And here again, we have arrived at CAPSLOCK Zutara Week again. And I, being the lazy person that I am, have decided once again to participate without actually having to join the community. So enjoy everyone. This is a continuation of 'In Which There is Whiskey'.
Disclaimer:I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Prompt: 9 to 5.
" This isn't a job I would wish on anyone else, my dear."
" Now, what on earth could drive you to say a thing like that?"
" What's with that look, gramps? Keep it up and I'm going to think that you don't like me anymore."
" Rest assured, you are a dear to me as the rare white jasmine flower."
" Another tea analogy? Gramps, you have really got to get some new material."
" You don't like my tea metaphors?"
" I'm just sayin' that they're starting to get old. I mean, I've heard them all. And I've had every tea that goes with them"
" While I certainly won't dispute the length of your time under my employ, I highly doubt that you have been able to hear all my many, many metaphors, let alone drink every...tea I have prepared. There are certain teas that can only be served at...special occasions, and I have yet to brew them. Not to mention the fact that I have countless ideas from which to draw from and resources the world over from which to make my...teas, many of which you have never heard of."
" Try me, old man. I think you'll find that my knowledge runs deeper than you think. "
" Is that a challenge?"
" It might be."
" And if it were, what would such a challenge entail?"
" I was thinking something along the lines of...a favour."
" What sort of favour?"
" Not the kind dirty old men – very unlike you – would fantasize about."
" No, no, of course not. ...Damn."
" What was that?"
" Nothing, my dear. You were saying?"
" The favour I have in mind is that...the winner of the challenge can demand help from the loser whenever she needed it."
" You seem very confident you'll win. Of course, this is all hypothetical."
" Of course. But you see, even hypothetically, I would win."
" Would you now?"
" Oh yes."
" And why is that?"
" I have...a trump card of sorts."
" Do tell."
" What kind of poker player shows her cards to her opponent?"
" The kind that isn't actually playing."
" Are you saying that you don't take me seriously?"
" Quite the contrary, my dear. You terrify me to the point of where I would do anything to dissuade you from your goal."
" And who's to say that your motivation isn't less...cowardly...and a great deal...sneakier?"
" Are you accusing me of cheating?"
" How can I accuse you of cheating when there's nothing to cheat at?"
" Ah, yes, of course. How silly of me."
" Very silly of you."
" Quite ridiculous, in fact."
" Is it a family trait?"
" Is what a family trait?"
" There's madness in every family."
" Oh, is there?"
" Yes, of course. Just look at my brother."
" A prime example of your family's madness?"
" I regret to say that my niece is probably the best example."
" Is she?"
" Have you seen her lately?"
" I don't make a point to keep tabs on the Fire Nation Royal Family. Isn't that your job?"
" I thought it was yours too."
" Only in certain cases, gramps. Which brings us back to the craziness."
" What about it?"
" You brother, your niece, your father...your nephew?"
" You have to admit-"
" I wouldn't go so far as to call it...madness. Youthful foolishness, maybe. Stupidity, perhaps. But I find madness to be...too harsh."
" I see. ...I still say I'm well acquainted with all your teas."
" All of them, you say?"
" Every last one."
" Even this one?"
" Well acquainted. I...tasted that tea quite a while ago."
" How long ago?"
" Let's see...the first time I had it...was the day we met."
" Was it?"
" Yes, and let me say that while it was quite...good and had a great deal of potential on that day, it's lost it's...flavour over time."
" So the tea should be throw away?"
" That particular one, yes. It's lost all its bite."
" Then what, pray tell, do you suggest we use?"
" Forgive me, but won't our efforts be in vain if the targets are dead?"
" But poison is fast, and it heightens the senses. A second from death stretches out like eternity, and you become aware of your regrets. It blinds all the inhibitions and burns through the body. Poison, old friend, is just what the doctor ordered."
" Do I have your approval?"
" I still think a nice, calming cup of tea would yield better results."
" Brewing tea takes so long. But if you want, you can use tea. I'll stick with poison, thank you very much."
" And if the poison burns too quickly?"
" Then your tea can slow it down."
" Very well. I hope you know what you're doing."
" Of course. I'll take the new girl, if you don't mind."
" By all means, she's due to start her mentoring period tomorrow anyway. Do what you can with her, and report back to me on all the...effects of the poison."
" Roger that."
