For deviantArt's Zutara Week. Tell your friends, your enemies, your long lost cousins twice removed all about the amazing movement that's commemorating such a wonderful pairing as Zutara. Day one's prompt: Denim. (I'm a little late...)
But anyway, enough of me being sentimental. Back to me bitching about how obnoxiously long this is, how bad it is, and how sorry I am for wasting your time with it, haha. Still, I hope you don't find it so repugnant and repulsive. I am sorry for the WHOOSHNESS of it all - I was pressed for time.
Ana, you owe me an epic review! :D
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar or the idea of Zutara Week.
-- - --
"Zuko, can we go now?"
As the stepladder beneath her feet wobbled, Katara hesitated, her hands hovering over the department store's latest fashions of the week. As carefully as she could, she leaned back on her heels and sent a furtive glance over her shoulder, to where an impossibly bored, albeit beautiful, young teenager stood, arms crossed and lips frowning as she glowered at the boy beside her. Because she couldn't see his face all too well, Katara leaned back farther, nearly stumbling off the stool when her balance quaked.
"Hurry up. This place smells like sweat."
Rolling her eyes, she went back to arranging the shirt in front of her on its rack. The two weren't worth the attention, she figured. Not if that girl was simply going to stand there and insult the place in which Katara worked. Even if it did smell of sweat a little bit…
"They're just jeans." The raven-haired girl yawned, and Katara's fists clenched, her irritation mounting. "Come on. Let's have you buy me something to eat."
Her meager control on her temper snapping, Katara whipped around, only to have the tail end of her shirt yanked sharply. Nearly tripping, she had to twist back to the shelves, her heart beating frantically in her chest as she relived almost slamming her head on the concrete floor.
"Easy now, Sugar Queen." Katara released a weary breath as the sarcastic voice of her friend and coworker, Toph, floated to her ears. "You can't just get yourself fired. Then I'd be stuck with all the work."
"Oh, yeah," she muttered in response, angrily shoving the clothes back and ripping another shirt from the blind girl standing beside her. The hangers gave angry hisses as they were pushed towards the wall. "Can't ask you to do even a little more work around here, right?"
"I heard that."
Sighing, Katara leaned down again and retrieved another shirt, meeting the girl's sightless eyes apologetically. "Sorry, Toph."
She received a shrug in response, and then the clothing was thrust into her waiting hands casually, before Toph again slid her hands into her pockets. Slightly calmer, now that she couldn't hear the monotonous whining of the girl behind her, Katara began to hum softly to herself as she pushed yet another shirt onto the rack. Her eyes glancing over it, she made a mental note to consider that a present for Suki. Her brother wouldn't stop reminding her that his girlfriend's birthday was coming up.
With a final pat to the shirt, Katara gave a satisfied grin and jumped down, folding the ladder and placing it beside the wall before she turned to Toph. Blowing the loops of hair from her eyes, she clapped her hands and announced in a chipper tone, "Onto the next job."
Toph rolled her eyes. "You like this place too much."
Katara grinned and reached back to the bun at the back of her head, which had been giving her a headache for the last hour. As her hair tumbled around her shoulders, she wrinkled her nose in amusement. "I like earning money," she corrected. "We peasants aren't all as rich as the great Bei Fongs." Threading her fingers through her silky locks, noting with pleasure how wavy and cool they were, feeling just like undulating waves, she then gathered it all into one hand and fastened it with a hair tie. The two loops at her temples remained free, brushing against her shoulders.
"You're right, Katara. And I think you should start appreciating me more – you know, with all I do for you. You really don't treat me like royalty enough."
Katara laughed. "Sure, Toph. Let me just bow down and worship your might."
As Toph grinned, both walked into the open aisle, which separated the men's and women's sides. With a quick glance, Katara noted that the couple, both admittedly seeming very rich, still hovered there, the raven-haired girl leaning with a sigh of impatience against the table's corner, her arms still stiffly folded over her chest. Katara wondered absently if she ever smiled.
"Katara, stop ogling the eye candy and hurry up. I want to have my lunch break on time today."
Flushing in embarrassment, she quickly hastened her step and jogged after Toph. Still, she couldn't help but wonder if she'd imagined both the hateful glare and flash of amber eyes as she left the two behind.
-- - --
Stealthily, Katara slipped a piece of jerky into Toph's hand as both hid around back, shirking their duties for the moment. Grinning as the girl beside her fidgeted and took a ginger bite of the meat, she turned back to her brother, who was scratching his temple as he peered around the corner.
"Shouldn't you guys be working? It looks busy."
"I don't have to work, Snoozles," Toph inputted sarcastically, taking an exaggerated bite of her snack to disguise her embarrassment. Katara could clearly see through her act – she knew, after all, that Toph was hopelessly in love with her brother – but she knew her brother would be clueless. "I'm loaded, remember?"
Sokka rolled his eyes at her. "I'm just saying. Old Pakku looks mad. And if you didn't remember, Katara, he and dad are on speaking terms?"
Katara made a face back. "Fine. I'll work. But just remember – it's your own damn fault if I'm too tired to do your laundry tonight."
"You're in the doghouse, Sokka," Toph mocked in smug amusement, leaping to her feet gracefully and strolling over to punch him in the arm; he yelped in injury and rubbed the abused place while grumbling. As Katara bent her head and brushed the dust from her clothing, though, she peered through her lashes to see Toph roll her eyes, turn her head, and with a jerk offer her remaining jerky to him as recompense. The blush on her face wasn't caught by Sokka, who scratched his cheek a moment and then carefully took it from her hands.
"Uh…thanks, Toph," he replied.
"Don't bother thanking me, Snoozles," she muttered, rubbing the back of her neck as she turned from both of them. "I just did it so I wouldn't have to hear you whine all day."
Katara laughed as he sent her a glare, and she patted him on the shoulder to distract him. "Thanks for stopping by, Sokka. I'll see you tonight."
Shrugging, he took a big bite out of his jerky and strode the other way, not bothering to walk them back to the women's clothing section. As Katara caught up with Toph finally, she took one look at the girl's face and grinned triumphantly.
"You two would make a cute couple."
Face flaring even redder than before, Toph whirled on her and punched her. Katara winced, knowing that it was well-deserved. "Shut up, Katara."
"I'm just saying. You two are adorable."
"Despite the fact that that's illegal, he has a girlfriend, and my personal favorite: he thinks I'm a boy."
