Here's Day #6! I put 4 on 'Rules of Engagement' instead of 5, so please forgive me. That being said, my hands hurt. I've been typing all night, trying to go out with a bang. And I've decided that this last part will be a twoshot, with part one today, and part two tomorrow. Now that all that's out of the way, enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar
Prompt: Of Epic Proportions
" War Paint, this is Snoozeles, do you read me, over?"
" War Paint, do you read me, over?"
" War Paint, over!"
" Sokka, I'm standing next to you, I can hear you just fine."
" Suki, we've been over this. Call me Boomerang, and end every sentence with over!"
" And do you remember how that conversation ended?"
" …You bruised my shoulder?"
" Do you want one on your other shoulder to match?"
" Then I suggest you shut you."
" Okay, you're having way too much fun with this 'over' thing."
" C'mon, Suki, play along. For me?"
" You can keep doing that for as long as you like, but it won't work. I'm immune to penguin puppy eyes."
" Not working."
" Please with sugar snow on top?"
" Still no."
" Please with sugar snow and blue seal lion jerky and sweet cherry sauce and roasted acornery nuts on top?"
" …There is so much wrong with what you just said that I don't even know where to begin pointing it out."
" Please with-"
" Snoozeles, shut up! Can't you seem I'm plotting here?"
" Plotting what?"
" Our next move of course."
" Geez Sokka, get in the loop."
" Nobody tells me anything!"
" Well, if you showed up at the meetings, you wouldn't have that problem, now would you?"
" Suki, I'm not going to spend my time, hiding with you guys in a bush, or behind a tree or something, just so you can come up with crazy plans to set up my sister with Zuko, okay?"
" …You honestly think that's what we've been doing?"
" It's like you don't know us at all, Snoozy!"
" We would never hide behind a tree!"
" That's right! We meet in your and Suki's bedroom and talk strategy."
" You mean all those times I was looking for you guys you were sitting on my bed?!"
" On the floor. You really think I'm going to sit on that bed after the stories War Paint has told me?"
" After we plan we talk girl stuff. And the conversation drifted to how you and I are doing…and our relationship…and then…"
" Suddenly, I knew more than I've ever wanted to about that bed, and I will never be able to look you in the eyes again."
" …You don't even know where my eyes are."
" Not the point! Our objective is getting harder and harder to obtain, people! We need a plan! We need information! War Paint, what have you found out so far?"
" Since arriving in Omashu for King Bumi's birthday, Subject a has asked Roadblock C for a 'break', so she can 'figure some things out'. Subject B and Obstacle A have not been in any kind of contact since the get together eight weeks ago for reasons unknown."
" So we have no idea what's going on with Sparky and Cloak-and-Dagger?"
" None whatsoever."
" Can you coax Sunshine into getting it out of Cloaky?"
" She may already know. She's been spending an awful lot of time with M-Cloak-and-Dagger."
" How does Cloaky seem?"
" Upset, but relieved. We have absolutely no clue what happened between her and Subject B."
" Wait, this is about what happened between Zuko and Mai?"
" Use the labels, you don't want us found out!"
" Toph, we're in your room in your house with your door locked. Who's going to hear us, the maids?"
" Unlikely, I've had this place sound proof for years."
" Then why are you so worr-"
" Continue with your report, soldier!"
" Alright, Alright."
Sokka took a deep breath.
" Zuko told me that he and Mai broke up after the trip to Kyoshi Island.
" This is the part where I'm supposed to say that it's not you, it's me. But the truth is, it's not me, it's you."
Zuko wrapped his arms tighter around himself as he wandered down the crowded streets. The lanterns along the sides of the dirt road lit the area in a warm, friendly glow. From different directions, Zuko heard vendors calling out to the bustling crowd, advertising their wares and offering free samples in the hopes of enticing a wealthy patron to their stand.
Zuko trudged by, ignoring the voices and the sound of laughter echoing on al sides of him. A group of pretty girls in green bustled by his left; a member on the right (her hair done up over an elaborate jade piece and a slinky emerald dress with white flower designs exploding over it) sent him a flirty look over her delicate fan. She winked one shaded eye at him, but he kept walking, not hearing her disappointed sigh.
" It's just that, last time, you needed me to feel this way about you. You needed me to love you to help you forget all those things you'd done."
" I still need you!"
She looked at him with something that might have been pity, but was also admiration.
" No, Zuko, you don't."
" What did she mean?" He mumbled to himself as he walked, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his dark pants. Around him, the festival was in full swing, children darting back and forth between stalls, grasping at finely sewn animals stuffed with herbs to ward off sickness, tossing tiny rings at spikes of earth to win prices, and grasping a stick of the soft, white sugar clouds that seemed to be so popular.
