Hands; rough, strange, unfamiliar hands, all over her … just touching. Anywhere. Anywhere else. It's dark - dim. She feels her hands … tied? No … taped? Yes, taped - but it's wrapped around - the tape - two, three times. They're taped to one another, at the wrists, above her head. Her skin protests against the adhesive, and she pulls, but it does nothing. She's writhing, moaning. There must be some kind of drug in her system. He must have given it to her. She's taped down to some kind of low table, like in a dungeon, except with worn wooden walls.
His hands delve somewhere else, under her shirt, under her bra. She seems to become more conscious at his rough groping on her skin, and she lets out a distinguished yell of 'NO'. It's soon followed by 'PLEASE' and 'DON'T DO THIS'. She is terrified. He grabs her mouth with one hand and grabs the top of her shirt with the other, pulling it and snapping all the buttons away. Tanned, California skin is revealed, with no cuts or marks. She is completely unharmed. So far. I take notice of my role in this; I'm watching this tanned girl with this man, from above.
The man's hands grab her belt and frighteningly familiar blue eyes snap open, and even with his hand over her mouth, I can hear her gasp so hard she could suck up a beer in one breath. I jolt in my being. I try to reach out to the girl and am terrified - horrified, when her hand moves, reaching out for me as he mounts her.It was me who snapped open my eyes when he grabbed her belt, but her that commenced the action. I'm watching myself being raped.
"AGH! Fuck! Who died?" Katara jumped in her seat, those same blue eyes darting around.
Laughter echoed through the room, even from Zuko beside her, who seemed not to notice her fists clenched before her to keep her fingers from trembling, and her eyes dancing wildly for … something. Her hard breathing slowed and she managed to focus her eyes on Mrs. uh … Donovan, right? She shook her head and stared at the woman.
"Hello?" she swallowed thoughtfully. "What … what can I do you for?" she voiced tiredly. She'd been up late with Hakoda and Sokka yelling. She realized her mistake and corrected herself … badly. "I mean what for I can do-," she stopped. "What do you want?" she grunted in annoyance.
The laughter had built up with her mumblings, but subsided at Donovan's voice.
"What do I want? I want you to pay attention!" she snapped sharply, before smacking down Katara's essay on uh … what was it again? The Death Penalty? No, it was- "This essay is unacceptable!"
Katara snatched it up and glanced over it. "What's unacceptable about it?" she raised an eyebrow. 'Hang on … this isn't my essay.' It was some essay about transformers, by Keith, who had really bad handwriting. She'd forgotten to put her name on hers, now as it seemed. Apparently Keith's name in his handwriting looked like 'Katara' to Mrs. Donovan. "This isn't my essay. This is Keith's." she turned in her seat to look at Keith, who was grinning at his mobile, and then turned back to Mrs. Donovan.
Donovan, not really one to be corrected, pulled a face and crossed her arms. "That's a new low, Katara - trying to pin this crap on another student."
Katara gawped at the teacher, before closing her mouth and replying calmly. "That's a new low, Mrs. Donovan, trying to pin this crap on me." She bit back. "But then again, I guess a zebra doesn't change its stripes."
The woman pulled an even uglier face than the one God had given her. "If I could, Marina, I'd have you not only removed from this class where you do not belong, but removed from this school as well." She snarled darkly. The class fell silent in shock.
Katara smirked and leant back in her chair with a scoff. "But alas." She simply replied. "It is I who belong here, and you who do not," she recited in old English.
Donovan's eyes popped. "How do you come to that, you deviant little monster-,"
A knock on the door interrupted the woman, who whirled around, desperately hoping it wasn't a high-up teacher at the door. She breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of Sokka Marina. 'Wait, what?' the woman stared. Oh no. Now there were TWO Marina kids in her classroom. She remembered having removed Sokka from her class before she had officially taken the position of a teacher in this class. Sokka and Katara were in the same English class.
"Miss me?" Sokka grinned at her, before looking to his sister. "English class chieftain say 'HOW'," he addressed the class, raising a hand formally. Sokka snorted a laugh at it and grabbed the empty seat next to Jet. "What'd I miss?" he ceded.
"Your sister's pissing off what's-her-face again." Jet leant back calmly.
Said 'what's her face' scowled and snatched the essay from Katara, crumpled it up and tossed it at Keith, who was startled by it. Donovan knew better than to mess with Katara while Sokka was present; unless she had a feasible reason for doing so. As of yet, Katara was in the right. Donovan hated it, but she allowed it, for now.
Lydia, sat behind Katara, popped a blue bubble with her bubblegum, leaning back and contemplating how she could start a fight with her. She'd do anything for another chance to kick Katara's ass and smash that pretty Filipino face into the back of her skull. For someone with so much fucking money, Katara could stand to wear something more flattering, for fuck's sake; Lydia's wardrobe came directly from famous Hollywood Designers like Gucci, Victoria Beckham, Coco Chanel, Lacroix, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Jimmy Choo and Vera Wang.
What was Katara wearing today?
Black skinny jeans with a black and silver belt, mid-calf, dark brown snow boots, a 'Linkin Park' t-shirt and that extremely over-worn leather jacket of hers. Brown locks waved over the girl's back and an idea spawned in Lydia's head.