"He doesn't think you're a boy."
Toph sent her a dry look. "How can you even hope to say he's more sensitive than that, when the idiot's your own brother?"
Katara grinned. "I'm an optimist."
The other girl snorted and shook her head, sandals clomping loudly against the concrete. Several stares were tossed their way, but no one said anything, either out of politeness or intimidation. Though she was only fifteen, Toph had an air about her that demanded respect. She wasn't just some blind, helpless little rich girl. And Katara admired that.
"Good news, Sugar Queen. Denim Boy's back."
Katara had long ago stopped bothering to ask how Toph had learned to be so intuitive. Instead, she jerked her chin up in surprise, her cheeks tingling at the sight of the tall, strong-shouldered youth glowering down at the store's selection of jeans. This time, he was dressed more casually, his hair let down from its ponytail to fall in a tousled mess in his eyes, concealing the scar she'd seen a few days before and had been curious about. He also donned a red, washed-out t-shirt and faded jeans that desperately needed to be replaced – or, at the very least, hemmed.
She shook her head angrily when she realized that she'd been deliberating sewing them for him.
"So?" she hissed back in a whisper, finally remembering to remove her stare, mostly because the teen's girlfriend had noticed her and had narrowed her kohl-black eyes in disgust. "What do I care?"
"A lot, if that blush on your face is any indication."
At Toph's words, Katara flushed harder, only to realize that the girl couldn't see her. Sputtering, she snapped, "I'm not blushing."
"Sugar Queen, you're such a horrible liar."
Katara pushed her, and the girl stumbled, hair swishing in and out of her eyes. Upon recovering, Toph linked her hands behind her head and grinned at the ceiling, perhaps feeling pride at the fact that she'd so easily flustered her coworker. Rolling her eyes, Katara sighed and pushed her hair out of her face, to where it fell liquidly at her back, free of a tie today.
"Hey. You work here, right?"
Katara stopped and turned to look at the bored, black-haired beauty leaning against the table, her eyes on her nails as she examined their razor-sharp tips. Hesitating as she waited, she sent a look to Toph at her side, who was scratching at her head in boredom, shrugging in response to the girl's question.
Still not looking at them, the girl brandished the arm that she'd been looking at so intently and directed it towards the boy at her side. "Could you just pick something for him? He has a tendency to think his life or death depends on one decision."
Finally deducing that his girlfriend was talking about him, the teen glanced up with a scowl. "Mai, what're you talking about?"
She grinned lightly. "I want to get out of this disgusting store, Zuko," she said teasingly, reaching forward to touch his scar. With a frown he jerked his head away and looked down, missing the hurt expression on her face. As Katara shifted in discomfort, the girl called Mai whirled back to glare at them. "I'd appreciate any help at this point."
Katara tensed. "Excuse--?!"
"Sure. Sugar Queen, why don't you work your magic?" She turned to the girl at her side in indignation. "Hey, don't look at me. I would, but, you know. Kind of can't see, here."
Sighing wearily, Katara gave her another little agitated push, and then she trudged forward, fingers trailing through her hair as she tried to shoulder off the frigid glare her motions received. Then, placing her hands against the walls of the table separating each different style of jeans, she leaned forward and gave her best helpful-employee smile.
"What are you looking for, exactly?"
She flinched when he jerked his head up swiftly, his amber eyes boring into hers. Katara found that she couldn't look away, and at her persisted stare he glowered angrily. "I don't need help from you."
She blinked, the remnants of her paralysis fading into oblivion to be replaced by a seething rage. "I beg your pardon?"
"Keep your nose out of my business!" he snapped, pushing away from the table. "I can make my own damned decisions when I feel like it!"
Mai sighed. "Zuko, can't you just pick something--?"
"Good riddance!" Katara shouted, talking over his girlfriend, her aggravation with him clashing with her distaste for Mai. Her brashness earned her a wicked look from the black-haired girl. "Like we need your high-and-mighty attitude in our store anyway!"
He stormed out, his girlfriend rolling her eyes and trailing reluctantly behind him, as she clenched her fists and panted breathlessly with pent-up frustration. Beside her, Toph couldn't stop grinning, and she sent the girl a scathing look, clipped words readied on her tongue. She didn't get the chance to snap, however, because from around the corner their manager, Pakku, appeared, and both immediately paled.
"Katara. Toph. My office."
Hanging her head, her coworker grumbling at her side, Katara trudged over towards the white-haired man, trying to banish the thoughts of an amber-eyed, black-haired, denim-loving pain in the ass from her mind.
-- - --
"She's supposed to apologize to him if he ever shows up. Until then, she has to haul ass in this dump, sweeping the floors, clearing the dust from the shelves, and making sure the dressing rooms are all clean," Toph was relaying to Aang with delight as Katara scowled and balanced the tips of her toes on the stepladder. "I think it's hilarious."
"You don't feel bad?" Aang asked worriedly, coming over to steady her legs. She sent him a grateful smile, at which he flushed and looked down quickly, awkward smile dancing on his own lips. "I mean, you could've helped her," he continued, looking back to Toph.
Leaning against the wall, Toph folded her arms and shrugged. "Sugar Queen just needs to learn to control that temper of hers."
"Aang, it's all right," she said gently, climbing down off the ladder, rubbing his shaved head affectionately with one hand. He grinned happily. "Besides, I'll probably never see him again. He and his girlfriend weren't too fond of this place, and they definitely have money to burn in a more…high class store," she remarked with scorn.
Suddenly, Toph grinned wickedly. "You sure about that, Katara?"
She blinked at the girl, and her expression crumbled into one of dread. "Why…?"
"His footsteps are pretty distinct."
She and Aang whirled around at the same time, but she was the one who recognized Zuko, his hands in his pockets as he glowered at the floor. Curiously enough, his girlfriend wasn't with him. She'd probably thrown a fit at the thought of placing another keenly-polished boot on their grimy, concrete floors.
Glowering, Katara crossed her arms as he approached. In that moment, he lifted his head, and he hesitated upon seeing them all, his hand finding the back of his neck awkwardly as he stopped a few feet away. Again, his hair fell about his face, tousled and unkempt as it brushed slightly into his eyes.
"I'm supposed to apologize," Katara muttered with distaste, looking away from him. "So, sorry. Didn't mean to insult you, your highness."
A frown weighed down the corners of his lips for a moment, but then he sighed and wearily ran his fingers through his hair. Aang, meanwhile, leaned over and muttered, "Uh, Katara? I don't think that's the kind of apology Pakku was looking for."
