Day #3! I hope you like it (it has a scheming Toph, so you had better, or she will be very upset. Please don't make Toph angry. You wouldn't like her when she's angry. ...Sorry, I couldn't resist)
Disclaimer: Is what is happening in these stories happening in Avatar? No, I didn't think so. Therefore, I don't own it.
Prompt: Tonight We Dine in Hell
It started out innocently enough.
A gathering at Kyoshi Island. All their friends, dumped together into one convenient hunk of land that was surrounded on all sides by the sea and guarded by a scaly monstrosity that no one (not even the Avatar) was willing to get on the bad side of. The group would be (more or less stranded) staying with the Kyoshi warriors, who had humbly offered their dwellings up to the visitors. (Zuko was suspicious, and Katara wasn't saying anything, but several of the party were beginning to wonder if this shindig was leading up to something important involving a member of their companions. But the only two who may have been privy to such information where keeping their mouths sealed shut, dodging any and all questions with the skills gained from living as outlaws for several long months.)
Regardless of what was going to happen, the fact remained that Zuko and Mai had been picked up from the Fire Palace on Appa with Toph and Katara seated comfortably in the saddle and Aang twitching to get going at the reigns. When he was asked about, Toph muttered off-handedly that Sokka was already at Kyoshi Island, helping set up.
" He just wanted some extra time with his girlfriend." Toph rolled her eyes. "As if he didn't get enough of that when we were on the road."
" But, we were at the Western Air Temple for a lot of that time." Aang shouted back from Appa's head, confused.
" Don't remind me!" Toph wrinkled her nose. " My feet will never be clean again, no matter how many times I washed them!"
" I'm going to pretend really hard that you didn't say that." Katara's face had turned an interesting shade of green.
" Oh, c'mon, can't you be happy for him?" Zuko asked teasingly. " Finding woman of his dreams again in that prison, seeing her face after all that time? Knowing she was alive? He was entitled to a few kisses…and some tongue…and maybe a romp or two in the All Day Echo Cham-"
" Azula making out with Jet!" Katara shouted. Zuko's grin vanished and he blinked slowly, before his entire face went pale and he clamped his heads into his hair.
" The images! Dear Agni, the images!" He howled. " Oh, sweet Agni that's wrong!"
" Point for me." Katara filed her nails on her shirt. " What's the score, Toph?"
" Katara, 96. Zuko, 97." Came the response.
" Hah! Still ahead of you!"
" Not for long, Sparky!"
" I told you, only Toph gets to call me that!"
" What, you want me to call you Fire Lord Zuko now?"
" Since when have you ever listened to what I want?"
" My point exactly, Sparky."
" Point to Katara."
" Thank you Toph."
" Would you rather be called Hotman?"
" Eyes on the skies, Twinkle Toes."
" Quit stealing my nicknames!"
" Toph, don't hit Katara. Violence is never the answer."
" This from Mister ' You-Have-To-Kill-The-Fire-Lord'?"
" Okay, violence is rarely the answer."
" But it's more fun this way!"
" …I can't argue with that."
" Zuko, you traitor!"
" Ow, ow! Hey, cut that out! Ow! Katara, this isn't funny-I mean it, stop! Ow! Not the hair, not the hair!"
" What's going on?"
" Sugar Queen is beating on Sparky."
" What, again?"
" Just keep driving, Twinkles. I'll break 'em up if they get too rowdy."
" What part of 'butt out' don't you get?"
" Okay, okay. I'll focus on the road."
" We're in the sky."
" Clouds then."
" Oh, Agni, my head!"
Mai's pain filled voice cut through the din. She was gripping onto the side of the massive saddle, staring out at the clouds as they whizzed by and looking paler than usual.
" Mai, what's wrong?" Zuko asked, pulling away from his fight with Katara and crawling over to his shaking girlfriend. Katara followed quickly after him, hand on her water skin just in case healing would be necessary.
" You never said we'd be this high up." Mai said, but her voice came out small and pathetic and horribly frightened. " You never said this bison went so high."
" Mai?" Zuko asked, mystified.
" Mai, are you…" Katara murmured. " …Are you…scared of heights?"