Lydia leant forward in her seat, glanced around and put her hand to her mouth. She carefully pushed the gum out of her mouth and into her fingers, hiding it there as she moved her hand closer, inching, to Katara's hair. Six inches. She slid her hand across the table, very slowly. Three inches. She lifted her hand and leant forward a little more, involuntarily sprouting a smirk on her face. Two inches.
She jolted as a cold hand smacked onto her forearm and grabbed around her wrist. She felt her eyes bulge in her head for a moment, before she stared at the hand. Zuko had grabbed her wrist to stop her from sticking her gum in Katara's hair. He wasn't even looking her way, he was still toying with his iPod with his free hand, and probably hadn't even heard it; reflex, she guessed. Katara hadn't even noticed what had happened, and was sitting straight in her seat with her elbows on the table.
"Bitch." Zuko muttered, shoving Lydia's hand back at her.
Lydia crossed her arms in annoyance, before realizing the gum was sticking to her fingers, and now to her sleeve.
Katara didn't notice, and when Mrs. Donovan began handing out sheets of paper with text on them, she snatched hers up and began looking over it. It wasn't her essay; it was a notice, for the drama club. They were doing a performance of Macbeth. They were doing Macbeth over Desperation. Katara crunched the paper up and rolled it off the table.
"Is something the matter, Marina?" Mrs. Donovan sneered from behind her, handing out the papers.
Katara looked over her shoulder and considered calling Macbeth a tedious story of madness and ill intention that nobody much cared about, but she decided against it. "No." she replied calmly, lifting her pencil and chewing on it. She felt the rubber at the back of it coming loose.
"Good. Then you'll be happy to know I recommended you to Ms. Maxwell for the part of Lady Macbeth."
Katara hacked in shock and whipped her head around to stare at the woman, just as the rubber of the pencil came loose from the metal housing, hitting the back of her throat. She turned back to face the front of the room and coughed for a moment, smacking her own throat to free the choking cause. Zuko thought for a moment that she paled, and immediately gave her a slap on the back, causing the rubber to escape into her palm.
Katara coughed a little more, offered him a thumbs up as in 'thanks', and turned back to stare at the woman. "W-hat?" her voice came out jaggedly, thanks to the choking fit she'd just had.
"I figured since you enjoy a bit of drama …" the woman trailed off, hiding her self-satisfaction.
Katara gawped indignantly. "You think I like drama." She stated thickly.
Lydia spoke up from behind Katara. "'Course you do, dumdum - you practically idolize that slutty tart the Painted Lady, and not to mention your need to drum out your oh-so-sad 'mommy-died-in-front-of-me story …" Lydia blurted mockingly.
Katara shot out of her seat like a lightning bolt, turning to face Lydia. "You want to say that to my face?" she glared down at Lydia.
Lydia got up and did so. "You're a messed up little nobody, Marina." She spat at her. "Go to hell and say hi to your mum."
"Hey, Stop!" Sokka got up at the other end of the room. He stalked toward them and grabbed his sister's shoulder, glancing between the both of them. "You both need to take a walk; or this is going to get ugly." He put an arm between them to keep them apart.
Katara grabbed her brother's hand and shoved it off her. "Get off me." She growled darkly, before addressing Lydia. "It's time we finished this."
The class was on its feet; the girls wide-eyed in anticipation, the boys the same, only more so …
"For once we agree." Lydia's eyes narrowed.
"Hey, I said take a walk!" Sokka yelled at his sister.
"Back off, Sokka, this is my business." Katara shoved him away. "Outside, Roberts. Loser drops out of this English class."
Lydia grinned. "I look forward to seeing Zuko peel you off the floor. Ten minutes, in the gymnasium."
Katara tossed her head in a sort of nod. "Done and done." She grabbed her bag from the floor and flung it over her shoulder, her eyes darting to Sokka's and then Zuko's - both in wide-eyed wonder and unabashed shock. "Don't look at me like that." She hissed. "Someone's gotta do it."
Sokka frowned. "She's gonna clean the floor with you."
"That's what you think." Katara answered simply.
"Katara Marina," Katara snapped her head to a voice at the other side of the girls' locker room and saw Toph approaching with a can in one hand and a bag in the other. "To thee I bow, to thee I offer sacrifice, to thee I offer my Red Bull." She tossed the can to Katara and dropped the bag by the bench. "Heard you're kicking Lydia Roberts' ass."
Katara smiled weakly, opening the can. "Unless the army of jocks accidentally lets a teacher through before I do. Jet and Haru have the entire football team blocking the teachers out, only letting kids into the gymnasium, Aang's got his track buddies running scout information along eachother back to the gym … somehow the whole school's waiting for either me or Lydia to go down."
"They're rooting for you, Katara." Toph insisted calmly. "Lydia's only been here like, two months. Nobody even knows her. Plus, people know you as the girl who punched Jet Miller in his pretty-boy face and scared the crap out of Mrs. Donovan, the terrorist teacher. You're hardcore, Katara."
Katara managed a smile, looking down at her hands. She had wrapped her knuckles in white boxing bandaging, to minimize damage to her hands; the ones she needed to pull the triggers against the heads of her mother's killers, and turn the pages of 'The Dark Tower'. "You think this is a bad idea?" she wondered aloud.
Toph shrugged. "You've made worse."
Katara felt a single laugh escape involuntarily. "Yeah, I guess." She paused, taking a sip of red bull. "It just occurred to me, you know … I make a lot of bad choices. Lying to Zuko, robbing stores, getting shot, etcetera …"
"Etcetera, etcetera." Toph repeated twice, in a phony Siamese accent.