She rolled her eyes and whispered back, "That's the best he's gonna get."
"Look." Blinking, she brought her ocean blue stare back, to where it clashed with liquid fire. He shuffled uncomfortably, and then he waved one hand in front of him beseechingly, his irritated expression shifting into one of remorse. "I didn't mean…I just…I'm sorry." Her attention, which had been trailing away with boredom, snapped back to him in surprise. "I was wrong to talk to you that way," he continued uncomfortably. Apparently apologies weren't his strong point, either. "Just…" His eyes flicked to hers and then abruptly away. "Forget it. Never mind."
He whirled away from her, and she frowned, not ready for him to walk away. "Maybe I don't accept your apology."
He hesitated, and then he turned on his heel to face her once more, his brow furrowed. "What should I do? Get down on my hands and knees and grovel? I don't need your approval that much."
She tilted her head, taking in the continued expression of discomfort on his face. He seemed genuinely remorseful. She guessed she couldn't hold it against him for too long. She'd get over the insult.
With a sigh, she gestured towards the jeans. "You can make it up to me by actually buying something this time. That way your girlfriend doesn't have to keep complaining every time she steps foot in this store. It gets old." Angrily, she scowled and looked at her feet.
"Mai?" he said with a slight laugh, and she looked up in surprise. Apparently one of the two was capable of humor. "Yeah, she…she comes off as a little overbearing."
"A little, huh?" Katara grinned and looked back to Toph, who'd been watching the whole situation calmly from afar. "Tell your girlfriend to do the Earth a favor and stop flooding the air with so much carbon dioxide. I swear, that girl sighs enough to feed an entire forest."
Aang snorted with laughter and sent her incredulous look. Sensing it, Toph shrugged and absently bit at her nails. Making a face, Katara reminded herself to give the girl a make-over some day – or, at the very least, to take her to a spa.
"I guess I could do that, at least," Zuko suddenly interrupted, and Katara glanced back. Shifting uneasily at her confused stare, he shrugged. "You know…buy jeans?"
Grinning, she clapped her hands together and strolled forward, expecting him to follow. After a moment or two or hesitation, he did, and he hovered over the bin reluctantly as she rifled through the styles.
"You've just made Katara's day. She loves dressing people up like dolls. Poor Twinkletoes here once had to model some of the kiddy section's new arrivals."
Aang blushed. "Shut up, Toph. I still remember when she put you in that hooker dress."
Katara grinned and ignored them, though Zuko seemed to grow increasingly unsettled by what he'd agreed to. As Aang and Toph continued to argue back and forth, her fingers finally landed on her favorite jeans. They were soft to the touch, faded blue, and clean-cut. The only holes that would fashion them would be the ones he made himself.
"Here." Holding them out with a proud, beaming smile, she waved them in her hands. "These are cute."
At the look on his face, Aang laughed. "You can really tell how much he looks forward to looking cute, Katara."
She pouted at him. "I thought they looked nice."
Aang faltered and blushed. "They do. It's just…" Toph snickered in the background, and the fifteen-year-old sent the girl a hateful glare. "Shut up, Toph."
"Fine. I'll buy them," Zuko muttered, snatching them out of her hands.
Surprised, she sent him a confused glance. "But I don't know if they're your size."
Sighing, he looked at the tag and made a face. "Where'd you find these?"
Grinning, Katara pointed, and he grudgingly hunted through the mound of denim jeans as beyond them Aang pouted and Toph grinned triumphantly. Drumming her fingertips against the table's edge, she stared at them with a bewildered expression, though Aang wouldn't meet her eyes. She wondered what she'd missed as they'd continued to bicker.
As Zuko roughly held up his jeans for her to see, she turned back to him and grinned. "You have a nice day now, sir. Just go right up to the counter to purchase your item." He grumbled and slung them over his arm, avoiding her amused gaze as he rounded the table and scuffed his sneakers against the aisle's linoleum floor. "Hope to see you again!" Katara teased as she waved, and he glanced over his shoulder, surprised. For a moment or two, she thought he'd roll his eyes at her. She was pleasantly surprised, however, when a gentle smile touched his lips before he walked away.
"Wow, we sure lucked out. That guy's a sucker with that need-to-please attitude of his. You could convince him to buy out the whole store if you wanted to, Sugar Queen," Toph teased.
"Oh, shut up, Toph," Katara said, crossing her arms. "Just remember that hooker dress I had you try on."
She shared a laugh with Aang as the girl blushed and looked away. "That wasn't funny!"
"It was, though. Especially with Sokka there," Aang joked.
The boy ducked as Toph threw socks from one of the shelves at him, and the two roared with laughter as their friend chased them around the store.
-- - --
Katara sighed as she slumped against the wall, staring longingly at the bin full of jeans. He wasn't coming back, she knew. He'd bought those elusive jeans he'd been searching for, and now he had no reason to let his princely presence be seen in such a dump. Still, she couldn't help but want to see him again.
"I say we just clock out early and crash at Sokka's," Toph piped up as she absently juggled packages of boxer briefs in her hands. Katara grinned at several boys stopped to watch her, as awed by her talent as they were by her beauty. At fifteen, Toph was a gorgeous girl – and, while she pretended that she didn't care, Katara had been let in once or twice about the blind girl's insecurities. "I wanna see what Snoozles has been up to without me to put him in his place."
"Or without me to do his laundry," Katara muttered with a grimace, shuddering as she crossed her arms and looked to Toph. "You're lucky you'll never be able to see the mess he leaves behind in his room."
"Sure, Katara," Toph responded coolly, catching the packages in her hands and lazily dropping them on the table at her side. With her right hand, she brushed her hands through her long, black which, which she'd let loose from its large bun for once. "I'm so lucky that I'll never be able to see what his smile looks like or what color his eyes are, either."
Automatically, Katara remarked, "Blue." Instantly, she regretted it. "I mean--"
"Forget it." Toph shrugged her shoulders and looked away. "I'm used to it."
"Oh, Toph. I'm sorry I--"
"Hey." With an uneasy smile, she looked back, her bangs hiding her eyes. "I'm fine, okay? There's nothing I can do. I can't help being born this way."
Frowning, Katara wished she could cheer the girl up. Normally, the fifteen-year old was fine with her disability; she even sometimes relished in the benefits that came with not being able to see. But whenever Sokka was mentioned in line with it, her coworker couldn't help but feel depressed – Toph wanted so much to see what the boy looked like, even if it was just once.