" It's just…I don't have any steady footing…and from this high up, the wind will…knock my knives off course…and if I fall…"
Mai shuddered as the last thought occurred to her, and pressed herself deeper into the saddle. Remembering another little girl who'd shakily admitted the lack of her power while soaring through the air, and who'd pressed herself against that exact same spot on the saddle, Katara leaned forward, kind smile on her face. She coiled her arm over Mai's shoulders and pulled her away from the edge.
" Hey, you should know us better by now." She said soothingly. " We'd never let you fall."
Mai relaxed slightly.
" Azula would've." She pointed out, but there was less fear in her tone and more of joke in her voice than before. Katara smiled.
" But that's the difference between us and Azula." She gave the pale girl's shoulders a squeeze and leaned her back into Zuko's arms. Toph reached over and awkwardly patted Mai's clothed knee.
" We treat our friends right, Cloak-and-Dagger."
" You let Ty Lee cook?!"
Finally out of the air and off the bison and back on solid ground, Mai had regained herself, walking calm and poised as any lady of the court would have up to the central square where they'd been greeted by the inhabitants of the island. A groups of girls (older than the last time they'd visited) had come squealing up and dragged Aang off to show them all he'd learned on his travels. She'd been blanked faced and neutral as Sokka had come darting up, Suki (in full white face and blood red eye shadow) dragged along behind him. She'd endured the pleasantries and shaken hands with the captain and had almost started to enjoy herself in the rustic, but warm environment, when Suki had mentioned in passing that, in honour of their visit, Ty Lee had insisted on cooking that night.
Mai had gone white as a sheet (even whiter than she'd been kilometers up in the air) and had asked Suki incredulous to confirm what she'd just said.
" Yeah, she said she wanted to cook for you guys." Suki said slowly. " Is there a problem?"
Mai opened her mouth to answer (Zuko looked too horrified to even respond. Katara and Toph were poking him worriedly. Sokka was looking in between his girlfriend and Zuko's, blues eyes confused) when a large explosion off in the distance cut her off. All eyes turned to the smoke that was rising up over the crest of a nearby hill, only a few meters away from where the warriors' dojo stood, pristine and sturdy in the dying sunlight.
" Depends on how you define 'problem'." Mai muttered as she watched the smoke rise. " Ty Lee isn't what you'd call…culinary."
" She blew up the palace kitchen trying to make a fruit pie!" Zuko shouted. " She was eight! We had to have half the kitchen rebuilt!"
" She's that bad?" Katara ventured.
" If there was a way to burn water, she'd find it." Mai was still staring at the smoke. " We'd better go help her get out from under whatever rubble she's created."
And so it came to pass that they hauled a dazed, dusty, but grinning Ty Lee out from under the smoking heap of wood and plaster that was all that remained of the Kyoshi Mess Hall. Zuko promised he would send workers to build a new one, but Toph was already ahead of him, talking to Suki (and Sokka, who was attached to her hip) about how much sturdier rock buildings were and how it would be easy for her to rig one up, just as soon as they cleared this wreck away. There were still small fires that Zuko was managing to keep from spreading popping up everywhere, and as Mai was insistent that she go with Ty Lee to the infirmary (and Toph was discussing building designs with Sokka with Suki hovering by them to offer her input and Aang's fan club had detained him somewhere), the knife thrower turned to Zuko and Katara, the later of whom was staring at the burning remains with apprehension and awe.
" Can you guys put out the fires, and then let them," she jabbed her thumb over to the 'building crew' (where Toph had tripped Sokka and was standing on his back so she could see the outline Suki had scratched into the dirt), " when you're done so Miss Bei Fong," Mai still wasn't comfortable with addressing them all so casually (the only reason she was used to Katara was because Zuko pushed the two of them to be around each other as much as possible), " can clear away what's left?"
" Sure." Katara shrugged. " We might as well try for a chance at a dinner in a place that doesn't look like it crawled up out of the slimiest depths of the Underworld and died."
" Lovely." Zuko wrinkled his nose at the image her words invoked, and tossed off his outer shirt. He rolled his sleeves up, and didn't even seem to notice as Mai left. " Let's get to work."
" Whatever you say, Sparky."
" I thought we already had this discussion."
" We did." She pulled the water out of her skin. " And do you remember how it ended?"
" You never give into what I want?" He pulled a fire right off the ground, and snuffed it out with a clench of his hand.
" Exactly." She spun in a circle and doused a section of the burning wood. " Face it, Sparky, you can argue from sundown to sun up, and I'll never give into you."
