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 28: Finale
I slept for almost twenty-four hours straight. After I docked the yacht, Katara drove me to Uncle Iroh's and I went straight to bed. All the tension of the past few days caught up with me at once, not to mention the aftereffects of the taser. It was nearly sunset of the next day when I finally woke up and staggered to the shower. I caught sight of myself in the mirror and winced. Between the fuzz that had grown on my teeth overnight, the bits of fleece from my shirt that had stuck in the tender burn on my chest, my hair standing straight up on one side, crusted blood on the back of my head, a day's growth of beard, and the still-red slash of a scar across my face, I felt like a rejected extra from a zombie movie. I swallowed a few painkillers and stood under the hot water of the shower, trying to clear my head.
Father had been arrested. He had been exposed, his house searched, and I had no doubt the police would find plenty to charge him with. Even Azula had been arrested, an added bonus that was well worth the new scar on my chest. Yon Rha would face justice as well. Most importantly, Katara and her family were safe. And – something I had not even allowed myself to dream about – Katara didn't even hate me anymore. All things considered, yesterday had been a really, really good day.
I shut off the water, suddenly impatient to see Katara again. I shaved and brushed my teeth in record time. After quickly inspecting my injuries in the mirror, I decided against any more bandages. I got dressed, opting for jeans and a soft black cotton t-shirt that wouldn't aggravate my burn too much, and headed downstairs. As soon as I opened my door, a smell hit me with enough force to stop me in my tracks – the rich, sweet scent of Katara's muffins. I took the stairs two at a time and burst into the kitchen to find her bent over, pulling a hot tray out of the oven.
"We have to stop meeting like this," I said, laughing when she squealed in surprise.
She tossed the muffin pan down on the stovetop, kicked the oven door closed with her foot, and dashed across the room with the hot pads still on her hands. I bit back a groan of pain when she slammed into my chest and hugged her tighter, ignoring the pressure against my burn.
"I promised you muffins, remember?" she said, pulling back enough to look up at me.
My stomach twisted in hunger. "Perfect timing. I'm starving." When was the last time I had eaten a full meal? Yesterday? The day before?
Her gaze lingered on my face for a moment, her brow tight with worry. I smiled, squeezing her shoulders, and felt some of the tension drain out of her as she smiled in return. She stepped back and waved toward the patio door. "Have a seat, I'll bring some food right out."
I stepped outside, shivering a little in the cool twilight air. It felt good, though, waking me up the rest of the way. Soon Katara came out carrying a tray loaded with sandwiches, muffins, and tea, and I took an entire muffin, still hot from the oven, and crammed it into my mouth. She laughed and began nibbling at a sandwich while I continued stuffing my face. Once the most urgent press of hunger had passed, I leaned back in my chair, barely suppressing a satisfied belch.
Katara bent over and started rummaging around in her backpack. "I hate to do this now that you're just starting to relax, but I have some bad news."
I clenched my jaw, then winced at the sharp burst of pain. "What is it? My father? Is he out of jail already?"
She shook her head. "All his assets were frozen, and he's having trouble coming up with the money for bail."
"Is it Azula, then?"
"No, apparently they're keeping her longer for some kind of 'psychiatric observation.' She's pretty pissed about it, and her anger management issues aren't helping her case at all."
I nodded. Azula had always been cool and calculating - as long as she was in control. But now the balance of power had shifted, and I wasn't surprised that she couldn't adjust. With all our money and influence stripped away, who was she, really? Who was I?
Katara reached out and grabbed my hand. "Hey, I didn't mean to freak you out. Everything's fine."
"So what's the bad news?"
She pulled a huge stack of papers and binders out of her backpack and slapped it on the table in front of me. "Homework waits for no man. First semester exams start in two weeks, and with all your absences lately, you have a lot of catching up to do."
I sighed and leaned back in my chair. "Yes, ma'am. What's due tomorrow?"
She cocked her head to the side and looked at me with a small frown. "You really are out of it, aren't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"There's no class tomorrow, silly. It's Thanksgiving."
"What, already?" I started counting the days backward in my head and realized she was right. This whole week - hell, the whole month - had been completely disorienting.
"Iroh and I have been baking all day while you were sleeping. It's going to be amazing!" She wiggled with excitement in her chair. "I'm making pumpkin pie, and pecan pie, and even apple pie! Plus my special recipe melt-in-your-mouth biscuits, and Iroh's going to have a nut loaf and a tofurkey."
"A to-what? What the hell is that?"
"Tofu shaped like a turkey breast. Obviously."
"Oh, hell, no. That is sacrilege. And did you actually say 'nut loaf'?"
"It's a loaf made out of -"
"Yeah, yeah, I get it. I'd make a joke about Iroh's nuts here, but it's just too damn easy."
We kept squabbling on and off through the rest of the evening, over dinner or homework or whatever. But our hands kept reaching for each other, and smiles played around our mouths, and by the end of the night, I think I knew the answer to my question. I might not have money or influence anymore, but I was still me. And if I was good enough for Katara, then I was good enough to do just about anything.
The next day, Thanksgiving, Iroh's store was closed to customers. Katara's Inn was closed too, so we all gathered together in Iroh's front room. When Katara's family arrived, Hakoda sought me out immediately and shook my hand.
"I owe you," he said in his deep, gravelly voice, gripping my hand tightly. "You protected my daughter, you got justice for my wife." He swallowed heavily, then continued. "I won't forget."
