toph wasn't legal drinking age in America yet, and as much as Sokka was in the mood for booze right now, he didn't want to get intoxicated around people at a classy event like this. Toph seemed to appreciate the sentiment, anyway.

Sokka sipped at the punch, which was tangy and slightly carbonated, like a tap dance on his tongue.

"Damn, good stuff. Here..." Sokka snatched one up for Toph and waited until she opened her hand up for it, then carefully pressed it into her palm. She slowly took a slurp, licking her lips.

"Mm," was all she had to say about it.

"Ya know what we should do, though," Sokka's mind meandered about as the two of them lingered near the fruit punch table. Toph's spine tingled at the warmth of his breath against her neck as he leaned over. "We should have an after party later tonight," he whispered with mischief. Toph's eyes narrowed with anticipation at the prospect. "Get some people together and have some real drinks, eh?" His meaty arm nudged against her ribs.

"This is why you're the Idea Guy," Toph smoothly acknowledged with calm expression, drinking some more.

Suddenly, she could sense Sokka's body tense up. He coughed, then rapidly cleared his throat. What was going on? Before she could inquire, Sokka's arm jumped off of Toph's as he stepped away, his footsteps carrying him ahead.

"Suki?" he called out. Toph's brows furrowed and she did her best to contain her aggravation. Sokka sure had detached from her mighty quick...

"Oh!" Suki must not have noticed him. "Uh...Hi!" But based on that tone, she seemed to be glad to had noticed him. Probably something to do with how he was dressed, Toph figured. He smelled nice, she could appreciate that much, so it stood to reason that Suki of all people would probably like the way he was looking tonight. "Wow, you look sharp, Sokka," she complimented him. "All dressed up nice. Er, are...-?" Suki waggled her finger between Sokka and Toph a couple times with a baffled expression while Toph chugged down her punch.

Sokka spat out air through his lips in disbelief.

"Whaa? No, no..."

"Oh. Ha. Yea, I just-...It looked like...-"
"Nah, you know me, just bein' all...gentle. Man. Like. Being dragged along on escort duty and all that."

"Heh."

No, it's cool. You two just...do your thing. Not like I exist over here, five feet away.

"So, erm...Suki, you look pretty sharp, yourself," Sokka remarked, eyeballing her outfit. While he was dressed in a blue tuxedo and fedora, she had her hair gelled back, slick and shiny, and was wearing slacks, suspenders, and a white button-down shirt. She had a nametag pinned to her chest, and had a metal serving tray tucked under her arm.

"Ha!" chortled Suki. "Sokka, this is my uniform. I'm working tonight, remember?"

"...Oh! Right. Fff. I knew that." Fucking christ, Sokka, stop making a dick of yourself and get back over here, I'm waiting on you. "Well-...But, I mean...you still look fantastic." Urrgghhh.

Suki shrugged with a bashful smirk.

"Thanks. Uh...Anyway, I'll stop by your guys' table later during my break, say 'hi' and stuff."

"Cool! Yea. Sounds great."

"All right." Suki began to step away, still facing him. Sokka was invigorated by the way she was clearly having trouble taking her eyes on him. "Have fun!" she yelled back. "Stay out of trouble!"

He simply waved back, his glass still in hand. Toph, who had finished her punch, was carefully feeling her way across the table's surface to figure out where to put her empty glass.

"Hot dog!" Sokka cried out with jubilance, bounding to his friend's sigh. He took her glass for her and set it with the other empties. "Seems like everyone's here tonight!"

"Mm-hm..." Toph was done trying to feign interest. That little...whatever-the-hell...had gotten under her skin. What a fucking wannabe player this guy was, trying to juggle different girls around, and getting all indignant when they already had a date, and then just throwing himself all over the other one, and just-...It pissed her off. Whatever all this was.

In the time Toph dwelt on this bitterness, Sokka finished off his drink, and she was jarred to her senses by his brusque shoulder slapping.

"All right, Gimpy, where we headed off to now?" That particular nickname was striking a nerve right now despite Sokka's casual ignorance.

Toph begrudgingly reached out and pinched her fingers around Sokka's elbow. His suit made it a bit slippery to keep her grip once they started moving.

"Let's just go back to the table," she mumbled.

"At your command, Mistress," Sokka doled out the facetiousness. He wasn't here because he wanted to be, because he enjoyed her company. He just saw it as obligation to the poor little blind girl. Right? Screw that...

"Sokka!" Toph nearly tripped over herself from their sudden stop, being called by a friendly voice. "Buddy! Mannnn~" Good God, was that...Korra? She sounded loopy as hell.

"Eyyyy..." And that other guy, Korra's housemate. The weirdo who talked fast.

"Whoa! Korra!" Sokka laughed out at her, tugging Toph along. She felt her sides brush up against a couple of strangers in their progression to Korra's table. "Having fun, I see. Well, aren't you all jazzed up?" Sokka's tone indicated that he seemed impressed by Korra's appearance.

From the table before them, Korra snorted out a laugh.

"In more ways than one!" Korra chortled, the words barely pushed out as if she were holding in some amazing joke. Another snort, followed by a burp. Very classy.

"We just...uhhh...paid a trip. A visit. To the bar," Bolin explained slowly with a lazy hand gesture.

"Gonna have to do that shit again," Korra insisted with a most idiotic grin. The two were sitting in tight proximity, their chairs pushed together, hips touching.

"A-whuh...-?" Bolin blinked at Korra's sly smile. "Jeez, woman. Give...Give a guy a chance. To eat, I mean. To eat my food here. Delicious. With the food." He was gawking at his plate, which had barely been touched. Korra was already done with her food, though - she'd scarfed the rest of it right down as soon as they'd gotten back from the bar.