Katara perked up for a moment. "Ooh, we should totally watch that movie sometime; if I don't end up in hospital. I haven't seen 'The King And I' since I was little."
"Mmm-Hmm. Bloodshed first. Movie later. You want to borrow my knuckledusters?" the green eyed girl offered hopefully.
Katara raised an eyebrow. "No I don't want to borrow your knuckledusters," she scoffed in disbelief. "And people say I'm a psycho."
Toph raised her hands innocently. "Hey, just offering. You might want to try putting a roll of quarters in your fist-," she backed toward the door with her bag slung over her shoulder. Katara hadn't even noticed her pick it up.
"Alright, alright, I get it!" Toph laughed maniacally, turning and pushing out into the hall. "Stand tall, champ. If you're going down, grab for them blonde locks and take her down with you." She called behind her.
Katara shook her head with a laugh as the door swung shut, and then buried her face in her hands and shook it some more. Katara glanced down at her Linkin Park t-shirt and grabbed its bottom, pulling it off over her head, exposing a low-scooping, navy blue camisole tank top with spaghetti straps. She didn't want to get any blood on the shirt. She touched her necklace and frowned, before taking that off too, slipping it into her boot on the floor, where her phone, iPod and wallet were hidden.
The rules had been relayed with a track runner; no weapons, light sneakers, hair tied back, and no scratching, clawing, biting, slapping, gouging or breast-punches. Katara intended to comply with those rules; whether Lydia did, she knew and cared not. If she could beat Lydia even against the odds, she'd be happy. She wanted this to be over. She wanted Lydia gone, really, but she couldn't really tell her to leave the country.
All Katara knew was that she was going to fight as if she were taking down her own inner demons.
And she knew for a fact that it would be enough.
There was a blur for a moment as Katara stumbled back a few steps, a punch to the mouth having split her lower lip and given her a bloody nose. There were echoing voices of encouragement in a foggy haze around her. She could hear Toph in the front row, shouting at her, half in excitement, half in panic. Sokka, she knew, was silent, just worrying. How long had it been since this had begun? Five minutes? Ten?
The blur of Lydia's fist flashed in front of her and she ducked sideways. She couldn't see; she was sure she was bleeding from somewhere other than her face, but she didn't know. Bruises adorned her forearms and shins from blocks and kicks. This was so stupid. She remembered the reason for this; she needed Lydia to go down. Just once; she needed to see Lydia hurt in reparation for what the blonde had done to her.
'In the treetop.'
Katara's legs wavered under her and she let them collapse, expertly rolling onto her back and pushing back onto her feet around the other side of the paint-marked ring. She'd only been off her feet for a moment, but she was grateful for it. Her eyes focused finally and she could see the angry expression on Lydia's own bruised face; Katara was putting up a fight this time, and Lydia was more tired out than Katara by a long shot; however Katara wasn't so good at blocking, and as a result had more injury.
The crowd was a continuous roar of 'FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!' and the few panicked yells between them were scattered and weak against the crowd's shouts. Aang and Zuko, she'd learnt before she'd begun, were trying to push through to stop this, but the crowd was like a protesting mob, like that in Tripoli.
'When the wind blows.'
"What's … the matter … Marina?" Lydia panted in fatigue, struggling to stay upright, "… going … to faint?" she cackled cruelly.
Katara gasped for breath, heaving in determination. "Eat … shit … puke on … your shoes." She grunted out as her lungs burnt. She had a stitch under her right rib and desperately wanted to clutch it for a breather. "Self … righteous … whore …" she forced out the words.
Lydia continued to grin in heavy breath, and didn't answer. She advanced on Katara again, slowly; like the gum and the hair, before Zuko had grabbed her hand. Katara stayed still. She moved a little more. Katara stiffened and raised her hands carefully. The scene reminded her of Sokka's cat getting up on its hind feet and going for Ollie when she felt like it. If this was what sex was like, as according to Toph, Katara would die a virgin.
'The cradle will rock.'
They had entered the ring and circled for a half minute before Lydia had lunged for the younger girl, like a beast going for its kill.
Katara was waiting for her strength to come back, and then she'd take Lydia down for good. She could hear the football team struggling to keep the teachers out. What had Azula said? To use her surroundings? There was a brick wall at one side of their ring, though nothing else. The wall was opposite Katara, behind the blonde. If she managed it, got past Lydia and positioned herself correctly, she wondered if she could take Lydia down in one fell swoop.
Katara made a last-gasp sprint for it, ducked past Lydia and snatched her own feet off the ground, leaning backward and lingering in thin air for a short time, she was sure.
Her legs protested as her feet hit the floor, but she forced herself on. The bottoms of her feet came crashing against the wall and she allowed her body to get closer to the wall, so she could capitalize on all she could as she pushed herself off of it, turning back to face Lydia as she rebounded off the bricks. One foot extended in mid-air and came exploding through the space between them. She was vaguely aware that the first two teachers had slipped past and were pushing through the crowd to them.
'When the bough breaks.'
Katara's foot sank into Lydia's middle and Lydia stumbled back.
'The cradle will fall.'
The blue-eyed girl struggled, but got her feet on the ground under her. She watched as Lydia struggled to stay on her own feet, falling backward and stepping into the wobbly exhaustion that the final blow had forced upon her. The winner was already declared. She was down for the count.
'And down will come baby.'
