Avatar - Transference P1
Title: Transference - Part One
Series: Avatar: The Last Airbender (AU)
Rating: PG
Word Count: 4,004
Notes: And here begins the cliche. Because there's just not enough modern highschool setting fics out there. Honestly. this whole thing started months and months ago because we wanted something to keep us entertained at work, where we can't really get away with writing smut. It started on a whim and is currently over 180,000 words long. We shared it with a couple of close friends that read our fic and got excellent response, mostly "WHY AREN'T YOU POSTING THIS?" So here it is.

Zuko tugged the worn red hoodie lower, a gesture of habit as he strode purposefully into the arcade, set his steps toward the well-used shooter in the back. The game was outdated and its console dinged and scraped all to hell, but few of the arcade's patrons even spared a glance in its
direction and Zuko liked it that way.

His fistful of quarters was warm as Zuko's hand left his pocket with two, slipping them into the old machine with something almost like reverence, then taking up the offensively orange gun with a quirk of his mouth.

Within moments Zuko was lost in the game, the flash of explosions and staticky screams sucking him into pixilated scenery where monsters went down in a spray of bullets, and all it took to rid the world of shambling evil was quick fingers and a little pocket change.

"Aaaawwww-COME ON!" A thump on glass came with the anguished shout that seemed to have no sense of space or volume. "This thing is rigged!"

Aang was pressing his face to the glass on the opposite side of the crane machine as a stuffed elephant tumbled from the feeble claws. Sokka was already fumbling for more money to feed to the hungry machine. "If it's rigged, then why are you doing it again?" Aang wondered.

"Because no machine defeats me!" Sokka snapped back, manning the joystick again. Thirty seconds later, he was again moaning in anguish, letting his forehead fall against the glass. He stared through to the other side and then blinked a few times, looking past Aang who tilted his head quizically. "Hey -- isn't that the transfer kid at school? The one with the scarred face?"

Aang followed Sokka's gaze, poking his head around the side of the offending crane game to get a better look at the slightly hunched figure at the zombie rail shooter. He couldn't quite get a glance at his face, and so could only offer his taller friend a shrug. "Dunno, but wow! Whoever he is, he's really good at shooting. Look, he's not missing any of them!"

"I bet he's a thug," Sokka grinned, elbowing Aang in the arm. "Lookit the hoodie, think he's in a gang? I heard he got expelled from some fancy reform school."

"Hakan Academy?" Aang clarified. "The HUUUUUGE rich kid school? Wow..." He skirted around the crane machine, doing his best to look casual as he leaned against the glass and stole another glance. From the edge of the kid's hood, he could just make out the twisting pink of scar tissue.

His nerve suddenly failing him, Aang darted back to Sokka's side excitedly. "It's him! It's totally him!" Then, "He definitely looks like a thug." This observation didn't seem to bother the younger boy in the least, however.

"He must be kind of a lame thug if he's here playing video games instead of shooting real people," Sokka observed thoughtfully.

"Hmmm," Aang agreed, his lips pursed thoughtfully. Then he shot a grin at his older cohort. "Dare you to play against him."

"What!" Sokka laughed, eyeing the new kid across the arcade. And the way that he was murdering everything that appeared on the screen. "It wouldn't really be fair. I don't want to make him feel bad."

"For kicking your butt?" Aang asked and laughed as Sokka shoved him. "Daaaaare yoooooou..."

"Shut up," Sokka muttered and stared circling the arcade with Aang in tow to get a better look at the guy before approaching. He didn't look that tough -- the scar was a little bit scary but... "Fine," he said and Aang trailed him, grinning as Sokka strode up to the machine where the transfer student was playing.
"Yo," Sokka said, lifting a hand and leaning against the side of the screen.

Zuko said nothing, blasted another three targets with a flick of his wrist, and only when the loading screen for the next level appeared did he register that the one who'd spoken was still standing there. Too close.

"What do you want?" he snapped, not bothering to take his eyes from the screen.

Aang gave his taller friend a little shove. "Go on," he whispered, none too quietly. "Kick his butt like you said!"