" Of course, this is all hypothetically speaking, of course?"
" Of course."
Jun emerged from the back room of the tea house smirking. She slinked quickly through the gathered crowd, her black leather and sombre make up sticking out in an almost comical fashion against the sea of pastels – mostly varying shades of green; this was the Earth Kingdom after all- as she walked among them. She threw a quick look out over the brown and reddish head around her, and smirked again as she spotted a particular flash of coppery hair standing in the corner, away from the hustle and bustle.
The girl, looking no older than sixteen or seventeen, looked up when a body of black plopped itself down in the seat next to her wall, and promptly scowled as she recognized the one visible eye and wickedly coloured lips pulled back into a satirical and mocking semblance of a smile.
" What's with that look?" Jun cooed, her spirits lifting even more at the sight of her companion bristling. " What, not happy to see me?"
" When you asked me to accompany you here..." The other girl said through gritted teeth, " I assumed you were going to include me in the discussions."
Jun leaned the chair back on its back legs and set about picking her teeth with a finely tapered and deep red nail.
" Well, you know what assuming does to you and me." She paused. " No wait, just you. I'm amazing no matter what."
" Sifu Jun-"
" Don't call me that, it makes me feel old. Call me senpai or something."
" It's a polite way to address someone who's higher up in the business than you."
" I've never heard of it before."
" You wouldn't have. It comes from way out East. The Islands of the Dawn."
" Are you...I mean, did you..."
" My family's from around there." She sat up abruptly. The girl stiffened into a stand and just barely stopped herself from saluting. Jun watched out of the corner of her eye, and caught the flash of gold hidden in the silken sleeve of the green robe (dark. A forest green. Excellent from blending into the tree or vanishing into the shadows. The girl was no dunce.) " You'll be joining me on this assignment. I expect you at my hotel in two hours, ready to do some snooping."
" Yes ma'am." The girl couldn't stop the salute this time, but Jun used her practices actions to admire the slight tensing to the muscles under the cloth and the clear grey eyes the younger of the two had. Ha-Dia had good taste, sending her to the master herself for training. She knew how Jun preferred to train the prettier of girls.
' She'll have no trouble coercing info out of hapless men.' Jun bit back a laugh. ' Once she loosens up she'll be a natural.'
Outwardly, she sighed, and looked away.
" Don't call me ma'am. I'm not old enough to be called ma'am. I told you, call me senpai."
" Call me senpai or don't talk to me at all."
" I...ah" The girl blushed at her slip up, but nodded with determined eyes. " Okay, Senpai."
" Good girl." Jun inspected her nails. " Now, didn't you tell me you had a meeting? With a certain someone?"
" Oh shit!" The girl pushed completely off the wall. " I should probably tell him goodbye-"
" I'm not taking you out of the city limits. Dragging a newbie out of a safe zone? Gramps'll have my head if I even think about it." She waved the girl off. " Go, have fun."
The girl shot her a quick, nervous smile.
She was almost out the door when Jun called back. Making sure she had the attention, obvious or not, of every person in the tea house, Jun brushed aside a strand of black hair and let her wicked eyes scan over the girl's willowy but generous enough for it to attract the attention of several passing male servers, form.
" Oh Suki?" She called sweetly. The girl turned. " You have two hours. That should be plenty of time for a round or two, don't you think?"
Her protégé's bright red face and stuttering rebuttals were lost and the High Black Lotus tossed her head back and laughed.
Not for the first time, Zuko was grateful that he looked so good and normal in green. Red made him stand out and gold drew attention to him and by extension, his scar, something he always wished to avoided whenever possible, despite his growing acceptance of the mark), but wearing green usually had the wonderful effect of blending him into his surroundings, especially on a hot day in the middle of the Earth Kingdom. As it was, he was able to slip through the crowded streets of Ba Sing Se with little to no difficulty, not even one person stopping him to ask what the young Fire Lord (surprisingly, not the youngest Fire Lord in all history. That title belonged to his great-great-great-grandmother, Princess Yula, who was made ruler of the Fire Nation at the tender age of ten, after she was proclaimed the sole survivor of the Fire Fever epidemic that ravaged her country) was doing, wandering the market places in the walled city.
Zuko breathed a sigh of relief as the Jasmine Dragon came into sight.
The boy let out an undignified yelp and, had he not been as trained as he was he would have fallen flat on his face, spun around on one foot, his arms thrown out to keep him upright and the fire flickers of fire dancing over his spread fingers.