Zuko turned down a less crowded street, heading away from the noise that was making his head hurt. Reaching up, he brushed his bangs away from his face and tried to think.
" You finally found it. You found that thing you'd been looking for. And it changed you."
" I haven't changed!"
He found it almost ironic, those words. He wanted to laugh almost as much as he wanted to curse the Spirits for yanking his chain around once again, for dangling happiness in front of his face like he could attain it, and then tugging it away as soon as his fingertips brushed.
(He'd told another girl, under a city, in a cavern of crystal and rock and water, that he had changed, that something in him had altered, that he wasn't that same person she'd known since the start of her journey. He'd wanted to prove to her that he was stronger, better, faster, but most of all he'd wanted to prove to her that he was making the right choice, that happiness was to be found in betraying the one person who loved him and the only person who'd ever offered him salvation. He'd wanted to prove that his destiny wasn't tied to hers, wasn't as intertwined as she'd made it out to be at the North Pole, amid ice and snow and the tilting of the scales.)
Zuko let a bitter laugh escape his lips as he let his head fall back and he stared up at the sky, cold smirk on his face. The stars twinkled high above him, clear and bright, and he thought of the moment he'd dared the storm to strike back at him, just so he could prove, if only to himself, that he was worthy of even drawing breath.
" You have changed Zuko. You're different now. You don't need me to love you anymore."
" Just when I think I have it all figured out…" He murmured to himself, contemplating the darkness of the night, and the glowing moon.
Of course, the moon.
(A girl lit by the dying sunlight. Skin as soft as silk against his body, tempting, warm, right. A denial. We can't. A question. Why not? And the heartbreaking answer. We're the only ones strong enough. He thought of her face, streaked with tears and her shoulders shaking, and wondered if he was a hero or a coward.)
He'd given it up, let go of any chance he could've had with her, and just when he was ready to bury the feelings deep inside of him where they'd never see the light of day again…
" Destiny is a funny thing." He whispered to himself, shaking his head at the stupidity of it all.
" How is it funny?"
The voice was soft, barely a whisper over the dull, distant roar of the crowds, but it snapped Zuko to attention, stiffening his whole body and rendering him immobile as she melted out of the shadows, eyes downcast and posture defeated.
" You're doing really well." The brunette jabbed a thumb at where Suki was carefully observing the crowds for a streak of blue or red, and Sokka was munching away on more roasted acornery nuts. " You seem to have a good hold on your brigade."
" Thanks." Toph grinned in the general direction of the girl.
" Even so, I'd like to offer you some advice."
" Even if I decline, you'll tell me anyway, right?"
" You got it!" The girl gave Toph a thumbs up, quite uncaring that the earthbender couldn't see it.
" I like your style." The younger girl nodded. " Offer away."
" You need to introduce penalties!" The girl closed her eyes and struck a pose, her index finger extended. " If you want to have complete control over your minions, you must give out penalties when they misbehave! If their lack of obedience costs you your mission, and you don't punish them, what kind of an example will you be setting for the rest of your troops?!" She put her hands on her hips. " The only way to prevent laziness and promote hard work is to come down hard on the first offence! It shows them that you're a no nonsense type, and they'll think twice before going against your orders again! Isn't that right?!" She snapped to another brunet, a boy in olive green who was standing next to Sokka.
" Oh, yeah, sure." He responded, nodding to the pointing girl. She seemed satisfied with his dull answer, and turned back to Toph, smiling maniacally.
" Take my advice, man." The boy leaned close and whispered in Sokka's ear. " Get out while you still can."
" I've already been drafted for life." Sokka replied in a deadpan voice, tossing more nuts into his mouth. " She got to me early on."
" I feel your pain." The other boy took a handful. " These are great."
" I know, right?" Sokka offered the bag to him. " Here, I can get more."
" Thanks." The boy took the bag and popped about two more of the nuts into his mouth before the girl he'd been with (the weird, hyper maniac) grabbed him by his collar and dragged him back to where she was standing with Toph.
" You have to see this! It's amazing!" She gushed. " Miss Toph has bracelet made out of a meteor!"
" How'd she managed that?" The boy asked, and Toph bent the present Sokka had given her.
" I just earthbended it, no big deal."
But the girl had flown forward, staring at the levitating hunk of space earth like it would reveal all the mysteries of the world to her.
" I've never seen anything like that!" She squealed, and tugged on her companion's arm. " Isn't that cool? Isn't it?!"