"Shut up!" Sokka hissed back at Aang, batting him away. He turned back to the scarred boy -- man was it an impressive scar -- with what he hoped was a friendly looking grin. "Mind if I join you?" he asked with a nod to the second player weapon still in the holster.

"Yes," was the immediate reply, though before Sokka had even the chance to respond, he found narrowed brown eyes on him, a glance that flickered between the screen and his face. After a moment, the boy's answer was amended with an irritated, "Whatever," and maybe just the hint of a smirk.

Something about the guy's gaze made Sokka's stomach twist a little but he put on a good game face, nice and cocky and circled the machine to the second player position. "Prepare to be amazed," he said as he dropped a few coins in the machine. A shot at the screen entered him into the game but as he readied his gun, he realized something was wrong. "Wait -- it's a TEAM game? Not versus?"

Zuko wasn't about to admit that he'd not realized this either --he'd never been challenged nor joined in a game before now-- and quickly schooled his expression into bland disinterest as he sniped two targets meant for the second player out from under Sokka's nose. "Heads up," he sneered.

"O-oh!" Sokka stumbled over the sound but was quick to compose himself, lifting his weapon to take down a couple of zombies that lurched around a corner.

Aang had placed himself behind the two boys, watching between their shoulders. "This is even better!" the younger boy said excitedly, tossing an arm around Sokka's neck to pull himself up so that he could see the screen better.

"Aang!" Sokka choked in protest as he was pulled by the boy's weight, sending his shots into a swarm of enemies that had suddenly appeared and were converging on the first player position.

"Control your monkey," Zuko scowled, half distracted as his aim darted back and forth, struggling with the sheer number of monsters the game had spawned to challenge what its programming perceived as a two player team.

"Hey!" Aang protested, dropping his hold on Sokka to turn toward the hooded boy. "I'm not a monkey! My name's Aang!"

Zuko didn't seem to have heard him. "There!" he snapped, "My left, my left!"

"I'm shooting, I'm shooting!" Sokka snapped back -- this guy was pushy! Between the two of them though, they decimated the onslaught of zombies surprisingly quickly and the camera was ushering them into the next area which opened up into a wide field where the creatures were climbing up out of the ground. "Oh shit!" Sokka exclaimed as one of them burst from the dirt directly in front of him. He instantly shot its brains out, then laughed darkly, grinning as his hand tightened on his gun.

Even Zuko found a quiet chuckle in the back of his throat, not quite loud enough for the strange, loud boy next to him to hear, but enough to make Zuko himself instantly uncomfortable. To cover for this uncharacteristic reaction, the dark-haired boy decimated half a dozen zombies in half as
many seconds.

By the time they'd passed the level, his arms were aching from the strain, unused to the jump in difficulty that the game threw out in the 2-player game. Though he was good and his aim was impeccable, it became quickly apparent that the skill of their team was not up to the challenge and soon the screen was flashing, bloody red seeping from all sides, a warning that death was imminent.

"You bastards!" Sokka was angrily chastising the screen.

He was shooting off rounds almost faster than he could reload but the panic of impending 'game over' didn't exactly help his aim. They managed to hold out for about thirty more seconds before the game proclaimed deeply, "You have died."

"THAT WAS AWESOME!" Aang crowed.

Zuko scowled faintly at the 'Continue?' screen begging more of his quarters before deciding against it and stowing his gun with rather more force than was necessary. He ignored the smaller one's outburst and spared only a brief, withering stare for the dark-skinned boy still holding his fluorescent weapon. "It's called skill. Next time make sure you've got some before you challenge me," he sneered, letting them see his scarred eye before pulling his hood down over his face again and turning to exit the arcade without a backward glance.

"Hey!" Sokka shouted after him. "I didn't challenge you, I JOINED you, jerk! It's called manners, next time you show your stupid face in public, make sure you have some! Also, your hoodie's ugly!"

With a thoughtful expression, Aang watched the transfer student stalk out of the arcade, seemingly oblivious to the hurled insults. After a moment, he turned to Sokka with a wide grin. "He seemed nice!"