"He's amazed by you, you know," she said gently as she folded her arms, smiling lightly. In surprise, Toph whipped her head Katara's way. "You never fail to impress him."
Blushing, her coworker leaned down and busied her hands in putting the boxer briefs back in place. "You're just saying that, Sugar Queen."
"I should know, Toph. Sokka is my brother."
"Shut up, Katara."
Smiling in satisfaction as she took in the blush on Toph's cheeks, Katara decided that she'd loitered around enough and turned around to fold some of the disheveled shirts. She really could do without getting on Pakku's bad side. She tended to clash too often with his misogynistic attitude, and that always ended up giving her father much grief. Hakoda had too much on his plate right now to worry about his headstrong, temperamental daughter getting into a fight with her manager.
"So. How do you think Sparky looked in his jeans, Katara?"
"Sparky?" Blankly, she tossed Toph a confused glance and was rather unsettled by the smirk she received.
"You know. Denim Boy. He smells a lot like smoke and cinnamon."
Katara blushed and furiously slammed the shirt down into its respective pile. It seemed as if her coworker was quickly getting her revenge. "Why should I care, Toph? I'm sure he looks just fine in them. That doesn't mean anything, though!"
"It's too bad. His girlfriend will end up getting the better end of the bargain, even though she was nothing but a pain in the ass the whole time."
"That's…fine," Katara muttered through gritted teeth. "She has…every right…"
"You're so jealous, Sugar Queen."
"I am not. I don't care at all."
"I can hear girls' whispers when he comes in – and he must be quite handsome, for you to be so infatuated."
With a wave of her arms, she threw down her clothes. "I am not infatuated with Zuko!"
"Well that's reassuring. Considering he's my boyfriend."
Paling considerably, Katara whirled around, her blue eyes connecting with cold black. To her immense relief, the tousled-haired teen was temporarily released from his chain by Mai's side, leaving her free to glower hatefully at the raven-haired girl standing erect and casting her bored stare down to her nails.
"Hello," she forced through clenched teeth as her eyes narrowed. "How may I help you today?"
Wearily, Mai looked over her shoulder. "I'd prefer if you didn't do anything. Zuko just needs more jeans. Nothing you can help with, I'm sure, considering the huge disaster you caused last time."
Katara blinked. Did Zuko not mention that he came in to apologize?
"Oh. Of course," Toph said with a slight laugh, picking up on the very same thing. "We couldn't possibly be of any aid. So come on, Katara. You have to pick up the mess you made."
Ducking away from Mai's suspicious glare, she crouched down and gathered the wrinkled shirts into her hands, smoothing them against her abdomen when she stood. Then, swiftly folding each one, she delicately placed the colored tees onto the pile from which she'd taken them and moved on to the back wall.
"Ladder's to your right, Toph. Can you grab it for me?"
"I don't know, Katara. Sounds a bit too complicated."
"Just shut up and bring over the ladder," she said with a laugh. As her gaze skirted back to the frowning Mai, her smile slipped from her face, and she sighed as she opened the ladder and climbed onto its highest step. Toph, at her side, helpfully jerked a shirt up towards her face, and Katara gave a furrowed smile as she gently relieved it from the girl's grasp and stood on her toes to push it back against the wall.
"This job gets so boring," Toph remarked as she leaned against the wall, immediately thrusting a shirt upwards when she sensed Katara bend over. "I could go for a little drama. And you could take her easily."
Smiling, Katara shook her head. "Dad would hate it if I got fired, especially for getting into an unnecessary fight. Besides, I need this job to help pay through college."
"You're too straight-laced."
"You're too eager to start punching people."
Toph grinned. "This one deserves it."
"And can probably hear you," Katara reminded.
"So? I'm just a poor, little blind girl. How am I supposed to know that my words are hurtful to others? I can't tell."
Katara grinned before she could help it. "You're awful."
"I have news to cheer you up, though. I can hear Sparky's footsteps."
Wobbling on the stepladder, Katara waved her arms and then breathlessly caught herself before she sent a glare down towards Toph. "I told you. I don't care."
"And I told you that you're a rotten liar."
"Mai." Her face flaring, Katara peeked over her shoulder to see Zuko casually touch Mai's shoulder, coming up from behind her as he threaded his free fingers through his hair. At his returned presence, a tender smile touched Mai's lips, something which surprised Katara greatly. He merely glanced at her, however, before he turned away and rapidly began to rifle through the jeans, his shoulders tense, his motions disruptive. Her eyes narrowed and the disregard he used on the clothes. "We can't stay long. My…my father called. He wants me to clean up and be back in time for the board meeting."
"That's wonderful, Zuko," Mai said, walking over to touch his lower back. Katara couldn't stop herself from blatantly watching; Toph, as well, didn't bother to mask her eavesdropping. "This is what you want, right? So we can just get out of this dirty, disgusting store and find you a suit that will--"
"I need jeans, Mai."
"Why?" She frowned and tilted her head at him. Tentatively, she slid her hand to his shoulder. "What's the matter with you? You should be absolutely thrilled that--"
"I just need them!" he snapped, jerking away from her, scowling angrily at the denim beneath his hands. His shoulders were tense, and Katara couldn't stamp her insatiable curiosity at what the story was behind his cold attitude.
"Call me crazy, Sugar Queen," Toph murmured, calling her attention downward, "but I think he needs you."
Flushing, Katara shrugged and climbed off the stepladder. "I'll just find him the right jeans. That's all the help he needs, anyway."
Relaxed, her coworker folded her arms again and continued to lean against the wall to watch as Katara rolled her eyes and then nervously tied her hair back from her face. Then, straightening her shoulders, she clasped her hands at her back and strolled quietly around them, until she was standing directly in front of the bickering couple.
"How may I help you today?"
Glancing up, Zuko's one eyebrow rose and his eyes widened in surprise at the sight of her. Mai, at his side, scowled furiously and wrapped her hands possessively around his arm. "Katara…" he said softly, and in response she genuinely smiled.
Mai, however, glared. She didn't seem pleased whatsoever that he knew her name.
"Anyway, I couldn't help but notice that you're very much interested in jeans," Katara said with a grin, reaching down. Zuko smirked back as she ran her fingertips over the fabric, searching for something she could envision him wearing. Her hands landed on a darker shade, looser than the last pair and made of rougher material, but more suitable for the white shirt with the fire print that he was wearing today. "These are nice. Not cute, but definitely manly." She looked up with a grin, and he coughed to smother a laugh as Mai's eyes darted in between the two.
