Title: The Taming of the Shrew
Rating: T-rated for language and sexual content
Setting: Alternate Universe – modern high school, no bending
Pairings: Zuko x Katara
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any characters from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Summary: Zuko and Katara are seniors in high school. He teases her, then ignores her. She despises him. But when Zuko's father kicks him out of the house and he has to move in with his hippie Uncle Iroh, he begins to see Katara in a new light. But as the bard warned, "the course of true love never did run smooth."
The Taming of the Shrew, Chapter 1: Act One
"William Shakespeare is such an asshole." I threw my backpack down on the gum-coated floor of the bus and stretched out across the vinyl bench with a yawn.
Sokka and Suki settled into the seat behind me, laughing lightly but more interested in snuggling with each other than debating the classics. "I think you mean he was an asshole, Katara," Suki finally replied, after kissing my brother for far longer than seemed appropriate this early in the morning.
"I'm serious! He was a chauvinistic pig. A total neanderthal. If he weren't already dead, I'd slap him. Have you actually read any of the stuff in The Taming of the Shrew?" I demanded.
Sokka rolled his eyes. "It's the first day of school, sis. We haven't even had our first English class. No one's started reading it yet except for you, Little Miss Overachiever."
The bus started up with an asthmatic rumble and I turned my back to the pair before I had to see them start kissing again, pulling my copy of the play out of my backpack. "There's a reason I'm in Honors English and you're not," I tossed back over my shoulder as I hunched down on the already sticky plastic-coated seat and tried to get comfortable. It was only 6:30am and we had a 45 minute bus ride before we'd get to school. Since I'd already finished my summer reading essays back in June, I figured it was the perfect time to get a head start on what would probably be the assigned reading for tonight.
I thumbed through the opening scene, checking definitions, scanning footnotes. More kids got on and the noise level spiked with everyone squealing and catching up after summer break. I was able to block out all the chatter until the Bane of My Existence boarded the bus and slammed a backpack so heavy it felt like it was stuffed with rocks onto my legs.
"Move it or lose it, Sugar Queen."
With a groan I looked up to find Toph Bei Fong standing over me, one hand on her hip. Her choppy black hair hung over her eyes, her trademark torn jeans and dark green hoodie just the same as last year. A whole summer away from her had not been long enough. Two years ago she had transferred to our school from Seattle, and after I'd brought some powdered-sugar covered chocolate fudge cupcakes (my own recipe, thank you) to the school bake sale, she'd insisted on calling me "sweetness" and all kinds of other embarrassing nicknames ever since.
"I don't want to sit next to you either, Princess. But the bus is full." She cracked her knuckles. "We can do this the easy way, or the hard way."
I don't want to sound like a wimp, but she could pretty much kick my ass. The only girl who ever tried out for the school's wrestling team, her Dad had threatened the coach with a Title IX lawsuit unless he let her compete. Not only did she compete, she went on to win the District Championship last year, and half the boys in school crossed to the other side of the hall in fear when they saw her coming. Grumbling under my breath, I put my legs down on top of my backpack, and she pushed her pack on the floor and plopped down next to me, leaning against my shoulder to stretch her legs out into the aisle.
"I swear, for someone so short, you sure take up a lot of room." I gave her shoulder a nudge but she ignored me, instead reaching up to pick in her ear, waving her elbow back and forth in front of my nose.
"Yeah, well for someone so smart, you sure are dumb."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"If you can't figure it out, ask Sucka."
"His name's Sokka!"
"Not when he's sucking face like that," she said, jerking her thumb behind us. I turned around and, sure enough, he was all over Suki like Magellan on a map, apparently trying to be the first to circumnavigate her globes.
With an exasperated sigh I shoved Shakespeare into my backpack and looked out the window, determined to ignore the morass of teenage hormones that was swamping the bus. Toph seemed content to spend the rest of the trip picking her nose, toes, and anything else she could reach. The early morning sun was low in the sky, filtering through the trees in blinding flashes as the bus wheezed up and down the hills. This was wine country, and tourists flocked here from all over the world to ooh and aah over the sparkling coastline, towering old-growth redwoods, and miles and miles of vineyards. But to me it was just home – a run-down old inn that Sokka and Dad and I could barely keep profitable, and a bus ride to school that seemed to get longer every year.
Kids like Toph, from wealthy families, could dream about going somewhere exciting for college, getting away from here, striking out on their own. But Dad needed me, and ever since Mom died, I knew that I couldn't leave him. Now the grapevines looked like barbed wire to me, the trees like prison bars, and as much as I wanted to hurry up and graduate, in a way I dreaded it, too. Because then I wouldn't be able to escape the fact that I would be stuck here. Forever.
The bus finally pulled into the parking lot of Four Nations High School and I stayed in my seat a minute while everyone crowded out, watching the swarm of people out on the blacktop. Four Nations was an ironic name, since it was supposed to signify the unity of the four main Native American tribes in this area – the Pomo, Lake Miwok, Wappo and Yuki peoples. I'm part Pomo myself, but since there were only a handful of other kids from these tribes actually at the school, everyone joked that "Four Nations" referred to the four levels of the social structure instead.
I watched Sokka leap into a cluster of overgrown crewcut boys wearing their football t-shirts with the "Warriors" logo. These were the jocks, of course. Every school had them. And then the geeks, which apparently I was one of, although I don't really understand how getting good grades or being in band automatically made someone a geek. But whatever.