There was a car waiting for Zuko outside, unsurprisingly, but he pretended not to notice, instead choosing to walk a block or two before hailing a cab to take him the rest of the way home.

He didn't bother sparing a glance as the black car pulled up moments after the cab dropped him off.

Though he tried to enter quietly, it was difficult to escape some manner of attention in their home. And as he walked past the front sitting room, a voice called, "Welcome home, big brother. Did you have a lovely day at public school?"

"Shove it, Azula," Zuko growled, hefting his bag higher on his shoulder and kicking out of his shoes, but never once glancing in his sister's direction, even when he paused in the doorway between sitting room and hallway. "Is Father in his office?"

"I suppose so," Azula replied, sighing as she brushed invisible lint from her impeccable school uniform. "Are you really going to bother him?"

"Do you really care if I do?"

His sister's silence was more than enough to answer his question. As long as her brother continued to behave like a fool and a hooligan, it only made her sparkle that much brighter in their father's eye. Her ambition counted on her older brother digging himself as deep into the hole of his own making as he could.

But Zuko was determined too. He wasn't ready to roll over and play dead. Not for his sister, not for anyone.

Stopping briefly at his own room, he shrugged out of his street clothes and into slacks and a polo, clothes his father had chosen for him. He struggled with whether to leave his hair loose and cover the scar as much as possible or to slick his hair back like he'd worn it at the Academy. With a steadying breath he chose the later, determined to be unashamed when he faced his father.

Finally ready, he took the stairs and found the door to his father's office. He took a breath and knocked twice.

"Enter," came his father's deep voice from within. The man barely glanced up from the laptop on the desk before him, disinterest on his severe face as he turned his eyes back to the screen. "Yes, boy?"

"Father," Zuko murmured, stepping into the room and closing the door quietly behind him, bowing his head deeply. "May I... speak with you?"

Ozai glanced up again, this time appraising for a moment. Then he looked back to his computer. "Of course. You know my door is always open, Zuko. Sit." As the young man sank into the chair in front of his desk, Ozai silently continued working and in spite of the luke-warm words, Zuko knew
better than to expect anything else.

It took a moment for Zuko to gather the strength to speak, but when he did, his voice was surprisingly steady. "It's been almost two months since I was transferred to Rockwave... my grades have held steady and... and I've been in no trouble. I was only hoping you might tell me when..." he trailed off, eyes searching his father's face hopefully.

The older man showed no reaction whatsoever though, not even looking up from his work. "That's two months after nearly two years and two schools," he remarked, clearly unimpressed. "Two months with marks that are steady but hardly impressive."

Zuko felt his throat contract, his chest tighten. Nothing his father said was untrue and yet, "I--! I was confused, Father. Now I'm-- things are much better... and-- a-ask my teachers! Please!" He leaned forward then, hands on the edge of the great oak desk. "Please let me come back to Hakan!"

Ozai's gaze moved slowly to Zuko's hands and then his face. "This isn't a matter up for discussion. Show some consistency, patience and self-control and I might consider allowing you back to the academy. If this conversation is any indication though, it doesn't seem particularly

Zuko quivered with restrained emotion, knuckles turning white as he clutched his father's desk like a lifeline. He was testing him. It was just a test. If he let his emotions rule him, his father would never accept him back. The breath he took to steady himself was difficult to draw, but finally he let his fingers slip from polished wood and he stood, albeit a bit stiffly. "I... won't let you down, Father," he murmured, head bowed in something between shame and politeness.

"Mm," was Ozai's only response, having already returned to his work. Clearly the conversation was over.

With nothing left to say, Zuko slipped quietly from the room, idly wondering if his father had even noticed the clothes he'd worn. He tried to remember if the man had even met his eyes once.

Zuko found his uncle in the kitchen. He hadn't even known the older man was visiting, but when he saw the hunched back and the curl of steam rising from what could only be a cup of hot tea, Zuko felt something like relief settle into his belly and he crossed the floor to pull up a stool and join the other at the kitchen's large center island.