"We really don't need jeans," she interjected with a drawling voice, giving his arm a tug. Zuko looked down in surprise. "We'll go elsewhere."
"But I'm pretty sure this is his size," Katara insisted, shoving it towards her, plastering a sugary smile to her lips. "And I'm certain they'd look very nice on him. Wouldn't you like to see?"
Mai's eyes bored into hers, her glower a mixture of rage and hurt as her fingernails bit into Zuko's arm. Katara tried not to notice the way his stare lingered on her, as well, before he questioningly glanced towards his girlfriend, dispelling his smile. "Fine," she seethed, snatching the denim jeans from Katara's hold and slamming them into Zuko's chest. He grunted. "Let's go. I want you to look nice for your father's meeting. If you haven't forgotten, this job actually means something to you."
All hints of relaxation flooded from Zuko's expression in an instant, and worriedly he started frowning as he hurried along at Mai's heels, his fingers sinking into the jeans in his hold. Sighing, Katara leaned heavily against the table and let her head hang, her shoulders drooping with exhaustion.
"That girl is wretched," she remarked as Toph came to stand by her side.
"She's jealous," her friend responded casually, chewing absently at a nail, sweeping one bare foot against the ground when she figured she wouldn't be seen.
Startled, Katara turned to look at her. "Jealous? Jealous of what?"
Her eyes widened. "No. There's no way."
"I'm not lying, Katara. I can hear it in her voice."
"It's just not true. There's no reason she could ever feel threatened by me. It's ridiculous."
"It's not. Now come on. You're slacking on the job."
Sighing, Katara trudged after her coworker, hands slipping along the sides of her khaki capris and eyes wandering down the aisle, where Zuko had disappeared.
-- - --
Aang settled down between Toph and her as all three wedged their backs against the wall. Gratefully taking the blue raspberry popsicle from his hand, she took a big bite, relishing in its coolness. She was surprised that Pakku hadn't fixed the air conditioning yet. Not only was it a lifesaver in the summer heat, but he, like her family, was more accustomed to cool weather – whereas Toph and Aang more easily adjusted to the heat.
Sleeves rolled back and pant legs forced past his knees, the boy beside her grinned and lifted his gaze to the ceiling, his lemon popsicle rammed into his mouth. His toes, rebelliously bare despite the signs out front, drummed against the concrete as he sucked on his treat. Toph, at his side, mimicked him, though she splayed her forearms over her knees as she peered sightlessly ahead through her bangs.
"He's trying to melt us."
Pulling the treat from his mouth, Aang grinned and shuddered. "That's why you have me. He likes me, so I can easily slip snacks to you guys."
Toph also pulled the popsicle from her mouth, licking her lips free of sour apple afterwards. "Yeah, and he'll hate you the minute he realizes you're helping Katara. Those two don't get along at all."
"He's just sore because my Gran-Gran turned his woman-hating ass down. And she was smart to do so." Giving a stern nod, she took another bite of her popsicle.
"Yeah, yeah. Doesn't change the fact that you're a sneeze away from getting fired."
"I am not. I'm one of his best employees."
"Doesn't mean he won't let you go like that." To emphasize, she snapped her fingers, then popping her popsicle back into her mouth. Katara rolled her eyes and leaned her head against the shelving.
Contentedly, Aang continued to tap the pads of his feet against the concrete. "Hey, guys. Do you want to go see a movie after work? Or will you be too tired?"
"I'm in," Katara said.
"Sure, Twinkletoes. What do you feel like seeing? A gory horror flick? Because, man, I just love seeing all that cheesy blood spill everywhere…"
Aang paled. "Toph, I didn't mean--"
"Relax," she said with a grin, an impish expression on her face. "I love going to movies and making fun of them with Sokka. Please tell me he's coming."
"I dunno," he remarked with a shrug. "I'll ask. I know Suki won't be able to make it. She's visiting home this weekend."
"All the better."
"What? I can't be the only one who doesn't get along with her."
Around her popsicle, Katara shared a skeptical glance with Aang. He grinned and turned back to Toph, remarking, "Yeah, you kinda are."
Crossing her arms, she muttered, "Well, so what? Is it a big deal if I don't like constantly happy, overbearingly affectionate girls?"
"No. It's a big deal if you're jealous, though," Katara teased.
Toph glowered scathingly at her. Sheepishly, she took a bite of her blue raspberry popsicle and looked away from the intensity of her friend's glare. Therefore, she was the one to see him approach first.
Lips smeared with ice cream parting in surprise, she lifted her head. "Zuko."
Beside her, both Aang and Toph twisted around, to where the princely teen stood, right hand positioned into an awkward wave as the other rubbed at the back of his neck. All three openly stared as he cleared his throat, his hands dropping to hook into the pockets of his faded blue jeans – jeans, she noted, that she'd picked out for him.
"Can I…join your group?"
Blinking, Katara shifted her stare back around. In response, Aang shrugged easily, and Toph grinned wickedly. Rolling her eyes, Katara turned her stare back to him, taking in his black shirt that stated in bold, white letters "Fire Prince" before she let her gaze flick back to his eyes. "Make yourself comfortable."
Smiling gratefully, Zuko settled himself down across from them, awkwardly folding his legs as Toph yawned in boredom and Aang took a casual bite of his popsicle. Self-consciously, Katara wiped some of the ice cream from her lips with her thumb when he glanced away.
"We're real hard workers, as you can see," Toph remarked sarcastically as his gaze strayed. When his attention snapped back ahead, she grinned. "Only the best for our loyal customers."
"You do really seem to like jeans," Aang inputted curiously, taking another bite out of his popsicle. "This is the second time I've seen you in here."
Shifting awkwardly, Zuko shrugged and flicked his stare to Katara for some reason. She blinked and straightened, but he looked away before she could decipher what it was that he'd wanted. "Yeah. My dad, sister, and girlfriend all hate this place. Maybe it's why I come so much."
"Seems to me like you really want Dear Old Dad's approval," Toph drawled, eyebrows shooting up beneath her bangs. "Are you telling me I thought wrong?"
Zuko scowled and folded his arms over his chest. "No. Look, I don't need this from you, too. I hear it enough from Azula." Faltering, he looked over to Katara. "Uh, my sister."