The third tribe was the Outcasts, and it was a big but amorphous group of people who didn't really fit in anywhere else. The kids of the migrant workers, who dropped in and out of school sporadically, hung out mainly with each other, and mostly spoke Spanish, fell into this category. So did the serious hippies, many of whom were home-schooled up until they came here, arriving as dreamy-eyed freshmen but discovering pretty quickly that the real world was hostile to their kind of individuality. The goth kids, theater kids, and lots of others ended up in the Outcasts, too. They clung together in small clumps in the parking lot, easily visible by their clusters of dark black hair, or psychedelic-colored home-knit sweaters, or black boots and trenchcoats, moving in and out of the other groups but never really mixing in.
I got up and stepped off the bus, only to be nearly mowed down by a hot red convertible that glided sleekly into an open parking spot in front of me. I didn't know what kind of car it was – I didn't pay attention to that kind of thing – but I figured it probably cost more than some kids' houses. The driver, Azula Fujiwara, and her brother Zuko climbed out of the car and swaggered toward school without so much as glancing at me, let alone apologizing. They were in the fourth group, the rich kids, whose parents bought vacation homes and vineyards the way other people bought toys.
Azula was drop-dead gorgeous, highly competitive, and mean as a snake. Actually, that wasn't fair. Snakes were really beneficial creatures. She was more like a scorpion, sleek and sharp and full of poison. She would step on anyone who got in her way. Her brother Zuko was an arrogant jerk, who wouldn't even bother to step on you. He probably wouldn't want to get his designer Italian leather shoes coated in dirt from us peasants. I watched them start climbing the stairs up to the school building, a matching pair in black and red, twin sneers on their faces.
"Now that's HOT!" Suki shouted in my ear.
I scowled at her. "What are you talking about? No way is Zuko hot. He's stuffy, and proud, and..."
"Katara, honey," Suki purred, smiling dangerously. "I was talking about the car. I never said Zuko. But you did. Now, isn't that interesting?"
I blushed and tried to think of an excuse. "I just – I thought – It's not like -"
"I can't say I blame you," she continued, ignoring my feeble protests. "I mean, just look at that ass."
I didn't want to look, but now that she said it, I couldn't help myself. Oh. My. God. His black trousers – he never wore jeans, and who the hell wore trousers to high school? – left little to the imagination as he climbed the stairs. His red shirt wasn't tight, exactly, that would have been too crass for someone like him. But it was expertly cut, highlighting the way his wide shoulders tapered to a narrow waist, and his biceps flexed almost elegantly.
"He's a runner, don't you know? Lean, not like these meatheads." She gestured to the members of the football team who were pushing each other, Sokka included. "Solid muscle. And imagine what he could do with all that stamina!"
I felt my mouth go dry at the thought. Thankfully he and his sister got to the top of the stairs and were soon out of sight. "I was NOT ogling Zuko," I lied.
She shrugged. "No need to ogle him. Just listen to his voice. It's low, and husky, just made for whispering dirty words in the dark."
I felt the blush creep from my cheeks all the way up to the top of my head. "I can't believe you're saying these things!"
"What have you got against him? I mean, he's perfect. Handsome and wealthy, like a modern day Prince Charming. But with enough bad boy mixed in to keep things interesting."
"He's not a bad boy! He's horrible!"
"Oh, and you're such an expect on boys? Because you've had exactly how many boyfriends?"
"That's irrelevant," I grumbled.
She put her hands on her hips. "I don't think so. Katara, you're a senior and you've never dated! I bet you've never even been kissed! Maybe you need a bad boy."
I shook my head. "Not him! He scowls and sneers all the time! He acts like he's better than everyone else."
She tsked dismissively. "He just needs a strong woman to take him in hand, that's all."
"Suki! You're dating my brother! Does he know you've got the hots for Zuko Fujiwara?"
"I don't, Katara. I was just trying to figure out whether you do. And I think I got my answer." She took off before I could utter any other hollow protests, heading with Sokka to their first period class.
Meanwhile I stood in the middle of the parking lot like an idiot while it emptied of students. Me? Like Zuko? Not in a million years! I heard the five-minute bell and stomped to my first period class, ranting and raving inside my head. How could Suki talk about him that way? Making me think of his muscles, and his sexy voice, and...no, No, NO! I was NOT going to think about him any more. I stopped in front of my English class, took a deep breath to compose myself, then opened the door...to find none other that Zuko Fujiwara sitting in the front row. How could I forget? We always had Honors English together, I just never really paid that much attention to him before.
"Miss Iweda, you're almost late!" Mrs. Jennings said as the door slammed behind me with a solid thunk. Everyone turned to look at me, and although I tried to keep my eyes trained carefully on the teacher's face, I couldn't resist glancing over at him. His gaze met mine briefly, his eyes a ridiculous shade of light brown, almost gold. Bored, he looked away immediately. Oh god. Why did the room suddenly feel so claustrophobic? "There's an empty seat next to Mr. Fujiwara. Sit down, please, and pull out your copy of The Taming of the Shrew." Of course I would have to sit right next to him. I slunk to my seat as quickly as I could and prepared to studiously ignore him.
It was going to be a long year.