A warm smile was always waiting from his Uncle Iroh and today was no exception, the aging man quick to pour a cup of tea for Zuko. "Hello, Nephew! You are looking quite sharp today, aren't you?"

Zuko frowned deeply, barely able to quell the surge of appreciation for something as simple as complimenting his attire. Still he managed to take the tea cup with a gentleness taught him by Iroh, and held it up to breathe the calming scent for a long moment. "I talked to Father," he explained, the tone of his voice already expressing to Iroh the outcome of the conversation.

"I see..." Iroh murmured, his always quietly observant eyes watching Zuko's face carefully. He paused to sip his tea, knowing from previous conversations what the topic of discussion had been. "My brother is a very stubborn man," he mused with a faint sigh.

Zuko echoed his uncle's sigh and sipped faintly at his own tea, not really tasting it, but knowing the warmth would be welcome. "I don't understand, Uncle! I'm doing everything I can! I don't fight, I don't talk back, my grades have improved and are already better than most of my classmates... he still won't forgive me..."

A wide hand covered Zuko's with a soft pat, sympathy apparent in his uncle's eyes. "I believe, nephew, that my brother's actions are much more about himself than your actions or success." He hesitated, then sipped his tea again. "Zuko... What is it exactly that you miss about your old academy?"

Zuko searched his Uncle's face, questioningly. "Well it's... it's like home. I've been going there my whole life, everything I know is there. My mother taught there... Father's the dean! He-- he-- I made him proud when I was there. I could -be- someone there... I -was- somebody there." And
now, he added, quietly, bitterly, it's just Azula. And she was all their father had eyes for anymore.

"Hmmm," Iroh rumbled thoughtfully, closing his eyes briefly. "Familiarity is not always the most important thing Zuko, nor does it always bring happiness. I am very proud of you for all you have done and I'm sure secretly, that your father is as well." He was speaking quietly now, hushed as they were in Ozai's own kitchen. "But perhaps it is time that you made your achievements your own instead of your father's."

A deep frown darkened Zuko's face, and he had to set the tea cup aside as his fingers shook with emotion. "You don't understand, Uncle. I can't go against my father. Not again. I can't-- lose any more than I already have." He stood then, hesitated, bowed his head briefly. "Th-thank you for the talk, Uncle."

Iroh sighed quietly but nodded to the young man. "I always like talking to you, Zuko." He reached to give his shoulder a squeeze, offering him an encouraging smile. "And you know you are always welcome to visit me!"

A polite nod and an aching chest were Zuko's replies, before he turned and quietly took his leave.

With the four friends scattered across grades, they only were able to see each other before and after school, except for Aang and Toph who were both freshmen. The older half of the quartet had been concerned about their younger friends entering high school but had quickly realized that there was little to worry about -- both Aang and Toph were tough as nails.

"Sokka!" Aang exclaimed as they flopped into the grass in front of the school -- it was a sunny day, perfect for laying back and watching the fluffy clouds. "Did you tell them about the other day?"

"Huh?" Sokka asked with a yawn and a stretch.

"The guy!" Aang insisted and loomed over Sokka with a sour face, imitating the boy who they'd run into at the arcade. "Sokka played video games with that angry transfer student!"

"What?" Katara interrupted, frowning vaguely before Sokka could respond. "The guy with the--?" she waved vaguely at her own face, flushing a little in embarrassment.

"Yeah!" Aang chirped. "That guy! He's great at Super Zombie Wars! He and Sokka were tearing it up!"

"With the what?" Toph asked curiously, lying on her stomach with feet kicking over her back.

"He's got a -- well, a scar on his face. A big one," Sokka explained.

"Hardcore. Oh -- you mean the thug."

"I don't think he's a thug," Aang offered thoughtfully. "He seems like a normal enough guy. He didn't even try to beat up Sokka for making him lose at Zombie Wars..."

"Yeah--HEY, I DIDN'T MAKE HIM LOSE!" Sokka snapped angrily.

"He could have tried to beat you up though, Sokka!" Katara interjected, chiding. "I heard he's been kicked out of three schools. Even Jet won't fight with him."