"Right," she said gently, smiling.
"I say you tell us. You know, to make up for your rude girlfriend."
"Toph, aren't you being kind of rude?" Aang muttered.
"Hey. An eye for an eye," she said with a shrug of her shoulders, and then she grinned. "Well, not literally in this case. My eyes would be useless."
Zuko shifted uncomfortably. "Um…"
Katara sighed. "You just have to get used to it. This is Toph's form of initiation. She wouldn't bother if she didn't like you."
"You kind of just have to put up with it," Aang added with a laugh, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly.
"So. What's the scoop?" Toph persisted, ignoring their comments.
Sighing, Zuko folded his arms more tightly across his chest and looked away. "My dad's the owner of this large corporate company, which should have really gone to my uncle, but his son died and therefore it was impossible for him to pass down the business through family. So, since I'm the oldest, I'm next in line to become chairman, but…my dad, well…" Knitting his brows, he clenched his jaw and refused to say more.
Katara and Aang sucked in identical breaths as Zuko sent a searing glare towards Toph, who remained unmoved. Seconds withered away as the silence persisted, and then, miraculously, the teen before them gave a weak smile. "Yeah. He'd rather hand it down to Azula. So I have to prove it in these last few months, or Azula will head the company, since she's almost eighteen."
"Well, that definitely sucks, Sparky." Popping the popsicle back into her mouth, Toph casually wiggled her toes.
"Why don't you just give it all up?" Aang asked with knitted brows. Katara watched as Zuko sent him an incredulous stare. "I mean, is it worth it? You seem to really hate it. And, no offense, I wouldn't think of you as a business owner any more than I'd think of you as a prince."
Katara turned her head to hide her smile.
"Oh, lighten up. Twinkletoes has a point. You're definitely miserable every time you come in here. Though, that could also be because of that creature latched onto your shoulder."
His expression contorted into one of anger. "Don't insult Mai."
"She certainly loves you," Katara injected gently, her own heart twisting now.
Zuko, in surprise, glanced to her. "You think so?"
"It's only blatantly obvious," Toph drawled.
"She is pretty protective of you," Aang agreed.
"Oh." Picking at the fabric of his jeans, Zuko shrugged. "To be honest, I'd never thought much on my feelings for Mai. We just…got together. I don't even remember how."
"There's the definition of a rock-solid relationship."
"Toph, leave him alone."
"Whatever, Sugar Queen."
Quietly they sat, Aang finishing off the remainder of his popsicle, Toph thumping her toes against the concrete as her gaze strayed around the store. For her part, Katara shot Zuko glances from the corner of her eye, hands balling up on her khakis as she took in his profile. She'd never seen a person like him before – the strong line of his jaw, the softness of his lips, the scar that held his left eye in a perpetual squint…
He jerked his attention her way, in embarrassment she looked down, twirling the popsicle stick in her fingers. Her shoulders drooped when he excused himself and rose to his feet upon checking his watch, and she turned her head to meet his gaze as he hesitated.
Beside her, Aang amiably waved. "Come back any time. I always do." He grinned widely, and she sent him a smile.
"Sure." Looking back, Katara lifted her ocean blue eyes to meet his stare, and she felt a curious heat wash over her face as his lips tilted into a smile. "See you."
With a final wave, he turned on his heel, and then he was gone.
-- - --
She cursed and fumbled with the shirt, her hands slipping on the metal hook as she tried to properly organize the display. She was tired, night had fallen outside the floor-length windows, Sokka had already left after stopping by to tell her that Suki had finally returned and the two were going out to turn, so she didn't have to stop by, and Toph had been given the day off to visit her family, who were in town. That left her, struggling the mountains of work she, Ty Lee, and Haru had been assigned by Pakku that day.
But, of course, the two ended up making out in the storage room the moment Pakku had retired to his office, and she'd been stuck being the pack mule, as usual.
"I hate this place," she muttered.
Shrieking, Katara lurched backwards and tripped on the stepladder's edge. Squeezing her eyes shut, she braced her body for impact, only to feel herself collide with another, curiously warm frame before she and her savior hit the ground. Groaning as she rolled over, she slid her forearms along the greasy concrete and cringed. With great difficulty, she eventually forced herself onto her knees and shook her head, ridding her body of its aches as best as she could.
"You startle easily."
Blinking, Katara opened her eyes and turned her head to see Zuko propping himself up on his elbows and wincing as he rubbed his scalp. Sitting straight up in shock, she gaped at him open-mouthed as she curled her hands on her thighs, unable to believe that he was sitting here again, bad eye closed as he rubbed the heel of his palm into his hair, dark blue jeans gathering dust and red shirt with a black flame insignia wrinkling from the way his body curved. She had to look away the moment her stare started taking in the ripple of his arm muscles beneath his sleeves.
"And you have the odd habit of sneaking up on people."
"Sorry," he said with a shrug, sitting fully up and folding his legs close. "I'm used to sneaking around my house. My dad's…strict."
Before she could stop herself, Katara blurted out, "Did he give you that scar?" As his eyes narrowed in indignation, she clamped her hands over her lips. "Oh my God. I'm so sorry. I--"
"It's fine." Sighing, he lifted his fingertips to the smooth, rippled skin that marred his otherwise perfect face. "I'm used to the stares – to being a freak."
"You're not a freak," she admonished with a furrowed brow, taking hold of his wrist and lowering his hand to his lap. "You're perfectly fine." Placing her free hand gently on his skin, she smiled when he didn't flinch or pull away. Gently, she rubbed circles there, massaging its rough texture, sweeping the pad of her thumb just under his eye. Letting out a shuddering breath, he let his lashes fall and shield his vision. "See? It's skin, same as mine." Easily, she grasped the hand resting in his lap with her two and lifted it up, pressing it gently against her cheek. Startled, he opened wide eyes to stare at her as she cocked her head. "I mean, I don't think I'm a freak, right?" Teasingly, she grinned.
He remained motionless, his lips parted as he gazed at her with silent awe. For a moment or two, she simply blinked at him in confusion. Finally, her brain caught up with her actions, and her skin became more aware of the softness and warmth radiating from his hand onto her cheek, and she sucked in a surprised breath as she let him go, standing straight up and sending hands worriedly through her hair.
"Sorry. Oh, crap. Sokka was right when he said I never think things through."
"It's fine," he grunted as he moved to stand, and she whirled on him.