Then he slung an arm around my shoulders to wrap me in a hard hug. My mind couldn't help but compare it to the way my father's hand used to land heavy on my collarbone, giving me a tight squeeze that was the closest thing he could produce that would appear to be an affectionate gesture to an onlooker, even if it was painful to me. Hakoda's bear hug was something entirely different - enveloping, accepting, uplifting. I had a lump in my throat when he finally let me go, but he just nodded, and didn't expect me to speak. Like maybe he knew exactly what I was feeling.
Sokka, being Sokka, just strolled over and punched me in the arm. "So I hear you have a pretty sweet yacht. And it's got GPS?"
"The best electronic map available."
Sokka sighed dreamily. "I love a good map."
Suki interrupted. "We should double date. You know, me and Sokka, you and Katara. On the yacht. Wouldn't that be awesome?"
I shrugged. "There's just one problem. I'm planning to sell it."
Sokka wiggled his eyebrows. "How much?"
"I don't think you could afford it. Although I am going to have to lower my asking price, because a vandal snuck on board and defaced some of the furniture and cabinetry." I glanced over at Katara to see if she heard me, but she was suddenly extremely busy helping her Grandmother set the table.
"What are you going to do with the money?" Suki asked.
"Pay for college."
Katara apparently heard that well enough, and came over to stand by me. "But you won that track scholarship to Stanford. That should cover everything right?"
I leaned closer and whispered, "I wasn't talking about college for me. I was talking about college for you."
"What? That's crazy! You can't use your money to pay for my school!"
Gran Gran shuffled over and gave Katara a pinch on her arm - and it looked like a hard one. "Let the boy talk," she scolded.
"Jun told me about your application to the Culinary Institute. Stanford and St. Helena are only 100 miles apart. We could see each other every weekend. And you'd be done in two years, right?"
Katara's bottom lip started to wobble, and for a moment I thought maybe I had overstepped some boundary. Was I not supposed to assume we'd still be together next year? But then she threw her arms around my neck, and I relaxed and hugged her back. "I'm not taking your money," she mumbled against my neck, "but I love that you were thinking about me. And I love you."
I tightened my arms around her. "I love you, too. We'll work something out," I whispered back. Which, in my mind, meant that I would keep arguing until I convinced her that letting me pay for her college was the only sensible thing she could do. I certainly wasn't going to stand back and watch my girlfriend worry about affording college when it was within my means to help her. Eventually I'd wear her down and she'd agree.
"Have you thought about a major?" Hakoda asked.
I nodded. "I always assumed I would go into business. But, well, I was talking to Detective Kazinski this morning, and I started thinking, I might like to try something else. Like law enforcement. Maybe becoming a prosecuter or something."
Katara put her hands on her hips. "You are pretty good at arguing."
"Only 'pretty good'?" I protested. "I have to object to that lukewarm estimation of my skills."
"Why am I not surprised?"
We laughed, and kept teasing each other while I helped Katara carry in the rest of the pies from the kitchen. Aang and his family showed up a little bit later (very excited about the tofurkey, of course) and to my surprise, Toph and Ty Lee made an appearance as well.
"Don't you have your own families to eat with?" I grumbled.
Toph grinned. "Ty Lee and I are making the rounds. We already ate early with my family, and we're going to eat later with hers. We figured that we'd hang out with you losers in between. You're welcome."
"And I brought cupcakes!" Ty Lee chirped, shoving a box of pink mush into Katara's hands. Soggy cake plus runny frosting, all a nauseating shade of cotton candy pink. "I made them myself!" Ty Lee announced proudly. "I wanted to show Toph that I could bake, too."
"Uh, thanks. They look...very sweet," Katara managed as the girls took a seat.
Now, I may not be the most perceptive person in the world when it comes to relationships, but even I was not blind to the way Toph and Ty Lee sat side by side on the couch, knees touching, constantly looking for excuses to link arms or rub shoulders.
"Besides," Toph barked out, "I heard that we might all get to lick Katara's nipples today."
"EXCUSE ME?" Katara shouted, and all the conversations stopped as everyone looked over at her.
Jun crossed the room to us and cleared her throat. "Remember those chocolates you were trying to name? Well, I might have mentioned them..."
Katara groaned, and I pulled her against me. "Sorry Toph," I said with grin. "Nobody gets to lick Katara's nipples but me."
There were some chuckles in the room - not so much from Hakoda, I realized with a cringe - but then everyone was busy fighting for a place at the table, passing food, and pouring drinks.
Finally Iroh cleared his throat and people quieted down. "This past year has been one of intense change, of metamorphosis, for all of us," he began, in his slow, commanding voice. "This process can be quite painful, however in the end, we emerge stronger, freer, and more beautiful than ever. Please join me in a toast to uncovering our true selves."
We all raised our glasses, even me, and toasted "To our true selves!" As I clinked my glass against Katara's and took a sip of ice-cold water, I had to admit that Iroh was right, as usual. There had been a lot of change, and it had been painful. Last year at Thanksgiving I was eating a gourmet meal on fine china, drinking from crystal goblets in our lavishly decorated dining room, making stiff and formal conversation with my father and sister. This year, I was crowded around a worn old picnic table that practically groaned under the weight of homecooked food, in a cluttered and overheated room filled with laughter and lively conversation. I reached down to squeeze Katara's hand, and she looked up at me with a smile. I stole a quick kiss, and felt an amazing, bone-deep sense of peace. I may never live at my old house again, but I knew that I was finally home. Thanks to Katara's love, I had found my place in the world, a place where I belonged, and no one would ever be able to take that away from me.
Author's Note: I'm sorry it took me soooo long to finish this. Thanks everyone for sticking with me until I found my happy ending!