Lydia sank to her knees and fell forward, hands in front of her smacking on the laminate wood. The teachers finally exploded through the barricade and into the gymnasium. Toph and Sokka burst through the bleachers and vaulted over the barriers to the fighting ring. Sokka grabbed his sister's arm to lead her away from the teachers to avoid her getting in huge trouble, but Katara stayed stone still, staring as the blonde went down, collapsing to the floor. Defeated.
'Cradle and all.'
Katara drowned everyone out for the rest of the day. She sat through detention in silence, staring forward in some kind of disbelieving shock. What had once seemed impossible was now done. It was empowering, she supposed, but somehow made her fear her own capabilities. She would dream later that night, on the couch, that she had used some unimaginable strength in her hands to force Lydia to the ground with some impossible skill; like Lydia was just a puppet that she could discard if she wanted.
She wondered if her humanity could just as easily be discarded, with the right corruption of her morals.
Lydia was in the nurse's office, most likely, despite not being hurt nearly as bad as Katara, who had just been given a pack of tissues and told to 'clean herself up'. She got home later and trudged through the house, into the living room. She saw Charlie, her teddy bear, sat on the couch and instantly smiled warmly. She was exhausted too.
She groped the light-switch and turned off the living room lights, closed the curtains and turned the TV off, before sinking down onto the couch and pulling a fuzzy blanket over herself, cuddling up with her teddy bear. She dropped off like a pile of bricks, bruised, exhausted, but happy.
When she woke up, every part of her body was sore, and burning. She blinked in the dark and sat up, pushing away the blanket and looking around in the black. She grabbed the arm of the sofa and got up, struggling to get to the hall in the dark on wobbly, weak legs that threatened to drop her to the floor. She needed a bath; hot or cold, she hadn't decided yet. She supposed a hot bath would soothe her muscles, and a cold one would ease the burning pain all over her body.
When she got to her room, the bed looked more inviting than anything she'd ever seen before. She forced herself into the bathroom and turned the opened the cold faucet all the way, running her hand under the flow as it splashed into the bath tub. She plugged the drain and closed the bathroom door behind her. She suddenly remembered that there could potentially be a pervert kidnapper spying on her as she shrugged off her jacket, and she pulled a dissatisfied expression.
She grabbed the string on the blinds and allowed them to roll downward over the window, shielding her from the outside world. She walked to the other window and did the same with the blind over that one, before proceeding to kick off her shoes and peel her clothes from her sweaty, bloody skin. When she was finally naked, she slipped into the cool water and relaxed against the lounge side of the bath, a smile finding its way onto her face. Her hands gripped the handles on either side of the tub, and she kept her knees up and her legs bent as she focused on the cool, tingling sensations on each and every cut or bruise on her body.
She couldn't understand why a lullaby had been running through her head as she fought Lydia. It made no sense. Katara had always disliked lullabies; perhaps her mind had been meshing together two things she disliked; Lydia and lullabies. She doubted it, though. She tried to recall why she didn't like those childish bedtime songs … of course, rock-a-bye baby had always been one she disliked more than the rest; she didn't like the whole idea of a baby falling out of a tree…
She also didn't like 'twinkle twinkle little star', mainly because she'd had a mobile over her cradle as a baby that had cranked it out insidiously - now she realized that the mobile must've been old, or exposed to moisture, or something, but the damn thing had always scared the shit out of her. Even now, when she heard it on some car commercial, it gave way for a shiver to run up her spine.
She supposed there were some lullabies she liked; 'Toora, Loora, Loora' and 'All The Pretty Horses' (Though she was disappointed when she woke to discover she did not have all the pretty little horses), and perhaps even 'Hush, Little Baby,' but for the most part, she disagreed with the whole practice of singing such things to infants. If she knew nothing else from her mother's psychiatry skills, she knew that many things from childhood affected people throughout their lives.
Like, for instance, the reason they hadn't had a dog until Ollie was because her father had been badly bitten by a neighbor's dog when he was five. Of course, he knew not all dogs were like that, but subconsciously, he'd had a fear of dogs as a result.
Katara smiled serenely, sinking into the bath a little further, her mouth disappearing beneath the surface. Lydia was defeated. The blonde would drop out of her class and she'd be allowed to enjoy English - as much as she could with a teacher like Donovan - without her bothering her or trying to assault her. She wondered if Lydia would leave her alone for good, but she couldn't help but doubt.
'FUCK YOU I WON'T DO WHATCHA TELL ME! FUCK YOU I WON'T DO WHATCHA TELL ME! FUCK YOU-,'
Katara jumped in the bath a little before shaking her head with a scowl and sitting up. She reached out onto the floor and grabbed her jacket with dry hands. She slid her phone out of her pocket, pressed the green button and brought it to her ear. "Hello…?" she snapped in annoyance.
"Hey, Sugar Queen!" Toph's voice chirped from the phone. "Before I say anything, congrats on taking down Blondie."
"Thanks." Katara yawned, leaning out of the bath with her elbows on the side of it, to make sure if she dropped the phone, it would be out onto the floor instead of into the water. "And thanks for, you know, interrupting a relaxing bath …" she added dryly.
"Soh-rryyyy …" Toph drawled innocently. "Well, anyway, Me, Suki, Sokka, Jet, Mai, Azula and Jin have organized a celebratory party for you. Tonight, at eight, at that great five-star restaurant on the beach - you know, The Aristocrat?"