"Eh, not the only delicious thing 'round here," Korra whispered, shoving her shoulder against her neighbor's. Bolin's already flushed face lit up briefly at this. Sokka was surprised. Hadn't Korra been insisting before that she had no interest in the boys she lived with? The disturbing glint in her eyes at that moment said otherwise.

"Hohh~" Bolin laughed awkwardly. "Yea, I gotcha. See whatcha did. There. A hoot. Ain't she a hoot?"

"Ha." Sokka shrugged, a disinterested Toph still grasping his elbow. "She...sure is one of those. And a lot of other things."

"Lotta other things," Korra repeated to herself with yet another snort.

"Glad you're unwinding, Cousin. You seemed stressed out lately."

"Chyeah. Stress? Buh-bye." She fluttered her hand in dismissal.

"Yep! Uh...Just two pals. Havin' fun. Is what we are. Doing." Bolin seemed somewhat off-put by Korra's flirtatious mannerisms in front of her relative. That was good, in Sokka's opinion. Bolin ought to be intimidated. The guy was dressed pretty nicely, himself, Sokka conceded. He could potentially see a thing with these two. If anything, Korra seemed entirely relaxed and happy, something Sokka hadn't seen from her since she'd moved down here to Wayward. He found it funny that their table was empty, though, aside from the two of them, the plates mostly finished up.

"So much fun," Korra spat out.

"Heh! But not too much. Fun. 'Cuz that...'Cuz that would be...-" Bolin's attention was suddenly derailed by how Korra had gotten up from her seat and was gaping at Toph's face with open-mouthed amazement.

"Dude."

Toph twitched, her shoulders springing up defensively at the startling word Korra had burst out. She had tuned out all of the bustling noise around her so much that she hadn't noticed Korra approach.

"Toph. Toph. Toph." Korra pushed the girl's arm with enough force that Toph nearly toppled over backward. She'd caught herself by gripping at Sokka's arm, and her friend tilted her back upright. Not that she'd asked him to do it.

"What?" Toph whined out at the obviously drunk Korra. She just wanted to sit the hell down already. All this bullshit meet-n'-greet had worn her thin.

"Has anyone ever told you how fuckin' white your eyes are? I mean, they are...white. Man. Like. White as a ghost. Snow." She snorted. "A snow ghost."

"Whuh...-?" Toph was baffled and annoyed and impatient. Sokka and his retarded cousin weren't helping.

"White as a snow ghost! Oohhhh..." Korra giggled to herself, apparently finding herself to be the wittiest woman alive. Sokka eased her back into her seat.

"You two keep on...havin' fun!" Sokka insisted hurriedly, disjointed by what he was seeing. He had never actually seen Korra in a date-type situation. Ever. It was freaking him out, especially with her being drunk. "Don't let us stop ya."

Bolin thrust up a wave and spilled forth an enthusiastic farewell.

"OK, we'll check ya guys later, ya know, we'll see ya when we see ya."

+ youtube(.com)/watch?v=7vqqvh2B1Rg +

In the stillness after their social interaction, Bolin took in a moment to appreciate the soothing string music flowing from the stage while he ate some of his pork chop.

"Woohoo~" Korra broke the tranquil moment, pumping her fists into the air. "Man, this is so fuckin' rad. Bein' all...-" Korra stretched out her arms, looking down with the slightest amount of confusion at her own body, wrapped up in a dress. "-...like a lady, n' stuff."

"Being all like a Sir," said Bolin with a nod of self-approval.

"I am like a Sir!" Korra proudly declared, pounding a fist into her lap.

"Haha! You are. Some times."

Korra cleared her throat, sputtered out a cough, pounded her chest, then briefly put on a bizarre attempt at a British accent.

"Yiss, yiss. Goot, goot. Wot, wot."

To her dizzy-headed satisfaction, Bolin belted out a chuckle, which encouraged her to continue.

"Just need a fuckin' top hat n' I'm all set!"

"Well...Like..." Bolin stared around the floor. There were a couple of top hats off in the distance. Not that this mattered. He wasn't going to steal one or something. He suddenly remembered that he was wearing a hat himself. "It's not, like...a top hat," he muttered, removing it from his skull and smoothing over his hair. He shoved it onto Korra's head. "But it is. A hat. Of some sort."

And there it was, that damned humming laugh. Korra was doing it. Oh, man. He adored it so much.

"Some sort," Korra agreed, fidgeting with the fedora. She noticed that Bolin was staring at her quite affectionately in that moment, and she reciprocated the stare. "Hey, Bolin."

"Yea?"

"Thanks for...draggin' me out here. I am havin' fun. Lotta fun."

"That's good. It's good. Great. Even. I'd say."

"Heh." Korra popped out a shockingly loud belch, right in Bolin's face. Then she laughed at his misfortune.

"Yep," Bolin choked out, waving Korra's bodily fumes away and leaning back. "You sure are...one of a kind, Korra," he managed out with a dubious smirk.

"I know it!"

[link] <--- Part 1
Part 3 ---> [link]
[link]<-<--Chapter 1

Man, this chapter kicked my ass. <_< It's easily the longest chapter by far so far, clocking in at a total of 25k words, meaning I actually had to split it in three parts on DA due to size limits.

I'm honestly not 100% happy with every scene in this chapter...but hopefully it was worth the wait, and manages to do all of the narrative dealios it needs to.

This chapter in artwork:
Show
Add a Comment:
 
No comments have been added yet.