"Jet's a pussy," Toph scoffed with a snicker. "Mr. Fang caught him smoking and he got detention for a week! I would have kicked the teach in the knee and told him to mind his own business if he didn't want people to find out about his mud-wrestling porno mags."

Katara cast the younger girl an absolutely scandalized look, a gesture which all present knew to be useless to the blind girl. Still, somehow, Toph correctly read the other girl's stunned silence. "Oh, come on. Lighten up! Just cuz you have a crush on the pothead Chia Pet..."

"You like Jet?" Aang piped up, just a little disappointed. Being a freshman made getting a girl's attention difficult.

"No!" Katara snapped too quickly, giving the grinning Toph a pouting look but unable to hide her blush. "Anyway -- we were TALKING about Sokka being stupid!"

Sokka groaned, letting his head flop back against the grass. Using him to keep the attention off of herself was a dirty move. "Seriously, not a big deal," he said, knowing exactly that Katara was getting at. "The guy's a jerk but he's not even that TOUGH."

"Sokka, I heard he got expelled from his last school for breaking some other kid's arm," Katara announced, seriously.

"Maybe Sokka caught him in a -good- mood," Toph suggested with a snort, failing to be intimidated by the other girl's gravely delivered news.

"Do you know anything else about him?" Aang queried, all his attention on Katara.

"Well, I heard he got his scar when he set fire to the gym at his first school," she said, falling easily into her role as the group's grapevine. "And that he's from some rich family that disowned him for being a hooligan."

"I heard he eats baby brains with a spoon and has a shrine to Hitler," Toph piped up and when everyone stared at her, horrified, she added, "Okay I made that one up but I'm hoping it'll catch."

"Did he really burn down his school's gym?" Aang wondered, frowning.

Katara shrugged. "I'm just saying what I've heard. Even if it's rumor, he's gotta have done something awful to get kicked out of school after school. People wouldn't talk unless there was some basis to the rumors," she insisted.

"Yeah," Aang nodded, "I guess you're right."

"You know," Toph was saying, "The part about him being a rich kid's gotta be true... I mean, it can't be coincidence that he's got the same last name as that fancy-pants Academy on the coast."

"What, the Hakan academy?" Sokka piped up with a quirked brow. "That's his name?"

"Um, hellooo? He's only been the talk of every girly gossip circle since he transfered here. I'd think you would have heard that much already." Toph's jab wasn't subtle, but the chance of it going over Sokka's head was about 50/50.

Sokka looked at her for a long, suspicious moment. Then... "HEY--"

"Maybe he just needs some friends!" Aang interjected suddenly, enthusiastically. "He was all alone at the arcade. He's probably lonely!"

This declaration was met with a long moment of silence before Toph piped up, waving a hand in front of her nose. "Is everyone else making the same face I am?" she asked, brow raised and lips drawn in an exaggeratedly skeptical expression. "Because you should be."

"Toph's right, Aang," Katara added. "This guy is bad news. You should stay away from him."

"I didn't say -that-," Toph argued with a smirk. "I only wish I could see the dude's face when Aang tries to give him a big ol' friendly hug."

Aang was pouting. "Come on you guys -- you weren't there. Don't you think I'm right, Sokka?"

"Eehh..." Sokka's mouth twisted into a comical expression. "It doesn't really work like that, Aang. I'm not saying he's actually TOUGH but I think if you just decided 'yay, I'm gonna be your friend!' he might sock you."

Aang's mouth set into a deep pout, arms folded across his chest. "Yeah, well. We'll just see about that."

Toph grinned, waved in Sokka's direction to get his attention. "I'd ask you to follow him and film the whole thing but..." the younger girl reached up and pulled obscenely at her lower eyelid with one finger. "...you know."

Katara wrinkled her nose a little at Toph's gesture but then turned her gaze to her brother in a look that clearly said 'keep an eye on him.' Sokka sighed but shrugged in response to their silent conversation.

The end of lunch bell prevented any further argument on the subject and the group parted ways, Aang deep in thought and Sokka with a looming premonition of disaster.