Katara's eyebrows suddenly went up. "How did you get reservations?" she wondered aloud.
"Have you forgotten my last name, Katara?"
Katara laughed for a moment and nodded, though Toph couldn't see it. "Right. Of course. So … Aang and Zuko … not coming, then." She assumed disappointedly.
Toph paused for a moment. "I called Aang and told him, but … Sorry, Sugar Queen … things are complicated with me and Aang. I just don't see why he wants to have kids with me. I mean, have you met my mother?" Toph gave a grunt of displeasure.
Katara frowned. "But you aren't your mother."
Toph was silent for a bit. "Anyway, be there at eight. Dress nice. You should see Jet in a tie, it's the cutest thing you ever saw." She joked amiably. "I mean, other than Aang in a suit. You should've seen him at Christmas." Toph's voice wavered in remembrance. Katara heard Toph swallow back the lump in her throat.
Katara gave a sigh; she wanted to say it couldn't compare with Zuko's appearance in a suit, but she restrained. "I'll be there." She informed her friend adamantly. "See you at eight."
Katara hung up and dropped the phone onto her clothes, hanging her head a little. She wished Aang and Zuko would come. God, she wished things were like they'd been back around Christmas time, maybe even as far back as November. All of them - Katara, Sokka, Aang, Toph, Suki and Zuko - at the ice cream parlor, like things had always been. She shut her eyes and gave another heavy sigh. She'd do anything to go to the diner as a group of friends just one more time.
She suddenly felt the cool of the water turn cold against her skin and she immediately got out of the bath. She glanced at the clock above the mirror over the sink. It was already six thirty. She grabbed a towel and wrapped it around herself, stalking out into the bedroom. She was going to dinner with whatever friends she had left.
At eight fifteen, Toph walked back into the restaurant, tucking her phone into the small, dark green handbag she'd received for Christmas, but hadn't used until now. She approached the table her party was sat at and addressed them calmly. "Katara's running late - she had some trouble getting a ride, but Kelly's driving her over now." Toph strolled expertly around the table in green, closed-toe heels and put a hand on her hip. She looked out into the night, out the restaurant window, onto the beach and caught her own reflection looking back at her.
She could say all she wanted about 'girly' clothes, but she looked amazing tonight.
Toph hadn't traded in her eyeliner for a plain look, but had sculpted her make-up so her eyes were defined, her lips were a soft and transparent pink, her cheeks were a pale blush and her green eyes were perked up by the color of her dress, a dark, forest green, knee-length with loose elbow-length sleeves and a golden trim. Most of her hair was pulled back into a stately up-do, though her classic bangs remained free. Golden teardrop earrings fell three inches from her earlobes. She'd made an effort to look good tonight; Suki had helped.
Speaking of Suki, she wore a tan halter-top cocktail dress that came to her mid-thigh and her favorite new cage-heels; the ones she'd bought to go with her leather pants, only to discover she'd given them to Katara. Her hair was tied in a high-ponytail that came to her shoulders, though a lone strand of hair framed one side of her face. She was wearing the silver necklace Sokka had bought for her as reparation for the incident at Christmas time.
Azula had slipped into a maroon, short-sleeved evening dress with a plunging neckline, that came halfway down her calf, as she tried to convince her brother to join her to dinner; explaining what a sad state of affairs it was that she was going to Katara Marina's celebratory dinner party and he wasn't. As she'd pulled her hair into a bun at the back of her head, with her two bangs at either side of her face, she'd told him that even if he showed up late, his appearance would be appreciated, and as she slid her feet into black, peep-toe stilettos, she told him she'd left a red tie for him in his bedroom should he change his mind. She'd put her gold and ruby heart earrings on in the car on the way over as Mai drove.
Mai herself was wearing a sheer silk, black, split-neckline, long-sleeved shirt-dress that came just past her behind, and as a result was an excuse for her to wear suit trousers and black pumps. She had considered inviting her boyfriend to come along, as she'd put on black, twisting medusa earrings, but had decided she couldn't be bothered.
Jin had been shocked when Jet had brought a dress and an invitation over to her; a single-sleeve, gold dress that came mid-thigh with a bottom trim of golden, iridescent feathers. The lone sleeve it had was just a strap, but it also had feathers on one side, making it look like a short sleeve. She couldn't get over how Jet could get past everything that had happened before they had hooked up - how a guy with a reputation as a womanizer had understood the situation with her and gotten into it anyway.
Sokka and Jet were dressed in smart black suits, shiny black leather shoes and crisp white shirts, one with a robin's egg blue tie, the other with an umber-brown tie.
With their sophisticated outfits, none of them had needed any identification to order their first drinks - especially when the names on the reservation were 'Bei Fong-Marina-Scorsese-Tamesis'.
"Should we order her a drink?" Jin wondered aloud.
"Yeah - I'm pretty sure she likes rosé." Sokka answered, waving over a waiter.
"What?" Toph sat down beside Sokka and an empty chair, glancing at him with a skeptic expression. "She's been a whiskey-lover for as long as I've known her."
"I've known her longer." Sokka replied curtly.
"I thought she was a champagne drinker. That's what everyone was talking about after Zuko's New Years' party." Suki raised a lone finger pointedly.
"We used to drink Budweiser all the time when we were dating." Jet interjected thoughtfully.
"You can't drink beer in a restaurant like this," Mai pointed out.
"She hit the burgundy pretty hard at my birthday party," Azula added diplomatically - as diplomatic as one could be while saying such a thing.