"It's not fine! You have a girlfriend, and here I am, touching your face and feeding you lines and--"
He arched his good eyebrow. "Feeding me lines, huh?"
Blushing, she turned away from him and waved her hand dismissively. "You should go. I have work to do, and you really shouldn't distract me--"
"I came to buy jeans."
Sighing tiredly again, she let her arms fall to her sides and looked over her shoulder at him, a weak smile on her lips. "Again?"
He smirked. "Again."
"You and your denim fetish, Zuko," she murmured, though she couldn't suppress her grin as she beckoned him close and carried her feet over to where the men's jeans were kept, now crumpled and disorganized since Haru was still clearly preoccupied. Glowering at the mess, Katara shook her head and rounded the table to pick up a pair of pants, holding it against her abdomen as she shot Zuko a glance. "What kind are you looking for this time?" With swift motions, she aligned the legs, folded them down, and then folded them one more time, afterwards placing them aside and smoothing her hands over them gently. "Low rise? Loose fit? Dark blue? Faded?"
"You seem to know what looks better on me."
Grinning, she picked up a balled-up pair and smoothed it against her chest. After giving it a once-over, she held it out in front of her and moved it to and fro in her hold, her head cocked to the side as she tried to picture him wearing them. "How low are you planning on wearing your jeans?"
"I'm not sure I like where this is headed…"
She laughed and placed the pair in her hands aside, already neatly folded. "We'll just leave those alone then."
He comfortably crossed her arms as she lifted pair upon hair, his expression every so often twisting into one of distaste at the more outlandish pairs that she pulled out. One of them, with gaping holes along the sides that were fastened back together by the crisscrossing of string from the ankles to the knees, made his face crunch up into such a look of bewildered disgust that she doubled over, giggling uncontrollably as her hair swooped into her face. He, too, gave a soft laugh, and the jeans fell onto the floor as she gasped for breath and sent him an amused glance.
"We're gonna run out of options fast if you're this picky."
"You're the one trying to put me in girly jeans," he retorted with a grin.
"They're not girly. They're very stylish." Laughter still causing her voice to sound breathy, she giggled a little as she reached down and picked up the fallen pants, then returning them carefully to their respective, giggling yet again as she caught sight of the outrageous design on the sides. "I think they're adorable."
"You wear them."
"I'm not the one obsessed with denim," she retorted, wrinkling her nose in good humor. "Now pick something so I can get rid of you and go home."
"I'm that annoying, huh?"
"Very annoying," she said with a grin. "The worst." Looking down, she spotted a pair and happily picked them up. "How 'bout these?" Lifting her chin, she grinned cheerfully, only to feel her smile falter on her lips when she realized their sudden proximity. "Um, Zuko?"
Cocking his head as he leaned against the table, he sighed. "You know, my father…he'd never approve of someone like you."
Her expression went blank for a moment. Then, embarrassment washing over her face, she looked to her far right and glowered at the corner of a wall. "Well, how special that you have Mai, then."
"You're actually nice. And kind-hearted. And fun." Sending a hand through his hair, he sighed as she glanced towards him and looked away, hands finding their places in his pockets. "I shouldn't even be here."
He started to walk away, and suddenly she heard his words over the rapid drumming of her heart. Breath stuttering in her throat, she stumbled after him. "W-wait!" He stopped and looked over his shoulder. Fumbling, she looked down and forced a grin. "These jeans. They'd look nice. Both casual and flattering."
She started when his fingertips brushed hers, and she glanced up, finding his amber eyes immediately. "Katara, it wasn't about the jeans," he said with a weary grin, but he took the pants from her nevertheless. "I just wanted to get to know you."
Helplessly, she watched him walk down the aisle, and then she was stumbling after him. "Zuko, you can't just--"
"Zuko, no way! How's Azula?" Starting, Katara whirling around to see Ty Lee bounding in a chipper fashion towards them. Taking him immediately by the arm, she giggled and leaned into him, flirtatiously fluttering her lashes. "And Mai. Does she still keep a tight leash around you?" Making a face of disgust at how her coworker purred and fawned over the teen, she clenched and unclenched her fists as the two walked away, leaving her behind. Her moment was gone. She'd never get it back.
Squeezing her eyes shut, she whirled on her heel and went back to work.
-- - --
"You honestly had no idea."
The sun was setting over the parking lot, and Katara could see the rusted, blue scrap metal on wheels that was her car glinting just under the street light. Drawing her legs close to her chest as she sat beside Toph on the bench, she sighed and buried her face in the concave of space made by her knees.
"I honestly had no idea."
"Are you blind?"
Katara sent her friend a wry grin. "Apparently."
"I mean, not only would anyone be better for him than Mai. And I mean anyone." Throwing her hands up, Toph shook her head. "But you couldn't get that he was so obviously flirting with you every time he stepped into that store? He sat with us – hell, he put up with me, for Roku's sake. You're just stupid."
"Thanks, Toph. Really needed that."
"I got it."
Shaking her head, Toph swung one leg idly as she propped the other one in front of her on the bench, slinging her forearm over her knee. Then, pressing her lips against her skin, she sighed with exaggeration, hair falling down around her shoulders and stirring when the wind picks up. Her shoulders tensed, as if she was preparing herself for something important, and so Katara waited.
"You know, Sugar Queen…" Darting her eyes away, Toph glowered across the lot. "I don't get emotional a lot. It's not my thing." Katara smiled at the understatement. "But seriously, Sparky…he was something else. Something good for you. You work too damn hard, and you don't give a single thought about your love life--"
"I've had a love life!"
"Jet doesn't count."
Sighing, Katara looked into her lap.
"All I'm saying is, you should fight for this."
"What about you and Sokka, huh, Toph? Why don't you take your own damn advice and stop harassing me." Angrily, she glared hard at her knee and dug her nails into her ankle.
"That's really so different, Katara. It's not even fair. I mean, he's in love. And I'm fifteen years old, okay? It's just not going to happen right now."
Sighing, she ran her fingertips along her tanned skin, nuzzling her cheek against the side of her knee, keeping her eyes plastered to the ground as she waited out the few remaining minutes of her break. "He has a girlfriend."
"He has a warden, who oversees his every move and orders him around like a dog. I'm sure he gets that enough from his old man and bitch of a sister."
"You don't even know them, Toph."