" Nothing surprises me anymore." The boy droned. " Not after I've hung out with you for so long."
" You ought to be grateful I even waste my time on you!" She snapped. " You're so boring and dull, I don't know why I even asked you to help me start the club!"
The boy said nothing, only looked at her, but she whipped around to glare at him, her amber eyes sparking.
" What would something like that have to do with our club?" She grabbed onto his arm and gave a sharp tug, dragging him away from the trio and down the road. " Now c'mon, I wanna see what this place has to offer before we have to go home."
" We don't even know how to get home!" The boy whined as he was dragged away.
" All the more reason to explore while we can." The girl turned back. " Thank you for answering my questions!" She called to Toph. " And remember, a penalty is very important in keeping your authority over your brigade members! Even if you have to go as far as a death penalty, it'll be worth it! Good luck with your mission!"
She turned to the boy she was dragging away.
" C'mon! As the only member of the Brigade here at the time, I, as your Chief, order you to accompany me as we explore the festival! I also order you to stay close to me!"
The boy gave her a look.
" Because if we get separated, one of us may go home while the other is stuck here, of course!" She shouted, irritated at his silence (or what appeared to be silence). " And what if some brute attacks me?! What then, huh?! Could you live with yourself if you let your Chief get assaulted because you were too busy stuffing your face to help me?!"
The boy merely rolled his eyes. But apparently, it was the wrong thing to do, because the girl's cheeks went red and her eyes narrowed.
" Don't flatter yourself, you're hardly my type! You may fit the bill for someone with as drab tastes and dull fantasies as Mikuru, but for someone with such an appetite for the exotic as myself, you would never do, not in a million years!"
The boy gave her a hard look, and from her position down the road, Toph smirked.
" Three…" The earthbender whispered.
" What's that supposed to mean, huh?!" The brunette shouted, but the boy just kept eyeing her.
The boy suddenly grabbed her by her shoulders, still looking into her eyes.
" What do you think you're doing?!" She shrieked. " Unhand me right now! Listen to your Chief! You're about two seconds away from the death penalty buddy!"
" One." Toph's grin spread to cover her entire face.
" With all due respect, Chief," The boy ground out, " shut up."
And he kissed her hard on the mouth.
Sokka blinked, eyeing the couple.
" I guess you were right Toph." He nodded to the smaller girl. " They are going out."
" Cute couple." Toph shrugged her shoulders. " The girl's got some great ideas, I hope that guy knows to hang on to her."
Watching as the girl dragged the boy into a nearby alleyway, Sokka could only guess at who had their claws in whom.
" Toph, Subjects A and B! Dead Ahead!" Suki called down from the roof she'd scaled sometime during their interaction with the odd couple.
" Are you sure?" Toph called back.
" Dead sure, I'd know that dress anywhere. And Zuko tends to stick out in a crowd, when he's not concentrating."
" How're things looking?"
" They're not talking…"
" That's bad."
" But they're not moving away from each other either."
" So we still have a chance to save this thing."
" Look's like it." Suki narrowed her eyes and she shielded her eyes as she stared out at the twosome. " Oh damn!"
" What?!" Toph darted to the edge of the building. " What is it, War Paint?"
" Roadblock C! Heading straight for them!"
" What do we do now, Toph?" Sokka asked. The blind girl began pacing, muttering darkly under her breath.
" Oh no, no, no, no, no, no! Twinkle Toes is not going to screw this up!" She turned to Sokka, her shoulders sagging. " We have no choice."
" You don't mean-"
" Yes, yes I do." Toph barely glanced over as Suki slid down a drainpipe to the ground. " I didn't want it to come to this. You both know that. But Twinkles leaves us no choice. Sokka," She paused dramatically,
" Get the cactus juice."
" Why me?!"
" Because you're legal and can buy it without an awkward questions." The girl growled.
" I can't believe you're asking me to get the Avatar drunk!"
" I'm not asking you to do that. I'm ordering you to buy us some cactus juice. I'll pour the stuff down his throat myself if I have to. But, so help me Spirits, he will not screw this up for us! Not after all the hours spent plotting!"
Toph punched her fist in the air.
" Avatar or not, he should never have crossed Toph Bei Fong!"
Suki's fist joined hers.
" Operation: Epic Zutara is a go!"
" Zutara?" Sokka asked with a raised eyebrow.
" Yeah." His girlfriend grinned sheepishly. " You know, Zuko. Katara. Zutara?"
" It doesn't have to make sense as long as it works!" Toph snarled. " Now go get that cactus juice, or it's the death penalty for you!"