"White." Someone spoke up from afar.
The conversation quieted as the table turned their heads to the sound of the voice. Zuko was approaching with his hands in the pockets of suit trousers, the suit jacket he wore ruffled as a result. He wore the same red tie Azula had left for him. Aang was at his side, wearing the same unsure expression as he was, with a cream-gold tie stiffly coming down from his white collar.
"Get her something white - on the rocks." Zuko stepped closer to the table and put his hand on the middle of three empty seats, the one to his left beside Toph, and the one to his right beside Jin. He marvelled at how they'd reserved such a large table on such short notice. A timid smile took over his face as he looked over his friends. He hoped this went well.
Aang sat between Zuko and Toph and gave Toph a polite smile, leaning to kiss her on the cheek. "You look great." He noted warmly.
Toph felt a blush creep over her cheeks. "So do you." She replied happily. "Thank you for coming."
Aang smiled at her for a moment, before putting his hand on hers, on the table. "You're welcome." He blushed himself and felt contentment sink into his heart. This was all right. Them together, not fighting; this was how things were supposed to be.
The waiter got to the table and smiled politely at Sokka, who quickly ordered a bottle of their finest white in ice, and a glass - he figured Katara would be drinking heavy tonight. The waiter walked away to retrieve the bottle, and the conversation kicked up again.
"So, Zuko, does this mean you and Katara are friends again?" Suki asked tentatively.
Zuko paused for a moment, glancing to Aang - the two of them had spent the drive over deciding what to do about Toph and Katara, having come to the conclusion that things could only be sorted out working as a team. "Yeah. I guess it does." He smiled brightly, a nervous blush taking him over. He was going to do things right; he was going to be upfront and he wasn't going to walk away anymore.
"Alright! Boomerang Squad is go!" Sokka chirped happily, putting an arm around Suki and slapping a kiss to her cheek ecstatically. He leant back in his chair and recited his favorite line from the A-Team series; "I love it when a plan comes together."
Toph couldn't help but add a line of her own. "Etcetera, etcetera." She grinned.
Mai's eyebrows rose and she glanced to Toph. "You saw that movie? That's a great movie."
Zuko stayed silent as the table chattered away, his eyes fixed on the door - waiting for Katara. When she walked in, ten minutes after he had, he couldn't help but let his mouth fall open and his eyes pop slightly.
Katara stalked into the restaurant on black, sandal heels with five-inch heels and peep-toes, exposing pretty feet and pampered toes, a flowing, knee-length, dark midnight blue dress with tight elbow-length sleeves and an off-shoulder, décolleté neckline, with a gathering centrally between perky breasts. Her mother's necklace was fastened around her dainty neck, its pendant sitting squarely in the dip between her collarbones. A long, low, thick braid began at the base of her skull and ended neatly in the small of her back, and two thin strands of hair came down from her hairline, just interrupting the view of pretty cerulean eyes.
She stopped suddenly at the sight of Zuko and Aang and a smile lit up her face, in turn bringing a smile to Zuko's face. "Zuko!" she exclaimed in surprise.
"Hey," he answered contently, pushing his seat back and standing up. He took the back of the chair next to him and pulled it out from under the table for her.
Katara felt a visible pink blush on her cheeks as she walked around the table to the last remaining seat. "I didn't think you would come." She slid into the seat, looking up over her shoulder at him, trying to decipher his expression.
"Yeah, well, I figure getting rid of Lydia kind of made up for the shit flying around between us," he shrugged calmly, his eyes spotting a cut on her lip that was expertly covered by clear pink gloss. How could she look so great after a battle so epic? "You look amazing," he kept his eyes trained on her, as he sat back down.
"Same goes for you, Mr.-Suit-And-Tie." She reached out and snaked her hand around his tie playfully, smiling, before laughing briefly as she took her hand back. Zuko spotted the few cuts on her knuckles from fighting. He imagined she bore many bruises under that dress. He felt something jump in his trousers and decided to stop thinking about anything under that dress.
Katara felt a knowing smile on her face when the waiter brought over the bottle of wine and shot it at Zuko, who just shrugged and poured her, and himself, a glass each. Dinner consisted four combo-platters being shared throughout the table - with barbeque ribs, fried king prawns, yakatori chicken skewers and plenty more. Dessert varied between the diners, but most ordered the cherry pie with cream, with Sokka being awkward and ordering 'a huge bowl of chocolate éclair-balls with like, a scoop of ice-cream for each one', Toph and Aang sharing a sundae and Zuko being incredibly awkward and getting a restaurant like The Aristocrat to give him an ice-cream-soda.
After dinner and dessert, the kids left the table with their bottles and glasses and headed out onto the balcony, where a near-full moon shone down from over the water. Azula, Mai, Jin and Jet had taken to sitting at the outdoor seats, even in winter, Toph and Aang were hanging out on the small swing-seat by the glass door onto the balcony, Sokka and Suki had disappeared to the bathroom, and Zuko spotted Katara leaning against the rail, drinking and looking out to sea.
"Hey - what's up?" he asked, taking a spot beside the rail, holding their second bottle of white in his hand.
Katara offered a vague smile. "It's nothing."
"It's not nothing if it's on your mind." He pointed out reasonably.
She offered a single laugh and shook her head. "Maybe," she replied simply, her eyes pointed out to the water. "Maybe I miss being the Painted Lady just a little bit. The fight today was … I guess it was like Toph said. It was a rush."