"I know them through him. God, Katara, if you'd just listen. You'd see how unhappy he is. You'd see that Mai does nothing for him. You'd see that every time he looks at you, his heart speeds up and his hands shake and he's not so proud anymore. Dammit, I want that; and here you have it, and you're just letting it go?!"
Squeezing her eyes shut, she hugged her leg close and shook her head back and forth. "When am I gonna get another chance, Toph? I just let him walk away."
"Now seems like a pretty good time."
"Now? Are you serious?" Sending the girl a glare, she sat up. "What am I supposed to do, Toph? Hunt through all the major corporations to find the one abusive father out of them all, find his dysfunctional and adorable son through him, and claim that, yes, I do want him to throw away his promising future so we can go on a few awkward dates."
"Sounds good to me, Sugar Queen. But why don't you save yourself the trouble and just look in front of you."
Head jerking forward, she caught her breath as her eyes met his. His hands in the pockets of his newest jeans, his shirt white with "Banished" spelled out in jagged red print, he awkwardly tilted his head and suppressed a smile, his good eyebrow arched.
She stood abruptly upright, and Toph quickly caught her arm, stopping her from running off. Katara sent her friend a look, not sure whether she should be infuriated or grateful.
"Zuko…" Letting out a sigh, she turned back to him. "What are you doing here? You made it clear last time that you really could care less about jeans…"
"He also made it clear that he cares a hell of a lot about you," Toph muttered.
"Stay out of this, Toph."
"Don't order me around, Sugar Queen."
Uncomfortably, Zuko cleared his throat. "Look. Katara--"
"About what I said," she interjected quickly. "About me wanting you to drop everything to go on a date? I didn't mean it." She gritted her teeth when Toph kicked her, sucking in a pained breath. "I was just mad. It's nothing. You honestly don't have to feel bad about hurting my feelings--"
"Yeah, well you think before you start hurting his."
"Toph," she snapped. "Shut up."
"My father disowned me."
Whirling back to face Zuko, Katara stared in open-mouthed shock. "What? Why?!"
Uneasily, he shrugged. "I made my decision. If I was going to work there, there would be changes. He didn't like the idea."
Katara frowned. There seemed more to it than that.
"So. Here I am." Leaning forward on his toes, he shrugged and looked down, tousled hair falling into his eyes. "Standing humbly before you."
"Humble doesn't exactly fit in my opinion, Sparky. Sorry."
"Toph, could you seriously go? Like, I don't know – maybe work or something?"
Jumping up off the bench, Toph grinned in consent. "Fine. Fine. I'll give you lovebirds your privacy."
Flushing, Katara turned to retort, but the sliding doors had already let her friend through, and she let out a weary breath as they then closed and left Zuko and Katara alone. Turning back, she nervously tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
"Why'd you come back?" Looking at her feet, she frowned. "You have a girlfriend, Zuko. You have everything. I may not know what your father does, but I know you're rich, and I know you have a good life. So why give it all up?"
"I broke up with Mai."
"Why?" Lifting tear-filled eyes, she glowered at him in frustration. "Why would you give everything up on a whim?"
"A stupid, unnecessary whim. God, Zuko, why would you--?"
"You were right, you know," he interrupted her quietly. Startled, she sucked in a breath. "My father gave me this scar when I was twelve. For talking back to him. By daring suggest that he wasn't a god like he thought he was. I was twelve." Katara's eyes shined with tears. "You would really have me go back to that? Have me become someone like that?"
"Ever since I met you, I…" Faltering, he shrugged and looked away. "You're such a good person, Katara. Maybe you could help me be one, too."
Unable to help herself, she ran to him, launching herself into his chest and threading shaking arms around his back. Inhaling shuddering breaths, she pressed her face against his shirt and fisted bits of his shirt into her fingers. Toph had been right – he did smell of smoke and cinnamon.
"You're a good person."
"Katara…" Lifting his hand, he brushed a few strands of hair from her eyes.
"Yo! Sugar Queen! Pakku's throwing a hissy fit."
Rolling her eyes, Katara turned in Zuko's arms and glanced over her shoulder, catching Toph's grin before the girl disappeared. Then, turning back, she faltered before she muttered, "I have to--"
She blinked rapidly as her words were cut off by Zuko's mouth on hers. Hands flying swiftly to his shoulders, she inhaled sharply and let her lashes flutter to a close, leaning up on her toes as his hands pressed against the small of his back. Feverishly, his lips slipped over hers, and she tilted her head and wrapped her arms farther around his neck, khaki-clad legs brushing against the reassuring feel of denim. Poor Mai, to never feel the callused touch of his fingertips pressing against her back, to never taste the sweet sensation of his tongue running against her lips, to never feel his cool, tangled locks slipping between her hands…
"Katara! If you don't get your ass in here, I'm telling Sokka!"
With a startled gasp she stumbled back, nearly hitting the asphalt as Zuko blinked and fumbled to catch her. Breathlessly she turned around and glowered at Toph, who was now leaning against the wall, her arms folded over her chest. "That girl's a monster," she muttered breathlessly before glancing back to Zuko's confused expression. "Uh, Sokka's…my brother. He really…doesn't like me having a social life. At all."
Zuko grinned and gingerly released her. "Well, you do have work."
She scowled and ran her fingers through her hair. "I do…"
"So, we'll take this slow."
She smirked at him. "Slow…"
Tossing her a grin, he then jerked his head towards where Toph stood. "She might just go through with that threat if you don't hurry. I see a cell phone."
"Shit." Whirling around, she shouted, "I'm coming, Toph." Cheekily, the girl waved the phone in the air. "Damn him for giving her his number. What a stupid ass."
"I'll see you."
Looking over her shoulder, Katara blinked. "When?"
He shrugged. "You get off soon, right?" She smiled as he turned around and waved. "I'll be around, if you feel like a late dinner or something."
"Katara! I'm calling!"
"Bye, Zuko!" she shouted before whirling on her heel. "Toph, I swear, if you--"
"Hey, Snoozles. You'll never guess what Sugar Queen was doing instead of working."
"Toph!" she shrieked, reaching for the phone.
Snickering, the girl ducked away and through the double doors, with Katara close behind. Barreling past an outraged Pakku, both raced down the aisles and passed the men's section as Toph rapidly chattered away on the phone between bursts of laughter. Tossing the table a quick glance, Katara caught a glimpse of the familiar table, now overflowing with the new shipment of jeans that they'd gotten just that day, where this had all begun.
And she smiled.
-- - --
Ah, God, finally done. Please review.