Sokka scurried off, either spurred by Toph's threat, or Suki's pleading eyes.
" War Paint, keep an eye on Twinkles, and if he gets any closer to the subjects, detain him at all costs!"
" And you, Commander?"
" Twinkles can't interrupt them if he can't find them."
" So, I heard about you and Mai."
" Yeah, she…she's been avoiding me, and when I asked Ty Lee why…she told me."
" So, I guess you'll want to rub it in my face then."
" I picked the wrong girl. I chose her over you, and she dump me, and now you can rub it in my face-"
" I came here to offer you my sympathies! I know what it feels like to get my heart broken, and before you ask, no, it had nothing to do with you!"
Katara threw him a glare.
" Regardless of what's happened between us, I am still your friend, and I still care about you, so you can get off your high ostrich horse, and either accept my apologizes, or you can spit on them! Because I don't care!"
" You've finally stopped trying to gain everyone's approval and started being fine with who you are."
She panted, her cheeks flushed, and despite everything, despite the fact that his heart had been ripped out and his mind blown, despite that he was wallowing in a puddle of his own misery, despite the entire world around him, all Zuko could think about was how beautiful she looked went she was angry, and how much he wanted to kiss her.
" You don't mean that." He whispered before he could stop himself.
" What?" She hissed, and it was the same voice she'd used when she'd threatened him in the Western Air Temple so many months ago.
" You do care." He murmured, well aware that he was pushing his limit with her. " You'll always care."
" Don't go putting words in my mouth, Zuko, you don't-"
He grabbed her wrists and pulled her close.
" You've finally learned to love yourself Zuko."
" I don't what?" He asked, and his voice was just as dangerous as hers. " I don't know you?" He tightened his grip. " I know you, Katara."
" Let go." She whispered, but there was no real fight in her voice.
" No." He said huskily, and all he could think of was how perfectly her body molded against his as he drew her closer.
" Let me go, Zuko." There was a demand in her voice, but he couldn't bring himself to yield to it.
" You're hurting my wrists." She tried a different tactic.
" You should be used to getting hurt around me by now." He was starting to shake, and for the life of him, he couldn't stop.
" I don't think I'm the only one hurting." She whispered, and it undid him.
" And in doing so, you stopped needing me to love you."
He gathered her up in his arms, pressing her close and staring into her eyes. Her heart thudded against his chest where he mashed their torsos together, and the feeling of her curves pressing against him made the blood in his veins come to a swift boil. She was very still in his arms, looking up at him with pleading eyes (what she was pleading for, he didn't know; to let her go? To hold onto her?)
" I've spent our entire relationship just letting you go." He leaned down. " I'm not about to continue that tradition, not when I finally have you alone."
" You've had me alone tons of times." She said, but she leaned against him as his arms tightened.
" Not like this." He whispered, and her lips parted slightly. " Not when…not when we both…we can…"
" You can love yourself now, Zuko, you don't need me to do it for you. And you're free to love someone you don't need to love you."
He let go of all the inhibitions that had held him back up until that point, and with the rush of freedom, he tilted his head forward, a heady haze settling in on his senses. He breathed in the scent of her hair deeply, and became aware of her surging upward to meet him. As the fact registered in his fogged up brain, he fought to keep a dry, happy sob from escaping him as his one hand twisted in the hair flowing freely down her back.
" You're free to love someone knows both the prince and the traitor, not just the prince."
His bottom lip just barely skimmed hers, a rough butterfly wing over the plump mound of flesh that jutted out from her face in offering.
" Katara?" Aang's voice broke through the haze.
The couple tried to spring apart, but abruptly, the ground opened up beneath them they were sucked down into a long, dark tunnel, sliding away from the Avatar, and the light as a roof slammed over their long, slippery ride into the earth.
Aang stood, horrified and stunned, staring at the hole where his friend and (still?) girlfriend had vanished into. He was so intent on the spot that he missed Suki walking up.
" Oh there you are Aang, we've been looking all over for you!" The warrior looped her arm through his stiff one. " C'mon, Toph's got something she wants to show you!"
Still too numb from the shock to object, Aang allowed himself to be dragged away, mouth agape and eyes wide.
As Suki led him to the designated meeting point, she couldn't help but wonder if his dropped jaw would help the Cleaning Brigade with their plan.
" I'm letting you go because when you learned to love yourself, you stopped loving me."
Where is the tunnel taking them? What will they do once they get there? Will Toph force cactus juice down Aang's throat?
I'm not telling!
So you'll just have to wait for tomorrow.
BTW, did you catch the little crossover?