Zuko pulled a face. "If you do it for the rush, then you're doing it for the wrong reason."
Katara nodded in agreement. "Yeah." She paused a moment and added in thought; "Actually, most of my other fights, I didn't have that rush. Except fighting you." She noted with a blush and a dirty kind of giggle.
Zuko blushed despite himself. "That wasn't a fight. That was unfair."
Katara raised an eyebrow. "Unfair?"
"You had a …" he paused, turning red for a moment. "… Sexual … advantage …"
Katara cackled wildly, before taking a sip from her glass. "In other words I was grinding on you." She smirked into her glass.
Zuko was sure he couldn't have gotten any redder. "How do girls say shit like that? Look at me, I'm blushing." He laughed into the night. "And I'm nota virgin."
"Aw …" she turned and put her free hand to his heated cheek. "You're not blushing that much. You're pink. And it's cute." Zuko felt his heart leap at her touch, and he was sure she could feel the heat under her hand increase.
There was a long, awkward silence in which she drew back her hand and looked out to the water again, careful to avoid eye contact. She did her best to push down the tingling excitement in her stomach and cleared her throat awkwardly.
"Uh … I mean … it's uh … a nice change… because you're usually so … y'know … confident …" she cursed herself and gave an annoyed frown, sipping for her glass again. "Or whatever …"
Zuko allowed a smirk play onto his face. "Now who's pink?" he pointed out in amusement, his voice rasping just a little as he turned his head to catch her blushing the same pink as he just had.
Katara managed a nervous smile, and a tiny laugh of slight discomfort. She was terrified of how hard she was blushing. She didn't know if Zuko knew she liked him back, but she knew there was tension between them. She wondered if the tension between them as Katara and Zuko could ever match the tension between the Blue Spirit and the Painted Lady.
"You're drunk," she glanced at him, catching a soft, affectionate look in his eye that made her want to kiss him.
Zuko smiled and tilted his head in protest. "When does four glasses get you drunk?"
Her brow lifted and she lifted a hand to finger the tail of her long braid, now sitting over her shoulder. "When you're flirting with your best friend…?"
"I'm nowhere near drunk. You've seen me legless," he leant against the balcony rail, looking out to sea, his fingers drumming against the wood, cold winter air ruffling his dark hair. "If I were drunk right now, I wouldn't just be flirting with you, I'd be …" he paused to raise an eyebrow and look back at her from the water with a smirk. "I'd be grinding on you."
Katara pulled an impish expression and then smirked. "So you admit to flirting with me. And if you're not drunk …" she looked into her glass and swirled it a little, "then why are you flirting with me?" she smiled absentmindedly.
Zuko's smile seemed to drop halfway. There was a short silence in which he frowned and then frowned even harder. He turned his head back to the sea and looked to the bottle of wine in his hand, now wishing he was as drunk as Katara had insinuated. "I don't know." He shrugged uncomfortably. "I guess it's like we said … when Toph asked why we flirted all the time. Because we're best friends." He uncapped the bottle and took a swig.
Katara's smile seemed to droop. "Oh. Right." She lifted her gaze from the glass and glanced at him in disappointment, before looking away. Maybe she'd been right; maybe, if they'd ever had a shot before, it was gone now, thanks to her stupidity. "Of course."
At the tone in her voice, Zuko's frown softened, and he stood a little straighter. Was she disappointed?
Katara's eyes trained themselves on the moon above, as she mused on her relationship with the boy, no, man, beside her. Perhaps things were better this way. As her friend, she was only obligated to tell him as much as she told any other friend of hers. As her boyfriend, she had to tell him everything - especially because they had so much trouble overcoming the product of lies. She didn't want him to know about her project with the CBI, and certainly not about the kidnapper spying on her, or the pictures recovered from the scene he'd rescued Jin from.
She watched the light on the water shift and glow on the surface as the waves lapped against one another and the air took the water with it. Besides, she was a virgin. Zuko, quite self-proclaimedly so, was not. He probably wanted a sexual relationship; just like the one he'd had with Lydia. They'd jumped into bed within, what; a week of meeting one another? She felt her stomach lurch; if she was to decide not to be with Zuko because of Lydia, she'd scream. Which was why this wasn't because of Lydia. This was because she couldn't be obligated to tell her deepest darkest secrets to someone she liked so much.
She'd had her chance with Zuko, though she hadn't known it, and she'd let it fly away on the breeze.
Zuko stood straight and placed the bottle of wine on the wide rail of the balcony, his eyes fully taking in Katara. He wondered how, as Mai had said, a beauty like Katara could possibly like him in the same way he liked her. He wondered, with passion, what a future with her would be like. He wondered how the girl who haunted his dreams and filled his fantasies could possibly have the same emotions for him. He took a careful, but deliberate step toward her.
She glanced at him, just vaguely registering his movement in her fugue of decision, but felt surprise wash over her as he took yet another step closer to her, and he came so close he hovered very near to touching her if he leant too far one way. She felt her hand let go of her glass, leaving it on the rail of the balcony as she opened her mouth to ask what he was doing.
He leant down and pressed his lips to hers, eyes shutting in the one leap of faith he'd ever taken in his life … well, other than becoming the Blue Spirit. Whatever word Katara had begun to say was cut off by the kiss, and whatever the words to follow had been, they had slipped out of her mind. The lids of her eyes fell shut and she felt bliss wash over her as the kiss intensified, just a little bit beyond open-mouth.