Katara raised an eyebrow.
" Not a word." He muttered as Katara pressed a hand to her mouth, trying to stifle her obvious giggles. Zuko glared menacingly at the hand, as if daring it to move away and reveal that his best friend was laughing at him. It was a very pretty hand, he decided, delicate and gentle looking. Zuko almost snorted at that. While Katara could be the most gentle of any of them (Aang included. His gentleness was more of a childish innocence than Katara's purposeful and motherly kindness), there was nothing delicate about her in the least. She was sturdy and strong, and Zuko admired her for that. Blinking, still staring at her hand, the Fire Lord realized that she wasn't wearing her customary gloves.
" Hey, how come..." He trailed off, stepping back, he took her in for the first time since he had bumped into her.
" What?" Katara had removed her hand, and was looking at him with a puzzled expression. But Zuko was just a little too far gone to take not of her face.
She was wearing the silken robes of a high-class Earth Kingdom girl. Pale green, bordered with golden trim and opening up over a pleated, cream skirt, she looked nothing like the vicious warrior he'd met at the Pole or the confused girl he'd shared a moment with under the very ground he was standing on at that very moment. She was even different from the contemplative girl who'd sat on the pier, dangling her feet in the water and wondering if maybe, her innocence might just have been worth her revenge after all.
She looked like none of these things, and for the first time (well, not the first time. Zuko was always aware, one way or another, that Katara was a girl; and though he would never dare admit it for fear of the consequences, he was always aware of the fact that she was beautiful), Zuko became aware that Katara with her gleaming, unbound hair, her exotic, darn skin, and her blazing blue eyes, could easily outshine even the loveliest of noble daughters the Fire Nation had thrown at him.
" What?" Katara seemed nervous, a trait she would never have dared show him if she didn't trust him. Somehow, the thought made him smile. " Do I have something on my face?"
Zuko's eyes darted back up, and he swallowed thickly as he met with those blue eyes. He'd seen them sparking and he'd seen then kind. There was, he realized, no true middle ground when it came to him and Katara. They were either the bitterest of enemies or the dearest of friends, with no middle ground to soften the extremes of their relationship. Zuko wondered if that was a drawback or an advantage.
" No." His voice squeaked. Katara smirked at him as she quirked her brow again. Zuko coughed, cursing his susceptibility to those expressive eyes. " I...No, no, of course not. I'm just...you don't wear green often."
" Yeah I know." She looked down at herself, wrinkling her nose. She looked incredibly cute, and Zuko wanted nothing more than to pat her on the head and tell her everything was alright. " I don't like it. Green does nothing for my skin tone." She looked disdainfully at her robe. Zuko noticed the way her skin looked like shining copper against the green folds, and swallowed, looking away.
" I mean, even where the skin is lighter," she hauled down the loosened neck to expose the junction of her neck and shoulder, where the skin was barely two or so shades lighter than her neck. Zuko felt his eyes being drawn to the little dip of her collarbone, exposed to the afternoon sun, and held the air in his lungs, afraid that the sudden rush of it would break the strange spell the day seemed to have cast over Katara and remind her that he was bearing skin before a man that wasn't Aang (he tried really hard not to think about Katara bearing skin in front of anyone, but thinking of her doing it for Aang made something twist uncomfortably in his gut, because Aang was still too much of a child for Zuko to think of him and Katara that way), and she would hurriedly fix her dress and that perfect little patch of skin would be covered up and lost to him forever.
" You see? Even where it isn't as dark, my skin just looks bad in green, right Zuko?" She was talking to him. Her pretty little lips (barely a shade dark than the rest of her face) were moving, and it took all of Zuko's will power to listen to the words coming out of that mouth rather than just stare at it and get lost in those secret fantasies (the ones he was never allowed to have, even before the two of them became attached to other people, because he was a Prince of the Fire Nation – banished, yes, but a prince nonetheless- and she was a peasant from the Water Tribe). He shook his head a little, and forced a small smile onto his face.
" You look fine, Katara." His voice didn't sound strained, and he was grateful. " You look great no matter what you wear."
" Flatterer." She scolded, but she was smiling up at him as she fixed her dress. Zuko tried very hard not to be overly disappointed.