" Don't I know it." Zuko muttered, grimacing.
" What was that?" She asked curiously, spreading the water out like a sheet to douse the flames he was working hard to hold off the ground.
" I said I know that." He answered, his voice strained from the effort. " You never give into me, not when we were fighting, not when I was trying to apologize, not when…" He trailed off.
" Not when what?" Katara asked, twisting the water into a ball as the fires in the air died.
" Nothing, nevermind." Zuko shook his head. " Looks like this part's done, there's more stuff over there." He pointed to a pile of wreckage over a fallen beam. " Watch out, the footings not all that stable."
Katara reached up and grabbed his wrist.
" What was that last thing you were going to say?" She asked, and her eyes were serious.
" I forget what it was." Zuko said as he tried to keep climbing.
" You're lying." She accused, tightening her grip.
" What are you, Toph?" He joked, but jerked his hand slightly so that he was forced to let go. " Hurry up." He jumped over the ridged. " You wouldn't want me to put out more fires than you."
" It isn't a competition." She started up.
" You're right, it isn't." She could almost see his smug grin. " After all, this is my natural element. I'd win hands down."
" Oh, you wish." She climbed up the beam. " Water puts fires out, in case you've forgotten."
" You never managed to put me out."
" How do you know I wasn't pulling my punches?"
" The way you moved at the North Pole?" Zuko grinned at her. " No way. That was your all."
" And how would you know?" She glared at him, but it was playful.
" Because I know you so well." He teased.
Katara rolled her eyes at his cheesiness, and put her foot down on a block of plaster lodged under the beam to make her way down. Abruptly, the plaster skidded out from under her foot, and she went careening down, arms flailing and a short yelp escaping her lips. Warm arms encircled her and she was pulled flush against a strong chest, and heat filtered through her clothes.
She looked up into golden eyes, and suddenly she was back in the dimly lit hallway, and realizing why looking into his eyes like that would spell disaster.
" Didn't I tell you to watch your step?" He was whispering, and she was trembling.
" You said watch out for wet floors." Her mouth was dry and her tongue felt heavy. Why couldn't she breathe? " There aren't any wet floors here."
" But I'll still catch you."
Her heart stopped.
" I still want to be the one who does that."
His grip was too tight, she could feel his arm burning a hole in her dressed, the material turning to ash under the heat of his skin, and she'd be left to explain how it had happened, how Zuko had gotten so close, why his arm was so warm and so strong and so right around her, why he was there close enough for long enough to burn it away (burn what away? Her clothes? Was that what she was thinking of? She didn't know anymore. She didn't know anything anymore).
All she knew was that Zuko was warm and his eyes were telling her something again, and against everything, she wanted to accept it, to reach out for it and embrace it, forget the consequences, forget the obstacles, forget everything except the look in his eyes as he held her…
" Let's get to work, clumsy." And he let her go and started off towards the fires. " I already have a head start."
" That's cheating!" Her hearting was beating faster than she would keep track of, and she couldn't write the red of her cheeks off on the warmth of the fire around her. But if he was going to act like everything was normal, than so was she.
She spun the water out, and didn't see the guilty look on Zuko's face as he stared at her, twisting and turning, her element shimmering around her form. She didn't see the regret and heartbreak in his face as he forced himself to look away from her dance, staring up at the infirmary through the line of the trees. And, under the whisper of her water splashing against wood, she didn't hear his desperate murmur.
" I can't…" He didn't sound like he was convincing anybody.
From their position off to the side, Suki and Sokka exchanged glances over Toph's head.
" What was that?" Suki asked.
" That was a mess." Toph's rough voice answered. Both teenagers turned to look at the little earthbender as she spun around to face them. The devious smile on her face made them both shudder right down to their toes.
" A mess you're going to help me clean up!"
Many people asked for Toph to fix the 'mess' in 'Right Circumstances' and here you have it folks! The beginning of the Clean Up Brigade!
Stay tuned for more Scheming!Toph, Bumbling!Sokka, Totally On Board!Suki, Confused/Frightened/Crushing!Katara and, my persoanl favourite Love-sick yet Loyal!Zuko.
And for tomorrow, pick the food Ty Lee was trying to make when she nearly blew herself sky high. Just leave a review with the name of the food, and most interesting one will be mentioned in tomorrow's drabble when we return to Kyoshi for some baking lessons.