Beyond, Jin, Azula and Mai looked on, Jet being distracted. Azula and Mai exchanged glances that expressed that their work was done; Jin leant back, happy for her friends. Toph smacked Aang on the arm and pointed at the two lovebirds, a grin overcoming her. Aang smiled warmly and proceeded to lead her into the restaurant, giving them as much privacy as they could get with the other four around.
Zuko felt his heart leap into his throat; she was kissing him back, his hand was rested on her shoulder, her hand was flattened against his chest, the moon was shining brightly on them, and the pleasant, subtle, almost nonexistent aroma of white wine filled the air between them. For a long ten seconds, they were each other's. Everything else melted away and all conception of consequence and result had left their minds. He lovingly lifted a hand and brushed one of the strands of hair in her face behind her ear.
The first emotion after surprise, for Katara, was euphoria, and then confusion. This couldn't be; she'd just decided that this was a road with bad bumps ahead, and she could go down it. There was too much passion between them; too much fire. Katara knew she couldn't handle the kind of fire there was sparking between them in this moment - especially with the huge secrets that lay beneath the surface of each pair of lips. She pressed her free hand against Zuko's chest, next to the one already placed there, and pushed him away, turning her head away from the kiss, shutting her eyes almost in shame.
The confused disappointment in Zuko's eyes that she only glimpsed out of the corner of her eye was enough to make her feel like the world's biggest bitch. "What's wrong?" he asked immediately, just a little bit incensed.
"I can't." she whispered into the night air, insecurity running amok through her head. "This … this is a mistake." She backed away from him slowly, lifting a hand to her face and touching two fingers against her lips in disbelief.
Zuko seemed clearly ticked off for a moment, but Katara knew this was a defence mechanism he put up to keep from being hurt, or otherwise negatively emoted. "A mistake?" he felt his voice crack just a little, and he was sure the sound of his voice made Katara's shoulders droop a little more. His eyebrows tilted up and he felt his rejection make its way onto his face.
Katara forced herself to look him in the eye, though it made her blood run cold and her head twist in agony. "I-," she stopped herself and shut her eyes, never finishing what she had tried to say. She turned away from him and made her way to the glass door of the restaurant, biting back traitorous tears that dared to fall down her cheeks. She wondered why she felt close to tears; Zuko was the one being wronged here.
She needed to go home.
Leant against the counter in the kitchen, Katara shot a dark look at her reflection in the window. Her makeup was running, her lip-gloss had stopped covering up the cut on her lip, her earrings were strewn somewhere upstairs, her hair was still, somehow, in its braid, but she doubted it would be for long. She'd taken off her dress and changed into her pyjamas, and a pair of fluffy boot-slippers.
Her necklace and shoes were also in her room, though she had taken more care with them than she had the earrings. Dinner had been great, she concluded, though the kiss that had followed had confused her to no end. She watched the steam rise from the kettle as her eyes were settled on the mug before her. Hot chocolate powder and sugar had mixed at the bottom of the cup and she waited to pour in the final ingredient to her drink. It was a shame there were no marshmallows or whipped cream in the house.
She reminded herself to thank her friends later for putting together such an amazing night.
Katara allowed her mind to ponder the kiss; it had definitely been a good kiss, and she'd be lying if she said she hadn't enjoyed it. She loved Zuko. Perhaps that was the crux of the problem. She was afraid of how much she cared for Zuko; the end of them would surely tear her apart, had she let them begin. She sighed heavily and allowed a smile onto her face, to accompany the blush on her face. She had liked the kiss.
The kettle made a beep and she lifted it from its cradle, pouring the hot water into the mug, filling it to just two inches below its lip. She set the kettle back into its cradle and turned to the other side of the kitchen, opening the drawer for a teaspoon. She felt every part of her body protest as a tight bear hug enveloped her. She let out a cry of terror as a hand came over her mouth, effectively stifling her voice.
This was the man from her nightmare.
A wave of horrifying realization washed over Katara; she was alone in the house, except for the man behind her, holding onto her for dear life, unwilling to let his prey escape. She hadn't even heard him come in; he could have been waiting for her the entire time she'd been out. Hakoda was out at a bar or something with Bato and Kelly, trying to set them up, Sokka had gone to Suki's, and she was alone.
Except for the man behind her.
She wanted soft arms around her whispering that everything was all right. She wanted her mother to grab the arm of that bully at the park and tell him to go pick on someone his own size. For a moment, the hand disappeared from her mouth and she was able to breathe, shouting out in a last-gasp cry for help before the black bag came down over her head and she breathed in the thick gases of chloroform.
He whispered in her ear, as if she were a child; the same child Kya had protected at that park.
A/N: As you can see, this is a cornerstone in our story. Season finales always are. The season finale of 'Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates', the first season, has now been written. Stay vigilant for Season 2; 'Life Is Like A …'
I had to do this; I can't think of any more chocolates! Plus, I always love the season finale of Grey's Anatomy; there's always some tragedy or something. I've been watching for seven seasons - but this year's finale sucked :\ so I made one of my own!
And you thought Lydia was the antagonist …
Will Katara make it back to the people she loves?
Will she ever make it to the men who killed her mother?
Will that mug of hot chocolate ever be drunken?
Find out in Season 2; 'Life Is Like A …'
Don't forget to drop a review!