" I mean it." He insisted. " You looked good in everything. Even those stealth outfits we wore when we went after the Southern Raiders, remember?"
" Now you're just pushing it." She was laughing though, so he knew he wasn't in danger of being water whipped. " What are you doing out here, anyway?"
" I'm picking up fruit tarts for Mai and Ty Lee. The way those two go through those things..." He let the sentence hang, watching the grin ripple over Katara's face.
" I wish I could eat like those two. They can eat whatever they want and not gain anything." She patted her stomach. " If I ate like Ty Lee, I'd look pregnant right now."
" You'd exercise it off."
" You think?"
" I've seen you bend."
" I know you have."
" Let me finish. I've seen you bend. You give yourself more of a workout than most of the guards at my palace."
" Speaking of guards, don't you have someone you could send out to do these sorts of errands for you?"
" Where's the fun in it if I just order someone to make every move for me? Besides," he gave her a roguish grin, " if I hadn't gone myself, I wouldn't have run into you, now would I?"
" Flirt." She accused.
" You like it." He retorted, looping an arm over her shoulders and giving them a squeeze, trying very hard to make it all seem platonic. " So what brings you this far out, Waterbender?"
" Picking up fruit pies for the Avatar."
" The Avatar? You must be very important to him, for him to trust you with his pies."
" You could say that."
" So if I were to hold you for ransom, would he come to retrieve you?"
" That depends."
" On what?"
" On whether or not you have the power to subdue me."
They'd walked into the teahouse, Zuko still holding Katara, Katara still leaning against him, laughing and snorting as they kept their banter up. The familiar, comfortable place they'd slipped into went unnoticed by the two, even though the patrons of the tea house looked up and smiled at the cute, young couple who had just entered, too wrapped up in each other to take notice of the world around them. Katara's wild hair hid Zuko's scar from view, and his arm around her shoulder looked more loving than playful on the outside. A war couple, no doubt, the guests thought. Newlyweds, the groom just returning from the battlefield to find his bride still in love with him, and waiting. They made a pretty picture, and no one was close enough to catch the strange turn their conversation had taken them, somewhere back to thieves and pirates and a promise of protection.
And as Zuko and Katara bought their fruit pies (on discount, seeing as how they knew the owner of the establishment), neither noticed the pretty, dark haired woman in the back corner, whose eyes followed every move they made.
" And there go my clients." Jun downed the last of her black spike whiskey, threw some coins onto the table, and pushed out of her chair, her gaze never leaving the still laughing couple. She smirked.
" Spirits, I love my job."
Because only Jun could ever handle this level of espionage, and still look that good doing it.
I hope you all missed Totally On Board!Suki, because she's back, only less of a soldier and more of a platoon leader this time around.
And Iroh and Jun's weird conversation at the beginning? I feel the need to explain it because I made even myself dizzy with it. Basically, Jun is saying that she's heard every scheme Iroh has come up with (tasting all the teas he's brewed), and nothing he does will surprise her anymore. He tries to shock her by telling her about Zutara (This particular tea), but she reveals that she already knew about it (I tasted it the day I met you). Iroh then shifts gears and asks how she plans to get them together, claiming using tea (his plan, which has been on-going for a long time) would be best. Jun counters with poison (it burns and gets rid of inhibitions. What do you think poison stands for?), and the two decide to work on their won plans, respectively.
Suki is Jun's trainee. More will be revealed about the Black Lotus section and its recruiting methods later. Suffice to say, you need a damn good reccommendation in order to even get considered. Suki has one.
Ha-Dia is my own adaptation on the name Hadiyah, which is Arabic and means 'guide to righteousness'; I thought it was an appropriate name for an elder teaching the Kyoshi Warriors. On another note, she is also getting Suki to join one of the most underhanded, shady orginizations that has ever existed. Not that anyone knows it exists. The White Lotus is a secret society, but travelling in the right circles can yield some knowledge about it. The Black Lotus, outside of its members and the Grand Lotus, does not exist.
Zuko and Katara...I'm so glad to be able write them again. And Lovestruck/Hormonal!Zuko is just so much fun to rile up. Yeah, not obvious at all there buddy. Not in the least. Katara, you tease! You knew he was watching the whole times, didn't you? Tune in tomorrow to find out. Pick what kind of pies/tarts Zuko and Katara bought for their respective others, and the winner will have a cameo in a later piece!
Hope you all have a nice night!